5.22.2022

The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Firestarter (2022)

DIRECTED BY

Keith Thomas


STARRING

Ryan Kiera Armstrong - Charlie McGee

Zac Efron - Andy McGee

Sydney Lemmon - Vicky Tomilnson-McGee

Kurtwood Smith - Dr. Joseph Wanless

Michael Greyeyes - John Rainbird

Gloria Reuben - Captain Jane Hollister


Genre: Horror/Thriller/Fantasy


Running Time: 94 Minutes



PLOT

A girl with extraordinary pyrokinetic powers fights to protect her family and herself from sinister forces that seek to capture and control her.


REVIEW


When I first saw the trailer to 2022’s new adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter, I was mostly puzzled that Universal decided to waste money on a new version of a novel when no one asked for one. While the novel itself is quite good, the 1984 adaptation had a lot to be desired when it came to transferring the words onto the big screen. That being said, it was a childhood staple of mine and it’s not a bad movie. It has cool effects and some nice performances [in particular Drew Barrymore and George C. Scott] that elevates it into something kind of memorable. The less said about the 2002 mini-series sequel because that was so bad, that I never bothered to go back and finish it after 20 years. So maybe a different adaptation could erase the stink of that, right?


2022’s FIRESTARTER is, without a doubt, my worst film of the year so far. There’s no heart and soul in recreating Stephen King’s text, as this is obviously a cash grab to create a new franchise for the studio. This version is 20 minutes shorter than the 1984 version, eliminating a lot of depth and character development - especially when it comes to the villains, who barely get any screen time and are not at all interesting in the slightest. And I get that when you do an adaptation, you want to change things to make it stand on its own two feet. But this movie butchers what Stephen King presented to his audience in 1980. It’s so lazy and beyond generic that it makes the slightly above average 1984 adaptation look like a masterpiece of filmmaking in comparison. I’m all for changing the narrative to reflect the time period it’s being made for and to possibly expand it if you do want to create some kind of movie universe out of it. But the changes here are terrible and never click in terms of creating tension or anticipation for what could possibly come next. I was honestly glad when the film ended because it just left me cold and disappointed. There’s a good movie in here somewhere, but for whatever reason, the filmmakers half-assed it. And for what? Low box office receipts? To alienate a horror audience wanting something good? I don’t get it.


Is there anything good? The special effects are pretty cool, with the fire scenes and the after effects the fire leaves looking convincing. The music score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies is really good, making me wish it was part of a much better movie. And the actors aren’t terrible - in particular Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong who carry the film as the father-daughter duo running away from the evil scientists wanting to control them and their powers. In fact, the first 25 minutes of the film focusing on the protagonists and their family dynamic was the best part of the movie for me, with Efron and Armstrong doing some damn good acting. Gloria Reuben, Kurtwood Smith and Michael Greyeyes do what they can with the roles they’re given, but aren’t given enough time to really give depth to their characters.


THE FINAL HOWL


2022’s FIRESTARTER could have been an improvement over the 1984 adaptation, but ends up wasting its potential of being a modern Stephen King adaptation worth investing in. The actors do the best they can with what they’re given [Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong are the best of the lot as the father-daughter protagonists]. The music score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies is really good stuff. The special effects are done well enough. And while the first 25 minutes of the film focusing on the McGee family was well-written and structured, the rest of the film just takes a deep dive in its narrative just to make it to the finish line as quickly as possible. No tension. No depth given to the villains. And while I respect the producers for trying to deviate from the novel in preparations for future installments, the changes made aren’t necessarily all that interesting or well executed enough for me to care about any potential universe this film is trying to establish. The original isn’t the best adaptation either, but it’s a masterpiece compared to this version.



SCORE

1 Howl Outta 4

(3 out of 10)




5.20.2022

The B-Movie Bungalow: Biohazard (1985)

DIRECTED BY

Fred Olen Ray


STARRING

Aldo Ray - General Randolph

Angelique Pettyjohn - Lisa Martyn

William Fair - Mitchell Carter 

David O’Hara - Rieger 

Frank McDonald - Mike Hodgson

Art Payton - Dr. Williams 

Charles Roth - Jack Murphy

Christopher Ray - The Bio-Monster


Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/B-Movie


Runtime: 84 Minutes



PLOT

A group of skeptical government officials headed by General Randolph are brought to a remote laboratory for a demonstration in “Psychic Materialization”, a successful side effect of an experimental drug. But the project scientists had warned that not enough testing had been completed to assess safety concerns. In a freak accident during the demonstration to the politicians, a vicious creature is created! Unable to contain the monster, it unleashes unbelievable havoc & destruction against mankind! Reproducing itself at an alarming rate, and all known weapons seemingly powerless against the creature, the scientists are gravely concerned for the survival of mankind!



REVIEW

BIOHAZARD is a B-movie that I wanted to like more than I did, considering the film’s promotional art with that cool looking alien creature. But a bare bones plot with uninteresting characters, trying to stop a 4-foot alien monster as they drive around, make out and recite bad dialogue brings this film down for me. Despite its generic plot ripping off sci-fi movies like 1979’s ALIEN and 1982’s E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, there’s not much in the way of story to dissect in BIOHAZARD. Also, actress Angelique Pettyjohn [who plays one of the more unconvincing psychics in a film] looked so much like Lady Gaga, that I wanted to watch A STAR IS BORN or HOUSE OF GUCCI instead. But at least the film is short, the alien outfit is better than one would expect with a low budget flick, the gore make-up is actually impressive and the film looks great considering its budget. And seriously, how many films do you know have a 7-year-old child masquerading as an alien creature as he mauls people in the neighborhood and rip up posters of E.T.? Plus, that jarring ending and a blooper reel that proves the best of the bad acting was in the actual film! Not so terrible that it lives up to its title, but BIOHAZARD is pretty average and doesn’t warrant much of a recommendation unless you watch with some buddies under the influence of booze or other substances. You could do a lot worse, I guess.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4

(5 out of 10)





5.07.2022

Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

DIRECTED BY

Sam Raimi


STARRING

Benedict Cumberbatch - Dr. Stephen Strange

Elizabeth Olsen - Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch 

Chiwetel Ejiofor - Karl Mordo 

Benedict Wong - Wong 

Xochitl Gomez - America Chavez

Rachel McAdams - Christine Palmer 


Genre: Action/Horror/Fantasy/Adventure/Comic Books


Running Time: 126 Minutes



PLOT

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.


REVIEW


After 15 years of not directing a Marvel superhero film since 2007’s SPIDER-MAN 3, Sam Raimi returns to the genre with the latest MCU Phase Four feature - DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. MCU’s Phase Four seems to be heavily focused on the multiverse, judging by the stories told in WandaVision, Loki and SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. While DOCTOR STRANGE 2 definitely wants to ride the success of those projects, it’s unfortunately not the best film with that theme. Hell, it isn’t even the best film this year about multiple universes (EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE says hello). But luckily, DOCTOR STRANGE 2 brings up the quality of Phase Four compared to other films included such as BLACK WIDOW and THE ETERNALS.


Marvel promised us a horror film in DOCTOR STRANGE 2 and while it’s never a scary film at all, the imagery that Sam Raimi presents throughout the film are definitely callbacks to his EVIL DEAD franchise, as well as certain elements from DRAG ME TO HELL. And visually, DOCTOR STRANGE 2 is one of the more memorable in the MCU catalog because of it. From possessions, to hideous looking ghouls, to evil mirror reflections and demons and to certain characters looking and acting like zombies, DOCTOR STRANGE 2 has a lot of horror elements that might turn off younger audiences and squeamish viewers. And superheroes actually get murdered in this movie, some in really messed up ways. Marvel and Raimi really pushed that PG-13 rating with some of the film’s brutality, which even surprised me at times considering this is a Disney property.


The cast is really great in this film - in particular both Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen, who can play their respective roles of Doctor Strange [all of them] and The Scarlet Witch in their sleep at this point. Olsen, especially, is amazing in this film playing through so many emotional beats and making each one of them believable. Newcomer Xochitl Gomez does well with what she’s given. And returning actors Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor have memorable moments. I also enjoyed the cameos, although I wish they were in the film more.



Even though I missed Michael Giacchino’s score from the first film, I thought Danny Elfman captured the atmosphere and tone of the film’s story. 


The narrative could have been stronger, as it felt too rushed at times. The film was supposed to be about 35 minutes longer, which makes me wonder what was cut out or reshot as replacements. There were times where you can tell a scene was edited a bit, as it felt a bit incomplete. I also think those lost minutes could have been used for more character development, especially for America Chavez. I also felt that Rick and Morty and Loki scribe Michael Waldron had some cheesy dialogue that didn’t quite work [especially for America Chavez] as well as writing for certain characters that made me think he didn’t watch some of those Disney+ shows that connect to this movie. I also felt the Illuminati stuff could have been longer and felt more important, and what’s the point of a Multiverse movie if you don’t do more with that concept? What we got was pretty neat, but I felt it was more of a teaser for something in the future more than anything. I did dig the mid-credits scene a lot however, as it promises to be a more Doctor Strange type movie that doesn’t deal with any Avengers. So I’m really looking forward to the future.


THE FINAL HOWL


DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
is a flawed movie, but it’s also a very entertaining one. I can see why some didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Sam Raimi has a certain style that doesn’t cater to everyone, although I feel it helped this film quite a lot. I think Raimi should have wrote the film to make it even crazier, honestly. It also requires audiences to watch a couple of the Disney+ shows to really understand what’s going on with some of the characters. But besides the muddled screenplay and some of the VFX that look like a video game, the acting is great [Elizabeth Olsen needs her own Scarlet Witch movie for sure], the action is pretty cool, the horror elements and brutality even surprised me in a good way and Raimi’s cool nods to previous films in his filmography added a different feel and tone to this MCU property. I don’t think the film matches the hype, which is unfortunate, but it’s one of the better Phase Four films so far and looks to present a more interesting sequel that will cater to comic book Doctor Strange fans. Not a bad way to start the Summer Season.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4

(8 out of 10)





5.01.2022

Lunar Cycle - April 2022


Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.




Directed By: Tony Maylam


Starring: Rutger Hauer, Kim Cattrall, Michael J. Pollard, Alastair Duncan, Alum Armstrong, Pete Postlethwaite, Ian Dury


Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Serial Killers/Supernatural/B-Movie


Running Time: 90 Minutes


SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)



Plot: In a flooded future London, Detective Harley Stone hunts a serial killer who murdered his partner and has haunted him ever since. He soon discovers what he is hunting might not be human.


Review:

Directed by the man who brought us the 1981 slasher classic THE BURNING, Tony Maylam’s 1992 sci-fi/horror film SPLIT SECOND is a solid B-movie that wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Take some atmosphere and aesthetics from BLADE RUNNER [including star Rutger Hauer], add some monster action like PREDATOR and ALIEN, put them all together and you have this cult flick that’s not perfect but has enough going for it to make it watchable.


SPLIT SECONDS’s dark and gritty dystopian set pieces create an atmosphere that Batman would feel more than comfortable living in. With the main character being an out-of-control detective who has burned more than a few bridges in his professional life, his stories of this serial killer, he’s obsessed with being more than human, creates this level of paranoia and mistrust throughout the film. It’s also helped by Maylam’s direction, as he keeps the killer’s appearance hidden for much of the film, so you’re left wondering if the killer is just really creative with his murders or is something more supernatural. While Maylam keeps the death sequences off-screen, the aftermath of these events are pretty gory, which makes up for it. And the action scenes, for the most part, are directed well despite the obviously low budget. Unfortunately, the final act seems like it was directed by someone else, as it feels rushed and doesn’t conclude the film in any impactful way.



What makes SPLIT SECOND worth the watch is Rutger Hauer as Harley Stone, who acts like a badass and recites dialogue that would only sound cool coming from him. He fleshes out your generic hard knocks detective with charming quirks, like drinking tons of coffee while stirring it with random pens he borrows from other detectives. Hauer also portrays paranoia well, while coming across convincingly as a man obsessed with his work, not caring if he lives or dies apprehending his target.


Rutger has some comical moments with the supporting cast as well, especially Alistair Duncan who plays Dick Dirkin - the by-the-book nerdy detective who starts becoming more reckless and gritty as the hunt for the killer deepens. Rutger also has some nice rapport with Kim Catrall, who is there to play the damsel-in-distress but has her moments to shine.


While I did expect SPLIT SECOND to wow me more than it actually did, considering how many of my friends have recommended this film to me, I did have fun with this flick. Despite its modest budget and disappointing finale, it had good action, memorable gory moments and actors who seemed to be having a blast making a silly sci-fi B-movie.






Directed By: Paul Norman


Starring: Clint Howard, Olivia Hussey, David Warner, Jan-Michael Vincent, Sandahl Bergman, David Naughton 


Genre: Horror/Comedy/Mystery/Thriller


Running Time: 84 Minutes


SCORE - 1.5 Howls Outta 4 (4 out of 10)



Plot: Young Gregory Tudor sees his local ice cream man murdered and later grows up to inherit his business, opting to inject gruesome ingredients—including human body parts—into his frozen confections. When one of the neighborhood boys goes missing, the local kids suspect Gregory and band together to get to the bottom of things.


Review:

ICE CREAM MAN is a really odd film that one would think would be better considering the cast. But it never really comes together due to so many different tones, weird character choices and the fact that the movie never knows if it wants to be a scary movie or a PG-13 teen adventure film in the vein of THE GOONIES, STAND BY ME or THE MONSTER SQUAD. There are even moments where the creepy and murderous Ice Cream Man is given moments where we’re left to sympathize with how people see and treat him, despite the fact that he kills people and uses their body parts in his ice cream servings. I was never sure what I was supposed to be getting out of this film, if anything at all.


The direction by Paul Norman is just as odd, as Norman seems confused as to what he wants to express with ICE CREAM MAN. If he’s going for a comedy, it doesn’t work because the film isn’t all that funny. If he’s going for horror, that doesn’t work because there’s nothing about the film that’s creepy or scary. And if he’s focused on making this a teen adventure, that doesn’t work either because the kids aren’t all that interesting enough to invest in them. The film isn’t all that stylish or interesting to look at either, looking like your standard 90s direct-to-video feature. The film is also oddly paced [those flashback moments ruin the flow in the film’s last act] and it cuts away from the murder scenes, which would have bumped up my rating if I was allowed to see at least some cool gore here and there. Considering Norman was a pretty prolific adult movie director, he sure had no idea how to complete the money shot with this flick.



What keeps ICE CREAM MAN from being totally terrible are the actors, who all seem to be having fun in their roles no matter how small and/or quirky they are. Clint Howard is the best thing here, giving this villain role so many layers that you’re torn on how to feel about the Ice Cream Man. And that’s not a terrible thing because, what could have been a one-note character, Howard makes into a three-dimensional human being who clearly feels justified and damaged in believing what he’s doing is right. While the other actors don’t really get to shine as much as Howard does, at least they all add memorable moments to the film. David Naughton is a cheating husband. David Warner is a priest who is the father of one of the teens. Olivia Hussey is oddly playing an older, kooky nurse in an amusing role. And Jan-Michael Vincent plays a cop - at least I think he is considering he looks like he would rather be somewhere else. I know the actor was dealing with substance abuse at the time, but Vincent doesn’t even bother trying to hide his lack of enthusiasm here. Lee Majors II makes me wish his father was in this film instead. And the younger actors are fine, although I’m not sure why one of them was forced to wear a fat suit or pillow. Did the film really need a kid pretending to be overweight? Oh, those Hollywood stereotypes!


If you’re looking for something brainless and dumb for 90 minutes, I guess you could do worse than ICE CREAM MAN. But if you want to watch a good movie, I’d steer away from this one. This is a film not worth getting brain freeze over.





Directed By: Beverly Sebastian, Ferd Sebastian


Starring: Claudia Jennings, Sam Gilman, Douglas Dirkson, Clyde Venture, Don Baldwin


Genre: Thriller/Action


Running Time: 88 Minutes


SCORE - 2.5 Howls Outta 4 (6 out of 10)



Plot: Desiree lives deep in the swamp and supports herself and her siblings by poaching. Ben and deputy Billy hope to get a little sexual comfort from the “Cajun swamp rat” when they catch Desiree trapping ’gators, and give chase. Desiree outsmarts them but Billy accidentally shoots Ben and tells his sheriff dad that Desiree did it. Ben’s dad and sons join them in the search party and quickly get out of control. Soon the hunters become the hunted as Desiree exacts her revenge for their violence against her family.


Review:

1974’s GATOR BAIT is an exploitation drive-in movie that doesn’t come close to reaching the heights of films that inspired it, like 1972’s DELIVERANCE - nor is it as upsetting and controversial to watch like later films such as 1977’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. However, there’s something oddly charming about this low budget flick that makes it worth a look for 1970’s cinema lovers.


GATOR BAIT is definitely a film that would never fly in today’s society, as it’ll probably offend those ready to cancel anything they can get their minds on. This movie has incest, misogyny, humorous exchanges about raping and sexually assaulting women and depicting backwoods folk as toothless, dumb, violent and just horny all the time. Even the police are corrupt, which will make modern audiences probably root for the female lead and her family by default. Those looking for good taste and progressive themes will probably want to steer away from this one.



Considering the film’s themes, however, GATOR BAIT is fairly tame and almost PG-13 compared to other films just like it. While the acts committed in this movie are kind of gross, there’s a vibe of fun surrounding it all that makes you feel both dirty and entertained at the same time. It kind of plays things like your typical rape-revenge movie, where the good guys suffer but get their vengeance while the bad folk suffer both physically and emotionally. It’s a simple science and GATOR BAIT pulls it off fairly well, even if it does drag at points in its short runtime.


The direction by Beverly and Ferd Sebastian isn’t going to win any awards, but it does the job fine. The cinematography is competent, the soundtrack is actually quite good, and the pacing is done well enough for the film to never wear out its welcome. And the acting isn’t the greatest, but that’s part of the charm with GATOR BAIT. Former Playmate of the Year (1970) Claudia Jennings is really the most memorable person in this film. She looks fantastic in every frame of celluloid she’s in, with her Daisy Dukes and her shotgun making her look like a woman you don’t want to mess with. I do find it funny that, in this world, the men are dirty and not really all attractive while all the women look like they got hired from a modeling agency. There must be something special in that swamp.


GATOR BAIT is a sleazy and exploitative 88 minutes of backwoods men doing dumb, violent things while a woman sorts them out with swift punishment. Not the greatest film I’ve seen of this type, but it definitely has an odd charm about it that makes it worth a look if you’re into this kind of movie.


4.07.2022

Santo and the Blue Demon Against the Monsters (1970)

Directed By: Gilberto Martinez Solares


Starring: Santo, Blue Demon, Jorge Rado, Carlos Ancira, Hedi Blue, Carlos Suarez


Genre: Horror/Fantasy/Adventure/Action/Science Fiction/B-Movie


Running Time: 85 Minutes


SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (8 out of 10)



Plot: Bruno Halder, a sinister scientist seeking revenge against his brother and niece, is resurrected by Waldo, his faithful sidekick. Besides his minions of zombies, Halder enlists the help of Wolfman, Franquestain, a Vampire, a Mummy and a Cyclops. Once again the survival of mankind is put in the hands of Santo and Blue Demon.



Review:

Some films defy a critical review because they’re not made for that intent. 1970’s SANTO AND BLUE DEMON AGAINST THE MONSTERS is one of those films, as the movie is meant to be a silly and fun B-movie and nothing more. Part of the many entries within both El Santo and Blue Demon film series, the film is basically wrestlers battling Mexican versions of classic monsters in various locations - including a memorable sequence where El Santo wrestles a zombie-vampire luchador in the squared circle. Not much of a plot to dissect, the direction is pretty shaky in terms of editing and pacing and all the actors are hamming it up to the fullest. But it’s charmingly goofy and everyone involved seems to be having fun, especially the actor playing the Vampiro who is having a blast gliding towards scared people and biting on women’s necks. Plus, any movie with a silly looking Cyclops creature, an out-of-place dance number, and Luchador clones gets a pass from me. Weird but extremely amusing from beginning to end. Sometimes that’s all you want from a movie.





4.06.2022

Beyond the Door (1974)

Directed By: Ovidio G. Assonitis & Robert Barrett


Starring: Juliet Mills, Gabriele Lavia, Richard Johnson, Nino Segurini, Elizabeth Turner, Barbara Fiorini


Genre: Horror/Possession/Demons


Running Time: 109 Minutes


SCORE - 2.5 Howls Outta 4 (6 out of 10)



Plot: Jessica Barrett, wife and mother of two young children, begins to show signs of demonic possession while pregnant with her third child. As she seeks help from her husband and doctor, a mysterious man approaches her and seems to have some answers.


Review:

When you take 1973’s THE EXORCIST and sprinkle bits of 1968’s ROSEMARY’S BABY on top of it, you get 1974’s BEYOND THE DOOR - a weird Italian rip-off that is an interesting watch for sure. You get the typical aping of many classic elements of THE EXORCIST, like a child slurping pea soup out of a can, creepy head spinning, demonic voices who enjoy foul language and a final act involving the possessed person terrorizing her loved ones while being tied to a bed. Add in Satan’s baby inside of the possessed person and you got yourself some supernatural trouble!



Despite the film looking pretty nice and containing a catchy and jazzy score that makes you dance more than scared, the screenplay is a big mess due to seven writers putting this together. How is anyone supposed to care about characters lacking depth? They’re either presented as useless or annoying to the point where you don’t feel bad for any of these folks. Hell, even the children talk with such foul language that you wonder what kind of parents raised these kids to be insufferable brats? Then you have this ex-lover who just pops up and becomes a main character in the final act of the film - which is just confusing as heck in itself - and you’re wishing you were stuck with Regan, Father Karras and company. Plus, there are a lot of scenes that run too long and feel like filler to beef up the runtime. I started feeling bored for a while until the demonic activity picked up within the last 40 minutes of the movie.


That being said, there’s an odd charm about BEYOND THE DOOR that makes it at least a watch for horror films. There’s some subtext that’s never really explored, but the film is obviously about a woman wanting to run away from domestic life, i.e. being a wife and mother, and wanting to live free as an independent woman tied down to important responsibilities. There is a great scene involving dolls and toys becoming possessed that will most likely freak out those with that phobia. And there aren’t many movies where a character is randomly harassed by a musician playing a flute with his nose. Fans of possession and demonic type of horror films will probably get something out of BEYOND THE DOOR, even if it doesn’t live up to its great trailer or the two films it takes its inspiration from.





3.20.2022

X (2022)

DIRECTED BY
Ti West

STARRING
Mia Goth - Maxine
Jenna Ortega - Lorraine
Martin Henderson - Wayne
Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi - Jackson Hole
Brittany Snow - Bobby-Lynne
Owen Campbell - RJ
Stephen Ure - Howard

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Slasher

Running Time - 106 Minutes


PLOT
In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in a secluded farmhouse in rural Texas. Their reclusive, elderly hosts take a special interest in their young guests and, as night falls in, the couple’s leering interest takes a violent turn.

REVIEW

Considering his recognition as an independent filmmaker in both horror and thriller genres, it was surprising to find out that Ti West would have a movie given a pretty wide release in 2022. I can’t say I’m much of a Ti West fanboy. I love 2009’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but 2010’s CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER is a mess I’d like to forget for the most part. I’ve heard good things about his later films [especially 2011’s THE INNKEEPERS], but his work post-2010 has never kept my attention unfortunately. 

But learning that West was releasing a mainstream horror film that was a throwback to late-70s horror called X definitely had me intrigued, especially since it looked like a better version of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE sequel/reboot we got from Netflix a month ago. Being a fan of A24’s films and seeing who was in the cast, I surprisingly became pretty hyped for this movie and just hoped for a good time. And while X probably won’t appeal to a mainstream audience outside the horror market, considering its sexual and violent content, it’s definitely a film that deserves a lot of love and good word-of-mouth. Considering what I last saw by Ti West was a terrible sequel many years ago, this was a fun ride in theaters and makes me want to go back into his filmography to catch up on what I’ve missed by this director.

Like HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, X is a great throwback to earlier horror films that built more on tension and suspense rather than jump scares and gore. The first hour is a real slow burn, focused on building the rustic atmosphere and developing the cast of characters beyond their obvious archetypes. For a slasher film, the characters get enough depth for the audience to care about them and see how different they are personality-wise. The protagonists are adult movie stars or crew members working on this particular adult movie. And while they’re liberated sexually and act a bit like entitled divas every now and then, their layers get peeled as the film moves along, revealing private things about themselves that become either endearing or a bit annoying depending on the situation. It’s sometimes refreshing to watch a slasher film where you don’t necessarily root for the killer due to strong protagonists.

Speaking of the antagonists, having an elderly couple be the villains of the film is a bit odd at first, but it quickly makes a lot of sense by the film’s end. In fact, having Howard and Pearl be the cause of the younger cast’s problems is pretty brilliant, considering the themes X is presenting to its audience. Ideas of sexual liberation versus sexual repression plays throughout the movie - not only as the difference between the two sides, but even internally within both the protagonists and antagonists. Some prudish protagonists become more sexually aware and curious, causing rifts within that unit. When it comes to Howard and Pearl, their sexual repression leads to the carnage that eventually arrives, which feels like a sexual release for the couple. I’m sure some went into X thinking it was a slasher involving adult movie characters getting murdered and such, but it’s surprisingly much deeper than that and it kept me invested throughout.


If there’s an issue with the film, it’s a pretty ironic one - characters falling for classic slasher tropes within the film’s last half. Considering how much we learn about them in the first half of the film, they do stupid things you’d expect slasher characters to do. They turn on each other at times. They decide to split up instead of investigating together. And when they grab weapons, especially guns, they don’t check to see if they’re loaded or not. They also do the worst thing - acting like they own the place of a location they know nothing about. Horror characters doing horror things isn’t a flaw. It’s just more of a gripe considering this feels a bit more “elevated” than your typical slasher. I was expecting something less straightforward than what we got.

There were also moments involving religious sermons being played on the television. They were interesting, as some of them connected to what was happening to the film’s characters at the time. And while this aspect leads to a cool twist I didn’t even see coming, I wish there was more focus on this theme because it added another layer to the sexual liberation/repression the characters were deep in. Until the final minutes of the film, this part of the storytelling didn’t really connect with me all that much. I feel it will during a rewatch.

And I think X makes a huge mistake with how it introduces the movie, as the first few minutes don’t add much to the rest of the story that follows it. I guess it was supposed to be a flash-forward kind of thing to tell the audience how the events that happened prior to this portion are meant to be shocking, but you could have cut this part out and the film wouldn’t have changed much. Sometimes less is more when it comes to this kind of storytelling. It was a nice attempt at narration that didn’t do much for the movie as a whole.


Ti West directs a great film here. Along with cinematographer Eliot Rockett, who really creates a beautiful looking film that looks like it ought to belong in 1979, West brings his “A” game with X. West is known for his slow burn storytelling and X is no exception. Yet unlike HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, things do happen within the slower moments through the interesting editing and juxtaposition of scenes [especially the pornographic scenes that connect with what the elderly couple is doing at the same time] and how shots are framed to have characters appear in the background in a really creepy manner. The use of reels during the making of the porn film is an inspired choice that helps differentiate it from the rest of the movie. And both the sex scenes and death scenes are pretty damn cool, built with a lot of tension and brutality at times. I loved the nods to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, EATEN ALIVE and the original FRIDAY THE 13TH throughout. X is a strong film visually and one of the better looking slasher films I’ve seen in quite a while. This is what the new TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE should have been.

The cast is really good as well. Mia Goth is the standout, bringing a quiet intensity to her role as Maxine. Goth brings a sexiness and intelligence to her role, making her character one we want to know and follow. Goth also goes the extra mile and does something else in the film I won’t spoil, but I was super impressed how she pulled it all off. I look forward to seeing more of her. Brittany Snow is a bit of a revelation as a sassy porn vixen, giving her character a lot of attitude. I loved her rendition of “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and it’s nice seeing her still doing good work after all these years. Martin Henderson is pretty perfect as the sleazy porn producer Wayne. Jenna Ortega is having quite the horror year in both SCREAM (2022) and X, continuing her elevation to a modern Scream Queen in her role as Lorraine - a good girl who goes a bit bad. Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi does good as the smooth Jackson Hole, while Stephen Ure is a bit creepy as elderly Howard. I loved how game the cast was for this movie, elevating the script big time and making the film a fun watch.

THE FINAL HOWL

X
is pretty much a triumph for director Ti West and the horror genre for 2022. West absolutely captures a slasher film that could have been made in 1979, while elevating it a bit through its themes of sexual liberation and sexual repression, either because of age or religion, within the world of adult movie actors and those outside looking in. The movie didn’t wow me, and certain narrative aspects could have been stronger. But for the most part, X is one of the best modern slasher films due to its strong cast [Mia Goth really shines here for multiple reasons], strong direction and beautiful cinematography and bringing some much needed depth to characters so we can care about all of them and understand each of their actions without much question. The movie doesn’t shy away from either the violence or the sexual situations presented, which I appreciated. And while the movie is a slow burn until the last 40 minutes, you never feel bored due to the wonderful build of the film’s atmosphere and tension. It’s really nice to see a great horror film in theaters that doesn’t need to cash in on a legacy franchise to stand out from the rest of the pack.


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4
(8 out of 10)


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