Robert Zemeckis’s Death Becomes Her is a such a frickin sexy, good looking film that you think it’s glamorizing death but it cleverly ducks that later on, using its devilish central premise to poke fun at just how vain, petty and superficial some people are and to hilariously show the awkward clumsiness and unwieldy, bizarre nature of the human body getting older and dying using morbid dark humour and screwball comic sensibilities. Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are two bitter rivals with a decades long feud over the same man, mild mannered undertaker Bruce Willis. When I say mild mannered I mean that as an understatement; this is the antithesis of classic Willis tough guys we are used to, he’s constantly shook, rattled, neurotic and absolutely hysterical as a poor sod stuck in between two crazy bitches. Streep’s character just can’t even handle her body getting older, so she obtains some magic potion with suspiciously vague properties from a shady gypsy witch (Isabella Rossellini is like… unreasonably sexy here) and suddenly she’s a perky, nubile young’in once again… but it’s not without its side effects. When she’s accidentally ‘killed,’ her body just doesn’t wanna stay dead and she’s basically a really whiny zombie chick… and just wait til you see the kind of undead insanity it escalates to from there. Hawn and Streep are terrific in their roles as these two supremely unlikeable shrieking banshee harridans, while Willis is a royal hoot as the hapless, anxiety ridden boob. I like the film’s overall condemnation of materialistic whinging over ones physical appearance and the incessant vanity that permeates western culture. The special effects are wonderfully wild and even quite scary in places as a spectacularly uncoordinated zombie Meryl Streep jerks and careens about her mansion like a drunken slinky, terrifying everyone in sight. Playful direction from Zemeckis, caustically witty screenplay courtesy of David Koepp, engaging lead performances and a spooky Alan Silvestri score, this one is a barrel of fun.
I’m not sure why the general reception to Mathieu Kassovitz’s Gothika was bad bordering on hostile and I have nothing to say to people who hate this film other than I love it and really don’t see what the huge issues with it are. This is an atmospheric, expressionistic horror film made by a European director who favours image, sound, stylistic viscera, trippy nightmare logic and frightening tonal discordance over plot mechanisms, which is just fine by me. Halle Berry plays an expert psychiatrist at a scary Arkham Asylum looking facility where a disturbed patient (Penelope Cruz) whispers of unseen terrors that haunt her. One day Berry wakes up as a patient in her own ward, told by her colleague (Robert Downey Jr) that she’s guilty of killing her husband (Charles S. Dutton). She has no memory of the night in question except meeting a mysterious, ghostlike girl (Kathleen Mackey) on the road right before the alleged crime. Others including the local sheriff (John Carroll Lynch) and the facility’s director (Bernard Hill, always fantastic) try to get to the bottom of this supernaturally drenched murder mystery while Berry struggles to keep her sanity as she’s plagued by terrifying visions, waking nightmares and the ominous presence of the ghost girl. Look, not everything in this film’s plot makes the most sense, but it’s clear enough to serve as narrative framework for one of the most darkly evocative, visually eerie and audibly menacing auras in a horror film. It’s essentially a haunted house flick with a very real (and very horrific) murder/rape conspiracy playing alongside, as Berry wanders the stylized grounds of the asylum pursued by noises, grotesque deformations, tactile hallucinations and that persistent ghost girl who demonstrates the most effective and chilling use of the “jerky, otherworldly backwards ghost walk” I’ve probably ever seen. Berry and Downey Jr are terrific while Cruz does some very scary, against type work as the extremely disturbed trauma victim who holds secrets to the mystery she guards cryptically. I love this film, I love its weird, borderline surreal vibes, I love how lurid and gruesome the murder mystery is, how the production and sound design stimulate every sense and the film draws me into its world spectacularly every time.
Joel Schumacher’s The Number 23 is one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a long time, so much so that I couldn’t even really get mad at it, I just sat there in disbelief looking at this adorable kindergarten level film noir huff and puff and try to be edgy and dangerous. Maybe it’s the fact that Jim Carrey is in a serious role, or the script is just so hilariously scattered and overcooked or that Carrey plays a freaking dog catcher (do those even exist anymore?) but for whatever reason I just couldn’t take this thing remotely seriously. So the plot, best as I could jigsaw it together from the hack job of a script: Jim is a mild mannered animal wrangler who finds an ancient Nordic mask that when worn, turns the wearer into- gotcha, didn’t I? Okay for real this time: he *is* an animal wrangler but instead he finds a little self published memoir written by a disturbed big city cop named Fingerling (also Jim with spray on tribal tattoos). In this book the detective is plagued by the number 23, which seems to show up everywhere including, you guessed it, in the real world where it haunts animal wrangler Jim as well. His wife (Virginia Madsen) and kid (Logan Lerman) do their best to both play along and look on in concern as he lets a numeric equation take over his life. There’s a grab bag of subplots including a mysterious psychiatrist (an uncredited Bud Cort), Danny Huston as a colleague who does his best to help, a death row inmate (Mark Pellegrino), a secretive dead girl (Rhona Mitra) and, uh.. a mysterious dog that leads people to gravestones of importance. It all seems hastily thrown together, none of it works or makes any kind of sense let alone lands with any emotional impact or narrative synergy and the ending left me chuckling in bemusement, my lack of conviction in this film equaled only by that it has in itself, which apparently is none. The wannabe noir cutaways to the book about Fingerling are laughably try-hard (Carrey literally wistfully plays a saxophone and stares out an apartment bay-window) and wincingly faux kinky, the psychological character aspects involving the twist ending are so far flung I threw my arms up in surrender and honestly it all felt like several better films tossed into a magic bullet and puréed into an indistinguishable pulp. The only scene with any kind of real power is in a graveyard with this fog, who fascinated me; a priest (Ed Lauter, RIP) informs frenzied animal wrangler Jim that this is a spirit dog who watched over the souls of the dead by standing at their graves. This scene *actually* has conviction, atmosphere and emotional substance, and it gave me chills… but it’s untethered from the film as a whole and has no bearing on the context or overall plot! It’s just… a scene! out of the ether! The same goes for the film as a whole.. what does the dog have to do with the dead girl have to do with the shrink have to do with Jim’s knockoff tribal tattoos have to do with the number 23? Not much of anything, and what little does fit together or add up… just feels stupid.
I’m not sure why a gorgeous, thrilling horror/western/adventure like Ron Howard’s The Missing didn’t win over audiences as much as it should have upon release, but it’s one of my favourite in the genre, the best film overall from Howard (IMHO) who has always felt like an uneven, ‘play it safe’ Hollywood filmmaker to me and one of my go-to films to revisit. This films plays it anything but safe, blanketing a very personal, desperate set of protagonists and their struggles with a cloak of menace, mysticism and marauding danger around every corner of a threatening New Mexico brush-scape. Cate Blanchett gives one of her most raw, affecting turns as single rancher and single mother Magdalena Gillekson, a woman with a great deal of trauma in her past who is simply trying to live the isolated homesteader life and raise her two daughters (Jenna Boyd and Evan Rachel Wood) right, with the help of her friend, ranch-hand and sometimes lover Brake (Aaron Eckhart). Their lives are first upheaved with the reappearance of her ne’er do well father Samuel (Tommy Lee Jones), a halfbreed nomad who is disgraced most people in his past, and then with the arrival of a terrifying witch-doctor (Eric Schweig) who kidnaps her eldest daughter and makes off with his gang of Apache and white human traffickers towards the Mexican border to sell her and a whole bunch of other girls they’ve taken. So begins a journey of reconnaissance, rescue and reconciliation as Magdalena, Samuel and the younger daughter voyage across wintry plains of New Mexico into barren badlands to square off with this evil cabal of predatory psychopaths and return the stolen girls to their homes. These two characters that Blanchett and Jones play fascinate me; she’s cold, bitter and has clearly been robbed of some of her humanity in the past. He’s an outcast loner with a life story so dysfunctional that his Native name literally translates into English as ‘shit for luck.’ Their struggle to salvage any kind of father daughter relationship between them is almost as daunting as the brutal rescue mission they undertake, and the narrative pays just as much careful attention to character development and human interaction as it does to action and violence. Schweig is utterly despicable as the evil Apache shaman, a hateful, volatile, ugly as fuck rotten bastard monster who haunts the film like the very wind over the terrain itself with his unholy magic spells and sudden outbursts of shocking violence. The supporting cast is full of rich talent including Elizabeth Moss, Steve Reeves, Jay Tavare, Ray McKinnon, Max Perlich, Simon Baker, Clint Howard and a surprise cameo from Val Kilmer. As good as everyone is overall, my favourite performance of the film goes to Jenna Boyd as the youngest daughter.. it’s hard enough to find child actors who will be able to to the minimal amount of believable emotion in a role like this, but she is uncannily talented and her potent terror, fierce resilience and undimmed love for her mother and sister woven into her work simply knocked me flat. The late James Horner composes a score that tops the list of prolific work from him for me, an ambient collection of classic yet somehow eerie western motifs that play along the sideline for the first two acts and then swell with orchestral release later when the finale rolls around. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino makes spooky use of the wide open vistas, craggy, labyrinthine geological structures and captures the rugged natural beauty of the region splendidly. I wish Howard would do more edgy, off the beaten path and thoroughly dark pieces of work like this because for my money he’s never been better. Perhaps that’s why this wasn’t received so well though, it’s a harrowing far cry from what we’re used to seeing in Hollywood westerns, full of black magic, dark deeds, horrifying imagery and bloody, unforgiving violence. It has a soul too though, present in the bittersweet relationship between its main characters and the ruthless resolve they fuel in each other to seek retribution against the forces of darkness at their door. This is a great film and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, I think it was just either misunderstood, ahead of its time or people simply couldn’t reconcile the heavier aspects. I’ve recently acquired the only existing Blu Ray put out by Shout Factory which is an absolutely gorgeous release that includes an extended version with twenty minutes more footage that enriches and deepens this story wonderfully. One of the best films of the last two decades.
80’s Amblin nostalgia fuses together with classic Hammer horror characters in The Monster Squad, a film I never even knew existed until it was brought to my attention by twitter peeps the other day, but after one viewing I’m immediately in love. This exists in the same cherished vein of stuff like The Goonies, Flight Of The Navigator, Gremlins etc and the aesthetic is always irresistible no matter what, then throw in this classic horror flavour too and you’re pretty much guaranteed to win me over. Monsters are loose in small town Americana, and that’s pretty much all you need to known plot-wise in a review. A band of local kids who call themselves The Monster Squad because they’ve always been prepping to fight imaginary beasties finds themselves hurled into a very real fight against a very real posse of them lead by Dracula himself (Duncan Regehr). There’s also a nervous Wolfman (Jon Gries), a mummy (Michael Reid Mackay) and a surprisingly benign Frankenstein’s monster played by the great Tom Noonan. It’s all very playful, loosely structured and down to earth, the child characters emblazoned with the kind of aggressively cute, profane yet ultimately sweet personalities that only the deepest of 80’s cuts in cinema could offer. The best part of the film for me was the warm-hearted, touching friendship between one of the squad’s baby sister (Ashley Bank) and Noonan’s monster who are both unbearably adorable. Blessedly prosthetic monster effects, a campy yet very smartly written tone and vivid, memorable characters make this an absolute treasure.
Now this is how you do a monster movie. Blood Glacier is a terrific Euro-Schlock horror about scientists at a remote research station in the snowy Austrian Alps who discover a spectacularly troublesome micro-organism that arrives in the glacial thaw and stirs up all kinds of cryptozoological shit. The thawing out of creatures from ice, research station and gooey prosthetic effects will draw obvious comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing which are of course fair, but the biological modus operandi of the organism differs from that of The Thing and this film finds its own suitable groove. Here’s the hook: this life-force invades the cells of multiple creatures at once, stores the genetic data and creates multifaceted hybrid creatures, so you get a big ass fox/beetle cross, a strange goat/human fucker and wood-bug lice things the size of basketballs that attach themselves to humans like face-huggers and devour their heads. The special effects are obviously limited somewhat by budget but are still incredibly creative, blessedly free of CGI and elaborately slimy enough to be aesthetically pleasing. The human actors/characters are an interesting bunch, as the research scientists join forces with a German family unlucky enough to be hiking in the area and go postal on these pseudo-Lovecraft aberrations which Mother Nature has hurled forth at them. A word of caution though: if you have trouble watching animals in pain, getting hurt or killed onscreen you may want to think twice. The research camp has a dog (similar situation to The Thing) that passes away in the kind of heart wrenching, hyper-emotional sequence I haven’t seen the likes of since Will Smith sang his pupper to permanent sleep in I Am Legend, it’s a tough scene for animal lovers to fight through. This is an impressive effort though with a very cool premise, extremely creative monster effects and a cool wintry atmosphere to boot. God times.
An ice fishing trip goes horribly wrong for Michael Rooker and his family in Hypothermia, an impossibly cheap winter Schlocker that I probably wouldn’t have bothered with had it not had Rooker in it, but here we are. It’s not that this film is bad on ‘low budget B-horror flick’ terms, it’s just that it commits one cardinal sin that can assuredly either make or break a creature feature: it’s monster is unforgivably lame. Rooker and his cutesy pie middle class family are on their annual ice fishing family holiday when they realize that some sort of giant fish man thing is stalking them from under the ice, and are forced to band together with another rowdy father son duo to survive, and kill this walking filet if they can. Rooker is clearly the only professionally trained actor here and is very good, but he always puts in 110% no matter the material, one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the guy. The rest of the cast.. not so much. This is the kinda thing that plays on SyFy channel at 2am for us night owl schlock aficionados to drowsily absorb, and it would be a perfect example of that done successfully… if it weren’t for this godawful, clunky and outright embarrassing monster they’ve made. Having a low budget is no excuse either; you can make a pretty convincing ‘fish man monster’ with little to no funds using elbow grease, prosthetics and ingenuity. Check out Blumhouse’s Sweetheart from this year for proof of that, which has a terrific fish-man monster and couldn’t have had much higher budget than this. I’ve included a picture of this thing and don’t bawk about spoilers because it’s just not even impressive enough to spoil, it looks like the Lego version of Swamp Thing or some shit. This could have been a decent monster flick if they’d, you know, bothered with the actual monster, but they didn’t and as a result the whole thing kinda buckles and capsizes in the ice like multiple characters do in the film. Lame.
Here’s a hypothetical for you: let’s say you’re a middle aged male widower mourning the loss of your severely mentally ill wife who shot herself mere months ago, in front of your two young children no less. You’re grieving, your kids are all kinds of fucked up, and you’ve decided to date again. Your new young girlfriend has recently been rescued from a whacked out, abusive doomsday cult and is adjusting to normal life again with utmost fragility. You take a vacation to a secluded ski lodge in the winter, thinking it will be nice for your equally traumatized children and girlfriend to get some bonding time in. Now… in this scenario, all things considered, how would it be responsible, intuitively practical or remotely advisable in any way whatsoever to take off and leave your kids alone with this girl for an extended period of time? The Lodge is based around this premise and while it’s very well acted, shot and quite atmospheric, the entire film didn’t work for me because I just couldn’t bring myself to take stock in such a ludicrous narrative gambit such as this. Richard Armitage is solidly haunted as the father, Riley Keogh an unsettling porcelain waif as the disturbed new girlfriend, Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh capable as the two kids. Alicia Silverstone (of all people) gives the best performance of the film in her quick turn as the ailing mother, I didn’t think I’d ever give high dramatic praise to the Clueless girl but here we are, she owns her cameo with disconcerting resolve. This film’s issues aren’t with acting, cinematography or even music, which are all exemplary. It’s the script that doesn’t ring true, and offsets the entire thing. Besides the dad leaving them alone together (facepalm), the kids pull some weird shit on the girlfriend that spurs the horrific final act into motion. I mean I know these kids aren’t in their right minds, they’re grappling with life and death at a young age etc etc, but they *still* should have intuitively known better, on a deep level, than to pull the kind of cruel, damaging stunt they do here. I think every beat in the story after the mom’s suicide just felt false, discernibly orchestrated and hollow to me, and the film majorly loses its way before it even has a chance to get going past the prologue. Misfire overall.
You think your family has dysfunctional issues around Christmas, try spending a supernatural road trip to nowhere with the Harringtons in the hidden gem holiday horror flick Dead End, a clever, gory, darkly hilarious and altogether deranged piece that should have gotten way more attention. This family has packed up to head to the in-laws for Christmas dinner and headed out onto a shortcut off the interstate that proves to be anything but convenient. In fact it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere except in one never ending straight line cutting through a vast forest, and soon they are preyed upon by a mysterious lady in white (Amber Smith) and a sinister black hearse that glides through the night. Mom and dad Harrington (Ray Wise & Lin Shaye) constantly bicker about nothing in particular, their son and daughter (Mick Cain & Alexandra Holden) are also at each other’s throats and soon the rising tension of being lost in an endless netherworld of road and trees really starts to put a collective damper on this clan’s capacity for Yuletide cheer. This is low budget and as such has a down to earth, tactile and modest feel to the special effects but where it really excels is in script and acting. The dialogue is impossibly juicy, intimidatingly sarcastic and relentlessly funny. Each cast member goes through a complete mental breakdown at some point in the story and the manic meltdowns one might experience in a heightened situation like that eerily mirror those of simply being forced to eat Christmas dinner sat with your relatives. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye are old pros and have a blast going absolutely holiday bonkers in their roles, they are both known for being kind of larger than life and outlandish in their portrayals (he works for David Lynch frequently, she’s a longtime Farrelly brothers collaborator) but this little unknown indie horror might just showcase both at the height of their scenery chewing glory. It’s a spooky, atmospheric little piece that has just the right amount of holiday themed black comedy without veering into actual Christmas movie territory and still retaining a mostly horror-centric flavour. Great film.
Alright, the Bruce Willis space movie. Breach (aka AntiLife) isn’t terrible, it’s just not super inspired or original and if you go in with your nose already turned up at it, well that’s on you bud, you silly cinephile you. However, if you’re a periodically undemanding moviegoer who enjoys a nice schlocktastic cheapie once in a while you may just get a kick out of it. This thing riffs on everything from Doom to The Thing to Pandorum and if you don’t have expectations higher than Bruce Willis and Johnny Messner clearly got while filming their scenes then you’ll have just as much fun as the two of them clearly did. So it’s sometime in the future and earth has been all but decimated by a plague, the remnants of humanity are packed into a giant space station and hurtled towards a distant exoplanet called ‘New Earth’ under the stern, hambone stewardship of The Admiral (Thomas Jane). Most of the passengers slumber in tranquil cryogenic sleep save for a barebones maintenance crew managed by Willis’s once great colonel turned disgraced alcoholic janitor. They’re watched like a hawk by a military man (Timothy V. Murphy) that Willis literally refers to as a ‘space Nazi’ (to his face), but somehow a doomsday zealot manages to smuggle some freaky alien parasite onboard which quickly begins infecting the crew and turning them into ink spewing, putrefied space zombies. Willis and his team that includes Cody Kearsely, Corey Large, Callab Mulvey, Continuum’s Rachel Nichols and scene stealing Messner are stuck fighting off legions of what I suppose would count as the undead in a way but they’re more like a hive minded organism, really. Willis is cool here and actually looks like he’s having a modicum of fun compared to other B flicks he’s recently done. He also plays against type as kind of a reverse action hero and I never thought I’d see the day he plays a character that gets referred to as a ‘lover, not a fighter.’ Jane only has a few atypical military A-hole scenes but he fires off his lines with glib, cavalier flair and I find it hysterical how intensely he insists on wearing his pitch dark tinted aviator shades *indoors*, in a dimly lit spaceship no less. Look, it’s junk, I won’t call pretend it’s a great film, but as an avid lover of cinematic junk food it did the trick for me, and I had fun with it.