Triple Scoop Review: The Ninth Guest, Mortal Kombat, and Palm Springs

The 9th Guest

Year: 1934
Director: Roy William Neill
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

Despite the low Strawberry grade, I actually found this movie quite a bit of fun. No surprise there, really, considering it’s about a group of people who are invited to a mysterious small party, where they’re subsequently trapped and killed off one by one. I mean, come on. If that’s not my favorite type of story, it’s easily in the Top 5.

In a remake–which, personally, I’d be all for–there are some changes I’d love to see. First and foremost: cut the villain being in love with the girl. I’ve never particularly cared for this trope, and the story doesn’t require it at all; it’s much more interesting if the bad guy just wants to kill these people for their various nefarious deeds, a la And Then There Were None. (Much to my amusement, there is a veritable war in this movie’s IMDb trivia page, where one person insists that ATTWN is a blatant rip off of this movie, while another commenter actually took the time to write out a seven point rebuttal rebuking this claim.) The love story between our two survivors could use some work, too, as I mostly just wanted our lead heroine to shoot her tool of a love interest.

And while I kind of enjoy how the party guests are, for the most part, getting themselves killed (a dude accidentally poisons himself while trying to murder another guest, etc.), it still gets a bit frustrating because it’s so obvious that everyone would survive if they just sat still for a damn hour. The asshole love interest keeps pointing it out, too, but no one listens–and while that could work as an exploration of fear, greed, and human nature, it mostly comes off as contrived instead. I suspect this might work better if the guests died more sporadically (rather than on the hour) or if we, the audience, took a while to figure out how each person died.

Still, this is a fun setup, and I enjoyed a lot about this movie: the beginning (where we realize, oh shit, half these guests hate each other), a good chunk of the dialogue, the bits where the guests search the house, the radio reveal, etc. There are a few specific shots that strongly remind me of Clue, enough that I actually wonder if this movie might’ve been a direct inspiration. I’d straight up cut the servant characters, who aren’t that funny and get dropped halfway through the movie anyway, and the film quality is not stellar, cause, like, it’s a 90-year-old movie on Youtube. But if you’re also a sucker for fancy parties with a side of MURDER, this one’s worth checking out.

Mortal Kombat

Year: 2021
Director: Simon McQuoid
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

The 1995 Mortal Kombat will probably always be the Mortal Kombat of my heart, but this was a good time, too. Specifically, it was a very rated-R time, which is excellent. From the dawn of man (which is to say, the early 90’s), the MK games have always been brutal. Naturally, I was quite happy to see that brutality here as well: the vicious fight scenes, the fatalities, the all-around glorious violence. Kung Lao’s killer hat! Jax’s arms! Stabbing someone with their own frozen blood!

Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Josh Lawson as Kano are probably my standouts–and boy, I never expected Kano to be one of my favorites–but I also liked Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Mileena, and Mileena’s teeth. I really love how diverse this cast is, too. Like, as much as I love Christopher Lambert as Raiden–and I do so love him–it’s nice to see this part actually played by an Asian man and not, you know, some white French dude. It’s a fun film, and I’m glad I watched it, and I’m sure I’ll happily watch it again.

But I do have criticisms–because yes, me, but damn it, I get so tired of this attitude that you’re automatically expecting too much or missing the point if you enjoy thinking critically about popcorn movies. Like, you have to know the genre you’re talking about, sure. If your main criticisms of an MK movie are “too many fight scenes” or “too much gore,” then yes, I’d suggest this just isn’t the franchise for you. But there are changes we can discuss here that might have made this film even more entertaining. For instance, let’s discuss Cole Young, our everyman protagonist, cause despite Lewis Tan–who I did enjoy quite a bit in Wu Assassins–I’m afraid that Cole is just too generic to live.

I’m not 100% against the idea of introducing an OC into this mix (though I admit, I’m not sure why you’d bother when you’ve got, like, a billion characters to choose from), but I honestly don’t see how this particular Chosen One hero serves the story in any real way. Cole’s arc (such as it is) is boring. His nearly refrigerated family parallel to Scorpion is boring, and most of his dialogue–save a few funny lines–is boring, too. I also would’ve loved to see some better lady rep. There are like six female characters here, which is cool, except that one gets fridged immediately, two are mostly around just to be in danger, and two look incredibly badass, but don’t actually get to do much of anything. Which leaves us with a half dozen dudes and Sonya Blade. It’s disappointing.

(Also, I’m sorry, but why the fuck are Cole’s wife and kid still living at home? Once an immortal ice assassin tracks you down, you immediately get the fuck out of dodge; you do not just go back home and hope for the best while Hubby/Dad fucks off to Magic Martial Arts School. Get thee asses out of town and to a Best Western, goddamnit.)

I think, too, that this film suffers a bit when SPOILER REDACTED dies, mostly because shortly afterwards, a lot of the bad guys are easily defeated in the span of, like, ten minutes? And that felt really anticlimactic to me. Finally–and I fully acknowledge that this just might be a me thing–I can’t help but be kinda bummed that there is no actual tournament in this movie. The fight scenes are so much fun, but damn it, I wanted an actual competition with, like, matches and spectators and shit. IDK if I can call it a real problem with the movie, but I must admit, I did find it pretty disappointing.

Palm Springs

Year: 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I liked this one a whole lot. Unlike Mortal Kombat, I don’t know how much I actually have to say about it? But I really enjoyed Palm Springs, and am annoyed with myself for taking so long to check it out. Like, why do I sabotage myself this way? This movie had great reviews, I like Andy Samberg, and I love time loop stuff. Honestly, I can’t think of a single time loop story that I dislike–with the possible exception of Groundhog Day, which is, admittedly, a pretty funny exception to have. But yeah, time loops are the best; they’re fantastic for exploring character growth and relationship dynamics, and they almost always come with a heavy side of humor, angst, and hilarious montages. I especially enjoy it when more than one person goes through the loop (as is the case here), and I thought it was neat how Palm Springs more or less begins in medias res.

The cast is absolutely fantastic. I’d forgotten  how many people are in this one: Andy Samberg, of course, who is pretty much perfect for this role, and Cristin Milioti, who I’ve never seen before and now want to see in everything. She was so funny; her reaction in that one scene with the arrows? I was dying. I was dying. Then we’ve got a supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Peter Gallagher, and Dale Dickey? Like, that is a spectacular lineup, and everyone does great work here.

Palm Springs is, like the best time loop stories, pretty wacky. It’s a little dark, a little sweet, and just generally a really great SF romantic comedy overall. It also–and this is very important to note–showcases the absolute worst suit I’ve ever seen, seriously, it horrifies me just so much, so obviously kudos for that, too.

Man. I still really need to write my own time loop story. Possibly more than one. I have So Many Ideas.

Triple Scoop Review/Year of Monsters: BONUS VAMPIRE ROUND – Drácula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dracula 2000

Drácula

TFW you have to improvise because there aren’t any GIFs or trailers for the 89-year-old movie you’re reviewing.

Year: 1931
Director: George Melford
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

In 1931, Dracula (the English language film starring Bela Lugosi) was shot during the day, while Drácula (the Spanish language film starring Carlos Villarías) was shot during the night. Earlier this year, I’d wanted to watch Drácula to compare and contrast; alas, I wasn’t able to find the film streaming anywhere online. Fortunately, I have an incredibly sweet friend, Rob, who bought me a special edition DVD copy of both films because he is the absolute best. Thank you, Rob!

In regards to which film is better . . . honestly, I like both for different reasons. On one hand, I think Pablo Álvarez Rubio makes for a fantastic Renfield. I didn’t have any particular problem with Dwight Frye, but Rubio is the superior choice as the bug-eating lackey, and delightfully, this film gives him a little more screen time to work with. (At least I’m pretty sure it does, but admittedly, I have watched like four different adaptations of this novel now, and they are starting to bleed together a bit.) I like this version of Mina (named Eva here) a little better, too, specifically when she’s all dark and vampire-influenced. And this version actually bothers to give Lucía’s story an ending, unlike poor Lucy in Dracula, who is pretty much just forgotten about between scenes. There are some particularly nice shots in this film, too, specifically the last one where Eva and Juan Harker ascend the staircase, leaving Van Helsing below with Renfield’s body–although to be fair, I like some shots in the English language version, too, like when the vampire brides back away from Dracula and Renfield’s unconscious body.

OTOH, I’m afraid I can’t take Carlos Villarías as Dracula seriously at all, like, he’ll have an okay moment or two, and then he’ll smile, and I’ll just start cracking up. Dude’s just so damn goofy. Bela Lugosi is very stagey, but somehow that feels more stylized, theatrical. This is different. This just feels absurdly cartoonish. And I prefer Van Helsing in the English language version, too, probably because this one seems shocked by things that just aren’t very shocking. Like, he’ll present some hypothesis (for example, Dracula is a vampire, and therefore must not have a reflection), and then seem flabbergasted when he immediately proves himself correct. He also has a hilarious reaction when Dracula threatens to kill him; likely, he’s supposed to seem scared, but it comes across more like, “Whaaaat? You’d . . . you’d really kill me?”

Watching both of these movies is absolutely fun, but my perfect film would be some unholy combination of the two, with Bela Lugosi and Pablo Álvarez Rubio and, most especially, the Philip Glass score from the 1990’s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Year: 1992
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon, I think? TBH, it’s been a few weeks.
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Strawberry

Look, there are some amazing things about this movie. The opening music, for instance? Fantastic. And the fashion? Oh my god, the FASHION in this film. Dracula’s costumes alone, like, we’ve got the grey suit and top hat pictured above, his memorable Transylvania look, the red armor he wore as a human (which is basically just what J-Lo wore in The Cell,) etc. Then, of course, we have Mina’s lovely green dress and hat, as well as Lucy’s hilariously anachronistic red dress. And then, of course, Dead Lucy, which is the absolute cream of the crop. God, I’d love to cosplay the hell out of this someday.

So, yeah. I’d watch the hell out of this movie as a series of well-made fanvids; unfortunately, as a whole ass film, I have . . . problems. The entire prologue, for instance: like, the BS reincarnation love story I don’t care about (I was so baffled by this addition the first time I watched this movie), or how Anthony Hopkins is playing this ancient priest dude for no apparent reason. The fact that someone apparently fetched Mina’s perfectly undamaged corpse out of the river just to throw her ass on the floor, even taking the time to grab her suicide note and artfully tuck it into her hand. (Oh, apologies, there was physical damage: a single trail of blood from the corner of her mouth. Holy shit, that just makes it even funnier.) And Gary Oldman’s rage freakout, like, don’t get me wrong, I know the guy is a good actor, but also, dude sometimes makes some ridiculously over-the-top choices that I just cannot take seriously. I was giggling like mad throughout this whole prologue, which I really don’t think was Coppola’s intent here.

If the whole movie was like that, I could happily enjoy Dracula as a so-bad-it’s-great film. But those kinds of movies are generally best appreciated when they’re under two hours; this film is 2 hours and 35 minutes, and unfortunately, its dreadfulness isn’t always the sheer delight that is this gloriously terrible train ride into Hell scene. Which is to say, some of the bad stuff just drags, particularly in the second half of the film, where I slowly became consumed by boredom. And honestly, there’s a lot of bad to go around: Dracula as a wolf-troll-thing raping Lucy? Nope. All the orgasmic vampire shit and the plethora of relentless boob shots? Thanks, pass. I’d love to know whose idea it was to make Dr. Seward a morphine addict for, like, a scene. Also, why, in a movie with such fantastic costumes, does Keanu’s gray hair look like someone just threw flour over his head? And while I’m genuinely delighted by the current Resurgence of Keanu Reeves–he seems like a nice dude, and I enjoy a lot of his movies–like, this is easily his worst performance, and I’m including Much Ado About Nothing in that. (A film I have a huge soft spot for, honestly, but there is more than one woeful miscasting in that movie.) It’s not just that Reeves’s accent is terrible, though it is; it’s more that he’s so damn stilted here. Winona Ryder’s accent isn’t winning awards, either, but at least there’s some flow to her dialogue.

Finally, a few random things:

A) Everyone’s kind of an asshole in this movie, including Jonathan, who doesn’t like Mina staying with her BFF cause Lucy is rich, and what if Mina wants a rich boy now? Jonathan, you’re a tool. Van Helsing, though, is probably my favorite asshole because of hilariously casual lines like this: “Yeah, she was in terrible pain; we cut off her head. She’s dead now.”

B) The Texan suitor, played by Billy Campbell, is shockingly the least objectionable character, which is presumably why he dies.

C) Wow, I forgot there are so many other people in this movie! Cary Elwes! Richard E. Grant! Tom Waits as Renfield, what?

Renfield’s hair, at least, is properly fantastic.

Dracula 2000

Year: 2000
Director: Patrick Lussier
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

Okay, sure, this isn’t a great movie, but unlike Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it never really pretended to be, either. Dracula 2000 is so incredibly of its time, and I have all kinds of silly nostalgia for it. Ton of people in the cast, too: Jonny Lee Miller (the hero), Justine Waddell (the heroine), Christopher Plummer (the dead meat vampire-hunter mentor), Vitamin C (the dead meat BFF and vampire bride #1), Jennifer Esposito, (the brief fake-out love interest and vampire bride #2), Jeri Ryan (the random hot reporter and vampire bride #3), Sean Patrick Thomas (a thief), Danny Masterson (a thief who gets a leech to the eyeball), Lochlyn Munro (a thief and also the First to Die), Omar Epps (the Thief Boss who very suavely wears glasses), Shane West (the cameraman who dies very, very quickly), Nathan Fillion (a young priest who shockingly doesn’t die), and, of course, Gerard Butler (the Big Bad, AKA, Judas “Dracula” Iscariot).

Miller and Plummer probably do the strongest work here, but I enjoy pretty much everyone except maybe Jennifer Esposito, who I never quite buy–although to be fair to the actress, she does get some of the worst dialogue. Like the “all I wanna do is suck” pun or the “how does one become a lover” exchange, ugh. There’s some bad dialogue to go around, though: JLM’s “never ever FUCK with an antiques dealer” is beyond awful, like, as a blooper line? It’s hysterical. I’d have laughed my ass off had I seen this in the blooper reel. As an actual line in the movie? NO, GOD, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS, NO.

OTOH, I do genuinely enjoy a lot of the humor, even the very on-the-nose stuff. I’ll admit to laughing at the “sorry, sport, I’m an atheist/God loves you anyway” exchange; also, Masterson’s hilariously petulant “I said I was sorry.” The sheer outrage in Miller’s delivery when he says “undead–UNDEAD!” cracks me up every time. I’m also very amused by Dracula calling the Bible “propaganda” as Simon tries to defend himself with it. And when Dracula perfectly describes Mary’s Mom’s interior decorating style as “Catholic,” yeah, I laughed pretty hard at that.

And while Dracula’s secret origins as Judas are kinda unbelievably silly, I suspect someone could actually make this work in a miniseries or TV-show, something with a serious, historical bent and plenty of room to focus on the themes of evil, forgiveness, and redemption in a universe where choice and action are presumably predestined. Dracula 2000 was obviously never gonna be that story, as it’s a campy ass horror film, and its reliance on Dracula’s origins as a twist means it only has about 15 minutes to even remotely address the philosophical and theological ramifications of this identity reveal, while also wrapping up the entire main plot. So, yeah, that was kinda doomed to silly failure. But credit where credit’s due: this is the first and only time I’ve ever seen a vampire die by hanging.

Finally, a couple last thoughts:

A) I owned a fair amount of horror and SF movie soundtracks in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and you better believe that Dracula 2000 was one of them. (See also The Faculty, Scream, Queen of the Damned, and The Matrix.) I still listen to songs from it, too, especially System of a Down’s cover of “Metro.”

B) Remember in The Last Jedi, how Rey and Kylo spend a lot of time psychically gazing at each other from separate locations? Well, Dracula and Mary Heller-Van Helsing did it first, only with Godhead (and Marilyn Manson) playing in the background, so, obviously, they kinda win.

Shit. Now I just wanna see TLJ with the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. SOMEONE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

Year of Monsters: The Wolf Man

Hello again! It’s been a couple of weeks, I know. I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by work and new fandoms and the like, but today I return to discuss our last official Year of Monsters movie: The Wolf Man. This is one of the few Universal films I’ve actually seen before, although not since high school. At the time, I’d found it very boring.

This time, well. Maybe a little bored? But also amused, surprisingly sad, and–in one noteworthy scene–downright incredulous.

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Year of Monsters: Tarantula

When I started compiling this list of classic monster movies and creature features, it only seemed right to throw at least one giant bug movie into the mix. (Please don’t comment just to tell me that arachnids aren’t bugs. I know. We all know.) Of course, many people consider Creature From the Black Lagoon to be the last great Universal monster movie, but come on, a story about a gigantic tarantula skittering around the desert, destroying everyone and everything in its path? I mean, how could we not watch that?

Have I mentioned that Mekaela and I both absolutely despise spiders?

Yup. Happy Birthday, Mekaela!

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Year of Monsters: The Phantom of the Opera

I should probably state upfront that I was kinda doomed to dislike this movie.

I tried to read The Phantom of the Opera in high school when the library finally got new books. I can’t say I gave it a particularly fair shake, just realized I was bored and didn’t really like anybody and quickly moved onto all the other new books. Much later, I tried out Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera, and boy, did I HATE it. It seemed to take forever, I despised basically every character that wasn’t Minnie Driver, and while I freely admit to not knowing much about music, some of the singing seemed, ah, not great? I’ve always felt like I should I see the musical in theater at some point to see if the sheer spectacle can pull me in, but even if that was a possibility at present, I’m reluctant to part ways with that much money over a story that, traditionally, has made me wanna stab people every time they open their mouths.

Alas, I must inform you that even in the silent version, I still hate all these motherfuckers.

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Year of Monsters: Dracula

Dracula is one of the rare Universal classics I’ve actually seen before; it was many years ago, though, and at the time, I found the film rather boring. Watching it again, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, while the story is undeniably chaotic, I enjoyed Dracula quite a bit. There are multiple reasons for that, but the most strikingly obvious one is the fantastic score.

And if you’re thinking, Wait, I’ve seen that movie, and there IS no score . . . well, you’re right. Until the late 1990’s, at least.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

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Year of Monsters: Frankenstein

Unlike the other Universal films we’ve discussed so far, I’ve actually seen Frankenstein before. Read it before, too, although I’ll admit it’s been years since I’ve done either. I’ll also admit that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a serious struggle for me to get through. Some of the prose is fascinating and beautifully written, like, there are sections of it that have stuck with me for years, and I’d actually be interested in seeing a more faithful adaptation, but boy. There’s a limit on how much I can deal with a dude moaning about how wretched and cursed and doomed he is, and Victor Frankenstein easily surpasses that limit in the first fifty pages.

But that’s not this story. James Whale’s Frankenstein is a wildly different affair, and while it certainly has its moments, I think I enjoyed it more the first time I watched it.

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Year of Monsters: It Came From Outer Space

Today’s film–chosen randomly because I like a little organized chaos in my life–is It Came From Outer Space. This is a fantastic title: evocative, mysterious, charmingly cheesy. And the movie was based on a story treatment by Ray Bradbury, which, that’s clearly a good sign, right?

Alas, my friends, I must inform you that in the case of It Came From Outer Space, I vastly prefer the title to the actual film. Continue reading

Year of Monsters: The Mummy

I adore The Mummy (1999). I adore The Mummy Returns. I do not adore The Mummy (2017) with Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, but to be fair, I only watched about ten minutes of it. Maybe it gets better. (It doesn’t get better. We all know it.)

Now it’s time to see where all these movies began.

May I present The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

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