May 29 2016

Holidays (2016)

holidaysFollowing the sleeper success of such slashers as Black Christmas, Halloween and Friday the 13th, the 1980s imitators leapt to claim whatever boxes were left on the calendar, resulting in New Year’s Evil, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, Happy Birthday to Me, Graduation Day, etc.

This dash to co-op every conceivable festivity was so pervasive, Mad magazine spoofed this subgenre with a 1981 all-in-one parody titled Arbor Day; I’m half-surprised it remained up for grabs. I’m also half-surprised that the horror anthology Holidays wasn’t able to make room for that tree-commemorating celebration among the tales that do comprise this fun film. Nine more or less indie directors participate, and while crazed killers aren’t necessarily their subjects, a year of fear is covered nonetheless.

For the first segment, “Valentine’s Day,” Starry Eyes co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer provide an EC Comics twist to its story of a lovestruck high school outcast (newcomer Madeleine Coghlan). Affairs of the heart also go under the microscope in Some Kind of Hate helmer Adam Egypt Mortimer’s closer, “New Year’s Eve,” set in the lonely, cruel world of online dating. Suspend your disbelief that a young woman as cute as Lorenza Izzo (The Green Inferno) would have trouble finding someone with whom to hit the town.

holidays1Three tales depend on technology, assuming one still views the Walkman as such. That’s what Jocelin Donahue (The House of the Devil) dons in order to follow a cassette tape of mysterious instructions left to her decades before by her dad (Tremors’ Michael Gross), in the haunting “Father’s Day,” from visual effects artist Anthony Scott Burns (The Last Exorcism Part II). Meanwhile, post-Tusk, Kevin Smith again dips his feet in shits-and-giggles gore as webcam sex workers (one of whom is played by his own daughter, Harley Quinn Smith) plot pimp revenge for “Halloween.” In the darkly comedic “Christmas,” from Dark Skies’ Scott Stewart, a harried suburban dad (Seth Green, TV’s Robot Chicken) goes to extreme lengths to acquire the hottest gadget of the season.

More memorable is a pair of segments on motherhood. In Dracula Untold director Gary Shore’s “St. Patrick’s Day,” a single teacher (Ruth Bradley, Grabbers) is baby-hungry to a disturbing fault. On the flip side, the woman at the heart of “Mother’s Day” (co-directed by The Midnight Swim’s Sarah Adina Smith and first-timer Ellen Reid) gets pregnant every time she has sex. Finally, for sheer fright, look no further than the Jesus Bunny, who/which terrorizes “Easter” in the short shocker from The Pact’s Nicholas McCarthy.

Each segment’s title is rendered via original, illustrated greeting cards — when you care enough to send the very beast. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

May 24 2016

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

snakesplaneSomeday, I’m convinced, a book — not just a chapter, but an entire book — will chronicle the amazing, without-precedent story of Snakes on a Plane. How the Internet convinced New Line Cinema to forego the original title of Flight 121. How the Internet then convinced the studio to chase an R rating, specifically by adding a ready-to-bake catchphrase for star Samuel L. Jackson in the instantly immortal “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” How the Internet went meme-bonkers with anticipation for months leading up to the movie’s release. And then, after all that, how the Internet didn’t even bother to show up to see it.

And maybe that book will address the actual quality of the film, which is the one thing surrounding Snakes that often goes unmentioned. Instead, people talk of the “fan” videos, the “fan” T-shirts, the promotional trick where you could have (a recording of) Jackson place a phone call to whomever you wanted, the puzzle book tie-ins, the soundtrack album with the supremely silly theme by emo “supergroup” Cobra Starship. It’s almost as if everyone was so caught up in and/or beholden to the hype, they forgot a movie existed in its creamy center.

Yet one did! It’s fine, but nothing to write memes about.

snakesplane1Leaving Honolulu for Los Angeles, South Pacific flight 121 is carrying a Jennings Lang-worthy set of passengers and crew members, including an attendant on her final shift (Julianna Marguiles, Ghost Ship). Because FBI Agent Flynn (Jackson, The Hateful Eight) is court-chaperoning a dude-bro (Nathan Phillips, Chernobyl Diaries) who witnessed a mob hit, said mob has checked some killer baggage: deadly snakes hidden in boxes of pheromone-spiked flowers to get them all horny and hot-to-bite everybody, everywhere.

A kitty cat is first to go, which I’m totally onboard with, because that means it can’t leap from the shadows for a clichéd jump scare. Then they slither their way toward actual humans, from a couple angling for mile-high club membership to a poor guy who just needs to drain his bladder. (Takeaway: When your next flight is invaded by snakes, stay out of the restroom.)

What keeps the eventual chaos from being the fun it should be — especially with Final Destination 2’s David R. Ellis at the helm — is twofold: repetition as maddening as being grounded on the tarmac and the fact that the title creatures look so fake, they may as well be cartoons. Once Jackson has had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane, so have we … with yet another third or more on the horizon. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

May 23 2016

Nature Girl and the Slaver (1957)

naturegirlA sequel to Liane, Jungle Goddess from one year earlier, Nature Girl and the Slaver presents — with a generous use of seashells — the continuing adventures of its cut-rate female Tarzan. Played by Marion Michael, the white-skinned, blonde-haired Liane — or Diane, as the English dub of this German/Italian co-production calls her — lives peacefully with a primitive native tribe as their unwritten honky ruler.

Also acting as our narrator for instant story immersion, a meaty police inspector (Adrian Hoven, Jess Franco’s Succubus) flies over to help break up the slave-trading game going on … and maybe fall in love, as he figures Liane/Diane could go a long way in assisting his peace talks.

naturegirl1Or something like that. At barely over an hour, Nature Girl (aka Jungle Girl and the Slaver) as too limited a time to explore real-world issues. Besides, that’s not what movies of this ilk were about; they were intended to take advantage of their foreign setting in order to satiate the male moviegoer’s desire in seeing some tit. Although barely covered by her hair and the aforementioned shells, Liane does not bare her breasts (a good thing, considering how underage she appears), whereas literally dozens of black women go completely topless and dance around with no regard to the effects of gravity and motion. In essence, director Hermann Leitner has delivered an issue of National Geographic come to dusty life, replete with stock footage of wild animals inserted willy-nilly, with no one shot matching those bookending it.

This nonchalance carries over to Leitner’s treatment of his heroine; Michael plays Liane smart and fluent in one scene, only to shift to bone-stupid and monosyllabic the next. At least half of Nature Girl and the Slaver’s benign enjoyment is the disinterested dub, so comical in nature that at first, the film sounds like a Mad Movies performance of loving mockery. If there’s a chapter that deserves such skewering, however, it’s the third and final chapter, 1961’s Liane, Daughter of the Jungle, which edits the previous two adventures into one. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

May 22 2016

4 Recent Streaming Screen Psychopaths

hushHush (2016)

The Plot: A deaf woman (Kate Siegel, Oculus) is terrorized within her own remote home by a psychopath.

The Psychopath: He’s a stranger (John Gallagher Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane) with a now-requisite, emotionless mask, but without a motive, backstory or explanation. He likes to stab things.

The Review: Like Wait Until Dark updated for the emoji crowd, Hush makes the most of its simple home-invasion premise until director/co-writer Mike Flanagan (Before I Wake) succumbs to wear-out, likely from leaping so many gaping plot holes. Pretty decent, until it’s not.

emilieEmelie (2015)

The Plot: Three siblings are terrorized within their own suburban home by a psychopath while their parents are having a date night.

The Psychopath: Emelie (Sarah Bolger, The Lazarus Effect) poses as a babysitter, although she’s clearly not, what with such shenanigans as showing the kids Mom and Dad’s sex tape and changing her tampon in front of the tween boy (Joshua Rush, Mr. Peabody & Sherman). Oh, and plotting to steal the cutest, smallest tot.

The Review: The film marks the fictional feature debut of Michael Thelin. While I’d like to say I would not have suspected something this twisted from a man whose whose CV is dominated by emo-pop music videos and concerts (Paramore, All Time Low, Panic! At the Disco, et al.), the truth is I would not have suspected something this twisted from damn near anyone. A continual surprise, Emelie lets Bolger bid the family-friendly portion of her career adieu and the result sticks with you like shards of Jolly Ranchers on your teeth.

girlphotographsThe Girl in the Photographs (2015)

The Plot: The townspeople of li’l ol’ Spearfish, S.D., are terrorized in their own quaint haven by a psychopath.

The Psychopath: He wears a now-requisite, emotionless mask. He likes to stab things — namely, young women, whose photos he snaps after killing them and posting them over town. Just wait until he discovers Instagram and Snapchat …

The Review:
Delving into the “obscene and sinister” world of photography, this Girl represents a large leap upward in quality for director Nick Simon (Removal). While blonde Claudia Lee (Kick-Ass 2) is the star, Harold & Kumar’s Kal Penn steals the spotlight — and not always in a good way — as an insufferable shutterbug prick in the perv mode of Terry Richardson: “This gum tastes like garlic semen.” And despite strong flaws, this is a nasty piece of work. I dug it.

leftbehindLeft Behind (2014)

The Plot: Passengers of a commercial airliner — not to mention the populace of the entire planet — are terrorized by a mysterious event that makes true believers simultaneously vanish, leaving no trace but a pile of clothes (which is a funny effect to witness).

The Psychopath: In this case, it’s the film’s director, Vic Armstrong (the Dolph Lundgren vehicle Army of One), for inflicting this remake of the 2000 Kirk Cameron vehicle upon us, even if he did up the star wattage with Oscar winner Nicolas Cage as an unfaithful pilot who says things like, “If your mom’s gonna run away with another man, may as well be Jesus, huh?” Are your tax problems that bad, Nic?

The Review: Based on the crazy-popular series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind isn’t so much a movie as it is an exercise in End Times proselytization, seemingly cast with whoever happened to be in line Thursday night at Chick-fil-A and could pass a stringent affluence test. Except for the part where a one-man plane crashes into a mall parking lot, this visual sermon is abysmal, largely built upon the pilot’s daughter (Cassi Thomson, Grave Halloween) wandering aimlessly around town. Not since the previous Left Behind movie has The Rapture been this boring. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

May 19 2016

My Amityville Horror (2012)

myamityvilleFact or fiction or somewhere in between, the box-office smash The Amityville Horror and the Jay Anson best-seller from which it came are responsible for our nation’s collective consciousness surrounding the multiple murders in one Long Island home on Nov. 13, 1974, and the lingering phenomena reported to haunt it ever since. Among that “ever since” phase, the most famous is the focus of the 1979 movie: the short-term residence in 1975 of George and Kathy Lutz, and their three children.

In the documentary My Amityville Horror, eldest child Daniel Lutz recounts — to the sympathetic ears of psychologist Susan Bartell, to the camera of newbie filmmaker Eric Walter and to the curiosity of you, dear viewer — what the family went through in their 28 days at 112 Ocean Ave. Now a middle-aged father himself and a near-doppelgänger for actor Michael Chiklis (TV’s The Shield), Lutz is only just beginning to articulate what he still doesn’t understand, even with 35 years of hindsight.

myamityville1Not everything that comes from his mouth can be filed under “complete sense,” but one thing is crystal-clear: He believes and buys in to his mother and stepfather’s story that ignited a cultural phenomenon for nearly four decades now (and more recently debunked as fraud in the name of greed). He also drops bombshells not included in Anson’s 1977 quasi-novel or its two screen adaptations (the blockbuster original or the less-successful 2005 remake): that Daniel found himself possessed, that he was physically abused by a priest, that he witnessed George demonstrating powers of telekinesis.

Experts hailing from both sides of the issue — hoax and truth — contribute their opinions as well, including parapsychologist Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring franchise with more credibility than is deserved), who is interviewed while her identical twin roosters cock-a-doodle-doo in the background. Ultimately, My Amityville Horror offers no definitive answers — hell, how could it? — but the questions it raises, both old and new, undeniably hold interest. Draw your own conclusions; you’re apt to loan Walter’s documentary your attention regardless whether you believe a word of it or not. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.