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The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Barb Wire (1996)
DIRECTED BYDavid HoganSTARRINGPamela Anderson - Barbara “Barb Wire” KopetskiTemuera Morrison - Axel HoodVictoria Rowell - Dr. Corrina “Cora D” DevonshireJack Noseworthy - Charlie KopetskiXander Berkeley - Alexander WillisUdo Kier - CurlySteve Railsback - Colonel PryzerGenre - Action/Science Fiction/Comic BooksRunning Time - 98 MinutesIn the mid-1990s, there was probably no bigger sex symbol on the planet than one Pamela Anderson. While already a Playboy centerfold and appearing frequently on Married… With Children and Home Improvement, it wasn’t until she joined Baywatch that Anderson became a household name and the fantasy of many - including yours truly. As a young teenager during this time, I didn’t admire her for her acting skills, but for her beauty and buxom figure. She had a seductive appeal I couldn’t turn away from, completely invested in whatever project she was a part of.It was because of Anderson that I even knew what Barb Wire was. The character appeared in 9 issues, plus a mini-series, between the years 1994 and 1996 - a bar owner/bounty hunter who did jobs to pay for her bar and protect people who needed her help. As someone who never read the comics or even knew anyone who talked about them, it’s strange that it was even greenlit as a film project. But in 1996, BARB WIRE was released upon moviegoers, hoping that Anderson’s fanbase would come out in droves. Plus the 1990s weren’t the comic book movie haven the last 20 years have been. Studios were still figuring out how to present these characters, struggling with balancing between the source material and the Hollywood business model of making money through cinema. While only a few comic book films stood out from the pack [BATMAN RETURNS, THE CROW and BLADE among them], BARB WIRE was one of the comic book adaptations that neither audiences or critics cared much for, only making over a third of its budget back and getting nominated for Razzie Awards.Twenty-years have passed since BARB WIRE was released, as well as the last time I even watched this film. Some bad comic book adaptations have gained a level of cult status and can be appreciated in modern times, but BARB WIRE is still seen as one of the worst films of all time and is currently the 48th film on IMDB’s Bottom List. Is BARB WIRE as bad as many have claimed? Is it as bad as I had remembered it?PLOTIt’s the year 2017 and the United States is currently dealing with a Second American Civil War. The future has become dystopian, as the former government are now Congressional fascists wanted to control the country with an iron fist, while there is a small number of resistance fighters trying to revolt. Only one city in the United States is considered a free haven for both sides of the fight - Steel Harbor - which also happens to be the home of one Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson), a bar owner of the Hammerhead nightclub who keeps her business running through her job as an undercover bounty hunter. Even though there’s obviously a right side, she remains neutral when it comes to the new Civil War to maintain some peace within the chaos around her.Things for Barb change when her ex-lover Axel Hood (Temuera Morrison) shows up at Hammerhead needing her help. He’s married to a scientist named Cora D (Victoria Rowell), who the Congressionals have targeted, and both need a pair of retina contacts to get past any retinal scans that would easily allow their escape to a Canadian sanctuary. When both sides cause trouble for her allies and her business, Barb is forced to choose a side.REVIEWI’m just gonna come out and say this - BARB WIRE is not a good film in the slightest. And it honestly deserves its low ranking on IMDB because this film has a lot of problems one cannot overlook. But there are a few good things that don’t make BARB WIRE a complete failure.I think the best thing about BARB WIRE is the film’s production design and slick direction. The film has this 90s MTV music video aesthetic, with quick edits and muted colors. Steel Harbor is your typical dystopian city, looking as gritty as you’d expect out of a comic book film during this time [BATMAN's Gotham City, THE CROW’s Detroit and SPAWN’s New York City]. It matches the noir tone of the story, visually making one understand why characters behave as scummy as they do and why Barb Wire wants an exit strategy to a better place. Even the computer effects look like they were pulled out of a 90’s time capsule. And while the story feels a bit rushed at times, the pacing by director David Hogan is decent enough where the film doesn’t drag all that much. Hogan even manages to craft some good action sequences in a 90s syndicated TV action show sort of way. BARB WIRE looks sort of cheap, but I find some charm in that as the comic book wasn’t a major deal to begin with. The lower budget of $9 million actually helps the film rather than hurt it, in my opinion. While everything else that’s major about BARB WIRE quickly falls apart in front of your eyes, the visuals save the movie from being a total bomb. Not a bad job for a director who was picked to save the film [he tried] because the first director had no idea what he was doing with the project.The music is also very 90s, with a sort of industrial rock-metal sound that dates the film quite a bit. That being said, I liked most of the music of the 1990s and this soundtrack is no exception. I’m not saying this is the greatest music I’ve ever heard, but it fits BARB WIRE’s world extremely well. The opening credits [which I’ll get more into detail in a bit] play out to Gun’s cover of the popular Cameo song, “Word Up.” It’s not a bad cover, although it’s weird to hear once the film starts. We also get a great cover of War’s “Spill the Wine” by late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, Hagfish’s cover of Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” and “Planet Boom”, a song by Pamela Anderson’s then-husband Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. It’s not a classic soundtrack, but the music stood out as one of the better things about this movie.As for the acting, there aren’t that many compliments I could make when it comes to BARB WIRE. However, there were some decent actors who tried to make the script watchable. In particular, Jack Noseworthy as Barb’s brother Charlie was particularly good. Even though he probably knew he was on a sinking ship, Noseworthy makes the character relatable and sympathetic as a blind man who wants to bring the light back out of the darkness that surrounds Steel Harbor. I liked his interactions with the other actors, bringing a level of snark and attitude to the role. He was less of a comic book character and more of a real person, which I appreciated. I will also say that Clint Howard is pretty fun in his small role as Schmitz and Udo Kier’s odd performance as Barb’s right-hand man Curly did enough to make me interested in his backstory.And believe it or not, the concept of BARB WIRE is actually kind of relevant on the surface. The film takes place in 2017 within the United States during a state of crisis where two sides are conflicting over how the country should move forward under new leadership.Sound familiar?I’m not going to get into politics or religion or anything that will cause a major debate. But it’s eerie that BARB WIRE almost nailed what’s going on in America right now on the surface. Hopefully we won’t have to kill ourselves over a pair of retina contacts and escape to another country to make things better.As for the bad stuff, where to start? I guess discussing the terrible acting would be a good place. While she may look the part, Pamela Anderson is really bad in BARB WIRE. I can only judge by the film itself since I know nothing about the character this film is adapting. But I can’t imagine anyone being a fan of BARB WIRE by the way Anderson portrays the role. She seems bored throughout, acting stoically and speaking in this low, gruff voice that doesn’t suit her at all. She’s trying to be both the hero and femme fatale in a modern noir action film and it never clicks believably. She handles the action stuff decently, but there are moments where you can tell she’s uncomfortable with some of the choreography involved. She looks great in tight outfits though.Most of the supporting cast are disappointing, considering they’re better actors than Anderson and she still steals their spotlight. Temuera Morrison is miscast as Axel Wood, Barb’s former love interest who needs her help. Morrison doesn’t have any sort of chemistry with Anderson, making the idea of a relationship between them pretty laughable. He also doesn’t get to do a whole lot until the final act and it still isn’t a whole lot. Victoria Rowell, of The Young and the Restless fame, is just as bland as Cora D. She doesn’t really bring anything to the role, which is barely one-dimensionally written. Xander Berkeley gets a bit more to do as a corrupted police officer that antagonizes Barb, but he hams it up more than he should. If the film was taken less seriously and had fun with itself, Berkeley would fit right in. While he seems in on the joke, the film never tells him to be funny. And Steve Railsback plays your typical comic book villain who twirls his mustache and overdoes the camp to compensate for the fact that the film should be silly fun but never is. It’s not a strong cast and it’s a shame they try not to be either.Another strike against BARB WIRE? Taking a comic book concept and subtly turning it into an action remake of the 1942 classic, CASABLANCA! Seriously, who thought it was a good idea in thinking that Pamela Anderson is a logical successor to Humphrey Bogart? And in case you haven’t figured it out - Temuera Morrison is Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund, Victoria Rowell is Paul Henreid’s Victor Lazlow, Xander Berkeley is Claude Rains’ Louis Renault, and Steve Railsback is Conrad Veidt’s Major Strasser. I guess Jack Noseworthy and Udo Kier are Sam and Carl respectively. The original film never received any credit for this until people who actually watched BARB WIRE figured it out and saw how similar the two films are.The problem is that CASABLANCA works to this day because it’s plot driven and carries a lot of substance during World War II. Hell, CASABLANCA still resonates today in a lot of ways. You cared about the characters, their relationships and the struggles they faced to escape tyranny and find a level of freedom many felt wasn’t possible. You also felt Rick’s journey from being neutral to wanting to help his ex-lover and her husband live a better life, even if it meant sacrificing the one true love of his life to another man and place. Each character had personality and real reasons to behave the way they did within the context of the story.BARB WIRE may be more about action, but that can only go so far when the story itself isn’t strong enough to support it. BARB WIRE is about style over substance, but that doesn’t matter when the style isn’t even as good as other comic book adaptations that had been released prior to it and especially compared to those that came right after. The characters of CASABLANCA are in BARB WIRE, but nothing is fleshed out enough for anyone to care about what will happen to each of them. Barb and Axel supposedly had a past relationship, but we never see flashbacks showing them loving each other and struggling with being together. The film’s “letters of transit” are these retina contacts that disrupt retina scanners in order to gain passage to anywhere in the world. But the film just treats them as a plot device to get to the film’s ending rather than something that should really matter to the characters involved. Axel and Cora D want these contacts to escape, but they never seem proactive about it. The villains want them destroyed, but their evil egos take precedence over doing their jobs.Barb herself is not a likable main character at all, doing selfish things to maintain her club and please her own agenda. When people really need her help, she still would rather please herself until someone she’s close with dies because of her actions. Even though she finally realizes what the right thing is after that, her change of opinion doesn’t feel earned at all. It’s like someone watched CASABLANCA and did a cliff notes version but with more guns and boobs. A part of me admires the balls that someone attempted to remake such a Hollywood classic for a modern audience. But the other part thinks it’s kind of insulting that anyone felt that adding comic book action and hot women would improve on CASABLANCA, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.I also think BARB WIRE, while not a total success, marketed Pamela Anderson in the best way possible that Hollywood would probably allow for the mainstream. They knew people weren’t going to see the film because of her acting, so they blatantly used her sex appeal to get as much interested people in theaters. And the film itself doesn’t try to hide her best assets. The opening credit sequence is Anderson stripping in a tight leather outfit that could barely contain her breasts while water pours all over her. In fact, every outfit in this film has no trouble revealing how huge her breasts are, giving the audience a peek of cleavage and side boob as much as possible. And let’s not forget that scene where Anderson stands up from a bubble bath with only soap covering all of her naughty bits.The film tries to make Barb seductive, but it’s more a tease than anything. For a film that tries to capitalize on Anderson’s sex appeal, it’s extremely tame and limp. Besides, you can just Google her name nowadays and get way more explicit shots and footage of the 90s star. But back in 1996, this is probably the best way to get your rocks off if you didn’t own any of her previous Playboys. In the internet age, her tease of nudity isn’t even worth marketing. But I’m sure it worked somewhat all those years ago.THE FINAL HOWLIs BARB WIRE the worst film I’ve ever seen? Not even close. Is BARB WIRE the worst comic book adaptation out there? Not at all. But it’s also not even close to being a good film, as it’s nothing but a lame CASABLANCA remake but with more guns and boobs. For a film that’s marketed on its sex appeal, it’s pretty prudish for the most part. The acting, especially by Pamela Anderson, drags the film down big time since she’s not a star that’s meant to carry an action film like this on her shoulders. Most of her supporting actors, who would have elevated a film like this, aren’t given much to do since their measurements don’t compare to the film’s star. BARB WIRE does have a good 90s visual look going for it though, with decent enough action sequences and an industrial rock-metal soundtrack that’ll keep most audiences somewhat engaged. And its dystopian concept resonates today, as America is sort of in a midst of a Civil War socially and politically if you really think about it. Unless you’re a huge Pamela Anderson fan and need to see every comic book adaptation out there, then check out BARB WIRE. Otherwise, call the film “babe” and let it knock you into unconsciousness. You’ll get more out of that than watching this flick.SCORE1 Howl Outta 4

It: Chapter Two (2019)
DIRECTED BYAndy MuschiettiSTARRINGJames McAvoy/Jaeden Martell - Bill DenbroughJessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis - Beverly MarshJay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor - Ben HanscomBill Hader/Finn Wolfhard - Richie DozierIsaiah Mustafa/Chosen Jacobs - Mike HanlonJames Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer - Eddie KaspbrakAndy Bean/Wyatt Oleff - Stanley UrisBill Skarsgard - Pennywise the Dancing ClownTeach Grant/Nicholas Hamilton - Henry BowersGenre - Horror/SupernaturalRunning Time - 169 MinutesPLOT27 years after overcoming the malevolent supernatural entity Pennywise, the former members of the Losers’ Club, who have grown up and moved away from Derry, are brought back together by a devastating phone call.REVIEWBesides AVENGERS: ENDGAME, IT: CHAPTER TWO was probably my most anticipated film of 2019. Having read the novel, still enjoying Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise in the 1990’s TV miniseries and loving the 2017 adaptation of the first part of the story, I was very excited for the last part of the IT story to hit the big screen. With mainly the same crew behind the project and casting some great choices to play the grown-up versions of the younger cast, I was hoping for nothing but the best with the new adaptation to a flawed portion of the novel. And I gotta say - IT: CHAPTER TWO is faithful to King’s novel in that the film is also flawed next to the superior 2017 portion. But regardless of that, IT: CHAPTER TWO does more right than wrong, still managing to be a fun time and decent conclusion.Let’s start with the good stuff. IT: CHAPTER TWO’s biggest asset is its cast. Not only is the younger cast from the first film back [and doing a great job as before], but the grown-up actors portraying them were probably as close to pitch perfect in terms of looks and personality wise. Out of anyone here, the standout is clearly Bill Hader as comic relief Richie. The moment he appears and starts bouncing off dialogue with the other main characters, you can honestly believe that he’s the same character that Finn Wolfhard perfected in the 2017 film. Hader has the best lines and recites them with some great comic timing that you can’t help but love the guy. And I was most impressed by the fact that he handled the dramatic moments really well, honestly making me feel bad for his character during certain situations. I know a lot of people just see Hader as that funny guy on Saturday Night Live years ago, but if you’re a fan of the HBO show Barry, you know Hader is the real deal. He’s a big reason to watch this film and I could see him at least getting a Golden Globe nomination early next year. He’s that good.The rest of the cast varies in terms of performance. James Ransome as Eddie is really good, playing off younger Jack Dylan Grazer’s hypochondriac behavior and hilarious banter against Hader. He had a lot to play with and exceeded expectations. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain do as best as they can with the material given to them as Bill and Beverly respectively. Both get some memorable moments and definitely prove they are more than capable actors. It definitely erased some of that DARK PHOENIX stink, at least. The rest of the main cast [Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa and Andy Bean] are fine, but the script probably could have given them more to do.As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgard is still great as the evil clown. I wish he was in the film more, but Skarsgard makes all of his scenes memorable and creepy. He has a really great scene involving a young girl under the bleachers that showcases how great Skarsgard is in the role. And special mention to Teach Grant as bully Henry Bowers. He plays crazy and vengeful pretty well, although he’s kind of given the short straw when it comes to screen time. As for the cameos, it was great to see Stephen King and Peter Bogdanovich doing their thing.And like the first film, IT: CHAPTER TWO uses nostalgia very well. I love seeing a poster for THE LOST BOYS in a clubhouse and that awesome marquee for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD at the local theater. Plus, we get some good music like Cameo’s “Word Up”, New Kids on the Block’s “Cover Girl” and a tiny blip of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” [even though the song didn't fit the scene and I thought someone's ringtone had played inside of the theater, odd song choice that made no real sense]. But the flashback scenes still felt like they belonged in the late-80s, which made me content.As for the present day scenes, I think the best moments of IT: CHAPTER TWO are when the gang are together onscreen. One of the best scenes is when the gang are in the restaurant together during their long awaited reunion. As they try to remember the things they all blocked out once they left Derry, the friends are reminiscing about their childhood and present in such a way that it feels authentic. You honestly feel like these are the same characters from the first film, as they rag on each other and just reaffirm their bond with one another underneath the dread of Pennywise wanting his revenge. It also leads into this great scene involving some messed up fortune cookies that reminds the group why they left Derry to begin with.And of course, the reunion in the final act leads to some great dramatic moments that increase the tension of the battle against It. They’re all fragmented and selfish for their own reasons at the start of the confrontation, but end up remembering why they are The Losers’ Club and battle their fears together. I wish more of the film had these scenes because they’re the strongest of this film and the closest to having the characters be as similar as those in the first installment. Great storytelling when The Losers are just that - a Club.I also have to commend IT: CHAPTER TWO for taking LGBTQ themes and treating them in a serious matter. The horror genre, in particular, has always tried to sneak in hints and nods to different sexualities. Sometimes they’re used to create a mood in terms of narrative and visual presentation. Sometimes these themes are the obvious focus of the film to cater to a certain demographic. Other times, some filmmakers will try to create situations where LGBTQ characters are treated as objects or humor for other characters, not realizing it may be offending some viewers. IT: CHAPTER TWO starts just like the second half of the novel does - with a disturbing gay bashing of a local Derry couple that leads into one of them being a victim of Pennywise. This scene could have been handled so offensively in the wrong hands, or even years ago when PC Culture wasn’t a strong influence. But Adrian and Don are portrayed as a normal loving couple, wanting to have fun at a carnival even when three bullies are calling them derogatory names and trying to start a fight with them. Even through all this, they never shy away from expressing how much they love each other, making the scene not only realistic, but tragic in that hate like this still occurs in modern times. It was nice to see two people just share a realistic attraction and affection for one another, regardless of their gender and sexuality. Not many horror films [or films in general] portray that well or for the right reasons. The gay bashing scene would feel gratuitous, except it leads to the reveal of a certain character of The Losers’ Club being gay, giving us some dramatic moments near the end of the film. But it’s never a main focus of the last half of the film, nor does the character ever feel like their sexuality is their reason for being in the film. This character is a fully dimensional player in the story with multiple layers that many people will relate to and sympathize with. It may not have been needed for this character, but it’s handled respectfully and with class. I wish more films would handle these sort of things with this much respect, instead of treating it as some taboo gimmick. It’s 2019 and it’s time to grow up. IT: CHAPTER TWO proves you can do it believably well.And I gotta give director Andy Muschietti credit - for a film that’s almost three hours, IT: CHAPTER TWO never feels that long. While certain parts of the middle portion drag a bit in terms of how it’s edited and placed on the script, the film never feels like it’s wearing out its welcome. I do think AVENGERS: ENDGAME handled its pacing and editing better by having nicely switching it up with quieter moments followed by action sequences leading a massive 45-minute boss battle epic. But IT: CHAPTER TWO does manage to pop in a few “scares” and disturbing imagery to keep the audience engaged and wanting more. In fact, I thought the ending of this version was superior to the ending of the mini-series, as it was just handled more organically visually and seemed to be building to a crescendo. I do think the spider-deal is still silly in all versions of this story, but at least Muschietti tried to make it visually exciting enough for the time to fly right by.As for some negatives, I don’t think IT: CHAPTER TWO was as effective as the first film in terms of scares. I felt like a lot of the scarier moments in the film were too similar to the first film, which honestly is probably the right way to go in terms of telling a story from beginning to end. But I wish the film had raised the ante a bit, as it would have given the adults more dangerous situations to deal with compared to when they were kids. I felt that the first film had a more haunted house creepy vibe, while this film relies more on jump scares to jolt the audience. I’m sure that still affects a lot of people, but it didn’t do much for me.I also felt the lack of Pennywise the Clown here as well. In one way, it was probably better to disguise Pennywise in other various forms to trick the audiences into a sense of calm before scaring them. Since IT has become a pop culture phenomenon, the Pennywise character isn’t as scary as he once was due to social media existing, which it didn’t back in 1990. However, Pennywise is the face of the IT brand, so not seeing Bill Skarsgard do his thing as much as he did in the first part is something I kind of missed this time around. Damned if you and damned if you don’t.I also thought separating the characters for a long period of time was a big mistake in terms of the narrative. I get that the characters had to split in order to remember things and gather things for their confrontation against It. But most of the solo adventures dragged the film down for me and felt like they existed just to showcase the flashbacks with the more interesting younger characters. I did enjoy the Beverly, Richie and Eddie moments. Bill’s was good as well, even though it revealed a secret I wasn’t that much in favor for because it made him look kind of bad. The others didn’t really stand out in any way. Like I said, I felt the film was stronger when the characters stuck together because their adult counterparts just weren’t as interesting as their younger ones.That’s mainly because there is a lack of depth in the adult characters. The most we really know about them are their occupations and their fears. I think Richie got the most depth out of anyone in the film because secrets were revealed that explained his behavior in both portions of IT. But the love triangle between Bill, Beverly and Ben doesn’t connect because the film doesn’t really focus on it until the end, leading to a conclusion that feels more forced than organic. And characters left out of the film, like Bill’s wife and Beverly’s abusive husband, would have added some much needed color to their adult characters. I even felt Mike’s borderline crazy behavior was too subtle compared to the novel and original mini-series, making his decisions feel more deliberate and mean-spirited rather than desperate and ignorant. Even bully Henry Bowers felt like something that had to be added in the film because some audiences are familiar with his big role in both the novel and mini-series. The character has an interesting arc as a mini-boss, but it feels sort of rushed and not all that necessary here.As for the CGI, I thought it was more good than bad. The monstrous creatures looks pretty good. The It spider deal still looks silly, but at least it was an improvement over what the mini-series did. And that homage to a certain John Carpenter film, with quote and all, was pretty awesome. But those flashback de-aging scenes - man, some of those looked pretty bad. It was almost distracting at times, especially when it came to Finn Wolfhard’s facial features. I get the young actors got growth spurts since 2017’s IT, but it makes me wonder why they didn’t just shoot extra footage of the child actors if they knew they were doing a second chapter. Probably would have saved them a lot of grief getting most of the flashbacks out of the way, only using the de-aging stuff if they had to reshoot something. But other than that, the effects were fine and were on par with the first film.THE FINAL HOWLWhile I think 2017’s IT is the better portion of the complete story, IT: CHAPTER TWO is still a good conclusion that fans of the first film will probably enjoy. The older cast is solid [especially Bill Hader and James Ransone], even though some of them aren’t given a whole lot to do nor have much depth compared to their younger counterparts [who are still just as great as they were in the first chapter]. The pacing is pretty damn good for a three-hour film, never feeling like it wears out its welcome, regardless of some parts dragging a bit in the middle portion of the film. Most of the CGI is fine, but the de-aging process is more distracting than impressive when it comes to certain actors. And while Bill Skarsgard is still as great as ever as Pennywise the Clown, I wish he was in the film more since he had the creepiest moments in the film. IT: CHAPTER TWO isn’t perfect and has flaws I can’t overlook when it comes to the narrative at times. But it’s still charming, silly, and has great dramatic moments that make you sympathize with some of the players involved. More importantly, the film is a weird, fun time and a worthy adaptation that improves on the second part of the 1990 mini-series in every way.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4

Lunar Cycle - August 2019
Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention. Expect these Lunar Cycle posts once per month. UNFRIENDED (2014) - **1/2 out of ****Directed By: Levan GabriadzeStarring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, William Pelz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney HalversonGenre: Horror/Supernatural/Found FootageRunning Time: 82 MinutesPlot: While video chatting one night, six high school friends receive a Skype message from a classmate who killed herself exactly one year ago. At first they think it’s a prank, but when the girl starts revealing the friends’ darkest secrets, they realize they are dealing with something out of this world, something that wants them dead.Review:As someone who is not the biggest fan of found footage horror films, it took me a while to sit down and watch UNFRIENDED - a film that uses a first-person perspective of certain internet apps and websites in order to tell its story. Even though a few of my friends had actually praised the film for doing what it needed to do well, I pretty much dismissed it. Then, I was reminded of the film again when I saw the trailer to its sequel UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB. Again I dismissed it, feeling like I would be wasting my time watching another overrated found footage flick. But recently, I had a conversation with someone about modern horror, which led to this person bringing up and praising UNFRIENDED for being a film that will remain relevant to society as long as technology and social media are a huge part of our lives. Wanting to see what all the fuss was about, I finally sat down and watched the film. And to my surprise, I really dug UNFRIENDED for the most part. While simple in terms of its plot, the visual execution is clever enough to engage our modern society. The subject of cyberbullying and its part in increasing the statistics of suicide in teens and young adults is a sad one to even think about, but resonates so much in our current social climate that I respected how UNFRIENDED handled it. Sure, the film exploits the theme in a supernatural tale of revenge on those who may have contributed to the suicide of a teenage girl, but it still manages to ground the guilt, fear and misery these characters endure when confronted with their own dark secrets that begin to shatter their friendships. Watching our main character constantly click between websites, emails, Skype, Facebook and YouTube shouldn’t be as engaging as it happens to be. We’re drawn into the mystery and want to know what led to the suicide and if our main characters were part of it. The rollercoaster storytelling as each character suffers their own cruel fate is pretty well done, grabbing me until its, unfortunate, silly conclusion that brought the film down big time for me. But hey - I went into this with low expectations and dug most of it.I saw a lot of people criticize the characters and how annoying and unlikable they happen to be. In a lot of films, I would definitely find this to be a flaw. But in UNFRIENDED, it just adds to the story because these characters happen to act like real teenagers on the internet, trying to solve a mystery that ends up revealing things that none of them wanted to come out. The way they engage each other, mostly cruel if I have to be honest, is believable because I’ve seen friends within a single group act like this. Even the characters who are more likable than others soon start looking worse and worse as the film goes, but that’s human nature, isn’t it? I thought the actors did a really good job portraying people we want to like, but end up disliking towards the end of the film. The most notable star here is Shelly Hennig - a Emmy-nominated actress who is probably best known for being 2004’s Miss Teen USA, as well as for her roles on Days of Our Lives and especially MTV’s Teen Wolf series. I thought she did a really good job as our main character, Blaire. The rest of the actors were just as solid, as I bought their anger, betrayal, frustration, and fear throughout the movie. The visual style by Levan Gabriadze is nothing special on the surface really. But watching a first-person account of someone using the internet during a terrifying mystery is pretty novel and a cool way to twist the found footage trope. I’m sure many technologically challenged folks were turned off by the visual presentation, especially if they’re not familiar with the apps and terminology used. I personally thought it would be really annoying to watch this all play out in this manner. But you get used to it as the film goes on, embracing a style that shouldn’t have worked but really does for this story. I think without it, there’s no reason to really watch UNFRIENDED.I do wish the film was creepier or scarier. Some of the death scenes were pretty cool, but I never felt nervous or terrified by what I was watching. And while I understand that Skype can get really pixelated on a terrible internet connection, having that during the death sequences was a bit of a cop-out. Overall, I really liked UNFRIENDED more than I thought I would. While the premise isn’t for everyone and the ending was dumb, the film worked better than it had any right to. The drama stuff was a lot stronger than the horror aspects of the film, with the actors really giving it their all to convince people this was really happening. And I appreciated the use of a very important social commentary that needs to be addressed more often, regardless of the producers using it as a way to exploit scares to pop an audience. A definite surprise for me, as I’ll keep it on my modern horror news feed for the time being.UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB (2018) - *** out of ****Directed By: Stephen SuscoStarring: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savia Windyani, Chelsea AldenGenre: Horror/Found FootageRunning Time: 93 MinutesPlot: When a 20-something finds a cache of hidden files on his new laptop, he and his friends are unwittingly thrust into the depths of the dark web. They soon discover someone has been watching their every move and will go to unimaginable lengths to protect the dark web.Review:Really a sequel in name only, UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB was a film I had no real interest in due to my lack of love for found footage films. But after watching the first UNFRIENDED and liking that more than I thought I would, I decided to check last year’s sequel. And I don’t know what it is about this new franchise, but UNFRIENDED is now 2-for-2 as I liked this movie as much as the first one, albeit for different reasons. Using a similar visual presentation as the previous film, DARK WEB gets rid of the supernatural aspect of the first story and aims for a creepier, more grounded internet experience that would definitely unnerve the hell out of me if I were to experience it. In a world of data breaches and hackers gathering and selling personal information in the black market, DARK WEB plays on those fears as it puts a group of close friends chatting on Skype on a roller coaster of a messed up night of extortion, blackmail, misunderstandings and flat-out murder. While I personally prefer the first film’s story slightly, I do feel the characters in DARK WEB are way more likable and seem genuinely close with one another. While they do fall for horror tropes, the characters do believable things and act realistically to the situation that’s happening to them. I won’t spoil major plot points that would ruin the film’s mystery, especially in the last half of the film, but DARK WEB is a way more disturbing and plausible story that makes you wonder how much control some really evil tech-savvy people have on all of us who use social media and other popular applications. It never plays the situation off as silly either, really putting us in the seats of the characters as they’re victims to a situation they accidentally clicked into. Knowing that a group of hooded figures are doing some evil things in order to make money and making sure that information remains secret by any means necessary is nerve racking. These people could be anyone - your friends, neighbors, co-workers - and you wouldn’t even know it until it’s too late. On a personal level, we get a sub-plot with our main character, Matias, who seems to be a in broken relationship with Amaya. Picking up a “new” laptop, he wants to use it to finish a program that would convert speech into American Sign Language due to Amaya being deaf. During the terror and unwinding of the mystery, we still get moments where we’re reminded what started this whole mess to begin with - Matias just trying to win his girlfriend back. Their interactions are believable and you already know that it will connect with the mess Matias has placed himself and his friends in.And while that’s great in DARK WEB, I feel the other characters don’t get as much depth. Sure, we get who they are by how they behave and reveal in the first act of the film. But I thought that the first film was stronger in terms of connecting more with the audience on a personal level, even if the characters in that film weren’t as likable. I can understand the effects of cyberbullying and wanting revenge for that. The story here isn’t as personal for me, but it’s still well told and will keep your attention throughout for sure. I will say that having the sequel be more grounded in “reality” is a better fit for a movie like DARK WEB than having a supernatural element that seems tacked on for shock value. The film also had a creepier ending as well, which I greatly appreciated.The direction by Stephen Susco just follows what was done in the first UNFRIENDED, with the first person perspective of someone using the internet as a deadly mystery unfolds. But I thought there was much more going on here, as we were given a really dark look of the internet in terms of websites we shouldn’t be clicking on and having our characters watch snuff films that are realistically disturbing to watch. I also liked the pixelation anytime a hooded figure would appear, as if they were messing with the wifi frequency to keep their cover as they do disturbing things to our characters and people they care about. No ghosts here making people commit suicide. These shadow figures go for their targets and take them out in ways that would legitimately would appear on a news story somewhere. The back and forth of Matias going from Facebook chat, to Skype, to downloaded videos and to random internet sites to gather information is handled extremely well and didn’t feel as forced as it was done in the first film. The actors all play their parts well. I thought Colin Woodell was really good as Matias, playing the heartbreak as believably as his confusion and fear over what his curiosity had caused. It was also nice to see Betty Gabriel, a frequent Blumhouse alum [GET OUT and THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR], who does well with the material given to her and is given a memorable moment near the end. I bought the actors here, as it felt pretty real what they were going through.Overall. UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB is another surprise and an improvement over its predecessor. It’s nothing fresh or will it change the horror genre in any way, but it’s definitely creepy and disturbing in terms of its atmosphere and tone. The actors were all solid and I liked that the series has now gone into a more realistic and plausible scenario that will make people think twice in digging deep into a world on the internet they have no clue about. Those who aren’t fans of the found footage sub-genre should at least give UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB a watch, as it’s really dark and more engrossing than it has any right to be. There’s nothing scarier than humanity, which this film proves in spades.READY OR NOT (2019) - *** out of ****Directed By: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler GillettStarring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse LevesqueGenre: Horror/Thriller/ComedyRunning Time: 95 MinutesPlot: A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.Review:READY OR NOT is this year’s YOU’RE NEXT - a horror-comedy that will gain cult status within a few years due to its cute premise, colorful characters, and intense violence. Even from watching the trailer months ago, I knew I would get a big kick out of a pissed-off bride struggling to survive a dangerous game of Hide & Seek from the very family she married into. Even with the backlash over the terrible violence happening in America, with Hollywood even pulling certain projects that are felt to “promote” violent acts [THE HUNT being the biggest example], I’m glad READY OR NOT got a chance to be seen by a theatrical audience because it’s pretty rad.I won’t get into the story all that much since it’s better to experience it first-hand without someone telling you the beats of the narrative. And seriously, you can get much of what the film is about just from the trailers. And if you watched YOU’RE NEXT, you should probably know what you’re getting into. I will say that the concept and premise of READY OR NOT is pretty great, taking something so simple like a cat-and-mouse chase as some sort of initiation into a family and bringing out themes of trust, love, loyalty, and tradition in a way that makes you question how much is enough to protect the ones you love. There is a purpose for the game this family plays, regardless of how messed up it is, leading to a satisfying conclusion after the film keeps you guessing whether it’s all worth it or not. The film also plays up opinions on the upper class and how they look down on those not a part of it. I wish the film could have played with that a bit more throughout the game itself, but I guess the supernatural element involving the tradition had to take precedence. But judging by certain members of the family who married into it and how they’re treated by the original clan, it’s easy to see that they probably had hoped Hide & Seek popped up more often than it does.Through this game, it also fleshes out most of the characters. It turns naive and scared bride Grace into a badass woman who won’t let anyone hurt her, even if they are her in-laws. Then we have certain members of the Le Domas family who have no problem playing this game to achieve their goal, while others question themselves and their loyalty to the family along the way. Certain character actions do come across a bit silly at times, and predictable twists in moral [or immoral] character happen in the final act. And the reason why this tradition even exists [it involves some superstitious Satanic shenanigans] could have been fleshed out more besides through general expository dialogue. But the ride for a meager 95 minutes is a lot of fun, balancing the expected horror elements with the black comedy situations the characters put themselves in quite well for the most part.The direction by the Radio Science guys [Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett] has off-pacing at times, especially in the middle portion of the film. But other than that, the film looks great and the violence is shot really well. The use of the film’s setting [a huge mansion and even the woods surrounding it] is done marvelously. It has this gritty look with dark colors and lots of shadows that makes this mansion feel less of a home and more of a dungeon of sorts. For their first full-length feature, the directors do a confident job of visualizing this fun story and making a film that’s easy to watch if you can separate reality from fantasy.I think the best thing Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett do is create a new feminist badass character women will root for and sympathize with from beginning to end. That’s further cemented by the acting of Samara Weaving [Hugo Weaving’s niece], who takes what could have been a generic stock character and fleshes her out in a way that she becomes a real person we care about. Weaving recites the dialogue with a great timing and understanding of her role. She knows when to be serious. She knows when she needs to be sarcastic so the audience can laugh along with her. She never plays it tongue-in-cheek, which makes her a valued asset on this production. I was extremely impressed by how she handled herself here. The facial expressions and body language were dead on. The tone of her voice throughout the film fit within the context of what was happening. She gets it and I hope she becomes a huge star. Samara Weaving is awesome and I can see why anyone would want to marry her.I liked a lot of the other actors as well. Favorites? I thought Adam Brody as the alcoholic brother-in-law, Daniel, was really great. He played his role mostly numb to what was going on, only giving us glimpses of his true feelings about the situation and how it was effecting Grace. I have always liked him since The O.C. and I’m glad he’s having some sort of renaissance lately. He’s a standout. I also enjoyed Henry Czerny as the desperate patriarch, Wynonna Earp’s Melanie Scrofano as the coke-snorting and hysterically funny sister, and Nicky Guardagni’s scary aunt who enjoyed murdering people after lurking in the shadows to scare them. I thought male lead Mark O’Brien was on-and-off at times, but I felt he had nice chemistry with Weaving - enough where I felt for the both of them and wanted the happy ending. And it’s great to see Andie MacDowell on any project, especially a horror film like this one. I wish she had more to do than just being the supportive mother, but it was nice to see a familiar face.Overall, READY OR NOT is not a perfect horror-comedy film, but it’s a damn good time nonetheless. The use of The Most Dangerous Game premise usually works every time it’s on film, and this movie is no exception - using a nice balance of horror and black comedy to keep the audience engaged through its short and to-the-point runtime. Samara Weaving as the lead is a revelation and just wonderful throughout, carrying the film confidently on her shoulders and getting the emotional core of the character perfectly. The supporting cast, especially Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Melanie Scrofano and Mark O’Brien play off of Weaving very well and give us characters we can easily love or hate. I also think the themes of loyalty, family and tradition are explored believably here, regardless of the supernatural element that looms in the background, while the “eat the rich” element could have been fleshed out more [it’s there though]. And both Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett do a great job with their first full-length directorial effort, giving all potential brides-to-be a nightmarish scenario they hope not to be entering into on their wedding night. I don’t think it’s the best horror film of the year, but READY OR NOT may be the most fun and entertaining one so far in 2019. I hope more people see it in theaters, but this one will definitely be a streaming favorite during Halloween season.AVENGING ANGEL (1985) - * out of **** [WTF? Vault]Directed By: Robert Vincent O’NeillStarring: Betsy Russell, Rory Calhoun, Susan Tyrell, Ossie Davis, Ross Hagen, Robert F. Lyons, Deborah VoorheesGenre: Thriller/Action/ComedyRunning Time: 93 MinutesPlot: Molly, former baby prostitute “Angel” from Sunset Boulevard, has managed to leave her street life with help of Lt. Andrews. She studies law at an university and aims to become attorney. When she learns that Andrews was shot during a failed observation by brutal gangsters, she returns downtown to take revenge.Review:Last month, I reviewed 1984’s ANGEL - a cult exploitation film that’s less sleazier and controversial than its reputation would perceive it to be. However, it has a certain charm about it with some good performances and a creepy killer storyline that makes it worth a watch or two. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for it’s quick follow-up, 1985’s AVENGING ANGEL - a film that I respect for not copying the first film in every way, even though it probably would have been a much better movie if it had.Instead of a tame, yet gritty exploitation flick about an underage prostitute being targeted by a serial killer, AVENGING ANGEL goes more for a revenge action-thriller that borders so much on slapstick at times that it’ll probably make Lt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad roll his eyes. Hey, it’s cool that this sequel is attempting a different type of tone and narrative to separate it from the first film, while still making it a logical sequel. But if your father figure is murdered while investigating a crime, the last thing one should do is take their vengeful feelings and portray it as comedy as if it doesn’t mean a thing. And that’s what this film does - take the deep relationship between Molly/Angel and Lt. Lyons and make it feel as if they were just passing acquaintances, with no sense of anger or grief towards getting some justice. The Molly/Angel character, in general, is problematic here. It’s great she’s using both her street smarts as a former hooker and her book smarts as a future lawyer to take down the bad guys. But everything comes way too easy for her, eliminating any sort of previous passion the character had. She does nice things for others and uses her intelligence to get out of certain jams, but it’s hard to believe this character would do the things she’s doing because it feels lifeless. The original Molly/Angel character had a ton of depth and you sympathized with her. I didn’t feel any of that with this version of the character.The supporting characters are just as colorful as they were in the previous film, for better or for worse. Cowboy Kit Carson returns, doing a whole lot more in the sequel, becoming Molly’s right-hand man. But he seems like a caricature of himself, playing up the wild cowboy aspect of his persona to an eleven and acting more like a cartoon than a real person most of the time. Solly is still foul-mouthed as ever, but now she’s taking care of a baby in a storyline that doesn’t really go anywhere but raise certain stakes during the film’s final act. And even those stakes are treated as a joke. Yo-Yo, the Charlie Chaplin guy, returns as well - still not doing much of anything. And we then get this guy named Johnny Glitter, who’s gimmick is to look like Boy George and spread glitter everywhere… because? He’s the witness to Lt. Lyons’ death and leads Angel to the killers, joining her squad of misfits. Unfortunately, Glitter is nothing more than a gimmick - an annoying one, in fact. Not sure why anyone believed this character was a good one to add, but he sure was grating anytime he appeared.The villains are nowhere as interesting as the serial killer from the first film. They’re standard mob goons doing mob things. There’s nothing different about them that you couldn’t see in another action film with evil mob bosses trying to control a town.As for the tone of the film, Robert Vincent O’Neill doesn’t balance it all that well. The action stuff, while standard, is still well shot and decently choreographed. There’s even a good bit of tension during the opening murder scene of an undercover cop, due to its slick editing and use of Bronski Beat’s “Why?” It also contains some nudity that sleazed things up a bit, but not enough to make the film better. Unfortunately, O’Neill doesn’t know how to do comedy because the slapstick stuff doesn’t really work within a serious narrative. If AVENGING ANGEL was a spoof sequel of the previous film and maintained that the entire way, it would be easy to let it slide. But the film wants to be thrilling and serious one minute before turning into a cartoon in the next. The film doesn’t know what it really wants to be. Technical wise, the film is more than fine. But tone is very important, especially when these characters were established in a more serious film a year prior. You’re just confusing your audience. If the comedy was good, this wouldn’t be an issue.The acting is a mixed bag. Donna Wilkes didn’t return to play Molly/Angel, so Betsy Russell was hired to replace her. Russell is a beautiful woman and AVENGING ANGEL takes advantage of that with all the tight dresses Russell wears throughout. But she’s never been the greatest actress and action scenes don’t suit her either. Her performance is very flat here and the Angel character loses all charm that Wilkes had brought to it in the first film. I don’t think she feels comfortable in the role. The supporting actors as fine, especially Rory Calhoun and Susan Tyrell. Barry Pearl as Johnny Glitter was annoying, while villains Paul Lambert and Ross Hagen were fine. And Ossie Davis probably did this film for a paycheck, but at least he made the most of his appearance. Not as solid as the first film’s cast, unfortunately. Overall. AVENGING ANGEL is a really lackluster sequel that suffers from an identity crisis. The film never knows whether it wants to be a revenge movie, an 80s action-thriller like 48 HOURS, or a goofy comedy with cartoonish performances and silly sound effects [damn you, Johnny Glitter]. Betsy Russell has a stunning onscreen presence and the camera loves her, but she never feels comfortable as Molly/Angel and brings the film down big time with her flat performance. The supporting actors are also a mixed bag, trying to balance between being believable and being annoying. The film does look good though and has a decent pace, with the action scenes being handled better than the comedy stuff. And the 80s soundtrack is odd, but memorable. AVENGING ANGEL is a big come down from the original 1984 cult hit, deserving to be stripped of its wings.THE PERFECT GUY (2015) - *1/2 out of ****Directed By: David M. RosenthalStarring: Michael Ealy, Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut, Kathryn Morris, Rutina Wesley, Holt McCallany, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Charles S. Dutton, John Getz, Jessica Parker KennedyGenre: Thriller/Drama/RomanceRunning Time: 100 MinutesPlot: After a painful breakup, Leah seems to meet the perfect guy. But she soon discovers his violent side that disrupts her life.Review:What do you get when you’re pitched a Lifetime movie premise, but you get the benefit of a good budget and a decent cast of name actors? You get 2015’s THE PERFECT GUY, a supposedly “erotic” thriller that does everything you’d expect out of a film that would fit right in on a certain network’s weekend movie marathon. The fact that this film even had a major theatrical release years ago and did well at the box office is kind of surprising, considering it doesn’t have much appeal other than the fact that a majority of the cast are made up of African-American actors. THE PERFECT GUY never reaches the heights or pop culture knowledge like a FATAL ATTRACTION, THE CRUSH, OBSESSED or even its other 2015 erotic-thriller, THE BOY NEXT DOOR. If it wasn’t for the cast, this would have your typical Saturday Night Movie of the Week that you would have forgotten about the moment it stopped airing.THE PERFECT GUY checks every trope you’d expect out of a film like this. Empowering female lead? Psychotic ex-boyfriend who changes from angel to devil in a second? Stalking? Sneaking into homes? Gathering information to use against the lead? Disturbing shrines? The villain eliminating all opposition that interferes with his obsession? Cops wanting evidence before catching the villain? It’s all here and predictably in all of the right places within the film. You know what’s going to happen throughout. You know how it’s all going to end. It’s been done before and done much better.I will give the film credit, however, for making the main protagonist Leah a character that you can root for because she’s pretty aware for the most part. You understand her when she breaks up with her good boyfriend because he doesn’t want marriage and children. You understand why she would fall in love with too-good-to-be-true Carter, an IT expert, because she’s so damn charming and says and does all the right things in front of her friends and family. But unlike a lot of women in this type of film, Leah quickly ends things the moment Carter starts getting violent with people he’s threatened by. She doesn’t stick around hoping he’ll change. Leah knows something is wrong with Carter and wants him to leave her alone, which leads to Carter stalking and harassing her. She talks to her friends about what’s going on. She goes to the police when things start getting overwhelming. She notices and realizes when people around her begin to get hurt or even killed, her first suspect is Carter. And when Carter interferes with her profession and threatens to kill her and make it look like a suicide, she takes some unlawful words from a sympathetic detective and takes matters in her own hands. Sure, Leah falls into generic pitfalls in the name of storytelling every once in a while. But she’s very well written and has more depth than expected for a film like THE PERFECT GUY. While the ex-boyfriend is your typical good dude, the villain your typical sociopathic killer who stalks and hides in the shadows to gather information or pounce, and the supporting characters just there to create a universe for the main characters to live in, Leah is a person you can believe in and wish her nothing but the best in getting rid of this creepy guy.Other than that, there’s not much to this film in terms of a narrative. There are some unintentionally funny moments, especially when it comes to the Carter character. He’ll kiss and lick up lipstick left on Leah’s glass of wine after he breaks into her home. He’ll also lick and suck on her toothbrush… for reasons. He’s also a cat stealer and someone who enjoys listening to his ex have sex while underneath her bed. I wish there were more moments like this, where the film got a bit campy and you can just enjoy it on a popcorn level. But THE PERFECT GUY takes itself way too seriously most of the time, which doesn’t work when the situation, while believable, is played out pretty silly. I also feel the first half of the film was way too rushed, as the film quickly skims through Leah and good guy Dave’s relationship before getting right into her fling with Carter - which is rushed as well. The second half is stronger since it’s more about the cat-and-mouse game between Leah and Carter. Not the worst script, but nothing you wouldn’t see on Lifetime.The direction by David M. Rosenthal is nothing special. It looks like any other romantic thriller that you’ve seen in the last ten to fifteen years. It’s a very glossy and well polished production that nails every trope to perfection. Even the few death scenes we get are shot as one would expect, with no style or visual splash to make them memorable. And the film seems to badly execute passage of time, as the first 30 minutes speed right by without giving us anything of substance, while days and weeks pass without much of a title card or transitions to let us know. I mean, I understand that the story was flying by, but some audiences have issue with that.The cast is what elevates the film a bit. Sanaa Lathan is pretty strong as Leah, playing all the emotional cues one would expect of a character in her situation. She never played the role as a total victim or a total badass, but as a woman who was in over her head in a messed up situation. Lathan honestly deserves to be in better films, but she gives a good performance regardless of quality. Michael Ealy was decent as psycho Carter, playing the creepy role a bit more subtle than expected. He never goes full Glenn Close, but he does have menacing moments. Morris Chestnut doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Dave, but he does his best with what he’s given. Kathryn Morris and Rutina Wesley aren’t given much to do either, but never embarrass themselves. And it’s always good to see Charles S. Dutton and John Getz in anything.Overall, THE PERFECT GUY is a film that you can catch any weekend on Lifetime Movie Network, just with a bigger budget and a well-known cast. It’s generic, predictable, and hits every romantic thriller beat one would expect out of a film like this. The film looks great, but there’s no real style to make the film visually memorable. And if it wasn’t for the portrayal of the lead protagonist on paper and Sanaa Lathan’s acting giving the role some depth, THE PERFECT GUY wouldn’t be worth having on as background noise with a peek every now and then. The rest of the cast also do what they can with the material given, especially Michael Ealy trying to be creepy while still attracting his admirers with his good looks and soft voice. THE PERFECT GUY is not a perfect film or a must see, but those who love dumb romantic thrillers may want to take a chance on it.

Red State (2011)
DIRECTED BYKevin SmithSTARRINGMichael Parks - Pastor Abin CooperJohn Goodman - ATF Special Agent KeenanMelissa Leo - Sarah CooperKyle Gallner - JarodKerry Bishe - CheyenneMichael Angarano - TravisNicholas Braun - Billy RayStephen Root - Sheriff WynanKevin Pollak - ATF Special Agent BrooksKevin Alejandro - Tactical Agent HenryGenre - Horror/Drama/Thriller/CultsRunning Time - 88 MinutesPLOTSet in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter Christian fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.REVIEWEven though I’ve been a big fan of his Askewniverse films [still love me some CHASING AMY], I haven’t watched anything that Kevin Smith has directed since 2011’s COP OUT - which was an abysmal failure on all levels for the filmmaker. Because of that, I haven’t watched any of Smith’s films since, even though I’ve been very curious on how his horror input has been. It took me eight years, but I finally sat down and watched 2011’s RED STATE. Scary enough, the topics and themes of the film are still as relevant today as they were years ago, with the West Baptist Church still trying to push their influence on people, while the rise of gun violence in America has become a major concern. With Smith tackling the subject of religion in 1999’s DOGMA and doing it really well, I expected RED STATE to be a good continuation of that line of commentary in a more serious way.Unfortunately, RED STATE continues the losing streak that Smith started with COP OUT. I will say its heart is in the right place and the concept of the film is definitely one worth exploring. But Smith seems to have lost all focus when it comes to writing and directing this film, creating a film that feels seriously bi-polar in terms of genre, tone, and even narrative structure. I had believed this film to be a horror film, but it’s anything but in the traditional sense. I would have been more than okay with that if RED STATE knew exactly what film it actually wanted to be. I finished the film more confused than normal, not sure what I was supposed to think about it.Let me just get the good stuff out of the way. I thought the acting was really great, as it saves the film from being a total disaster and one you must avoid. In particular, the late Michael Parks [a favorite of Quentin Tarantino] is incredibly compelling in the lead villain role as Pastor Abin Cooper. Parks plays that common fear of a man of religious power spouting hate and twisting the words of the Bible to brainwash others in believing his rhetoric. Using the church as a dungeon to torture those he believes are an abomination to society - mainly homosexuals - Cooper and his family and friends believe what they’re doing is right because they want to save the world from what they consider “evil”, even though they do bad things like kill innocent people and steal firearms in order to display the power they believe they inherited from God. Parks plays the role to perfection as a man who doesn’t fear the consequences of his actions, feeling that he’ll end up in paradise with God in the afterlife for “cleansing the sins of immoral people”. Humanity is freaking scary, and Parks portrays that convincingly.I also thought John Goodman did really well in his role as ATF Special Agent Keenan, the opposite side of Cooper’s coin. Goodman is fantastic in anything he’s in, regardless of the quality of the film he’s involved with. RED STATE is no exception. Keenan also believes in the good of society and wants this Church taken down because they’re terrorizing this small town. When he’s given orders from superiors that he doesn’t agree with, Keenan struggles with that decision, leading to violent consequences he wanted to avoid. Goodman plays this resignation and struggle believably, making Keenan the only real character you sort of care about.The other actors also do well, especially Melissa Leo as Cooper’s daughter, and Kevin Alejandro as a tactical agent who struggles with Keenan. The younger actors, especially Kyle Gallner and Kerry Bishe, put on capable performances that border on sympathy at times. The actors did their damndest to make this script seem better than it actually is. For that, much respect to all of them to keeping RED STATE somewhat watchable.And while it’s not his strongest visual presentation, I thought Kevin Smith did alright as a director here. Using more of a handheld, shaky cam feel rather than a static focus, Smith shoots the film well and tries to add some style. In a lot of ways, I feel like Smith was inspired by other directors here, especially Tarantino and Rob Zombie at times, aping their visual flourishes to tell a compelling narrative - at least in his mind anyway. It had a more realistic and gritty feel than his previous works, so I applaud Smith for doing something out of his comfort zone. Even if RED STATE wasn’t a total success, Smith gets points for experimenting and trying out something new. There’s nothing wrong with that if you can learn from your mistakes.The rest of the film is a disappointment though. The screenplay is all over the place, making it a tough film to really get into. It’s a shame because the commentary is easy to understand and relate with on some levels, as terrorism based on religion and massive gun violence are topics many people face each and every day. These are topics that gain a ton of media coverage. And if you follow him on Twitter, Kevin Smith is very passionate and opinionated on these social issues. But that’s what the script for RED STATE reads like - a bunch of Twitter rants from Smith, but taped and glued together to make a 90-minute movie. There’s no subtlety in this film, as Smith hammers you in the head over and over again on his views of the matter at hand. There’s this great 11-minute monologue by Michael Parks, preaching to his followers about the evils of society and how they’re doing God’s work by taking care of these so-called “sinners” themselves. This one monologue tells you everything you need to know about Parks’ character, the situation at hand and what the film is trying to tell you. But it keeps going with other characters, punching you in the face about the commentary on both sides of the issue. There’s even commentary on how officers and the government would rather shoot and ask questions later, as if to say that they’re only in it to protect themselves rather than the people they’re ordered to protect. It’s not rocket science. Audiences can figure these things out on their own. It just felt heavy-handed, which is sad because these are issues that deserve to be address in many media forms.The development of the characters is no better. We have three teen victims who are kidnapped and taken as hostages by this Church because they’re seen as homosexuals for wanting to have an orgy with a woman they met on Craigslist [which happened to be a trap by the Church]. This is a good set-up… if the teen characters were any bit sympathetic or likable. Being excited over a sexual conquest is realistic, but the way they behave about it is a bit of a turn off. Why would I care what happens to them? It’s made even worse when the main focus of the film is on the villains, who are despicable people doing terrible things because they twisted the words in a book to justify their actions. They lose people and they grieve. One character wants out to save the younger members of the Church. Others feel that they don’t care about life or death, believing that God will gladly take them in with open arms. These fanatics are awful people and all deserve swift justice for what they’ve done. But it feels like Smith wants to do his own THE DEVIL’S REJECTS in a way with these characters when it isn’t earned. The Firefly Family, regardless of their heinous actions, are likable characters and have a bit of a moral code when it comes to each other. These Church characters don’t because they only care about themselves. It’s jarring and it feels like Smith is showcasing the people he despises rather than criticizing them.Even our “heroes”, the special agents trying to save the hostages and stop the Church, aren’t much better either. Only Goodman’s character, Keenan, seems like a fleshed out human being who struggles between doing the right thing and keeping his job to provide for his family. He’s in a position where morality doesn’t really fit into, causing him to second guess certain things before doing what he feels is right. Even at the end, he resigns to his position with almost an ounce of regret on his face. The rest of the agents and local officers don’t have any depth at all. The town sheriff is a closeted gay man who is too scared to stop the Church, fearing they’ll out him to his wife. He even shoots innocent people out of fear, just wanting the situation to end as long as his secret is safe. Others joke about the terrorist situation [the addition of comedy in this film is mind boggling and out of place], while another character just turns on a dime and kills people after criticizing Keenan about thinking to do the exact same thing. Who am I suppose to root for here? Does Kevin Smith even know?And then there’s the ending. I don’t even know where to begin with it. Apparently, there was an idea for a different ending where we would find out that this whole film is taking place during the Rapture, almost proving that the beliefs of the Church was correct all along. I think that would have been a controversial, but interesting conclusion within the context of the film’s story. It also would have improved my feelings on RED STATE by miles. Instead, we’re given this flat ending that doesn’t do much for anyone. I’m still not sure what to make of it and why Smith felt this was a the next logical conclusion to his story. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen RED STATE yet, but I think you’ll be as hugely disappointed as I was over it. What a letdown.And the last negative thing I’ll say - the mixing of genres did not work here. The film starts off as Smith’s version of HOSTEL in a way, eventually turning into a horror drama involving a cult, finishing off as an episode of CBS’ Criminal Minds. It’s cool that Kevin Smith wants to stretch his filmmaking style and try different things as a director. But stick to one genre and make it work. This would have been great as a full-on horror film, a full-on drama, or a full-on action-thriller. It bombs as all three-in-one.THE FINAL HOWLIt took me quite a while to sit down and watch RED STATE, Kevin Smith’s first foray into directing a somewhat-horror film, hoping it would be worth the wait. Unfortunately, I came away extremely disappointed with this film, wondering what exactly I was supposed to get out of it. The acting, especially by the late Michael Parks and John Goodman, is the saving grace of this film. And while not a home run, I respect Kevin Smith writing and directing something other than a comedy. That being said, the narrative is a huge miss for me. The protagonists, besides Goodman’s character, are unlikable, while more depth is given to despicable villains that I’m not sure I’m supposed to empathize with or not - considering Smith’s not-subtle commentary against the Westboro Baptist Church, gun violence and government officials. The mixing of genres is jarring, as it goes from HOSTEL to an episode of Criminal Minds in minutes. And the ending used is really poor and fails as a satisfying conclusion. I really wanted to like RED STATE, but it just left me feeling blue by the end.SCORE1.5 Howls Outta 4

Absurd (1981)
DIRECTED BYJoe D’AmatoSTARRINGGeorge Eastman - Niko TanopoulosAnnie Belle - EmilyCharles Borromel - Sergeant Ben EnglemanEdmund Purdom - PriestKatya Berger - Katya BennettKasimir Berger - Willy BennettTed Rusoff - Doctor KramerGenre - Horror/SlasherRunning Time - 96 MinutesPLOTA man (George Eastman) has been driven insane by church-sanctioned scientific experimentation which also causes him to be nearly impossible to kill. He is pursued to America by a priest (Edmund Purdom) where he embarks upon a killing spree while the priest tries to hunt him down and kill him.REVIEWBy the year 1981, the horror genre was within the Golden era of the popular slasher film. Due to the massive success of 1978’s HALLOWEEN and later 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, countless producers and studios attempted to capitalize on the slasher craze to varied success. Even though Italy had a similar craze going with the popular giallo, the country as well wanted to create their own version of the slasher film. Having success with the infamous “Video Nasty” ANTHROPOPHAGOUS in 1980, Joe D’Amato and George Eastman decided to film what many consider a pseudo-sequel, 1981’s ABSURD [aka MONSTER HUNTER, aka ROSSO SANGRE, aka ANTHROPOPHAGOUS 2]. Taking some “influence” from a certain American slasher film, ABSURD joined ANTHROPOPHAGOUS on the “Video Nasty” list for its gory sequences. And while the violence isn’t as intense as it is in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS to make it as memorable or notorious, ABSURD manages to do certain things better than its predecessor to make it more worthwhile to a mainstream audience.Watching ABSURD, it’s obvious that both D’Amato and Eastman were huge fans of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN to the point where certain storytelling aspects were inspired by it. And by inspired, I mean both men ripped it off to create their own version of the same story. You get a silent killer who can’t seem to get hurt or die. You have a man, who knows what the killer’s deal is, chasing him in order to stop him from killing. You have babysitters in a suburban town accidentally targeted by this killer. You have police officers willing to believe the word of the monster hunter. You even have people watching television while all this is going on! Hell, you even have a hospital setting in the first act of the film that’s reminiscent of HALLOWEEN II of the same year - which is most likely a coincidence since both films were probably made around the same time. You even have an annoying little boy worried that the Boogeyman is out to get him for being bad. It’s not subtle and it’s definitely not as good as its inspiration, even if all the elements are there.For example, the killer in the film [Nikos] is not a psychotic person who murdered people when he was a child and grows up to be this embodiment of evil as an adult once he escapes the insane asylum. He’s basically a science experiment gone terribly wrong, where he has this uncanny ability to regenerate any serious wounds and not die unless he was basically decapitated like HIGHLANDER. The man chasing him, a priest, seems to be responsible for this mess and is trying to stop Nikos from hurting other people after the experiment drove him insane. The town Nikos terrorizes is not his hometown in Greece, but a random spot in America  [which might make it more terrifying for some]. The priest has dialogue that resembles a certain Dr. Loomis, but isn’t as meaningful or creepy. The babysitter is a mix of Annie and Lynda from HALLOWEEN - a hot blonde who has a sassy and/or bitchy attitude towards taking care of an annoying kid and his disabled sister. The Laurie Strode character is actually a nurse with no relation to the killer other than that she helped save his life in a hospital earlier. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch your favorite film rearranged in a different way that it becomes a new film called ABSURD, regardless if the quality isn’t up to par.The only real differences from the original HALLOWEEN are that the children’s parents have more of a role here, especially the father who had ran over Nikos earlier in the film, which causes Nikos to recognize the car and terrorize the family living inside the house its parked at. It’s actually a clever way for the killer to target his main victims out of some sort of revenge, giving him a reason to do his thing in the last half of the film. It also separates Nikos from The Shape, giving him a more human reaction to wanting to hurt people he feels done him wrong in some way. There’s also a disabled character in the film, strapped to a bed due to some spinal accident. You start to wonder why this girl is in the film, other to give the audience the fear that the killer will target a helpless victim. But this character ends up being a big part of the final act, helping create a very memorable last image that probably helped put ABSURD on the Video Nasty list. There are also unintentionally funny moments that involve a group of grown up wearing fancy suits watching the Super Bowl on television while eating pasta and drinking champagne. ABSURD tries so hard to make the audience believe that this is all taking place in Midtown, U.S.A. that it ends up being really funny watching these people watch American football in a way Americans don’t. I also never realized that football games took place in slow motion either. I guess it’s the Italian television frequencies. I will say that ABSURD improves upon ANTHROPOPHAGOUS when it comes to its storytelling. While the mystery isn’t as strong, at least things constantly happen in ABSURD that won’t bore the hell out of you. The murders are more frequent, even if they are pretty standard in terms of slasher films. The characters are a bit more fleshed out, playing up to their horror archetypes pretty well, because they’re given more to do here. I will say that the Priest and the Police Officers should have been in the film more, as they seemed to be forgotten for most of the middle portion of the film. And less of that damn annoying kid would have been great [he’s part of the reason horror fans dislike children in horror films most of the time]. Other than that, things just flow a whole lot better in ABSURD that I appreciated the different pace compared to the previous film. I’ve seen some bad rip-offs and this is one of the better ones because its heart is in the right place.Speaking of pacing, Joe D’Amato definitely improved on giving his audience some more action and less talking compared to ANTHROPOPHAGOUS. The film feels shorter than its 96 minute run-time and the death sequences are actually placed within the story well and frequently. I will say that D’Amato doesn’t bring enough tension, suspense, or scares in ABSURD that HALLOWEEN and other slashers have in spades. There are certain moments that could have had more atmosphere and a certain tone to make them stand out more. I will say that the final act is actually well directed, with genuine moments of tension involving the killer and that annoying brat that led to bad things happening to characters around them. I especially liked one particular shot where the kid is looking out of a window, not realizing the killer is hiding in a corner looking right at him from behind. And there are other moments where the framing helps create some decent jump scares as Nikos pops out of nowhere to spring upon his victims. There’s nothing special about the look or style of ABSURD and I actually think ANTHROPOPHAGOUS is a more interesting film visually and atmospherically. But the direction is simpler here and follows a slasher template that I can respect somewhat.As for the gore, it’s not as visceral or disturbing as the ones in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS. But I can easily understand why censors placed this one on the Video Nasty list. Nikos has a lot of fun murdering his victims in different ways to entertain himself and the audience watching. A certain nurse gets drilled from one side of her skull through the other. We get a drill saw slicing a head in half. There’s also an axe through the skull. We also have a death involving a head being forced inside an oven, scalding the person’s skin. And probably the most infamous moment of the film involves a decapitated head via an axe. Nothing here tops any of the effects that were in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, but these moments more than work in a slasher film format and I’m sure will add to the watchability for many horror fans.The acting is more than competent. George Eastman is very good as Nikos the killer, using his crazy looking eyes and massive height to intimidate the other characters and some of the audience as well. His look isn’t as memorable as it is in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, but his presence is just as strong. Edmund Purdom, English actor best known to horror fans for his roles in both 1982’s PIECES and 1984’s DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, does as much as he can with the role as the Priest chasing after Nikos. While he can’t deliver lines as powerfully as Donald Pleasance, he does manage to bring some gravitas to an otherwise silly film whenever he appears. I wish he had been in the film more to create more of a dynamic with Eastman though. The other actors are fine, like Annie Belle and especially Katya Berger - both providing memorable moments in the last part of the film. There’s also a small role for future Italian horror director Michele Soavi as an unfortunate biker. Joe D’Amato would later return the favor by producing Soavi’s first directorial film, 1987’s STAGEFRIGHT. The only actor I didn’t care for was Kasimir Berger as Willy, the annoying little kid. I don’t know if it was the dubbing or just the acting in general, but I kept hoping this child would make an exit sooner than later. No wonder his father in the film was hitting and running down people on the road.THE FINAL HOWLWhile not as notorious and as memorable as 1980’s ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, 1981’s Joe D’Amato & George Eastman follow-up ABSURD is my preference of the two films. Obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, with the film following many of the same beats, ABSURD has a lot more going on narrative wise than the previous D’Amato and Eastman collaboration. The direction is quicker paced, with some unintentionally funny moments where this Italian film tries to pass off as American. The acting is pretty solid, especially by slasher killer Eastman and Edmund Purdom as the Dr. Loomis character in priest form. The gore isn’t as strong as it is in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, but slasher film fans will get a kick out of drills, axes, and other sharp objects taking out helpless victims. However, there’s a lack of atmosphere, tension and suspense besides the final act, as well as an annoying child character that’ll make you pull your hair out. If you want to see D’Amato and Eastman’s version of a slasher classic, ABSURD isn’t a bad film to check out if you crave an Italian Boogeyman fix.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4

Anthropophagous (1980)
DIRECTED BYJoe D’AmatoSTARRINGTisa Farrow - JulieGeorge Eastman - KlausSaverio Vallone - AndySerena Grandi - MaggieZora Kerova - CarolMargaret Mazzantini - HenrietteMark Bodin - DanielBob Larson - ArnoldRubina Rey - RuthGenre - Horror/Slasher/Thriller/CannibalismRunning Time - 90 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)A group of tourists become stranded on an uninhabited island where they are stalked by an insane, violent and grotesque killer (George Eastman) that slaughtered the town’s former residents.REVIEWWhen it comes to the term “Video Nasty”, one of the first films that will quickly come to mind for those familiar with Video Nasties is 1980’s Joe D’Amato’s cult classic, ANTHROPOPHAGOUS. The word anthropophagous [of Greek origin] refers to someone who enjoys eating human flesh, which pretty much sums up the killer in this somewhat-slasher film that’s really a piece of Eurotrash on film that will divide horror audiences according to their tastes. While certain scenes in the film truly earn its inclusion in UK’s Video Nasty list of the 1980s, its reputation probably make the film better than it actually is. ANTHROPOPHAGOUS definitely has its moments, but it is sure a drag to get to them unfortunately.Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. ANTHROPOPHAGOUS is known for its gory sequences of murder and cannibalism. If you are into that sort of thing, this film is right up your alley! While I wish the film had a lot more of this stuff [believe me, the film really needed it], what we do get is memorable enough for many horror fans to still discuss it almost 40 years later, whether they’ve seen the entire film or not. I could only imagine what the film censors in both the United Kingdom and United States thought of those very scenes at the time of its release. They must have freaked watching a grown man in grotesque make-up ripping a womb out of a pregnant woman just to take a bite out of it in front of the father of that said baby inside of the womb. While the scene could have been more graphic if D’Amato and writer-actor George Eastman had wanted it to, just the very thought of seeing just a taste of it is disturbing enough. We also get a scene later at the end where the killer is cut open, to which he pulls out his own intestines and munches on them in front of the film’s surviving protagonists. In fact, the scene is made more notorious for being the actual film’s poster art! The rest of the gore is pretty standard in terms of slasher films and Italian giallo films in general. You get the typical stabbings. One person hangs themselves. And we get some nice throat chewing that look pretty realistic at the time. There are a lot of sick visuals in the film that will turn off some that don’t appreciate Italian horror, but the gore is without a doubt the best part of ANTHROPOPHAGOUS.The acting isn’t the worst either, but nothing that really stands out. That being said, I watched the U.S. dubbed version and the voices range from good to laughingly bad. But out of everyone, George Eastman as our killer is really great whenever he appears. Eastman has a great presence in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, as he’s super tall, wears gross make-up, and provides this creepy stare with his eyes that sort of gives you chills. He only has a few lines during a flashback, but he’s just silent otherwise. I have a feeling Eastman was somewhat inspired by HALLOWEEN’s Michael Myers in just the way he walks, moves and his portrayal as a force rather than a person. It’s a shame the killer only has a major role in the film’s final act, because having him do more throughout the film would have made ANTHROPOPHAGOUS less of a chore to watch. The only other actor of note is Tisa Farrow [Mia’s sister who appeared in 1979’s ZOMBIE]. For a main star, she unfortunately doesn’t really do a whole lot that’s memorable. This is Eastman’s show all the way.The music score is good or bad, depending on which version of the film you watch. The original Italian version has music that’s so off-putting, it takes away from the visuals. It either sounds like it should belong in a circus, or is so bland that it adds nothing positive to the film to make it a stronger viewing experience. The US dubbed version may steal cues from TV episodes and the awesome KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, but at least the musical score fits in better with what’s going on the screen. The stalk scenes has musical cues that bring some tension to them, while the quieter moments has a nice score that tries to elevate these pedestrian scenes. If you cherish sound design, the U.S. version is definitely the way to go.The direction by Joe D’Amato will probably only be appreciated by those who are familiar with his work. He doesn’t have a very stylish eye, directing scenes pretty standardly and without much flash or pizazz that could elevate the film’s storytelling. But he does manage to add a lot of atmosphere with the beautiful Grecian location and the great use of using Italy-as-Greece as the backdrop. The stalk-and-kill scenes, some with first person point-of-view, create mystery, suspense, and tension. And the gore effects are shot really well, as D’Amato never really overdoes it and just gives us enough of a taste to be disturbed and grossed out by a man eating a womb or his own guts. The pacing could be a lot better, but that final act is directed as well as one would expect out of an Italian horror film of its time. It’s not his best work as a director, but the visuals aren’t what bring this film down for me.That problem lies within the script, which has some great elements sprinkled throughout but never cohesively works well enough to be interesting. The film starts off with a creepy moment of a vacationing couple getting murdered by our unseen killer. But then the film grinds to a halt as we meet our main characters, who honestly aren’t all that interesting or likable enough of anyone to really give a damn about them. They end up just talking and walking around for about 50 minutes, complaining about curses, dealing with one-sided love triangles and spouting expository dialogue that you’ll forget by the time the film ends. It’s not until the characters meet a blind girl who can sense the killer via smell of blood that the film starts to pick up. If this was a 40 minute film, ANTHROPOPHAGOUS would be awesome from beginning to end. The final act alone is worth watching this film, as it feels like a mean-spirited slasher film that’ll keep you engaged. But the first two-thirds of the film will test audiences not used to watching these kind of horror films, or want something with quick-paced action. They’ll probably give up halfway into the movie. It’s a shame because more kills in the middle, or just some well-written dialogue and eventful moments throughout the film would have added a great deal here. Instead, most people who haven’t seen this film will probably just watch the best parts of YouTube and forget about the rest. When the most interesting character in your film is the killer and he’s barely even in the film, you got yourself a problem.THE FINAL HOWLIt’s easy to see why ANTHROPOPHAGOUS was listed as a “Video Nasty” almost four decades ago. The gore is pretty intense for the time, as watching a human being eat a womb out of a pregnant woman and then chew on his own intestines was probably more than some were ready to handle back in the day. It’s a shame the rest of the film is a mixed bag. While George Eastman’s performance as the killer is great and the final act is well directed by Joe D’Amato, it’s a struggle to get through the rest of the film with its slow, boring pace and forgettable characters who you won’t care whether they survive or not. ANTHROPOPHAGOUS is a film that ought to be better than it is due to its notoriety, but it’s kind of a chore to sit through for the most part. If you love Italian horror, early slasher films or films by Joe D’Amato, check it out if you haven’t already. If not, just find the bits of gore on YouTube to see what all the fuss is about.SCORE2 Howls Outta 4

Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark (2019)
DIRECTED BYAndre ØvredalSTARRINGZoe Margaret Colletti - Stella NichollsMichael Garza - Ramon MoralesGabriel Rush - Auggie HilderbrandtAustin Abrams - TommyDean Norris - Roy NichollsGil Bellows - Chef TurnerLorraine Toussaint - Lou LouAustin Zajur - Chuck SteinbergNatalie Ganzhorn - Ruth SteinbergGenre - Horror/FantasyRunning Time - 111 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)The shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large in the small town of Mill Valley for generations. It’s in a mansion that young Sarah Bellows turns her tortured life and horrible secrets into a series of scary stories. These terrifying tales soon have a way of becoming all too real for a group of unsuspecting teens who stumble upon Sarah’s spooky home.REVIEWSCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is based on a series of books that I was a huge fan of when I was younger. Each book had many different stories and urban legends play out in anthology form, told as almost campfire tales to creep one out. With the success of GOOSEBUMPS having been adapted to the big screen to critical and commercial acclaim, it was a no brainer that SCARY STORIES would get the film treatment. Produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Andre Øvredal [of TROLL HUNTER and THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE acclaim], the film had a lot of buzz going into its theatrical release. To be honest with you, I wasn’t all that impressed by the trailers for the film. Yet, I was still curious and knew I’d be supporting the project opening weekend. I’m glad I did because I really liked SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, even though I had issues with how the story was presented at times. Let’s get the positive things out of the way first. I think what I enjoyed most about SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is the film’s atmosphere. The film takes place in 1968 and it never forgets to remind you of that, which I appreciated. We get some great 60s music and pop culture elements of the time, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at a drive-in and classic Universal Monsters being talked about and appreciated. There are also many news reels and discussions amongst characters about the 1968 Presidential Election, which Richard Nixon won despite a lot of these characters not liking the guy. This is obviously an allusion to our current political and social climate, with both Øvredal and del Toro pretty much saying that history has repeated itself - especially if you see how the one Latino character is treated by a police officer and certain members of the community is any example. The best thing is the film never hammers it to a point where its distracting like some other films would in this day and age, so that was much appreciated. And considering the film occurs on Halloween and a few days after, SCARY STORIES captures the Halloween and fall vibe really well. I also liked the haunted house elements added as well, capturing a level of innocence and naivety that probably doesn’t exist in a modern and cynical world. It was really well done.I also thought the actors were very good, as well as the characters written for them. The highlights were Zoe Coletti as main character Stella, Michael Garza as new guy Ramon and both Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur as comic reliefs Auggie and Chuck respectively. The young actors had great rapport with each other and I bought them as genuine friends who would natural come together to solve this mystery and save themselves. Could their characters have had more development? Sure. But the actors stood out and made the cliched characters their own for the most part.And while the CGI effects weren’t the most realistic, I thought the monster designs were pretty spot on to their book counterparts. It was cool seeing some of the monsters in live-action, even though I wish there was more of them [I’ll get to that in a bit]. But when they do appear, the tension definitely spikes and some of the jump scares provided even works. I hadn’t read any of the books in a long time, but I definitely remembered whenever a creature would terrorize someone. I’m not sure if it will affect younger audiences the same way it did me, but nostalgia hit hard with this one.And while the film is well made and well structured, I just feel like the whole “group of pop culture savvy kids solving mysteries together” trope is getting way played out at this point. And that’s where SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK failed for me. It’s generic and predictable, with nothing new added that I haven’t seen in films like THE GOONIES, THE MONSTER SQUAD, both versions of IT and even Stranger Things on Netflix. Yes, this type of storytelling works immensely and provides a lot of fun for audiences to watch these characters grow into themselves and as a group of heroes saving the day from supernatural danger. But I felt the film focused too much on this aspect, only using the tales from the book as a plot device whenever a character needed to disappear for a while. The monsters and the stories themselves honestly should have been the main attraction here, possibly done in an anthology type flick that would have used these popular tales to their fullest potential. Hell, there’s so many of them that you could easily create a franchise. But instead, we get the monsters in the background to the human drama that isn’t all that interesting because it’s been done to death. I’m not saying that the screenplay is terribly written, because it’s far from that. In fact, I liked the whole FINAL DESTINATION element of the stories being used to target a certain character and use their fear against them. But the film is called SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK and it doesn’t really live up to its title other than the antagonists being used. I enjoyed myself watching it all play out and never felt insulted by anything on screen. But I think it was a missed opportunity to really go all out with the use of its source material. I felt that the film played it a bit too safe.THE FINAL HOWLSCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is a film that will definitely appeal to children and adolescents who are starting to build their horror film watch history without frightening them too much or turning them off in any way. For diehard horror fans who grew up on the books and may be expecting a close enough adaptation might come away from it feeling something was lacking. It’s a fun movie, without a doubt, as it breezes by with a great Halloween and Autumn atmosphere, solid young actors who are very likable, and a very good live-action CGI showcase of some of the book’s supernatural characters. However, the human story was a bit generic, cliche and safe, while the source material was a bit underutilized. I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities in this film and I was expecting a bit more out of it. Still, SCARY STORIES is definitely worth your time if you’re familiar with the books the film is based on, or if you just enjoy PG-13 horror that does more right than wrong. SCORE3 Howls Outta 4

Lunar Cycle - July 2019
Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention. Expect these Lunar Cycle posts once per month.BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2001) - *** out of ****Director: Christophe GansStarring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jeremie Renier, Mark Dacascos, Jean YanneGenre: Adventure/History/Action/HorrorRunning Time: 137 MinutesPlot: In 18th century France, the Chevalier de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his native American friend Mani (Mark Dacascos) are sent by the King to the Gevaudan province to investigate the killings of hundreds by a mysterious beast.Review: An ambitious hybrid of many different genres, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF is a bi-polar film that shouldn't work - but somehow mostly does. While containing horror elements involving a beast that's terrorizing a province in France, the film is mainly a period piece action B-movie with as big of a budget as its long running time. The characters are all interesting, all looking like suspects or accessories to these animal attacks through a captivating detective arc that makes you question who or what the beast really is. It truly takes a turn by the end, as things are never what they seem to be.The direction by Christophe Gans is extremely stylish, fitting in well with other action films of the 2000s. It's expertly shot, with beautiful pans and tilts to showcase the scenery and capture the Victorian setting of France. The cinematography pops, as the film is very colorful and beautiful. The action scenes are well choreographed, with a nice use of martial arts and swashbuckling that will keep on entertained. And the horror aspect is well used, as the stuff with the beast is pretty gruesome. And the fight scenes are bloody as well.The acting is solid across the board. This is especially the case for male lead Samuel Le Behan (played a great hero), Vincent Cassel (playing a weirdo as usual), badass Mark Dacascos, and the beautiful Monica Bellucci who almost steals every scene she's a part of.If I had any issues, the film is a big too long for its own good. It drags at certain parts and could take audiences out of the movie. I also thought the use of slow motion got grating. I usually don't have an issue with "bullet time", but a film as good as this didn't need an overabundance of it. The beast's CGI isn't the most convincing either. And what was up with the love story that doesn't add much to the story at all? Meh.But overall, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF has to be respected for its ambition and mostly successful balance of multiple genres to tell a pretty enthralling story. If you can get over its obvious flaws, the film is a fun time and a mystery worth investing in.MIDSOMMAR (2019) - ***1/2 out of ****Director: Ari AsterStarring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will PoulterGenre: Horror/Mystery/Drama/ComedyRunning Time: 147 MinutesPlot: A young couple (Florence Pugh & Jack Reynor) and their friends travel to Sweden to visit a friend’s rural hometown and attend its mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly descends into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.Review: Ari Aster’s second feature film within the last two years, MIDSOMMAR is another horror film that will divide the community like last year’s HEREDITARY [also by Aster] did. On the surface, the film is obviously inspired by folk horror - more specifically THE WICKER MAN - where a group of mostly ignorant Americans go to a foreign country and end up being part of a sinister celebration that not all of them will survive. Even when bad things happen in front of them, they’re so wrapped up in themselves that they fail to see why they’re really there and what’s really going on around them. It’s a trope that we’ve seen used many times in horror films, yet it still works really well in MIDSOMMAR. It increases the suspense, tension and sometimes unintentional humor as we wait for these characters to be “part of the celebration” in Sweden, knowing it’s going to be weird, disturbing and all-around captivating.If you look deeper into MIDSOMMAR though, the film is really a story about loss, grief, and finding true happiness by cutting ties with those who either hold you down or don’t seem to care to comfort during one’s time of need. The story centers around Dani and Christian - a long-term young couple who have been together for four years [a fact that Christian doesn’t even remember] out of convenience rather than because they genuinely want to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Dani comes off as needy and a bit erratic at times, something that seems to push Christian away and make his friends dislike her. But Dani genuinely has bad things happening in her life and just wants to be loved and comforted by her boyfriend, who seems to do that out of guilt and fear rather than genuine concern. As they go on their trip and things happen along the way [I won’t spoil anything major], their relationship starts to fall apart to the point where one of them realizes that the only way to feel happy again is by cutting ties. While I felt that the family tragedies that occur in HEREDITARY hit me harder on a personal level, the relationship angle works well as we sort of see both Dani’s and Christian’s reasonings for wanting to stay together and understanding why it’s just making them bitter, angry and miserable in the long run. Obviously, you’ll feel more sympathetic towards one party over the other by the end of the film, but I liked how real the relationship felt and sort of understood where all the characters stood with it, even if most of them ended up being jerks for the most part. By the resolution, you feel sort of relieved their misery is over - even if the way it occurs isn’t the cleanest.The direction by Aster is an improvement over HEREDITARY however, as MIDSOMMAR is a gorgeous looking movie with great angle shots, amazing looking scenery and a surprisingly great pace for such a long film. The first hour is a slow burn set up for the rest of the craziness that occurs later, but I never once felt bored or that the film dragged. That’s the testament to a well made movie that knows exactly what it wants to tell and how to execute it. And the gore and deaths in the film are pretty shocking and at times disturbing. There’s one scene involving lungs that made my eyes go wide. Just incredible stuff.The acting is also solid, particularly by lead Florence Pugh. She was a highlight earlier in the year in the wrestling themed FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY and continues to wow. I felt her anguish. I felt her confusion. I felt her fear. And I also understood her when her story arc came to an end. Pugh pulled it off convincingly and look forward to seeing her in more roles. I thought Jack Reynor was great as Christian, playing a boyfriend who was torn between being there for his girlfriend and just wanting to move on from a situation that was just bringing him down. Will Poulter was solid as the comic relief. And I thought the Swedish actors all played their roles perfectly mysterious. Overall, MIDSOMMAR is a bizarre film that’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a slow burn thriller that may feel pretentious to some due to its artsy storytelling and visual presentation. But if you really sit back and realize what the film is really about beyond the scary cult stuff, you’ll enjoy the ride as you watch relationships fall apart while others start being formed in the most disturbing of ways. MIDSOMMAR isn’t a film I could see myself watching a whole lot in my lifetime, but I’m glad I did because it was definitely a two-hour-plus experience that will sit with me for a while.By the way, I’m crossing a trip to Sweden off of my bucket list. The meatballs aren’t that good.2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS (1983) - ** out of ****Director: Joe D’AmatoStarring: Al Cliver, Harrison Mueller Jr., Daniel Stephen, Peter Hooten, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Sabrina Siani, Isabella Rocchietta, Geretta Geretta, Donald O’BrienGenre: Action/Science Fiction/Dystopian FuturesRunning Time: 91 MinutesPlot: In a post-apocalyptic Texas, a band of warriors fight against a fascist regime that is trying to control of all surviving population.Review: One of many Italian rip-offs of popular films, 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS is a mixed bag of a film that wants to be as cool as the films it was inspired by, but only made me want to watch each of those films instead. Co-written by George Eastman [of ANTROPOPHAGUS fame] and directed by cult filmmaker Joe D’Amato, 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS wants to be the Italian hybrid of THE ROAD WARRIOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but never coming close to matching the quality of either one. Add in a Russian Roulette scene obviously inspired by THE DEER HUNTER and you have a film that wants to be a lot of things all at once.Unfortunately, putting ideas from random films together in one movie doesn’t mean you’ll have a good story. The characters are pretty much cardboard and don’t have much depth besides “good” and “evil” and the premise is your standard “overthrow the oppressors” type of plot. The dialogue is pretty hilarious and most of the characters seem like caricatures rather than actual people.However, the film does have memorable moments going for it. D’Amato and Eastman did manage to add in some wacky stuff like nuns getting raped and priests getting crucified in the first five minutes of the film [our heroes actually watch and let this happen before stepping in, which is…something]. We also have a lot of motorcycle and horse riding action involving lots of arrows, guns, fire, hatchets, and other different weapons to give the film some energy. We even have a disturbing moment of guy-on-guy rape, as well as the Russian Roulette scene I previously mentioned. Some will get a kick out of the exploitation vibe of the film, even if these scenes are for shock value rather than to move the story forward.D’Amato shoots 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS almost as a Western of sorts, trying to pass off Italy for a dystopian Texas. I’m guessing the educational system goes to crap a year from now, since explosives is spelled “EXSPLOSIVES” at one point. The film isn’t all that stylish, but it does manage to maintain a decent flow and use its setting for all that it’s worth. I particularly keep going back to the Russian Roulette scene since it was shot very well and took place in a saloon type place, building tension and shooting nice fight choreography that Western fans would be able to appreciate. D’Amato did admit that Eastman directed the dialogue heavy scenes, which I felt were the weakest of the film. The silly action and over-the-top shock moments were the things that kept my attention. D’Amato has directed better work than 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS, but at least you can tell he’s trying to make a decent film for an American audience.It’s hard to judge the acting because I watched the cheesy dubbed version. But I’ll probably anything Al Cliver is in because that dude is likable as hell. The actors also handled the action stuff very well and seemed to be having fun making the movie.Overall, 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS is not my favorite post-apocalyptic cheesefest. 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and THE NEW BARBARIANS are more my cup of tea. But what 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS lacks in an interesting story or characters make up for it in memorable moments that will make you so shocked you’ll want to see what’s next. You’re better off watching the films this movie ripped off, but it’s a decent Joe D’Amato film that deserves your attention if you’re fan of the man’s work.LIFE (2017) - **1/2 out of ****Director: Daniel EspinosaStarring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Nguyen, Ariyon Bukare, Olga DihovichnayaGenre: Science Fiction/Horror/ThrillerRunning Time: 103 MinutesPlot: The six-member crew of the International Space Station is tasked with studying a sample from Mars that may be the first proof of extra-terrestrial life, which proves more intelligent than ever expected.Review: Part ALIEN, part GRAVITY with a sprinkle of THE THINGand 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 2017’s sci-fi/horror flick LIFE tries to be as good as any of those films, but not surprisingly coming up short in every instance. LIFE’s downfall is really its screenplay, as it’s commendable for trying to take the best parts of previous sci-fi/horror films and placing them together like a puzzle to create a watchable film. But on the negative side, it also sacrifices character development, as we barely know anything about these characters - at least enough to care whether they live or die. Say what you want about previous B-movie schlock like GALAXY OF TERROR or INSEMINOID. But at least those films had likable characters with personality, making us latch on to them while knowing they’ll most likely be victims to the film’s alien villain. The only character in the film that has a sense of urgency or fun is Rory, but that’s because Ryan Reynolds is given a character close to his real-life persona, instantly making us like him. As an international cast of characters, they all seem to have interesting backstories and depth dying to come out. But the film would rather focus on the alien terror haunting them, making them nothing but fodder. That’s fine when you’ve given the audience one or two people to at least gain our sympathy. Plus, most of them do really stupid things that end up getting themselves and others killed. Some say it’s human nature, but I say it’s just bad writing. It’s a shame too because you have a great cast, especially in Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, and the script really gives them nothing to do other than play stereotypes we’ve seen done better. Not all of LIFE is negative though. The film does look absolutely stunning, with beautiful cinematography and a great use of special effects that make you believe we are watching people in space. Daniel Espinosa maintains a decent flow, never making the 103 minute run time feel like it drags. And while the alien creation isn’t the most novel, the CGI for it as it evolves into something deadlier is done nicely and probably would have been made more memorable had LIFE been a better film. I also thought Espinosa managed to build some decent tension and suspense at times, slowly building to the moments where the alien [called Calvin] stalks its prey and feeds on the astronauts. I also appreciated the nihilistic ending, obviously to set up a potential sequel [that probably won’t happen], but it leaves the audience with a sense of dread and shake-your-head syndrome at what’s obviously to happen in the aftermath. And while the actors didn’t have great material to work with, I thought they did enough of a fine job to keep me engaged in what was going on. I felt Gyllenhaal was the strongest actor, as that dude is great in anything he’s in. Reynolds played himself, which is more than fine. Ferguson was a bit bland at times, but she got better as the film went on.Overall, LIFE is a clone of much better films spliced together. The screenplay is its weakest part, which is a big chunk of the overall enjoyment of this movie. But the acting is solid for the material given, the visual presentation is stunning with some nice CGI, and it has some tense horror moments that more people probably would have talked about if the film was better in its execution. It’s a decent B-movie with an A-list production. Worth your time, at least once, if you like sci-fi/horror in space films.ANNIHILATION (2018) - *** out of ****Director: Alex GarlandStarring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict WongGenre: Science Fiction/HorrorRunning Time: 115 MinutesPlot: A biologist (Natalie Portman) signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.Review: Alex Garland’s second directorial feature, ANNIHILATION, is a divisive film that audiences will either embrace for its intelligence or dismiss for its pretentiousness. I, personally, liked ANNIHILATION for the most part for its ambition to convey the many underlying messages the film wants to express. But compared to Garland’s first feature, 2014’s EX MACHINA, ANNIHILATION requires more patience and thought to really get what’s going on. And even when you get answers, new questions pop up. It’s that kind of film and it’s definitely not for everyone.I won’t spoil the story, as it’s better to go into it not knowing much since everyone will get something different out of it. But ANNIHILATION is based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, where a group of female scientists enter this temporal and chemical flux dubbed “The Shimmer” - a place where all cells and DNA become refracted enough to change the living things that enter it. The film plays homage to other science fiction films, like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE PREDATOR and THE THING along the way, leading towards an ending that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. The characters all have sad backstories that influence their behaviors throughout the film, making them feel somewhat human even if they aren’t completely fleshed out. And the events that take place within the Shimmer are pretty memorable if you’re willing to get through a slow burn first half. It’s a film that will make you think about what you just watched once it’s over. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the viewer.The direction, though, is spectacularly done in ANNIHILATION. Garland and cinematographer Rob Hardy [same team as EX MACHINA] really capture a beautiful movie with vivid colors and interesting shots of things that occur within the Shimmer. The special effects are more good than bad. Simple things, like plants growing into the shape of human beings, are quite lovely. Then you have some things in the final act which looked kind of video gamey and stood out not in a good way. And while people have claimed ANNIHILATION is a sci-fi and horror film, the horror aspect doesn’t have much of a focus here. Yet, there are moments involving this bear that I won’t give away. The film becomes a bit gory and tense during these scenes, giving us nice action that nicely breaks into the more dramatic moments. I think the simple work in EX MACHINA worked better for Garland and Hardy, but I admire their ambition for trying to stretch the limits of their imagination and capture what the novel was probably trying to express through words.The acting is also very good. I thought all the ladies provided something different within the story. Natalie Portman continues very good acting work in a film that gives her a lot to do and play around with. Gina Rodriguez was very strong in her role as the sassy scientist whose attitude changed quite quickly within the Shimmer. It’s always great to see Jennifer Jason Leigh in anything. Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny don’t get to do much, but are fine. And while a shorter than expected role. Oscar Isaac sure made it memorable. Solid cast in my opinion.Overall, ANNIHILATION isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it for the most part. The film didn’t wow me like EX MACHINA did, but I hardly call this a sophomore slump. It has interesting ideas that get answered while asking new questions about them. The direction and cinematography are spectacular. And the acting is more than solid here. A lot of people put ANNIHILATION in their Top 10 Best lists for 2018 and I’m not quite sure it would have made mine. But I can see why people would as it’s an interesting film that has something to say. If you’re into slow burn sophisticated science fiction “horror”, then this is the film for you.

Firestarter (1984)
DIRECTED BYMark L. LesterSTARRINGDavid Keith - Andrew “Andy” McGeeDrew Barrymore - Charlene “Charlie” McGeeHeather Locklear - Victoria “Vicky” McGeeMartin Sheen - Captain James HollisterGeorge C. Scott - John RainbirdArt Carney - Irv MandersLouise Fletcher - Norma MandersGenre - Science Fiction/HorrorRunning Time - 114 MinutesI wonder if anyone could have predicted how influential writer Stephen King would become after the release of his 1974 novel Carrie. Not only was the novel about a bullied teenager with telekinetic abilities a massive success, but its 1976 film adaptation by Brian De Palma was also a commercial and critical success that kickstarted the adaptation trend for any of King’s works. The 1980s, in particular, were a cornucopia of King film adaptations, all with varied success yet still highlights for any child of the 80s who were into horror.One of these adaptations is 1984’s FIRESTARTER, based on King’s 1980 novel of the same name. A story about a young girl who is being targeted by evil scientists due to her development of pyrokinesis, FIRESTARTER seemed liked a reductive re-do of King’s CARRIE from years prior to many. Also, similar films had been released post-CARRIE like 1978’s THE INITIATION OF SARAH and THE FURY [the latter directed by De Palma himself] and 1981’s SCANNERS by David Cronenberg. We’ve also had similar films since, like multiple CARRIE films and even a FRIDAY THE 13TH film where Jason Voorhees battled a character with Carrie-like powers. But FIRESTARTER seems to be a film not many talk about for whatever reason, even though it has an impressive cast and had a sequel made in 2002 for cable. Even King himself has stated that the film adaptation isn’t all that good, making the film feel like its in a time capsule that only gets opened for nostalgic purposes.It had been decades since I sat down to watch FIRESTARTER, at least in full, barely remembering anything about the film besides Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott, and the action-filled finale where a bunch of government workers burn to a crisp. And now watching it again after all this time, I can see why I barely remembered what happened in this film. I’m not saying FIRESTARTER is bad at all, because it’s not. It’s just one of King’s weaker adaptations and proof that sometimes being too faithful to the source material could be more negative than positive.PLOTWhile acting as volunteers for some experimental test, Andy McGee (David Keith) and Vicky Tomlinson (Heather Locklear) meet and fall in love. The experiments grant both of them psychic abilities, bonding them closer. They eventually end up getting married and having a daughter named Charlie (Drew Barrymore). Due to the effects of the experiment, Charlie has powers of her own - the power to create and control fire with just her mind.While the three try and be a happy family, the evil government agency behind the experiments, The Shop, find out about Charlie and want to exploit her abilities. During an ambush at home, Vicky is murdered by Shop agents, making Andy and Charlie go on the run. However, The Shop has hired an American Indian assassin named John Rainbird (George C. Scott) - a man obsessed with Charlie for some sick reason. As both father and daughter are taken prisoner, Rainbird tries to befriend Charlie for his own personal reasons.REVIEWProduced by the legendary Dino de Laurentis, who would produce a few Stephen King adaptations in the first half of the 1980s, FIRESTARTER was one of two King adaptations developed for the big screen in 1984 [the second one being CHILDREN OF THE CORN]. And while, in my opinion, both films are pretty flawed adaptations of King’s work, I feel FIRESTARTER is slightly the better of the two. CHILDREN OF THE CORN has interesting ideas, but doesn’t seem to know where to really take them through a 90-minute runtime. FIRESTARTER, at least, knows what film it sort of wants to be because it’s mostly faithful to the novel unlike many of King’s adaptations at the time. This is both a gift and a curse because while the story definitely works cinematically, certain aspects should have probably been changed or taken out in order for FIRESTARTER to be more film-friendly than it actually is.It would have been very interesting to see what John Carpenter’s version of FIRESTARTER would have been if Universal Studios had given him a chance. For those who don’t know, Carpenter was the original pick to be the film’s director. At time, he was already working on a King adaptation, 1983’s CHRISTINE, and felt like a natural fit. He had a couple of adapted screenplays to work with, all seemingly more suited for cinema than the actual screenplay that was used. But due to 1982’s THE THING flopping at the time at the box office and CHRISTINE not doing much better a year later, Carpenter was taken off of the project - along with the screenplays he had approved for his version of FIRESTARTER. Instead, Universal hired Mark L. Lester [of CLASS OF 1984 and later COMMANDO fame] to direct the film instead, leading to Lester to bring in screenwriter Stanley Mann to adapt a screenplay that was very faithful to the novel. While that’s commendable and ideal for Stephen King and the fans of the novel, doing that doesn’t always make for the most exciting movie. And that’s a serious issue with FIRESTARTER, as the film has very good moments that are dragged out by a story that stays too true to its source material.FIRESTARTER is really a film of two halves in terms of quality. In my opinion, the first half of the film is the strongest part of the movie. Along with some much needed flashbacks that quickly set up what’s happening in the present, the first half is mainly a cat-and-mouse chase flick where Andy and Charlie are on the run from these evil government agents of The Shop. There’s a sense of urgency, danger, and dread as they soldiers want to harm an innocent child and her father - products of an experiment that they created in the first place. While the film does suffer from a lack of depth in terms of character development, this part of the film at least establishes the relationship between Andy and Charlie. Andy uses his psychic abilities to manipulate things in his favor to protect his daughter, while Charlie is confused, scared and frustrated over the situation and her lack in controlling her powers. You get a real sense that they’re a team, as Andy tries to control his daughter every chance she feels the urge of burning people that harm them. They meet kind strangers along the way, which end up getting them somewhat involved in the whole mess as well, building up stakes in the story that make us care about what will happen next. Even though John Carpenter was taken off of FIRESTARTER, this portion of the film sure feels like something he would at least produced in one of his own films. There’s small character development within a quick paced and action-filled section that tries to build us a world for these characters for us to understand.It’s too bad the second half just plods along until the insane final 10 to 15 minutes of the film. In this portion, Andy and Charlie are prisoners of The Shop as they’re being studied on their abilities. Charlie, especially, is a focus because The Shop wants to use her as a weapon and challenge her as a way to increase her abilities. Also here, we learn more about the Rainbird character, who has a real interest in a young pyrokinetic girl - to the point where it borders on creepy enough to call Chris Hansen to sit this old man down for a talk. This portion is more focused on the drama and the science fiction aspect of the story, which would be fine if it wasn’t so generic and uninteresting. There’s no real sense of time, just moments where characters interact with each other. Then it leads to a scene of Charlie being told to use her powers so The Shop can gauge it, which then goes right back to these interactions before repeating itself. Andy and Charlie have sympathy because they’re obviously victims and we’ve been following them from the film’s first shot. But the last half of the film doesn’t really develop them in new ways to create any sort of depth. And the bad guys, besides Rainbird, are just bland stock mad scientists and followers.Rainbird has a little more going for him since he’s a manipulator who has his own agenda with Charlie, whether that’s to kill her, use her for her power, or something more sinister that’s sort of implied. And while it makes sense for him to lie about who he is in order to slowly gain Charlie’s trust, not having a sense of time hurts these scenes because Charlie falls for this act way too quickly. In the first half of the film, Charlie also seems to sense when The Shop is close enough to her and her father to cause trouble, making her warn Andy when they’re near. If Charlie has this ability to tell who’s dangerous, why wouldn’t that work with Rainbird? They’re not drugging her to suppress this power since they want to become stronger. It just feels badly written, as if Rainbird gaining Charlie’s trust will turn her against the man who has taken care of her her entire life. Also, Charlie has trouble controlling her power whenever she feels frustrated, angry or moments when she doesn’t exactly get her way. Why wouldn’t Charlie force these bad guys to tell her where her father is so she can save him and they can escape? She may be a child but she’s been through enough to understand what’s the deal, I would think. It’s handled better in a novel where Charlie is the narrator, allowing us to understand her emotional state and reasoning through her own words. You can’t really do that in third person narration on film without giving the audience more information to close these plot holes. Plus, as much as I like slow burn science fiction, the last half besides the conclusion is just way too long and boring for its own good. Stranger Things [which was obviously inspired somewhat by this film with the Eleven character] handles the science stuff better because it doesn’t feel rushed and has deep characters we’re allowed to care about. FIRESTARTER tries to cram a 500 page novel into a two-hour film and that’s not nearly long enough to tell this story - and the film is already longer than it should be.Mark L. Lester does a decent directorial job on FIRESTARTER. The first half is great because of the fast paced action and Carpenter vibe. The second half isn’t shot terribly, but the pacing is off and just feels bland. It has a TV movie feel that shouldn’t be part of any theatrical film. It honestly feels like a David Cronenberg film without the interesting characters or commentary that goes with it. The second half of the film could have lost 15 to 20 minutes and wouldn’t have changed much. I will say that Lester does handle action very well, especially when father and daughter use their powers. Andy’s mind control is very much like SCANNERS, with the nice touch of nose bleeds happening each other. And Charlie’s fire power is awesome and it’s used in multiple ways that keep our interest throughout. But other than that, there’s not much to say about FIRESTARTER’s visual presentation other than that it’s okay.The acting is also a bit mixed. The film belongs to both Drew Barrymore and George C. Scott, as this film would have been a lot worse without them involved. Scott is miscast as an Native American assassin, but does manage to make Rainbird a bit of a creep at times. He gives a good performance, but the role was probably better suited for someone else. Barrymore, however, is fantastic as young Charlie. Sure, at times it seems she doesn’t take the fire power stuff all that seriously, almost trying not to laugh as wind blows her hair while she stares blankly at the camera. But she’s believable as a young child who has an ability she doesn’t know how to control or understand. She has tantrums. She cries on cue. She’s charismatic and displays a maturity most child actors her age wish they had. She carries FIRESTARTER on her shoulders and does a commendable job. She feels like a real kid and I like that. David Keith is also quite good as Andy. He plays the heroic and protective father well, making him likable enough for us to care about what happens to him. A lot of the villains though, especially Martin Sheen as the head of the Shop, just feel wasted here. Sheen is just cliche villain of the week with no depth or life to him. An actor of his stature deserves a meatier role. You also have Art Carney and Louise Fletcher here as well, but they don’t get to do a whole lot either. Three Academy Award winning actors and two aren’t used to their capacity - a shame.I also have to give a ton of kudos to all the stunt people who worked on FIRESTARTER. No CGI was used in this film, so all the fire effects were done practically on set. Watching people set ablaze for these action scenes still amazes me and I have nothing but respect for their hard work here. That’s scary as hell and they made the film memorable for me after all these years. The stunt people deserve more credit than they actually get - and I mean that for any film that has them involved.And I can’t end the review without talking about the musical score by the great Tangerine Dream. Unfortunately, I think the group has made better scores for other films, as not everything I heard worked for me in FIRESTARTER. I thought the musical cues for the action and quicker paced moments were great, carrying a nice synth heavy groove that added a lot. But during the quieter moments, the score was just there and didn’t really capture my attention all that much. I have a feeling it’s less about the actual music and more about the sound design here. I think a lot of the score wasn’t used properly and didn’t elevate the visuals when they probably should have.THE FINAL HOWLFIRESTARTER is a film I probably enjoyed more when I was younger than I do as an adult. The chase aspect of the first half is pretty solid, while the weaker second half slows the film way too much to the point of almost dull at times [the film’s climax is pretty cool though]. Director Mark L. Lester handles the action scenes nicely [the stunt people deserve all the respect for allowing themselves to be set on fire like that], but the more quieter scenes feel like I’m watching a TV movie, hoping for something more interesting to happen in terms of style. The Tangerine Dream score is more good than bad, mainly due to how the music is used within the film. And while some big actors are wasted, Drew Barrymore carries the film extremely well considering her young age at the time. David Keith and George C. Scott help her out immensely in supporting roles as her heroic father and a creepy assassin respectively. The film doesn’t fire on all cylinders as a King novel-to-film adaptation, but it has enough things going on to make it worth at least a watch or a revisit.SCORE2.5 Howls Outta 4

Breakin' (1984)
DIRECTED BYJoel SilbergSTARRINGLucinda Dickey - Kelly ‘Special K’ BennettAdolfo ‘Shabba Doo’ Quinones - Orlando/OzoneMichael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers - Tony/TurboBen Lokey - FrancoChristopher McDonald - JamesPhineas Newborn III - AdamIce T - Rap TalkerGenre - Music/Drama/ComedyRunning Time - 87 MinutesEven though films like SKATETOWN U.S.A., XANADU and ROLLER BOOGIE weren’t critical or commercial successes, Hollywood never faltered in taking opportunity to produce a film around a fad that was most likely fading away by the time the film was actually released. Films about dancing were pretty huge in the 1980s, especially as MTV started to gain momentum and present the art to a mainstream audience to sell records and soundtracks. Films like FLASHDANCE, FOOTLOOSE, and especially DIRTY DANCING were huge pop culture moments of the decade in terms of their films and their incredible soundtracks that played all over Top 40 radio. A similar trend even occurred in the 2000s with films like SAVE THE LAST DANCE and STEP UP. But none of those films were the first to present the art of breakdance to the mainstream like 1984’s BREAKIN' - a Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus produced movie for Cannon Films that proved to be one of the most important films in that studio’s history, as well important for dance movies in general. Inspired by Golan’s daughter [who was impressed by a California breakdancer], as well as a 1983 German documentary about breakdancing called BREAKIN’ 'N' ENTERIN' [which also starred Ice-T and Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers], Golan & Globus rushed BREAKIN' into production so it could beat the release date of rival Orion Pictures’ own breakdance film of the same year, BEAT STREET. The strategy actually worked, as BREAKIN' made $38.7 million on a $1.2 million budget and proved to be the studio’s biggest success in its history. A sequel was rushed into production [the infamously named BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, released in the same year], but the Cannon bloom was off the rose at that point due to the company losing their lucrative MGM/United Artists contract due to their release of BOLERO, which was considered an X-rated film. However, the sequel did do well in the box office amid all the behind-the-scenes drama.So… what made BREAKIN' so popular and commercially successful back in 1984? I mean, the film even made money than SIXTEEN CANDLES in its first weekend, even though it was in less theaters! What was so appealing about this film and is it even worth popping and locking for?PLOTA struggling young jazz dancer named Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) meets up with Ozone (Adolfo Quinones) and Turbo (Michael Chambers) - two breakdancers who show her that dancing is about the art, not about the money. Together, they become the sensation of the street crowds and the mainstream audience, to a snobby dance instructor’s (Ben Lokey) dismay.REVIEWI feel the most important aspect of any dance film is the music, correct? While other dance films probably have stronger and more memorable soundtracks overall, the music of BREAKIN' still manages to capture that time frame wonderfully. Honestly, the soundtrack and the dancing that takes place in front of it are the only reasons why BREAKIN' works better than it has any right to. The soundtrack itself was a major hit upon its release, even securing a Billboard Top-Ten single with the still infectious Ollie & Jerry’s “Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us”.We also have Rufus and Chaka Khan’s classic “Ain’t Nobody” during a dance montage, as well as an early track by Ice-T, which shows how far he has come since then. While not on the soundtrack, Art of Noise and Kraftwerk can be heard as well. Other dance movies have better soundtracks, but the music included fits the scenes they’re used for. 80s dated cheese at its finest.Speaking of 80s cheese, BREAKIN' is definitely one of those time capsule films that captures the era so well, it makes me feel nostalgic for the good ol’ days. The fashion is the epitome of the decade, with leg warmers and headbands in the forefront. The hairstyles and colorful neon clothes and locations quickly tell you what era this film is in. Even breakdancing isn’t as popular as it was back in 1984, giving us a look at the street culture and how many in the African-American and Latino communities expressed themselves and bonded. It’s refreshing to watch a movie where rival gangs would rather have dance offs to prove who is the best rather than having them shoot and stab each other for the same reason. I know it’s not realistic, but the world would probably be a better place, right? BREAKIN' is definitely good escapism for 90 minutes.The characters are also colorful and memorable for the most part. Kelly, or Special K, is your typical female lead in a dance movie. She’s an aspiring dancer who believes dancing formally will get her success in life, not realizing that she’ll make better connections doing street dancing instead. She brings some optimism into the film and is the bridge between the street and the high society. Ozone is the hothead leader of TKO, who doesn’t want to make a career out of dancing, even though it’s the best thing he’s good at. He also likes Kelly and quickly gets jealous and paranoid over any guy who gives Kelly any kind of attention. Turbo is the best dancer in the film, having no issues teaching neighborhood children to dance as good as him, while not easily trusting outsiders who may plan to complicate his life for good or bad. These three quickly bond over dance, defying class and race issues to become the best of friends and a solid dance trio.Then we have the stereotypical snobby dance instructor, Franco, who is also a sexual predator and a manipulator to keep street dancing out of the mainstream. And then we have James, Kelly’s agent who plans on making her a famous dancer. And while these kind of films would make the agent a slimy creep who is willing take advantage of our protagonist, BREAKIN' does the total opposite and makes him a genuinely good person who wants nothing but the best for Kelly and her friends. It feels odd because it’s rarely done in films, but it’s also a pleasant surprise. Here’s a film where people support each other to make their dreams come true, no matter if higher ups and people who don’t understand try to keep them down. That’s why BREAKIN' is still remembered today. It wants its audience to feel good and achieve their dreams - something we all want in life.While BREAKIN' is focused on the dance sequences, as it should be, it would also help if the film had a story to connect the dance scenes together. Unfortunately, the standard plot has no substance at all and brings down the film as a whole. Now if BREAKIN' was just dancing from beginning to end, this wouldn’t be an issue. But the film tries to add certain plot elements that are barely developed. For example, there seems to be a love angle going on with Kelly and Ozone that the script wants to push for a certain demographic. Even moments of Ozone getting mad at Kelly whenever another man is around showing her affection are just played off as if it doesn’t even matter. And it doesn’t by the end, as the relationship remains the same as it did in the beginning of the film. In fact, the film seems to push more chemistry between Ozone and Turbo [that doesn’t go anywhere either]. Also, the happy ending of BREAKIN' comes off way too predictably and way too simple. I get that BREAKIN' wants people to feel good, but you have to add stakes and a struggle to keep people invested. I’m honestly surprised it took three people to write this film. Like… how??I also felt that Joel Silberg handled some of the direction in a bland way where the dancing didn’t really electrify the film. BREAKIN' is not a flashy film and shots mostly stay static as people dance on screen. And while the dance choreography was good, I felt that whenever people danced together, everyone was doing their own thing and never felt like a real team trying to win battles. Say what you want about those STEP UP movies or YOU GOT SERVED. But at least those films had cohesion in the dance department, making you believe the dancers were in a real squad together. You barely feel that here and the direction doesn’t help.The acting is also a component that brings BREAKIN' down. I’m not saying that some of it is not unintentionally funny. There is a moment between Lucinda Dickey and Adolfo Quinones where they argue about why they dance that tries to be super dramatic, but ends up being hilarious because Dickey is a bit bland and Quinones tries to compensate by overdoing the emotion and line delivery. I actually busted out laughing because it wasn’t good. Now, I can excuse the dancers for not being the best actors because that isn’t their true profession. Even then, I felt the dancers showed more charisma and personality than Dickey, who just coasts through the film with the same blah delivery. She’s a beautiful woman and she can dance, but the script and her handling of it does her no favors at all. Thankfully Christopher McDonald was around to keep things afloat any time he appeared.I also have to give a shout out to some guy named… Jean-Claude Van Damme?I mean, look at this guy! I wonder if he made something of himself after this. Eh, probably not.THE FINAL HOWLIn terms of dance films, BREAKIN' may be one of the most important entries in that genre. Even though FLASHDANCE was released a year earlier and was a huge success in terms of box office and soundtrack, BREAKIN' is really the movie that set the tropes for dance movies that were released afterwards. While the lack of story, not-so-good acting, and some of the direction on the dance sequences bring the film down, BREAKIN' does what it needs to do - showcase a dance fad and give the audience a reason as to why it was so popular at the time. The film also happens to be a fun watch, with colorful characters, cheesy but right-for-the-era music, and cool montages of breakdancers poppin’ and lockin’ for our entertainment. While it’s certainly dated, it’s still a nice nostalgic trip for 90 minutes.SCORE2.5 Howls Outta 4

Angel (1984)
DIRECTED BYRobert Vincent O’NeillSTARRINGDonna Wilkes - Molly ‘Angel’ StewartCliff Gorman - Lt. AndrewsSusan Tyrrell - Solly MoslerDick Shawn - Mae/Marvin WalkerRory Calhoun - Kit CarsonJohn Diehl - The KillerGenre - Action/Drama/Thriller/Serial KillersRunning Time - 94 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)15 year-old Molly (Donna Wilkes) is the best in her class in high school. Nobody suspects that the model pupil earns her money at night: as prostitute "Angel" on Sunset Blvd. The well-organized separation of her two lives is shattered when two of her friends are slain by a necrophile serial killer (John Diehl). She's the only eye witness and becomes a target herself. The investigating Detective Andrews (Cliff Gorman) helps her, not only to survive, but also to query why she keeps on humiliating herself and to stop it.REVIEWOne of the more famous exploitation films of the 1980s, New World Pictures’ ANGEL was another film that was part of the whole teensploitation sub-genre that involved young women having to prostitute themselves as a plot device to tell the movie’s story. While the 1970s did have its share of films that focused on young women who did what they had to in order to survive - 1976’s TAXI DRIVER, 1978’s PRETTY BABY and 1974’s THE WORKING GIRLS come to mind - the 1980s really glamorized it with 1984’s SAVAGE STREETS and 1985’s STREETWALKIN’. I mean, just look at the tagline on the film’s poster, “High school honor student by day…Hollywood hooker by night!” It’s no wonder ANGEL was a sizable box-office hit, although it’s a wonder why anyone would feel scandalized about the film’s themes. It’s a Grindhouse exploitation film, duh!Surprisingly, ANGEL isn’t as sleazy as one would expect from that tagline. In fact, the film looks and almost plays out as a TV Movie of the Week if it didn’t have swear words, nudity, and blood. But the message of “young women putting themselves in danger if they solicit themselves in the streets” is still very evident and works well enough in terms of storytelling. There’s not much to ANGEL other than that, playing out as an action-thriller where women close to Molly ‘Angel’ Stewart are being murdered one-by-one by a serial killer. She’s a witness to one of the murders, making her an obvious target to the point where she has to grow up fast and fight back in order to survive. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I do wish it was a bit more exciting and fun in terms of its execution. But ANGEL is never boring and it's easy to see why there were three sequels that followed to varied success. What really makes ANGEL the cult classic that it is are the interesting characters that Angel surrounds herself with. Drag queen Mae is probably the best of the lot, as she has the best dialogue in the film and seems to be the more fleshed out of all the characters. She’s sassy, foul-mouthed, tough, yet extremely caring and protective of Angel - considering Angel is only fourteen-years-old and working the streets. Mae is Angel’s mother and father figures all wrapped up into one, making her extremely likable and fun to watch. Landlord Solly is also up there, as she’s just as crude as Mae and just as loving towards Angel and sympathetic. Mae and Solly’s banter with each other give the most memorable bits of dialogue in the film, genuinely making me laugh at how unpolitically correct they are. Dialogue like this would get flamed in 2019. But in 1984, this was just standard exploitation storytelling. We also get Cowboy Kit Carson, who pretty much runs the part of Hollywood Boulevard that Angel frequents. He’s a bit of a western caricature on the surface, but there’s more to him that we learn by the film’s end. We also a magician dressed as Charlie Chaplin who befriends the prostitutes [even falling for one], leading to a memorable moment where he learns she was murdered and he just grieves for her. It gives the character a lot of depth in just a minute. And in a film like this, we obviously need a detective character, Andrews, who investigates the murders and befriends Angel to the point where he sort of takes her under his wing more or less.And then there’s the killer himself, who is described by Andrews as “probably bisexual, impotent and was beaten by his daddy.” He’s also a necrophiliac, which makes certain scenes a bit uncomfortable to watch. He also doesn’t say anything until the very end of the film, just eating raw eggs, working out, and murdering hookers after charming them with his muscles and creeper face. He probably should have felt more of a threat than he did [the killer in 10 TO MIDNIGHT comes to mind] had more going on, but he’s still not a guy I would like to bump into the street.The best character is obvious Molly, or Angel, who honestly has the most depth of any character. A fourteen year old, her parents had abandoned her and relied on hooking at age twelve to pay her tuition to prep school, as well as pay bills and rent. She has a lot of sass and is not a girl who is willing to let people step all over her. An issue pops up though, as both her lifestyles don’t ever seem to connect in a single film. Schoolgirl Molly and hooker Angel feel like characters from two different films than a natural progression. And if she had been hooking for over 2 years, why was she recently busted by schoolmates just now? And no one realized she wasn’t living without any parental units at all? These things feel like plot conveniences rather than something natural the character would have lived through. But it’s an exploitation film, so I’m not expecting a high quality of art here. The direction by Robert Vincent O’Neill is a mixed bag. Nothing about the film is all that stylish, as it feels like a TV movie made for a theatrical release. The tone is mostly balanced, although there are moments where one could struggle with the question of whether ANGEL is a drama made for ABC’s Afterschool Special, or a provocative thriller about a necrophiliac murderer targeting a teenage girl. There’s no real sleaze in the film besides a few men acting like pigs towards Angel. And the violence is quite tame, with no real graphic murder scenes at all. We do see the aftermath with bloody corpses, but they’re never really the focus of the film. I will commend O’Neill on the gritty look of the film, as it captures 1980’s Hollywood Boulevard extremely well and gives you a sense of how street smart you had to be to survive. And probably the best moment of the film - a drag queen fighting a Hare Krishna that was shot really well and was more amusing than it had any right to be. Only in the 1980s could a film like this had been directed. I’ve seen a lot better exploitation films of this kind, but at least it’s easy to follow and is short.The acting is a bit hammy at times, but I didn’t hate it. Donna Wilkes, probably best known for JAWS 2 and ALMOST SUMMER, was actually 24-years-old playing a 14-year-old. But she kind of pulled it off and portrayed Angel as a fleshed out character who was vulnerable, tough, sassy and smart all in one. Wilkes actually followed prostitutes and spent time in halfway houses to make the role authentic. I respect that and Wilkes was very charming as the lead. Dick Shawn was a hoot as drag queen Mae, spouting off offensive one-liners and kicking butt to protect her girls. He also seemed to enjoy wearing that dress and being Mae, so respect. Susan Tyrell is just as funny and kooky as Solly, while Cliff Gorman played the stereotypical hard-as-nails police detective who gains a soft spot for our heroine. As for John Diehl, he played a pretty convincing silent killer, using just facial expressions and body language to give the character a bit of depth. For a film like ANGEL, the cast was perfectly fine for their roles.THE FINAL HOWLWhile not the greatest 80s exploitation film out there, it’s pretty easy to see why ANGEL became the cult classic that it did. It has B-movie humor, interesting characters that elevate a generic plot, and a great look at what Hollywood Boulevard looked like back in the early 1980s. It also has charming acting - especially by Donna Wilkes as the title character, Dick Shawn as a funny and tough drag queen, and John Diehl as a creepy silent killer. It’s not the most exciting film and for an exploitation film, it doesn’t do a whole lot of exploiting. The violence is tame, the sex is barely there, and feels like an ABC Afterschool Special for much of its run time. But it does have a drag queen and a Hare Krishna battling each other for a bit, as well as a teenage prostitute fighting back against a slimy murderer. How many films can you say have either of those? ANGEL isn’t a must see, but it’s definitely worth a look if you enjoy Grindhouse exploitation cinema that could never be made in a politically correct modern world.SCORE2.5 Howls Outta 4

Original vs Remake: Let The Right One In (2008) vs. Let Me In (2010)
Credit to: https://monsterattheendofthedream.com/2014/11/15/adam-fox-let-the-right-one-in-vs-let-me-in/DIRECTED BYTomas AlfredsonSTARRINGKare Hedebrant - OskarLina Leandersson - EliPer Ragnar - HakanHenrik Dahl - ErikKarin Bergquist - YvonnePeter Carlberg - LackeMikael Rahm - JockeIka Nord - VirginiaGenre - Horror/Drama/Romance/VampiresRunning Time - 114 MinutesDIRECTED BYMatt ReevesSTARRINGKodi Smit-McPhee - OwenChloe Grace Moretz - AbbyRichard Jenkins - ThomasCara Buono - Owen’s MotherElias Koteas - DetectiveGenre - Horror/Drama/Romance/VampiresRunning Time - 116 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)Oskar/Owen (Kare Hedebrant/Kodi Smit-McPhee), a bullied 12-year old, dreams of revenge. He falls in love with Eli/Abby (Lina Leandersson/Chloe Grace Moretz), a peculiar girl. She can't stand the sun or food and to come into a room she needs to be invited. Eli/Abby gives Oskar/Owen the strength to hit back but when he realizes that Eli/Abby needs to drink other people's blood to live he's faced with a choice. How much can love forgive?REVIEWMore of a romantic coming-of-age drama than a horrific vampire film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is still one of the finest entries in cinema vampire lore and one of the best horror films of the 2000s. Funny how big of a difference LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is to another 2008 vampire film, TWILIGHT, even though they share a lot of similarities on the surface. Both were adapted by novels. Both have young people, one human and one a vampire, falling in love as they try to understand each other and themselves. Both vampire films are about the soap opera and character element rather than the horrors of being a vampire. Yet their presentations are total opposite, as TWILIGHT caters to pre-teens who need fan fiction ideas while LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is more adult-oriented and deserved more attention than TWILIGHT ever did.What really makes LET THE RIGHT ONE IN work are the young protagonists. Both Oskar and Eli are outcasts for different reasons. Oskar, coming from a broken home, is constantly bullied in school and not given much love or affection at home. The lack of positive emotional stability makes Oskar want to lash out on his enemies violently, almost being nurtured into a potential sociopath. Eli also has violent tendencies, but only because she’s a vampire stuck in a 12-year-old body who needs blood to survive. Both feeling alone and misunderstood, the two slowly forge a connection that begins as friendship and turns into something more. Eli and Oskar are Ying and Yang - Oskar providing Eli a sense of humanity a vampire can’t really feel, while Eli feeds into the bloodlust and violent tendencies that Oskar is willing to experience, pushing him to hit and fight harder when bullies try and humiliate him. It’s also great that they don’t judge each other. Oskar never blinks when Eli reveals she’s a vampire and that she may not even be a girl. Oskar has unconditional love for Eli and Eli is truly loyal to Oskar, which is something rare when it comes to child characters in horror films. Watching them interact and bond to the point where they’re willing to risk their lives for each other makes Oskar’s and Eli’s relationship believable due to strong screenwriting - which isn’t surprising since the novel’s author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, also adapted the screenplay.That’s not to say that vampirism doesn’t come into play. Eli portrays the typical traits of one, meaning she wants blood, sleeps during the day, and can’t enter a room without an invitation first. And Eli’s thirst leads to a vengeance subplot involving Lacke, a man who loses his best friend and girlfriend due to Eli’s action. It strengthens the bond between the two young characters while giving them a major threat that could separate them. There’s also Oskar’s bullies, who torture him any chance they get and become the focus of Oskar’s revenge. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN doesn’t really focus on these characters a whole lot, but they’re pivotal to the film’s story and help us sympathize with the protagonists, even if they may not be morally correct with their actions.The direction by Tomas Alfredson is strong, visually pleasing and confident. Instead of filming LET THE RIGHT ONE IN as a horror film, Alfredson treats the movie with tenderness and romanticism, wanting the audience to focus on the characters and their interactions rather than the violence and bloodshed. Along with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Alfredson create a lot of atmosphere within the film’s Scandinavian landscape. Snowy and set in Winter, the setting feels cold, which contrasts to the warmth of Eli’s and Oskar’s relationship. The film flows extremely well, never making the drama feel boring or plodding, while the horror moments are presented as jarring but in a good way. The vampire stuff is never the real focus and Alfredson clearly lets us know that right from the start. The film is a great slow build as the main relationship blossoms, giving the film an essence not many modern horror films can achieve. It’s superb work from a director who prefers subtlety over shock value, which I appreciate a great deal.The acting is pretty great here, especially by the two young leads who carry LET THE RIGHT ONE IN on their shoulders from beginning to end. Kare Hedebrant is good as Oskar, the bullied young man who just wants to be understood and loved. His blonde hair and almost albino looks makes you believe he’s already a vampire. But he’s just an innocent boy trying to find his place in a dark life. Even better is Lina Leandersson as Eli, bringing both coldness and darkness as a vampire, while showing a level of vulnerability, intelligence and strength as she tries to be more human for Oskar. The two actors share a very likable chemistry that helps hold up the film after all these years. Without them, we wouldn’t still be talking about LET THE RIGHT ONE IN today.And since I’m already discussing LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, I might as well give thoughts on its 2010 American remake, LET ME IN. For a film that didn’t need a remake to begin with, LET ME IN manages to surprise as it’s actually pretty damn good. While it doesn’t reinvent the film it’s based on, it does enough small changes to the story and visual style to make it stand on its own, never once disrespecting the original film in any way.The story is very much the same as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, with some scenes actually quoting dialogue word for word from the original. The small changes are interesting though, even though I’m not sure if it makes the film any better or worse than its predecessor. The ambiguity of Eli’s, or Abby’s in this case, gender identity is made more clear in this remake, as well as her relationship with the old man she lives with. Abby and Owen’s relationship is a bit more judgmental here, especially when he realizes he’s friends with a vampire. It’s not that bad, since it’s realistic that a child would be frightened by something he doesn’t understand. The sunlight death is done much differently in this version. And the vengeance angle is replaced with a standard police investigation that doesn’t end well for the detective. The film also takes place in 80s America instead of 80s Stockholm, helped by the use of popular 80s music, classic arcades, and television footage of then-President Ronald Reagan questioning good and evil. The Reagan stuff doesn’t really add anything besides Owen questioning if there is really evil in the world, which doesn’t go anywhere since the film ends the same way as the original. I think people who haven’t seen the original would enjoy the story regardless, but the original’s subtlety wins out for me.Matt Reeves, who previously directed 2008’s CLOVERFIELD and will helm 2021’s THE BATMAN, does a commendable job understand what made LET THE RIGHT ONE IN work and capturing its tone and atmosphere almost perfectly. Reeves, however, doesn’t direct the film shot-by-shot like Gus Van Sant did with PSYCHO in 1998. He adds his own touches to the familiar scenes, using different perspectives or camera angles to present the story for a different audience. It’s still a slow moving affair and Reeves lets scenes play out without having to rush things or “Hollywood” them out for the mainstream. It feels just as bleak and cold in LET ME IN than it does in the original, and I gotta respect Reeves for respecting the original so much. My only gripe would be the CGI during Abby’s feeding scenes, which look like a cartoon that doesn’t fit in at all with the scene they’re a part of. But other than that, great visuals.The acting is also pretty solid. Chloe Grace Moretz is a very good actor and does well as Abby, playing the role with sadness and loneliness unlike Lina Leandersson’s haunting portrayal. I do think Leandersson plays the role better, as she’s able to convey more through facial expressions and body language than Moretz does in the role. However, I feel that Kare Hedebrant is overshadowed by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays the role of Owen wonderfully and sympathetically. Smit-McPhee understands the role so well, you honestly believe he’s been through this in real life, conveying anger, loneliness, confusion, and fear so perfectly. He also shares nice chemistry with Moretz, even though I feel the original actors had more of a connection personally. But Smit-McPhee is the star of this film because he makes us care for him a great deal. Supporting actors Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas are also very solid in their roles, adding a lot of nuance and tension to the film’s main story. Really solid cast here who took the material super seriously.THE FINAL HOWLWhile TWILIGHT tried to take down vampire storytelling one sparkle at a time, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN proved within the same year that vampire films can still be well told tales and must see movies. Bleakly atmospheric with solid child characters and a slow pace that lets the story simmer to a romantic ending, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN proves that serious vampire stories can still resonate in a modern society. In fact, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is one of the best horror films of the last twenty years in my opinion. But if you don’t like foreign films or subtitles for any reason, the 2010 American remake LET ME IN is still a very well made film that respects the original while adding a few small twists to cater to an American audience. Same bleak atmosphere, solid acting especially by the child actors and still the same simmer that makes LET ME IN a remake worth checking out whether you’ve seen the original or not. Both solid interpretations of the same novel, but my vote goes to the original. But LET ME IN proves that not all horror remakes suck - pun intended.SCORELET THE RIGHT ONE IN 4 Howls Outta 4LET ME IN3.5 Howls Outta 4

Child's Play (2019)
DIRECTED BYLars KlevbergSTARRINGGabriel Bateman - Andy BarclayMark Hamill - Voice of ChuckyAubrey Plaza - Karen BarclayBrian Tyree Henry - Detective Mike NorrisTim Matheson - Henry KaslanDavid Lewis - ShaneCarlease Burke - Doreen NorrisMarlon Kazadi - Omar NorrisBeatrice Kitsos - FalynTy Consiglio - PuggGenre - Horror/SlasherRunning Time - 90 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)A mother (Aubrey Plaza) gives her 13-year-old son (Gabriel Bateman) a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.REVIEWBack in 1989, I watched 1988’s CHILD’S PLAY in theaters in a double-feature with NO HOLDS BARRED. While I was probably more of a wrestling fan than a horror fan at that point in my life, the origin of serial killer Charles Lee Ray sending his soul into a Good Guy doll named Chucky left more of an impression on me. CHILD’S PLAY gave me the creeps as a child, especially since I owned a Teddy Ruxpin doll and was terrified it would turn evil on me. CHILD’S PLAY was a pretty big hit at the time, making Chucky a horror icon alongside Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. Ever since, we were blessed [or cursed, depending on who you are] with six sequels that varied from stereotypical slashers to straight up dark comedies that either invited or turned off fans along the way. The series had lost its way for a while until the recent direct-to-blu-ray releases [CURSE and CULT] brought the film back to its horror roots and opened up a new mythology that an upcoming SyFy television series plans on continuing with much excitement. Don Mancini’s creation has been going strong for over 30 years with no end in sight.Which made it surprising when MGM announced a remake of CHILD’S PLAY - a remake that Don Mancini had no part of or no say into what it’ll involve. The idea started becoming dour when it was revealed that Chucky would be an evil AI rather than a doll possessed by the soul of a killer, making many wonder what the point of all of this was besides a cash grab. Even an interesting cast and a couple of trailers didn’t really boost my interest in this reboot of sorts. It was only when Mark Hamill was announced as the voice of the new Chucky that I started to get curious about the project, especially when Hamill is one of the best voice actors of any generation. Even though none of my friends or family wanted to go see it, I decided to go to the theater to see the new version of CHILD’S PLAY like I had 30 years ago. I went in with low expectations, yet with an open mind since I knew this wouldn’t be the Chucky I’m familiar with. And surprisingly, I had a lot of fun with the new CHILD’S PLAY. It’s not perfect and nowhere as good as the original film, but there’s a lot to appreciate here if you’re willing to give it a chance.I think what I liked the most about 2019’s CHILD’S PLAY is the unexpected substance the story actually presents. Since there is no longer a possession storyline going on in this version, the producers had to come up with a modern twist as to why Chucky is evil. While making the doll a faulty AI that learns to be violent is not a novel idea at all, at least it’s used to create somewhat a social commentary on our reliance on technology. No longer a Good Guy doll, the Buddi doll is pretty much the film’s version of Amazon’s Alexa product - a device used to turn other devices on, play music or movies, order food or products, and other activities that have really made our society a bit lazy and too easy to make things happen and get them done. While this is convenient technology, it could also come with negative effects - such as reports that Alexa actually records things and relays them to the government as some sort of spy. While it’s unclear that Chucky is doing this, the fact that he’s not technically where he should be as a device makes him an unseen danger to those around him. Technology always advances and believe me, I’m grateful that certain aspects of my life are made easier just by voice recognition or a click of a button. But with the good, there’s always the bad. Chucky is an embodiment of this, doing bad things because he doesn’t understand morality. And why should he since he’s just an AI? There are other moments in the film that also add to the commentary. A focus of the film’s final act, a new version of the Buddi doll [the Buddi II] receives a huge presentation at the local big chain store like any new video game, sneakers, or even smartphone would. It’s a version that fixes the flaws of the original, even coming in different skins like animals and different ethnicities. This is obviously a “first world problem” that a lot of us fall into, wanting that new piece of technology because it’s faster, more reliable and even stronger than the previous edition. The film doesn’t really do much with it by the end of the film, but at least it brings it up and showcases our view on technology in general. We evolve as soon as it evolves. Another moment involves the film’s Uber system that picks up riders in a remote-control car that doesn’t require a driver, taking people across town via GPS through an app. The media has debated back-and-forth whether this type of smart car is a safety concern, which CHILD’S PLAY definitely showcases the negative aspect of it, leading to deadly results. For a remake that could have just capitalized on what was done before for some quick cash, CHILD’S PLAY 2019 tries to be more intelligent in what it wants to say. I appreciated that and was a very good approach to separate it from the original film to be its own thing.I also thought the new Chucky character was handled well. I liked that we were told Chucky was faulty from the start, due to some disgruntled worker in Vietnam who wanted to do damage to his employer. This guy took off all the safety and security protocols, giving an easy reason why Chucky becomes what he would become. I also bought that he was treated as an afterthought by Andy, who felt he was too old for a doll, slowly endearing himself with Chucky because of his fierce loyalty to him. And that’s one of the biggest differences between this film and the original. In the 1988 version, Chucky used Andy in order to trust him enough to steal his body by transporting his soul into it. In the new version, Chucky is actually extremely fond of Andy and wants to be his bestest friend - to the point that Chucky wants no one else taking his spot in Andy’s life. Chucky, also, doesn’t start as a killer but learns from things he sees, especially taking notes from a quick viewing of 1986’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 which leads to a cool death sequence later on in the film. I’m guessing that’s a take on the whole UK controversy of the early-1990s, where there were a couple of murders blamed on the original CHILD’S PLAY series. The 2019 version is a FATAL ATTRACTION tale that I kind of dug, giving this iteration of Chucky a different path he can travel if they decide to make sequels in this continuity. I will say that Chucky’s new design wasn’t great though. I got used to it as the film went on, but it looked pretty funky to me - and not in a good way. I’m glad they didn’t totally copy the original design, but that’s the best they could come up with? I’m surprised anyone would want a doll that looks like this version in their home. At least the original design had an attractive appeal, like those Cabbage Patch Kids from back in the day.The other characters aren’t as interesting as Chucky, unfortunately, but some are definitely better than others. I liked Andy Barclay, as he is less naive and more action-oriented than the original version. He’s over the whole toy phase, more interested in playing on his smartphone. But he grows to like Chucky since the toy is the only person who doesn’t judge him. When Andy does befriend some neighborhood kids, Chucky starts feeling neglected, which leads to some violent moments. He also has a strange dynamic with his mother, where they act more like siblings than mother and son. I wish there was more of that in the film. I also wish there was use of Andy’s hearing disability [he has a hearing aid]. The only times it would come to play is when Chucky would create static that would disrupt the aid. Other than that, nothing comes of it besides being a plot device to justify why Andy feels like an outcast. A part of me wishes that the character was a bit younger like in the original to create a bit of tension within his friendship with Chucky. But I didn’t mind the change all that much. I also liked the new version of Mike Norris, the film’s resident detective. Instead of being a hard ass, this version of Mike is a likable and funny guy who visits his mother [who happens to be Andy’s neighbor] and sort of plays surrogate dad to Andy whenever Andy’s mom had to work the late shift. The moments where the two interact as friends are some of the best moments in the film, but there aren’t enough of them unfortunately. Still, I liked the different dynamic between Andy’s relationship with the Norris family when compared to the relationship with his own family. Speaking of that, I felt that Karen Barclay was a wasted character for the most part. It’s one of those situations where I can’t help but compare the reboot with the original. The original Karen was a pro-active, strong and caring mother who tried to save Andy from the evil of Chucky, once she found out about the doll. She had a lot of depth and enough personality for the audience to sympathize and care about her. In the new version, she’s a troubled single mom who seems more into making her boyfriend happy than giving her handicapped son any sort of attention. In fact, I never felt a mother and son vibe between her and Andy, but more of a sibling one. It was kind of sad and maybe that was the point. But I didn’t really care about this version of the character. I also thought Karen’s boyfriend, Steve, was your stereotypical asshole who just used Karen for sex and treated Andy like he was an obstacle in his happiness. I did like the twist with the character, which only makes you hate him more, but not much depth besides that. And while Andy’s neighborhood friends had cool moments and added things throughout the film, they were never really given enough development for us to know them really. It was as if CHILD’S PLAY wanted to do what a lot of other horror films involving children and teenagers feel compelled to do - borrow from Netflix’s Stranger Things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels forced. And it felt forced here because it never felt earned. Like one moment, one of Andy’s bullies treats him like crap and then they’re best friends in the next scene. I don’t mind Andy having a squad to take down an evil AI doll, but give it some justification.The direction by Lars Klevberg was mostly positive. The film looked great and I thought Klevberg really showcased the death sequences really well. In particular, I loved the scene involving a lawn mower and Christmas lights that was bloody fun [pun intended]. There’s also that scene with the Uber car that I mentioned previously, plus drones attacking and dolls going apeshit on people in a store. When CHILD’S PLAY is out for blood, it doesn’t mess around and uses the R rating well. In most of these scenes too, Klevberg provides some nice atmosphere and suspense, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. It was nice to have a sick feeling of excitement when you realized some bad stuff was going to go down because of Chucky.I also felt that Klevberg directed the first half better than the second. The first half was more about the set up and focusing on the blossoming relationship with Andy and the people around him, especially Chucky. When they’re playing board games, watching television, or trying to scare neighbors for fun, it’s an enjoyable watch. It also helps separate the reboot from the original, making us forget about what we’ve been familiar with for decades. The second half’s strong suit are the deaths. But it loses its way besides that. The film starts to feel rushed, with some editing that felt really choppy. It was as if the studio only wanted a 90 minute film, so the director and editor had to cut a ton of stuff to make the important elements fit within the run time. I usually don’t want long films, but here’s an example where I wish maybe we had gotten fifteen more minutes to tell a fuller story. I would have been okay with that. Visually, Klevberg did a nice job overall.The acting in CHILD’S PLAY was fine. Mark Hamill, obviously, steals the show as the voice of Chucky. I still think Brad Dourif shouldn’t have been replaced [thankfully he’s voicing the television series], but Hamill did give Chucky a lot of life. I like how innocent he sounds until he gets angry, cackling and acting deranged once the full violence demeanor kicks in. There was a bit of Joker in there at times, plus the laugh resembled Dourif’s, which was a nice touch of respect. Hamill was probably the best replacement you were going to get for the character and he did a great job. I also liked Gabriel Bateman as Andy. I thought he had nice rapport with the rest of the cast and really brought something authentic and genuine to a role that could have been really annoying and unsympathetic. He made Andy feel like a real teenager dealing with angst, just wanting someone to try and understand him without judgment. I also liked how Bateman played against Chucky, giving the character a nice foil. Aubrey Plaza is great, but she doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Karen. She does have her quirky moments that are funny at times, but I wish she had more things to do in the film. Brian Tyree Henry was great as Mike Norris. He has nice comedic timing, but can also bring the seriousness too. It was a total 180 degrees from Chris Sarandon’s take on the character and I appreciated it. The actors who played the children were good in their archetypical roles. I liked the cast, even though some of them got short-changed in the script.THE FINAL HOWLProbably the movie surprise of 2019 so far, the reboot of CHILD’S PLAY is actually pretty darn good. The first half of the film is really strong, while the more flawed second half has cool moments of gore and kill sequences. The direction was very good for the most part, even though it rushes through its final act and plays it a bit too safe, in my opinion. The acting, especially by Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman and Brian Tyree Henry, is solid. CHILD’S PLAY does what a good remake should do - maintain elements of the original concept and update it for a newer generation by being its own thing. I wasn’t expecting much of out of this film, but it provided some clever and witty commentary about our over reliance on technology that created some memorable and entertaining moments. Go into this one with an open mind and don’t try to compare it too much to the original. On its own, it’s a solid reinvention of a beloved character that ought to be appreciated for what it does right.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4

Brightburn (2019)
DIRECTED BYDavid YaroveskySTARRINGElizabeth Banks - Tori BreyerDavid Denman - Kyle BreyerJackson A. Dunn - Brandon Breyer/ BrightburnGregory Alan Williams - Sheriff DeeverBecky Wahlstrom - EricaEmmie Hunter - CaitlynMatt Jones - Noah McNicholMeredith Hagner - Merilee McNicholGenre - Horror/Drama/Fantasy/Aliens/SuperheroesRunning Time - 90 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)What if a child from another world (Jackson A. Dunn) crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?REVIEWIf you can sum up the plot of the James Gunn produced BRIGHTBURN, it would be “What if Superman had turned evil instead of standing for truth, justice and the American way?” It’s not a foreign concept, as comic books and recent video games [such as the Injustice series] have used the angle of having one of the most popular and powerful superheroes take a ride on the dark side. BRIGHTBURN plays out like a DC Comics “Elseworlds” scenario, in which a Superman-like character would eventually come from an alien planet destined to rule it by any means necessary, no matter the good nurturing he received from human parents during his childhood. I’m surprised not many films have tried to visually execute a story like this, but maybe BRIGHTBURN proves it’s for good reason. While the film does a lot of things well, it unfortunately flounders on its most important asset - its story.Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The horror aspect of BRIGHTBURN is done very well. This isn’t surprising since the film was produced by James Gunn, who comes from a horror world via Troma and later on with films like SLITHER and some aspects of 2010’s SUPER. The film gives us a nightmarish vision of what Superman would be like if he just used his powers to cause destruction. And the film never shies away from that, as we see some pretty gory stuff that you wouldn’t see in most superhero films. We get a cringe-worthy moment where glass impales someone’s eye, heat vision burning off a face at point-blank range, letting people fall to their deaths from out the sky, and so on. It carries its R rating well, especially when these scenes are directed with some nice tension and suspense to build up to these horrific scenes. If BRIGHTBURN was trying to be the anti-superhero film, the horror aspect sure helps in achieving that.I also enjoyed the acting in BRIGHTBURN as well. Both Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are pretty good as the wannabe Kent parents, Tori and Kyle Breyer. Banks, especially, really plays on the emotions of a mother who doesn’t want to believe the miracle baby she found and raised turns out to be a homicidal maniac with superpowers. That’s not to say that Denman is any less good as the father who is quick to wash his hands of his son’s malicious nature. Their dynamic with each other feels very realistic and I thought they grounded the story. The star of the film is Brandon/Brightburn himself, Jackson A. Dunn. Dunn looks like an innocent child, but plays an evil one very well. I thought he portrayed his confusion as to who he was convincingly, slowly making it easy to believe his sociopathic tendencies when he did terrible things. I thought he was very unnerving whenever he had interactions with his crush, played well by Emmie Hunter. He came across very creepy in those scenes. I wish the script gave him more depth at times, but Dunn well-handled whatever the script gave him to do. All around, I think the acting was good.I also didn’t dislike the direction by David Yarovesky. A fave collaborator of the Gunn family, Yarovesky manages a nice balance of the dramatic aspects of BRIGHTBURN with the horror sensibilities during the second half. The film flows really well and the picture looks nice. And the special effects are nicely handled as well, making BRIGHTBURN feel like it fits within the superhero genre. Not sure what Yarovesky has directed previously, but I could see him doing more work in the genre since BRIGHTBURN is a visually pleasing film that showcases his potential for the future.And while the concept of BRIGHTBURN is great on paper, I wish it had been better executed on screen. The characters are fine. The film does exactly what you’d expect from it, besides an ending that some people may not expect. All the beats to a story like this exist in BRIGHTBURN. But the film never does more than that, playing things safe without trying to expand on the basic idea to give BRIGHTBURN a reason to exist. Is this film a commentary on the over saturation of superhero films? Is it a film on how bullying effects young people? Is it about toxic masculinity? Is there something more to BRIGHTBURN besides being just an evil kid film?My main issue with BRIGHTBURN is the lack of struggle between good and evil for young Brandon. Prior to his spaceship telling him his destiny once he becomes a teenager, Brandon seemed like a good kid who was going to follow the same steps that Clark Kent had in DC. But once he finds out he’s powerful and not from Earth, Brandon decides that getting what he wants is more important, even if he has to hurt and/or kill others to make that happen. This is fine and all, but where’s the internal conflict? Where’s the character study that debates nature versus nurture? Brandon is just evil because… he just is? Where’s the story then? The screenplay just feels empty without nothing meaningful to say. Brandon gets bullied in school and that could have given the journey some depth if it went anywhere. And his social awkwardness makes his crush scared of him. But that tends to just fade away as well by the final act. There are a lot of aspects that could have given some meat to the story’s bones, but the film would rather focus on a evil kid killing people in superpowered ways than give us something to think about in terms of an interesting story arc. It’s a shame because this had the potential to be more. Luckily, BRIGHTBURN has a cast who cares and tries to make the most of what they’re given. But you’re just left feeling like there’s something missing by the end of it.THE FINAL HOWLBRIGHTBURN was one of the films I was most excited about during the 2019 Summer Movie season. The film has good horror moments, with some cringe-worthy gore at times. The acting is solid all around, especially by Elizabeth Banks and Jackson A. Dunn. And the direction is well done, with a nice pace and cool special effects handled well. And while this “Evil Superman” story contains all the beats and tropes needed to tell the story efficiently on a superficial level, there’s nothing really underneath to give BRIGHTBURN any depth. It’s a shame because it could have been an interesting commentary on the superhero genre, or just a neat character study on an alien being who struggles with his destiny versus the morals he was entrusted with from his parents. The film doesn’t burn as bright as it should have, but it’s worth at least a watch if an “Elseworlds” or “What If?” type of Superman story interests you.SCORE2.5 Howls Outta 4

Morgan (2016)
DIRECTED BYLuke ScottSTARRINGKate Mara - Lee WeathersAnya Taylor-Joy - MorganToby Jones - Dr. Simon ZieglerRose Leslie - Dr. Amy MenserBoyd Holbrook - Skip VronskyMichelle Yeoh - Dr. Lui ChengJennifer Jason Leigh - Dr. Kathy GrieffPaul Giamatti - Dr. Alan ShapiroBrian Cox - Jim BryceGenre - Horror/Science Fiction/ActionRunning Time - 92 MinutesPLOT (from IMDB)Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is a “risk-management specialist” for genetic-engineering company SynSect. She arrives at the rural site hosting its L-9 project, an artificial being with nanotechnology-infused synthetic DNA named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). The “hybrid biological organism with the capacity for autonomous decision making and sophisticated emotional responses” is smarter than humans and matures quickly, walking and talking within a month and physically a teenager despite being five years old. Due to her latest violent impulses, Weathers must decide whether to terminate Morgan, but Morgan may have a deadly opinion on the matter.REVIEWAs it’s funny now that I’m motivated to review things again here on this blog, my slow return has been me discussing films that are pretty sub-par or average that honestly should have been a lot better than what was executed. Another film that falls under this category is 2016’s MORGAN, a film that pretty much came and went during its theatrical run, not making much of an impression on anyone despite its mega-talented cast and a son of a very famous director behind the lens. What begins as an interesting sci-fi drama and character study dissolves into a predictably bland horror film that’s pretty forgettable once its all said and done. It wants to be two films at once, but never managing to execute one the way it should have.MORGAN is just another in a line of films that tackles the idea of Artificial Intelligence and the concept of “how much God should man play” when it comes to science. The first half of the film is concerned with the L-9 Project, or Morgan, who grew up as a synthetic being through the splicing of DNA to study her human behavioral patterns. Technically only five years old, she has a great level of intelligence but isn’t exactly sure how to react to what she learns emotionally. At first, she behaved like a regular child - enjoying playing outside and laughing with the scientists who she saw as her friends and family. But as she learned more and grew up, her lack of conscience or soul has made her do terrible things - to the point where she has to be locked in a glass cell. When she’s threatened that she will never go back outside, she injures her friends because she doesn’t know how else to react. We’ve seen this kind of story told in other AI films, such as BLADE RUNNER or even EX MACHINA, where machines can look and act like human beings, but don’t have the moral compass to tell what’s right and what’s wrong. While MORGAN doesn’t add anything new to the genre that other films have done way better in doing, at least the film tries to have some sort of message about the evils of playing God with things we can never have the grasp on. You can create looks, personality, intelligence, or even sexuality when it comes to artificial intelligence. But even the greatest of science can never achieve a moral compass or conscience that a computer or science project would be able to comprehend. Morgan is just a physical representation of human nature and the Freud “id vs ego vs superego” theory that we’re taught in psychology books. And because of this, the first half works somewhat to its benefit.However, the story quickly becomes this horror film where the science project starts killing those she feels have entrapped her because freedom is one of the key things we all want as living creatures. It feels cheap and predictable, never really giving us a reason to care about what’s going on after a decent build of learning about Morgan’s plight. It doesn’t help that the characters around Morgan aren’t all that likable or sympathetic in any way. A couple seem like good people and care about Morgan, but are never given enough time or scenes to really make their relationship with Morgan mean much. The only one who gets any sort of major screen time with Morgan is Amy, a scientist who would spend time with Amy on the outside and sneak her out without the others knowing. Morgan only shows genuine affection towards Amy because she’s been nice to her, and Amy is completely protective over Morgan to a point where it seems like she’s in love with her. It’s an interesting angle I wish was explored more, as it feels as the only one that has any depth. The other characters are either nice to Morgan because they care, or because they have ulterior motives. Some just turn their back on her once she starts behaving out of sorts. Most of these characters don’t feel like real people, just two-dimensional lambs for an eventual slaughter. The worst care of this is the other main character besides Morgan - Lee Weathers. Lee is called into the situation to analyze the risks with Morgan, wondering whether the project has any chance of being saved, or should be terminated for the benefit of mankind. While we have an excuse as to why Morgan acts a bit cold besides when it comes to Amy, Lee pretty much has no personality whatsoever. She’s almost robotic in her presence, not allowing us to feel anything about her. Sure, she has a flirtatious relationship with Boyd, the group’s nutritionist, but even that feels sort of one-sided and a bit flat. There’s a twist that reveals some things which make it obvious as to why people behave the way they do, but at least make your main characters likable. I wasn’t sure whether to root for the flawed science project with homicidal tendencies or the cold hearted woman who was there whether to determine whether Morgan lived or died, regardless of how the people around her felt about her decision. That’s not good.MORGAN is Luke Scott’s [son of famed director Ridley Scott] first feature film. And honestly, I’m not sure what kind of director he wants to be. It’s obvious he has taken things he has learned from his father. Scott definitely has an eye for filmmaking, as the composition of the film looks great and the set designs look modern enough to keep audiences interested. And the action is somewhat shot like what his father would have done if he had directed this film. But there’s no real individual voice yet, as MORGAN looks like any other film you may have seen of this type within the last five to ten years. That being said, the drama-filled first half flows nicely enough and the messy second half is kind of held together by interesting action shots. Unfortunately the film lacks tension, suspense, or excitement for any one to care about what they’re watching. It’s too early to say if Luke Scott should stick with being a second unit director, or continue directing more films. But he definitely has potential as long as the script is a lot better.MORGAN has a lot of great actors involved, but most of them are pretty wasted here. Anya Taylor-Joy does what she can with the title role, but really isn’t given much to do besides the final act. Taylor-Joy is a very good actress that should have been allowed to portray a beefier role with more depth. But she tried. Kate Mara gets to do more as Lee Weathers, especially during the final act. She plays a cold, stoic woman well, but it doesn’t give her character any depth or likability. At least she got stuff to do. Everyone else do what they can with their roles, with Rose Leslie and Boyd Halbrook being the standouts really. It’s a shame because this is a very solid cast capable of elevating a mediocre film. But because of the bland script or Luke Scott’s inexperience behind the lens, the cast is just sort of there playing archetypical roles. Too bad.THE FINAL HOWLDespite a solid cast and directed by the son of a famous director, MORGAN is a misfire on so many levels. The screenplay doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be in terms of a horror film or a sci-fi drama. The visuals are pretty bland and never provide any sense of tension or excitement. The actors are all good in their roles, but they don’t really get a whole lot to do. The worst part about MORGAN is that it should be a silly fun flick, but never ever tries to be one. It’s an empty film that has nothing to say, even though all the elements that make up the film give it the means to. Watch SPLICE or EX MACHINA if you want a good film about artificial beings. This experiment is not worth exploring.SCORE1.5 Howls Outta 4

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