Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Happy Death Day 2U, Cube, and Mayhem

Okay, I know. Halloween is over. Guess what? Horror Bingo continues until there’s a winner, and so far, it’s still neck and neck. The stakes are high! (There are literally no stakes of any kind.)

Happy November. Let’s twist this.

Happy Death Day 2U

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Year: 2019
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Happy Death Day 2U is an interesting sequel in that it slightly genre hops from “horror comedy with an SFF plot device” to “SFF comedy with vague slasher leanings.” I don’t know that it totally works for me, though. I really enjoy the embrace of parallel dimensions–it’s always fun to see what’s the same and what’s different in any given universe–but I’m also a tiny bit bummed by just how much of a backseat the whole slasher part takes. I was also a little disappointed when I realized that only Tree would get caught in the parallel dimension time loop. That’s what I’d been initially expecting, mind you, but then we began the movie with Ryan caught in his own time loop, and I had just long enough to think, Oh, that’s so INTERESTING, before we essentially just restarted Happy Death Day in Earth 2.

That being said, Tree’s reaction to realizing she’s back in the loop? Priceless. I still like Jessica Rothe as Tree, and a lot of the humor still works for me. (Some, admittedly, is a bit goofy for my tastes.) The emotional beats work too, mostly: I like that Tree is tempted to stay, though sometimes the swelling background music is trying way too hard; also, I definitely don’t care enough about Tree/Carter to make the World Where Mom is Alive vs. World Where Carter is My Boyfriend even remotely a debate. I also enjoyed getting to see the nicer, less homicidal Lori, though I do wish we had more time to spend on Comic Relief Scientist Friends.

I’m also still a little unsure about, well, most of the time/dimension mechanics, honestly. Why, exactly, was Ryan in a time loop again? Tree got stuck in hers when the quantum machine went off, but I don’t think it went off again, so . . . not sure? Also, while Alternate Ryan is interesting, I don’t know if he makes much sense, especially considering we get 2 Ryans in Earth 1, but only 1 Tree in Earth 2. I’m curious, too, about Alternate Tree, like, I get that her mind went traveling when our Tree came into the picture, but did she actually come back? Does she remember what happened to her? Would she have been stuck forever if our Tree decided to steal her life? It’s possible I missed some of these explanations, and even if I didn’t, I’m sure many would consider them nitpicks. But IDK. In some ways, Happy Death 2U is kinda intriguing; in other ways, I feel like there’s just so much more it could’ve played with and explored.

Cube

Year: 1997
Director: Vincenzo Natali
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, in this paragraph and in the trailer above
Grade: Vanilla

Cube came out when I was about 12, and I haven’t seen it since I was, IDK. 13? 15? It’s the first horror film I can think of, offhand, that uses an escape-the-booby-trapped-room set up; it’s also the oldest film I can remember that uses the Razor Floss death trope, which became popular a few years later. (Though if you can think of older films, please do let me know in the comments.) It’s definitely influential, and I can see why it’s gained something of a cult following. (Plus two sequels, neither of which I’ve watched.)

Some parts of this movie hold up better than others. I won’t pretend I can speak expertly about good autistic rep, but everything I’ve ever read suggests that the autistic savant character is a frustrating stereotype, one that’s become dominant in film and television since Rain Man. Some of the scene transitions are kinda laughable. Also, some of the actors are notably better than their costars, though I did have fun playing spot the actor. When I first watched Cube, the only person I knew was Nicole de Boer, who was on DS9. Now, I also recognize Nicky Guadagni from Ready or Not, David Hewlitt from Stargate: Atlantis, and Julian Richings, That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada. (You may also remember him from Urban Legend, which I just reviewed a few weeks ago.)

Still, it’s a fun concept and easily watchable, if you don’t mind how awful some of these characters are. Leaven, in particular, is so much worse than I remember, both incredibly whiny and also just a total jackass to Kazan. I enjoy how Quentin, a cop, is initially presented as the calm Good Guy, only for him to slowly reveal his true nature: namely, Sexist Murderous Dick. After all, the traps only kill 2 people; Quentin, himself, kills 3. I also like the twist that the rooms themselves are moving around. (Which, uh, the trailer just straight up spoils? Way to go, trailer.)

Cube is never gonna hit my personal Top Ten, but its influence cannot be denied, and it’s worth a watch if you also enjoy this type of horror. (Also, there’s apparently a new Japanese remake? Ooh, I hope it becomes available in the US. I want to check it out!)

Mayhem

Year: 2017
Director: Joe Lynch
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

I mean, look. I could watch Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving running around being chaotic neutral all day. They’re pretty delightful here, talking metal bands and Dave Matthews Band in between murdering people with power saws. This premise promises, well, mayhem, and it certainly delivers on that front. There were definitely moments I laughed out loud, although annoyingly, I’m having trouble remembering specific ones right now. I did love the moment when Derek confronts The Reaper in his office. Also, Ewan asking, “Do you think I like the taste of kale?” Heh.

As an actual satire, I do feel like it’s missing something. Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity with all the other mistreated coworkers, who are by and large just around for background gags or to act as no-name henchmen. Maybe it’s because almost everyone on the board of directors acts normal, despite the fact that they’ve also been infected. The only person really acting any different is our chief villain, John (AKA, The Boss), and even then he’s mostly just yelling more and doing a lot of cocaine. The film would be stronger, I think, if none of the bosses were infected, especially if they proved to be just as violent without the excuse of an infectious, inhibition-removing disease. I also can’t help but feel like Derek Cho is resting a lot on the legal precedent of one case, as if America’s justice system is just gonna automatically treat a person of color the same as some white guy.

So, yeah, I do think the satirical aspects of this script could be stronger. (Also, the accents, which is totally not a big deal, but like. Couldn’t this just have been an international company?) OTOH, if you’re mostly watching to see Steven Yeun absolutely flip his shit or Samara Weaving add another notch to her Fun Violent Ladies On Screen belt–and let’s be real, that’s absolutely why I watched it–I mean, yeah, it’s totally a decent movie to check out.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: A Quiet Place Part II, The People Under the Stairs, and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Horror Bingo continues, but first! An important change to our Very Serious Ice Cream Rating System:

The Old System: I review three films and award them Chocolate (first place), Vanilla (second place), and Strawberry (third place), regardless of how silly it is to compare wildly different movies like this. Every Triple Scoop Review has one of each flavor.

The New System: I review three films and grade them individually with this totally objective and highly scientific ice cream rating system:

God-Tier – Chocolate Salted Caramel
Really Enjoyed This – Chocolate
Enjoyed This Okay – Vanilla
Technically Proficient, But Not My Thing – Strawberry
Well, I Liked SOME of It – Rocky Road
I Actively Disliked This Movie – Pistachio
I Could Not Finish This Movie – Mint Chocolate Chip

Each Triple Scoop Review will be any combo of these flavors. Chocolate Salted Caramel probably won’t get used very often (I suspect it will primarily be awarded to old sentimental favorites), and I honestly kinda doubt I’ll use Mint Chocolate Chip at all because I can’t even remember the last time I started a movie and didn’t finish it. Feel free to argue about how I’ve unfairly maligned mint chocolate chip (or any of the other ice cream flavors) in the comments below, of course, but just know that your opinions are wrong and wrong forever.

With that, let’s get back to our movies!

A Quiet Place Part II

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Year: 2020
Director: John Krasinski
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Paramount Plus
Spoilers: Yes, in paragraphs 3 and 4
Grade: Chocolate

A Quiet Place Part II is a very competently made sequel, and for the most part, I had a pretty great time watching it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first one, but I have the general sense that AQPP II got the Aliens treatment, you know, a little louder than its predecessor, more action all around, a bit less claustrophobic in terms of both setting and scope. But like Aliens, that totally works here, and most of what  I really enjoyed about the first film (an active Deaf protagonist, creepy Demogorgon monsters, the close focus on the Abbott family) is still present in the sequel.

Many of the scenes in AQP II have serious video game energy: the opener (which would also make for one hell of a Disneyland ride), the destroyed train scene, any of the moments when someone has to stay perfectly silent and still. (It’d be like in Until Dawn, where periodically you can’t shake the controller or INSTANT DEATH FOR YOU.) It’s all very fun, tense and entertaining. I also enjoyed Cillian Murphy in this, less because Emmett is a particularly groundbreaking character and more because Murphy is just a fantastic actor who elevates the material. All the acting is really solid, actually, and I hope to see Millicent Simmonds in more stuff because once again she’s excellent.

My primary quibbles are these: A) JFC, stop casting Djimon Hounsou just to waste him like this, and B) the feral people don’t totally work for me, mostly cause they seem, like, weird fucked up instead of normal “we kill people for food and joy” fucked up? Like, their eyes are all weird and shit, I don’t know. Maybe they’re sick with some kind of radiation? Vague Zombie Disease? It’s not that I particularly wanted a detailed backstory for these ten-minute antagonists, but they also feel slightly out of place to me like this: a bit forced and unnecessarily distracting

That being said, I did enjoy how “dive” came back around. I also like that the island community isn’t some devious trap and how nobody in the family dies; even Cillian Murphy doesn’t get the obvious redemption death I’d initially predicted. Sometimes, going optimistic works in your favor because, in horror, optimism is often the more surprising and exciting choice. (Which is another reason Djimon Hounsou’s death here annoys me so much; it’s such a predictable, throwaway moment. If his character has to die, fine, but why like this?) I like the triumph in this ending, too, as the kids each literally step up to kill the monster and protect their respective adults. It feels a touch abrupt, since we don’t actually see our heroes meet up again, but I also kinda enjoy it.

The People Under the Stairs

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Year: 1991
Director: Wes Craven
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Peacock
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no, not really
Grade: Chocolate

You know, I really enjoyed this movie. I’d never gotten around to seeing it before and the very little I knew–basically, there are weird people, and they live under the stairs–had me expecting something a bit more Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes. I wasn’t at all prepared for a satirical gothic horror criticizing conservatives, landlords, and gentrification, certainly not one with dark fairy tale sensibilities, deliciously over-the-top villains, cannibalism, bondage suits, and jokes, just like, all the jokes. This movie is a weird mishmash of a story that’s rocking at least four different tones, and I don’t exactly know why it works so well for me, but it really does.

I enjoy all of the acting, especially Wendy Robie as Mommy (or the Woman, as she’s credited). Her performance is so energetic and creepy and hilarious, and she makes for a delightful villain. This Lack of Impressed face right here, as she looks at Daddy?

Home Alone Film GIF by Arrow Video - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh, man. I felt that in my bones.

But the whole cast is pretty great. Fool is a funny, resourceful MC, and I think Brandon Quintin Adams does a great job with him, especially considering he’s all of, what? 10 or 11 here? I enjoyed A.J. Longer as Alice, too. Ving Rhames and Bill Cobbs were both a delightful surprise, and of course, this Twin Peaks fan was deeply amused to see Everett McGill here alongside Wendy Robie. I also really liked Sean Whalen, who I will always remember from Michael Bay’s “Got Milk” commercial. (Heh. I love that isn’t a joke.)

This is a story about a Black child living in a Black neighborhood trying to save his family from eviction, but it’s written and directed by a white man; as such, there are probably improvements that could be made here. If TPUtS ever does get a remake (and I know there’s been some talk), I’d really hope to see it in the hands of a Black filmmaker. But I don’t have a lot else that I wanna criticize. I thought the pacing was a bit off, maybe? But I also watched it with a couple of commercials (sacrilege, I know) and I had to take a couple additional pause breaks for my cat, so that easily could’ve been the problem. And yeah, there were a couple gags that were bit corny for my personal preference; mostly, though, I just laughed a lot. I adore pretty much the whole aesthetic: the costumes (particularly Mommy’s and Alice’s) and also the design of the house, with its multiple hidden passages and secret doors. I quite like the ending, too.

I kinda wish I’d seen this as a kid. I didn’t really get into horror until I was in junior high, but I wonder if this might’ve been the rare exception because in some ways, it kind of plays like a children’s movie–albeit a very, very dark, very, very weird children’s movie. I could absolutely marathon this with Return to Oz and The Witches.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

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Year: 2021
Director: Adam Robitel
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Only in the 4th paragraph (but spoilers throughout for the first film)
Grade: Vanilla

We watched the theatrical cut of this movie, and that’s important because the theatrical cut and the extended cut are apparently wildly different films, with completely different beginnings and endings and even different people pulling the Escape Room strings. That’s . . . weird, right? I feel like that’s weird.

Tournament of Champions is a decent sequel, though I did enjoy its predecessor more. (To be fair, my expectations for the first film were . . . not high.) I did have a good time watching this: I like death games and ridiculous horror, and obviously, yours truly was happy to see Holland Roden as one of the new players. Indya Moore was also a fun addition to the cast. I wish I found Zoey a more compelling protagonist, but I still don’t buy many of Taylor Russell’s line deliveries. I do enjoy Zoey and Ben together, though. Logan Miller is fun, and there’s something potentially interesting about a team who survived the first game entering a whole new one with a bunch of soul survivors.

The rooms and death traps are silly and enjoyable, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Tournament of Champions was trying a little too hard to top the previous film. I did have fun (I definitely laughed when one one of the characters clowned on a dude for trying to be the Chosen One), but the sequel has basically the exact same formula as the first movie, only slightly more . . . rushed? Ludicrous? I just feel like something’s missing, and I’m not quite sure what. Maybe I just wish the puzzles themselves had been more interesting. There aren’t many surprising or exciting plot developments here except for a twist that’s telegraphed a bit too hard.

Regarding that twist, well. In the first movie, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), who was kinda awesome, fell to her death, only it turns out that she survived, and was forced to design this Escape Room, otherwise Evil Minos would kill her daughter. I was bummed when Amanda died, so I kinda like this, except . . . IDK, it almost feels weirdly more depressing, like Amanda was pretty badass in the first film, but now she’s just broken, and never really gets an arc or a standout moment or even much screen time; in fact, she’s basically dropped once they all “escape.” Mostly, it feels like she’s around to show that unlike Amanda, Zoey would never break. Which, meh. Frankly, I’d probably have traded Rachel and Brianna for Zoey in a heartbeat. Partially because I just like them more, but also because their deaths specifically feel predetermined by the game, like they never really had a shot at winning, and that’s kind of a bummer, too.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Candyman, Urban Legend, and A Bay of Blood

Friends! Enemies! Other Random People! It is October, and that means it is finally time for our 3rd Annual Horror Bingo!

The Game Set-Up: Mek and I each came up with our own list of 15 horror movies. We wrote those movie names down and put them together in a little Halloween bucket; then we randomly drew titles until we’d finished creating our own bingo cards. (The Free Space, if you were wondering, is the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. We’ll watch it sometime later this month.) Then all the movies went back in the bucket, and now we’re taking turns drawing and watching scary movies until one of us finally hits Bingo.

Here’s to hopefully winning for the third year in a row!

Candyman

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Year: 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Strawberry

For me, Candyman doesn’t quite come together. I definitely don’t regret watching it; in fact, there’s an awful lot to like here. The cast, for instance, is fantastic. I particularly like Teyonah Parris and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Troy is so extra, and I love him), but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Colman Domingo also do solid work here. A lot of the individual creepy moments are great. Peeling skin. Shadow puppets. The wrong reflection in the mirror. Some awesome funny moments, too: Brianna’s reaction to the dark staircase. Most of Troy’s dialogue. Anytime anyone nopes out of saying Candyman. (White people are, almost exclusively, making poor life choices here.)

Candyman has a lot of interesting things to say about gentrification, about police brutality, about the exploitation of Black pain and the holy shit cringe of white people trying to dictate what stories Black people are allowed to tell. It talks about legends and collective trauma and makes some fascinating choices in terms of updating the Candyman mythology. This movie has so much to say; unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough time to say it.

Candyman is only about 1 hour and 30 minutes long, and while that initially excited me (I am not, generally speaking, a huge fan of the 2 hour, 45 minute horror film), I think this particular story needed to be at least two hours, easy. Everything just feels extremely rushed or underdeveloped to me: Anthony’s spiral, Brianna’s backstory, and definitely a couple of Reveals that I can’t discuss without spoilers. It felt like we were flying past important steps, which kept me from ever really feeling that buildup of tension that can be so pivotal in horror. I love the idea of the ending (the scene in the police car is particularly fantastic) but the ten-minute lead-up to that scene felt so hurried and convoluted that it just doesn’t land for me nearly as well as it could. There’s also a tie-in to the the original film that I’m not totally sure is necessary; I don’t hate it, exactly, but it’s one more thing in a story that already has a lot going on.

Finally, dear God. Google what a normal bee sting looks like, and if you’re noticing some rather noticeable differences between your search results and your fucking death hand, go to the ER immediately. I am begging you.

Urban Legend

Year: 1998
Director: Jamie Blanks
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

It’s been years–maybe 20 of them, JFC–since I’ve seen Urban Legend, so I thought it’d be fun to finally rewatch it. This movie is one of the quintessential 90’s slashers, with hilarious 90’s problems (the internet is tying up the phone line!), some very 90’s music (OMG, “Zoot Suit Riot”), and an extremely 90’s cast. Holy shit, this cast. Final Girl Alicia Witt. Jared Leto, who’s more off-putting than I remember. (And not just because he’s kinda insufferable now.) Rebecca Gayheart, who–holy shit, she accidentally killed a child. I knew there had been a vehicular manslaughter charge (which is particularly . . . something, considering Brenda’s villainous motivations), but I didn’t know it was a nine-year-old boy. I just found all these ‘Rebecca Gayheart finally breaks her silence on tragic accident that left a kid dead’ articles, and like, I don’t know this actress, I’m not gonna offer an opinion on her sincerity or guilt, but wow, these headlines are passive, deliberately distancing Gayheart from her actions. And the tone of each article, like. They all really center her grief, her trauma, in a way that feels . . . yeah, kinda icky to me.

Okay, I got sidetracked. Also in this cast: Joshua Jackson (in his brief blond phase), Michael Rosenbaum (always funny to see him with hair), Danielle Harris (of Halloween and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead fame), Brad Dourif (also in Rob Zombie’s Halloween, plus the Chucky movies, plus eight billion other weirdo roles), Robert Englund (I mean, do I even need to say), Loretta Devine (who rather surprisingly doesn’t die!), John Neville (who I vaguely remember from The X-Files), and Julian Richings (That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada).

While slashers aren’t, by and large, known for their likable characters, seriously, almost everyone in Urban Legend is kind of a dick. Like, am I supposed to be rooting for Natalie and Paul? Cause, yeah, nope. Frankly, I was cheering Brenda on until, y’know. She microwaved a puppy. (Apparently, this is an actual urban legend?) Tara Reid is playing one of the more likable characters here, which, I mean, I’m not saying it never happens–all hail Josie and the Pussycats–but still. These people are dire.

Urban Legends is silly but enjoyable, and I laughed a lot. Sometimes when I was supposed to (the “I Don’t Want to Wait” gag, Damon’s sleaze act, Natalie punching Damon for being a sleaze, etc.), sometimes when I probably wasn’t (pretty much the entire opening act or how Rebecca Gayheart’s hair suddenly grows three sizes when she’s revealed as the villain). It does feel a bit slow at times, probably because I truly don’t give a shit about anybody here, like, just zero investment in these characters. But I do really enjoy that Brenda’s the bad guy. It’s the only slasher I can think of offhand where the BFF is the killer. And hey, she even unambiguously survives! Not something BFFs are known for in this genre. (Villains, naturally, can go either way.)

A Bay of Blood

Year: 1971
Director: Mario Bava
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: All of them
Grade: Vanilla

Ah, A Bay of Blood, AKA: Ecologia del delitto, AKA: Reazione a Catena, AKA: Carnage, AKA: Blood Bath, and–my personal favorite–AKA: Twitch of the Death Nerve. It’s sorta hilarious to me how controversial this movie was when it first came out. I mean, I get it. This was a huge inspiration for the slasher genre and just crazy gory for 1971; in fact, some of the shots are still striking today, particularly the octopus slithering all over the dead body, like, Jesus. (Other moments that stick out: the countess’s hanging, the kid who gets a billhook machete to the face, the tarot reader’s decapitation–mostly because it made me laugh–and Laura’s corpse, partly because of the transition from flashback to dead body, partly cause she reminds me of Casey Becker in that shot.)

There’s a lot I like here. As a murder mystery nerd, I’m kind of obsessed with stories with more than one murderer–and not just partners-in-crime, but multiple separate killers. A Bay of Blood has 13 deaths and FOUR different killers. Six, if you count the accidental Murder Children, and boy, will we get back to those two. Anyway, I just think that’s neat. I’m really into the whole chain reaction of death, too, all, whelp, guess I gotta go murder again, or hmm, looks like an ideal time to bump someone off. I’m also very fond of the OST, which–in true 70’s Italian style–is totally weird and somehow still works, from the grandiose piano music to the more jaunty stuff to the ludicrously cheerful song that plays right after the Murder Children unwittingly kill their killer parents.

Structurally, though, I have problems. It should work: open with an inciting death or two, set up your cast of characters, kill off a few here or there, and then 3rd Act Blood Bath! But the pacing really feels off in the 1st half of the film. We spend fucking forever on these teenagers. (One has possibly the worst haircut I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know what to call it. Fluffy Mullet With Wings, maybe?) And while some shots and editing choices are great, others feel extremely random and choppy. The dialogue isn’t the best, either, although that’s hard  to judge, considering the dubbing and poor sound quality. Possibly, I missed stuff, like . . . why did these people just decide to leave their kids behind in a camper on the side of the road in the middle of the night again?

I can’t quite decide how I feel about that ending, either. The awful parents are the last murderers left standing, only they immediately get killed by their own children, who shoot them without realizing the guns are very real. These kids fucking skip off into the sunset, thinking their parents are only playing dead, and I mean–yeah, I definitely laughed to the tune of what the actual fuck. But the last minute Comeuppance Twist doesn’t always play for me, and ultimately, I’m not sure if I love it here.

I do really feel like A Bay of Blood might be one that grows on me, but I’ll have to think it over. TBH, I kinda want to see a remake. The cinematic blasphemy, I know.