It All Happens In The Dark

Just another site

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Five Little Sinners Got Into An Elevator…

Devil (2010)

I was never a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan. I thought The Sixth Sense was a competent crackerjack thriller with a well done twist, but it fails the true test for me – on repeated viewings I found it rather dull. Signs was even more problematic, and The Happening was so inept I am convinced it was conceived as a comedy. My favorite film by the director is The Village, which I believe to be his most satisfying and poignant work. And I am not an M. Night hater either – I certainly have never booed when his name appeared onscreen, as seems to be in vogue these days. Though he did not direct this film (that would be John Erick Dowdle who did Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes) his fingerprints are all over it. He came up with the original story and he produced it, but beyond that the film just has an M. Night feel to it.


The film begins with an unnecessary voice over – we are told by someone about a story they were told by their mother told as a child – a story about the devil. Sometimes the devil takes human form, you see, to torment the damned on earth before spiriting away with their souls. This is known as “The Devil’s Meeting.”

The opening credits are quite spectacular, with the camera dipping and gliding through an upside down city (it is supposed to be Philadelphia but is actually Toronto) to thunderous orchestration. The great Tak Fujimoto filmed this and he doesn’t let us down.

The old wives tale re-teller goes on to inform us that according to the story a suicide paves that way for the devil’s appearance, and wouldn’t you know it, someone jumps from a skyscraper to their death. We later find that the jumper left a note that says: I can hear the devil’s footsteps drawn near. Now, by offing himself wouldn’t this person just be speeding their way straight to hell? Suicide being one of the cardinal big no-no’s and all. Maybe he wanted to get to hell fast, while he knew the devil wouldn’t be home? Or is clutching a Rosary when you take your own life some kind of Get Out Of Hell free thing?

I digress. The suicide brings our appropriately tragic and tortured yet recently recovering detective who-is-doing-fine-now-thank-you to the scene.

Inside the building five people get into an elevator, which proceeds to become stuck between floors. We have all of our usual suspects represented: a claustrophobic black security guard, a guy that looks like a hood, an elderly woman, a pretty young girl, and a mattress salesman who serves as quasi-comic relief. And one of them is… guess who.

One of these... is not like the other.

The lights keep flickering on and off, everyone is getting on edge, all attempts to restart the elevator fails, and the pretty young girl gets “bitten” during on of the blackouts. When a call about the possible assault comes, our detective responds since he is right outside.

Now we meet our super-wise super-religious security guards, voice of the voice overs, who of course everyone thinks is a total crackpot, but is really the only one who knows what is going on. As soon as he hears the word suicide, his face gets all somber and concerned and he starts thinking DEVIL, DEVIL, DEVIL. Evil is a-brewin’ and he’s going to be able to say he a-knew it.

Back inside the elevator tensions flare, accusations fly, paranoia grows, and the possible assault becomes a definite homicide. Through the detective’s investigating we find out who the people on the elevator are, and what they are doing in the building… and none of it is charity work, let me tell you.

The script doesn’t always play by its own rules – the guard tells us that his mother’s story always ended with the death of all those trapped, yet one of the five in the elevator is not taken by the devil because they confess their sins. And where did that walkie talkie come from? Another complaint is that Caroline Dhavernas, the quirky, wildly talented actress who I first noticed on the short-lived Fox series Wonderfalls, is given all of five lines here. What the hell? She got to say more to inanimate objects on that show than she gets to talk here.

Oh, Caroline.

I did like the atmosphere of this movie – the look, the music, the storm that comes swirling into the city with the building at its epicenter. And while the characters are cliche, they have a little more moxie than you’d expect and are not as exasperating as they could have been.

The film greatly benefits from a brisk run time, and despite its confess-your-sins-and-you’ll-survive sermon, I was sucked in and found myself actually involved, and yes, now I’ll confess, even moved. B


Here There Be…

Whitney Able having a gas.

Monsters (2010)

Monsters is more art house than grindhouse. The title is in fact a little misleading – while there are indeed “creatures” (as they are called) these leviathans take a backseat to the the main thrust of the story which focuses on a very human relationship. Kaulder (Scoot McNairy – love the name) and Sam (Whitney Able from All The Boys Love Mandy Lane) meet when Kaulder, a photographer for the magazine owned by Sam’s father, is appointed with the task of taking the boss’s daughter out of Mexico and across the border into America.

But this is not the same Mexico, nor the same world we know. Six years ago a NASA probe which had collected samples of alien lifeforms crashed over Central America and, well – Earth meet the Creatures – Creatures meet the Earth. The military maintains a strong presence in the “Infected Zones” and a wall has been erected around America (on the Mexican border, natch) to attempt to manage the aliens, which incubate on trees where they resemble a fungal growth that glows, but when fully developed are towering octopod looking “monsters.” They seem to be most active at certain times yearly, and usually at night.

Our travelers, no surprise, face many obstacles along the way, from a train that must turn around because the tracks have been damaged, to stolen passports, to authorities who must be bribed, to a boat engine that breaks down, to the biological warfare being used to combat the creatures and, of course, the constant threat of the creatures themselves.

Kaulder and Sam form an intimate bond, that while they never really discuss, is obvious. I read one review in which the critic wrote that Kaulder and Sam were so insufferable that he was hoping the monsters would squash them. I don’t understand that. These two behaved as people do – the characters were realized and dimensional. I give the script and the actors major kudos for that. They don’t just feel images who begin and end with the first frame and the fade to black.

So our twosome make their trek toward the great wall, all the while becoming more fond of each other, and all the more uncertain about what they will find, and what kind of lives they have to return to. I went into this movie knowing little about it. I had seen a few images, but had not watched the trailer and what I was expecting was another post-apocalyptic quasi-zombie teeth-gnashing, blood-spewing, “brutal” survival piece. And how wrong I was. This is a thoughtful, dignified and memorable experience – it is what Cloverfield could have been if it had brains and heart… and decent camerawork. Speaking of which – this film is gorgeously lensed and I was shocked to find that not only did it apparently cost $15,000 to make but that all of the cameras and equipment used were consumer grade technology. You would never guess it was such a low budget, especially not from the expert special effects which equalled, if not surpassed the stuff the big studios churn out. The writer and director, Gareth Edwards, has a background in Visual Effects and it shows. This is his first feature film, and that, too, shocked me, because man knows his shit. Seasoned directors rarely make films this good. I hope that Gareth’s talents continue to be recognized and appreciated and fostered.

Some have already complained that the film is too slow, that nothing happens, that they don’t show us enough of the creatures – well, I will tell you that I was never once bored, and I thought they showed just exactly enough, and really, the creatures are never not there. Every TV we see is broadcasting footage of their attacks, and in turn, the government’s attacks on them – there is even a children’s cartoon featuring animated monsters – there are murals of them on city walls, their corpses are seen smashed into buildings, tentacles appear and then withdraw back into the river – and we continually hear their mournful calls, which sound very much like whale songs.

Forget what I said about Cloverfield. This would be a great companion piece to The Mist, a tremendous double feature, the other side of the coin – Monsters is The Mist as optimist instead of pessimist, even if in the end, Monsters is just as heartbreaking. B+

Hey Hot Dog, next time let’s rip off a Ferrari, this heap’s got no class.

Demons (1985)

I saw Demons 2 before I saw the first – I was seventeen and I loathed it. I loathed it with the power of a thousand loathes. It did have some interesting ideas (ok, just two) but the film was so faulty on every conceivable level that it didn’t matter – oh, yeah, and it made no sense at all. None. Well, I had heard that the original was a classic, insanely gory and something I NEEDED to see, so I put my misgivings aside and gave it a chance.

And it took me over a year to finish. I’d start it, get bored, turn it off, decide a few months later to give it another try, I’d get bored again… but I would make it a little further each time… so I finally did see the whole thing. And let me tell you I DID NOT NEED to. I really don’t understand how this is considered a classic by some. It is so un-scary, so foolish – was it supposed to be a comedy? Was anyone really frightened by it? I didn’t think there was an over abundance of gore personally. Maybe if I had been drinking and watching this with a group of my most sarcastic friend it would have been a memorable experience – but the movie still would have sucked. I love Dario Argento, but the films made by his underlings I think are tedious and baffling.

The “story” is so insubstantial that it isn’t even worth synopsising. This film seems only to exist to showcase the so-called gross-out effects and is only a people-trapped-crazy-shit-happening-SLAUGHTER-SLAUGHTER rehash. Is there supposed to be some kind of built-in commentary becomes it takes place in a movie theater and what happens on screen seems to cause all the bedlam and carnage? I really don’t know what this movie was trying to do. What was the mask? Who is the man that shows up at the end wearing it? Who was the guy who was wearing it at the beginning? Who made the film? Did they know what it was capable of? Did they make it for this reason? Was this group specially selected or were they just the unlucky who happened to get free passes and show up? What did anyone achieve by all of this?

The acting and script are atrocious, and the movie isn’t even worth seeing for the effects, because as I’ve indicated, they seemed rather lackluster and cheap. That all being said, I did sort of like the ending, which true to form, makes no sense. And I did try to like it – it certainly has its own unique vibe going for it and there really isn’t anything else like it out there, regardless of the numerous “influences” it cribs from. I would love if someone could explain to me why this is considered worthy of classic status. I have admitted I had a very difficult time getting through it, so maybe some of the answers to my questions were revealed and I just missed them, but I am sure not going to watch it again to find out. D

Return to Ajax Country

The Stepford Wives (1975)

After recently subjecting myself to the horrendous 2004 “adaptation” of Ira Levin’s classic novel, I just HAD to go back to the original. And I’m glad I did. As my mother would say, it is “comfy.” While not flawless, it is very good, and I really do like it more each time I watch it. I do, I do, I really, really do!

The remake was so obvious and obnoxious, it more than ever makes me appreciate how subtle and subdued the whole 1975 affair is. The GORGEOUS Katharine Ross plays our favorite avid-shutter-bug Joanna Eberhart, who is transplanted from New York City to Connecticut by her husband, Walter. The opening shots of the film are extremely effective, with Joanna alone, in her now empty apartment, taking one last chance to appreciate her surroundings and listen to the noise of the traffic from the street below.

Then we’re off and into the lovely suburb of Stepford. We meet the first Stepford wife in a really well done scene – Carol Van Sant is the Eberhart’s new neighbor and she makes her way through a beautifully sunlit yard with a pot in her hands to give to the new-comers and she really does look as if she has just been wound up. The thing about this version of the wives that is so creepy, and I could never put my finger on before – but have now – is that they never seem to blink. It is such a small yet effective thing – no special-effects needed – take a lesson, remake!

Betty Crocker-bot.

In the early scenes Joanna’s sense of loneliness and displacement are quite palpable and my sympathies really were with her, as literally there is no one in the town for her. Lucky for us, and for her then, she meets Bobbie, the only other woman in the town who isn’t obsessed with housework and her husband (yet). Paula Prentiss plays Bobbie and she is fabulous. I wanted her to be my friend. She uses the word “fink” and carries ho hos in her purse. She is witty, caustic, fun and the exact opposite of everything a Stepford gal is. Thank God for her!

This film doesn’t go as far with the paranoia – the is-something-really-amiss-or-is-she-really-nuts as Rosemary’s Baby did, but it is still well executed  – in effect we are seeing dominoes being lined up before us. The women all have numerous detailed portraits drawn of them by one of the men in town – another one of the men (who stutters, nice touch) has the women tape themselves for him, recording where they were born, all of the places they have ever lived and a litany of words – and in one scene we also see the men examining Joanna’s bedroom. When the Eberhart family dog goes missing, it seems such an inconsequential thing to the plot, until we later realize WHY he has gone missing and the ingenuity of it.

There are so many other good scenes here – one of the wives does not know what the word “archaic” means and Bobbie explains it to her, and later, a desperate Joanna quizzes Bobbie to see if she still knows the definition. And a scene near the end when Joanna visits a psychotherapist was very keenly done and I loved the way the doctor was written. I also enjoyed how a few scenes in Donnie Darko nicely mirrored these, with Katharine Ross playing the therapist to Jake Gyllenhaal.

Joanna’s final return to Stepford and her rain soaked odyssey throughout the town is a highlight of the film. I do wish that Joanna had put up more of a fight at the end, but what happens does feel almost inevitable, and perhaps all the more heartbreaking because of it.

The witty score also deserves a mention as does the beautiful cinematography, and the script which follows closely to the source material but never disrespects it or the audience. What is going on it not spelled out to us and does not need to be.

This is a very effective little scare machine, built well, kept oiled and aside from a few obviously dated aspects, I think it still holds up well today, and has not been severely blunted by the passage of years. There is something that keeps it from being seminal – perhaps it is too stream-lined and efficient for its own good. I would have liked to see a little more interaction with Joanna and the other women in the town – she brands them as off almost as soon as she arrives, but it seems that she barely has spoken to any of them.

Nevertheless, this is the Stepford to see, and to paraphrase what one of the wives lustily coos: Oh, Stepford ’75, you’re the best, you’re the champ, you’re the master. B

Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire.


30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

While 30 Days of Night was far from a classic, it did have its own kinetic energy and thankfully showed us vampires that didn’t sparkle in the sunlight and hang around high schools brooding. The vampires in 30 Days of Night were feral, vicious creatures with only one driving desire: blood lust. Their fingernails were deadly long talons, they spoke in a guttural, yipping language of their own, and their eyes looked made out of coal. (Needless to say, they do not have corncob pipes or button noses.)

The original film had the unique setting of Barrow, Alaska to offer us, where the sun dips below the horizon and doesn’t rise for… guess how many days. (Actually is it really sixty-five, but we got it modified to a month.)

Now the sequel moves us to Los Angeles – but I’d personally have headed to the city of lights – Las Vegas. In the beginning when we see Stella holed up in her hotel room surrounded by boxes from SUNMAX I thought this was going to go the way that I had wanted Darkness Falls to end – we see the surviving character (or characters) living totally surrounded by high-powered electric sun lamps, every shadow obliterated. Well, that isn’t where this is going, and I won’t tell you what use Stella does make of the SUNMAX supplies, because it is one of the few original scenes in the film.

Stella, is now on the lecture circuit, going around and doing speaking engagements about the ordeal at Barrow – trying to bring the truth to light, one may say – everything, you see, was blamed on the first film’s climatic oil fire, with the vampiric elements covered up. Well, no one really believes Stella’s tale of the undead siege, which makes me wonder – what happened to all of the other survivors from the first film? It wasn’t just Stella. We are told that Barrow has been rebuilt now – are they still there? Why wouldn’t she bring them with her? They could obviously collaborate her story. Are they in hiding? Was it too painful for her to stay in touch with them? Did they decide to go all denial-y? The film never addresses this and it especially confusing because the script almost seems to want us to believe that Stella was the only survivor.

Also, here, Stella is replace by Kiele Sanchez, and although she is just fine in the role, I sorely missed Melissa George, who is a vastly underrated actress.

I enjoyed the angle they were taking with Stella in the beginning, but sadly after these few initial scenes, the story takes a major misstep as our Ms. S is approached by a motley crew of vampire hunters who inform her there is a vampire Queen named Lilith and that she must be destroyed.

So the plot plods along, going exactly where we know it will (the ending is telegraphed twenty minutes before we get to it) and the characters die in exactly the order they always do (and we know they will) – gee, really the black guy is killed first?

Another confusing change is that now the weapon of choice used against vampires is almost exclusively guns, where in the first film it was said that bullets did not even slow these creatures down.

There are so many familiar elements here from far superior vampire franchises – Buffy and Angel, True Blood, Dracula, Near Dark and ESPECIALLY the third Blade film. They even throw a little of Argento’s Opera and Neil Marshall’s The Descent in for us. I was grateful at least, that none of the characters was toting around a camcorder, filming everything.

I actually had to give the first another look-see after viewing this because I had almost convinced myself that I’d made a major blunder in not hailing 30 Days of Night as a masterwork – I hadn’t, but one could be forgiven for thinking that way after watching this lazy sequel. Shocking it went direct to DVD, isn’t it? There really is nothing here for us to… sink our teeth into… (sorry.)

Steve Niles, one of the authors of the graphic novel and its sequel that this was based upon, was the first-billed writer of the screenplay – that being the case, my suspicion about the original source material (which is ballyhooed as some of the best) continues to mount. Though, I still really do want to track down that 30 Days of Night / X-Files cross-over volume. C-

Empty Vessel

The Stepford Wives (2004)

How incredible. That is what I kept thinking while watching this update of the 1975 film based on Ira Levin’s 1972 novel of the same name. How incredible. And by that I mean: how incredible that so many talented people were involved in this both in front of the camera and behind the scenes and it is still such a vapid, dull mess a movie. You can smell the stench. There sure is something rotten in Stepford… and it is the cheese.

At first the idea of retooling The Stepford Wives into a comedy makes sense. The novel and the original “classic” both had veins of the blackest humor. But here, all the “laughs” are dreadful one-liners and cheap sight gags that don’t work and are not remotely amusing.

Of course the idea of men replacing their wives with sex-slave-house-cleaning-obsessed robots is a little more than over-the-top but the way Ira Levin wrote it made it very easy to swallow and very chilling. The first film incarnation directed by Bryan Forbes, which I don’t hold in as high esteem as some others do, was still a success, with winning performances, a no-non-sense script and several genuinely eerie moments.

The only scene in this remake that is good, is directly lifted from the original and shows the women post-make-over greeting each other in the supermarket and gliding as if in a dream. All of the new tweaks and polish to the story, strangely enough, make it feel more out of touch than the 70s version. This remake is high camp masquerading as some queer sort of battle of the sexes farce, and it especially falls flat when it tries to make us worry or care about the characters – they are such stereotypes that one almost begins to hope for them to be turned into hardware. Everything is so over-styled, over-played, over-acted and over-written that it cannot even be enjoyed for how bad it is.

I don’t know how many rewrites and re-shoots this film went through, but it certainly feels like there are several different versions of the movie going on at the same time. John Cusack and Joan Cusack were originally cast as Joanna’s husband and Bobbie Markowitz and one has no problem understanding why they both pulled out. The acting here is all limp and soggy or scenery-chewing awful – even Christopher Walken, so creepy and menacing even when attempting to play a “normal” character, is unremarkable and under-used.

Our main character Joanna, has been changed from a photographer to the most powerful woman in television – and as we see a presentation reel of her “cutting edge” new shows they are all such idiotic parodies of cobbled together reality trash that I doubt even VH1 would air them – yet she is supposed to be the head of one of the major networks. As clueless as she seems, it is amazing she has a job at all, let alone such a high ranking position. But everything falls apart after a disgruntled “contestant” from one of the new shows makes an attempt on her life, and she is fired from the company and has a totally unrealistic breakdown. Her husband, sad-sack Matthew Broderick decides to move her out of the city, and into a gated community in Connecticut so they can raise their children right and try to repair their marriage.

Well, before long Joanna is suspicious of all the perfect woman in perfect pastel gowns and heels, who just love to discuss Christmas crafts and keep their husbands happy and their homes spotless. Joanna has apparently never met anyone who wasn’t born and raised in New York because she thinks – hey, these woman are vacant but they seem so content, I guess this is just how everyone from the country is!

The great thing about the novel, and the original film was that nothing was really ever EXPLICITLY explained. It was all  implied, hinted at, half-guessed, hovering at the edges. Here, we see everything – the woman have their own remote controls, sparks fly from their ears, one woman exists as a personal bank for her husband, and puts his debit card into her mouth, ingests it, and produces cold hard cash – in singles no less! It isn’t funny and it isn’t well done. All of the subtext of the novel and previous film is stripped away or mangled and it becomes clear this movie has nothing of value to say or show us.

And the ending makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and manages only to completely undermine any coherency (which wasn’t much) that there was before. The Stepford Wives 2004 is obsolete and belongs on the scrap heap. D

DEAD doesn’t deliver

The Dead Outside (2008)

Here, we have a very by-the-numbers affairs with an uninspired script and all of the usual hiding-away-in-the-country-to-escape-a-pandemic banalities. The acting veers from credible to frustrating, and some of the camerawork is quite pretty and fittingly bluesy, while at other times it looks rather flat and amateurish. We can only see so many shots of something stuck on a barbwire fence blowing in the wind before it goes from OOOOOOOH, PRETTY! to OOOOOOH, AGAIN?

This film, sadly, does nothing new, tries nothing new and really isn’t worth a viewing. The great thing about independent films, when utilized, is because they are made on such a small budget, by usually a tight-knit group of people who have developed the story and know it inside and out – is that they can get away with so much more, try so many new things, push the envelope and not have to answer to anyone who is funding it. So affairs like this, where it is the same old song and dance, irk me perhaps more than they should, because there is so much possibility, so few constraints, and while yes, I understand you don’t have big effects or seasoned actors, you can in theory do almost anything you want – take risks, be bold. But no, here we have a film that had such promise and totally shirked it to give us cliché after cliché.

I kept expecting something – some development, some twist, anything! – that would knock my socks off, shake it all up and really go for the Jugular. Or even just ONE scene that was FINALLY something I had not seen before. It never happens. I did enjoy that they kept vague the details of the virus and that we only knew as much about it as we got from the discussions the characters had with each other. While I did like that approach now I wonder if it wasn’t just lazy writing, the script not wanting to have to strictly define itself or establish solid rules to play by.

There are several flashbacks here which are oddly filmed and ill-placed – at times I had trouble telling if what I was seeing was supposed to be happening now or was in fact the recollection of a character.

So, the story – as it is – has a man in his car driving and he runs out of gas. He is escaping something we surmise. An opening screen tells us this is so many days after the initial outbreak – honestly, I don’t think the screenwriters took too much time developing this, so I’m not going to spend more time on it than they did, by going back and finding out the exact amount of time. My apologies, readers. So the unfortunate motorist happens upon a farm which at first appears deserted but he soon finds is inhabited by a very moody young woman who has no problem shooting trespassers dead. Only she doesn’t shoot him. And she doesn’t want him to stay. Only, she lets him spend the night, feeds him the next day and decides after she gives him gas and he is almost attacked – why am I such a flinty broad? Come on in and set up camp! They seem to develop a kind of tenuous understanding and amidst quite a lot of bickering form a fragile bond. Well, another interloper is about to show up, and the attacks upon the house by the raving insane are increasing. That is another thing the film doesn’t really address – are these zombies? Just unlucky infected? What are they after? Blood? Brains? Winning lottery numbers?

This script is just Frankensteined bits from better films – I’m all about paying homage to your influences but try to make something influencial yourself. There was real potential here – this film could have been a stellar and devastating affair, but is instead just a barely there xerox. C

A weed is a plant out of place.

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

It is the 1950s and Casey Affleck plays a deputy sheriff with an alien the devil’s spawn a killer inside of him. The movie starts promisingly enough with Fever playing and some very stylized, retro credits. Oh, but gag, the film soon sics a voice-over on us. “Out here if you catch a man with his pants down you apologize even if you have to arrest him afterwards.”

Every other scene in this film seems to be Casey Affleck (playing a deputy sheriff named Lou) fucking either Jessica Alba or Kate Hudson to a soundtrack that quickly becomes obnoxious, bludgeoning us over the head with western swing tunes. When watching sex gets boring, I am sad. It is as if every sex scene was filmed exactly the same way – in the key of mind-numbing to the tune of tedious. Total disinterest abounds.

No one here leaves a mark – Kate Hudson is the best, but she is given so little to do. The women in this film are represented in such cliché strokes – we get a bad mother, a prostitute who like rough sex and a schoolteacher who just wants to get married. And they are dealt spankings, beatings, punches and spit in their face. How ironic that Lou finds naked photographs of his mother in a Bible beside a book by Freud, and that the old images consecutively bring back memories of how mommy was WAY too hands on.

Lou is supposed to be the most intelligent person in town, even though the director tries only half-assed to make us believe it  – this deputy enjoys playing the piano and reading classics – yet he is also a malicious and calculating killer though he behaves often like someone who would not have the wit to win a game of Clue nevermind fool all of these people for all of this time and wreak such havoc.

One scene involves him chasing a blackmailer through the streets in broad daylight past neighborhood children and and into the town square brandishing a knife, after he has already fallen under suspicion and been targeted by the D.A. and  has moments before killed Kate Hudson in his own kitchen. He does concoct a ludicrous hair-brain excuse for this behavior, but I was past the point of buying any of it.

We are meant to see him as someone who is losing almost complete control, of his behavior and his mind, but there is nothing that makes any of this authentic enough to invest in, and the audience is neither enlightened or entertained along the journey. Casey Affleck is a good actor and he plays the hell out of this role but his character is such a void, such a nothing that it means so little in the end. The Saw movies are more genuine films than this, they know more about what they are and why they are – The Killer Inside Me is cinema full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

This movie goes out of its way to try and test us, to push our limits, to show us how much it can shock us, in a way that is childish and effectively castrates it by its own look-at-me-and-look-at-what-I-did awfulness. This is filmmaking so bloodless it has reached the point of anemia. The downfall here isn’t the violence or the lurid, corrupt characters who populate the film – the crime is that it is boring and insincere. There is really no reason for this film to exist – this story has been done so many times before and nothing new or substantial has been added now to warrant another telling.

As I have mentioned Kate Hudson is really the only actor who makes any kind of impression. There are two good parts in this movie and both involve her. The first is not a good scene but has a very interesting effect done very well – after Lou beats and kicks her to death, we literally see the life go out of her eyes. The only really good scene in the film is a late one involving a letter Kate Hudson’s character has written and intended – if she had lived – to give to the deputy. We see how it all would have played out, what would have happened if they had taken the trip she was under the impression they were embarking upon. She knows that he has done something – something bad – and she suspects it is indeed murder and she wants him to know that she still loves him, and wants to help him, any way she can, no matter how long she has to wait for him. She excuses herself when she gives him the letter in a diner and has written that if when she returns from the bathroom he has decided to leave, he can just put her suitcases inside the door, and she will try to find a job in a nearby town. This scene gives her more depth than any other character here has, and is the first and only real sign of any kind of humanity that exists in this world – it elevates her character out of the confines of the film. It is a delicately rewarding moment and the only honest scene in the film. Great acting here by Hudson, and the only bit of thoughtful writing in the script. But of course we cut right back to “reality” and Casey Affleck’s character, cloying as ever tosses off some dumb line that succeeds in undermining everything we have just seen and the film creaks back to the bottom.

Even in the end when a sort of justice is served, it is cheap and it cheats us because we do not care about who survived or who died too young and tragically. Does it effect us, does it change us, does it change them? No, sorry, not on the menu.

The last scene ends with the camera panning to a sky filling with smoke, and glorious release! THE END appears in white script as the soundtrack chides us: “Shame, shame on you.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. D+

The Not So Final Act

Scream 3 (2000)

So… (I love starting things that way) Sidney is in hiding and having visions of her dead mother, Gail and Dewey are on the outs again and Stab 3 is being filmed with Parker Posey and Emily Mortimer and Jenny McCarthy. McDreamy hasn’t yet become a doctor and is trying his hand as a detective that just loves movies and may be a little obsessed with Sid, Randy’s sister is Heather Matarazzo – and since she is here, we again have a member from the Roseanne cast – yay! Put John Goodman and Sandra Bernhard in the next one. Oh, yeah, and someone is killing people again.

Ehren Kruger took over most of the writing responsibilities from Kevin Williamson and sadly it shows. While this is probably the most comical Scream film – thanks mostly to Parker Posey – many of the jokes feel stale and fall flat. While the previous two incarnations felt fresh, knowing and had an almost tragic undertow, here it all feels rushed, tossed off and hack eyed. Thankfully we still have Wes Craven on board, who makes the film look like a Scream film even if it doesn’t feel like one.

All of the celebrity cameos in the world can’t distract from a production that has gone wildly off the tracks and lost the knife-edge horror/parody blend that the former installments got just right. Everything and everyone just feels sort of watered down and going through the motions-y. Before this was released in theaters a fake interview with Parker Posey was set loose online in which she “said” she only took this part because she had to pay some bills. I felt that was a great insult and a disservice at the time, but after having seen the movie, I now wish that interview had been real.

The characters behave so stupidly here (as if not only have they never seen a scary movie, but have not been in these similar situations twice before) by splitting up repeatedly and falling for the same old scary shtick. (And why is Sidney outfitted in almost exactly the same outfit that she had on at the end of the last film?) The script tries to make it all bigger than big by taking everything back to the beginning and blowing the lid off what we thought we knew. It does not work and the killer’s identity isn’t much of a shock either. It is the only character that we don’t see actually killed on screen – they show up as a dead body in a coffin in the basement – these writers sure aren’t giving us much credit as viewers. So while it works as a comedy, this is the only aspect that works – unlike the other two films – making it the weakest entry in the franchise. Yet, I must admit, every time I watch it I do find something new to appreciate about it. I’m curious about the new Scream sequel in production, and since it is apparently written by Kevin Williamson I’m optimistic. Maybe we can pretend Scream 3 never existed and sweep it under the rug the way the Halloween series ignored everything after the first sequel when H20 came out. Sadly, then we’d be without Parker Posey. My advice? Skip the scenes that she isn’t in. C+

“We do keep finding each other, don’t we?”

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

The first time I saw this sequel I thought it was hogwash. Yes, hogwash! A very subpar entry in the Hellraiser series. Now, I recognize it for what it is – the best Hellraiser sequel that has been made – and I’m a big fan of the Hellraiser sequels (except for Bloodline and Revelations). I’m not entirely sure why they are so often better than all the other franchise crap that gets churned out (especially considering that most came from the notorious Dimension Films) but maybe because these are direct to video (or DVD) affairs, they can get away with more? Or I just have way lowered expectations? Whatever it is, they sure do have some oomph. Now, I know many of the later entries were conceived as non-Pinhead entities before the studio came along and folded them in with the Hellrasier mythos – and possibly that may be part of why they are such a cut above. Who knows. I don’t! See, I admit it! But I sure do enjoy them more than the immediately declining in quality Nightmare on Elm Street (exceptions happen people! New Nightmare is awe-inspiring) or Halloween (H20 was good, see I mentioned exceptions already) offerings. And I refuse to talk bad about anything Friday The 13th related (unless we’re discussing that remake… or maybe A New Beginning) even if I did want to throw the $5.50 Walmart copy of Jason Goes To Hell into the street after I first watched it. But I digress…

Hellraiser 2 picks up right where Hellraiser left off – we even get a flashback to the events of the first film. How kind and considerate. Except… I thought the house burned down at the end of the original, and yet the mattress Julia died on seems pretty well intact. I mean minus all those blood stains – I wouldn’t suggest putting your best sheets on it or anything.

Well, now Kirsty wakes up in an institution and no one believes her cah-razy story about puzzle-boxes and demons from hell coming to claim and maim souls. Oh… but wait. That guy in charge… Dr. Chinnard (Kenneth Cranham)… he’s up to something! He arranges to have the bloody Julia-was-here mattress sent to his house. And gee whiz, he has three of the puzzle-boxes under glass in his study. And lots of cryptic spooooooky drawings on the wall that look very raising hellish.

Kyle (William Hope) – the new romantic interest (what about Steve?!) and assistant to Dr. Chinnard – decides to investigate Kirsty’s story – by breaking into Chinnard’s house wherein he discovers the strange collection. And hides behind a curtain all Hamlet-like when the mattress is delivered and the good doctor pulls a patient from solitary confinement to feed to the bed springs of doom. And boom – Julia returns, minus her skin.

This sequel specifically mines the same territory as Clive Barker’s original. I appreciated that they furthered the fairy tale elements set up in the first film, even if they do totally overplay it and make it way too obvious. Hell is not other people… hell is… the recycled set from Labyrinth inspired by M.C. ESCHER.

Also, there is this big black rotating triangle that looks like that thing that appears over The Sims but is much, much more wicked and not even green. It is called Leviathan and I had to wonder why something so powerful in the underwold would adopt the name of such a lame-ass underwater “thriller.” But I do like Meg Foster, so again, I digress…

A quite enjoyable sidetrip down the rabbit (hell?) hole. B-