Tremors

I’ve avoided this one for years. I didn’t care for the aesthetic. I thought it was just Jaws in the the desert. Having finally seen it, I wished I had watched it sooner. It is a well paced, creative, and extremely entertaining creature feature.

The movie opens with two good old boys working as hired hands in the little town of Perfection. The population is some 15 people. These two boys are Val and Earl played by Kevin Bacon and Feed Ward. These two have amazing chemistry. They are so natural and buoyant together. They have this brotherly warmth between them. I love the way they play off each other. They are going to finally get out of town, but on the way they find a dead body. Then another dead body. Then the road is blocked. What is causing all this? Well the local geologist Rhonda played by Finn Carter believes there is something under the ground causing crazy seismic activity. The small town bands together against the impending threat. What is this threat? Giant sand worms that burrow through the ground and eat anything that moves above ground.

The movie is a throwback to the creature features of the 1950’s. It perfectly plays on the genre stylings of the period. There’s a big monster menace, the plucky and relatable heroes, and the sense of fun danger that lets you know it’s going to be alright. Our heroes will triumph. What this movie adds to the formula is a great sense of humor. These characters are funny. Val and Earl are cracking jokes back and forth. The local store owner Walter is constantly trying to make money off of everything including selling photos with the monsters. The gun obsessed Burt is always going on about his perfect fallout shelter. They local teen who’s always causing trouble. This is a great cast of characters. The movie is funny in a consistently surprising way.

It’s also remarkably creative. They have built an awesome scenario for their characters to fight against. The creatures, they’re named “Graboids” by Walter who’s looking for a branding opportunity, can sense vibration under the ground. They move fast and can grab anyone almost instantly. They never get tired or go away. Our characters can’t set foot on the ground without getting grabbed. They get stranded on the roof of a building. How do they escape? They get stranded on a pile of rocks in the middle of a desert. How do they escape? They are stuck on top of an outhouse. How can they get away as fast as possible? Their solutions are clever and surprising. I love when characters are smart. I love when characters get themselves out of trouble instead of the writers using circumstance and convenience to help them escape. It’s a smartly written little film.

There are scenes of tension and suspense, but it’s not a scary movie. I think this is a great movie for anyone not interested in being scared this halloween. It’s going to be a fun movie no matter what time of year you watch it. I highly recommend this little piece of popcorn entertainment. It’s my cup of tea. A-

Disturbing Behavior

If you ever want to watch a movie that was clearly ruined in the edit watch this movie. It’s terrible, but the reason it’s terrible is clearly on display.

I had never heard of this movie until this past week when it was brought up twice by two different sources. I figured I had to check it out, and it was a fascinating disaster. I felt kind of like a detective trying to pick apart the pieces to solve this films murder.

From the opening moments this movie is a mess. It begins with a poorly rendered cgi establishing shot. Two teens are parked in a car near a waterfall. Things start to get hot and heavy between them when the boys eyes glow red and he murders her. This is witnessed by one of our main characters Gavin, played by Nick Stahl, who runs for his life.

The next time we see Gavin he gives no indication of having witnessed a murder. He is a jokey stoner. It’s not until 30 minutes in that he references the killing. This combined with the patched together establishing shot leads me to believe the opening scene was actually supposed to take place in the middle of the movie and chopped to the beginning.

We meet our real hero of the film, Steve, played by a way too old James Marsden. Steve is 17. Marsden is clearly 25, not just in his appearance but in the way he carries himself, and the way he acts. He looks so out of place in a classroom and so much older than everyone else in the cast that I never really bought him in the role. He’s a good actor, but his presence suggests more interference. They wanted a handsome actor to lead the movie, and they found one.

Katie Holmes plays the love interest, and that’s all she is here. Her name is Rachel. She plays a sullen teen who broods and says next to nothing. The camera leers at her body in slow motion shots that make me feel gross for the sexualization of this teenaged character. But I think this is the result of interference yet again. There are so many moments when she begins to reveal layers and depth to her character, but the movie quickly cuts away. She begins to show her true self only to be silenced by the edit. The leering shots of her body stand in contrast to the way she is framed everywhere else in the film. When we first see her she has piercings, dark makeup, and unkempt hair. Halfway through the film, the makeup becomes classically beautiful. Her hair style changed to sexy chic, and her piercings are downplayed to the point of non existence. I can only conclude the studio demanded a sexy starlet instead of a full fledged character.

Her relationship with Steve is also nonexistent. They have a burgeoning friendship which blossoms into romance, but they never say anything to one another. Steve talks to Gavin a lot, but we are missing the scene where they become friends. They mostly just share exposition. Why would 25 year old Steve want to hang out with 17 year old burnout Gavin? The missing information indicates deleted scenes. character development could potentially be boring. Developing relationships is secondary to sex and violence in this film.

There’s a random interlude in an asylum that feels out of place. Steve and Rachel sneak around this asylum and looking for something. They are hounded by the patience and pursued by the guards. But we don’t see them sneak in. We don’t see them get in trouble with the guards. We also don’t know what they’re looking for. The sneak is completely self contained and incongruous with the rest of the film. I think the studio imposed this scene on the film. Add some scares. Make it scarier. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. Just add it.

I wish I could disregard this movie as late 90’s trash. It’s a bad movie. It’s poorly executed. But I find it’s depiction of high school so compelling. It’s an exaggeration to be sure, but it speaks to real high school experiences. The lost outsiders pushed to the edge by social pressures. The parental expectations that are crushing a student. The entitlement of the popular and well off. The toxic boys who think they deserve a woman’s affections. These all combine and feel true. That truth is buried under bad story decisions and clear interference.

The story concerns a well off group of students who are implanted with computer processors that alter their behaviors and moods. It’s steadied wives but for the teenage yuppie set. letter jackets and short skirts rule the school along with plastic smiles and chipper attitudes. They are all high achieving, but they are zombies. They are set off by heightened emotions and become unstable killers. It’s ironic that a movie condemning conformity was crippled by conforming to the demands of the studio.

This is a fascinating piece to watch as a filmmaker or film lover. If you’re looking for a scary Halloween movie, this isn’t it. It’s bad, but I’m a fascinating way. It’s not my cup of tea. C

Significant Other

A camping trip goes horribly wrong in every way imaginable in this surprising horror story. What would you do if you were on a camping trip deep in the woods with your significant other and you became convinced that they weren’t themselves?

Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy star as a couple who go camping. Things are going great until he proposes. She has a full on panic attack and refuses him. It isn’t that she doesn’t love him, it’s that her parents marriage and past experiences have turned her off the whole idea of marriage. They struggle to reconcile while stuck in a tent in the middle of nowhere, until she goes into a cave and comes out changed. She’s acting strangely. She seems like a totally different person.

The movie establishes that something has fallen from the sky and landed in the woods. We see a creature attack a deer in the woods. We think we know where this is going. I made assumptions about the trajectory of the plot, and had pretty much written the movie off at this point. Oh boy, I’m glad I didn’t. Because it gets twisty from there. The movie is full of clever reversals and twists. It zig zags in a very satisfying way.

I don’t want to give away anything else. I turned this one on because I like the actors, and I was intrigued by the woodsy premise. Everything else was a surprise to me, and I want it to be for you too.

This one is great for a lot of reasons and for a lot of people. It isn’t overtly horrifying. There are strong elements of horror. There are some gruesome moments, but nothing worse than what you seen in any action movie these days. There’s a lot of tension. This is a suspenseful movie less so than a scary movie. It has a really compelling story and interesting themes that it explores. Sometimes horror movies leave their narratives at the door. Not so here. These characters and their journey are front and center. It is a satisfying movie to watch.

The actors are great. The script is awesome. The story is fun and unique. It has something to say about love and relationships. Absolutely check this one out. It is worth your time and will be a fun movie to watch this Halloween

It is my cup of tea. A-

Pearl

This prequel to X is a different beast all together. It steps away from the scuzzy slasher elements of X and instead focuses on the psychological terror of an unstable person slowly losing their mind.

The movie introduces us to Pearl, played by Mia Goth. She is a dreamer who lives on a remote farm with her oppressive parents in 1918. She dreams of a life far away on stage or screen. She considers herself a star in the making. Her mother is a religious woman who treats her brutally. Her father succumbed to Spanish Flu and lives in a near catatonic state at all times. She has a husband off fighting in WWI. She performs dance numbers from movies for the farm animals. However, she reveals a darkness in her when one of their ducks gets out of line. She brutally murders it with a pitchfork and feeds it to the gator that lives in the nearby pond. And she only gets worse from there.

The film looks incredible. They emulated the bright technicolor qualities of early movies like The Wizard of Oz which creates a lush color palette, but it also makes everything appear a little unreal. The colors are too vibrant, and the world appears a little fantastical to emulate Pearl’s warped vision. I love the look of this film.

There are some great scenes that are dripping with tension as characters interact with Pearl not realizing how far gone she really is. They don’t understand at first that she’s dangerous. They don’t realize that they should be careful around her. As they carry on as if everything is normal, we the audience know that they really just need to shut up if they want to live. It’s a great suspenseful movie. It has some slasher elements and some good blood and guts, but it’s really a slow burn suspense story.

It’s also a showcase for Mia Goth. She co wrote the film with director Ti West, and she gave herself some juicy scenes to play. She brings a nuance and depth to her performance that is incredibly engaging. She created a maybe five minute monologue in which she breaks down and details her entire life of warped thinking and evil deeds. She just pours emotion onto the screen in a desperate attempt at understanding. It’s an incredible scene. She is so authentic in this role. She lends Pearl so much pathos that I wanted to be on her side even as she goes off the edge. The movie totally got me on her side and on the side of monster is an interesting place to be.

They have a follow up to X coming soon again written by West and Goth and directed by West. These last two films have been surprising and wildly entertaining horror. I can’t wait to see where these two go next.

This is my cup of tea. A-

X

I love when a horror movie just goes for it. Whatever “it” happens to be for that movie. I love when a movie commits to an idea and goes full bore into it. X is one such movie. I found myself constantly saying, “are they going to do that? They aren’t. Oh they are!” It was creepy and gory, and so much fun.

Set in the 1970’s, this slasher film follows the cast and crew of an X rated film as they set out to a tiny farmhouse to film their dirty movie. However, things start going wrong in the weirdest ways as the owners become aware of what they are up to.

The film was directed by Ti West, who made one of my favorite ghost stories of all time The Innkeepers. It’s a quiet slow burn of a ghost story that has never failed to leave me terrified. He employs the same slow burn here. The first half of the movie left me on edge, wondering where the horror was going to come from. I knew nothing about the movie going in, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what this movie was going to be. West teases and taunts us with perfectly staged moments of suspense early. He builds a sense of tension and dread throughout the first half until things go very much off the rails. And when it goes off the rails it goes places I never suspected.

I’ve watched a couple of slashers this month, and the ones I enjoy are there ones that put their characters and stories front and center. This movie does a great job of creating compelling characters and putting them in challenging situations that push them to the edge. I don’t like all of these people, but I believe them. I understand them. They have real relationships and interactions. There’s real pathos for these people. When the horror starts, it doesn’t feel like an inevitable Jason or Freddy attack. It feels like these people’s lives are being interrupted. Their stories would have continued in interesting fashion if evil hadn’t taken over the movie. I love the feeling that the characters would exist beyond the edges of the frame.

Once it gets scary though, it gets genuinely frightening. There are a lot of great jolts and slow builds. West knows how to build up the suspense before breaking it with a great jump. I really appreciated that the characters for the most part behave in believable ways. They aren’t always super smart, but they aren’t aggressively dumb. I can relate to their decisions even if I wouldn’t have done the same thing myself.

There’s blood and guts. There are good jolts. There is a deeply unsettling undercurrent to the whole thing. There are scenes I will never forget. This is totally my cup of tea. A

Spoiler Territory!

Okay, let’s talk about how crazy this movie is.

So, we have a porno crew shooting a movie in a shed on a farm. They have rented the shed from the elderly couple who own the property. We never see the wife. She is “unwell”. As filming commences the elderly couple become suspicious of what is happening.

That night the director tries to leave. He’s upset after his girlfriend decides to perform in the film. He is stopped by the elderly woman standing in the driveway. He gently tries to get her to move. It’s at this point that I’m saying to myself, “where is this going? She’s an incredibly old woman. There’s no way she’s going to start attacking people. Is this like a demon possession thing?” At that moment, the old lady attacks and murders the director. Out of nowhere! I am shocked and blown away. I can’t believe that the slasher is this ancient woman.

She and her husband then begin murdering each member of the crew in turn. They are religious, but they don’t seem to be doing this because they object to the subject of their film. They seem to be implying that the elderly lady is turned on by the star of the adult film. She develops a fixation with the girl and begins killing everyone else in order to isolate her.

There’s a great scene involving an alligator. We all know it’s coming, because of great foreshadowing, but it’s still a surprise. There’s a tense stand off between the male lead and the elderly man. None of these characters suspect danger from the elderly couple. It’s not like Jason, a hulking man in a mask with a machete. These are unassuming old people. It makes sense that they would let their guard down. The tension comes from whether these people will realize they are in danger before it’s too late.

When it’s just the star and the elderly couple, they begin stalking her around the property. It’s unclear what she wants from her. Do they want to kill her? Nope. Weirder. They want to possess her because she has the X factor. They begin having sex which is just awful because the star is hiding under the bed while these elderly murderers are going at it.

After escaping this situation, there is a final showdown wherein the elderly man is startled by one of their victims who isn’t quite dead. This shock gives him a heart attack and he falls over dead! I couldn’t believe they did that. It’s so surprising and darkly comic that I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or not.

The elderly woman grabs a gun to kill the star, but when she fires the recoil knocks her down and breaks her hip. The movie is again so darkly comic. It turns into a bloody and bizarre life alert commercial for a minute. “Help I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” I can’t believe this movie went there. Once again, this movie shocked and surprised me. I love when a movie can do that. I love when a film goes places I don’t expect. I love that the movie committed to this bizarre course of action. Making the elderly couple the villains. Going full blood and guts. Making a shocking and unsettling story. I was deeply satisfied with this movie, and I look forward to watching it again.

Prom Night

After the disappointment of Halloween Ends, I checked out this 80’s slasher starring Jamie Lee Curtis. As far as 80’s slashers goes, I quite enjoyed this one.

It struck me while watching how similar this was to My Bloody Valentine. Both feature a big dance. Both have a past tragedy that informs the horror. Both feature twist endings that work to varying degrees.

I suppose all slashers from this time are similar. Masked killer stalking attractive youths. The biggest differences are the manners of the murders. This movie has some solid kills.

The movie opens with a group of children playing in an abandoned building. Things take a dark turn when one of them ends up dead. Six years later, it’s prom night and a masked killer stalks the kids involved as vengeance for the death.

I can almost hear the writers pitching this movie to a studio exec back in the day. “It’s like Carrie mixed with Halloween!” But the movie is more than its influences. It takes its story and characters seriously. It invests a lot of time in developing these people and their relationships. I found myself worried about Kim and how she’d deal with everything. I hoped that Kelly would have a good prom night and find someone better than that jerk Drew. I was concerned about the plight of Alex.

All this character work made it a richer experience than the average slasher where the teens are just horny idiots who are lining up to die.

But how are the kills? That’s why people watch these movies, right? There are some awesome moments. There’s a murder in which the camera never leaves the girls eyes as she dies. This is way scarier than buckets of blood. It humanizes her death and leaves a deeply unsettling impact. There’s a great sequence in the back of a van that is shocking and surprising. There’s a disco tinged decapitation that is unforgettable.

What stuck with me most though was the story. It told a real story and told it well. At the end of the day I’m here for a story beyond anything else.

Is this a fun slasher? Absolutely. Is it worth checking out this Halloween? Absolutely. Dies it feature Leslie Nielsen in a serious role?? It does! Check this one out. It’s my cup of tea. B+

Halloween Ends

It’s rare you get to see a movie this bad, this ineptly, and this poorly conceived and executed. It was a truly terrible movie that does everything it can to ruin this franchise and the holiday it’s named after.

Back in 2018, the world was subjected to David Gordon Green’s terrible update to the Halloween series. It was a direct sequel to the 1978 classic Halloween. Green’s terrible direction and completely misunderstanding of the horror genre lead to a miserable experience. His follow up released last year called Halloween Kills is an even stupider and more miserable experience. That movie is crammed full of badly executed violence and unpleasant characters. He closes out his trilogy here with an even more inept and stupid conclusion. At least he’s consistent. He never learned how to build tension or create atmosphere. He never figured out what makes Michael Myers scary as a slasher character. He never bothered to figure out how to tell an interesting story set in this world. If you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like this one.

The central figure of Green’s trilogy has been the trauma that Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, endured during the 1978 attack by Michael Myers. In the first film she was an aggressive survivalist who used violence and an unpleasant manner to shield herself from her own ptsd. In the second film, she was in a hospital bed. She was either asleep or screaming about killing Michael, and that was about it. In this one, she is a sweet old grannie taking care of her grand daughter and writing a book about her struggles.

I hate when series do this. Laurie’s biggest character development happened between movies. We didn’t get to see her become this sweet well adjusted person. She just is a totally different person now. The writers didn’t want to do the work of showing her growth and development, so they just shoved it between the two movies.

This film takes place four years after the last one. A time jump that has seen Michael Myers disappear from the face of the earth. No one knows where he went after his night of mass murder. (Seriously, he murdered like 500 people last time. He was a supernatural force of murder that was completely indestructible. Now he’s just vanished.) Laurie is now well adjusted. Her grand daughter Allison, played by Andi Matichak, who watched her mother, father, boyfriend, and all of her friends get brutally murdered in the last two films is now just fine. She’s a nurse dealing with a lousy boss and no trauma. But for some reason the writers decided to sideline all of these characters in favor of creating a new character! Yay, because nothing is better than introducing a new character to the finale of your trilogy who will completely take over the narrative and sideline all the characters we actually came to the movie to see.

This new character is Corey played by Rohan Campbell. Corey accidentally killed a child in a random and unbelievable accident, and his life has never been the same. He struggles with work. He has no friends. He lives with a nasty overbearing mother. He is bullied by everyone in town because everyone in town recognizes him. He meets Laurie Strode who encourages him to stand up for himself. He tries but is thrown off a bridge by a quartet of band geeks who are apparently the bullies of modern day high schools according to Green. Corey wakes up in a sewer having been dragged inside by Michael Myers. Apparently, Myers has been living in a sewer for four years. Myers beings strangling Corey, and he sees his reflection in Corey’s eyes. We flash through all the trauma in Corey’s life and Myers releases him.

Now, what just happened is completely unclear. Did Myers use some kind of telepathic powers to see Corey’s life? Did Corey’s life just flash before his eyes? Did they experience some kind of psychic interface like the Vulcan mind meld? Don’t know. But Corey is now evil. He walks out of the sewer and murders a homeless man. He then goes on a date with Allison. He bullies the bullies, and sleeps with Allison. He then lures a mean cop into the sewer and Myers stabs him to death. This seemingly gives Myers super powers. Murdering people is what recharges his batteries apparently. Corey and Myers then go on a spree killing a bunch of people in really gross ways. A blow torch, a drumstick to the eye, stomping a head until it goes squish.

This culminates in the lamest fight ever filmed between Laurie and Myers. Myers is a decrepit old man, and Laurie is a woman who didn’t seem to learn her fight choreography. So there are a few stabs a few cuts with the knife. Myers gets taken out by a refrigerator. Then the movie ends.

Why center your trilogy on Laurie and trauma and then sideline both of those in the finale? This movie isn’t about Laurie or the trauma she endured. It isn’t about Myers or legacy or anything like that. It feels like they ran out of ideas and went with the junior killer idea.

Green is bad at horror. As a director, he doesn’t understand how to use filmmaking to build tension. He seems to think that violence is scary enough on its own. It doesn’t need to be built up to. For example, Corey goes after the band geeks who harassed him. He gets in a big truck and drives at them. They run and hop a fence to escape. He hits the fence and runs over one of them. There’s no suspense or tension here. He’s in the big loud truck driving straight at them. They are scrambling to escape, but the fence isn’t a big challenge to overcome. They hop it easily. The truck is moving so fast that there’s no way she can escape it. So we know from the moment the scene begins that she is going to get run over by that truck. The way he films it and the way it is edited together leave no doubt as to what is about to happen. Beginning to end the sequence is a straight line leading to a gruesome and bloody death. Will she escape? No. Is there anything she can do to slow the inevitable? No. Is there a moment where we understand that this sequence is about the nihilism of life and death? No, it’s over too quickly. It’s an action movie. It’s not a horror film. It’s just a bad action film.

Green is a good director of characters and character studies but here he is hamstrung by his screenwriters all four of them. Every character in this movie is so cartoonishly vile that I hate everyone on screen. These people all suck. They are nasty and cruel and mean, and I kind of want Myers to murder them all. The histrionics and mean spiritedness make this a very unpleasant movie to watch.

Finally there’s the way this movie goes out of its way to ruin the franchise it’s based on. The original movie has been scaring me for years. This movie shows so many clips from that movie I feel like I’ve watched the original by mistake. This movie tries so hard to tie itself to the only good movie in the franchise that it drags the original down several notches by association. It’s like a 500 pound man using an 80 pound girl as a flotation device.

What this trilogy never understood is what made Myers scary to begin with. In the 78 film, Myers is a killer who stalks three teen girls. Why these three? We don’t know. It could have been anyone. That idea has haunted me and everyone I’ve shown the original to over the years. Why did he go after those three? This trilogy makes Myers crazy. He’s just nuts and murders everyone he sees. He kills people because they’re there. Old Myers had a reason even though we never knew what it could be. New Myers has no reason. He’s just evil. It’s just nihilism. That’s way less scary to me. I want to ask why. I don’t want to know the answer.

This movie is terrible. Don’t want it. It’s not my cup of tea. F

The Bye Bye Man

This isn’t a very good movie. But it is a fun little easy to watch horror movie. It has a big concept, a lot of jump scares, and enough creepiness to make it worth while.

The movie has a strong opening. A man loads a shotgun and goes after his neighbors demanding to know if they said the name to anyone. He then shoots everyone. Who is this? What name? Why is it so important that they never share the name with anyone? Great start.

We are then introduced to our main trio. They are college students moving into their first off-campus house. They got a great deal on this old place, and find a basement full of furniture. They are John, Sasha, and Elliot. Elliot and Sasha are dating. John is jealous. Suddenly, as they are settling in, coins begin appearing around the bedroom. Strange noises echo out in the night. Elliot looks through and old nigh stand and finds the name “The Bye Bye Man” carved into the wood. When he says the name out loud he infects his roommate with the evil curse of the bye bye man. If you think his name, he’ll come get you. If you tell anyone his name, he’ll come after them.

The movie is poorly shot. It is filmed with the most basic coverage imaginable. I mean this movie is every problem with modern digital cinematography. Because you don’t have to worry about running out of film, you just shoot every angle imaginable for every scene and then chop it together as quickly as possible. There is no perspective. There is no real sense of building tension through camera work. Whatever tension is achieved is built through sound design and performance.

The story telling is also pretty mediocre. I mention that Elliot and Sasha are dating, and John is jealous. Is the movie about jealousy? No. Does it spend a lot of time dealing with jealousy? Yes. Does it really play into the narrative or come together in a thematic way? No. It just ends up being window dressing.

Now, why did I like this movie? Because it’s easy to watch. It’s all sound design and loud musical cues. It has a creepy concept that worked for me. It doesn’t challenge the viewer the way an experience like Hereditary or Conjuring does. It’s creepy enough. It has the jumps and jolts. It’s not good, but it goes down smooth.

There are a couple of really good scenes that work for me. One is the seance that kicks off the horror. I’m a sucker for a good seance scene. I just love when someone is filled with fear and sharing these things that they are experiencing that aren’t there. This one has someone sharing details that they are hearing from all the spirits inhabiting the place, and the spirits are all terrified of this bye bye man. It’s frightening and fun. I love that stuff.

I also love the idea of slowly losing your mind and not knowing if what you see is real or is imagined. That idea frightens me so much. I love it.

So maybe my taste is way off, but this movie works for me. It doesn’t execute the idea the best, but it has the idea. It was fun for me. I know critics savaged this movie, and audiences disliked it. I understand why, but it was enough fun for me. It’s a half cup of tea. It’s a bad movie, but I had fun. C-