October 1: Hell Baby

movie reviews

Hell-Baby-PosterI’d like to start off by saying that this movie is horrible. I hated it with a passion. But there’s just no denying that it has a little bit of festive something to it.

A couple, expecting twins, moves into a gigantic house in the ghetto. The woman, unexpectedly, becomes possessed by the devil, who, apparently, infects one of the babies. There’s a bunch of peripheral characters that are mildly entertaining, such as the Wiccan sister fresh off the rez, the good southerner who lives in the crawlspace, a pair of antagonistic cops, and two perverted, chain-smoking priests looking to vanquish Satan’s offspring.

The idea is funny, but movie itself is so overdone that it hurt my brain. If you’re a fan of Scary Movie 2, this is going to be right up your alley.

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The Purge (2013)

movie reviews

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I said to myself, “Oh, it’s like The Hunger Games.” After the preview had played for a few seconds, I said to myself, “Oh, it’s like Funny Games, too.” The obvious reliance on established horror tropes made me a bit nervous, but there was no getting around the cool idea: for one night every year, all crimes are legal.

The film started out strong. We have the security system salesman in the nice neighborhood and his little family. The Purge begins and things start to go wrong. The daughter’s boyfriend sneaks inside, and the son offers refuge to a bleeding man pleading for help, a move that attracts yuppie psychopaths to the home like sharks to chummed waters.

I was enjoying myself until the ending really caught its stride, like a kid with a soccer ball toward the opposite team’s goal. All the build-up, all the tension that had been established, was completely destroyed in one fell swoop. We went from a perfectly competent home invasion story to a hodgepodge of revenge, cult activity, and forced social commentary that ought not to have been.

In my day job, once every year, it is my duty to evaluate the performance of children’s entertainers. This past year there was this one guy- a juggler- who wowed the audience by juggling three, then four, then five red rubber balls. When he moved to add the sixth, though, he stumbled a little. The balls started hitting the floor, destroying the excitement and wonder. He picked them up and tried again and again. On the fourth attempt, he did it. He took a bow and exited the stage.

The moral of this story, of course, is that juggling five balls is perfectly adequate if you’re unable to juggle six well. The Purge was that juggler. If you find yourself attracted to this movie, I encourage you to watch Funny Games (the original or the remake) instead. It will actually deliver that feeling you’re looking for.

Review: Evil Dead (2013)

movie reviews

“The most terrifying film you will ever experience.”

For once, a tagline that doesn’t lie. This movie has been scaring me since I first heard about it entering pre-production two years ago. A remake of my favorite movie of all time? That’s some scary stuff.

I was lucky enough to land pre-screener passes for the movie a couple of weeks before it was released. I stood outside a theater in an enormous line of hopefuls for more than an hour, only to be ultimately turned away because the theater was at capacity. Rumor had it that some folks had camped out. That’s not an option for this guy over here; I have a job.

So, instead, as I related here a little while back, I saw The Last Exorcism Part 2: This Time It’s Personal. To add insult to injury, the trailer for Evil Dead was the first to hit the screen during the previews, in all of its demonic, knife-licking glory. I felt a pain inside and fought the urge to cry.

This weekend, it actually opened to the public. I made sure to buy my ticket early. Upon entering the theater, four employees stopped me, checking IDs (unfortunately, not mine) and ticket stubs. They told me there’d been a lot of underage kids trying to sneak in. The theater thought the movie was too graphic to treat this subversive viewing passively. I was intrigued.

When the film actually started, I started to sweat a bit. The film was crystal clear, nothing like the grainy awesomeness of Sam Raimi’s original. But then there was the Necronomicon. When the title hit the screen, I got chills.

The movie, in keeping with the original, had some absurdly good, non-CG gore effects. In fact, I’m willing to say that it’s the best gore I’ve ever experienced. It’s grisly and over-the-top. Fede Alvarez takes you places you just don’t want to go. Nail guns, shotguns, shards of glass, syringes. Never before have so few people experienced so much pain. The impulse to cover my eyes stayed with me until the end.

Contrary to what a lot of folks are saying, this isn’t a humorless movie. Comedy certainly doesn’t take the center stage as it did in the latter two films of the original trilogy, but it’s definitely there. You see it when a roll of duct tape is used to staunch bleeding, when one character is singled out for an inordinate amount of abuse, when a demon vomits in the mouth of a helpless nurse. This is all stuff straight out of Raimi’s catalog. Alvarez never forgets where this material came from.

To its credit, this film felt more like a sequel than a remake. There is no Ash, because, well, who could possibly play him? The nods to the original are plentiful, but not heavy-handed. I would have included more of them, but, then again, it’s not my movie. As it stands, it’s pretty much perfect.

I never dreamed that I would be able to say that.

The Last Exorcism Part II: Electric Boogaloo

movie reviews

It is a genuine shame that there’s a lag between the time a movie is released and the time the RiffTrax for that movie is released. Because if there was ever a movie deserving of such immediate attentions, it is The Last Exorcism Part II.

The movie opens up where it left off- literally. Like a serialized TV show, it begins with a confusing montage of the first film. During this last-week-on-The-Last-Exorcism nonsense, I realized that (with the exception of a giant CG fire demon) I had almost no memory of the first film at all. That probably was a good thing, though. Nell is trying to get over all that shit now; there’s no sense in me drudging up the past.

So Nell has moved into a halfway house for friendly teenage girls in a G-rated re-imagining of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. She’s exploring the world with new eyes since her whole town ate it in a big way at the close of the last film. Unfortunately for her, Abalam, her demonic admirer, is totes still into her and is trying to bring her back over to the dark side.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie with a higher number of cheap scares. I reckon it averaged close to four per minute. Every time Nell turned around, a window was breaking, someone was screaming, a car was exploding, or a door was being shut rather too firmly. It was nerve-wracking at first, but it quickly grew to be hilarious. I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. For serious. One of the scares was a gorilla throwing a tire. That’s a spoiler. I’m not even kidding.

There was a strange anti-pagan subtext to the movie. It was very obvious that Nell was exploring this world her father had so carefully protected her from and was turning against everything she knew in the process. Her clothing became more revealing, she stopped wearing her crucifix necklace, and she started kissing boys. She decides that Abalam wasn’t actually real and kind of turns her back on Christianity. When her problems don’t go away, she receives some help from some kind voodoo practitioners, but that doesn’t turn out so well, either. The confusing thing was that it seemed as though the movie was simultaneously pro-Christianity and anti-Christianity. I’d say it was a commentary on the futility of organized religion in dealing with spiritual problems, but it wasn’t. It was just confusing.

So why did I see it? Well, I landed some pre-screener tickets to the new Evil Dead remake, but, even though I waited in line for an hour, the theater reached capacity before I got in. It was either go big or go home. I chose the former. You should, too. The Last Exorcism Part II is a must-see, but not for any of the reasons its creators intended.

My 2010 Top Ten Halloween Movie List

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1. Evil Dead II

The quintessential Halloween movie. It’s got everything: possessed hands, chainsaws, gallons and gallons of blood. Evil Dead II is a masterpiece of horror comedy.

2. Trick ‘r Treat

It’s creepy as hell. So many dead kids…

3. Pumpkinhead

If you’re going to kill a man’s son, make sure you do it in a town without a pumpkin patch.

4. Hellraiser

Celebrate your hedonism! Celebrate it!

5. Dead Alive

Stop motion rat monkeys and the single greatest zombie death scene in the history of the world.

6. Slither

A new classic. You’ll never take a bath again.

7. Dawn of the Dead

This remake of Romero’s classic is creepy and fun. Influenced zombie growls like no other movie in recent history.

8. Let the Right One In

The only reason this isn’t higher up on the list is because it makes me feel cold. It is scary as hell and so well done, you won’t believe it’s a horror movie. The new American version can suck it.

9. Orphan

You might see it coming, but you still won’t be prepared.

10. The Lost Boys

Halloween ain’t Halloween without a little camp. And the Frog brothers.

[Rec]

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One sentence plot synopsis: A group of unknowing people is quarantined in an apartment building which, unfortunately for them, is the ground zero site of a zombie outbreak.

Sound familiar? It should. The 2008 film Quarantine was a remake of this Spanish horror flick. And, like most American remakes, it tried to do too much. In contrast, [Rec] does more with less. Lower budget, fewer effects. But the result is something masterful. Utilizing the first person style rendered comical by the Blair Witch Project, Balaguero and Plaza have done something innovative and interesting with subjects and means that have become rather boring in recent history.

If you’ve yet to see Quarantine, I recommend you skip it in favor of the original which is, in my opinion, both scarier and more satisfying.

Beaujolais Nouveau and Brie

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After finishing up Lost Boys: The Thirst, I thought my night couldn’t get any better. Watching Corey Feldman as the epic Edgar Frog was enough to move my night from okay to fantastic. I was quite pleased with this film, as it represented an excellent progression in the Lost Boys franchise. There was more badassery than ever, including a holy water grenade launcher and the most epic vampire death sequence in the history of the world.

Needless to say, I climbed into bed with my head swimming. I flicked on the television, hoping for a little something to help bring my excitement down a bit and what do I find? Suburban fucking Commando.

If you have not seen this 1991 sci-fi gem, you really must. I insist. Hulk Hogan in his prime, kicking asses and…well….mostly just kicking asses. But in a space suit.

Never before have I known two films to go so well together so unexpectedly.