Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Alfred Sole

Linda Miller - Catherine Spages
Mildred Clinton - Mrs. Tredoni
Paula Sheppard - Alice Spages
Niles McMaster - Dominick ‘Dom’ Spages
Jane Lowry - Annie DeLorenze
Rudolph Willrich - Father Tom
Michael Hardstark - Detective Spina
Alphonso DeNoble - Alphonso
Brooke Shields - Karen Spages

Genre - Horror/Giallo/Slasher/Drama

Running Time - 108 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB)
Alice Spages (Paula Sheppard) is a withdrawn 12-year-old girl who lives with her young sister Karen (Brooke Shields) and their mother Catherine (Linda Miller). Karen gets most of her mother’s attention, and Alice is often left out of the spotlight. When Karen is found brutally murdered in a church before her First Holy Communion, Alice is in the spotlight of suspicion, but is a 12-year-old girl really capable of such savagery? As more people die at the hands of a merciless killer, Alice’s family and the police don’t know what to believe.

The last time I watched 1976’s ALICE, SWEET ALICE, I was a teenager who didn’t really get or appreciate the vibe the film was throwing at me.  Even though it had a creepy looking killer and some cool murder sequences near the end, the underlying themes of the film went right over my head and I just found the film boring due to its slow burn and lack of thrills. Even though friends mention this film and I’ve seen others present clips of ALICE, SWEET ALICE to show why it’s a horror cult classic, I never bothered to rewatch the movie until recently. And while I don’t think it’s as scary or as great as others make it out to be, there is a lot going on with ALICE, SWEET ALICE that makes its worthy of attention by more than just the horror community.

ALICE, SWEET ALICE is a different film in its first half than it is in its last. The first half of the film is focused on the murder of young Karen Spages and how her family and community react to it. Through Karen indirectly, we learn about the players in this story and how her death reveals harsh truths that were kept hidden due to the Catholic religious upbringing the community upholds as law at points. This is the portion where we really know Alice Spages, Karen’s older sister and main suspect of her murder. Whether or not she’s the killer, we don’t find that out until the middle of the second half. But it’s easy to see why she would be a lead suspect via her strange behavior towards people and situations. She lashes out when she feels her mother, Catherine, is taking Karen’s side over hers. Children in the neighborhood make fun of Alice, which makes her meaner and more anti-social because of it. Even people in her building, like her creepy landlord and even her own aunt, look down on Alice because she doesn’t behave like a “normal” child would. Alice’s pastime of going down to her building’s basement and pulling out a creepy three-headed doll, lighting candles, and putting on a scary mask to freak others out [especially Karen and the maid of the local Father] doesn’t win her any points either. Alice obviously has behavior issues due to neglect by a mother who favors Karen over her, dealing with the separation of her parents and not understanding why it happened, and having to deal with family who see her as a nuisance rather than part of their circle. Alice also displays some psychopathic tendencies and does mean things to other without feeling any sort of sense of guilt in the process. ALICE, SWEET ALICE never really says it, but I think the film is giving us a look of a child dealing with mental illness during a time where that was considered quite taboo. This is especially true in religious circles, as good and evil were determined by your actions, with some believing mental illness was the work of Satan’s influence. Since the film occurs in the early 1960s, I’m sure many of the characters in the film dismissed the fact that anything was mentally wrong with Alice, feeling it was just a phase. In fact, many of the adults that care for Alice seem psychiatry as sort of a bad stigma, as if anyone getting therapy outside of church had to be considered insane. Even by the end of the film, we know Alice has issues that will only continue to get worse as she grows older, only because the people that she needs supporting her are too busy dealing with their own issues to help her. Some see Alice as a creepy child, but I kind of feel sorry for her because she’s stuck in a world of denial.

As for the other characters, it’s hard to like any of them. While that’s usually a bad thing in movies, it actually benefits ALICE, SWEET ALICE in giving us more suspects, as well as giving us a glimpse of a fractured family and a hypocritical community who uses religion as a way to justify things. Catherine, Alice’s and Karen’s mother, is a complicated woman who seems overwhelmed with dealing with two young girls who don’t seem to like each other at all, forcing to pick sides that will make the other upset [usually the goody-too-shoes Karen over the more abrasive Alice]. She also has to deal with a sister who tries to tell her what to do and how to handle Alice without knowing the situation. Her relationship with the girls’ father, Dominick, is strained because he moved on while she hasn’t, with both still having feelings for each other even though he’s married. Catherine is also oblivious to what is going on around her, being ignorant about Alice going on a slow path to self-destruction, living with a pedophile for a landlord, and not realizing until it’s too late why some members of her community look down on her family for some reason. In some ways, she’s a victim of circumstance, but also plays a big role in why her family is falling apart in front of her eyes and not doing much of anything to stop it from happening.

The girls’ father, Dominick, arrives when Karen is murdered, but is too busy investigating the situation when he should be caring for and consoling Catherine and Alice. While it’s obvious he cares about his family, he’s too focused on his grief to understand that his investigation is not making things better for himself or his old family who feel neglected them. Alice seems like a Daddy’s girl, but he never really pays her any mind for much of the film until things look bad for her and he tries to figure out what’s going on. There’s even a moment where he and Catherine take their frustration and grief and almost have sex, only stopping when his wife calls pressuring him to come home and making him tell her those three simple words. It’s awkward and just shows how messed up he is.

Then you have the supporting characters - like Aunt Annie, who is a shrill woman who tries to control Catherine’s life and treats Alice as a pest she would rather not deal with. Even after she’s attacked by someone who wears Alice’s creepy mask, Annie has no issue blaming her niece for it knowing it will strain her relationship with Catherine. Annie claims she loves Alice, but won’t do a thing to protect her. The landlord, Alphonso, is just a repulsive, filthy man who is infatuated with Alice - to a point where he even tries to molest her. He has no issues blaming Alice for everything even when he hasn’t seen any evidence of wrongdoing, probably wanting to get rid of the one person who sees him for who he truly is. The policemen also seem ready to pin everything on Alice with just the slightest of evidence, with some members of the force complimenting on her 12-year-old breasts in a disgusting bit of dialogue. Only Father Tom seems to be a likable character because he actually cares about the community and tries to give Alice the help he feels she needs, even though her parents are looking the other way. Tom’s maid Mrs. Tredoni is a bit weird, however, although she cares greatly for the church and especially for Father Tom. All these characters are severely flawed and use religion as a way to justify their actions and attempt to make things better within the community; not realizing that while it’s a great idea, it’s probably just making everything bleaker for everyone involved.

The second half of the film is more of your mystery-thriller portion, where truths are revealed and all the action plays out. Many have claimed ALICE, SWEET ALICE as a proto-slasher of sorts since it has a person in a creepy mask and costume targeting random people with a large knife. But if we’re being honest, the film is more of an Americanized giallo film, as the film is more focused on mystery rather than the shock factor of over-the-top deaths. The film has many twists and turns, making you wonder if Alice really did it or someone else is at play here to frame her for whatever reason. We get the reveal right before the film’s final act, making you realize why many believe this film is anti-religion. The person responsible uses their faith in God and Catholicism to give a reason as to why they commit the murders, believing confessing their sins in a way that it doesn’t implicate them, while making sure they eliminate any witnesses and take out the people their targeting still happens because they consider it an “act of God”. I do think there is some of that in the film, especially in this portion of the film. Religion is not treated as the best thing ever, considering how it’s not exactly fixing what’s wrong within this community. But I feel the film is more about the fracturing of family and home life, as well as the lack of supervision and aide towards those dealing with mental and emotional issues - whether that is anti-socialism, neglect, or especially grief over a lost one. The community goes to the church, hoping that will heal all woes. Maybe for some that does work, but for the main characters here, it seems to be the center of all their problems. Maybe that’s where the anti-religion belief comes from and I understand why some don’t feel comfortable with that.

Overall. I think the narrative of ALICE, SWEET ALICE is a strong one given all the layers that are at play here. It’s a film that takes its time with building up a mystery that leads into a memorable conclusion that will offend some people and please others. Some of the supporting characters don’t add a whole lot to the mystery, even though they reveal how despicable some of them actually are. In fact, I think the film had too many characters and probably should have been cut down. It wouldn’t have effected the mystery at all. And while I think the unlikable characters help the mystery, it doesn’t really help the entertainment value. Every film should have a couple of characters to root for and like. ALICE, SWEET ALICE doesn’t really have that going for it. But the themes of religion, family and grief are powerful enough to resonate for many even today. And I think the reveal of the mystery works better than it ought to.

The direction by Alfred Sole is pretty good, with flashes of style every now and then. Sole does a great job with his pacing, giving ALICE, SWEET ALICE a simmer feel before hitting you with a random murder sequence that will disturb some people. I think these are the moments where Sole excels at, because they’re shocking without hitting you over the head with it. Watching a young girl get strangled inside of a church during her Communion is still a disturbing aspect of any film, especially when the murder of children is still considered risqué even in today’s society. I could only imagine how audiences felt about Brooke Shields dying on screen and then getting burned inside of a trunk back in 1976. We also get a lot of people getting stabbed, especially in the final act in one of the more memorable moments of any horror film I could remember. There’s also a scene involving a jar of cockroaches that’s just messed up near the end as well. I also liked the shots of actors inside the church location, as it always felt claustrophobic inside the area due to the many close-ups throughout these scenes. We also get a lot of religious imagery, almost making it seem these people are trapped within the idols that fill up their faith. It seems Sole was putting his own beliefs within the visuals, as Sole considered himself an “ex-Catholic”, making church seem like a place where one would feel trapped by the teachings of a religion they don’t believe will make things safer or better. In fact, anytime there was a church scene in this film, only bad things would happen inside.

Other than that, ALICE, SWEET ALICE has the look and feel of a 1970s TV movie or soap opera. Besides what I mentioned and the look of the killer’s creepy mask, there’s not much style in the film. Some may say the film looks drab and boring visually, but I think Sole did a good enough job to convey what he wanted to say. I don’t think it’ll compete with any Italian giallo, but it’s fine for what it is.

Where I have my biggest issues with ALICE, SWEET ALICE is with the acting. Now, I know that acting in the 1970s has a different feel and presentation compared to films of the 2010s. But I think some of these actors were really overdoing it, to the point where I couldn’t take the actors seriously within the context of the story. This is particularly true of Jane Lowry as Aunt Annie, who was so melodramatic in her delivery that I thought she felt she was in a different movie not called ALICE, SWEET ALICE. Her acting would work wonderfully in some daytime soap opera, but in a serious horror film, it took away from the story. I even thought Linda Miller as Catherine had some of these moments as well, hamming it up a bit too much as if we wouldn’t understand her point-of-view without it. But she evened it out with subtle moments that worked in the film’s favor. I guess I would also add Alphonso DeNoble as the perverted landlord in this mix, as he was creepy in a stereotypically caricature sort of way. I don’t know if his off performance was intentional, but I found it hard that no one in this community - especially those living in his building - wouldn’t look at this dude and not see “SEXUAL PREDATOR” in big neon letters. I think a more subtle performance would have worked a lot better to surprise the audience that the guy was really a pedophile.

As for the rest of the acting, it was fine. Paula Sheppard is pretty great as Alice, conveying a child who isn’t all there in the head and has behavior issues that need to be addressed sooner than later. Sheppard was actually 16-years-old playing a girl four years younger, which actually added to the level of understanding the different emotional beats she had to play in order for the character to work. I totally bought her act and I’m surprised she didn’t get to have a stronger career after this. Brooke Shields would become a major star a few years after this film was released [leading to two more releases to capitalize on her budding fame], but she doesn’t really leave much of a presence in this film. She does an okay job as the sister Alice is jealous of, dying way too quickly within the film to make any sort of impact acting wise. But hey, it was a good start for Shields and led to bigger and better things along the way. I also liked Mildred Clinton’s performance as Mrs. Tredoni, the maid. She had a snarky attitude that made me chuckle, as well as great emotional beats where you kind of feel sorry for her, while wondering why she’s protective of her boss. Speaking of him, Rudolph Willrich is also pretty good as Father Tom. He’s one of the few likable and sensible characters in the film, which Willrich portrays perfectly. I felt the acting was a mixed bag, but the mystery was strong enough for me to get over it for the most part.

ALICE, SWEET ALICE isn’t as good as its reputation would make you believe, but it’s still a solid horror film that is worthy of anyone’s time. While most of the characters won’t win anyone over, the themes of family dissolution, not understanding behavior issues and mental illness, as well as possibly negative statements on Catholicism help build a well-told Americanized giallo mystery that will definitely create an opinion or two on the messages the film is presenting to the audience. Albert Sole’s direction keeps a nice slow burn pace until the memorable murder sequences pop up, while building a bleak overlook of a community crumbling due to their own ignorance and using religion to justify everything and anything in order to move on with their lives - not realizing that they’re just trapping themselves because of their unwillingness to look outside of their faith. The acting, especially by young Paul Sheppard as Alice, is mostly good, while others are way too melodramatic and hammy to take seriously within a well-told horror-drama. While not really scary or one of the best horror films ever created [as some people have claimed], ALICE, SWEET ALICE is still worthy of its cult status and definitely should be a film on your radar if you’re looking for a horror film that has something interesting to say, whether you agree with it or not. 

3 Howls Outta 4


3 From Hell (2019)

Rob Zombie

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

Genre - Horror/Action

Running Time - 111 Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Howls Outta 4


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

David Hogan

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

Genre - Action/Science Fiction/Comic Books

Running Time - 98 Minutes

In the mid-1990s, there was probably no bigger sex symbol on the planet than one Pamela Anderson. While already a Playboy centerfold and appearing frequently on Married… With Children and Home Improvement, it wasn’t until she joined Baywatch that Anderson became a household name and the fantasy of many - including yours truly. As a young teenager during this time, I didn’t admire her for her acting skills, but for her beauty and buxom figure. She had a seductive appeal I couldn’t turn away from, completely invested in whatever project she was a part of.

It was because of Anderson that I even knew what Barb Wire was. The character appeared in 9 issues, plus a mini-series, between the years 1994 and 1996 - a bar owner/bounty hunter who did jobs to pay for her bar and protect people who needed her help. As someone who never read the comics or even knew anyone who talked about them, it’s strange that it was even greenlit as a film project. But in 1996, BARB WIRE was released upon moviegoers, hoping that Anderson’s fanbase would come out in droves. Plus the 1990s weren’t the comic book movie haven the last 20 years have been. Studios were still figuring out how to present these characters, struggling with balancing between the source material and the Hollywood business model of making money through cinema. While only a few comic book films stood out from the pack [BATMAN RETURNS, THE CROW and BLADE among them], BARB WIRE was one of the comic book adaptations that neither audiences or critics cared much for, only making over a third of its budget back and getting nominated for Razzie Awards.

Twenty-years have passed since BARB WIRE was released, as well as the last time I even watched this film. Some bad comic book adaptations have gained a level of cult status and can be appreciated in modern times, but BARB WIRE is still seen as one of the worst films of all time and is currently the 48th film on IMDB’s Bottom List. Is BARB WIRE as bad as many have claimed? Is it as bad as I had remembered it?

It’s the year 2017 and the United States is currently dealing with a Second American Civil War. The future has become dystopian, as the former government are now Congressional fascists wanted to control the country with an iron fist, while there is a small number of resistance fighters trying to revolt. Only one city in the United States is considered a free haven for both sides of the fight - Steel Harbor - which also happens to be the home of one Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson), a bar owner of the Hammerhead nightclub who keeps her business running through her job as an undercover bounty hunter. Even though there’s obviously a right side, she remains neutral when it comes to the new Civil War to maintain some peace within the chaos around her.

Things for Barb change when her ex-lover Axel Hood (Temuera Morrison) shows up at Hammerhead needing her help. He’s married to a scientist named Cora D (Victoria Rowell), who the Congressionals have targeted, and both need a pair of retina contacts to get past any retinal scans that would easily allow their escape to a Canadian sanctuary. When both sides cause trouble for her allies and her business, Barb is forced to choose a side.

I’m just gonna come out and say this - BARB WIRE is not a good film in the slightest. And it honestly deserves its low ranking on IMDB because this film has a lot of problems one cannot overlook. But there are a few good things that don’t make BARB WIRE a complete failure.

I think the best thing about BARB WIRE is the film’s production design and slick direction. The film has this 90s MTV music video aesthetic, with quick edits and muted colors. Steel Harbor is your typical dystopian city, looking as gritty as you’d expect out of a comic book film during this time [BATMAN's Gotham City, THE CROW’s Detroit and SPAWN’s New York City]. It matches the noir tone of the story, visually making one understand why characters behave as scummy as they do and why Barb Wire wants an exit strategy to a better place. Even the computer effects look like they were pulled out of a 90’s time capsule. 

And while the story feels a bit rushed at times, the pacing by director David Hogan is decent enough where the film doesn’t drag all that much. Hogan even manages to craft some good action sequences in a 90s syndicated TV action show sort of way. BARB WIRE looks sort of cheap, but I find some charm in that as the comic book wasn’t a major deal to begin with. The lower budget of $9 million actually helps the film rather than hurt it, in my opinion. While everything else that’s major about BARB WIRE quickly falls apart in front of your eyes, the visuals save the movie from being a total bomb. Not a bad job for a director who was picked to save the film [he tried] because the first director had no idea what he was doing with the project.

The music is also very 90s, with a sort of industrial rock-metal sound that dates the film quite a bit. That being said, I liked most of the music of the 1990s and this soundtrack is no exception. I’m not saying this is the greatest music I’ve ever heard, but it fits BARB WIRE’s world extremely well. The opening credits [which I’ll get more into detail in a bit] play out to Gun’s cover of the popular Cameo song, “Word Up.” It’s not a bad cover, although it’s weird to hear once the film starts. We also get a great cover of War’s “Spill the Wine” by late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, Hagfish’s cover of Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” and “Planet Boom”, a song by Pamela Anderson’s then-husband Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. It’s not a classic soundtrack, but the music stood out as one of the better things about this movie.

As for the acting, there aren’t that many compliments I could make when it comes to BARB WIRE. However, there were some decent actors who tried to make the script watchable. In particular, Jack Noseworthy as Barb’s brother Charlie was particularly good. Even though he probably knew he was on a sinking ship, Noseworthy makes the character relatable and sympathetic as a blind man who wants to bring the light back out of the darkness that surrounds Steel Harbor. I liked his interactions with the other actors, bringing a level of snark and attitude to the role. He was less of a comic book character and more of a real person, which I appreciated. I will also say that Clint Howard is pretty fun in his small role as Schmitz and Udo Kier’s odd performance as Barb’s right-hand man Curly did enough to make me interested in his backstory.

And believe it or not, the concept of BARB WIRE is actually kind of relevant on the surface. The film takes place in 2017 within the United States during a state of crisis where two sides are conflicting over how the country should move forward under new leadership.

Sound familiar?

I’m not going to get into politics or religion or anything that will cause a major debate. But it’s eerie that BARB WIRE almost nailed what’s going on in America right now on the surface. Hopefully we won’t have to kill ourselves over a pair of retina contacts and escape to another country to make things better.

As for the bad stuff, where to start? I guess discussing the terrible acting would be a good place. While she may look the part, Pamela Anderson is really bad in BARB WIRE. I can only judge by the film itself since I know nothing about the character this film is adapting. But I can’t imagine anyone being a fan of BARB WIRE by the way Anderson portrays the role. She seems bored throughout, acting stoically and speaking in this low, gruff voice that doesn’t suit her at all. She’s trying to be both the hero and femme fatale in a modern noir action film and it never clicks believably. She handles the action stuff decently, but there are moments where you can tell she’s uncomfortable with some of the choreography involved. She looks great in tight outfits though.

Most of the supporting cast are disappointing, considering they’re better actors than Anderson and she still steals their spotlight. Temuera Morrison is miscast as Axel Wood, Barb’s former love interest who needs her help. Morrison doesn’t have any sort of chemistry with Anderson, making the idea of a relationship between them pretty laughable. He also doesn’t get to do a whole lot until the final act and it still isn’t a whole lot. Victoria Rowell, of The Young and the Restless fame, is just as bland as Cora D. She doesn’t really bring anything to the role, which is barely one-dimensionally written. Xander Berkeley gets a bit more to do as a corrupted police officer that antagonizes Barb, but he hams it up more than he should. If the film was taken less seriously and had fun with itself, Berkeley would fit right in. While he seems in on the joke, the film never tells him to be funny. And Steve Railsback plays your typical comic book villain who twirls his mustache and overdoes the camp to compensate for the fact that the film should be silly fun but never is. It’s not a strong cast and it’s a shame they try not to be either.

Another strike against BARB WIRE? Taking a comic book concept and subtly turning it into an action remake of the 1942 classic, CASABLANCA! Seriously, who thought it was a good idea in thinking that Pamela Anderson is a logical successor to Humphrey Bogart? And in case you haven’t figured it out - Temuera Morrison is Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund, Victoria Rowell is Paul Henreid’s Victor Lazlow, Xander Berkeley is Claude Rains’ Louis Renault, and Steve Railsback is Conrad Veidt’s Major Strasser. I guess Jack Noseworthy and Udo Kier are Sam and Carl respectively. The original film never received any credit for this until people who actually watched BARB WIRE figured it out and saw how similar the two films are.

The problem is that CASABLANCA works to this day because it’s plot driven and carries a lot of substance during World War II. Hell, CASABLANCA still resonates today in a lot of ways. You cared about the characters, their relationships and the struggles they faced to escape tyranny and find a level of freedom many felt wasn’t possible. You also felt Rick’s journey from being neutral to wanting to help his ex-lover and her husband live a better life, even if it meant sacrificing the one true love of his life to another man and place. Each character had personality and real reasons to behave the way they did within the context of the story.

BARB WIRE may be more about action, but that can only go so far when the story itself isn’t strong enough to support it. BARB WIRE is about style over substance, but that doesn’t matter when the style isn’t even as good as other comic book adaptations that had been released prior to it and especially compared to those that came right after. The characters of CASABLANCA are in BARB WIRE, but nothing is fleshed out enough for anyone to care about what will happen to each of them. Barb and Axel supposedly had a past relationship, but we never see flashbacks showing them loving each other and struggling with being together. The film’s “letters of transit” are these retina contacts that disrupt retina scanners in order to gain passage to anywhere in the world. But the film just treats them as a plot device to get to the film’s ending rather than something that should really matter to the characters involved. Axel and Cora D want these contacts to escape, but they never seem proactive about it. The villains want them destroyed, but their evil egos take precedence over doing their jobs.

Barb herself is not a likable main character at all, doing selfish things to maintain her club and please her own agenda. When people really need her help, she still would rather please herself until someone she’s close with dies because of her actions. Even though she finally realizes what the right thing is after that, her change of opinion doesn’t feel earned at all. It’s like someone watched CASABLANCA and did a cliff notes version but with more guns and boobs. A part of me admires the balls that someone attempted to remake such a Hollywood classic for a modern audience. But the other part thinks it’s kind of insulting that anyone felt that adding comic book action and hot women would improve on CASABLANCA, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I also think BARB WIRE, while not a total success, marketed Pamela Anderson in the best way possible that Hollywood would probably allow for the mainstream. They knew people weren’t going to see the film because of her acting, so they blatantly used her sex appeal to get as much interested people in theaters. And the film itself doesn’t try to hide her best assets. The opening credit sequence is Anderson stripping in a tight leather outfit that could barely contain her breasts while water pours all over her. In fact, every outfit in this film has no trouble revealing how huge her breasts are, giving the audience a peek of cleavage and side boob as much as possible. And let’s not forget that scene where Anderson stands up from a bubble bath with only soap covering all of her naughty bits.

The film tries to make Barb seductive, but it’s more a tease than anything. For a film that tries to capitalize on Anderson’s sex appeal, it’s extremely tame and limp. Besides, you can just Google her name nowadays and get way more explicit shots and footage of the 90s star. But back in 1996, this is probably the best way to get your rocks off if you didn’t own any of her previous Playboys. In the internet age, her tease of nudity isn’t even worth marketing. But I’m sure it worked somewhat all those years ago.

Is BARB WIRE the worst film I’ve ever seen? Not even close. Is BARB WIRE the worst comic book adaptation out there? Not at all. But it’s also not even close to being a good film, as it’s nothing but a lame CASABLANCA remake but with more guns and boobs. For a film that’s marketed on its sex appeal, it’s pretty prudish for the most part. The acting, especially by Pamela Anderson, drags the film down big time since she’s not a star that’s meant to carry an action film like this on her shoulders. Most of her supporting actors, who would have elevated a film like this, aren’t given much to do since their measurements don’t compare to the film’s star. BARB WIRE does have a good 90s visual look going for it though, with decent enough action sequences and an industrial rock-metal soundtrack that’ll keep most audiences somewhat engaged. And its dystopian concept resonates today, as America is sort of in a midst of a Civil War socially and politically if you really think about it. Unless you’re a huge Pamela Anderson fan and need to see every comic book adaptation out there, then check out BARB WIRE. Otherwise, call the film “babe” and let it knock you into unconsciousness. You’ll get more out of that than watching this flick.

1 Howl Outta 4


It: Chapter Two (2019)

Andy Muschietti

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

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 169 Minutes

27 years after overcoming the malevolent supernatural entity Pennywise, the former members of the Losers’ Club, who have grown up and moved away from Derry, are brought back together by a devastating phone call.

Besides AVENGERS: ENDGAME, IT: CHAPTER TWO was probably my most anticipated film of 2019. Having read the novel, still enjoying Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise in the 1990’s TV miniseries and loving the 2017 adaptation of the first part of the story, I was very excited for the last part of the IT story to hit the big screen. With mainly the same crew behind the project and casting some great choices to play the grown-up versions of the younger cast, I was hoping for nothing but the best with the new adaptation to a flawed portion of the novel. And I gotta say - IT: CHAPTER TWO is faithful to King’s novel in that the film is also flawed next to the superior 2017 portion. But regardless of that, IT: CHAPTER TWO does more right than wrong, still managing to be a fun time and decent conclusion.

Let’s start with the good stuff. IT: CHAPTER TWO’s biggest asset is its cast. Not only is the younger cast from the first film back [and doing a great job as before], but the grown-up actors portraying them were probably as close to pitch perfect in terms of looks and personality wise. Out of anyone here, the standout is clearly Bill Hader as comic relief Richie. The moment he appears and starts bouncing off dialogue with the other main characters, you can honestly believe that he’s the same character that Finn Wolfhard perfected in the 2017 film. Hader has the best lines and recites them with some great comic timing that you can’t help but love the guy. And I was most impressed by the fact that he handled the dramatic moments really well, honestly making me feel bad for his character during certain situations. I know a lot of people just see Hader as that funny guy on Saturday Night Live years ago, but if you’re a fan of the HBO show Barry, you know Hader is the real deal. He’s a big reason to watch this film and I could see him at least getting a Golden Globe nomination early next year. He’s that good.

The rest of the cast varies in terms of performance. James Ransome as Eddie is really good, playing off younger Jack Dylan Grazer’s hypochondriac behavior and hilarious banter against Hader. He had a lot to play with and exceeded expectations. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain do as best as they can with the material given to them as Bill and Beverly respectively. Both get some memorable moments and definitely prove they are more than capable actors. It definitely erased some of that DARK PHOENIX stink, at least. The rest of the main cast [Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa and Andy Bean] are fine, but the script probably could have given them more to do.

As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgard is still great as the evil clown. I wish he was in the film more, but Skarsgard makes all of his scenes memorable and creepy. He has a really great scene involving a young girl under the bleachers that showcases how great Skarsgard is in the role. And special mention to Teach Grant as bully Henry Bowers. He plays crazy and vengeful pretty well, although he’s kind of given the short straw when it comes to screen time. 

As for the cameos, it was great to see Stephen King and Peter Bogdanovich doing their thing.

And like the first film, IT: CHAPTER TWO uses nostalgia very well. I love seeing a poster for THE LOST BOYS in a clubhouse and that awesome marquee for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD at the local theater. Plus, we get some good music like Cameo’s “Word Up”, New Kids on the Block’s “Cover Girl” and a tiny blip of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” [even though the song didn't fit the scene and I thought someone's ringtone had played inside of the theater, odd song choice that made no real sense]. But the flashback scenes still felt like they belonged in the late-80s, which made me content.

As for the present day scenes, I think the best moments of IT: CHAPTER TWO are when the gang are together onscreen. One of the best scenes is when the gang are in the restaurant together during their long awaited reunion. As they try to remember the things they all blocked out once they left Derry, the friends are reminiscing about their childhood and present in such a way that it feels authentic. You honestly feel like these are the same characters from the first film, as they rag on each other and just reaffirm their bond with one another underneath the dread of Pennywise wanting his revenge. It also leads into this great scene involving some messed up fortune cookies that reminds the group why they left Derry to begin with.

And of course, the reunion in the final act leads to some great dramatic moments that increase the tension of the battle against It. They’re all fragmented and selfish for their own reasons at the start of the confrontation, but end up remembering why they are The Losers’ Club and battle their fears together. I wish more of the film had these scenes because they’re the strongest of this film and the closest to having the characters be as similar as those in the first installment. Great storytelling when The Losers are just that - a Club.

I also have to commend IT: CHAPTER TWO for taking LGBTQ themes and treating them in a serious matter. The horror genre, in particular, has always tried to sneak in hints and nods to different sexualities. Sometimes they’re used to create a mood in terms of narrative and visual presentation. Sometimes these themes are the obvious focus of the film to cater to a certain demographic. Other times, some filmmakers will try to create situations where LGBTQ characters are treated as objects or humor for other characters, not realizing it may be offending some viewers. IT: CHAPTER TWO starts just like the second half of the novel does - with a disturbing gay bashing of a local Derry couple that leads into one of them being a victim of Pennywise. This scene could have been handled so offensively in the wrong hands, or even years ago when PC Culture wasn’t a strong influence. But Adrian and Don are portrayed as a normal loving couple, wanting to have fun at a carnival even when three bullies are calling them derogatory names and trying to start a fight with them. Even through all this, they never shy away from expressing how much they love each other, making the scene not only realistic, but tragic in that hate like this still occurs in modern times. It was nice to see two people just share a realistic attraction and affection for one another, regardless of their gender and sexuality. Not many horror films [or films in general] portray that well or for the right reasons. 

The gay bashing scene would feel gratuitous, except it leads to the reveal of a certain character of The Losers’ Club being gay, giving us some dramatic moments near the end of the film. But it’s never a main focus of the last half of the film, nor does the character ever feel like their sexuality is their reason for being in the film. This character is a fully dimensional player in the story with multiple layers that many people will relate to and sympathize with. It may not have been needed for this character, but it’s handled respectfully and with class. I wish more films would handle these sort of things with this much respect, instead of treating it as some taboo gimmick. It’s 2019 and it’s time to grow up. IT: CHAPTER TWO proves you can do it believably well.

And I gotta give director Andy Muschietti credit - for a film that’s almost three hours, IT: CHAPTER TWO never feels that long. While certain parts of the middle portion drag a bit in terms of how it’s edited and placed on the script, the film never feels like it’s wearing out its welcome. I do think AVENGERS: ENDGAME handled its pacing and editing better by having nicely switching it up with quieter moments followed by action sequences leading a massive 45-minute boss battle epic. But IT: CHAPTER TWO does manage to pop in a few “scares” and disturbing imagery to keep the audience engaged and wanting more. In fact, I thought the ending of this version was superior to the ending of the mini-series, as it was just handled more organically visually and seemed to be building to a crescendo. I do think the spider-deal is still silly in all versions of this story, but at least Muschietti tried to make it visually exciting enough for the time to fly right by.

As for some negatives, I don’t think IT: CHAPTER TWO was as effective as the first film in terms of scares. I felt like a lot of the scarier moments in the film were too similar to the first film, which honestly is probably the right way to go in terms of telling a story from beginning to end. But I wish the film had raised the ante a bit, as it would have given the adults more dangerous situations to deal with compared to when they were kids. I felt that the first film had a more haunted house creepy vibe, while this film relies more on jump scares to jolt the audience. I’m sure that still affects a lot of people, but it didn’t do much for me.

I also felt the lack of Pennywise the Clown here as well. In one way, it was probably better to disguise Pennywise in other various forms to trick the audiences into a sense of calm before scaring them. Since IT has become a pop culture phenomenon, the Pennywise character isn’t as scary as he once was due to social media existing, which it didn’t back in 1990. However, Pennywise is the face of the IT brand, so not seeing Bill Skarsgard do his thing as much as he did in the first part is something I kind of missed this time around. Damned if you and damned if you don’t.

I also thought separating the characters for a long period of time was a big mistake in terms of the narrative. I get that the characters had to split in order to remember things and gather things for their confrontation against It. But most of the solo adventures dragged the film down for me and felt like they existed just to showcase the flashbacks with the more interesting younger characters. I did enjoy the Beverly, Richie and Eddie moments. Bill’s was good as well, even though it revealed a secret I wasn’t that much in favor for because it made him look kind of bad. The others didn’t really stand out in any way. Like I said, I felt the film was stronger when the characters stuck together because their adult counterparts just weren’t as interesting as their younger ones.

That’s mainly because there is a lack of depth in the adult characters. The most we really know about them are their occupations and their fears. I think Richie got the most depth out of anyone in the film because secrets were revealed that explained his behavior in both portions of IT. But the love triangle between Bill, Beverly and Ben doesn’t connect because the film doesn’t really focus on it until the end, leading to a conclusion that feels more forced than organic. And characters left out of the film, like Bill’s wife and Beverly’s abusive husband, would have added some much needed color to their adult characters. I even felt Mike’s borderline crazy behavior was too subtle compared to the novel and original mini-series, making his decisions feel more deliberate and mean-spirited rather than desperate and ignorant. Even bully Henry Bowers felt like something that had to be added in the film because some audiences are familiar with his big role in both the novel and mini-series. The character has an interesting arc as a mini-boss, but it feels sort of rushed and not all that necessary here.

As for the CGI, I thought it was more good than bad. The monstrous creatures looks pretty good. The It spider deal still looks silly, but at least it was an improvement over what the mini-series did. And that homage to a certain John Carpenter film, with quote and all, was pretty awesome. But those flashback de-aging scenes - man, some of those looked pretty bad. It was almost distracting at times, especially when it came to Finn Wolfhard’s facial features. I get the young actors got growth spurts since 2017’s IT, but it makes me wonder why they didn’t just shoot extra footage of the child actors if they knew they were doing a second chapter. Probably would have saved them a lot of grief getting most of the flashbacks out of the way, only using the de-aging stuff if they had to reshoot something. But other than that, the effects were fine and were on par with the first film.

While I think 2017’s IT is the better portion of the complete story, IT: CHAPTER TWO is still a good conclusion that fans of the first film will probably enjoy. The older cast is solid [especially Bill Hader and James Ransone], even though some of them aren’t given a whole lot to do nor have much depth compared to their younger counterparts [who are still just as great as they were in the first chapter]. The pacing is pretty damn good for a three-hour film, never feeling like it wears out its welcome, regardless of some parts dragging a bit in the middle portion of the film. Most of the CGI is fine, but the de-aging process is more distracting than impressive when it comes to certain actors. And while Bill Skarsgard is still as great as ever as Pennywise the Clown, I wish he was in the film more since he had the creepiest moments in the film. IT: CHAPTER TWO isn’t perfect and has flaws I can’t overlook when it comes to the narrative at times. But it’s still charming, silly, and has great dramatic moments that make you sympathize with some of the players involved. More importantly, the film is a weird, fun time and a worthy adaptation that improves on the second part of the 1990 mini-series in every way.

3 Howls Outta 4

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