Hypnotic

This is a fairly predictable psychological thriller emphasis on the psychological part. This is a Netflix release that is pretty slick, but also formulaic You can do worse, but there are a lot better versions of this story.

Jenn Thompson, is struggling to overcome past traumas. She’s played by the ever wonderful Kate Siegel. Her friend Gina, played by Lucie Guest, recommends her therapist Dr. Meade, played by Jason O’Mara. They meet at a party and he gives off an air of creepy confidence. He walks a line between charmingly confident and serial killer confident. Jenn decides to see him and he recommends hypnosis. After a couple of sessions of hypnosis, Jenn’s life is going great. The treatments are working, and her life is on a serious upswing. However, one night she receives a mysterious phone call and falls into a trance. She comes to several hours later to a chaotic scene. What is going on?

Well it’s kind of obvious. The obviously villainous Dr. Meade has done something to her during their hypnosis sessions. It’s pretty clear to any viewer what’s going on, and in most movies it takes forever for the characters to catch up to the audience. In this movie, Jenn starts to catch up very quickly. She is a smart protagonist. She pieces it together and tries to find a work around for the hypnotic power Dr. Meade holds over her.

There are some startling and pretty unsettling moments in which Jenn is rendered powerless under Meade’s hypnotic suggestion. His commanding voice is enough to render her helpless. It amounts to some really good moments. There’s a really creepy sequence in which one of Meade’s patients goes after a police detective who is getting too close. She stalks through his house in creepy fashion.

I like all the actors. They do good work and give nice performances. In particular I like Kate Kiegel. She always has a fierce intelligence and determination in her work. I also enjoyed Dule Hill as the police detective. He has a very cool edge to him as well as a weariness that really works. Jason O’Mara is steely and creepy.

In the end, the movie just doesn’t amount to a lot. It’s a boilerplate thriller with a few nice elements that plays out and resolves about exactly as you’d expect. It’s not particularly bad, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s a very mild cup of tea, but it’s still my cup of tea. B

Train to Busan

Woohoo! A zombie movie I really liked. These are rare. This one is frightening, tense, and creepy. There’s a lot to like here even if the movie does get to be a little too nihilistic for my taste.

It’s a classic set up. A workaholic father, played by Gong Yoo, takes his neglected daughter, played by Kin Su-an on a train to Busan to visit his ex wife. It’s the first amount of time he’s spent with his daughter in who knows how long. Once not he train, a zombie outbreak occurs that leaves most of the train flesh eating, braindead, monsters. They must survive the train to what is hopefully a safe zone in Busan.

I’ve never found zombies scary. I think they’re a pretty nasty and silly horror villain. They have no goals and no ability to plan an attack or reason. They just lumber around. The only zombies I’ve really liked have been in George Romero’s original zombie movies. They were an unseen terror that lurked outside in Night of the Living Dead. They were an ever present commentary on our society in Dawn of the Dead. They were an external force that drove our survivors to their worst instincts in Day of the Dead. Every other rendition has been a pale shadow of Romero’s original films.

In this version they are a fast moving horde that taps into the fear of crowds. The train is full of zombies. The characters are confined and trapped inside with them. The train is their only hope for safety, yet it is full of danger. This is played up to great effect in a sequence where Su-an is trapped in a bathroom in one car, and her father has to pass through three train cars full of zombies to get to her.

The other thing I really appreciated about these zombies is that a bump on the head doesn’t kill them. In most versions, a crack on there noggin kills them instantly. It turns into a game of target practice as people with guns take turns shooting zombies in the head. It gets boring for me. I don’t care to see people who have never held a gun in their lives suddenly making headshots at twenty yards. It’s unbelievable and repetitive. This movie doesn’t do that. They beat the zombies over the head with baseball bats, yet they keep coming. This overwhelming force of undead is truly frightening. They will never stop. They will keep attacking. You can only push them out of the way and hope you can get away before they launch themselves at you again. They’re a metaphor for death and the inescapable nature of death. We can push it back, but it will keep coming for us.

This metaphor does lead to a sense of nihilism. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is going to die anyway. Human beings are evil. The number of characters who screw each other over for a chance to survive is truly depressing. Watching these people behave horribly and betray one another is just wearying. The bad survive and the good get eaten. It’s depressing. I’ve always found zombie stories depressing. As we’ve seen in the past year or so, people do engage in violence and evil when pushed by stress. But we’ve also seen exceptional kindness and support int he face a global catastrophe. Watching people during Covid justify their selfishness and cruelty reminded me of the backstabbers in Train to Busan. There’s a lot of evil, selfishness, and cruelty in the world. But there can also be hope. Zombie movies rarely show the hopeful community that lives and works together for the betterment of all. Maybe it’s a fantasy that a world in a zombie apocalypse would behave decently, but it’s a fantasy I’d like to have.

All that said, this is a depressing, but very powerful thriller. It’s a good zombie movie although watching an apocalypse feels redundant in today’s world. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

It’s my cup of tea. A-

Dark Skies

This alien home invasion story combines some haunted house style thrills with a strong family drama that ends up being a really solid little horror movie.

Released in 2013, this film stars Keri Russel as Lacy, and Josh Hamilton as Daniel, a married couple struggling since Daniel lost his job. They are trying their best to keep their struggles quiet from their friends and neighbors and ultimately from each other. One night, Lacy wakes up and discovers all the food in their kitchen has been strewn across the floor. The next night, she discovers a bizarre tableau of household items arranged in the kitchen. Things only get weirder and scarier from there as their young son Sammy, played by Kadan Rockett, seems to be the target of an alien infestation.

What works about the movie? There are some great scares in this one. I jumped several times. The movie has a few nice set ups and payoffs as in one creepy moment when Lacy is going to check on Sammy and sees something standing over Sammy’s bed. It’s such a brief glimpse and the thing standing over him is so creepy looking that it serves as a great jump. I really went for it. And there are several moments like this throughout the movie.

The film doesn’t operate like an alien story. It’s not Close Encounters or Signs. It feels like a haunted house movie. These aliens are invading their home with unknown intent. This taps into something I love in scary movies where the home is the center of the terror. The one place you should feel safest is the place where you are least safe. It also serves to make the aliens more interesting. They remain enigmatic and shadowy creatures. Once I see an alien in a movie their intrigue is always diminished.

The film is about a lot more than just the spooky aliens. It really is the story of a family falling apart. Daniel is trying so hard to keep it together that he ends up crushing his family and denying the horror around them. He alienates everyone around him. It’s about a marriage that isn’t working until the couple start to work together and even then it might be too late. It’s a compelling story, but it’s also a frustrating one. Daniel is such a bull headed jerk throughout the story that it becomes difficult to watch him make one wrong decision after another.

This also leads to some pacing issues. The second act is full of scenes of something crazy happening and Daniel denying it. When aliens are invading your home, and your life is plagued with unexplainable phenomena it’s time to start listen to your family and stop being such a jerk. It gets repetitive and slows the movie down.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie. It had some chills. It had a solid story. I enjoyed it. It didn’t revolutionize my horror movie experience, but I had fun with it.

It is my cup of tea. B+

Blood Fest

This 2018 horror comedy has a few good moments and some refreshing self awareness about the genre, but it’s poor writing sinks the film in the end.

Currently streaming on Amazon, this movie follows Dax, a young horror movie fan who wants to attend a horror convention called Blood Fest. However when his staunchly anti horror psychologist father finds his convention pass, he forbids Dax from attending. With the help of his friends Sam and Krill, Dax sneaks into the convention. Once there, they discover that the convention is really a ruse to lure people into a real life horror movie. Convention employees begin murdering guests with chainsaws and knives living out their deranged horror movie fantasies. Dax and his friends must make their way through miles of their worst nightmares come to life in order to survive.

Every since Scream came out in 1996, all slasher movies have adhered to Scream’s winking self awareness. In some ways this is an asset. It makes the characters feel more real. They have seen scary movies and know what to do and not to do. Splitting up is always a bad idea. Having sex while a killer is stalking you isn’t a good use of time. However, it can also lead to a smug over-reliance on that fore-knowledge. The characters end up talking about the genre like they’re above it, but in the end they make all the same dumb mistakes and follow the same notes as every other horror movie just with a veneer of self awareness. That’s the line this movie walks, and it works for the most part. They walk the right side of that line for a lot of the runtime, but they do fall over into self aggrandizement after awhile. Toward the end, it just feels like they’re trying to be too clever for their own good.

The whole plot doesn’t make a ton of sense. The convention is run by Roger Hinckley, play by Chris Doubek. He wants to turn the night’s horrors into the words biggest and craziest snuff film because horror movies have gotten “too soft.” It’s a dumb argument. If anything, horror has gotten harder and more brutal in recent years. Also, the movie that could be made from the footage they are collecting would only be crap. It would be poorly lit go pro footage. His movie is going to suck. All that aside, there’s a big twist at the end about the true nature of the snuff film, who is behind it, and its broader implications. This twist is predictable, but it also screws up the motivations and logic of the film.

The film really succeeds or fails based on how much mileage you’ll get out of bloody violence and a self aware sense of humor. If that sounds like your thing, you’ll have a great time with it. For me it carried the film about to the halfway point. After that the issues of script and character started to weigh it all down. The characters are all serviceable. The story is just an excuse for the violence. This movie is really all about the gore and self aware commentary. If you enjoy that, this is an A. If you’re looking for anything more like I was when I watched it, it’ll end up a pretty enjoyable if forgettable time.

Half a cup of tea. C

Happy Halloween!

Well, it’s Halloween week, and our hosts don’t have a horror movie to discuss. We have three! In the past year we have a viewed a couple of horror films that we wanted to revisit. We take a second look at these films and see if our initial reviews hold up, what stands out to us, and if we would still recommend them today.

If you’re looking for a scary movie to watch this Halloween, we might have a couple suggestions for you. Listen to our discussion below. It is a much longer episode than our usual three minute reviews, but it’s full of interesting material to think about and take with you into your Halloween.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Dream Warriors

Well the Elm Street films are 0 for 3 in my book. This installment in the slasher series has a couple of decent elements, but is mostly terrible.

My history with this series is one of deep disappointment. Having heard so much about what a great series this is, I couldn’t believe how silly the first movie was. The second film is legendary for its subtext, but I just found it to be a camp nightmare akin to Batman and Robin. This third film was almost good, but got derailed by maybe the worst acting I’ve seen in a horror film.

To start with Freddy Krueger isn’t scary. He’s ugly, but he’s not scary. He just a goofball cracking wise and throwing bad puns at the audience. He gets beaten up by teenaged girls in every movie. What is scary about that? At one point in this movie he transforms into a television and it so stupid that I laughed out loud. Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, and these movies are supposed to be comedies.

Although that does jive with the first truly scary moment I’ve seen in one of these films. It involves a teen boy who likes making puppets. Freddy tears the veins out of his arms and legs and uses them to puppet this kid to the roof. He then throws him off the roof to his death. It’s disturbing and horrific. It’s also the only time Freddy shuts up and just kills a kid without all the puns.

I should back up and set up the story. Freddy Krueger was a child murderer. The parents who lived on Elm Street took it upon themselves to kill him. They burned him alive in his lair. Now the kids are teenagers, and Freddy has come back to murder them in their sleep. He uses their dreams to torture and kill them.

The last of the Elm Street kids are now teenagers. They are in a psych ward due to their issues resulting from their horrifying Freddy dreams.

Two things almost made this movie work, or rather they almost saved this movie from itself. Those are the incredible production design and the practical effects. There is a nightmare house that is incredible to look at. Every inch is covered with something interesting to look at. It’s so off kilter and creepy looking.

The other aspect is the practical special effects. The veins being ripped from the boys arms was great and gruesome. There’s a giant snake with Freddy’s head that tries to eat one if the girls. These are incredible and effect effects.

Unfortunately everything else in this movie is crap. These actors are giving such bad performances that i wouldn’t be surprised if there was an onset bet to see who could be the worst one in the movie. Every word out of their mouths feels forced and unnatural. It was physically painful to hear them talk sometimes.

Their performances are not helped by a truly awful script. It’s hard to sound natural when you have such crappy lines to deliver. I mean good grief, I’ve heard scripts written by robots with more natural dialogue.

Now I could see all this adding up to a campy midnight movie style trashy good time. I mean a week or so ago I gave a cup of tea to Friday the 13th part 3 a movie so inept I laughed throughout. But this one was just tough to watch. I didn’t laugh enough for it to be fun. I was thrilled enough to enjoy it seriously. It was a dumb hodgepodge.

It’s not quite my cup of tea. C

There have been a lot of slashers this Halloween Season. I think I’m done for the year. They’ve ranged from pretty good to so bad they’re good, but at the end of the day they are rarely truly good. They are mostly mediocre blood, guts, and nudity.

Night Teeth

Oh boy this one is forgettable. I have had to remind myself multiple times that I watched it. It’s currently streaming on Netflix, but you really don’t need to waste time on it.

The basic premise is one of those secret underworld movies that wants us to believe that vampires are not only real they are living in modern day LA and have a truce with a secret society of humans. The vampires run a powerful empire only drinking the blood of willing victims and hanging out in leather fetish outfits.

I’ve always found these ideas silly. Vampires are super powerful. They are strong, fast, and live forever. They can multiply at will. Why on earth are they not ruling the world? they have nothing to fear from regular humans. Why the heck would they make a compromise and live in secret? It doesn’t make sense. Any human who threatens a vampire would get murdered or vampirized in seconds based on how powerful they are here.

Anyway, I digress. Disbelief suspended. This is the world of the movie. Okay, what is the story that takes place in this world? It’s basically Collateral, the Tom Cruise Jamie Foxx film from 2004. Benny, is a struggling DJ who talks his way into a chauffeur job for the night. It should be easy money for him. He just has to drive a pair of rich ladies around town to the various clubs and parties they want to hit up.

But danger is afoot! These are no ordinary hot girls! They’re secret vampire assassins! It turns out their boss wants to kill the other vampire families and take over the city. Benny is now the hostage of these sexy vampires on their night of murder. Will he survive? Will he fall in love with the nice vampire assassin? Will he thwart the vampire overlord? Yes to all the above.

This is a very paint by numbers movie. If you think it’s going to happen, it will. It breaks no new ground. It feels like any other secret vampire society movie. It hits all the predictable beats of all the other movies of its ilk.

That doesn’t make it bad. It is competently shot. It is well acted. The pacing is serviceable. It’s all fine. What it’s missing is a reason for being. There’s nothing about this film that feels like it needed to be made. It’s just an easy to watch rehash of things you’ve seen before.

In a lot of ways that makes it worse in my book. It’s two hours I will never think about again. It’s an experience I can’t remember having twelve hours later.

It’s not my cup of tea. C

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.