7.03.2018

The Purge: Election Year (2016)


DIRECTED BY
James DeMonaco

STARRING
Frank Grillo - Leo Barnes
Elizabeth Mitchell - Senator Charlie Roan
Mykelti Williamson - Joe Dixon
Joseph Julian Soria - Marcos Dali
Betty Gabriel - Laney Rucker
Terry Serpico - Earl Danzinger
Raymond J. Barry - Caleb Warrens
Edwin Hodge - Dante Bishop
Kyle Secor - Minister Edwidge Owens

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Action

Running Time - 109 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB):
It’s been seventeen years since Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) stopped himself from a regrettable act of revenge on Purge Night. Now serving as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), his mission is to protect her in a run for president and survive the annual ritual that targets the poor and innocent. But when a betrayal forces them onto the streets of D.C. on the one night when no help is available, they must stay alive until dawn… or both be sacrificed for their sins against the state.

REVIEW
Since THE FIRST PURGE is being released to theaters this week, with a Purge television show premiering in September, I figured I might as well give my thoughts on the third film in the franchise - 2016’s THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. Even though I wanted to watch this film two years ago, the real political and social climate at the time turned me off to it. It’s bad enough being depressed and angry about real life. I didn’t need to watch a film about the same topics to infuriate me further. But I had heard decent things about the film and it remained on my radar since. Now having watched it for the first time, I have to say that THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is not only smart, but it’s probably more relevant today than it was two years ago. I’m not saying that ELECTION YEAR is must see if you’re not a fan of this franchise, but it might be one of the more important horror films in the last decade if you’re willing to take a chance on it.

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is more of a continuation of THE PURGE: ANARCHY from 2014 than it is a follow-up to the original 2013 film. ELECTION YEAR has a similar tone, look, feel, and even a social awareness that ANARCHY really brought forth. As a fan of ANARCHY, I definitely liked ELECTION YEAR. While I do enjoy brainless, popcorn flicks that are just meant for audiences to have fun, I dig a film that provokes thinking through its social commentary. 
Obviously from the title, you can rightfully guess what ELECTION YEAR’s message is. The Purge event has caused a civil war in America, where the poor believe the rich are using the event to eliminate the lower class in order to save money on welfare, health care, social security, and other institutions the government must cover for its citizens. This commentary has pretty much been there since the start of the series, but really hits close to home in modern times due to our political and social landscape. I’m not here to share my political or religious beliefs, but it’s pretty safe to say that the world isn’t in the best shape societal wise these days. That makes ELECTION YEAR eerie, as it captures life in America pretty well.

I will say that the commentary is obviously one-sided, as the upper-class [or the New Founding Fathers of America] are clearly evil people who are so wrapped up in their sin that they refuse to let any sort of uprise and revolution stop them from using the Purge as a means to eliminate those they feel are useless to society [a.k.a. the lower class]. And they want to eliminate Senator Charlie Roan before she possibly wins the Presidency because she wants to get rid of the Purge for good - as she was a survivor of a previous Purge that murdered her family. But the commentary becomes a bit muddled, as the supposed victims of the Purge also tend not to be the greatest of people. Some of them feel justified in their actions, while others are just insane. It makes you question which side of the argument is right here, which I’m not sure is the point of the film or not. Judging by how it all ends, maybe it is. But I feel there should have been more of a balance in terms of good and evil. Maybe some of the upper class are against the Purge, disagreeing with the NFFA. But we never really meet those people, so ELECTION YEAR makes it seem that every single member of the rich are evil while only some of everyone else do have ethics and morals. Then again, don’t a lot of us think that? Maybe writer/director James DeMonaco was smart to play with our fears.

There’s also a subtle commentary on guns. Leo Barnes, our returning protagonist from ANARCHY who is now Senator Roan’s bodyguard, only uses a handgun and one of those heart attack knives you hide between your fingers. He never picks up a semi-automatic gun and only uses an explosive when necessary. The other characters have no issue using semi-automatics to take down their targets. With the gun culture as it is today, it seems DeMonaco is not denouncing the right to bear arms, but going against people using rifles or machine guns in every day life unless you’re part of the military. Barnes is capable of defending himself without using excessive weapons. And Barnes only uses them for self-defense, not to purposely injure or kill others. There’s something to that message, especially in today’s world.

I think the best part about the commentary is that it’s never really preachy. Sure, the messages aren’t subtle in any way. The movie is about class issues, racism, political strife, gun control, and so on. But it uses all that to craft a pretty strong story, never making ELECTION YEAR an uncomfortable sit through. Some people won’t watch this because they want to escape from these kind of issues, and that’s perfectly okay. But DeMonaco wants to make a film that is somewhat based on reality - something we can relate to. And I think that’s why this franchise has continued to survive.

As for the characters, I think they’re on-par, maybe even better structured, than the ones in ANARCHY. Leo Barnes returns, remaining the badass he was in the previous film. But he evolves in ELECTION YEAR, seeing different points of views when it comes to their scenario and seriously taking them all in. He still kicks ass when he needs to, but he puts a bit more thought into his actions now because of the people he encounters along the way. Senator Roan is also pretty well written, as she’s the ideal politician who believes in ethics and morals and wants to change America for the good. She doesn’t want to win her elections through murder, or scandal. She wants to go through the Purge to prove to the public that she means what she says. As a victim of the Purge itself previously, she also comes across as tough as nails - giving Leo a run for his money in terms of who’s in charge. Joe Dixon is a regular store-owner who wants to prove his only livelihood [even though the NFFA has cut off his insurance during The Purge], but ends up protecting Leo and Roan when they need his help. He’s more light-hearted and more accustomed to the street world than Leo is, giving them a nice conflict through most of the film. Lane Rucker risks going out during The Purge to save people who are injured during the night, which shows her strong and soulful character. Dante Bishop is a leader for those opposing the Purge. He plans on using the day to take out Roan’s rival so she can secure the Presidential seat. We also have the NFFA, who use religion as a way to justify their evil actions by murdering lower-class people while targeting Roan. They even hire white supremacists as their military to take out their rivals. So many different characters, but they all have their place in this film - giving us a glimpse of a multi-colored world that’s struggling with The Purge in different ways. I thought have the politicians and the citizens come together in a convincing way was a nice touch.

I also have to say that I was never more terrified by teenage girls than I was in ELECTION YEAR. Driving in cars covered in Christmas lights while blasting Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” just to steal from Joe Dixon’s store was pretty bizarre. The leader of the group was pretty annoying to be honest [like I said, the film isn’t perfect], but I thought it was a good way to show how the Purge has devolved society since the first film. And I also wished there was more to that “Purge Tourists” deal, where people outside of America would visit just to murder people for that 12 hour period. I think it’s an interesting concept that could have been explored more. Maybe in another film.

James DeMonaco pretty much continues what he did in ANARCHY. He’s created an open-box world where you’re never really sure who is on the up-and-up and who just enjoys killing people on a night where it’s legal. The film has great visuals at times, maintaining a gritty and bleak atmosphere that fits the social commentary. The action is shot pretty well, with DeMonaco never shying away from the violence of the night. Guns are fired. People are stabbed. Some are blown up. Others are beaten to death. We have people tied to hoods of cars and driven around like ornaments. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I think if you liked the direction of ANARCHY, you’ll like the direction of ELECTION YEAR.

The acting in ELECTION YEAR is pretty damn good. Frank Grillo is just awesome as Leo Barnes. Like I mentioned in my ANARCHY review, he is the best thing about the PURGE franchise. He’s a great protagonist who is always pro-active and has a good heart, even if he takes himself more seriously than he should. Grillo is absolutely convincing as a pure badass who knows how to defend himself without batting an eye. I like his screen presence a lot. Elizabeth Mitchell, best known for her work on the television show Lost, is also very good as Senator Roan. She’s tough, smart, genuine, and can also convey vulnerability while trying to be a good leader. Mykelti Williamson is a joy to watch as Joe Dixon, bringing some light-hearted and fun to the film. He’s a scene stealer for sure, getting the best dialogue and making him the most likable new character. Joseph Julian Soria is good as Joe’s co-worker, Marcos. He’s tough and loyal. Soria portrays Marcos as a man who doesn’t want the American Dream destroyed by the Purge very convincingly. Betty Gabriel is badass as Laney, while Terry Serpico is great as the cold white supremacist, Earl. Also, mention to Kyle Secor as the delusional and evil Minister Owens. And honorable mention to Harmon James in his bit part as some sort of religious psycho in the final act. He’s so weird looking and acting, that I kept wondering what his deal was. There’s something up with this dude - so much so that I wouldn’t mind him in another film. Of all the crazy characters, he was probably the creepiest by far.

THE FINAL HOWL
I enjoyed THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR more than I thought I would. While not perfect due to muddled social commentary at times, some annoying side-characters, and sub-plots that could have been explored more - the film is still the best of the first three films due to strong action, confident direction, and nicely developed characters we can easily love and/or easily hate. It’s scary to think how this film resonates more in 2018 than it did two years ago. If you want to escape from reality, ELECTION YEAR is probably a film you may want to skip over. But if you love this franchise and don’t mind watching a film that can hit pretty close to home, ELECTION YEAR probably won’t disappoint.


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4



7.01.2018

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)


DIRECTED BY
Lam Nai-Choi

STARRING
Fan Siu-Wong - Lik Wong/ Ricky Ho
Fan Mei-Sheng - Assistant Warden Dan
Ho Ka-Kui - Warden
Yukari Oshima - Huang Chung/ Rogan
Tamba Tetsuro - Master Zhang
Frankie Chin - Hai/ Oscar
Koichi Sugisaki - Taizan/ Tarzan
Wong Kwai-Hung - Baishen/ Brandon

Genre - Action/Martial Arts/Supernatural

Running Time - 91 Minutes


Even though this blog is mainly going to focus on horror from now on, I still wanted to tackle a film that’s pretty notorious in bad film circles. I could have gone with MIAMI CONNECTION, or THE ROOM, or even TROLL 2. But as someone who probably hasn’t discussed enough martial arts films, it was only fitting that I would return with thoughts for 1991’s RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. Based on a manga, my first exposure to this film was through The Daily Show back when Craig Kilborn was the host. Watching a man’s head explode as a recurring joke on the show elevated my interest in this film. Is this the only good part of the film? Is the rest of the film just as nutty as this clip is? After watching RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY a few times, I can honestly say the film is absolutely epic. Dumb as a bag of rocks, but epic nonetheless.

PLOT
In the year 2001, young Ricky Ho (Fan Siu-Wong) is sentenced to a maximum security prison. He has been convicted of murder, stemming from revenge over the kidnapping and death of his girlfriend (Gloria Yip) by opium drug dealers. By his revenge has reason, as Ricky has figured out that the prison warden (Ho Ka-Kui) is the one in charge of the drugs and wants to confront him. Unfortunately, Ricky has to deal with sadistic prisoners and a devious Assistant Warden (Fan Mei-Sheng) who want to torture and kill him for standing up for himself and other prisoners. However these bullies have no idea who they’re dealing with, as Ricky has learnt special techniques that have granted him strong will and super-strength.

REVIEW

HITS
RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is probably one of the most outrageous and goriest movies ever put to film. Like the manga it’s based off of, it’s a comic book brought to life. If you’re expecting good storytelling, top notch special effects, or logic - just look somewhere else. But if you’re a big fan of cheese, then RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is right up your alley.

Like I mentioned earlier. the moment where a head explodes put RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY on my radar as Craig Kilborn kept using it on his version of The Daily Show. I figured that this gore effect was probably the highlight of the film, sort of how the head explosion is the best part of 1981’s SCANNERS. Nothing could top that, right?

WRONG!

Man, where do I begin with how crazy the violence is in RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY? Even after a couple of times watching it, the film still seems to shock and awe me at times. We have various broken noses. We have faces falling into a bed of nails. We have saws rammed into skulls. People are skinned alive. Eyes are poked right out of their sockets. Men are mutilated by a meat grinder. Body parts destroyed by punches right through them. Did I mention people explode? There’s so much going on in terms of gore and violence, that you laugh at it all due to desensitization. If you love 1992’s DEAD ALIVE, TOKYO GORE POLICE, or the EVIL DEAD franchise - then you’ll probably love RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY.

Speaking of laughs, the English dubbing is [in my opinion] the only true way to watch RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. Every single stereotypical thought you have in your mind about how martial art films are dubbed are correct when it comes to RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. The heroes are soft spoken. The villains cackle and sound like they need to clear their throats. And probably the highlight of the film - a little boy [who is probably a twenty-five year-old man in a school’s boy outfit] dubbed by a woman pretending to be a child. It’s so terrible that it’s incredibly charming. Sure, you could watch this film with sub-titles and enjoy the okay acting. But the dubbing truly puts RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY in the “so-bad-it’s-good” category for me. 

The special effects aren’t great, but they add to the appeal. It’s obvious that mannequins are used whenever major brutality is brought upon someone. And one character mutates into a Hulk-like creature to hilarious results. But you have to give the film credit for trying to bring a comic book-like visual presentation when it came to the violence and some of the characters. Seeing limbs ripped off and body organs used as weapons adds to the appeal, and the effects look believable enough in this world to not be bothersome. 

It’s helped that director Lam Nai-Choi knows what kind of film he’s making, using the visual style of the film to be the focus over the story. The film moves briskly, not once letting that logic settle in your mind to ruin the experience. You get action scenes, followed by hilarious flashbacks that add to Ricky’s character, followed by more action scenes. You never feel bored. You feel like the film is making you dumber. For a ninety-minute film, it feels a lot shorter. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY knows it’s schlock, but uses that to its advantage for a good time.

And while you don’t get an elaborate story that creates bold character arcs for our main characters, the simple premise of revenge is really all you need in RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. We learn why Ricky is arrested. We learn how he gained his abilities. And we learn why he doesn’t just break out of the prison with his super-strength, as he has a reason to stay inside the prison to complete his revenge. Sure, the other characters are cartoonish and are just there to be obstacles for Ricky and/or be lambs to the slaughter. But sometimes less is more. The message is told through the action, not the dialogue. That’s not always a bad thing in terms of a film like this.


MISSES
If anything I wrote above isn’t your bag, then RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is not for you. If you don’t like gore, don’t bother. If you don’t like over-the-top characters, don’t bother. If you don’t like really terribly funny dubbing, don’t bother. If you’re a film snob, why are you even reading this article?

Seriously, RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY won’t be for everyone and it’s not a perfect film. Yes, the film could use more story in terms of the drug sub-plot. Yes, the film could explain Ricky’s powers more. Yes, Ricky could punch out a wall, let the abused prisoners escape, and still get revenge on the Warden [but waits until the end to do that]. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is not a film that builds upon sense and logic. If you want a great story that you can bite your teeth into, you’re not finding it here. It’s just a gory and violent film, which might upset some.

And I will say that while Lam Nai-Choi does fine with the action sequences and highlighting the violence, he never really builds any atmosphere or tension with RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. In fact, the set pieces are pretty bland. Yes, the film takes place in a prison, but I think more could have been done with the location. Especially when there are a Gang of Four - one boss in each directional block of the prison. Yeah, we never really go into these different blocks to see how one differs from the other. Yes, this technical stuff is not the point of RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. But it could have been cool to see more than one section of the prison. 

Also, watching this without the dubbing will probably cause RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY to lose what makes it appealing to many. There are multiple versions of this film - both in its native language and subtitled in other languages; or in its dubbed form. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is probably an okay film on its own, but the dubbing elevates the film [in my opinion]. Usually the dubbing could be a major hinderance. But since the story for RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is pretty much bare bones, the hilarious voice acting actually provides an upgrade. For those who hate dubbing, I say take a chance this time around. You’d lose something if you didn’t.

THE FINAL HOWL
Even though RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is a hard film to review, it’s not a hard film to enjoy. The story is pointless, the main plot is basic, the acting is second to the hilarious dubbing, and you’re not going to get any logic or character development that’ll make you heavily invested in most of the characters. That being said, what RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY does well, it does extremely well. And what the film does well is showcase over-the-top violence that’s so brutal, you can’t help but laugh at it and wonder if they’ll top it in the next sequence. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is the perfect example of a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie - made to have you and your friends be entertained while eating popcorn and drinking beer in front of the television for ninety-minutes. Sometimes you’re in the mood of Oscar bait. Other times, you’re in the mood for dumb, mindless entertainment. There’s a reason why RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is still a favorite for “bad movie” lovers. It knows what it is and proudly shows it off to the point of excessive. If you love splatter, you’ll love RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4


6.15.2018

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

DIRECTED BY
Ron Oliver
Peter Simpson

STARRING
Tim Conlon - Alex Grey
Courtney Taylor - Mary Lou Maloney
Cynthia Preston - Sarah Monroe
David Stratton - Shane Taylor
Dylan Neal - Andrew Douglas
Jeremy Ratchford - Leonard Welsh

Genre - Horror/Comedy/Supernatural/Slasher

Running Time - 97 Minutes


One of the oddest horror franchises ever has been the PROM NIGHT series. While other franchises tend to maintain a level of consistency on some level, this Canadian horror franchise’s only common element is that each film usually revolves around a prom, and appearances by actor Brock Simpson. 1980’s PROM NIGHT was definitely an attempt to capitalize on the massive success of 1978’s HALLOWEEN, even casting HALLOWEEN lead Jamie Lee Curtis as the film’s Final Girl. While a popular slasher film for its time, it felt like a standalone movie that didn’t necessitate a follow up. However, HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II was released seven years later, lessening the slasher elements in favor of a more supernatural/possession film that seemed inspired by both THE EXORCIST and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Even though not necessary, HELLO MARY LOU manages to be more entertaining than the first one, making it the favorite for many when it comes to the franchise.

I guess believing that the sequel’s villain, Mary Lou Maloney, could be the franchise’s star, producer Peter Simpson and writer Ron Oliver decide to make her the focus again for 1990’s PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS. That’s all fine and all, but if you’re expecting a true continuation of the second film, you’re not going to find it here. In fact, this is a weird sequel that wants to spoof itself to make the audience laugh rather than feel scared. The fact that it doesn’t even earn to right to even make that move at this point in the series, while failing at what it’s trying to accomplish for the most part, is even more baffling.

PLOT
After escaping hell with the help of a nail file, Mary Lou Maloney (Courtney Taylor) returns to Hamilton High for revenge. One night, she stumbles upon very average student Alex Gray (Tim Conlon) on school grounds. Instead of killing him, she seduces him and has sex with him. Having enjoyed this tryst, Mary Lou begins helping Alex with his grades and with his position on the football team to make him a star student. Even though he has a girlfriend (Cynthia Preston) who doesn’t care how average he is, Alex falls for Mary Lou and gets in a relationship with her. This benefits Mary Lou, as she has had to murder any teacher, counselor, or student in Alex’s way to make him look above average to his friends and parents - causing Alex to bury the evidence under the football field out of loyalty.

Unfortunately, Alex grows tired of being Mary Lou’s accomplice, breaking up with her and going back to his girlfriend. Not one to be dumped, Mary Lou decides to take revenge on Alex and his girlfriend on their prom night, making sure that no one will have him if she can’t.

REVIEW
Like I mentioned earlier, PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS is a strange follow up to HELLO MARY LOU. It has the same character in Mary Lou Maloney, but it doesn’t really continue from the events of the previous film. In fact, one scene practically uses the previous film’s events as a punchline - almost as if what we take as canon is nothing but a joke and doesn’t mean a whole lot in the end. And while certain moments like this one do bring a chuckle and some amusement to the viewing experience, it also drags PROM NIGHT III down because everything is played for laughs.

Like HELLO MARY LOU, THE LAST KISS is inspired by A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The only difference is that HELLO MARY LOU was inspired by the scarier early films in the franchise, taking the supernatural and murder stuff seriously to tell a good story. THE LAST KISS seems inspired by the more mainstream NIGHTMARE films [such as THE DREAM MASTER and THE DREAM CHILD], which were played more for laughs. But say what you want about those NIGHTMARE sequels - at least they tried to balance the comedy and the horror. THE LAST KISS doesn’t bother trying to scare anyone, treating the entire story as a joke that’s not all that funny.

It also doesn’t help that the script itself is not all that well-written. In fact, the Mary Lou character seems to have changed quite drastically since the second film. In HELLO MARY LOU, she was a pretty promiscuous and selfish girl who wanted revenge on those who wronged her by possessing another student. She took no prisoners and was presented as a serious threat that made that film entertaining. In THE LAST KISS, she’s a love-struck spirit who murders people because she feels it’ll please her living boyfriend. And when he dumps her, she feels scorned. She never cares about being Prom Queen or murdering whoever else was at the scene of her death. She’s that bitchy and clingy ex-girlfriend that made you start screening your phone calls and start thinking about that restraining order. And like Freddy Krueger, she quotes one-liners that pertain to her particular murders. But they seemed forced rather than natural, which is a credit to Robert Englund more than anything else. Actress Courtney Taylor doesn’t have the ability to deliver lines like that, making the jokes seem flat.

Even worse is that our main “hero”, Alex, is pretty much an unlikable prick. He’s a pre-med student who is pretty much an underachiever. He has a beautiful girlfriend who loves him, yet wastes no time in cheating on her with a dead person. And when said “dead person” murders people for him, he sees it as no big deal until he’s tired of burying the bodies for her. At one point, Alex even admits that he enjoyed what he was doing with Mary Lou without a sense of guilt. What’s worse is that no one even punishes him for his actions. His girlfriend never finds out. His best friend just shrugs it off. Alex never learns his lesson from the acts he has committed. Nothing about this character is worth rooting for. So why should I care about who I’m watching PROM NIGHT III for?

The other characters aren’t any better. They’re all stock characters that don’t evolve to more than they are. Sarah is the smart and beautiful girlfriend who loves Alex, flaws and all. She’s completely oblivious to her boyfriend’s actions, even when Mary Lou alludes to an affair with him. I will say she’s the only character worth getting a damn about, since she’s pretty bad-ass in the film’s final act and seems to be fighting for something. Shane, Alex’s best friend, is there - for some reason. The film sort of implies a homoerotic bromance between the two that never really develops. But Shane joined the football team because Alex did. And when Alex reveals the truth, Shane is only upset that Alex didn’t come to him about it. Oh… and Alex plans on spending the summer all alone with Shane rather than with Cynthia. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But more could have been done with it. Andrew is just the classic bullying douche who also happens to be Class President and star of the football team. Leonard is the geek of the school, even though he seems to be more in shape than Alex and Andrew combined. And what’s the deal with Alex’s younger sister? She seemed really clingy on him. Was there an incestuous subplot that was totally forgotten in the final draft of the script? Just odd. And what about those teachers and guidance counselors who want to tear down the students rather than build them up? It’s comedy! Aren’t you laughing?

The screenplay does have its moments though. As sophomoric as they are, the announcements on the school loudspeaker did make me chuckle. For example, one states: “Today’s chess tournament has been cancelled; members are asked to report to the library to play with themselves.” It’s dumb but it got a reaction out of me. There’s also a terrible hip-hop rap song that’s so bad, I couldn’t stop laughing at how atrocious it was. And the final act, while bizarre and ending flatly, has some decent touches of character for those involved. I also found it amusing that a Canadian production tried so hard to be American. Maybe Canadians find sex on American flags erotic, I don’t know. But at least it was memorable.

The special effects, while not the greatest, do at least help elevate the film somewhat. We get an electrocution via jukebox. We get a pretty gnarly death involving ice cream cones through the hands and a blender through the skull. Someone melts via battery acid in a decent effect. Another person gets impaled by a metal football through the chest. A heart gets punched out. And we get a drill through the skull. The make-up effects, especially Mary Lou’s burn scars, look absolutely horrible - as if someone dripped pancake batter on her face and decided that was a cool effect. Unfortunately, you can only get the cool looking gore effects in the Uncut Version of the film. Otherwise, you’ll barely see most of them in the regular version - which won’t help making the viewing experience a little better.

The direction by Ron Oliver & Peter Simpson prove that a screenwriter and producer shouldn’t visually present a film. Even though I believe this was slated for a theatrical release, PROM NIGHT III ended up going straight to video [at least in the United States]. And boy, does this look like a straight-to-video film! Considering Oliver & Simpson had a hand in producing HELLO MARY LOU, which looked pretty great, it’s a shock how cheap this sequel looks. It looks and feels like a TV movie but with more elaborate effects. Nothing about the direction is worth discussing. There’s a scene with one of those 50’s student films that should look retro, but looks like everything else presented in the film. And there’s a hilarious scene with a visible boom mic in a kitchen. Otherwise the film is just there, which what a horror sequel shouldn’t feel like. It’s a long time where I’ve watched a film and I have absolutely nothing to say about the visual presentation. It’s not scary. It’s not even funny. It just exists. It’s watchable. That’s the most I can go with this.

The acting is pretty awful for the most part, which probably adds to the twisted entertainment of the film. I will say that Tim Conlon as Alex is probably the best actor in the film. As much as I disliked his character, he did play it well. I thought he had great delivery in his lines, had some charisma, and had nice chemistry with co-star Courtney Taylor. Speaking of her, Taylor isn’t a great actress, but she is sure easy on the eyes. I guess she played Mary Lou well enough for this type of film, but Lisa Schrage was much dynamic in the role. But she’s definitely eye candy [even having a quick nude scene at one point] and seemed to be having fun playing a psycho bitch. I give her points for trying. Cynthia Preston is much better as Sarah, giving depth to a character that probably didn’t earn any. I particularly liked her feistiness in the final act. The other actors are over-the-top in their deliveries to varying success. Only Dylan Neal has done a lot of stuff since, making himself a good career since the release of this film. While the acting was weak, at least the actors were enjoying themselves making this film. Their enthusiasm added a bit of entertainment and camp value to a crap film.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE ESCAPING HELL WITH THE HELP OF A NAIL FILE

  • The school janitor drinks on the job. Well if you’re going to mop up puke, it might as well be your own.

  • The school band plays a jazzy rendition of “La Bamba”. This truly may be the day the music died.

  • The newly opened gym looks like it was structured after Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” music video. Let me hear your body talk, movie. Make a move on me.

  • Alex and Mary Lou have sex on the American Flag. I don’t think anything was at “half staff” that night.

  • Alex’s mom sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher on the phone. Good grief!

  • Mary Lou murdered the school’s guidance counselor with battery acid. That’s too bad. She looked like she was melting with good advice.

  • Mary Lou killed someone by tossing a football through their chest. I think Gisele married the wrong quarterback!

  • Alex is hauled by the zombies of Mary Lou’s victims. As lousy as PROM NIGHT III is, at least the film is still more entertaining than the last few seasons of The Walking Dead.

  • If I can’t have you, nobody can.” And thus, Lifetime Movies were born.

  • Some Skid Row rejects played at the prom. They deserve “18 and Life” for trying to kill glam metal.

THE FINAL HOWL
I remember enjoying PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS a lot more when I was younger. However, the film has not held up for me all that well. The screenplay tries too hard to be a comedy, which it fails at. It’s not scary at all. The direction isn’t remarkable or memorable at all. But if you have the Uncut Version, the special effects and death scenes aren’t too bad. And while the acting isn’t strong, at least the actors are having fun with the material. If you want to watch a horror-comedy from this period, stick with SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2 & 3, or even A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER. Those films succeed in what PROM NIGHT III fails to do. Save that last kiss for a film more worthy than this one.


SCORE
1.5 Howls Outta 4



3.07.2018

Still Alive + New Focus for the Blog


Hey everyone!
Yes, I'm still alive and kicking. I've just been very unmotivated and dealing with depression and anxiety - which doesn't help you when you want to write. I've barely even watched films period, which has me frustrated to no end. It's tough when your body wants to write, but your mind is telling you the opposite. It's a struggle I'll probably deal with for the rest of my life.
But enough of that sad stuff because my motivation is slowly building and I plan on posting stuff on this page and on my blog again. However, it'll be under a new focus as I felt trying to juggle too many genres actually raised my anxiety level and left me stepping away from here. So I decided that Full Moon Reviews will mainly focus on HORROR. If other genres have horror elements in them, I'll probably cover it. If you want to read articles on superhero films or action films, there are many other sites and podcasts that cover them. But I just need to focus on one single thing for this blog and page to succeed. So horror is the main focus, but I will continue stuff like "Animal Summer" and special themes like that. If I do discuss other genres that I may write for another site, I'll share them here as well.

I'm also working on a project where I'll be looking at every single slasher film of the 1980s and discussing them. Not sure if it'll be text, a podcast, a video series, or what. But I've been prepared for it and ready to go down that decade-long rabbit hole. That should be fun.
Again, I apologize for my absence but appreciated all the likes that this page continues to receive. It means a lot. Hoping for a busy 2018.

1.14.2018

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) & Insidious: The Last Key (2018)



DIRECTED BY
Leigh Whannell [Chapter 3]
Adam Robitel [The Last Key]

STARRING
Lin Shaye - Elise Rainier
Angus Sampson - Tucker
Leigh Whannell - Specs
Dermot Mulroney - Sean Brenner [Chapter 3]
Stefanie Scott - Quinn Brenner [Chapter 3]
Hayley Kiyoko - Maggie [Chapter 3]
Tate Berney - Alex Brenner [Chapter 3]
Michael Reid MacKay - “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” [Chapter 3]
Josh Stewart - Gerald Rainier [The Last Key]
Spencer Locke - Melissa Rainier [The Last Key]
Caitlin Gerald - Imogen Rainier [The Last Key]
Kirk Acevedo - Ted Garza [The Last Key]
Bruce Davison - Christian Rainier [The Last Key]

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Possession/Demons

Running Time - 97 Minutes [Chapter 3]/ 103 Minutes [The Last Key]


PLOT (from IMDB):
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 - After trying to connect with her dead mother, teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), asks psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to help her, she refuses due to negotiate events in her childhood. Quinn starts noticing paranormal events happen in her house. After a vicious attack from a demon, Quinn’s father (Delmot Mulroney) goes back and begs Elise to use her abilities to contact the other side in hope to stop these attacks by this furious demon for a body.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet - in her own family home.


REVIEW
James Wan has probably become the most prolific modern horror director and producer of the last fifteen years. While he has started to slowly move away from the genre to tackle more action-oriented fare [FURIOUS 7 and soon, AQUAMAN], you can’t deny that the man [along with co-writer Leigh Whannell] has crafted three of the more popular and extremely profitable horror franchises in the modern era. 2004’s SAW led to a massively popular and money-making franchise that just made a comeback a few months ago. 2013’s THE CONJURING has also made a ton of money, especially if you include the ANNABELLE spin-offs. And 2011’s INSIDIOUS series has proven that fans still care about horror films with substance, good acting, and scares that are earned without relying on loud noises to make people jump.

In fact, INSIDIOUS proved that ghost stories and films about demon possessions can still send a chill up and down your spine if done right. The first film, in my opinion, is still one of the better horror films of the 2010’s - just a stylish movie of subtle creepiness with great actors, beautiful shots, and a script that delves deep into the characters tormented by the evil spirits that make up this franchise. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 was less so, but it has a great performance by Patrick Wilson and a great villain that kept you invested from beginning to end. 

The surprising thing about the INSIDIOUS series is who really became the focus of the franchise. Instead of the main characters, the supporting ones have managed to keep the franchise afloat for 7 years now. Who knew Lin Shaye’s Elise would be the heart and soul of the series, taking what should have been a vehicle for the Lambert family and making INSIDIOUS about her and her sidekicks, Tucker and Specs. For better or worse, the shift of focus to the ghost hunters has given INSIDIOUS a pulse that keeps audiences flocking to watch these films. It’s even crazier when Elise was murdered in the first film, yet she’s the one giving the series life.

Realizing that Lin Shaye was the glue that held INSIDIOUS together, Leigh Whannell decided to focus on stories that took place before the first INSIDIOUS film that give us insight on Elise’s journey to help the Lambert family and how she hooks up with Tucker and Specs. That’s the reason why INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 exists. The first prequel in the franchise, James Wan hands the director’s seat to Whannell, who makes the series more about Elise while still giving us The Further and characters who are traumatized by some dangerous demonic spirits out to hurt them. In a way, CHAPTER 3 is a less convoluted retelling of the first film, just with different characters dealing with a different demonic force. The Brenner family is less captivating than the Lamberts, but their story is also very relatable. Teenage Quinn has lost her mom and feels pressure from her dad to pretty much pick up the pieces, which conflict with her passion to become an actress. She believes the spirit in her house is her mother, but learns quickly that it’s something more sinister. She seeks help from Elise, who is dealing with her own grief and refuses to help until she realizes how much trouble Quinn is really in. The parallel stories of trauma and grief between Quinn and Elise is a clever plot device, as both parties deal with it differently - but it effects them in a similar way. However, Elise’s motivation to move on from it gives her the strength to face her fears and help Quinn against her adversary in order for her to move on. Elise is an interesting character to begin with, but Quinn [which could have been a one-dimensional protagonist] is given a lot of depth due to her passions, her struggles, and her willingness to fight. Her strained relationship with her father is compelling and makes us sympathize with both sides, leaving us to care about what happens to them by the film’s end. And Elise’s struggle with losing her husband to suicide and dealing with nightmarish spirits since gives us more insight on her life and makes her more heroic when she sucks it up and decides to confront the demons to help other people defeat theirs. I liked the balance of the two arcs and I felt they came together decently well by the end.

CHAPTER 3 does have its issues. The second half of the film does come across a bit silly at times. Elise recites some lines that Shaye attempts to make work to the best of her ability, but they’re more laughable than empowering. And The Further stuff wasn’t really all that interesting nor scary. In fact, I had issues with The Further in previous films, but at least the demons were memorable and there was something ominous about this dark world. CHAPTER 3 doesn’t really allow for that, as it feels more empty compared to the previous films [not sure if that was a budget issue]. And the breathing demon didn’t do anything for me. Sure, the sound is a bit creepy, but I wish we knew more about him. Compared to the previous villains, this breathing guy felt like a last resort to give the movie an antagonist. Plus, I really want to like Specs and Tucker more than I do. I still feel that a lot of their comedy falls flat, even though it was nice to see them before the whole “suit and tie” deal and how their relationship with Elise came to be.

Also, what happened to Quinn’s love interest and her best friend? They seem pretty important in the first half, yet totally disappear once the second half starts. And they never return! At least Quinn’s little brother brought in Specs and Tucker to help Quinn out, which is more I can say for the little brother in the first two INSIDIOUS films.

I will say that despite a change in directors, CHAPTER 3 still fits in well with the rest of the series. Leigh Whannell takes over for James Wan, and despite the lack of Wan’s style, Whannell handles himself well behind the camera. The best move on Whannell’s part is restraining the jump scares. Instead of constantly using loud sounds and noises [which Wan likes to do], Whannell leads into the scares, making them more effective and well earned. In fact, I thought a lot of the scares here worked really well. Jump scares aren’t terrible, like many believe. It’s just that they’re overdone a lot without a reason. CHAPTER 3 has a reason for them, which is why they’re welcomed. I also felt that Whannell used some great moments of visual misdirection to give the audience false security prior to a nice surprise. Still, CHAPTER 3 doesn’t look quite as rich as the first two films, nor does it manage a flow that the first two carried well. But for a man who’s not really known to direct films, he does Wan-lite very well.

The acting in CHAPTER 3 elevates the material. Don’t know much about Stefanie Scott, but she’s really great as Quinn. She took a token one-dimensional lead horror character and give her a ton of depth and sympathy. I believed Scott throughout the film, from her frustration with her family life, to her grief over her mom, and to her fear of realizing she was the target of a demonic entity. I thought she did a really nice job. Dermot Mulroney is more plus than minus. He handled the stress of being a single dad to teenagers well, but there were times where his acting got a bit hammy for the material. But Mulroney mostly knocks it out of the park, giving his character more depth than expected as well. I thought his father-daughter chemistry with Scott was convincing and welcomed. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson do their thing as Specs and Tucker. I blame the material more than their acting abilities, but you really can’t have an INSIDIOUS film without them. I felt they were a bit more subtle this time around and weren’t really given much to do, which created a mixed bag of sorts. But smaller doses with these guys are probably for the best.

However, the film belongs to Lin Shaye, who really grounds CHAPTER 3 with a multi-dimensional performance of a woman who’s ready to give up on her life after the death of her husband, only to find purpose when someone [who has yet to really live her life] needs her help. She handles every emotion needed well. Her anger is believable. Her sorrow is heartbreaking. She’s convincing as a total bad ass at the end. Shaye knows her character and is a lot of fun to watch as Elise. It’s nice to see this character actress of a specific age leading a horror franchise in the modern era.

Speaking of Shaye, she’s also the best part about 2018’s INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - the second prequel in the franchise. Since the story is mainly focused on Elise, Shaye gets to play with a facet of emotions and situations that flesh out her character and give us a reason to love her more. Unlike CHAPTER 3, Shaye is so good that she even makes the sillier moments feel important in THE LAST KEY. She has great facial expressions, body language, and portrays Elise as a total hero who is both vulnerable and strong. She brings a grounded, motherly vibe to this film. Without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would be a total disaster in my opinion.

Thankfully, Shaye is in the film, making THE LAST KEY at least watchable for those fans of the series. It’s a shame that the story falls apart whenever things take place in “modern times” [story takes place in 2010]. Besides her, everything else just feels like a shadow of what has already been established in these films. Someone gets possessed, but it’s a character we don’t really know or care about. Specs and Tucker are here to be the comic relief, but 85 percent of their material isn’t really funny and feels forced. We get introductions to Elise’s family, but none of them are really given time to develop - especially when one of them also has Elise’s power and it’s just assumed to be a family trait without much explanation. The Further is handled okay, but again just feels cheaper compared to the other films - even CHAPTER 3. And the villain is a cool concept, but feels like a bit player compared to everything else. It’s a shame because I think films about Elise’s adventures could keep the franchise alive for years. But judging by this film, THE LAST KEY is barely trying to keep the door open.

The best stuff have to do with Elise’s childhood flashbacks, which honestly made me wish the whole film was about these moments instead. The opening section of the film is pretty disturbing stuff and some of the darkest moments in the franchise to date. Since I don’t want to spoil things, I’ll keep it short: Elise lives with her parents and younger brother on the ground floor of a penitentiary where inmates are electrocuted only one story above. Suffice to say, Elise sees a lot of tortured souls and strange things happen in the household. The mother believes in her gift, her prison guard father abuses her because of it, and her younger brother is so scared by her that he wants nothing to do with her. Every scene involving the past are captivating and present some nice moments of terror, mystery, and a neat twist I didn’t see coming. Yes, a film based on the past would have probably lost Lin Shaye for the most part, but the flashbacks really deserved their own film. It probably would have worked better than the actual THE LAST KEY. The modern horror moments seem so silly after the more realistic horror stuff from the past that the film loses steam any time we’re back to present day.

The direction by Adam Robitel [who achieved acclaim for THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN] is serviceable in terms of capturing the tone and look of the INSIDIOUS franchise. Again, Wan brought style to the franchise which Robitel can’t match. But the flashback scenes are shot really well, and the scenes in The Further looks pretty nice, even if they aren’t really all that interesting. The jump scares don’t really work this time around however, as most of them just feel forced and expected. But I appreciated the flow of the film and the splicing of footage from the first INSIDIOUS at times. 

Besides Lin Shaye, the rest of the acting in the film is pretty okay. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson return as Specs and Tucker. Their acting is fine, even though the material is pretty rough for both of them. The characters were kind of distracting for their own good at times, but the actors made it work at best as they could. Bruce Davison came for a paycheck, since his role is pretty much a glorified cameo. His scenes with Shaye didn’t really connect with me, and it wasn’t because of her. Josh Stewart is very good as Elise’s father, portraying a cold, brooding, vicious presence that I appreciated. He was scarier than the actual spirits in this film. Spencer Locke is cute, but doesn’t really get to do much. Caitlin Gerald did well enough in her role as Imogen, bringing out the better elements of Whannell’s and Sampson’s acting. And I like seeing Kirk Acevedo in anything, and he was okay here. The weakest acting in the franchise, but it was decent enough nonetheless.

THE FINAL HOWL
If you’re not a fan of the INSIDIOUS films, CHAPTER 3 nor THE LAST KEY will change your mind. But if you do enjoy these movies, CHAPTER 3 is the better of the two. It’s a pretty good prequel with some strong performances, good plot elements, and good direction by writer Leigh Whannell. Unfortunately, THE LAST KEY didn’t do a whole lot for me. More of the same, but not as creepy, interesting, or captivating. The flashback scenes are really great though and the direction by Adam Robitel is competent. And without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would barely be able to turn the lock. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these films soon, but THE LAST KEY shows that the well may be running dry with this franchise.



SCORE

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)
2.5 Howls Outta 4

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018)
2 Howls Outta 4


INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 Trailer


INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY Trailer
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