[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 29 – Creepshow (1982)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors
Screenplay: Stephen King
120 mins. Rated R.

We talk a lot about anthologies, especially during the month of October because they predominantly lend themselves to the horror genre. The issue, and I’ve said it time and time again, is that anthologies are incredibly difficult to really pull off because you aren’t just making one solid horror movie. In some cases, its as many as six or more (don’t even get me started on the ABCs of Death) individual horror tales, and they each have to be great, or hopefully good at the very least. While one fowl segment doesn’t tank an entire anthology, it definitely sours it a bit. On the flipside, one great segment is not enough to save a poor anthology (we’re looking at you, VHS: Viral). It’s a very tough formula to work out, and even then, the order of the segments can have an effect on the overall strength of the film. The ordering of anthology segments requires a steady hand, much like Alfred Molina’s character in Boogie Nights waxing on the importance of the order of his musical playlists. With all that, anthologies are just plain tricky, so perhaps it was fate that brought together director George A. Romero (Land of the Dead, The Amusement Park) and novelist Stephen King (Maximum Overdrive, Cell) to put their love of EC horror comics on full display with the stylistic Creepshow. A successful film with two sequels and now a television adaptation on Shudder, let’s talk about the unique and dazzling Creepshow and see if it was able to avoid the pitfalls of so many anthologies.

Creepshow is an anthology homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Our framing wraparound consists of a boy caught reading one of these mind-numbing books full of gore and violence and a darkly comic view of it all. His father throws the comic book out, and then we get a chance to view the many stories within. In “Father’s Day,” a family’s yearly get-together is soured with the memories of their unbeloved patriarch come back to haunt them. In “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” King himself appears as the titular character, a doltish man who comes across a space meteor and fills his head with ideas of fame and fortune, but the meteor may prove to be more menacing than he imagined. In “Something to Tide You Over,” Leslie Neilsen (Airplane!, The Naked Gun) plays a ruthlessly conniving man out for vengeance against his wife and her lover. In “The Crate,” a college professor discovers a storage crate from an arctic expedition with a rather nasty surprise hidden inside. Finally, “They’re Creeping Up on You” is about a mysophobic businessman obsessed with ridding his home of cockroaches and other nasty bugs.

Including its wraparound framing device, Creepshow is an absolute blast from start to finish. This is a rare anthology where all five of the segments work well on their own and together, each one seemingly covering a different area of pulpy gruesome horror fun. What’s so great about this movie is that the wraparound makes the segments actually fit within the film. We see that each of these stories is a comic book tale of horror, and since they have a singular director with a singular vision, each piece fits nicely enough within the framework that this could conceivably be a living comic book, and that bleeds through the tone and style of each of the stories (in fact, as a promotion for this film, there does exist a single book of Creepshow in comic book, or graphic novel, form). Romero used filters and comic book-y borders to create the feeling that we’re peering into a single panel of a page. The words jump out, and there’s almost a freeze-frame moment just on the cusp of the action, reminding us that we’re merely the audience, and nothing can hurt us here.

The benefit of having one director and one writer when the idea is to create a living comic book is that the tone is pretty much the same throughout. That’s not to say that an anthology with a more mixed tone cannot work, but I do believe it helps to have a cohesive tone running through the narratives. That allows for a bit more collaboration with King on the stories (hell, King was the lead of one of them!), and that means hitting all the tonal beats without issue. It’s a more tonally complex movie than most would give it because you would need to understand when you are aiming for horror and when you are aiming for comedy. If you don’t think that the balance between the two is important, then I would direct you to John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man or Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn.

Let’s break down a few of these stories, shall we? First off, we get “Father’s Day.” This one feels like it came directly out of Tales from the Crypt, and it very easily could have fit into the popular HBO series as a standalone episode. We get some strong performances from Viveca Lindfors (The Exorcist III, Stargate) as Aunt Bedelia, a woman with a very curious familial secret, as well as Ed Harris (with Hair-is!) as the new member of the family, Hank. He’s our straight man in this segment, the one asking the questions we all want answers to. This story is pretty straightforward, but its simplicity offers an appetizer to whet our horror appetite.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is a pretty enjoyable segment that leans more into the comedy than the horror with a nice tinge at the end, which is fine since we all know Stephen King is not a good actor. That’s not his fault, he just hasn’t been trained nor has he practiced. He actually holds his own enough here to make Jordy Verrill likable and dumb enough to keep to the sillier tone of this one. It’s weird and goofy and a whole lot of fun, probably the funniest of the segments, and it belongs right here.

Definitely vying for the best segment, “Something to Tide You Over” is a terrific little piece that combines a classic horror revenge story with a gross and mucky ending that seemingly aims for the comic codes of the 1950s or The Twilight Zone with its brilliant inversions. Nielsen is wonderfully wicked here as the jealous victim of marital cheating on the part of his wife (Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead fame) and her lover (Ted Danson). The way he pulls all the strings here with his revenge plot is great, and watching his plan either come together or fall apart left me guessing.

The granddaddy of them all (and my personal favorite) is most likely “The Crate,” which utilizes great practical effects from Tom Savini (his first animatronic work is on display here). We get to seeing acting heavyweight Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild, Planes: Fire and Rescue) as the shy and underwhelming Henry Northrup, a man who is embarrassed by his loud and volatile wife Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau, Escape from New York, Exorcism at 60,000 Feet). The practical effects are terrific here, and the performances cater to those more highbrow stories from EC (I never understood the amount of rich socialites featured in their stories, but I guess a great number of them don’t fare too well, and maybe that’s the middle- or lower-class of us getting our rocks off enjoying it all). The horror is bloody and the humor is a bit more restrained here, and its placement as the fourth story is great because it’s a bit of a downer at times, but this is a clear front-runner of the pack.

The final segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You,” is most likely the weakest of the stories, but that’s because it’s just so small compared to the others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but if we’re ranking, it would be fifth best, but I enjoy it still. In fact, it’s kind of like dessert. We pretty much know where the story is going. Our only character, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, 12 Angry Men, Christmas Vacation) is very unlikable and we want to see bad things happen to him. Then, there’s the element of horror that is so overdone that even many who do not fear bugs will likely find something unnerving about it. It’s a simple story, but it still works, and it leaves us in a solid place to end the film. Worked for me.

Creepshow is wholly enjoyable from beginning to end, and it’s a perfect movie for me. The Creep is a chilling character (that I wish we got more of), and the stories he gives us are exciting, funny, strange, and just plain entertaining. It’s full of actors who know what movie they are in, and they play to their strengths. George A. Romero and Stephen King crafted a perfect tone for this ghoulish jaunt through a hallowed ground of the horror world, and this movie just works every time I watch it.

5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 30 – The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

Director: Tom Six

Cast: Ashlynn Yennie, Laurence R. Harvey, Maddi Black

Screenplay: Tom Six

91 mins. Not Rated.

 

It’s been a few years since I checked out a Human Centipede film. The first one was enjoyable for it’s totally campy and crazy premise. I thought it was about time to revisit this series for the sequel, and here’s the thing: it’s terrible.

Martin (Laurence R. Harvey, Frankenstein Created Bikers, Adult Babies) is addicted to the film The Human Centipede. He loves it so much that he thinks he can do it himself. He’s studied the film for a long time. Now, he has kidnapped a dozen people and plans to use them to make a better centipede…a full sequence.

So The Human Centipede II…is shit. It’s the worst kind of shit. It also contains scenes of shitting. So shit all around. An interesting idea to start quickly turned into a failure of a sequel. What I liked about the original film was that it felt very akin to a Tales from the Crypt story. The sequel is almost shockingly bad, but then again, I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Director Tom Six (The Onania Club, I Love Dries) actually attempted social commentary here with a look at rabid fandom but he drops the ball in just about every single way. He missed the point by pushing the gore past a comfortable way to a flat-out disgusting place. This comes from a guy that doesn’t mind gore and actively enjoyed gory movies. I was sickened by the film because its gore doesn’t serve a purpose in the story or the experience.

What’s worse than his failure to make an enjoyable follow-up is that Six spends a bulk of the film jerking his ego by putting the original film on a pedestal. There are lines of dialogue where characters talk as though the first film is a masterpiece. Here’s the ticket: it isn’t. Six’s one takeaway as a filmmaker is that he believes he can capably employ disgust in place of story.

There are no characters in the movie. We learn nothing about the victims. We know virtually nothing about Martin. He is a smug, disgusting monster of a man who I wouldn’t want to spend any amount of time with, let alone 90 minutes. He doesn’t grow as a character is one of the worst leads in film history. Again, at least with the first film, we have two likable, or at least not unlikable, leads. Even the doctor, who isn’t likable, is at least somewhat interesting.

Tom Six said that The Human Centipede II would make the first film look like My Little Pony. He was wrong. The sequel actually makes the first film look like Citizen Kane comparatively. This isn’t a film to be seen. It’s more like a badge you wear as a horror fan, but this badge doesn’t make you look good in front of your friends. It makes you feel bad. And maybe it should.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 21 – Body Bags (1993)

Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper

Cast: John Carpenter, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, Robert Carradine

Screenplay: Billy Brown, Dan Angel

91 mins. Rated R for sexuality and horror violence.

 

Body Bags was to be the pilot episode of a series on Showtime to rival Tales from the Crypt. At some point during production, Showtime pulled the plug, leaving us with thoughts of what might have been. So was Body Bags not worth the time? I checked it out.

Body Bags is another anthology film, this one from John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). It features three stories with wraparound introductions from a Coroner played by Carpenter in heavy makeup. The Coroner is showing us how the bodies ended up in his morgue. The first story, “The Gas Station,” is a classic small set horror story that you might find in a pulp magazine about a young woman by herself running an overnight gas station and a killer stalking her. The second story, “Hair,” features Stacy Keach (American History X, Cell) as a balding man named Richard who wants more than anything to have thick lustrous locks, and he’s willing to sacrifice anything to get it. The final story, “Eye,” features baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Bunyan and Babe) who loses an eye in a car accident and gets a transplant, but the eye he gets isn’t the one he wants.

We’ve talked a lot about anthologies this month, and, as before, I’ll say it again: anthologies can be hit or miss. That being said, Body Bags is so much fun, the flaws hide behind the flavor. Having cameos from tons of other horror aficionados like Wes Craven and Roger Corman, Body Bags is a lot like desert for horror fans. It’s sweet and enjoyable and you can never have enough. I personally think the first story is the best one and it’s very simple, and Robert Carradine (Django Unchained, Tooth and Nail) is exemplary in it. The second and third stories are only flawed in that they are rather similar to each other. The framing device, though, is quite fun as John Carpenter just kind of lets loose and has fun in a very Cryptkeeper-esque role.

If anthologies and horror are your thing, then I highly recommend Body Bags. It’s not a film that pops up often and it isn’t always easy to find (I was able to hunt it down on my Roku for free, though), but if you can get a copy, I think you’ll be happy you did. It’s rare to see someone like Mark Hamill get to really flex some insanity, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, 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 more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Split (2016)

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley

Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

 

Good, I needed to wash disappointment of The Bye Bye Man away…

In Split, the newest horror film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Visit), three girls are kidnapped leaving a birthday party and awaken in a strange and unknown room. Their kidnapper is Dennis (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Victor Frankenstein), a creepy and unstable man with an interest in watching girls dance naked. But it gets worse, because Dennis is also Patricia, a woman who strives for perfection and has a dark plan for the girls. Patricia is also Barry, who loves fashion and shows his sketches to his doctor, Karen Fletcher (TV’s Eight is Enough, The Happening). Dennis, Patricia, and Barry are just three of the twenty-three identities within one man, Kevin. As Dennis and Patricia put a plan into action to have the girls killed for a higher purpose, one of them, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, Barry) uses her wits in an attempt to free herself and the others before a 24th personality, known only as The Beast, is unleashed upon them.

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I didn’t see The Visit. The last film from Shyamalan that I partook in was The Last Airbender, so as I recall, the breakup was pretty rough. Well, I’m glad to say that, with Split, M. Night is back and at his most loony. Split is a fun, taut thriller that plays like something out of the annals of Tales from the Crypt. It begins with an interesting idea, slightly unhinged, with excellent and engrossing characters, and a twist that works so well and only adds to the fun of the film rather than take away like The Village did.

McAvoy is at the top of his game here as he is given the ultimate acting showcase, switching between identities at will without dropping a note. And each identity is given so much character and charisma that it’s easy to see who is in charge of Kevin at any given moment. That’s the real win with his performance. I look at films like Transformers (wait, hear me out) and it often becomes difficult to ascertain which character is which when all the robots are fighting because they all look so similar, but in Split, it is perfectly clear at all times, even when Kevin is having a disagreement with himself.

Supporting players Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley are also notably great. Taylor-Joy is really quickly rising up the fame ladder, appearing in 3 films of merit last year and The Witch the year before. She is impressively smart and skilled as Casey. Buckley has been a mainstay of film and television for some time stemming back to her first role in Brian DePalma’s Carrie. The level of gravitas only seeks to make the film more believable especially when it hits the height of its lunacy.

The film is not without its detractors. My fiancé, for example, who has a background in the medical field, found that the suspension of disbelief was too much for the central plot to work. I disagreed with her, but I do understand how someone more aware of Dissociative Identity Disorder might not buy in. For me personally, with my background and understanding of Shyamalan’s inspirations, it worked very well.

I didn’t enjoy having the 23 identities always tossed around when we really only get to meet 6 or 7 of them. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to at least glimpse the others at some point as it was an expectation I had due the constant reference to so many personalities. But I think 23 personalities sells better than 6 or 7.

I also wasn’t too keen on the ending, and I don’t mean the twist, which I enjoyed, but the ending itself. I felt like Casey’s flashbacks didn’t go far to add much to the plot, and I feel like it was really supposed to mean something, but it didn’t. The reason why the twist worked so well is because if you don’t get it, and trust me, not everyone will, but if you don’t get it, it doesn’t take anything away from the film. For attentive viewers, the payoff is worth it.

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Split was so much fun, and I really enjoyed that all the characters, including but not limited to the ones on McAvoy’s head, were so vivid and real and helped to ground the unreal story and keep the momentum. My frustrations didn’t ruin the experience for me at all, and in fact, I rather enjoyed the film and can’t wait to see it again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Split? What did you think? Let me know/Comment below!

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 28 – Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood (1996)

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Director: Gilbert Adler

Cast: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, Aubrey Morris, Phil Fondacaro, Juliet Reagh, John Kassir

Screenplay: AL Katz, Gilbert Adler

87 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, sexuality, nudity, and strong language.

 

I grew up on Tales from the Crypt, from watching old episodes of the HBO series, cut for content, on Sci-Fi at 3 in the morning to actually reading old issues when I could get my hands on them at the used book store/comic book shop in my hometown. Horror has always been important to me, and Tales from the Crypt holds an important piece of my childhood. Tonight, we look at the second in a series of Tales from the Crypt films: Bordello of Blood.

Katherine Verdoux (Erika Eleniak, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dracula 3000) is concerned for the safety of her brother Caleb (Corey Feldman, Stand By Men, Lost Boys: The Thirst), who went missing a few days ago. But the local law enforcement has numerous other missing persons to find, and out of desperation, she hires private detective Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, The Campaign) to help find him. His search leads him to brothel hidden underneath a mortuary inhabited by the undead and led my the mother of all vampires, Lilith (Angie Everhart, Last Action Hero, Take Me Home Tonight), who discovers that Rafe’s blood type is incredibly rare and seeks him out. As the blood and body party start to fly, it is clear that Rafe is in for the fright of his life in a story presented to us by the one and only Crypt Keeper (John Kassir, Pete’s Dragon, The Secret Life of Pets).

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First of all, I’m going to drop a truth bomb: I know that this film isn’t great, but I love it anyway, and I think if you switch off for a bit, you’ll like it too. Each time I view it, I see plot-holes and dialogue that doesn’t really work and moments of sheer stupidity, but it’s the very nature of Tales from the Crypt to be goofy, and in that sense, it comes off no different than the tone and style of much of the HBO series.

Now, for the things I don’t like. As I said before, there are plot-holes about the very nature of the brothel and how it works. The dialogue is very slap-stick and silly. But my biggest issue with the film is the opening Crypt Keeper segment. For fans of the series, this opening is practically identical to an episode of the series entitled “The Assassin” in which William Sadler plays the Grim Reaper from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and challenges the Crypt Keeper to a friendly little game. It is recreated, I’m assuming for rights issues, here, for no apparent reason. Could they not have conjured up a more interesting and new opening? It bothers me to no end, and I actually really like the recreated version more, but I wasn’t asking for it.

The things I loved here? First off, let’s talk about the connection to Demon Knight. The key which holds power over Lilith is an actual previous from the previous year’s Demon Knight, the last of seven keys that held the blood of Christ. The idea of this key popping up here again sets up a lot of mythos. For example, is this the same exact key or another of the seven? Does each key have a tale behind it and, if so, what are the stories of the other five? This would’ve been an interesting direction to take this series if this film had done better at the box office. In fact, I’ve always felt that the Tales from the Crypt tales exist in the same world for the most part and should occasionally intersect, and this idea only adds fuel to the fire.

Or, perhaps they just wanted to cut costs.

And I would be angry if I missed the chance to talk about the best use of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” ever. But I won’t spoil it for you.

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Bordello of Blood is just plain fun. I can understand the detractors; trust me, at this point, I’ve seen them. But this is a rollicking and unique take on the vampire mythos and a damn fun time even if it doesn’t necessarily pack the scares in.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 18 [Happy 30th Birthday!] – Re-Animator (1985)

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Director: Stuart Gordon

Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

Screenplay: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon

104 mins. Not Rated.

 

I think I genuinely avoided Re-Animator growing up, though I don’t entirely understand why. It matters not in the grand scheme of things. I eventually did see it, and I couldn’t stop raving about it. The beautiful concoction of quirky strange horror with comedic elements absolutely mesmerized me.

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Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott, TV’s Dark Justice, The Prophecy II) has a new roommate in Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, The Frighteners, Beethoven’s Treasure Tail), an unstable med student with an interesting emphasis: he wants to re-animate the dead. When West revives the dead cat that belongs to Dan’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton, You’re Next, We Are Still Here), the young doctor-in-training joins Herbert West and the two dig themselves into the questionable territory separating the laws of man from those of God.

Director Stuart Gordon (From Beyond, Edmond) plays his film like an episode of Tales from the Crypt, enjoying the strange and eclectic tale based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft. Jeffrey Combs does possibly the best performance of his career, and he gets great backplay from David Gale (Guyver, Savage Weekend) as Dr. Carl Hill, a professor at the school who seems out to destroy West and his career. On the flipside, I wasn’t entirely impressed by Abbott’s portrayal of Dan, although he is raised by the terrific work of his costars.

Then there is the real star of the film, and that is the use of practical effects, which elevate the craft by being as real as possible. These effects still work amazingly well even 30 years later.

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Re-Animator is just about a damn near overlooked classic of the horror genre. It features a perfect performance by Jeffrey Combs and the masterful directing of Stuart Gordon. If you haven’t seen this terrific display of strange horror, please do yourself a favor soon.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight (1995)

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Director: Ernest R. Dickerson

Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Thomas Haden Church, CCH Pounder, John Kassir

Screenplay: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop

92 mins. Rated R for gore, horror violence, sexuality and language.

 

Only a series like Tales from the Crypt can make a joke about going postal into a plot point. Seriously.

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It’s been twenty years since the first in a planned (but cancelled) trilogy of Tales from the Crypt films was released in theaters. Demon Knight is the story of an age-old battle between good and evil, following Brayker (William Sadler, The Shawshank Redemption, Machete Kills), a man who has lived far past his years, as he is hunted throughout the forgotten roads of western civilization by a being known only as The Collector (Billy Zane, Titanic, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption). Brayker is in possession of a mystical relic, a key, and The Collector will stop at nothing to retrieve it. As Brayker holds up in an old church turned into a motel, owner Irene (CCH Pounder, TV’s NCIS: New Orleans, Avatar) fears he is dangerous and accidentally brings The Collector right to their door. Now, Brayker, Irene, and the rest of the motel residents, including ex-con Jeryline (Jada Pinkett Smith, TV’s Gotham, Collateral) and Roach (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways, Heaven is for Real), a guy just looking for a good time, to stop The Collector from unleashing hell on Earth in this full-length tale told by the menacing Crypt Keeper (John Kassir, Pocahontas, The Smurfs 2).

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It is tough to judge a film based on campiness when camp is the overall goal in mind. The movie is goofy, but has a solidly enjoyable screenplay, though it gets a little muddled at the end. Some of the rules created don’t exactly make sense (kind of like Gremlins, you don’t really need to care). The performances are all loopily over-the-top, sometimes too much so. This whole movie exists to service the fans, and half of them weren’t even serviced all in all. I happened to enjoy it, but I agree that it may have worked better as a longer episode rather than a feature. I will say, though, it’s still a pretty damn fun time.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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