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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 26 – In the Tall Grass (2019)

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Rachel Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted

Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali

101 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

Stephen King is having a hell of a year. Between It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Castle Rock, Mr. Mercedes, and the upcoming Lisey’s Story, The Stand, The Outsider, and probably more than that, he’s having a damn good year, and now, the novella he cro-wrote with son Joe Hill has been adapted into the new Netflix Original Film In the Tall Grass.

Becky (Laysla De Oliveira, Acquainted, One by One) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) are on their way to San Diego when they, upon stopping to rest near an old church, hear the voice of a child coming from the tall grass near them. The voice claims to be lost and scared, and Becky and Cal go in to find the young boy, but upon entering the grass, they discover that it is far more difficult to find an exit, and there is something sinister buried deep within the grass.

Writer/director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, ABCs of Death 2) does the most that he can possibly do to make a boring background like standing in grass. Seriously, there are so many impressive shots in the film that elevate a simple setting into an elaborate one. The difficult in a film like In the Tall Grass is that you have limited characters and limited settings and you have to create a dynamic film where it actually feels like the characters are going somewhere. It doesn’t always work in the film, but when it does, it works very well.

The cast is fine, but Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera, Annabelle Comes Home) steals every scene he’s in as Ross Humboldt, a man who went into the tall grass with his wife and son and thinks he knows a way out. There are sequences in the film that feel like they will just be sequences of people yelling for help and yet Patrick Wilson’s Ross is such a unique and interesting fella to throw into the mix.

In the Tall Grass gets really weird and wild as he film goes on, and it becomes a lot more crazy near the end, but I was all in for it. There’s a lot more happening in this film than just a bunch of people lost in a field, but I won’t get into it here. This is a Netflix Original well worth your time. It’s fun and eerie and weird and confusing. I had a lot of fun even though the film is about 10 minutes too long. Still, In the Tall Grass is a lot of fun this Halloween season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.

Pet Sematary (2019)

Director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Jeff Buhler

101 mins. Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language.

 

Pet Sematary is a haunting novel by Stephen King, one which he claims he almost regrets publishing because it was too dark, even for him. Now, that sounds like a lovely little marketing statement. In all fairness, the novel stayed with me long after finishing it. The original film was fine enough, and it surprisingly retained a lot of the more disturbing elements that one would possibly try to avoid, but I think it’s fair to say that someone should take another crack at it. This year, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes, Holidays) did just that.

Louis (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, Serenity) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color, Wild Nights with Emily) Creed have just moved into their new home in Ludlow, Maine with their kids and pet cat. Louis has a new job working at the university hospital. After some time in the new home, the Creed family cat, Church, dies, and their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) brings Louis to a space located just beyond the Pet Sematary behind the house. Louis buries Church there, and soon after, Church is up and walking again. But something is different with the family cat. He smells like rotted flesh and bites and scratches whenever possible. Louis begins to learn a painful secret about the Pet Sematary, one that will stay with him as further tragedy strikes: whatever is buried out beyond the Pet Sematary comes back, just not the same as it was, and sometimes dead is better.

I would have liked to see Andy Muschietti’s interpretation of the classic novel. The It director had expressed interest in attacking this one, but Kölsch and Widmyer got to it first, and the result is…fine. It has an awesomely grim view of the Creed family saga, and the changes to the story are interesting, but I failed to understand why such changes needed to be made. In effect, the changes to the story for this version of the film almost make it tamer than the previous film, an odd thing that I had not expected.

What’s confusing about the changing of most of the back-half of the film and the ending, apart from the notion that it really offers nothing new to the story, is that the film frequently makes small, almost unnoticeable references to the source novel and how it plays out. It kind of just reminds you of how the story is different, and that doesn’t work well for it. The film of course makes plenty of references to King’s other works, but it is the ones that reference tiny details of the novel that seemingly have no point being in the film.

Clarke and Seimetz are perfectly fine with the material, and Lithgow is expertly cast in a way that he offers an interesting character from the book a very unique and welcome interpretation. His is the best performance in the film.

There’s still a lot of the film that works really well, too, from the performances of the two children and the several real cats that played Church to the constant sense of dread that the directors placed over the proceedings. The scares are still there, and there’s some gruesomely haunting imagery in the film, all of it serves to unnerve its audience quite well. I found the experience quite enjoyable, but the problem was, about a day after seeing the film, I had forgotten much of what I really liked about it. The film didn’t stick with me the same way the source novel did, and that’s a damn shame.

Pet Sematary is an enjoyable albeit disturbing little movie that I enjoyed upon seeing. It’s also a forgettable experience that won’t leave much of a lasting effect on its viewers. Some of you may actually like that, as it deals with not-so-fun topics at times. I am saddened that it didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, but it also wasn’t all that bad either. The film is fine. Just fine enough to warrant a viewing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Late Night (2019)

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Screenplay: Mindy Kaling

102 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.

 

Late Night had a lot of strong buzz coming out of Sundance earlier this year, most of it focused around Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Missing Link) and the screenplay from co-star Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time, TV’s The Office). I was able to catch the film last night at an early screening, and the buzz is absolutely correct.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been the host of a late night talk-show for decades, but she comes to realize under the ownership of new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, Birdman, Beautiful Boy) that she has lost her passion, and she learns that she is soon to be replaced. Challenged by this fact, she hires a woman, Molly Patel (Kaling) to her writing staff with no writing experience. Molly’s equally challenged by the entirely male-dominated writing staff. She buts heads with Monologue Writer Tom (Reid Scott, Venom, TV’s Veep) and starts up a fling with the handsome Charlie (Hugh Dancy, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, TV’s Hannibal). But Molly quickly learns that she is in the lion’s den, and the leader is Katherine, a host who has never brought her personality, beliefs, or background, into the show, and the two women slowly find that they can learn a lot from each other, if they can survive each other.

This is Thompson’s movie, hands down, and it’s one of her most surprising and charismatic performances in a long and varied career. Her take on Newbury is interesting and nuanced. She says early in the film that she only ever really cared about two things: the first being her husband Walter (John Lithgow, Pet Sematary, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the other being her show. It’s sad to hear her say it because of how she is frequently on the edge of losing both, Walter to his illness and the show to a younger, dumber host. At the same time, she fails to understand that she is self-sabotaging herself. It is only in her struggle to find an understanding of Molly’s feedback that she is able to grow, if she decides to listen to it.

Molly’s an interesting character. For the most part, her character’s inclusion in the film is a bit of a conceit, and not very realistic, but I was able to push past it for the needs of the narrative. Her character and Kaling’s performance shine in the ways that Molly is so much like Newbury. She knows not to hook up with the handsome writer she now works with, and she states that this is her dream job, and then she too self-sabotages.

The writer’s room cast of characters are all quite funny here. It’s great to see Paul Walter Hauser show up; he’s an absolute delight in everything. I think we get a nice crew of writer/showbiz archetypes that never feel flat because of the diverse collection of performers placed in the roles. Kaling’s screenplay gives most of them something to do without resorting to grouping them all together.

Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Pete’s Christmas) capably handles the film, and while her style here is nothing flashy, it is her focus on the characters and relationships that keep the whole thing afloat and moving, and the film just flies by thanks to some strong editing and tight storytelling.

Late Night showcases another powerhouse acting performance for Emma Thompson, one I expect that will be talked about in the next few months as we tick closer to the awards season. Kaling’s screenplay doesn’t provide as many laughs as I had expected, but there’s so much heart to it, and some of the funnier bits come out of the real situations she places her characters. It’s a sweet and occasionally funny trip to a part of our entertainment process not so often looked at. This comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2019

Well, 2018 is done. What do we do now? Talk about 2019.

Just a couple of quick notes again this year:

  • This list is most anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to as of right now, so there will be more blockbusters than indies because that’s just how it plays out. With that being said…

NOTE: I’M GOING TO TRY THE COUNTDOWN THIS YEAR RATHER THAN JUST A LIST.

 

10. Captain Marvel

-What excites me so much about Captain Marvel is its timing. This will be Marvel’s second true prequel in setting the film in the 1990s. I like the idea that this film could tie into Avengers: Infinity War and Guardians of the Galaxy. I love Brie Larson and I think her addition to this story is very exciting. This just feels like a great space adventure that we are less likely to get for some time now that the third Guardians film has kind of disappeared. This one is a blockbuster want for me.

 

9. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

-I’m happy that Guillermo del Toro has a Best Picture under his belt so he can do what he wants. One of the exciting projects from him in 2019 is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, based on the popular horror story collections for youths. I grew up reading these stories and they gave me chills and have kept me awake at night. I chose this over Nickelodeon’s big-screen version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? because I think del Toro will push the horror whereas I worry that Nick will not take the horror seriously. We are seeing a small possibility of scary children films due to The House with a Clock in its Walls in 2018. This one excites me.

 

8. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

-This is the batshit crazy film of 2018. Until I saw the trailer, I was not looking forward to it. Why would you choose to make the first live-action Pokemon about Detective Pikachu instead of a traditional Pokemon story? Why would you select Ryan Reynolds to voice Pikachu? Why? Well, the trailer seemed like a lot of fun. I’m still not sure about the film as a whole, but I want to support a Pokemon film universe, and if that starts with Detective Pikachu, so be it.

 

7. Pet Sematary

-This new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel (it’s my wife’s favorite King novel) is getting me very excited. As much as I enjoy the original adaptation, I have to admit that it didn’t follow the masterful source material as much as it could. This new film features the incredible Jason Clarke and John Lithgow, and the first trailer got me going. I love the look of Church the cat, and I love the visual look of the film overall.

 

6. Glass

-Where the hell did Glass come from? How did this happen? When Split came out, nobody expected the [SPOILER ALERT] twist that Split was connected to Unbreakable. Nobody expected that this would further in a third film called Glass which would bring together Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, and Anya Taylor-Joy for a final confrontation. Glass is one of the most unexpected films of the last few years, and I’m overjoyed to see what it brings.

 

5. It: Chapter 2

It was a film that surprised everyone. I enjoyed the trailer even though the first images were lacking that bite. Director Andy Muschietti brought a much more emotional experience to the film than I expected, and while it doesn’t contain literal translations of some of King’s massive tome, it does translate the feeling and tone of the book quite nicely. Breaking It into 2 films is strange because a bulk of the film is set during the childhood, so I’m curious where it could go with that. The second half of the 1990 miniseries is where it loses me, so Muschietti has a lot on his plate for this follow-up.

 

4. Avengers: Endgame

-Okay, this had to be on here somewhere, right. It’s a testament to the great plate of films we have before us in 2019 that Avengers 4 is below three other films. Yes, we have to find out how this thing finishes. We knew a lot of where Avengers: Infinity War was going to travel, but I have no idea where we go from here. Yes, I feel like we will have a lot of the third film reversed, but I cannot deny the palpable excitement for this one.

 

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

-When Quentin Tarantino makes a film, I get excited. When he sets it in the 1960s, I get more excited. When he compares it to Pulp Fiction, I lose my freaking mind. Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie star in this new film from the master which also features Al Pacino in his first collaboration with Tarantino. Not much is known still but I cannot wait.

 

2. Us

-In about 3 minutes, Us became one of my most-anticipated films of 2019. That trailer. That trailer! Oh! I was already looking forward to this follow-up from the director of Get Out, and then I saw that trailer. His usage of popular music in a horror setting with some oozingly creepy imagery is what made me most excited for this film, and it comes out on my birthday too. So much win.

 

1. Star Wars: Episode IX

-C’mon, you had to know this. It’s been called the culmination of the Skywalker saga, and it brings back J.J. Abrams who killed it with The Force Awakens. After The Last Jedi (my favorite of the new films), I simply cannot wait to see where this new film goes, and it just has so much riding on it. It has to be Star Wars. It’s my most anticipated film of 2019.

 

So there you have it. What are you most excited to see in 2019? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

-Kyle A. Goethe

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