7.02.2020

Lunar Cycle - June 2020


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.



KILLER PARTY (1986) - ** out of ****

Directed By: William Fruet

Starring: Martin Hewitt, Ralph Seymour, Elaine Wilkes, Paul Bartel, Sherry Willis-Burch, Alicia Fleer, Woody Brown, Joanna Johnson, Terri Hawkes, Deborah Hancock, Laura Sherman

Genre: Horror/Slasher/Supernatural/Comedy

Running Time: 91 Minutes


Plot: Three sorority pledges are tasked with ensuring that the gals of Sigma Alpha Pi throw a killer party at an abandoned fraternity house. Unfortunately a vengeful spirit decides to take the killer epithet literally. With a special appearance by ‘80s hair metal titans White Sister!


Review:
Out of the three April Fool’s Day themed horror films from 1986, KILLER PARTY was the one I had the least familiarity with. The reason is that I had believed I had seen this film before, but I actually hadn’t! So I was kind of excited to watch something new out of 80s horror. Too bad my excitement quickly dissipated as the film went along, because KILLER PARTY is a severely flawed slasher film. Sure it’s better than APRIL FOOL’S DAY, but it never comes close to matching the absurdity and silliness of SLAUGHTER HIGH.

To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure what KILLER PARTY is trying to be. Obviously it’s focused on being a slasher film, with a few stalk-and-slash moments to ramp up a body count. The final act becomes some sort of supernatural possession movie that doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie. And then most of the film’s tone feels like a frat comedy, where things are played for laughs rather than any sort of terror or seriousness. William Fruet’s direction of KILLER PARTY leaves a lot to be desired, as there’s no consistent tone and I was confused as to what I was supposed to get out of the film in general. Films can work with multiple tones, but Fruet doesn’t have the ability to balance it all for it to flow organically. As much as I dislike APRIL FOOL’S DAY for being extremely dull, at least it has a single tone and mood to make me understand what the producers were going for. Same with the so-bad-it’s-good SLAUGHTER PARTY, which knew it was dumb and embraced it from beginning to end. KILLER PARTY feels like film that wants to be everything at once - a case where the screenwriter and director threw a whole bunch of random stuff at the wall to see what stuck. And it appears a lot of random stuff stuck, creating a movie that suffers from schizophrenia. It honestly took me out of the film for the most part.

There’s not to say that KILLER PARTY is a terrible film. It has a pretty cool opening where we get a film-within-a-film-within-a-music-video-within-a-film. The music video, in particular, is a lot of fun, especially helped by a catchy hair metal song by White Sister [who?]. The sorority hazing and initiation scenes are quite humorous, especially moments where characters have to answer by saying “I want a big, fat cucumber,” to multiple people who ask random questions. The slasher stuff is pretty generic, but I really liked that final act with the possession deal. Sure, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film, even though we learn throughout the film that the house the sorority plans to have their Halloween party in is considered haunted. It honestly comes out of nowhere, but I felt that the film finally found its footing having certain characters get possessed, spit out green goo, and attack other people without a care. I wish the entire film had done this because there was an energy here the rest of the film lacked. I even thought the final few minutes up to the ending were quite amusing in a messed up sort of way. Fruet directs this entire act very well and seems to be having fun shooting it. The make up effects are super nice and the special effects are pretty convincing. I understand shooting a slasher would be cost efficient for any production, but the supernatural angle was where it was at with KILLER PARTY.

The acting was fine. Joanna Johnson was good as Jennifer. She’s set up as the Final Girl, displaying her fear for this certain house while being more alert and cautious over the other characters. Johnson gets the most to do in the film, portraying many layers of her character and doing well with all of them. Sherry Willis-Burch is also fun to watch as Vivia, the nerdy prankster of the film. She brings much needed energy to the film and she seems to be having fun being in this film. Ralph Seymour is both funny and creepy as Martin. Seymour plays up the character as so socially awkward that you wonder if he has buried any bodies in his backyard. But he did have genuinely funny moments. And we also have appearances by Martin Hewitt as Jennifer’s love interest Blake. Hewitt is probably best known as Brooke Shields’ love interest in 1981’s ENDLESS LOVE. And we also have character actor Paul Bartel as Professor Zito, appearing in one of the funnier moments of the film. Not sure why he was here, but glad he received a check for his work. Good cast who did what they could with an oddly written script.

As for the soundtrack, we get some New Wave and ‘80s pop songs, including KC and the Sunshine Band’s hit “Give It Up”. Plus there’s the theme song called “Best Times”, which sounds like a cheesy Bananarama rip-off. It definitely fit the times for sure.

Overall, KILLER PARTY is a film I struggle with in terms of how I feel about it. For one, it has a movie-within-a-music-video-within-a-movie opener that’s a lot of fun. It also has a cool final act involving supernatural possession with good tense moments. Plus the cast seems to be having fun and the film has some genuinely funny moments going for it. On the other hand, the tone of the film is all over the place. Is KILLER PARTY a slasher film? A frat comedy? A possession flick? It’s like it wants to be everything at once and only half-succeeding at each tonal change. Plus other than the fun opener and closer, the direction is pretty pedestrian and doesn’t do a whole lot to excite or scare its audience. KILLER PARTY is a film suffering from an identity problem, which makes it a weird watch. But it’s not trash and if it had a stronger vision of what it wanted to be, this could have been a very good film. Only worth accepting the invitation if you have 90 minutes to spare for a mild time.




INTO THE DARK: THEY COME KNOCKING (2019) - ** out of ****

Directed By: Adam Mason

Starring: Clayne Crawford, Josephine Langford, Robyn Lively, Lia McHugh, Dwight Hicks, Shane Carpenter, Willa Miel Pogue

Genre: Horror/Supernatural

Running Time: 85 Minutes


Plot: After losing his wife to cancer, a father takes his two daughters on a road trip where he finds his family in the crosshairs of terrifying supernatural entities.



Review:
Into the Dark’s first June installment for the series, THEY COME KNOCKING, is apparently a Father’s Day centered story… that’s more about the ghost of the mother who has left a father and his two daughters grief stricken. Of the installments I’ve seen so far, THEY COME KNOCKING probably has the best acting and the best emotional beats. But like the rest of the episodes, the narrative takes too long to get to its point, weakening the stronger aspects of the film as it reaches towards the finish line.

Since I already mentioned the acting, I might as well elaborate on how good it is. Clayne Crawford, probably best known for the Lethal Weapon television series, carries the film really well as the father. His grief, frustration, anger, confusion and his eventual lament are all believable, making him extremely sympathetic towards his situation. Same goes to the younger actresses, Josephine Langford and Lia McHugh, who also play the same beats but in different ways. Langford is more vengeful and angsty in her portrayal, while McHugh plays it more passive-aggressively until it wears down on her character by the film’s final act. I thought the three of them shared great chemistry and really came across as a real family who deal with the mom’s passing the same, yet different all at once. It was also nice to see Robin Lively of the cult classic TEEN WITCH acting, this time as the unfortunate mom who passed away from cancer. She appears in many flashbacks, but also in visions as she comes across as both loving, sad, and even frightening at times. I thought the cast was, by far, the best thing about THEY COME KNOCKING. 

I also liked how the film played with the audience’s emotions at times. Though I do think the film was padded with way too many flashback scenes and montages to really drive home the sad situation this family is dealing with, at least it allowed me to connect to them on an emotional level. Losing my mom to cancer years ago still aches inside of me, so it was probably easier for me to sympathize with them and care how they would deal with their grief and get out of the ruts each one is in. They’re all dealing with the mother’s passing differently, all justified in their feelings and their anger towards each other about it. For me, the dramatic portion of the narrative was strongest and if the film was shorter and focused more on the human element rather than the supernatural one in the last half, THEY COME KNOCKING would have been a better film for it.

Unfortunately, if THEY COME KNOCKING was just a drama film, it probably wouldn’t have been included in this Hulu series and no one would have noticed its existence. So since this is a horror anthology series, that aspect had to be included. And for me, that’s where the film falls apart. So instead of just a sad drama about grief, the grief takes on a physical representation in creepy hooded children with black eyes. From what I gather, these characters seem to be based on some sort of urban legend or creepypasta I’m not all that familiar with, so their presence didn’t do much for me. Apparently these children knock on people’s doors to be invited in, like vampires, only wanting that invitation to cause psychological and emotional trauma to those vulnerable. THEY COME KNOCKING doesn’t hide its inspirations here. You get a bit of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and THE STRANGERS here, weakening a strong dramatic narrative for a few jump scares and creepy moments that ought to work better than they do. The scenes with the visions of the mother do work, only because we’ve seen the flashbacks and how her death has affected them. And having these children twist the characters’ realities and making them believe in things that aren’t there do have their effective moments. But in the end, it just feels like two films in one and the tone becomes a bit inconsistent because of it. It also doesn’t help that the film takes way too long to get to the creepier moments, replaying similar beats that would have been more effective if the filmmakers had trusted their audience more. But at least the film’s core is well structured and handled, which is more than what I can say for many of these Into the Dark installments.

The direction by Adam Mason, who also directed a previous installment called I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU, is pedestrian at best. I’M JUST F*CKING YOU, while I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, at least had a lot of visual flair and presence, crafting this colorful atmosphere that was pleasing to the eye. THEY COME KNOCKING is a lot quieter and muted, which fits the grief element perfectly. But other than that, the film doesn’t have a ton of visual style that would catch anyone’s eye. The evil children are visualized very creepily and some of the stuff the visions of the late mother present are very cool, but done much better before. But other than that, it’s a film with decent editing and flow. Nothing more to really say about it.

Overall, THEY COME KNOCKING is an Into the Dark installment that probably would have been better if it were a bit shorter and had stuck with one tone throughout. The grief element over the passing of a wife and a mother is super strong, with the characters [a father and his two daughters] handling their loss in various ways that end up connecting them by the film’s end. The dramatic narrative works because the film lets you see how devastated they all are through flashbacks and how each one interacts [or barely interacts] with the other. As someone who lost their mother, I was instantly sympathetic to these characters and I cared to see how they would all end up. The acting, especially by Clayne Crawford, is especially good in bringing life and genuine emotion to these characters, allowing the audience to connect with them.

It’s too bad that Into the Dark is a horror anthology though, because the creepier aspects of the narrative weaken the film. Blending THE HILLS HAVE EYES with THE STRANGERS, THEY COME KNOCKING wants to represent the grief through a supernatural means - in this case, hooded children with black eyes who use negative emotions and memories to psychologically damage their victims in order to feed upon their dark energy. The children are creepy at first and the visions they present to the family [using the late wife/mother to manipulate them] works at first. But the film is way too long for a story like this and just ends up dragging its feet to the finish line rather than letting us watch this film get themselves out of their grief in a natural way. Plus, the direction is just pedestrian, with brief stylistic flourishes every now and then but nothing you’ll remember once the film is over.

THEY COME KNOCKING could have been one of the better Into the Dark installments because it had a lot of promise. But its inconsistent tone and focus on cheap scares rather than genuine emotion bring it down a notch.




THE ASPHYX (1972) - *** out of ****

Directed By: Peter Newbrook

Starring: Robert Powell, Robert Stephens, Jane Laportaire, Alex Scott, Ralph Arliss, Fiona Walker, Terry Scully

Genre: Horror/Fantasy/Science Fiction

Running Time: 99 Minutes


Plot: Hugo is a brilliant turn-of-the-century scientist, loved and respected by his family and friends, admired by his colleagues. But he is a man quickly becoming obsessed with a curious and frightening question… what is the mysterious apparition found in the photographs of his dying subjects?



Review:
I always get a kick out of watching horror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s for the first time. 1972’s THE ASPHYX is one of those films, as I had heard about the film every now and then due to its interesting concept and how it may have slightly inspired ideas for the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise. I was expecting some sort of lost classic while watching it. And while the film does present some cool concepts and has good performances, THE ASPHYX is a perfect example of a movie that might have too much substance when it could have used more style to make it more memorable in horror circles.

That’s not to say that THE ASPHYX is a bad film. It’s just that the script is so dialogue heavy, it can cause one to lose a bit of interest in what’s going on. In a lot of ways, the movie plays out like a theatrical show or soap opera. It has the characters discussing ideas of death, immortality and other deep stuff that’s so super interesting, I wish more films would explore these themes. But the issue is that a film can have too much substance going for it at times where you wish more style and/or action would pop in every now and then. The film gets better at balancing this towards the film’s climax, but it does take a while to get to what we’re all wanting to see - the Asphyx itself.

That being said, THE ASPHYX does contain some intelligent and captivating themes that not many horror films really focus on. Not only is the film presenting certain elements that GHOSTBUSTERS popularized visually, but it’s really a FRANKENSTEIN story at heart. The idea of immortality is a tale as old as time, but THE ASPHYX presents it in a clever way that almost feels like a Twilight Zone episode meant to teach its audience a lesson about the dangers of playing God. The main character, Hugo, is a scientist who takes photographs of people dying or already dead. He sees these dark blots above all the subjects of his photos, realizing there’s something supernatural going on. This is when he learns about the Asphyx - an entity that’s responsible for the death of living things by stealing their souls. Hugo figures out that stopping and trapping the Asphyx will cause people to continue living, making it an obsession for him to understand the creature and the laws of immortality. Sometimes more knowledge isn’t always a good thing, especially if it starts effecting family and friends in dangerous ways. I won’t spoil the narrative more than that, but if you know anything about mad scientist films, you know the end result isn’t usually happy. The idea of immortality is always a concept that is brought up now and then, making us wonder if it’s worth living past our expiration date. If a higher power needed to balance things between life and death, who is anyone to say that’s wrong and should be changed? Hugo thinks it’s worth exploring, even if the people around him are against the idea even as they try to support his quest.

Since it’s a small production, not too many important characters appear in THE ASPHYX. Hugo is a well-written mad scientist who isn’t doing things out of evil or having this predetermined notion of playing against what God intended. He’s a heavily flawed character with well intentions, but even good people can get corrupted with power and knowledge without realizing how much of that is harming the people around them. The only other major character of note is Giles, Hugo’s adopted son who reluctantly helps Hugo with his experiments. He’s fascinated about the idea and is amazed when he and Hugo are able to see the Asphyx in person and attempt to study it. But he also understands the damage it also brings and seems himself in a losing battle against his adopted father. There’s also Christina, I guess, who becomes a bigger player in the final act of the film when she finds out what her father and Giles are doing. She’s the voice of the audience - the person who is against and afraid about what her father is doing. Only Hugo and Giles are remotely interesting, as they get the most screen time and dialogue. It gets a bit tiresome to hear them discuss things rather than doing them by the film’s end, especially once we see the Asphyx in front of our eyes. But they do feel like people that could exist in real life, debating the pros and cons of their actions and doing the wrong thing every time. And while I wish some of the dialogue was a bit simpler and less heavy-handed at times so a bigger audience would be able to embrace this movie more than they do, at least THE ASPHYX is about something worth thinking about. So it gets points for that, even if the execution could have been more entertaining.

Since this is a small production, majority of the film takes place in a Victorian Era manor. Director Peter Newbrook, his one and only directorial film although he had worked on other films such as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI previously, isn’t the most stylish, but he knows how to use set pieces and a single location well enough to create mood and atmosphere. It feels like a Hammer Film at times, with the manor looking like a stage on a set that brings a level of charm with it. The single location also creates a bit of claustrophobia at times, only providing some relief when characters do manage to go outdoors every now and then. THE ASPHYX is also a beautiful looking picture that’s very British, which I actually dug. The best visual moments involve any sequence involving the title character, who had to have inspired the look of GHOSTBUSTERS’ Slimer. While I’m sure the effect is mainly done via cool tricks with lighting, it looks pretty cool for an early ‘70s flick. The screaming of the Asphyx anytime Hugo and Giles capture it prior to it finalizing a person’s life is chilling. The death sequences are also quite fun, including an electric chair moment, a gas tank that explodes with someone in it, and a guillotine demise that’s probably the most shocking of them all due to mischievous pet. Not the most exciting film to look at, but it’s pretty easy on the eyes and has its moments.

The acting is excellent in THE ASPHYX. Robert Stephens is wonderful as Hugo, our lead mad scientist. He starts off as pretty stuffy, yet very likable and kind. But as the film runs along, Stephens slowly changes the character’s personality to the point where he portrays Hugo as borderline obsessed and insane over his knowledge of the Asphyx, convincingly playing a man who is losing himself in his work. He grows angry, he’s dismissive of his own family, and doesn’t care who he hurts in order to find concrete answers. Stephens makes it all believable. Robert Powell is also good as Giles, playing a man who wants his adopted father’s approval until realizing that getting it probably wasn’t all that worth it when it comes to Hugo’s work. Powell is the antithesis of Stephen, trying to ground the other actor when he goes ham. I thought the two shared nice chemistry and played off well against the other. Jane Laportaire as Christina was fine as well, although she didn’t really do a whole lot besides certain moments near the end of the film. But she played off the two Roberts well where it counted.

Overall, THE ASPHYX is a good film that I honestly wanted to like more considering the concept is very interesting. The theme of immortality and the cost of achieving it isn’t anything new, but the film presents it in a way that is visually fun at times. It’s too bad there aren’t more moments of style and action, because the film does get bogged down a bit due to it being very dialogue heavy and being told about things rather than letting the audience see and experience them first hand. And while the direction isn’t anything special, at least the stuff with the title character is well visualized and captivating, including the death sequences that revolve around the Asphyx. The acting, especially by Robert Stephens as “mad scientist” Hugo, is really good and help flesh out the characters in believable and human ways that ground the film within its supernatural atmosphere. THE ASPHYX is a gothic throwback with enough mood and Hammer Film feel to be watchable for those who need that kind of fix. Considering how it probably had some influence on 1984’s GHOSTBUSTERS and is a decent take on the FRANKENSTEIN vibe, I consider this one a lost gem that should be watched at least once. Not immortal, but has enough life to please for the most part.




6.06.2020

Lunar Cycle - May 2020 (Better Late Than Never)



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.


DEMON WIND (1990) - *** out of ****

Directed By: Charles Philip Moore

Starring: Eric Larson, Francine Lapensee, Rufus Norris, Jack Vogel, Stephen Quadros, Sherry Leigh, Bobby Johnston, Mia M. Ruiz, Richard Gabai, Tiffany Million, Elizabeth Ince

Genre: Horror/Supernatural/Demons

Running Time: 96 Minutes


Plot: The strange and brutal deaths of Cory’s grandparents has haunted him for years. Determined to discover the truth, he has returned to the desolate region where they lived, along with a group of friends, to try and uncover the mystery. Ignoring warnings from the locals that the arena is cursed, Cory and his friends soon realize that the legend is true, as the Demon Wind possesses and destroys them, one by one, turning them into monsters from hell.


Review:
I remember the days of video store searching in the 1990s, browsing through the horror movie section to rent a couple of flicks for the weekend. There were always a few films that had VHS covers that always stood out. One of those films was definitely 1990’s DEMON WIND, a film that had a cover that always captured my attention every time I went to a video store. But I never took the chance on renting the film for whatever reason. Maybe I wasn’t mature enough to expand my horror horizons at that point. Maybe a part of me felt that the cover would be better than the actual film itself. But for whatever reason, it took me until this month to finally sit down and watch a film that has carried quite a reputation for 30 years.

With a title like DEMON WIND, I was expecting at some point to see some giant demon throw a massive fart or something. But what I got was a horror film that doesn’t hide its influences at all. While director Charles Philip Moore is definitely emulating 1981’s THE EVIL DEAD, there’s also a bit of 1988’s NIGHT OF THE DEMONS at play while other elements from many zombie movies are in full effect. While that combination is interesting on paper, the wooden acting, cheesy special effects, and bonkers narrative quickly bring down the quality of the feature. DEMON WIND is a pretty terrible movie and it’s easy to see why a lot of folks are down on this one and dismiss it. But there’s something so entertainingly stupid about the whole thing that you can’t help but have fun with it’s “so-bad-it’s-good” quality.

The narrative of this film is something else. It starts out one way where you start to get into the groove of it, only for the story to take these random turns and add in unnecessary elements to fill up to its feature length. It begins in the past [1931, later changed to 1929 for reasons unknown] with some Satanic ritual shenanigans that goes really wrong. Then we quickly head into present day where the main character [Cory] is related to those who were murdered in the prologue and brings his girlfriend and four friends along to the same cursed cabin to see what happened to his grandparents, despite everyone in town warning him to do the opposite. Soon enough, the curse traps them there and they have to deal with demons wanting their souls. That sounds simple enough, but then the film decides that isn’t enough. There are ghost children who can turn people into dolls. Cory learns he’s a descendant of witches and has visions that warn him of the future. There’s also this deal with seven special daggers that are able to kill the demons, despite the film only using two of them [what is the point of seven, then?]. The daggers look more like ice picks than daggers, as well, confusing me further. We have weird portals and a gooey boss who is able to absorb other demons to become more powerful. And of course, there’s that character who needs to read things out loud, not realizing he’s summoning evil to this specific cabin they’re staying at. The film also gets unintentionally funny when characters die, only for two new friends to randomly show up without a mention of them prior to this, living enough to add to the body count right away. It’s like Moore decided to take an easy premise and then just throw a whole bunch of toppings on it to complicate the formula for whatever reason. Usually this kind of thing would annoy the hell out of me. But the structure and storytelling was so bizarre and silly that I couldn’t help but laugh every time the story would add something new that wasn’t needed. I stopped thinking about the growing mess and just enjoyed the ride getting to the film’s conclusion. DEMON WIND charmed me with its awfulness, I couldn’t help it.

The characters are also something else, as they were likable in the dumbest of ways. Cory, the main character, was super serious the whole time and made the dumbest decisions for a leader. Elaine, his girlfriend, is a bit ditsy and clueless at times, yet supportive and willing to do anything for Cory. Dell is the cocky jock who thinks he’s God’s gift to women while his girlfriend Terri sets the women’s movement decades back as she’s pretty subservient to Dell. Jack is the nerdy and nervous one, while his girlfriend Bonnie is the girl-next-door. And then we have Stacy and Chuck - two random magicians who can actually doing some cool tricks, while Chuck brings more to the table with his kung-fu skills [???]. There’s also a love triangle deal with Chuck, Terri [his ex] and Dell [Terri’s current] that pretty much ends before it begins, even though Chuck and Stacy have an odd relationship in itself. Like, okay. And then halfway through the film for whatever reason, Willy and Reena show up just to die. Thanks for coming! Just an odd choice of characters who honestly don’t feel like long time friends at all if I’m being serious. But like I said, I chuckled through most of it because it was handled so ridiculously.

If there’s a real positive about DEMON WIND, it is Moore’s direction and the use of the special effects and make up. The pacing, despite the twists and turns of the random narrative, is actually very good for 96 minutes. The film moves by pretty fast and I was never bored by what I was watching. I would rather be entertained by something awful that doesn’t waste your time than by a film trying to be good but boring the hell out of you by feeling twice as long. I thought the use of the locations was done really well, giving off a lot of mood and atmosphere - helped by a lot of fog. The special effects were more hit than miss. I loved the idea of this destroyed cabin in the middle of nowhere that is visualized as a gateway to Hell. Moore did an awesome job showing us that only the front of the cabin is still standing, but when characters go inside the open door, the interior of the original cabin is still intact, as if the characters don’t realize there’s nothing really there. The use of wind, as well as a smart combination of light and shadow, really worked for me for the horror aspect. And the make up for the demons, especially the lead demon at the end, looked pretty gnarly. I dug it. Sure, the electric special effects used in a ton of 70s and 80s movies look dated and cheap as hell. But it still added a charm to the film. I dug this film visually to be honest. It’s no Sam Raimi, which I’m sure Moore was trying to emulate here, but he did a good job behind the lens.

As for the acting, it’s one of those things that should have made me dislike this film, but only unintentionally entertained me. None of the actors could be considered “good” or anything, but some do stand out for specific reasons. I thought Bobby Johnston as Dell had the most character to play with out of anyone, portraying the slightly homophobic and misogynistic jock friend who clashed with many of the other characters. He seemed to be having fun playing a jerk and I thought he did alright. Sherry Leigh, probably best known for her work in 1987’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE, plays a scared victim well as Bonnie. She was honestly playing the smartest character in the film and I thought Leigh was convincing and believable. Stephen Quadros as kung-fu magician Chuck is a lot of fun to watch and shared good chemistry with Jack Vogel [who played the second magician, Stacy]. As for the leads, I thought Eric Larson and Francine Lapensee were just okay. They felt kind of bland to me, considering all the ridiculousness that happened around them. But I guess they needed actors to ground the film, so the two did their jobs, I guess. My real issue with the general acting overall is how Moore directed them during moments where they really needed to emote or react to things. People would disappear, get killed, or even get transformed into other objects right in front of their eyes. Yet, the actors barely reacted to it and it didn’t help that their characters moved on as if nothing major had happened. It grew funnier as these moments kept popping up, but that’s definitely a major flaw in storytelling, direction, and even acting. Nothing really much to say about the acting other than that. They did what they could with the material and their level of talent.

Overall, DEMON WIND is one of those “so-bad-it’s-good” movies that I’m glad I finally sat down and watched. It wears its EVIL DEAD, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, and zombie film influences on its sleeve, using everything but the kitchen sink to provide twist and turns to simple narrative that didn’t need all that excess. It goes from a movie dealing with Satanic demons to adding loose elements of witchcraft, to a guy who has visions that don’t tell him much of anything important, to ghost girls who can turn people into dolls, to adding kung-fu magicians and bringing in new people during the last portion of the film for no other reason than to add more to the body count. The story is all over the place and it’s so bonkers that I couldn’t help but enjoy how stupid it all was. Also having your actors not react to people dying or transforming in front of their very eyes is pure comedy for all the wrong reasons. Visually, however, I thought the film had strong mood and atmosphere and was paced very well. The make up effects for the demons, especially the boss demon, looked better than what you would expect from a low budget film. The electricity effects from the 70s and 80s look very dated, but I thought they added a strange charm. Not a good film in the slightest, but it’s one that I had fun with and could see myself watching again with friends once quarantine is over. DEMON WIND could have been a fart of a movie, but it entertained me more than I thought it would with its cheese.






INTO THE DARK: ALL THAT WE DESTROY (2019) - ** out of ****

Directed By: Chelsea Stardust

Starring: Israel Broussard, Dora Madison, Samantha Mathis, Shi Ne Nielson, Aurora Perrineau, Frank Whaley

Genre: Horror/Science Fiction

Running Time: 85 Minutes


Plot: A geneticist who fears that her son may be becoming a serial killer creates a group of clones in an attempt to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies by allowing him to relive the murder of his first victim.



Review:
New month, new Hulu’s Into the Dark reviews. Both of May’s films seem to be based around the Mother’s Day celebration, even if ALL THAT WE DESTROY is very loose with the concept since the film is really about a mother and her serial killing son. Like many of the other installments in the series, the films have great and/or interesting ideas and concepts that justify the reason for the stories to exist. ALL THAT WE DESTROY has a captivating premise that should make it one of the stronger entries in the series - if only if the screenwriter knew how to really explore it in a more interesting way.

The skeleton of the story is actually pretty unique and deals with the idea of Nature vs Nurture, as well as this obsession of playing God and trying to change things that are out of one’s control. Geneticist Victoria continues cloning one of her son’s victims, hoping killing the clones over and over would curb the urge to murder people. Even though her son, Spencer, murdered family pets and playmates as a child - as well as murdering young women he’s attracted to as a young adult - Victoria believes that science will get rid of the killing urge that has been unfortunately imprinted upon him genetically. Being sheltered for so long under her guard has made Spencer want to branch out and meet new people and have new experiences, especially when a neighbor girl named Marissa takes a liking to him and treats him as a human being rather than a science experiment. Instead of wanting to protect her son, it becomes more of a control thing when Victoria starts losing her grip on Spencer’s newly normal behavior.

ALL THAT WE DESTROY is an interesting approach to a mother’s love for her child, shocked that she gave birth to a future serial killer and becoming so obsessed with that fact, she treats her son as an experiment rather than a person - which probably only accelerates his pension for murder. Victoria is extremely cold and doesn’t really show any emotion but disappointment and anger towards her son, even when he meets a normal girl and befriends her without a whole ton of urge to kill her. I guess if Victoria can’t keep him under lock and key, then improvements like that don’t matter to her. Her obsession has cost her to lose a lot of faith in her co-workers who are awaiting her next project. She also has virtual conferences with Spencer’s father, who seems concerned about his son but doesn’t want to do anything to do with him in a physical space. Creating clones of a girl Spenser had picked up and murdered within their home feels less like a solution fo Spencer but more of a power trip for Victoria, who feels she can manipulate memories, environments, and even DNA to make her a suitable enough companion for her son so he won’t murder her.

On the other side of the spectrum, Spenser is a quiet artist [who enjoys drawing girls either alive or dead] who only can leave his home and go to a specific distance before a tracker warns his mother like he’s on house arrest. He obviously has homicidal tendencies for a long time and has some pent up anger at his situation, losing faith that his mother will fix him. It’s only when he meets Marissa, who treats him like a person and takes him out on friendly dates, that he feels he can live a normal life - especially when his urge to kill Marissa is barely existent. But his mom’s worry over people finding out who he really is doesn’t give him much hope of a future unless she’s there to control it. Nurture is only bringing out more of an urge of what nature wants Spencer to do.

Then you have Ashley, the murdered girl who becomes cloned over and over again. She seems to have been a troubled girl prior to her death, being dumped out in the middle of the desert by a jerk boyfriend, doing cocaine, and seducing Spencer in his home because she needs a distraction. Each time Ashley is cloned, the clones remember more and more about their past life, proving that no matter how you try to change genetics, there will always be a lasting imprint that will remain. In this case, it’s Ashley’s curious nature, which causes Victoria and Spencer trouble when she figures out what’s going on.

I really enjoyed the thought provoking stuff presented in ALL THAT WE DESTROY, making you see that sometimes too much love is a bad thing, especially when it becomes enough of an obsession that one person you desperately want to protect. But it sometimes felt like it was lost in its storytelling, like the screenwriters knew what they wanted to say but had no idea how to in a meaningful way. I think the idea that Spencer prefers more of a connection and a challenge when it comes to killing isn’t explored enough. He grows tired of killing multiple Ashley clones to the point that he stops being infatuated with her and is more interested in Marissa, who treats him different. As a scientist, wouldn’t you create different scenarios to test how your subject would reach to each one? Wouldn’t having the subject deal with the same thing over and over again just be a waste of time? Once the subject started showing interest in someone else, a change should have been made.

Also, the character of Marissa is a bit unbelievable in terms of her attraction to Spenser, who is majorly socially awkward and quiet. Sure, he’s a good-looking guy and I can see women digging him. But Marissa is so bubbly and such an extrovert that it feels odd that she grows so attached to a weird acting guy. This is made more especially when Marissa meets Victoria, who pretty much brushes her off and treats her rudely when Marissa brings cookies to the house. Even when Marissa finds out that Ashley is also inside of the home and she investigates it, she’s still willing to give Spencer a chance because she likes him. She seems too normal and too smart to fall for a scenario like this. While I liked the actors’ chemistry, the characters’ relationship doesn’t ring true to me. Not every film needs a love interest, but whatever.

And what’s up with Spencer’s dad? Why does he only communicate with Victoria via virtual reality? Why isn't he part of Spencer's life? Is the guy even alive, or just some computer program Victoria created to act like her conscience? Nothing is explained and it’s just odd. These scenes also ruin the flow a bit as well.

It also doesn’t help that the film doesn’t try to be scary, creepy, or even exciting to watch. Yes, I can appreciate films that has questions that require the audience to think long after the film is over. But you have to entertain the audience while doing it and ALL THAT WE DESTROY only has flashes of action and intensity, relying mostly on quieter moments involving dialogue and exposition. Because of this, I was never really sure who I was supposed to latch on to as characters. Spencer seems like a bad guy since he kills women, but he’s also a victim of his mother’s attempt to control his environment. Victoria probably has her heart in the right place trying to protect her son, but the way she handles things are outright ethically cruel and overboard. Marissa is likable, but the way she’s portrayed makes her unbelievably naive. I guess Ashley is the only character that remains a victim, as she’s constantly murdered in various lives until her latest clone begins to figure out that something is wrong with the entire situation. Each persona gets more and more interesting as they’re created, making Ashley probably the protagonist to root for by default. Sometimes there’s too much of a grey area when it comes to characterizations in film, and ALL THAT WE DESTROY has that issue.

I will say that Chelsea Stardust directs a beautiful looking film that captures the stale and extremely polished nature of Victoria’s and Spencer’s lives perfectly. The film has some pacing issues here and there, but the ride getting to the end is at least worth staying on. I liked how each clone would pop out of this black goo, as the shots are really striking. And Spencer’s outbursts towards his victims can jar the viewer at first in a good way, as you wouldn’t expect this quiet guy do what he enjoys doing. And while the virtual reality stuff is questionable, it’s at least shot different from the rest of the film, as if a different type of camera was used to give it this “online video” sort of feel with pixelation and static at times. The visuals worked for me here.

The acting is also pretty good, with the actors doing the best they can with the material. Samantha Mathis plays Victoria as cold, overprotective, frustrated and stressed very believably. You want to like her and you want to understand why she does the things she does, but Mathis plays it in such a way that makes you conflicted in how you feel about her character. Israel Broussard of the HAPPY DEATH DAY series is really good as the quiet Spencer, presenting an innocence that switches on the dime when he doesn’t get his way and ends up killing people. It’s the total opposite of the character he plays in the before-mentioned movies, which made me dig his performance more. Dora Madison is cute and bubbly as Marissa, pretty much playing the only “normal” person in the film. She’s the token love interest really, but she does it well. Frank Whaley looks bored as Spencer’s dad and it seems all his scenes were shot in one day. I’m not sure if his character was concerned or wanting nothing to do with the situation. I’ve seen much better work from him. The real star is Aurora Perrineau as Ashley, who gets the most to do and makes each one of her personas different from the other.

Overall, ALL THAT WE DESTROY is a pretty average Into the Dark installment that feels like a weak Black Mirror episode than anything else. The acting is fine. The direction is quite nice visually, having nice touches and flourishes every now and then. And the ideas presented are really interesting. Does nature or nurture make a person who they are? Do parents protect their children so much that it only ends up hurting them more in the end? Just because you have the power to do it, should you attempt playing as God? These are all great questions any film could write a great story around, but ALL THAT WE DESTROY doesn’t really push it far enough to really make it matter, as some of the characters do really dumb things that are quite unbelievable considering the situation presented. I thought the last 30 minutes of the film were the best part of the film as things had finally started to pick up, but it all ended once it had just gotten going. There’s a really good film in here somewhere, but this Into the Dark doesn’t quite reach it. 






ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (2017) - **** out of ****

Directed By: Shinichiro Ueda

Starring: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Harumi Shuhama, Mao, Hiroshi Ichihara, Manabu Hosoi

Genre: Comedy/Horror/Zombies

Running Time: 96 Minutes


Plot: Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned Second World War Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.


Review:
I had ONE CUT OF THE DEAD in my Shudder queue since it premiered on the service, but didn’t get a chance to sit down and watch it until Joe Bob Briggs aired it during his The Last Drive-In show on the same service. I really knew nothing about the film other that it involved some sort of film-within-a-film deal with zombies and that people really loved this film. I hadn’t planned a review for ONE CUT OF THE DEAD [the main reason I hadn’t watched it yet], but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to finally see what the fuss is all about.

And man, I’m so glad I took the chance because ONE CUT OF THE DEAD is friggin’ awesome from beginning to end! One of the best new films I’ve seen since being stuck in quarantine, it took me to places that I was never expecting the film to go. This will be a short review because the less you know about this one, the better. Let’s just say that the film is separated by three different acts that all compliment each other in a way I was never expecting. It has horror elements obviously with the zombies. But ONE CUT OF THE DEAD is really a comedy at heart that doesn’t hide its love for the filmmaking process and the issues that take place during a film or television set to achieve the final product. It hit so close to home for me as someone who has made and worked on short films in the past, going through the ringer when you don’t get along with your crew and actors, or when things go wrong that are out of your control. It’s kind of funny when the zombies aren’t the worst thing to happen to anyone in this film, which makes the film all that more unique and enjoyable.

The direction by Shinichiro Ueda is really excellent, as he provides the audience with different visual formats to tell his unique story. The second act may drag a tiny bit because of what’s presented and how different it is from the beginning of the film, but I thought it compliments both the beginning and the ending of the film so well that it didn’t bother me really. The last act is shot really well and a lot of fun to watch what goes down if you’re willing to stick with the film.

And the actors are all wonderful, especially Takayuki Hamatsu as the director who works hard and almost loses himself in the process of making a zombie film [which he sees as low-brow in terms of his career] into something special and memorable. The main actors in the flick [Mao, Harumi Shuhama and Yuzuki Akiyama] play their roles very well and I enjoyed every emotional layer they played within the film. It’s amazing the cast is really consisted of unknowns because they’re all fantastic and really make the film a lot of fun to watch unfold.

Overall, CUT FROM THE DEAD turned out to be a wonderful surprise, taking me on a journey I hadn’t expected from what I knew about the film - which wasn’t much besides the zombie premise. Shinichiro Ueda wrote and directed a zombie horror-comedy film that, in reality, is nothing but a fantastic 97 minutes about the love and passion for filmmaking for those who have been through it in their lives. The clever 3-act structure kept me captivated from beginning to end, while the actors involved all had hilarious and strong performances that only made me enjoy this film more than I thought I would. I went into this one expecting one thing, but left experiencing something else entirely - a journey I wish more films would be better at. It’s original. It’s unique. And with its heart and soul firmly evident, it’s also a film made with a lot of love for all genres of cinema. Sometimes a film can live up to the hype and every time I think about CUT OF THE DEAD, it puts a smile on my face.


(I’m not posting a trailer for this one, as it reveals some plot twists that would probably ruin the experience for some.)


INTO THE DARK: DELIVERED (2020) - **1/2 out of ****


Directed By: Emma Tammi


Starring: Natalie Paul, Tina Majorino, Micah Joe Parker, Michael Cassidy, Rosslyn Luke, Vito D’Ambrosio, Joel Dupont


Genre: Horror/Thriller


Running Time: 80 Minutes



Plot: A pregnant woman’s life is upended when she realizes someone close to her has darker plans for her and the baby.



Review:

Have any of you ever wanted a version of the 1990 Stephen King classic MISERY, but with a pregnant woman instead of a famous author? No? Well too bad, because Into the Dark’s latest entry is just that with DELIVERED - a film supporting the Mother’s Day holiday by having a psychotic woman kidnapping a pregnant woman to steal her baby by any means necessary. When did sending a card and flowers go out of style?


DELIVERED is pretty much the film adaptation of MISERY mixed with some 2007’s INSIDE - without the film being as good as any of those two films I just mentioned. However, it’s a decent installment of Into the Dark as it has some good performances, a simple and predictable story and some messed up gore at times. I think those reasons are probably why I prefer this year’s installment over ALL THAT WE DESTROY from last year. It doesn’t try to raise questions the film isn’t ready to answer. DELIVERED is a standard thriller that wouldn’t be out of place on Lifetime, which is fine for the story it wants to tell.


Like I mentioned a few times already, DELIVERED is pretty much an updated female-centric version of MISERY. It follows pretty much the same beats and even has nods to the Stephen King film near the end, which probably doesn’t help the film’s case. Instead of an obsessed fan who takes her favorite author hostage so he can write a better ending for her favorite character,  we have an obsessed woman who fakes a pregnancy taking a real pregnant woman hostage so she can steal the baby once she helps the woman go into labor. Instead of being confined to a bed the whole time, the pregnant woman is chained by her feet so she can only get around enough without escaping. The villain feeds her things to speed up the pregnancy, while getting rid of anyone or anything that could jeopardize her plan. There’s even a part near the end where the villain breaks the pregnant woman’s foot, which is pretty unnecessary but you can’t do a MISERY remake without that moment I guess. 


The characters are interesting enough for the audience to care about what’s going on. The pregnant woman has a husband she loves, yet doesn’t feel connected [or want to be connected] to her own baby and seems indifferent to the whole deal. She’s also avoiding some dude she knew in Chicago, which is one of the most predictable subplots I’ve seen in a film in a long while. I’ve watched soap operas. I know the deal there. As for the villain, her purpose for wanting to steal another woman’s baby to raise as her own, even if she has to hurt people to get her goal. But she also has a tragic backstory that explains her motives, as if to give the character some depth and sympathy, even though she has done terrible things to people for a while. The film obviously wants the villain to be an Annie Wilkes type, even though it never comes close to reaching that. But you understand why she is the way she is and why she’s doing these things. The supporting male characters are interesting, only for the fact that they’re pretty much victims of both women emotionally and physically. I won’t give away the secrets here, but you’ll quickly figure out the lies and the truths right away, and you feel bad for both guys. It makes you wonder who are the real victims in this film, which is something this series likes to do with its audience. The narrative has been done before, and way better, but the subplots are juicy enough to keep a mild interest from beginning to end.


The direction by Emma Tammi is fine. There’s nothing really special about it, honestly. It’s not a flashy film or visually exciting, even though DELIVERED is quite beautiful and polished to look at. The film allows the gorier moments to be seen more than previous installments, which is nice. There is one moment involving an animal that some people may find disturbing, even though only the aftermath is shown in vivid detail. And while there are moments and edits that pretty much rip off MISERY throughout, at least they’re kept enough to a minimum to allow the film to be its own thing. It’s a good effort but nothing really stands out visually to really discuss. But it has a great pace and flows well.


The acting is pretty good as well. Natalie Paul is good as Valerie, the pregnant victim who plays with different aspects of her upcoming motherhood. Her portrayal of discontent with her upcoming motherhood is believable, slowly leading towards a credible moment when she realizes she does care about her baby when both of them are in danger. Paul gives a quiet, yet powerful performance until the final act where she gets to let loose. I’d like to see her in a role where she can get to do more than just play a victim in a thriller.


Probably the biggest name in terms of actors is Tina Majorino as the troubled Jenny. Best known for her work in CORRINA, CORRINA, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and Veronica Mars, Majorino puts her spin on Kathy Bates’ performance from MISERY. Majorino plays Jenny as sweet and timid at first, but Majorino always lets in that something is off about her character. When she does get to snap and be evil, Majorino seems to be enjoying herself. Her mentally unhinged performance is very believable, sharing good moments of tension and chemistry with Natalie Paul. She’s an actress who elevates a project and I thought DELIVERED wouldn’t have worked as well without Majorino.


Overall, DELIVERED is a decent Into the Dark installment that did the best it could to rip off a much better feature in MISERY. The story about a mentally unhinged woman kidnapping a pregnant woman to force her into labor and steal her baby is pure soap opera, but it’s a story I could actually buy happening in real life. And while the characters have interesting moments and the secrets they carry are fairly predictable yet welcomed, the film is too busy trying to emulate a much better film and looks lesser for it unfortunately - especially when the film doesn’t have any shame stealing certain shots and violent moments that has made MISERY a pop culture classic for 30 years. The direction is fairly pedestrian with no real interesting visuals, but the film is well paced and edited. And DELIVERED doesn’t hide its violence, especially during the film’s final act that may be disturbing to some. The performances by both Natalie Paul and Tina Majorino work, mainly because they have slightly deep characters they can play with, while sharing some nice tension and chemistry with one another to elevate a narrative that has been done better. Not my favorite Into the Dark installment, but one of the better ones in my opinion - mainly for the performances and its subtlety in terms of the subject matter. If you ever wanted a film like MISERY, but a Lifetime version with a pregnant woman instead of an injured author, then check DELIVERED out.



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