3 From Hell (2019)

Rob Zombie

Sid Haig - Captain Spaulding
Bill Moseley - Otis B. Driftwood
Sheri Moon Zombie - Vera-Ellen “Baby” Firefly
Danny Trejo - Rondo
Dee Wallace - Greta
Daniel Roebuck - Morris Green
Jeff Daniel Phillips - Warden Virgin Dallas Harper
Richard Brake - Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane
Emilio Rivera - Aquarius
Pancho Moler - Sebastian

Genre - Horror/Action

Running Time - 111 Minutes

After being shot multiple times by the police during an attempted getaway, Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) somehow managed to survive and are quickly incarcerated for their vicious crimes throughout the years. Spaulding and Otis have been placed on Death Row, while Baby still gets an option of parole that never goes in her favor. Arrogant Warden Harper (Jeff Daniel Phillips) thinks he has the remaining members of the Firefly Family where he wants them for the past ten years. But things turn sour once Otis finds a way of escaping with the help of his previous unknown half-brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake), murdering multiple witnesses including Rondo (Danny Trejo), who was part of his capture a decade prior. Realizing that Baby needs their help, Otis and Foxy decide to torture the Warden’s family and friends until the Warden can somehow get Baby to escape. Once Otis, Foxy and Baby are free together, they continue their murder spree until they reach Mexico, believing it’s their sanctuary. However, the leader of the Black Satans, Mexico’s most notorious gang, has revenge on his mind and plans on eliminating the 3 From Hell for good.

It’s amazing to think that after all these years, Rob Zombie remains a controversial figure in the horror community. He seemed to have gained a lot of goodwill with his 2002 debut, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, while gaining a ton of both commercial and critical praise for its 2005 sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. However, once those HALLOWEEN reboots were released near the end of the 2000s, Zombie’s light began to dim for much of the mainstream audience that supported his earlier works. While Zombie’s films are an acquired taste and not all of them have been all that impressive [I’m talking about you, 31!], you can’t deny that Zombie definitely has a voice when it comes to his movies. You know what you’re getting with the guy - white trash dialogue, gritty cinematography, music video editing, classic rock songs and a focus on serial killers that come close to praise during a time where we wonder whether glorifying this sort of violence is a good thing or not. Zombie’s latest film, a sequel to both CORPSES and REJECTS called 3 FROM HELL, is not different from any Zombie films you may have seen or even heard about. It follows the Rob Zombie template to a tee in every single way, which makes me wonder whether it’s time for him to try something new and finally take that step to branch out that he’s been struggling with. But 3 FROM HELL still does more right than wrong, even though I can’t help but feel if the film even needs to exist.

I’m not saying that 3 FROM HELL isn’t worth a look if you’ve enjoyed Rob Zombie’s previous films, or if you’re just a fan of the Firefly Family and their rampage in previous movies. But for many, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is considered to be Zombie’s best film. It also has an ending that’s satisfying within the context of the story, making you feel something for Otis, Baby and Captain Spaulding as they’re being shot up during a sequence with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” playing in the background. Those characters, despite their demise, went out on top like the film had, gaining a lot of respect for Zombie in the process as a filmmaker with something to say. A part of me feels like 3 FROM HELL takes away from that finale, finding a lazy way [let’s be honest] to keep them alive just so they can have another film killing people while Zombie attempts for the audience to like them as a characters despite how evil they are. I understand Zombie loves these characters and knows that they’ll help make the film succeed financially so he can use that money for non-horror projects he’s been trying to get off of the ground with no luck. But sometimes you need to leave well enough alone, which will make many feel down on this film because the previous one ended pretty perfectly.

That being said, I did have fun with 3 FROM HELL. It was pretty much what I expected out of it, showcasing Zombie’s voice and aesthetic that most horror fans are no strangers of. While it was lazy to just keep the characters alive by sort of giving a non-excuse as to how that was even possible, I did enjoy the documentary-like presentation revealing the events of what happened after THE DEVIL’S REJECTS had concluded. Within ten minutes, you learn what these characters have been dealing with for the past ten years when it comes to the court system, hospitalization, and their fates inside of prison. There’s also a bit of social commentary on how some people turn these killers into celebrities, creating a creepy fandom for them to the point where their fans are pleading for their freedom. They also comment that they can’t be that evil if they’re so attractive and sexy, which seems to reflect on certain portions of our current society when it comes to shows and documentaries on serial killers, especially those recent ones on Ted Bundy. Zombie is glamorizing the killers while criticizing those who do the same. I guess he’s calling himself a hypocrite, I don’t know, but it’s an interesting look at himself and at others who sensationalize this sort of thing.

Even though the main characters are given likable personalities and funny dialogue for the audience to get on board with them in a strange way, the first half of the film pretty much makes them very unlikable and never shies away on how devious they are. Otis and Foxy take pleasure in torturing their victims until they get tired of them, making their loyalty to Baby wrong to support because of how they handle it. Baby is also pretty grating during this portion, but it’s for a reason. Being stuck in jail has affected her mind to the point where she’s seeing things and acting more crazy than usual. Add in a guard who abuses her and a Warden who makes an example out of her, and you see that Baby is in a situation beyond her usual control. She can’t seduce her way out of this jam, making her vulnerable, but also making her more evil since she can’t release all the killer instincts she contains within her.

In a lot of ways, the structure of 3 FROM HELL is pretty much the same structure as THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. The Firefly Family are evil bastards at the start of the film, but once they murder a bunch of people, they become more lovable and sympathetic in the second half of the film. That’s exactly what happens when Baby escapes and rejoins her family. They murder a bunch of people they take hostage at the Warden’s home [which reminds you of the motel scene from TDR]. They escape to a motel in Mexico to hide out for a while to figure out their next move while the men bang prostitutes [just like the brothel in TDR]. And then they have to survive a villain who wants revenge on them for murdering someone in their family [just like the Sheriff in TDR]. While THE DEVIL’S REJECTS handles all of this stuff way better and with more emotional stakes, Zombie knows you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. While not as powerful the second time around, at least Zombie handles this part of the storytelling logically well enough to make us forgive him enough to go along with it. But you can’t help but feel you’ve seen this before and more memorably.

As for the dialogue, I still think Zombie ought to let someone handle the writing duties based on his story while he focuses on the visual aspect. Zombie can write some great lines, but his characters all sound the same for the most part, as if he only knows how to portray one type of person and not much else. That being said, I thought the dialogue in 3 FROM HELL was tamer than usual. Yes, there are some outlandish words being said by many of the characters here. You still get your usual F-bombs and sexual innuendos. But Zombie seemed to have restrained himself a bit, giving the dialogue a bit more of a punch, even if it won’t win everyone over. The script won’t win any awards and Zombie still needs to figure out how to give different characters different voices to separate one from the rest. But there is some poignant stuff here, especially in the second half, as well as genuinely funny dialogue that made me laugh. Not everything clicks, but Zombie seems to be maturing a bit. Or maybe he’s just bored trying to be over-the-top with his language since he’s done it so many times before. Whatever the case, I do think it’s time to try something new, whether that is writing characters who aren’t white trash, or having someone else write for him. 

The story does have issues, though. While I did enjoy having Foxy around, he’s no Captain Spaulding. That’s not Zombie’s fault, as Sid Haig has been in ill health for years now and could only commit to a day of filming. Zombie actually had to write Spaulding out for much of the film, giving most of the dialogue to Richard Brake’s Foxy instead. Foxy is a great character once the film plays out, as his dialogue reveals aspects about the man that will either make you disgusted by him or likable because of how comical he sees the world. I just wish he had been introduced better, since we had no idea Otis and Baby even had a half-brother in the previous films. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but having him just pop up and an narrator telling us he’s related seemed a bit uninspired.

And while the last act of the film is the most exciting part of 3 FROM HELL, I wish the villains were fleshed out more. All we know about the leader is who he’s related to and that he has a Mexican gang that the locals seem terrified by. But that’s it and we’re never given an opportunity to care about him and his agenda. It’s a shame because this gang is 100 percent bad ass and deserved to be more of a presence in the entire film. It’s almost as if Zombie tried to make the Warden the main antagonist to the 3 From Hell, but decided that recreating the revenge sub-plot of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS would be more entertaining. I do think the Mexican gang were more entertaining as threats, but having the Warden being the main villain would have giving this sequel a different and more grounded feel, in my opinion. But maybe Zombie felt the film needed to be more fun than serious and went a different route. I can’t say I wasn’t entertained by it all on some level.

That being said, Zombie needs to have someone else write for him, or have a script doctor that will tighten up his narratives in the future. You can’t really introduce story arcs and not really follow them through for whatever reason. And characters need to have their own voice and not all sound like derivatives of one another. And I felt the counterpoint that both HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS had doesn’t really exist here, at least not in a way that’s developed a whole lot. Most of Zombie’s films work better because they have something to say and we feel something afterwards. I think 3 FROM HELL starts doing that but then just drops it to give the fans what we all expect. It’s a fun script, but it’s not necessarily a strong or memorable one.

Despite issues with his screenplay, Zombie’s direction is still very good and tries to emulate THE DEVIL’S REJECTS as much as the lower budget would allow him to. Visually, it felt like Zombie took each act and directed them all differently from the others. The first act had more of a visual look that was similar to the one he used for his remake of HALLOWEEN in 2007. The grainy documentary footage of criminals going to jail or being filmed behind bars, the claustrophobic feel, and the descent of characters slowly going insane and more violent all seem inspired by that film. We even have a dreamlike sequence that is very HALLOWEEN 2, although how many will dig it depends on what they felt about all those white horse sequences. The second act is shot very closely to how Zombie filmed THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, with this grainy film look and dirtiness that doesn’t hide how brutal is the story he’s trying to tell. There are a lot of earth colors and definitely has that 70s gritty vibe going for it. Then we get the last act in Mexico, which quickly reminded me of the earlier Robert Rodriguez films like EL MARIACHI and DESPERADO. It looks and plays out like a spaghetti western of sorts, as this is the portion with all the action. It’s less about brutality for the sake of violence and more about survival of the fittest, which I dug a whole lot. In fact, I felt the middle portion felt and looked old hat, while the outer acts felt fresh and different compared to what Zombie usually does. It was cool to see Zombie try new things.

However, I did have issues with some of the editing. If you’re going to film action sequences, especially one-on-one action, you need to let your audience see it play out on screen for us to feel something about what we’re watching. I’m not sure if it was a budgetary reason or Zombie just isn’t good with filming fight choreography, but using quick flash cuts like I’m watching a damn nu-metal video isn’t the way to go. It really annoyed me and took me out of the film because I wanted to see what was going on instead of just the brutal aftermath. And I thought some of the CGI blood used during gunfights looked really cheap, with some being timed a bit off as well. But overall, it looked and was paced like a Rob Zombie film. If you’re into that, you’ll have no issue with 3 FROM HELL.

I felt the acting was the best part of the film, which is usually the case with Rob Zombie films regardless of the quality. Bill Moseley is still great as Otis, playing the character more of how he was near the end of THE DEVIL REJECTS with a more sarcastic and subtle tone than the more violent one he used for HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. In fact, I think Moseley evolved Otis in a way that made the character feel almost tired of the life he had been living for years, almost portraying a more resigned and wiser version of Otis who did what he needed to survive and escape, but wasn’t really enjoying murdering anymore. It almost feels like Zombie was writing a bit of himself in Otis and Moseley did a solid job. Sheri Moon Zombie is going to be hit-or-miss with anyone who watches Zombie’s films, but we can pretty much all agree that Baby Firefly is probably her best role overall. And Zombie shines in 3 FROM HELL, giving us a multi-layered performance I was not really expecting from her. Of all the actors, she has the most to play with and does it really well. Her descent into madness is well acted in an over-the-top way, she handles the comedy stuff well, and she plays a cool badass woman you know you shouldn’t root for, but you kind of want to. Zombie is not the best actress and she won’t win any major awards, but she knows Baby like the back of her hand and believably portrays the devolution and then her eventual return to her REJECTS character without sweating it. Without her, I think 3 FROM HELL would have been a total bomb. Another great performance was Richard Brake as Foxy, getting all the best dialogue and reciting them with great comic timing and much enthusiasm. He was memorable in both HALLOWEEN 2 and 31, continuing that here as a replacement for the missing Captain Spaulding character. While not as colorful as Sid Haig [providing a memorable cameo at the start of the film], Brake fits right in with Zombie and Moseley to complete the trio.

The supporting actors are great too. Jeff Daniel Phillips goes from calm and cool, to scared and manic as Warden Harper, giving another solid performance in a Zombie movie. Dee Wallace probably could have been given more to do as prison guard Greta, but she works with what’s given. Clint Howard is pretty damn great as an unfortunate clown who ends up being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Emilio Rivera had a great presence as vengeful Aquarius, while Pancho Moler’s turn as Sebastian was well-acted, providing the audience with a lot of sympathy for him through the eyes of Baby. Zombie always has a solid cast of people in his movies and this is no exception.

If you’re not a fan of Rob Zombie’s films, you’re going to hate 3 FROM HELL. If you were a big fan of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and think this film shouldn’t exist, you’re probably not going to love 3 FROM HELL. It’s definitely a flawed film and it might feel pointless at times, but I still managed to be entertained by this long-awaited sequel. The screenplay has issues and Zombie really needs to have others write down his concepts and ideas in script form while he just handles the visuals. But there are fragments of great ideas and commentary within the context of this new narrative, even though it follows the structure of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS probably way more closely than it should and not as good. But the new characters are welcome additions, and I thought a lot of the dialogue was pretty funny and memorable. The visuals are Zombie’s strength, as it’s a well-made film done on a much cheaper budget than his previous films. But the three acts all feel different, yet still feel cohesive in a strange way, making you wonder where exactly he’s taking this story in a good way. The acting, especially by Sheri Moon Zombie and Richard Brake, is excellent and carries the film strongly until it’s unfortunate flat ending. But 3 FROM HELL is pretty much what you expect out of Rob Zombie - foul language, white trash characters, brutal violence, and a leaning towards favoring the villains over the typical Hollywood heroes. I’m probably being generous with my score, but I never felt bored once and I had fun watching these old characters return to do more damage in a world that doesn’t know how to contain them. Not as good as THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, but I liked it slightly more as a film than HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. Plus, it was way better than 31, which automatically gets points from me. For those who hated the film, I totally get it. But I'm on the side of those who are more positive on this one.

3 Howls Outta 4


The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Barb Wire (1996)

David Hogan

Pamela Anderson - Barbara “Barb Wire” Kopetski
Temuera Morrison - Axel Hood
Victoria Rowell - Dr. Corrina “Cora D” Devonshire
Jack Noseworthy - Charlie Kopetski
Xander Berkeley - Alexander Willis
Udo Kier - Curly
Steve Railsback - Colonel Pryzer

Genre - Action/Science Fiction/Comic Books

Running Time - 98 Minutes

In 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?

It’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.

I’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.

Is 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.

1 Howl Outta 4


It: Chapter Two (2019)

Andy Muschietti

James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell - Bill Denbrough
Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis - Beverly Marsh
Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor - Ben Hanscom
Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard - Richie Dozier
Isaiah Mustafa/Chosen Jacobs - Mike Hanlon
James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer - Eddie Kaspbrak
Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff - Stanley Uris
Bill Skarsgard - Pennywise the Dancing Clown
Teach Grant/Nicholas Hamilton - Henry Bowers

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 169 Minutes

27 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.

Besides 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.

While 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.

3 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 Gabriadze

Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, William Pelz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson

Genre: Horror/Supernatural/Found Footage

Running Time: 82 Minutes

Plot: 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.

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 Susco

Starring: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savia Windyani, Chelsea Alden

Genre: Horror/Found Footage

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Plot: 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.

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 Gillett

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque

Genre: Horror/Thriller/Comedy

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Plot: A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

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’Neill

Starring: Betsy Russell, Rory Calhoun, Susan Tyrell, Ossie Davis, Ross Hagen, Robert F. Lyons, Deborah Voorhees

Genre: Thriller/Action/Comedy

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Plot: 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.

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. Rosenthal

Starring: Michael Ealy, Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut, Kathryn Morris, Rutina Wesley, Holt McCallany, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Charles S. Dutton, John Getz, Jessica Parker Kennedy

Genre: Thriller/Drama/Romance

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Plot: After a painful breakup, Leah seems to meet the perfect guy. But she soon discovers his violent side that disrupts her life.

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.

Related Posts with Thumbnails