Feb 6 2017

The Invoking 2: Paranormal Events (2015)

Didn’t see 2013’s The Invoking? That’s okay — it’s not a prerequisite for watching The Invoking 2: Paranormal Events. Hell, to be honest, you could forego any 10-minute chunk of this sequel and still track right along with it. That’s because this 2015 follow-up is a sequel in name only and is an anthology, which the original was not.

As with producer Jesse Baget’s Monsterland, Zombieworld and All Hallows’ Eve 2, this movie is a faux anthology, in that it collects pre-existing short films, presents them as a whole and calls it a day. Yet The Invoking 2 feels sloppier and less satisfying, because this time around, Baget and company don’t even bother to include a wraparound device. At least they deliver the subtitle-promised Paranormal Events: eight of them, to be exact.

From Smoked helmer Jamie DeWolf, the opening U-Turn follows an inebriated redneck — he’s just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm — who picks up a pretty little filly standing along Highway 116 at night. She’s wet (not that way), mute and just points … toward his fate! In Insane, from Zombieworld contributor Adam O’Brien, a location-scouting filmmaker gets a nighty-night tour of a sanitarium that’s been abandoned for 32 years … or has it? Next, Jay Holben, an All Hallows’ Eve 2 alum, depicts a spooky evening of a woman home Alone … or is she?

You get the drill and you know how things go. You certainly do in the longest short, Natal, in which Corey Norman (Monsterland) shows what happens when hot, young things go camping for the weekend: never anything good. Amid all the predictability, only two segments stand out, and one of them, Jamie Root’s Melissa, is as unimaginative as them all, but legitimately creepy and over and done with in the time it takes to jump-scare.

That leaves Do Not Disturb as the best of the bunch. From Nailbiter director Patrick Rea, it holes up in a Kansas hotel room with an on-the-loose serial killer who gets the strangest dish from room service: a woman’s head, through the mouth of which pop out cards imprinted with answers of the questions he poses. Hey, whatever works! —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 19 2017

Bats (1999)

Bats is like every other animal-attack flick that fortifies the Syfy broadcast lineup, except that this one somehow hit theaters first. It’s bad.

Really bad.

Lou Diamond Phillips bad.

Because of a “secret government project” — a device all screenwriters employ when they wish to weasel their way out of credible explanations — a Texas desert town is overrun with thousands of lethal, hideously deformed bats. They don’t look so much like bats as they do Ghoulies with wings. Not that viewers get to see them all that well, as during scenes of supposed action, director Louis Morneau (Werewolf: The Beast Among Us) shakes the camera as violently as drunk nannies do with babies.

Cleavage-baring Dina Meyer (Saw) has all the answers as resident bat expert Dr. Sheila Casper, while Cliffhanger’s Leon — just Leon, thanks — serves as her minority sidekick, saying lots of things that we’re supposed to find hilarious, like, “I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’ … and this shit is fucked-up!” Together, with big-belt-buckled Sheriff Kimsey (Phillips, 2000’s Supernova), they get into predictable, laughable, CGI bat attacks and grapple with predictable, laughable lines of dialogue (courtesy of eventual Skyfall scribe John Logan), including:
• “Wait a minute! You’re telling me a bat did this?”
• “But bats don’t kill people. This can’t be!”
• “We’ve gotta evacuate this entire town!”

Early in the movie, we get a brief and decidedly out-of-place cutaway shot of Phillips visibly grimacing, as if the camera caught him messing his britches, and Morneau opted to keep it. I’m glad he did, because it’s a moment most priceless and thereby, unlike the bulk of Bats, engaging. I’ve been doing some thinking … and this shit is fucked-up. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 12 2017

Blair Witch (2016)

Welcome back to Burkittsville, Maryland! And this time, we really mean it!

Sixteen years after the misbegotten Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 retroactively decimated moviegoing America’s collective enthusiasm for 1999’s revolutionary and wildly influential The Blair Witch Project, Lionsgate finally sought to right the franchise ship with a long-overdue threequel bearing the plain-Jane, abbreviated title of Blair Witch.

Perhaps the wait was too long overdue, as the film proved unable to live up to the studio’s hopes. Whatever the reason, its being seen as a failure is a shame, because despite that unimaginative title, Blair Witch is a damn fine horror film that continues to surprise and subvert.

Believing that his older sister, Heather (the original film’s iconic snot-dripping female lead), still may be alive, young paramedic James (James Allen McCune, Snitch) dares to venture deep into Black Hills Forest where she disappeared. Among those accompanying him are his kinda-sorta-maybe girlfriend (Callie Hernandez, Machete Kills), who is shooting the excursion for her college documentary class. In a broad sense, you know where this is going, but the how is more of a question mark.

Continuing to work in tandem after successful at-bats with You’re Next and The Guest, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett face having to meet the expectations of viewers who want to see a continuation of the story and further exploration into the mythology, but also something they haven’t seen before. To achieve that balance is precarious, yet somehow, Wingard and Barrett manage, starting with a way to utilize the found-footage conceit in a different manner.

That said, their style is not for everyone. Although perfectly accessible, it is too experimental and trope-tripping to be branded with certainty as mainstream-friendly; therefore, if their previous collaborations were not made from the recipes you desired, then Blair Witch is apt to not be the trilogy capper for which you’ve waited so long. It wasn’t what I had been anticipating; it was far better. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 2 2017

Edge of Sanity (1989)

Edge of Sanity does not find Anthony Perkins at his sleaziest. That would be Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion, but if one discounts that 1984 film, then yes, holy crap, Edge of Sanity finds Anthony Perkins at his sleaziest. (Interestingly, both pictures contain scenes that sexualize nuns.)

Like virtually everything he did in the wake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, this Budapest-lensed, Victorian-set production of Harry Alan Towers (H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come) typecasts Perkins as a maniacally unhinged character. At least it’s one of popular culture’s most enduring: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde. Of course, Perkins begins the picture playing Dr. Jekyll, the buttoned-down but workaholic ego to Hyde’s rampaging id. The dual personality is gained through pure accident after synthesizing an anesthetic alternative to morphine in his lab; a coked-up monkey kicks over a vial of this into a pile of that, and the resulting cloud Jekyll inhales brings out the beast in him.

With a 19th-century bong ever at the ready for a moment’s-notice smoke, Hyde trolls the streets of London looking for whores to feel up and kill — expressly in that order, because even Hyde has his limits. Director Gérard Kikoïne (the following year’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptation Buried Alive, also for Towers), however, seems not to, even setting Perkins up to deliver a woefully anachronistic James Bond joke as Hyde introduces himself at a party of disrepute: “Hyde … Jack Hyde.” See, Edge merges Stevenson’s literary creation with another UK legend, this one not fictional: serial killer Jack the Ripper.

To honor due credit, Perkins simply could have rested and let his makeup do Hyde (or an emaciated version of MTV personality Kurt Loder) for him, but the man was a true professional, giving his all to a project he had to know was junk. Edge of Sanity is, after all, a strange case in itself — a fairly insane picture in which Hyde masturbates a prostitute with a cane, just because. Although not as enthusiastic as Perkins, the ravishing Glynis Barber (Invaders of the Lost Gold) matches him in talent, playing Jekyll’s all-too-understanding wife. You feel more for Barber than for her character. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Dec 20 2016

Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)

One of the better entries in the Bigfootsploitation cycle — granted, that feat is not at all difficultSasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot takes the docudrama approach in following seven men on an Oregonian expedition to the Peckatoe River to hunt for the fabled monster.

Lead researcher Chuck Evans (George Lauris, director of Buffalo Rider) narrates the film and introduces his fellow travelers, including:
• shirtless Native American Techka Blackhawk (Joel Morello, clearly wearing a wig);
• a skeptical, big-city journalist (Lou Salerni), of whom Chuck tells us, “His negative attitude disturbs me”;
• Barney Snipe (Jim Bradford, From Nashville with Music), the curly-headed cook who looks like a truck-stop Ronald McDonald and executes a fine pratfall (“He’s a little clumsy. But his coffee isn’t bad.”);
• and an old coot (Ken Kenzle) and “his faithful mule, Ted.” The former, Chuck relays, is the only one who knows the way to Peckatoe … despite a scene mere moments before that shows Chuck and an anthropologist reviewing a wall-sized map with a point clearly marked as Peckatoe River.

As the gents mount horses and gallop through the forest, one-and-done director Ed Ragozzino throws in nature footage — Wolf vs. badger! Bear vs. raccoon! Bear vs. bear! — and, I presume, literally throws a mountain lion from an overpass to land on the horses below. (That shot is pretty funny; I watched it five times.) More famous are the Bigfoot-sighting stories the men tell one another at the campfire and on the trail, which Ragozzino cuts away to recreate; the most memorable finds a log cabin of miners under fire by rocks hurled by a family of Sasquatch.

After being a near feature-length tease, the film climaxes with a tree trunk-tossin’ finale that gives way to a tender Bigfoot ballad playing over the end credits. What an odd, chunky stew this Sasquatch is: a Sunn Classics fauxmentary mated with Disney nature shorts. For that reason, I can’t help but recommend it. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.