It's that time of year again: I watched a whole bunch of "scary" movies, and you get the capsule reviews.
THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
Some grade school kids who are really into monster and horror movies discover that Dracula is up to something in their town. They hook up with an elderly Holocaust survivor to fight Dracula, Wolfman, Gillman, Frankenstein's monster, and the Mummy!
I watch this every couple of years. I missed it in the theaters when it came out. Considering that it only made about one quarter of its budget, I think a lot of people missed it. I caught it on cable TV, and fell in love. Turns out the writer, Shane Black, has written a ton of other movies that I liked, and recently directed Iron Man 3.
This is a weird movie in that there are no scares or suspense for the grown-ups, but kids expecting a horror movie are likely to lose patience. I would say if you have a lot of fondness for Universal Pictures' stable of monsters, give this a try.
Or, you know, you could wait for the remake, which is in the works.
An outcast high school girl with a crush on her English teacher tries to follow in her mom's footsteps as a witch. After she dies at the hands of some classmates, Tamara comes back, bent on revenge.
If you like gory supernatural revenge movies, you could do worse than this. It's not completely stupid.
The problem with it is that the likeable characters do unlikeable things. The girl who sticks up for Tamara goes along with the conspiracy of silence when Tamara dies, for example. We never really care about any of the characters - except Tamara.
And therein lies a flaw for a lot of movies. Tamara did something brave that earns her the enmity of the jocks and their girlfriends. We like her. She is the underdog. So far, so good. We want the bad people to be punished. In order for us to remain sympathetic to Tamara, she can't do anything horrific. Once she acts like a monster, she scares us.
In that sense, Tamara is a movie about the perils of vigilante justice.
That said, if our protagonist becomes a scary monster, we need new protagonists, and this movie doesn't give them to us. Nor do the antagonists continue to act in ways that we think make them deserving of Tamara's revenge.
I'm not victim-blaming here, I'm just trying to explain how this movie could follow through on its premise, but doesn't.
THE HOLE (2009)
The whole reason that I wanted to see this was Joe Dante. We're talking about a guy who made Gremlins, Explorers, Amazing Stories, Innerspace, The 'Burbs, Small Soldiers, and Matinee. This is somebody you expect to tell a good horror or scifi story starring kids.
Two brothers and their mom move to a small town. The boys discover a trapdoor that opens above what seems to be a bottomless pit. Their cute neighbor introduces them to the weird guy who used to live in their house, and he says they let the darkness loose. Weird things start happening, and the three kids find themselves fighting for their lives.
The Hole lacks teeth. It has edgy moments, but it lacks the pacing and writing to make it jump off the screen and into your memory. It's not bad, it's just not great.
THE REVENANT (2009)
Guy gets killed in Iraq (or Afghanistan, somebody mentions Iran at one point, it doesn't matter). Gets shipped home to Los Angeles and buried. Then he rises again, as an undead creature who can only stay active after dark. He and his buddy get the idea to become undead vigilantes, and the good times roll until a woman comes between them.
This is not a great movie. It's a terrific bad movie, but it's not a great movie. It's one of those movies where you think, "Yeah, if someone I knew returned from the dead like that, that's probably what I would do." And then you laugh. That doesn't make it brilliant or sophisticated, though.
The movie gives one brief explanation of why he rises again (he had no clear relationship with Jesus, so he could not go to Heaven or Hell), but it never addresses why he is the first person this happens to.
Overall, my wife and I enjoyed it as silly, gory, fun.
EXIT HUMANITY (2011)
A zombie outbreak happens during the last years of the Civil War. Edward Young returns home to find his wife dead and his son missing. Young sets out to find his son, and winds up finding a crusade against the zombies.
Despite my mentioning zombies twice in the first paragraph, this movie is really about finding humanity in the midst of horror and chaos. It's about man's inhumanity to his (and her) fellow man. It has a witch, it has zombies, it has blood and gore, yes. But it focuses more on the living characters than on the walking dead.
Brian Cox does not appear in this film, despite the billing, but he does some of the best voice-over narration you will ever hear.
If I had to rate this, overall I would say 6-7 out of 10.
THE INNKEEPERS (2011)
The Yankee Peddler Inn is closing down. Claire and Luke have worked there way too long, and know way too much about the history of the inn. Convinced that the inn is haunted, they spend the inn's last weekend trying to find evidence of a haunting. Their guests are less than helpful, and some of them are downright creepy.
The problem that I had with this movie is that nothing is connected to anything else, there isn't any hidden meaning in anything, and we don't care about the characters.
Claire is just kind of lost. Luke lies about his interest in the supernatural to attract Claire's attention. He's socially inept enough not to know what to do once he has that attention. Claire takes Luke's interest (in the supernatural) to the next level, mostly because it's something to do. Without the inn, she really doesn't have anything in her life.
It's not a bad movie, it's just kind of slow and it just kind of stops, because there's not enough build up to the payoff.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)
Two reasons I wanted to see this: I really liked the book, and I'm a big fan of Timur Bekmambetov (who produced).
Sadly, the book does not translate well to the screen. It didn't make me want to claw my eyes out and demand my 105 minutes back. However, everything about the cast needed to be better and the writing needed to discard more of the book and focus on showing us a good, self-contained, story.
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012)
I have seen every Resident Evil movie, and never played a Resident Evil game.
This is the first RE movie since the first one that I've actually enjoyed. I thought the story was taut and clear. There were lots of zombies, and lots of different kinds of zombies. All our favorite characters and actors appeared, at least briefly.
So, yeah. If you're a fan of the series, see this.
WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (2012)
In a 19th Century Eastern European village, a werewolf is killing people. This werewolf changes form independently of the phases of the moon. This attracts the attention of a group of monster hunters. The movie pretty much writes itself from there.
Before I say too many good things about this movie, let me be clear: This is TV movie caliber work. It is far better than most SyFy Originals, but it is not a big screen movie.
Okay, now on to the good stuff. The cast is fantastic, and includes Steven Bauer, Stephen Rea, Nia Peeples, and Ed Quinn. Don't know Ed Quinn? He played Nathan Stark in over 30 episodes of Eureka, and he is awesome. Become a fan.
The special effects are good throughout.
There are two kinds of werewolf movies: The kind where you know who the werewolf is, and the kind where you don't. In the first, the story is all about how the werewolf struggles with his condition. The second is more like a murder mystery. This movie is squarely in the second category.
This is actually a Universal monster movie. In the extras on the DVD, it's clear that all of the cast enjoy werewolf stories, and are thrilled to become part of the Universal monster canon.
See this one.
EVIL DEAD (2013)
I came to the Evil Dead canon through the third movie, Army of Darkness. Only after seeing that did I go back and watch Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2.
Having seen them, I wanted to see this remake.
After I saw it, I thought "meh."
The effects are great, and some of the imagery stuck with me.
However, I could not tell you any of the character's names. Now, I could only tell you one name from the original movie (Ash), but at least that's one.
Evil Dead isn't bad, it just doesn't elevate the art the way the original, low-budget, films did.
During the economic break-down of 2007-2008, a financier kills his wife and takes off with his two infant daughters. They skid off the winter roads, and must find safety. Dad gets the girls to a cabin, but something in the shadows snatches him away and kills him.
Jump ahead five years. The financier's brother is running out of money looking for his missing family. One of the people he's paying to comb the woods finds the cabin, and the girls. The girls go home with their new family, but the thing that kept them alive for five years comes with them
Guillermo del Toro was executive producer on this movie, and we became fans of his because of the horror movies that he made in Spain.
What makes Mama effective is the emotional storyline running through it. This is a ghost story where figuring out who the ghost is, and what it wants, is part of the movie. Director Andres Muschietti keeps us in suspense until the last moment about how the film will end.
It's not a perfect film. There were moments when I was staring at a black screen, listening to creepy music. I do not like that. Film is a visual medium. If you cannot show me what is happening, cut that scene from your film.
If you are sick and tired of meaningless jump scares, give Mama a try.
We actually have more movies in our horror line-up, but Halloween is upon us. Consider this a cliff-hanger
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