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.

Continue reading

Triple Scoop Review: BLOODY HEARTS – Dead Body, Overlord, and The Void

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, so you know what that means: HORROR MOVIES.

Dead Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last two paragraphs.
Grade: Chocolate

To my surprise and delight, this low-budget indie is a pretty decent little slasher film. (And directed by a woman! Yay, more women in horror!) The premise, of course, is absolutely my jam: a bunch of high school graduates (and one older boyfriend) play Dead Body, where one person is secretly assigned the role of the murderer and “kills” someone, and everyone else has to figure out who did it–only then people actually start dying. This is a Golden Age of Detective fiction staple and absolutely the kind of morbid shit I would definitely play, so of course, Mek and I had to try this movie out. Where it shines best is dialogue, characterization, and surprisingly intentional humor: Dominic’s mostly relatable bitchiness about his uninvited guests (“I need to go set up the loft I wasn’t planning on using”) or Dwayne immediately going for hacksaws, hooks, and nail guns after finding the dead bodies. I also genuinely like how protective Marcus is of his weird brother. (Or friend? I was never actually clear on this.) And there are one or two big surprises here: one didn’t do much for me, but the other I LOVED.

The thing that wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately, is the identity of the killer. Which, hey, correctly solving a whodunnit can provide a glorious sense of satisfaction, or even vindication. Here, however, Mek and I were pretty sure about the killer maybe 25 minutes into the film and were all but proven right about 25 minutes later–which is still a solid 15 before the Big Reveal. Some of the setup is actually pretty clever, but there are a few missteps, which I’ll discuss in the next two paragraphs. Other disappointments: the opening scene doesn’t do much for me–we should probably cut the last 30 seconds at least–and the two foreign exchange students are barely even in this movie, which is especially annoying because they’re the only POC in the whole cast.

SPOILER territory: I initially assumed Marcus was the killer because he’s the Nice Guy Love Interest and I figured he’d brought Rumor along as an obvious patsy. However, suspicions were quickly transferred to Dominic, partially because finding him so suddenly dead was shocking enough to be suspicious, partially because of the Harvard motive (which I thought was nicely handled), and partially because I’ve seen enough movies/read enough Agatha Christie to know you can’t trust dead bodies. Even if I hadn’t, Kenji playing dead is pretty obvious foreshadow. I think that bit could probably be cut, along with the whole it was YOU line from the opening scene, and that moment when the camera lingers a beat too long on the hammer. (Because that’s how Mek and I went from, like, 90% sure that Dominic was the killer to 190%: he kills Rumor with the hammer obviously left behind.) If we really want Dominic to be a shock, we probably need another viable suspect and/or a costume change; alternatively, it might work to do the Big Reveal with Rumor’s death, so the audience finds out well before our surviving heroes. That way, we’d get to watch Dominic’s surprise/delight when his intended victims start killing each other out of paranoia. I’m kinda warming up to that idea, actually.

Finally, the two big surprises are the last-minute resurrections of Sarah and Marcus. Sarah is really interesting: for one, her survival is pretty shocking because she seems like such a Dead Meat character. (Shocking survival, as it turns out, became quite the theme of the evening.) For another, Sarah pulls a nail out of her own face to kill the bad guy. I thought the scene where Ilsa pulls nails out of Sarah’s face was pretty great, but this is just badass. Unfortunately, Marcus’s miraculous resurrection kinda feels like it’s just taking away from Sarah’s. I felt bad for the dude when he died, but once dead? Yeah, stay dead, my dude.

Overlord

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry
Grade: Vanilla

I’m always excited by the idea of genre-blending, especially when mystery or horror come into the mix, but Overlord feels uneven to me. It’s strongest, I think, in the first act, when the movie is pure action/war drama. (Did anyone watch this movie without seeing the trailer full of spoilers? Cause damn, no one’s getting Nazi Zombie Shit from the first 20 minutes of this movie.) The plane scene is dramatic AF and the ominous clues in the woods that “something is amiss” are decent. I like most of the cast. Jovan Adepo gives an especially strong performance as our kind-hearted protagonist Boyce. I know Adepo primarily from a two-episode stint in Watchmen, and I definitely want to see more of him.

But we start hitting problems in Act II when our heroes make it to the French village. Part of that’s pacing: it takes way too long to for anyone to find all the horrific experiments. This movie is only 1 hour and 48 minutes, but boy, I’d have bet money it was a lot longer. And then, part of it’s content: I’m not sure Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, AKA, Euron Greyjoy) is doing much for me as a Big Bad, and I definitely found the coerced sexual assault shit completely unnecessary. (Boyce interrupts Wafner before he rapes Chloe, but this is still a yuck subplot and incredibly lazy writing.) The aunt, too, is much more foreshadow than actual character: she barely has screen time, much less dialogue.

Still, the worst problems, I think, begin after Boyce discovers all the Nazi Zombie Shit. The discovery scene itself is great: it’s weird, creepy, maybe a bit silly (I’m specifically thinking of the decapitated head pleading in French), but overall, just a lot of fun. And Boyce has spectacular reactions to the body horror/general impossibility; his freakout is super relatable, TBH. This is the moment the whole film has been building toward–which is why I’m just baffled by the decision to completely cut the tension by stopping for a 15-minute time-out, like, Overlord goes right back to straight-up war movie again, all unethical interrogations and “is it right to beat up a Nazi” and “do we even recognize ourselves anymore?” These are all perfectly fine themes that should not be dwelled on here, five minutes after this shit. And while we do kinda get back on track with the death/zombie resurrection of Chase (Iain De Caestecker), the film never fully recovers; instead, the whole third act loses its creepy body horror vibe and just becomes a really bad Resident Evil movie. It’s so bland and cartoonishly over-the-top that there’s just no tension at all. I was honestly bored, and that’s about the last reaction you want from your audience here.

Finally, some additional notes:

A. Secret histories, admittedly, are not always my bag, but I’m not sure that tying this story  to D-Day really does much for me.

B. I can’t decide if De Caestecker’s American accent is bad or if I’m just very aware it’s not his natural, lovely Scottish. I am fond of the actor, though. When Chase gets shot (inevitably, I mean, maybe don’t send the kid with the camera to secure the Big Bad Nazi Dude, FFS), I was all, “A-ha! This is why you cast De Caestecker, for the emotional death scene!”

C. Overlord’s “Holy Shit, This Guy Actually Lived!” is Jacob (Dominic Applewhite) and, to a lesser extent, Tibet (John Magaro). Tibet is the semi-redemptive asshole, whereas Jacob is Boyce’s buddy from the plane, the one who Boyce repeatedly promises, “I’ll be right behind you!” Obviously, I marked Jacob as First to Die. It is lovely to be wrong sometimes.

D. Alas, Private Dawson (Jacob Anderson) does not fare so well. Mekaela and I had just enough time to say, “Wait, is that Grey Worm?” before he blew the hell up. Sorry, buddy.

The Void

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry again
Grade: Strawberry

This one starts out so strong, but kind of spirals into an incoherent mess. Mileage is definitely gonna vary on that, depending on your A) tolerance for how much a story refuses to explain, and B) nostalgia for 80’s cosmic horror. I tend to be skeptical of the former and like the latter more in theory than execution. For example, The Void reminded Mekaela of Hellraiser, a movie I enjoyed for its aesthetics and not much else. (I’m tagging this whole review a blasphemy just for that sentence.) Meanwhile, The Void reminded me of Prince of Darkness, which I reviewed in great detail last year and, ultimately, didn’t love. Which is all to say I may not have been the target audience here.

Except . . . damn it, I still feel like I really could’ve enjoyed this movie. For starters, there’s an awful lot I do like about The Void. The initial setup and “WTF is going on here” mystery is a lot of fun. The look of the film is pretty great. I enjoy the whole cast. The reveal that our kindly old doctor isn’t just Dead Meat Walking but the actual Big Bad is awesome, especially since it comes after he does predictably “die.” Likewise, the reversal that our blatantly evil murderers from the beginning are actually good guys (well . . . good-sh) is pretty cool, too, although I do feel like their backstory gets a little lost in the chaos. The ending with the Sheriff and Allison is interesting, if sorta huh, and I’m fucked shocked that our ultimate survivors are the unnamed mute guy and Ellen Wong–people. I have finally found a Western horror film where an Asian woman lives. Holy shit.

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons Prince of Darkness came to mind wasn’t the portal sacrifice similarities or the supernatural pregnancy BS–more on that in a bit–it was the ominous cultists converging on the hospital. We know absolutely nothing about this cult, like, who the hell these dudes are, why they don’t bother coming inside, where they peaced out to at the end, etc. (Seriously, did the ascend or something? The fuck?) Apparently, this is one of the many things intentionally left open for the viewer to decide, but this viewer has decided: we learn nothing about these guys because the creators don’t care about these guys; they just needed something to trap the heroes in the hospital, and that’s it. In Prince of Darkness, the cultists are actually possessed homeless people, but they serve the exact same plot function, and IMO, that’s lazy as shit writing.

And therein lies my main problem with The Void; rarely does the script feel purposefully ambiguous and thought-provoking; mostly, it feels lazy, chaotic, and confused. The hallucinations in the not-exactly-there basement feel muddled. Most of what happens in the whole third act feels pretty muddled. And I’m especially disappointed by Allison, who starts out as a potentially interesting character and ends up just becoming a vessel, a body, a plot device rather than an actual person. Allison exists to A) draw our heroes into the Basement of Doom, B) add to our MC’s ongoing man pain, and C) give us some old-fashioned pregnancy horror, I guess? (She lost a baby prior to the story, so Big Bad impregnates her with monster juice, and she gets to die of symbolism. And getting chopped up by her tearful hubby, of course. Cool.) This is all especially tedious because we already have Maggie for the pregnancy horror, but I guess one eldritch nightmare birth where the mom/vessel violently dies wasn’t enough? Basically, this whole bit sucks.

Finally, additional notes:

A. I did actually enjoy the twist that Maggie was also a bad guy. I probably should’ve caught that, but I just assumed she’d have a gross demon baby, which, hey, that part was dead on. Poor Sarah got mighty ugly in her second life, didn’t she?

B. Much like with Grey Worm in Overlord, I had just enough time to be excited about Iris Rouse (Stephanie Belding) from Shadowhunters popping up before she got killed off. (Then transformed into an eldritch horror and then killed off again.) Sorry, buddy.

C. As always, doing clerical/errand work in a hospital hardly makes me a medical expert. And this story is admittedly set in some rural town in the . . . 80’s? 90’s? Still, I had a ball laughing at the medical inaccuracies in this movie. The aborted C-section wasn’t actually as bad as I thought (when you’re primarily familiar with a low transverse incision, a classical cut looks weird AF, like, Jesus, why are you all the way up there), although I highly suspect that whatever pain relief Kim used wouldn’t cut it for fucking surgery. But I straight up cackled when Allison walked to the med room, which appears to just be a basic supply closet where they keep narcotics unlocked on the shelf. Also, seriously, there’s only one patient here. Why the fuck are we keeping the supplies this far away? For that matter, why hasn’t the one and only patient in this hospital been transferred literally anywhere else? Like, I get the idea that this place is still supposed to be open for emergency services or something, but uh, dude’s clearly just an inpatient now. Ship that motherfucker out. And how in Christ’s name is anyone still working out of this hospital? Again, I get the idea–emergency services for locals while everyone else has moved off to hospitals that weren’t recently half burned down–but also, bullshit. The nearest hospital is only 20 minutes away, which of course is shitty, but shocking? In a rural county? HA. Hell, that’s the distance between the high school I went to and its closest hospital. Besides, the state of this place? No one should be working here. This especially kills me dead because the hospital I work at now has been temporarily shut down twice in the past few years just for smoke damage, much less a fire that actually destroyed part of the fucking building. These people have not heard of JCAHO, that’s all I’m saying.

D. Finally, more fun casting: our Big Bad is played by Kenneth Welsh, who I know from one episode of The Expanse but also from Twin Peaks, where he played Windom Earle. I had no idea that was the same guy! Meanwhile, Art Hindle, who was in both the original Black Christmas and the 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has a small role here, too. Horror cameo casting is just the best.

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

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Leprechaun, The Witch, and The Cell

Leprechaun

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah, but come on
Grade: Strawberry

Horror Bingo was briefly put on hold last week during the great Sonoma County Evacuation, but that doesn’t mean horror wasn’t achieved! Mekaela, Lindsey, and I ended up nostalgia-watching Leprechaun, and boy, is it just as bad as I remember.

I mean, okay, some of the comedy is obviously intentional. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the intentional comedy is actually funny. Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin with this one. The terrible prologue. The ridiculous storyline. The overall poor acting. The “slow friend” as comedic device. The Leprechaun’s makeup. The fact that our painting crew is apparently painting the house fire engine red and bright blue, like, what the fuck even is that? Tori’s weird shorts, which even in the 90’s were a choice. Also: the truly tragic fact that Warwick Davis does not succeed in murdering our heroes because they’re all pretty awful; the only one I even halfway like is Alex, the precocious child, and honestly, that might just be because I remember the actor from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. I would happily have pushed Jennifer Aniston’s character down a well, and her love interest, too. Oh, that whole “feminism” exchange is so, so painful.

Although credit where credit’s due: death by pogo stick is always genuinely hilarious. More pogo stick deaths, please!

The Witch

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Vanilla

Well, My Geek Blasphemy is about to earn its name today: The Witch is one of the biggest horror movies of the decade, and unfortunately, I didn’t much like it.

I do like parts of it. It’s very well-shot, of course. The scene with the ravens is, ah, effectively memorable. (Poor Kate Dickie. Between this and Game of Thrones, I can’t imagine how many breastfeeding jokes she must get every day.) The performances by Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Kate Dickie are all very strong, and I kind of enjoy this movie’s whole “if Shakespeare wrote Puritan-horror” vibe–although I did have to concede defeat about twenty minutes in and put on subtitles because between the accents and the colonial American vernacular, I realized I was only catching maybe one word out of ten. I also genuinely enjoy this story’s pace. There aren’t a lot of negative reviews for The Witch, but the few complaints I did find were mostly about the film being slow and dull. Those were definitely not problems I had with the movie.

So, what didn’t I like? Honestly, I’m having trouble articulating that. Certain scenes are easy enough to point to: Caleb’s whole religious ecstasy–heavy emphasis on the ecstasy–sorta icks me out, and, like, not the good kind of ick? You know, maybe, let’s not with kids? But I have larger thematic problems, too. Like, I have never said this before, ever, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed The Witch more if it was just a psychological horror film. If, say, Caleb came back from the woods all weird and dying, and we never knew exactly what happened to him out there, only that it sent the family into paranoid self-destruction . . . those were the moments I genuinely liked. That’s where I think the horror is most successful. And to be fair, I don’t hate all of the supernatural elements: Black Phillip was cool, also those ravens, and I did like the shot of the levitating witches–although they’re naked because of course they are. (See also: the witch who seduces Caleb with her extremely prominent and wicked breasts.) Which, I get it: the witches here are presented like they would’ve been in the 1600’s. Research, historical accuracy, blah blah, woof woof.

The problem is you’re telling this historical New England folktale in 2019, when I’m well-aware of what happened to the actual women accused of witchcraft in this era, and while I think you can tell a story about evil Satanic witches from the 1600’s, I’m not totally convinced you should. (I didn’t love how The Conjuring handled this, either, BTW.) At the very least, I don’t think this is the way to do it: surely, there must be a way to discuss/delve into/update these Puritanical fears without also embracing such awful misogynistic stereotypes. And I do think this movie embraces those stereotypes; since watching this film, I’ve come across at least three different articles praising the subversive feminism of The Witch, and if that was your takeaway, okay, I’m not trying to rip that from you. But personally, I came away with the exact opposite reaction, and ultimately, I think that’s because this is a “driven to evil” story that I just don’t buy.

There are ways Thomasin’s turn to Satan could’ve worked for me. For instance, I might’ve bought it if her motivation had been wholly pragmatic, the desperation to survive in this awful, barren landscape on her own. I might’ve bought it if she’d gone mad with vengeance and grief, if she’d needed the Devil to find and punish the twins who she’d come to blame for all of this. And sure, you can argue those are subtextual motivating factors, but they’re also pointedly not what Satan actually offers; instead, he pitches pretty dresses and the chance to live deliciously. (To be fair, wouldst thou like to live deliciously is a damn good line.) Because, you know. Thomasin mentioned missing stained glass windows that one time, and that’s how you get women: through materialism.

Likewise, I’ve seen it argued that Thomasin is making a baller power move here, that she and all those other floating, orgiastic witches in the woods are finally embracing their sexuality. But to me, all they’re really doing is validating the belief that without God, without men, women are both easily manipulated and spiritually vulnerable. They can be won over by shiny things, and they will grind up babies for beauty and power, and if they’re not vigorously protected from their baser instincts, they will lose themselves to their instinctual sexual mania, becoming wanton creatures capable of luring innocent boys to their deaths. Seriously. There are lots of ways to symbolically depict “embracing your sexuality,” but I can’t help but feel that a girl stripping down for a goat and joining a bunch of other writhing naked women ritualistically chanting their devotion to some eternal dude is, well, a very dude fantasy to have.

Ultimately, The Witch condemns religious paranoia while also making the argument for its justification, and that just doesn’t really sit right with me, thematically or morally.

The Cell

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

The Cell has a lot of problems; I know this. Some actors were spectacularly miscast, like, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a great scene stealer and Vincent D’Onofrio with his proto-Anton Chigurh haircut is dead-on, but Vince Vaughn as our FBI profiler dude? Honey, no. Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have been my top choice for our psychologist heroine, either, but honestly, she’s not bad in the role; it’s how they use her that’s ridiculous, like, that scene where she’s in a shirt and panties and so ludicrously, so obviously posed next to the refrigerator? Ugh. Come on, dudes. Also, I can’t imagine this film’s depiction of schizophrenia is any more accurate or less offensive than most horror movies. And I just can’t get over this ending where Jennifer Lopez locks everyone out of the system, brings permanently comatose serial killer D’Onofrio into her mind, ends up mercy killing him–and then? Not only doesn’t she get arrested, not only does she keep her job, she somehow gets permission to bring the comatose child into her brain after she just murdered someone during that procedure!

Regardless, I have a lot of nostalgia for this movie; it kind of blew my mind when I was 15, and while the special effects have aged predictably poorly after 20 years, I still love a lot of the cinematography, fashion, and design. This shot for instance–maybe begin at the 2.17 mark–is still absolutely gorgeous. (Watch this whole clip if you’d like a lesson/reminder on the aesthetics of early 2000’s horror because this NSFW scene is strongly reminiscent of 2002’s Thir13en Ghosts.) All the art history inspiration is really cool, too: the creepy women in the sand, the fucked up horse, all the H.R. Giger shit. I like that Anne Marie, our current victim, figures out how to survive long enough to be saved by the FBI. And I’m just a sucker for this basic premise, like, it’s basically Inception meets Silence of the Lambs, and I am all about that. I’d have watched more standalone sequels in a heartbeat. Shit, I’d probably still watch those sequels, or maybe an updated remake, or, ooh, what about a whole TV show? (Okay, I think that’s basically what Reverie was, but despite the awesome presence of Sarah Shahi, that show didn’t even make it a full season. We can do better.) So, yeah, this one has serious flaws, but I still kinda treasure its surreal what-the-fuckery.

“Why Is There A Watermelon There?”

It’s the final week of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and, coincidentally, my last week before vacation. Which means you probably won’t see me around much for a little while. Before I go, though, I have my second (and final) WaT reward essay to share. While last week we discussed John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film where Satan is a bunch of green goo in a vat, and bugs are fucking everywhere), today we’ll be shifting gears to talk about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a film where a brain surgeon/comic book hero/test pilot/rock star/physicist saves the world with his buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, from hostile aliens.

My friends, this movie is an experience.

Continue reading

World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Who Mourns For Adonais?”

Mythology and sci-fi–especially on television–go together like PB + J: Battlestar Galactica. Stargate. That one episode of SeaQuest DSV where our heroes stumble across Poseidon. I’m not at all surprised that Kirk and co. managed to run afoul of a Greek god in space; the only real shocker is that it’s not Zeus or Always Evil Hades; instead, it’s Apollo, the Sun God, who has gotten ahold of the Enterprise.

Er. Literally. He takes hold of the ship literally.

Continue reading

World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Space Seed”

Mekaela and I have been binging Brooklyn Nine-Nine pretty much nonstop (seriously, it’s INSANE how fast we’ve gone through four seasons), so Star Trek has kinda fallen by the wayside lately. Recently, however, we did watch one episode that I’ve been looking forward to checking out since we started this TOS-watch.

Buckle up, kids: it’s the KHAN EPISODE.

Continue reading

World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes on “The Corbomite Maneuver”

I’ve been having a great time watching TOS with my sister, but I’ve also been a tiny bit disappointed that, overall, my reactions to most episodes have been somewhere between “meh” and “NO.” Not exactly shocked, mind; I know what a critical bastard I am, but still: I’m a nerd, and nerds are made for liking things. Going into this episode, I was really hoping to have more of a “hell yeah” reaction.

Luckily for me, “The Corbomite Maneuver” is easily my favorite episode since “The Naked Time.”

Continue reading