The Trip (2021)

This is one of the craziest movies I’ve seen. It is constantly twisting and turning. It zigs and zags every minute. It’s darkly funny, and shockingly frightening. It’s streaming on Netflix if you have a strong stomach.

The movies opens with Aksel Hennie, playing Lars. He’s a Norwegian TV director. He appears to be a disinterested hack on set. He only fully engages when telling everyone who will listen that he’s going to the cabin this weekend, and his wife wants to go hiking in the mountains all by herself despite how dangerous it is. It slowly becomes clear that Lars is planning something nefarious for his wife during this weekend getaway to the cabin. It also becomes clear how abused and put upon Lars is by everyone in his life.

Once at the cabin, Lars and his wife Lisa, played by the ever excellent Noomi Rapace, bicker and argue and fight. She picks at him like a scab. He lashes out against her like a kicked dog. This relationship is clearly beyond saving. Lars takes the hammer he just bought and approached Lisa from behind. As he raises the hammer to kill her, she turns and zaps him with a taser.

This is just the first of many twists. We flash back to see Lisa’s plans and preparations. She was planning on murdering Lars this weekend too. As they compare plans, they each point out the flaws and the strengths, and it becomes clear that they each have complimentary strengths and weaknesses. If this couple could work together instead of try to kill each other they might have a chance. As we’re realizing this, a new element is introduced that twists the plot on its head. After another five minutes another new element is introduced that flips that. A minute later there’s another new twist. A couple minutes later there is another new twist.

This movie twists so often it becomes dizzying, but it always feels organic and earned. The twists never feels cheap. They are either well set up beforehand, or a flashback is introduced that explains and sets up everything. It’s a really fun and entertaining ride… until it isn’t.

The first half of this movie is one of the funniest and craziest dark comedies I’ve seen. At about the halfway point, this movie takes a turn that makes everything serious and introduces a very scary new component to the film. This becomes one of the most intense scenes I’ve seen. It is horrifying and unsettling how long it goes on and the implications it has. It is funny until it isn’t. Then it’s very unfunny. Then it peppers some well deserved jokes and laughs here and there to break the tension.

This movie was a fascinating and very enjoyable experience to have with no expectations. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was delighted throughout. I think that’s a great way to experience this movie. I will throw some caveats out. It is extremely violent and bloody. There is murder and beatings and torture. There is blood and guts galore. There is comic horror violence, like someone getting stabbed in the foot. There is terrifying horror violence like when someone ends up in a lawn mower blade. This one is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart.

The twists and turns could turn some people off. It’s hard to follow the movie if you don’t know what to expect. It is really forging its own path sliding between horror and comedy. That balance isn’t always an easy one for some audience members. It worked for me all the way through, but I understand it might not work for you.

All in all, this movie was a very fun ride. I really enjoyed it. It was my cup of tea. A

Spoilers

So after Lars tries to murder Lisa. She tases him and ties him up. They argue. As she’s about to kill him, Hans, Lars’ accomplice shows up. He hits Lisa with a shovel, knocking her out. They ties up Lisa, and the tables have turned. Lars has promised to split Lisa’s life insurance with Hans. Once Lisa wakes up, she tells Hans that Lars is holding out on him. The life insurance is worth three times as much as Lars has promised. Hans then turns the gun on Lars. Lars and Hans fight. This results in Lars getting his hand shot off. The tables have turned yet again. Lisa escapes and the whole situation is screwed.

As the three descend into chaos, Hans ends up dead. Lisa and Lars end up fighting over a shot gun. The gun blasts a hole in the ceiling, from which a cry of pain echoes out. Lars and Lisa stare in disbelief as the ceiling caves in and three strangers fall on top of them.

What????????

Backing up, these three are escaped criminals who are hiding out in their attic. There is an extended poop joke here that really didn’t work for me. It’s a real low point in the film. Totally unworthy of such a clever script. But I digress.

These three criminals take Lars and Lisa hostage. They tie them up in the basement and demand money in exchange for their freedom. When the money isn’t enough, the three threaten the couple with sexual violence. This is where the movie shifts into horror territory. Up until now, these three are just dopey criminals. As soon as sexual violence enters the picture, the movie becomes very scary indeed. Lisa is terrified of what they will do to her. However, knowing this movie, another reversal isn’t far. A twist is coming. They don’t want Lisa. They want Lars. They hold him down and prepare to do horrible things to him. They make him beg. They shame him. They decide to rape him anyway.

Lisa stops them by promising them more money. They tie them up and leave them alone. At this point Lars and Lisa come to terms with their own failures and mistakes. They also face up to the way they’ve let their marriage disintegrate over the years.

At this point, Lars is ready to fight for himself and his wife. He hatches a plan and takes down one of the three criminals. A wild series of fighting and back and forth ensues. It’s an insanely bloody game of cat and mouse. Many people are dispatched in bloody and horrifying ways. There are some huge laughs and some major scares. In the end, the villains are dispatched and the couple reconnect. They fight for one another and put each others needs first and relearn how to care for each other. It’s such a weird story of a couple coming back together, but it worked for me.

I don’t have time or space to describe every twist and turn, but the movie is full of them. It is so much fun to watch a movie that can genuinely surprise you. It was a great pleasure to be laughing, shocked, and horrified all at once.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Currently streaming on Amazon, also currently being remade by Amazon, this late 90’s slasher film is an excellent example of its time period. It is a solid story with great production value, and a lame conclusion.

The film is loosely based on a 1973 novel of the same name, and it tells the story of four teens who make a life changing mistake one night. We are introduced to Julie James and Helen Shivers, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar, along with their boyfriends Barry and Ray played by Ryan Phillipe and Freddie Prinze Jr, on a festive Fourth of July.

The quartet have just graduated high school and are celebrating being young and alive. The future is theirs. They are invincible. They drink and party and have sex on a beach. On the drive home, they accidentally hit someone. They believe he’s dead. They are drunk and desperate. They argue about how to proceed. Barry bullies them into dumping the body. Ray agrees, and after a little convincing Helen goes along. Julie is the hold out, but doesn’t stop them. They dump the body in the ocean and go about their lives.

One year later, Julie is still haunted by that night. She can’t shake that horrible feeling that they did something truly evil. She returns home after her first year of college to find the place very much the same, but the people she knew very much changed. All of Helen’s dreams failed. Barry is a barely functioning alcoholic who never left town. Ray is everything he never wanted to be; a local fisherman just like his father. Julie is trying to find her way in this town full of memories, when a note arrives. It simply says, “I know what you did last summer.”

Over the next couple of days, the quartet is forced back together to confront their sins and try to figure out who knows their secret. Once the Fourth of July hits however, all bets are off, and the mysterious person begins killing them one by one with a massive hook.

What works here? The story. It’s a very compelling narrative. These kids made a huge life altering mistake that changed the course of their lives. There are several scenes of them confronting their own issues that are actually really well written and acted. I quite liked a lot of the movies quieter moments.

What else worked? The horror works. There is one great jump scare that happens after a quiet scene in a car. The jump comes out of nowhere and is incredibly effective. There is a prolonged sequence in the middle in which the killer is after Helen and chases her all over town. It’s really well done and builds to a fantastic crescendo.

What else worked? The mystery. It kept me guessing. I can usually figure out who done it, long before it’s revealed, but this one kept me on my toes. I really appreciated that.

What didn’t work every other jump scare didn’t work. Too obvious. Freddie Prinze Jr.’s performance. He’s terrible here. He’s a really good looking block of wood. Finally, the climax is lame. Once the killer is revealed, the movie goes into a crappy climax of lame chase and escape junk. The final confrontation is especially dumb. It reminded me of Wile E. Coyote. It’s such a dumb conclusion to the main conflict in this film. It’s a really disappointing finish to an otherwise solid movie.

I had fun with this movie. It’s a slice of 90’s nostalgia on top of being a solid thriller with a weak finish. It’s my cup of tea. B

One reason I love these Halloween months so much is because they allow me to see how a genre progresses over time. I got to watch the low budget junk of the 80’s with Friday the 13th. I got to watch there high budget junk of today with Halloween Kills. This movie falls in a very interesting time. It is made with more money, and much great care than Friday the 13th, but it’s also made with enough cheese and understanding of what it is than that piece of crap Halloween Kills. This 90’s time was the sweet spot. Studios put actual money into these movies, while understanding that they are fun cheesy slasher movies. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s not a dissertation on the nature of evil. Commit to your story and just have fun with it. I wish more films did that these days.

Freaky

This is a pretty fun mashup of genres. It combines the body swap story with the slasher film. It has some good laughs and some fun horror moments, but it’s most successful due to its two leads, Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton as the body swapped duo.

The film opens with a group of teens at one of their obscenely wealthy parent’s mansions when a deranged killer (Vaughn) breaks in and murders them all one by one in bloody fashion. He chases one girl into a room full of antiquities and murders her with a knife he finds in a glass case. It turns out that this knife is a magical knife.

The next day at school we meet Millie Kessler, (Newton) the bullied outcast in her school who is having trouble at home, and is in love with a boy who doesn’t seem to notice her. Classic. Anyway, that night after the homecoming football game, Millie is attacked and stabbed by the killer using the magic knife. Some magic stuff happens, and they switch bodies. Millie wakes up in an abandoned warehouse in the body of Vince Vaughn. The psychotic killer wakes up as a teenage girl.

Both actors are so good here. It’s a lot of fun to watch Vaughn play a teen girl. He nails the mannerisms without going over the top. And Newton has a steely dead eyed glare that she employs as the killer. It’s a great duet from these two. Body swap movies live and die by their leads, and this one nails the leads.

There are some really fun elements that the movie plays with. One is that the killer likes being a teen because nobody is suspecting her to be the killer. However, it has its drawbacks. For instance, she is physically very weak and small. There’s a lot of humor wrung from the idea that she has the confidence of a giant man and the ability of a little girl. The same is true for Vaughn, they really play up his size and strength to great effect. It’s a lot of fun.

The horror in the movie doesn’t work as well. It’s never really scary. I wasn’t scared anyway. There are several kills in the film, and they are very creative and fun. There is a person strapped to a table saw that becomes a bloody big fountain. There are a couple of really well made scenes, but it never becomes scary. They are funny and entertaining, but not fear inducing. They are also bloody, so it’s best to skip it if you’re squeamish.

The movie sets its sights for the middle of the road. It’s a fun body swap horror comedy. It doesn’t have ambitions beyond that. It tells its story and has its fun. Then it gets out at a tight hour forty one. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a fun movie this Halloween. It doesn’t bring a lot new to the genre, but it will be a solid entertainment for your evening. It’s currently streaming on HBO Max.

It is my cup of tea. B+

The Night Watchmen

This is a mostly junk horror comedy that has its moments, but generally settles for lowest common denominator horror and humor.

To begin the movie is confused about who its main character is. We are first introduced to Rajeeve, played by Max Gray Wilbur, he is a burnout who has just left his heavy metal band in order to pursue an actual job. The only job that will hire him is a nightwatchman position for the Baltimore newspaper. There, he meets Ken, Luca, and Jiggetts, played by Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca, and Kevin Jiggetts. This is a trio of losers who savor the laziness inherent in their jobs. They drink, play cards, and slack off to their hearts content. This is also where the perspective of the film shifts into murky waters. Rajeeve is our point of view character, but once the group becomes solidified, Ken begins to take over the narrative.

That night, they receive a delivery in the loading dock. The delivery is a coffin. It was accidentally delivered to the paper instead of the medical facility down the road. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the coffin is opened, and out pops a vampire clown. A famous clown was performing in Eastern Europe and became a vampire. In this movie, vampires are really just zombies. They’re brainless eating machines hell bent on biting everyone in their path. Once bitten everyone turns into a vampire. Why did they call them vampires instead of zombies? I don’t know. They don’t do anything with the vampire idea. They behave as zombies. They are killed as easily as zombies. It’s just a superfluous distinction.

Anyway, soon the entire newspaper is turned into mindless blood sucking monsters. It’s up to the night watchmen to destroy the evil and save the world from this outbreak. Too bad these guys are bickering idiots. It’s a pretty well trodden path of horror comedy. Take a horror movie, put a bunch of funny idiots into the situation and hopefully laughs ensue.

Do they ensue here? Yeah some of the time. There are some funny moments and some clever bits. I laughed a couple of times. I liked the bickering and hazing that they do to Rajeeve. Especially the fact that the character’s name isn’t actually Rajeeve. That’s the nametag left over on the used uniform that give him to wear for his first night. All the characters just all him Rejeeve. We don’t even find out his real name until the end. Details like that were fun. The trouble is that the movie goes for the easiest joke nine times out of ten. They have a reoccurring fart joke that never gets funny and never stops. Every time a vampire is killed they fart for a solid minute then everyone complains about how gross it smells. I guess that’s hilarious. Five year old me, might have liked it. But five year old me never would’ve been allowed to see this movie.

The movie is bloody and violent as the characters stab and shoot their way through the vampire horde. Now I like a good bloody gruesome time, but this one is only okay. The violent is poorly shot, and the bloody is copious, but unmotivated. They just get covered in bodily fluids and that’s the punchline.

All in all it was a pretty decent evening. I had a few laughs. I didn’t fall asleep. I’ve seen worse movies this month. I’d watch this again over that piece of crap Halloween Kills.

Not really my cup of tea. C

His House

This very intense haunted story has offers a lot more than just thrills. It tells a timely story that is both tragic and haunting. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

When the film opens, Bol and his wife Rial are new immigrants to the UK. They fled their war torn home in South Sudan and in the journey lost their daughter Nyagak. They are placed in immigrant housing and told to try to assimilate into the UK, while their immigrant status is sorted through the system.

Bol, played perfectly by Sope Dirisu, is ignoring their tragedy and fighting to be just like the British men he sees. He adopts British clothes and customs in a desperate attempt to put the past behind him. This brings him into conflict with Rial, played by Wunmi Mosaku. (She’s elevated the entire movie with her performance.) Rial is struggling deeply with her loss and struggles to adjust. She is haunted by the memory of Nyagak and clings to her traditions.

Things are moving in a bumpy uneven manner until Bol notices a crack in the wall. He looks into the crack and sees eyes staring at him from inside the wall. There’s something haunting him. Some evil force that torments both of them. Rial believes it is a night witch come to claim the debt they owe. Bol rejects this idea. Despite everything he sees, despite the holes he tears into the walls he refuses to believe that there is anything haunting them.

I loved this conflict. It sets it apart from other haunted house movies and creates a really uneasy tension between the two leads, and their environment. It’s not just the ghosts we have to fear. Bol might be losing it.

It also ties in beautifully with the themes of the story. This is a movie about putting your past behind you about confronting your mistakes. It’s about the weight of sins and finding redemption. The ghosts aren’t just spooks and specters. They are a force that drives against Bol and Rial dredging up their worst memories until they’re willing to confront their own sins.

The production design is amazing. The house itself is dilapidated and crummy. The walls open up into caverns and dark pits filled with the staring faces of those they’ve left behind. The lighting and set design really amp up the horror elements without drawing too much attention to themselves. They work subconsciously.

This movie scared me. Like deeply frightened me many times. It doesn’t follow the typical haunted house trajectory. They get to the house. It’s nice, but somethings off. The ghouls slowly become more intense until a crescendo. Here, the horrors start at a fever pitch and things never settle down. There’s no slow build here. The movie begins in the deep end and you have to sink or swim on your own.

I loved the ending to this movie too. A good ending can save a mediocre ending, and a bad ending can kill a great movie for me. This one really worked for me. I’ll spoil it in the later section if you want to know how it all ties together, but for now I’ll just say it comes together thematically in a really wonderful way.

The movie is scary. The story is powerful. The ending is satisfying. The performances are great. This one is a big cup of tea for me. A

Spoilers.

Bol and Rial fled South Sudan. The danger was closing in, and a crowd of people gathered to get on the last bus out of town. The bus was full, and they were only taking children. Bol found a little girl without parents and snatched her up claiming she was his own. This got Bol, Rial, and the girl a spot on the bus. The girl’s mother chased the bus trying to get her daughter back.

The trip ended up on a fishing boat to cross the sea. The boat capsized, and the girl drowned. Bol tried to save her but couldn’t. The question of whether he could’ve done more weighs heavily on him.

However, once they enter Britain, they must keep up the act that their daughter is dead. This weighs on Rial. She is traumatized by the violence in her home and by the racism in Britain. She sees the ghosts haunting them and knows they owe this night witch a debt. They used the girl to escape and let her die.

The night witch begins tormenting them both with horrifying visions finally it makes them an offer, give the night witch Bol, and he will give them back Nyagak, their daughter.

This horrifies Bol. Rial is conflicted. After an incredibly intense climax, Bol concedes. He surrenders to the night witch. It gets pretty gnarly and horrifying. Then Rial attacks the night witch and kills it knowing they can never erase their mistakes, but they can live with them. They must make their peace and continue living.

The film ends with the couple reconnecting and embracing their new life without rejecting their past. They are optimistic, but are surrounded by the ghosts from their past. They can’t get rid of them, but they can live in peace with them.

Halloween Kills

I hated this movie. I very rarely hate movies, but I very rarely see movies this aggressively bad. I don’t know how the director David Gordon Green looked at this film and thought “yeah, this is good. I’m going to release it to audiences.” Every bad decision that could be made was made in this movie, and I’m going to go over all of them.

In 1978, John Carpenter released one of the best horror movies ever. It defined a genre and holds up today. It was of course Halloween. After 30 years of sequels and remakes, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride decided to bring it all back to basics and make a stripped down direct sequel to the 1978 film. They brought back that film’s star Jamie Lee Curtis. They took away all the other elements that had built up over the years and refocused the story. Now, two years later they have unleashed a sequel to that film. Spoiler alert, they both suck.

David Gordon Green is a terrible horror director. He doesn’t understand horror at all. He mistakes brutal bloody violence for scares. He thinks jump cuts equal jump scares. He seems to think that more and more dead bodies will up the fear instead of just becoming monotonous. I’m going to hit each one of those points one at a time.

This movie is brutally violent. It kicks off with Michael Myers killing a dozen fire fighters with various implements. This is shot not like a horror scene, but like a showdown in a John Wick movie with boogeyman Michael Myers as the cool action star. It’s not scary to see a knife enter someone’s neck, or face, or stomach, or hand, or arm, or ankle, or eye socket. The murder itself isn’t the scary part. If the kill itself was frightening, then John Wick would be a horror film. Any action movie would be terrifying if faceless people getting killed was scary. The scary part of a slasher film is the threat of death. It’s the encroaching inevitability of the murder. A girl goes into the dark basement, and we’re all on edge because we know danger is down there. That’s fear building up. When the killer stabs her, that’s the shock of that fear bursting forth. Without the buildup or the dread, it’s just action. This is an action movie. It’s a brutal unrelenting action movie in which the bodies are not Nazi’s or henchmen, but everyday people in this small mid western town. Michael Myers isn’t a boogeyman here. He’s an action star.

There’s a moment in the film in which a man is searching the house. He enters a bedroom with a flashlight. He scans the darkened room. The camera pans across the room. Suddenly, there’s a squelching sound. The film jump cuts back to the man, Michael Myers is standing behind him. His knife is already in the man’s side. There’s no building of tension as to whether or not Michael is in the house. There’s no sense that he’s in this room waiting to pop out. And there’s no actual jump scare in this moment. There’s no loud musical cue. There’s no loud noise. It’s just a jump cut that is more confusing than frightening. Another moment has a man staring out a window. We know Michael is probably in the room. The camera lingers on the man’s reflection in the window. Suddenly, jump cut to a medium shot of Michael running. Cut to Michael and the man crashing into each other. This doesn’t work because of the jump cut. We don’t have a sense of where Michael is or what he’s charging at. The following shot does nothing to clear up the spacial geography of the action. It’s just a series of confusing and muddled jump cuts that imply action while leaving us lost in the dark room. It’s not scary. It’s just spatially confusing. I’m not scared. I’m annoyed because I can’t tell what’s going on.

Within the first five minutes Michael Myers brutally murders a dozen men. He then breaks into an elderly couples house. He murders the husband. The wife is cowering in the corner. He casually walks up to her and stabs her in the neck. Killing people is an easy and casual activity for him. Everyone he comes across, he murders. I lost count about twenty minutes in. After twenty minutes, I was so bored of watching people get eviscerated that it just become a numbing. I didn’t care. There’s a new character. I bet you they’re going to die. Oh look, they’ve died. Oh boy here are two more people. I bet they’re going to die. Gee whiz, I was right they’re dead. Here comes another person… When everyone is dying all the time it’s hard for any of the kills to matter. None of them stand out. It’s just a wash of dead bodies.

This movie is garbage. It is one of the worst directed horror movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the worst written. The script is truly terrible. No work was done here. Michael literally walks up to a woman and stabs her in the neck without a buildup of any kind. He just walks across the kitchen and stabs her. There isn’t a single scene that was written, staged, or shot with any amount of cleverness or invention. It’s like they tried to make it as dull as possible. Every line of dialogue is an insufferable pontification on the nature of Michael Myers’ evil, a whiny complaint about how much Myers has taken from them, or someone shouting “evil dies tonight.” The script is crap. It is how high off of its own mythologizing that it forgets to tell a story or build something narratively.

The movie has about two hundred and fifty characters. About two hundred and forty of them end up murdered. The only interesting characters of the bunch are Laurie played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Hawkins, played by Will Patton. However these two interesting characters are sidelined for the entire movie. They only get to sit in a hospital room and share crappy dialogue about how evil Michael is and what’s he’s done to this town. I swear they copy and pasted certain lines from scene to scene just to save time.

This is a garbage film. I have only hated three movies in my life. I love movies even the bad one. I hated this movie. I hope it fails and they never let David Gordon Green direct another horror movie ever again. Not my cup of tea. F-

A Classic Horror Story

Released over the summer on Netflix, this Italian horror film is exquisitely shot and a little too clever for its own good.

The film opens Elisa, played by an excellent Matilda Lutz, as she deals with a phone call from her controlling mother. Elisa is pregnant, and she and her mother disagree on how to proceed with the pregnancy, but Elisa yields to her mother’s manipulation. She gets on a ride share app and ends up in an RV with a disgraced doctor, a randy couple backpacking through Europe, and Fabrizio, a film school reject and annoying driver. An accident leads everyone unconscious. The next morning they wake up in a field miles away from the road with only a creepy house to greet them. As Fabrizio says, “it’s like the setup to a classic horror film.”

That setup is standard, but unconventional plotting really gooses the premise and sucked me right into the movie. The movie is unpredictable. It has a lot of twists and turns that kept me guessing. And while I figured out one twist, the motivations were completely surprising. I really appreciate any movie that can surprise me.

I found the lead, Elisa to be a wonderful protagonist. She says so much without any words. Matilda Lutz has these wonderfully expressive eyes that convey so much and keep me locked into her journey no matter where it was going, and I was very scared about where it was going.

Because of how unpredictable the film is, I never settled into the comfort of knowing who will survive this ordeal. In most horror films, you can pick out the final girl with ease. Which character is going to escape Jason? The girl who doesn’t have sex. Who will survive this one? I wasn’t sure until the final moments of the movie.

The movie has a wonderfully off kilter color palette. They’ve turned the reds up slightly, and the greens have an artificial quality. The color correction combines with the production design to make for a really vivid viewing experience.

Okay, time for the drawbacks. The biggest drawback is the final twist. Spoiler alert there is a twist. It changes the plot entirely and pulls the rug out in a big way. Looking back, I can see all the foreshadowing and setup, but it did feel jarring in the moment. It would be very easy to feel betrayed by the narrative. If you don’t buy in, it’s going to feel cheap.

This wasn’t a great horror film, but it was a fun, surprising, and tense movie. If you like twisty plots and tense horror, this will be a good choice. It was my cup of tea. B+

Spoiler territory!!!!!

Okay so the RV crashes into a tree by the road. Everyone is unconscious. They wake up the next morning in a field. The doctor stalks angrily into the woods Fabrizio goes with him, insisting they go south.

They come across what looks like a satanic cult altar. Fabrizio tells the doctor about stories he’s heard of a village that went crazy worshipping three demons who require a sacrifice of eyes, ears, and tongues.

They return to the RV. That night they are attacked by the members of this cult. They take one of the randy couple and brutally torture and kill him while the rest hide in the attic of the creepy house.

The next day they try to escape, but the end up in the same field only now the RV is missing. At this point, I am freaking out. What is going on? These nice people are going to be murdered one by one! Is it purgatory? Are they in a haunted forest? We’re they abducted by aliens? What is going on?

That night the cult abducts and kills all but Elisa and Fabrizio in a massive cult ritual. It’s gruesome. Fabrizio is shaken and reaches out to Elisa for comfort as they hide in the house. As he’s hugging her, she hears a crackle in his ear. A voice comes through. She pulls a hidden radio from his ear. He’s part of them. I figured he was in on it, but my faith in the movie is shaken. Why is he betraying them and what is happening?

It turns out, the whole thing is decided by Fabrizio. He is turning their torment into a high budget snuff film. He’s being backed by the mafia who have a buyer lined up for this most visceral and realistic of horror films. I was on board with it because it was well hinted at throughout the film. I know it sounds absurd and silly on paper, it in the moment it works.

Elisa ends up killing Fabrizio and the co-conspirators and making her desperate escape. This is probably the most important reason I bought the twist. It plays into Elisa’s story. She has been controlled and manipulated her whole life. She is finally asserting her independence and breaking free from those who are trying to control her. For that reason above all, I liked it.

Friday the 13th Part IV The Final Chapter

I remember being scared by this poster at the video rental store as a kid.

This movie caused quite a stir when it was released for its gruesome violence and abundance of blood and guts. These days, it’s very tame. It’s got nothing on any of the modern horror releases, but does it hold up in any other way? Kind of? It is a quantum leap in quality compared to its predecessor in the series, but it’s not a good horror movie.

So, I had such fun watching part 3, that I decided to give this one a chance. From the opening moments I could tell the budget had been raised and the filmmakers were actually trying. The lighting is motivated and moody. The camerawork is steady. The actors are actually trying, and the script has attempted character arcs. It’s not much, but compared to the last movie it’s a masterpiece. The opening shot of this film is a long tracking shot that is better in everyday than the entirety of part 3. The most fascinating thing about these two films is the quality of the filmmaking on display.

The plot is a little different this time. A family lives in a cabin on Crystal Lake. A bunch of teens are moving into the house next door. Jason escapes the morgue and returns to Crystal Lake to murder everyone. The family dynamic is the only new things here really. Otherwise it’s just murder by numbers for this series.

What did I like about the film? The practical effects. Seeing real fake blood is always better than cgi. Watching a prop hand her cut off is so much more satisfying than a computer generated fake. The final demise in the film is genuinely impressive bit of practical effects work that I loved. A head gets cut in half and the eyes twitch and look around. It’s gruesome, but great work.

The characters all have issues and storylines. Jimmy is worried about being bad in bed. Sam is worried about her boyfriend Paul and his wandering eye. The cool guy Ted is shown he’s not so cool. Everyone is killed before their story arc can be completed or just after the arc is completed. Jimmy’s moment of sexual triumph is cut short by his murder. Sam never gets to find out Paul didn’t cheat on her before she’s killed. And Ted is proven to be a loser and then dies. This doesn’t work because their deaths are inevitable. They never get a chance to fight back. They are surprised and killed before they ever realize they’re in danger. This creates a nihilism that just taints the entire film. Nothing matters. Death is inevitable. Did you care about these kids? Too bad! You shouldn’t have cared. Nothing matters.

In the previous film, they didn’t have character arcs except for the final girl and maybe one other, but that’s it. They were merely archetypes to get sliced and diced. This movie spent too much time on the characters without giving them a fighting chance in their own narrative. If that’s what they were going for, then job well done. But it doesn’t make it any fun to watch.

On top of that, it’s not scary. Jason has a magical ability to teleport wherever the movie wants him to be. In one moment, he’s murdering Jimmy in the kitchen. In the next instant he is hanging off the side of the house so he can pull a girl out of the second story window. In the next moment he is in the basement to beat up a boy who went to check the fuse box. This zaps any suspense out of the film. If we know Jason is in the kitchen, and Jimmy walks into the kitchen, we are on edge waiting to see if Jimmy will escape. If Jason pops up every time a character walks into any room, it just becomes monotonous.

It’s not bad enough to be fun. It’s not good enough to be scary. It’s too unpleasant an experience to be a good time at the movies. It’s not my cup of tea. D

Friday the 13th Part 3

Every year, I try to give one of these movies a try. I’ve never found one that was any good. These movies are terrible. However, this one achieved a level of terrible so profound that I actually had a lot of fun while watching it.

If you don’t know the series, Camp Crystal Lake is a lovely summer camp that is stalked by a brutal murderer wearing a hockey mask named Jason Voorhees. His likes are murder and walking around the woods at night. His dislikes include teenagers having sex, teenagers partying, and teenagers in general. For some reason, every year the camp reopens and a new herd of nubile teens show up to get slaughtered.

This movie follows the formula to the letter while adding one new element… 3-D! You know it was a 3-D movie because people are constantly pointing to the camera, throwing things at the camera, or jumping at the camera. Every couple of minutes something will get thrown at the camera just to remind you it’s in 3-D. It’s like a weird punchline at the end of every scene. A very normal scene of two people talking ends with one character randomly pointing at the camera. There’s a whole scene where two guys are having a yoyo contest and the yo-yos are headed straight for the camera. It’s a really cheap ploy that adds nothing and distracts constantly. They are trying so hard and failing so miserably that it’s actually entertaining.

Every element of this movie is poorly done. The acting is stiff and lifeless. But it is so stiff and lifeless that it becomes hilarious after a while. Hearing people say lines like, “but I DO like you” with the emphasis placed on every wrong syllable is fascinating to watch. It sounds like the speech mode on my laptop. The emphasis is all wrong. The tone is monotonous. It becomes truly hilarious after listening to these robot people talk for an hour.

The terrible acting isn’t helped by the horrendous writing. Give a fifth grader a crayon and a piece of paper and tell them to write a script and you’d get something better than what is written here. The script has no understanding of human behavior or the ways in which real humans interact. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that an alien wrote this script after watching humans for a couple of hours. My favorite moment is an exchange that goes something like this… “I like you.” “I don’t know.” “You don’t like me I can tell.” “I’m going to go outside for a few minutes. Then we can talk.” She walks five feet away and stands awkwardly in front of the door. It’s so bizarre that it becomes hilarious. I laughed out loud constantly.

This movie has two jump scares that worked on me. One comes late when Jason is hanging from the barn. He lurches toward the final girl, and it got me. The other is at the very end, and it’s a fake out involving a duck. Loud ducks are just naturally startling. Other than that the scares are boring. There’s one hilarious moment where Jason walks out onto a dock in full light with a harpoon gun. He just casually lumbers along. He’s not trying to hide or sneak up on the girl. In fact, she talks to him as he approaches. He then casually raises the harpoon gun. She watches him do it as if it’s no big deal. He shoots her. She dies. He slowly walks back to the cabin. It’s so nonchalant that I laughed. I can’t imagine a less scary scene. It was amazingly bad.

Every element of this movie is so bad and so poorly done, that I ended up having a lot of fun during it. It pushes the envelope of quality so far that it falls off the desk and shatters on the floor. It’s hilariously bad, and I enjoyed myself immensely.

It’s my cup of tea. The movie’s quality – F. My experience with it? A