Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Final Destination 2nd Half Trilogy: The Good, The (Kinda) Bad, And The Ugly

Christmasween Volume III

Hey folks, welcome back to the third volume of our celebration of Christmas/Halloween. As with the first edition, I decided to combine several movies into one review, in this case because they were members of the same series of movies. Now, I've seen the first two Final Destination movies about 15 times, and I love them. It was a great beginning to another set of movies, and their inventive take on Death and how to defeat it was a nice fresh take. Of course, as movie series' are wont to do, the longer they go, the worse they get. Final Destination seemed to follow that formula to the letter. Its with this in mind that I decided to watch the last three Final Destination movies, and jot down some thoughts.

First up is Final Destination 3, in which a group of people avoid a horrible roller coaster accident, and then Death gets them anyway through various accidents and unlikely occurrences. As with all of the other movies in the series, some of the deaths are pretty creative, and the DVD edition of the movie that I got allowed you to pick whether the characters lived or died by changing some of the decisions that they made, which was actually quite entertaining. All of the characters were named in some way for horror directors, as were the characters in the first two movies, and there was foreshadowing in the opening credits that showed how the different characters were to die after the premonition saved their life. It wasn't as dull as it could've been, though of the first three movies, it was definitely the worst. There really weren't any changes made to the plot of the first two, and, like the Saw movies, it was just a way to remake a movie in the same concept with different inventive death scenes. In fact, it was an almost direct parallel to the first movie, as some of the soon-to-be-dead folks try to cheat death, seemingly skipping themselves along the way, later meeting their end in a different way, and then the survivors end up dying in the end anyway. The effects were pretty good, though, and all in all it was fairly entertaining. So its got that going for it, which is nice. The acting wasn't horrible, outside of the two blondes who fittingly meet their end in a tanning salon (unless you chose to have them not). It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. One of those so-so movies that so many horror movies tend to be.

The Final Destination was not, in fact, the Final Destination, but it is the 4th movie in the series, and the second one I'm reviewing. It was, in my opinion, by far the worst of the series. This one involves a group of people who die horribly at a racetrack, when cars come off the track and go crashing into the crowd. While real NASCAR races might be a tad more interesting if this happened every once in a while, this didn't sit well with the main characters, who noped the fuck out of there when they figured out what was going to happen. Much like the aforementioned Saw, the longer they go, the dumber and less involved with the original they become. This movie was no different, and it pretty much sucked. The best part of the whole movie was the opening credits, which recapped all of the deaths of the previous movies, which is like if the second Carlito's Way paid homage to the Godfather's death scenes before the movie starts. I'm certainly not in any way saying that any of the Final Destination movies are as good as The Godfather, only that The Final Destination was as bad as the second Carlito's Way. This one didn't even have Tony Todd, which is unfortunate, because apparently he's only in the good FD movies. Most of the characters aren't named in the movie, with one character simply called "The Racist". If the makers of the movie can't be bothered to provide any backstory and to just use them as cannon fodder, it's probably not worth your time. And it's in 3-D, which is basically the director saying "My movie isn't good, so I'm gonna make it look like things are coming out of the screen at you!" A movie almost always instantly loses respect from me when it goes this route, because it almost never works, and, once again, was a fad. I guess what I'm saying is, this movie sucks.

Finally, the (so far) actual Final Destination, FD5. This one was actually pretty good, I'd say at least the third best in the series. A group of people avoid death in a bridge collapse, which was actually pretty well done and quite intense. It's the second best beginning of the series for me, behind 2. The characters were pretty well played, likeable unless they weren't supposed to be, and all met their end in relatively interesting ways. Tony Todd was in this one (yay!) and added a new wrinkle: that if you kill someone, death would skip you. This was never confirmed, but it was at least trying  to add to the lore. And in a truly inventive twist, you find out at the end that the 4th entry was indeed the final FD, because this was actually a prequel to the first movie. I actually thought this was pulled off really well, as we see the events during the plane sequence of FD1 from a different point of view. The only part that bothered me was that one of the main characters, the "villian" so to speak, looked ridiculously like a young Tom Cruise. I thought he had to be a brother or something, but nope, totally different guy. Movie's worth watching for that if nothing else. FD5 had a lot of intense moments, some great death scenes, and several fake "endings" where you thought the movie was coming to a close and it didn't. It was one great big fakeout, and it was fantastic. I would highly recommend it to anyone that's a fan of the first two, Fake Tom Cruise notwithstanding.

Bottom Line: You should watch all three if you're a completionist and you've seen the other two, but the last one was actually pretty decent. Check it out, but don't blame me for the eye rolls in the 3rd and 4th installments.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street: A Tribute To Wes Craven's Legacy

Christmasween Volume II

After starting my month with two B-movies, I realized that this month was the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to one of the greatest horror directors of all time, Wes Craven, who unfortunately passed away this year. The man was a legacy as a director, producer, and all-time horror thinker, and while no list of horror movies would ever be complete without his presence, its especially important to honor him and his game-changing additions to the horror genre after his passing. It was with this in mind that I decided to polish off an old classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Based on a series of news stories at the time of its release where members of a certain tribe would die screaming in the night of no apparent cause, this film is one of the OG's in the slasher subgenre of horror. It's a fantastic movie, and a whole lot of fun. It also introduced Johnny Depp to the world, which may or may not be a good thing with his recent production. There's tons of blood and gore, and a genuinely scary lead villain in Freddy Krueger, played (of course) masterfully by Robert Englund. One of the things that I always loved about Freddy was that he was the one villain you couldn't run away from. Ya know, Michael Meyers, don't run in circles with any of the Strode family. Jason Voorhees, don't go to Camp Crystal Lake, you should be alright. Chucky... don't play with dolls who are enchanted by a voodoo serial killer. Pinhead, don't mess with the box. Uh, lets see... Candyman, don't say Candyman five times in front of a mirror. Most of the slasher baddies established the whole "don't have sex or do drugs and you'll be just fine" trope. Freddy Krueger... don't fall asleep. Well that's certainly a lot harder than any of the other ones... In fact, Heather Langenkamp did more to fight any of the bad guys than any other members of the "Last Girl" tribe, really. She didn't just run away and wait to be rescued, she took the fight to Freddy. She was the victor in the end, and she did it pretty much all by herself. Of course, it didn't keep Freddy down for long, but it did work for a time, which was certainly a change from most of the movies circulating at the time.

The scariest thing about this movie to me is the folklore around it. Starting with the LA Times articles about the deaths of the Hmong tribe, their unexplained deaths "from nightmares" contributing to the origins of the ideas behind the film, there was obviously a lot of time and energy devoted to the NOES series. From the backstory of a child murderer (who later was revealed to be a child rapist as well), to the horrible little nursery rhyme the ridiculously creepy little girls sang while playing jump rope (Fun fact, the little girl jumping rope was the daughter of the people who owned one of the houses in the film), this movie singlehandedly saved New Line Cinema. For most of my childhood, when I saw that familiar logo (which I always thought was a ladder on a house, btw), I knew I was in for a treat.

One of the things I love about this movie, and really this whole series, was the dreamlike haze that was over a lot of the scenes. You generally can't tell the difference between scenes in which the characters are awake or asleep, which further lends to the surrealism of the whole film. It's pretty incredible, really, what Craven was able to do in a time when these WERE the B-movies. He helped, along with Carpenter and the Friday the 13th crew, to bring horror into the mainstream. Arguably, with the success of his later projects like Scream, he continued the development of horror into what we know and love today. And for someone who started out directing a porno, he had a pretty meteoric rise to fame. No one did it like Craven. No one took the stuff of his own nightmares and put them on screen like he did, before or since. The man clearly has a love affair with horror, and he knocks it out of the park with this one.

Bottom Line: Of course you've seen this one. If you haven't, what the fuck are you doing here? Watch it again, in memory of one of the greatest who ever lived.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Full Moon Double Feature: Head of the Family & Hideous!

Christmasween Volume I

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I had a fantastic day with my family, and I hope you enjoyed yours! We even partook of a little Black Thursday goodness, where I managed to increase my DVD collection by 6 (got a couple decent horrors as well). Gotta hit up that Wal-Mart, got some great deals, and finally managed to get my hands on Aladdin (I have a weird obsession with Disney movies... horrible, brutal, disturbing horror movies, and Disney movies... it's kinda weird). So in my Southern feast-induced stupor, I decided to kick off my Christmasween celebration with my reader(s)!

First on the list is a couple of movies produced and directed by Charles Band for his Full Moon studio. Now, I love Full Moon, and I tend to think of them as a very successful B-movie powerhouse, a la Troma Pictures. Band seems to know that his movies are crap, but instead of viewing them as pretentious pieces of art, he has fun. That's awesome, and I think that if more people (with more talent and money) could just have fun with what they're doing, we'd have a lot more entertaining movies to watch. You just know that when you pop one of his movies into your player, you are in for a fun ride. These two were no exception.

First up, Hideous!, a movie about some dam workers who fish a weird deformed creature (WDC) out of the water, one of whom sells it to a broker for WDCs that sells to freaky rich people who collect WDCs. She sells it first to a man named Napoleon Lazar, who is then robbed by a topless woman named Sheila in a gorilla mask, who then delivers it to her boss, Dr. Lorca, another collector of WDCs. Lazar gets a private investigator involved to track the WDC, and he, the PI, and the broker show up at Dr. Lorca's castle where all hell breaks loose, as Lorca's collection of "dead" WDCs come to life and wreak havoc.

Holy shit, that's ridiculous. And that's the best part. Mel Johnson Jr. (Lazar) awesomely overacts as a man who cares more about his collection than anything else in the world, and, as much as I love Jacqueline Lovell (Sheila), he was by far the best part of the movie. His is quite possibly the campiest-acted character I have seen in any movie, and Johnson Jr. completely nails it. It's the type of part that you just can't get in a Hollywood production, and it is the perfect representation of what B-movie lovers watch these movies to see. Michael Citriniti (Lorca) acts in much the same way, and their dueling craziness makes this movie spectacular. The WDCs, who are essentially these tragic creatures caught between their their insane "owners" and their desire to be free, create an excellent subplot of the morality of owning living creatures and whether you can own some"thing" and still want the best for it. And by God, Lovell is awesome. She's got such... attitude. And it really doesn't make any sense in the context of the movie, but it totally works, and it's totally purposeful. The movie is weird, legitimately funny, sexy, tragic, and... man, just so weird. But awesome. More weird than awesome, but definitely awesome, and so much fun. This is, however, one of those movies that you really really really won't enjoy if you're not a huge fan of either B-movies or Full Moon, so take that under advisement before checking it out. If you're into that sort of thing, definitely give it a go.

Next up is Head of the Family. Another Lovell movie, HotF is, at its base, about a love affair between a man named Lance who runs a cafe and a woman named Loretta who happens to be married to an abusive biker thug. In order to get rid of her husband, the couple conspire with the Stackpoole family, a group of freaks run telepathically by a giant head with a tiny body, to have him murdered. The Stackpoole's are not your ordinary family (obviously), and the couple soon discover that they are keeping lost travelers in their basement to perform experiments on them. Instead of cutting their losses and running the hell away, Lance decides that its a better idea to blackmail the Stackpoole's with that knowledge to extort money. The head then has Loretta kidnapped and forces her to perform a live-action reenactment of the story of Joan of Arc. History buffs in the crowd might already know that this doesn't turn out so well for Miss of Arc.

I fucking love this movie. HotF is a lot of fun, and where she was a bit overshadowed by some of the rest of the cast in Hideous!, she is 100% the star of this show for me. Her southern accent, while obviously ridiculous, is incredibly sexy, and her attitude comes in very handy when face-to-face with monsters who want to burn her alive. This movie was acted much better than Hideous!, with J. W. Perra's Myron (the Head) and Blake Adams' Lance coming in a very close second and third to Lovell's Loretta. Perra was entertaining and funny, creepy and tragic, while Adams is a lovable sleazeball who cares more about money and power than Loretta. But Lovell hands-down wins. This movie, to me, is the best representation of what Full Moon is all about. It's fun, creepy, sexy, and legitimately funny. Those are really hard to pull off in a B-movie. 90% of them try WAY to hard to be funny, and never pull it off. Most of them have laughably bad acting, but its not intentional. Charles Band is a master at making it all work together to be interesting art, whether he means it to be or not.

And that's exactly the way it should be. After watching these two, I was left itching to watch more Full Moon movies, and that's exactly the point. A good B-movie leaves you wanting more, not less. And with Band's prolific directing and writing, there's plenty more where that came from. I've got the full collection of Puppet Master movies sitting on the shelf, and I'm gonna have to check them out if they're anything like these.

Bottom Line: So much fun. Worth a watch, worth a rewatch. Funny, endearing, and lovingly put together, you can tell that these folks had fun. And you will too. Check it out if you're into stupid as hell B-movies, funny horror, and Jacqueline Lovell. I can't plug her enough, she's awesome. Seriously. Lower your expectations and give it a go.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Blog Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Holy cow, it's been a year and a half.

I... don't really have any excuses, I've been lazy, and I haven't made an effort. Honestly, the whole "most disturbing" genre of horror kinda got to me. I don't mean I was disturbed, more that... I wasn't disturbed when perhaps I should've been. Everything was kind of rolling off me, and where watching a baby getting his head stomped (Human Centipede II) or watching someone pounding someone's head into mush with a fire extinguisher (Irreversible) SHOULD turn you off, I was really meh about the whole thing. I think what bothered me the most, more than the conditioning effects I was having on my psyche, was that these shock movies just weren't shocking me. Had I unintentionally ruined the effect these movies were meant to have by overindulging in the bizarre and perverse, thereby limiting their intended effect and damaging the as the art form they were meant to be? Perhaps... or perhaps I just picked some bad movies to review.

Either way, we're just past the holiday season (Halloween), and I really felt the need to jump start everything here again. Last month, I issued myself a challenge: to watch at least one horror movie every day, and write about them. I ended up doing 40 movies in the 31 days of October, not a bad count for a man with a full-time job and a family. I decided to wait a bit to write about them, for two important reasons: First, I wanted to see the impact that these movies would have on me as time went by, so it wasn't a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of review, and I could put some actual thought and distance into my reviews. The second reason was a bit more important, and incredibly exciting!

I kicked off the season with two Full Moon movies, Hideous! and Head of the Family. I had never seen Hideous!, and Head of the Family was one of my favorite B-movies, so I thought it was a fitting start into the less commercial side of horror. I watched these two on October 1st, and I realized why I loved HotF the first time: I am in love with Jacqueline Lovell! She's amazing, one of my favorite B-movie actresses, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching this classic again (don't worry, review for it comes later, I won't bore you here). However, after being reminded how much I love her movies, I decided to do a little research into what Miss Lovell has going on now. After IMDB-fu'ing her, and checking out her own personal website, I found her contact information, and I sent her an email requesting an interview for my site. Turns out, she granted my request for an interview, and I'm just waiting for the final piece now! I figure that there's 40 days between now and the end of the year, so it's the perfect time to start writing again, and the interview, which is coming soon, will be a fantastic bookend to this adventure.

This blog was a lot of fun to put together, and I'd really love to continue on our journey of reviewing some horror! So without further ado, here begins our new journey, a journey that took so long, it... well, it took a month!

Here begins The 40 Days of Christmasween!