Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Franchise Review: Curse of the Puppet Master (1998)

Apparently taking a cue from another famous horror film franchise that claimed to have a "final chapter," this sixth Puppet Master film, Curse of the Puppet Master, may have brought the series back to life but it really didn't do a good job of it. Once again, I'm left hoping that there are still better things to come.

Andre Toulon's puppets have a new master named Dr. Magrew, who owns runs a roadside attraction called Magrew's Marvels (Wikipedia says it's the House of Marvels, but the sign totally says Magrew's Marvels so I'm just going with that) with his daughter Jane. After finding out that a local boy named Robert has a gift for woodcarving, Magrew hires him to help him create a puppet of his own - one that he will try to bring to life just like Toulon's puppets.

Looking back, Curse of the Puppet Master isn't really all that bad - it just has a much different feel from the rest of the films, and at times feels a bit out of place from the series as a whole. Magrew became the new puppet master by accident basically when he purchased Blade and Co. from an auction. And it becomes pretty clear as the movie goes on that he is not really a worthy master, as his intentions are much more sinister than just showing the puppets off as sideshow freaks for profit. Jane also seems to love and care for the puppets, especially Pinhead, but at times she treats and talks to them like pets rather than the people they actually are. It was a little annoying sometimes.

Robert, nicknamed "Tank" because of his size, is a bit like Lennie from Of Mice and Men - he's far too trusting of others, and simple-minded, but physically strong. This becomes important when he and Jane have to deal with the requisite band of town hooligans who threaten them because they have nothing better to do with their lives. In turn, Magrew has to deal with the local asshole sheriff who is just beyond annoying with his smug demeanor. So when you know that Puppet Master movies don't usually have that many deaths, you can at least count on the fact that jackholes like this will probably be on that short list.

And indeed, Curse of the Puppet Master has one of the best kills scenes of the franchise thus far. Hooligan crew leader Joey (who gets extra hatred points by threatening to rape Jane) is working out his buff bod on the bench press when Magrew sends Blade and Tunneler in after him. Aww, yeah. After listening to Joey talk smack to absolutely nobody, Blade shuts him up by slashing at this face, and then Tunneler of course does his tunneling thing - STRAIGHT INTO JOEY'S CROTCH. Fantastic. Later on, Blade and Jester team up to slash the shit out of the sheriff's face, which is also pretty fantastic, and Tunneler takes care of that other cop guy who isn't important enough for a name.

Curse of the Puppet Master actually manages to get pretty dark at times. The movie opens with Magrew apologizing to the puppets and saying something to them about how it'll be different next time, and then he's taking a cage covered in cloth to the woods and burning it - and faint screams of pain can be heard from the cage. Hmmmm. The dreams that Robert has where parts of his body have been replaced by wooden puppet parts are also clues as to what is going on. Well, it seems that Magrew is trying the whole "putting a human soul into the puppets to give them life" thing but he really sucks at it. The little guy in the cage at the beginning was Magrew's old assistant Matt and apparently his puppet transformation didn't go so well. It's pretty horrific when daughter Jane finally figures out what daddy is up to and finds the half-burned doll body in the woods - and the poor guy is still alive in there and obviously in a lot of pain. Then the ending gets all kinds of messed with Robert and Magrew... damn, Puppet Master. You're not supposed to end movies like that.

The story in Curse of the Puppet Master (WTF, that title doesn't even really make that much sense) is an okay one, but it's too individualized, and works mostly as a stand-alone film than one that is really a part of the series. The next Puppet Master takes us back to near the beginning... can't wait!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Movie Review: Attack of the Morningside Monster (2014)

I freely admit that the only reason I wanted to watch Attack of the Morningside Monster was the fact that Nicholas Brendon is in it. The two of us share a deep connection that exists only in my mind because we have the same birthday and because he was my most beloved character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Brendon not only starred in but also produced this horror thriller film from Blue Dusk Productions.

In the small town of Morningside, New Jersey, a series of brutal murders baffles local law enforcement. Bodies are found eviscerated, accompanied by a strange symbol that seems tribal or ritualistic in nature. The close relationships among the residents of the town make finding the killer even more difficult and hard to believe that one of them is probably responsible for the horrible acts.

I really wanted to like Attack of the Morningside Monster, but sadly the movie is not as exciting as its hyperbolic title. There is less emphasis on the horror side of the story, which is not a problem at all, but the dramatic side that takes over drags the movie down. The story is not much different than other small town murder mysteries, though it tries to offer something new with the meaning behind the killer. Overall, though, the movie is slow, with not a shred of tension to amp the audience up for what is to come.

ATMM suffers the most from a lack of strong characters. Half of the cast consists of really unlikable criminals, and the other half is a group of good guys who are likable, but boring. They lack any real depth as characters, and this is sadly true of Brendon's character as well. He portrays your average sweet, normal guy well, but the performance is too obvious and easy, especially for him. Police officer Klara, played by Tiffany Shepis, provides some nice comic relief here and there but that's about it. Most disappointing - and annoying - is the town drug dealer Clyde. His portrayal by actor Mike Stanley is just lazy, thinking that he constantly has to wear that "mean" look on his face to let us all know that he's the bad guy.

Even worse than the dull character relationships is the ridiculous look of the killer. The oversized black, sparkly cloak instills no sense of fear in the audience, and neither does the equally sparkly mask that the killer wears. The mask is way too colorful, and its protruding, pointy teeth are laughable. His method of killing fits in well with other horror killers - cutting open his victims and removing certain organs in a very graphic way - and the effects work in these scenes was at least impressive. However, the horror of the crimes is lessened by the killer's motive for committing them, even though the victim's were people no one would really miss anyway.

Attack of the Morningside Monster is competent enough film that does its best, but overall fails at being truly compelling. Stronger characters and a tighter plotline would have helped the movie immensely.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Short and Sweet: "Itsy Bitsy Spiders" (2013)

Now this is what I'm talking about! Filmmaker Bertrand Pare sent me this link to his 12-minute short film "Itsy Bitsy Spiders," which is one of the coolest things I've seen all week. It's about a young boy named Edwin who has become strangely obsessed with drawing pictures of spiders all over the walls of the apartment he shares with his mother. Troubled by this obsession, his mother does what she can to make him stop.

The production value of "Itsy Bitsy Spiders" is amazing, with a real cinematic quality to the style, the lighting, and the set design. The boy playing Edwin is completely natural, and I loved the attitude that his mother had, especially at the end of the short. The tone is definitely mysterious and creepy, but also a bit tongue-in-cheek and humorous. Watch it now and enjoy!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994)

Wait a minute, didn't we just see this movie? Not only is Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter definitely NOT the final chapter of the series, it also mostly felt to me like a complete rehash of Puppet Master 4, only with a slightly different outcome. This is mildly disappointing, even though the film is still a good entry to the franchise.

Puppet Master 5 takes place shortly after the fourth installment, when Rick is being interrogated for the murders of his friend Cameron and the two scientists, Dr. Baker and Dr. Piper. The new guy in charge of the artificial intelligence project, Dr. Jennings, bails Rick out, and Rick returns to his girlfriend Suzie's place with Blade. Meanwhile, the demon Sutekh has not given up and is preparing to send another tiny demon to take out Rick, this time imbuing the creature with his own power. Rick, Jennings, Suzie, and all of Toulon's puppets must once again battle it with Sutekh to stop him for good.

The first thing I want to mention is something I haven't yet talked about with the Puppet Master series. I really love the theme music, which can usually be heard during each film's opening credits and in small doses throughout the movie. It has a bit of a carnival or vaudeville vibe to it that fits in nicely with Toulon's history as a marionette showman. It's a jaunty and somewhat upbeat tune, with just the right amount of creepy - perfect for the series.

Okay, back to the movie. It's hard to talk about Puppet Master 5 on its own because it is basically Puppet Master 4 Part 2. At the beginning of the movie, they even go through a long retelling of the whole story of the fourth film, complete with re-edited clips and a voiceover from Rick. Then we get to move on to the story of the fifth film, where once again, we are back at the Bodega Bay Inn. I'm getting a little sick of this place. The story this time basically consists of the same damn characters are fighting the same damn thing - only this time it is less exciting because there is only one little spiny demon to defeat. Granted, he's supposed to be more powerful than the minion demons from part 4, but he doesn't really do much to show this. The same actors come back to play Rick, Suzie, and Lauren, and all the puppets return as well - except for Leech Woman, who has been all but forgotten for the past two movies. Lauren spends most of this film the same way she spent the previous film - unconscious. She's in the hospital, and after getting vision's of Sutekh's return, she communicates psychically with Rick through his computer.

The only new addition is Dr. Jennings, one of those power-hungry SOBs who you know is going to die from the moment you meet him. He brings three hired losers to the Bodega Bay Inn to help him retrieve the puppets so he can make money off of discovering their power. The three losers - anybody else recognize the male rapist from Pulp Fiction?! - are a bumbling lot, and their only purpose in the film is to be hilarious fodder for both the puppets and the little Sutekh demon. Pulp Fiction Guy gets punched in the face by Pinhead for calling him ugly, and Jester hits him in the crotch with a mallet, all while the other two just wander around the hotel with flashlights and then get killed. Even after five movies, the Puppet Master series still can't boast that many inventive or exciting kills. The fifth installment is again rather boring on this front, with two guys slashed and their souls taken by little Sutekh, and Jennings falling down an elevator shaft after getting blown back by Torch's fire spurt.

There is one thing I noticed here that was different from previous films, though. For some reason, the puppets seemed to have much more personality this time around, and they were more like little humans than toys. This could be because of the way Rick talked to them, as friends who he knew would never hurt or betray him, but it also might be because of the puppeteering. It just seemed to me like their movements were more life-like, or more human-like, especially Blade and Jester. Jester has actually been my favorite puppet so far, if only because that surprise/worried face of his is so dang adorable.

Despite the similarities to its predecessor, Puppet Master 5: NOT The Final Chapter is still a pretty good flick. It wraps up a story in which I wasn't particularly interested, and boasts some decent acting, from both the humans and the puppets. I'm now officially halfway through the series, and it's been fun so far - can't wait to see what happens in the later installments.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie Review: Deadly Friend (1986)

Wes Craven has a way of really messing with my head. I love the dude, but some of his less talked about movies often confound me when I get around to seeing them. Case in point: Deadly Friend. Just the synopsis for the film sounded a little out of the realm of what Mr. Craven is usually involved with. So then I had to wonder, what kind of Craven film was this going to be?

Teenager Paul is a genius who has built himself an artificial intelligence robot named BB. He and his mother move to a new town where Paul can continue his studies of robots and their connection to how the human brain works. He soon becomes friends with fellow teen Tom, and is immediately infatuated with his sweet but troubled next door neighbor Samantha. And when both BB and Sam meet with tragic fates, Paul uses his skills to save his friend - with deadly consequences.

I completely enjoyed Deadly Friend for what it was, even if at times I couldn't actually figure out what it was. Earlier scenes make the film look like a sweet story about a boy and his robot; then it becomes some whacky sci-fi/science-gone-wrong thing; then it's about a teenage robot-zombie girl on a murder spree. But the tone is all wrong, or at least wrong from what you think it would be. The film has a strange plot that should be easy to make fun of, but despite the fact that there are some funny moments, the tone of the film is not that comedic. Instead it is a pretty sad and heartbreaking movie that really takes itself seriously.

Kristy Swanson is a dear whom I will always love because she is and always will be the original Buffy Summers. And here in Deadly Friend she is surprisingly just as impressive, though at times her performance comes dangerously close to being way too campy. As the nice, beautiful girl with a depressing home life, her physical appearance and demeanor fit the character perfectly. She even has some nice touches of comedy in there that are so quick you might miss them. Swanson also does a wonderful job when she is in her zombie state, and this is where she could have made the most mistakes. Her unblinking eyes, and stiff movements are stereotypical of how one would think you would act if you were trying to be a robot but somehow Swanson makes it work - even the strange Spock-like way she holds her fingers to resemble BB's robot hands.

Deadly Friend arrived just two years after Craven did A Nightmare on Elm Street, and there are definitely parts where you can see the studio's influence on Craven to make Deadly Friend more "Nightmare-like." There are a few very odd dream sequences in the film, the first being one that Sam has about her father. He comes into her room at night, hovering over her bed (possibly implying some sort of sexual interest in her), and starts berating and almost hurting her, and Sam fights back by stabbing him with a broken vase. His body then proceeds to squirt a huge amount of blood all over poor Sam as she is screaming while getting ever more drenched - and the audience isn't sure if they should be amused or horrified.

Another dream sequence is quite clearly in reference to Nightmare on Elm Street. After Sam has killed... um, somebody (resisting spoilers is hard), Paul must dispose of the body. Later on that night, Paul dreams of a strange round object moving around under the covers. When he pulls back the blanket, the round thing is the burnt head of Sam's victim, and the body comes out of the mattress and is just about to attack Paul when he wakes up. The reference is obvious and fun for Nightmare fans, but I wonder how it played out for audiences who had just seen the first Nightmare only two years prior.

Of course, one cannot talk about Deadly Friend without mentioning the word "basketball." Watch the video below to find out why. And if you already know why, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't mind seeing it again:

That's definitely a movie moment where you have to either stop or rewind the flick because you're too busy almost dying with laughter. As a scene that comes completely out of left field from what we have so far come to expect in this movie, it is a more than welcome surprise - even if it doesn't particularly fit with the rest of the rather tame killings in the film. The fact the victim in question is the great Anne Ramsey also makes this a standout sequence.

One that that seemed wrong about the plot was how Paul made absolutely no attempt to hide or safeguard his new zombie friend. I thought right away that the most obvious place for her was in the attic, as the access was right there in Paul's bedroom, but for some stupid reason he doesn't do that, at least not right away. He first hides her in the garden shed, without locking the door or anything - a place where his mother could easily run into her and almost does. I thought this kid was some kind of genius or something?

I also didn't particularly care for the shock ending, even though it is left a little open to interpretation that this could be a dream sequence as well. The first ending was sad enough and brought the story to the right conclusion, so this shock ending was really not needed. All in all, I can't seem to help the fact that I really liked Deadly Friend. It walks a fine line between B-movie stupidity and a genuinely well-told tale, and I guess if anybody could pull that off, it would be my man Wes Craven.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master 4 (1993)

I seem to have spoken too soon about the increasing quality of the Puppet Master series. This fourth installment was a bit of a step back from the improvements that Puppet Master 3 made to the series, despite the fact that it gives us a lot more information about the series. We are slowly but surely peeling back the layers of the story, and though I'm less than impressed with Puppet Master 4, I'm still excited to learn more.

Puppet Master Andre Toulon's dolls are brought back to life by a young scientist named Rick, who is doing research on artificial intelligence in robots. The puppets must help Rick fight against three diminutive minions sent by the demon Sutekh to kill all those on Earth - including Rick - who are in possession of the secret magic of reanimation.

In the jumbled timeline of the series, Puppet Master 4 falls in sometime a little after Puppet Master 2... so far. Crazy things could happen later on, I don't know. The plot of the film is a bit jumbled itself, introducing a whole new set of (boring) characters and bringing up a plot point in the backstory that has never been mentioned before. It's a nice balance between keeping the movie moving in the present day and revealing more information about the mythos.

The movie takes place again at the Bodega Bay Inn, where Rick is working as a caretaker in the off season while doing his AI research. On the night that his friends Suzie, Lauren, and Cameron come to visit him, they discover Blade and the other puppets that have been stored there, along with Toulon's diary and some more of that magic green stuff. It's a bit of a happy coincidence that they reanimate the dolls at the same time that Sutekh is after Rick and his colleagues - two scientists who are killed in the first scenes of the film.

The life-giving magic has thus far been established as Egyptian in nature, but the new information that Puppet Master 4 gives us that those same Egyptians worshipped this "demon lord" Sutekh. He's a kind of Skeletor-looking guy with glowy eyes who can talk without opening or moving his mouth, and I guess he is the one who came up with the secret formula for the reanimation potion. Had the movie made this guy the main villain instead of those two-foot high spiny demons, I think things might have been more exciting. The demons might be mean, murdering little bastards but watching three full-grown adults cower in fear of them while letting the puppets fight their battles for them was a little sad to watch.

Also new to this movie and the series is the puppet Decapitron. His name makes him sound super bad ass, and he is the only one who is able to defeat Sutekh. He puts this thing on his head that somehow channels electricity and manages to blow up the last of the minions. Also in addition to his interchangeable heads is the fact that Toulon's spirit or something can be channeled through Decapitron, as Toulon's head appears on the doll's head from time to time to talk to Rick. Blade, Tunneler, Six Shooter, Pinhead, and Jester are all present in this fourth installment, but none of them really get to do much in comparison to the earlier films. They are mostly treated like toys by Rick and his friends, although the one scene where they are playing laser tag with Rick is pretty cute. The tagline for this film was "when bad puppets go good," and really, I like them either way. When they're bad, they're fun and when they're good, they're fun. They're heroes and villains. Like the Terminator.

The most likable person in the group of human characters is Suzie, played by Chandra West. This is mostly because she is one of those female characters that totally keeps their cool in horror movies. Just because the movie wasn't weird enough, the filmmakers made the other female character Lauren a psychic, which is what allows the group to find the dolls in the first place - and also what lets the minion demons into the hotel in the first place when Sutekh is able to possess her or something. So she's helpful and not so helpful at the same time. Cameron is played by Ash Adams and is a pretty smarmy guy, jealous of Rick's genius. He does, however, get the best line in the movie when he and Rick find a Nazi pin in Toulon's possessions and this exchange happens: "A Nazi?" "I hate those guys!" There is also a great part where Cameron gives the most hilarious high-pitched scream I've ever heard a guy make.  Wish I had a video of that. Rick himself is just your average nice guy geek, and there's nothing particularly interesting about him. This is especially disappointing when Toulon (his head appearing on Decapitron) informs Rick that he will be the new Puppet Master, put in charge of keeping the formula a secret. Oh goody.

Puppet Master 4 is a decent entry to the series, although bringing in this whole other crazy demon element was slightly confusing for a while. Eventually it gets a little better, but it's still not up to par with its predecessor, Toulon's Revenge. Almost halfway done with the series! I'm feeling good.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)

Most of the time, it seems like the third film in a particular series is much weaker than the previous installments. The series loses its momentum, or maybe gets too distracted by backstory. In the case of Puppet Master, though, this is exactly what the series needed, and the third film - Toulon's Revenge - actually ends up being a bit better than both of its predecessors.

In Berlin 1941, puppet master Andre Toulon is sought out by the Nazis who want to utilize the same magic he uses on his puppets to bring dead soldiers back to life to use on the battlefield. Headed by Major Kraus, a group of Nazis arrive at Toulon's workshop to kidnap him, shooting his wife Elsa in the process. Toulon manages to escape and promises revenge on all those responsible for the death of his love.

First of all, yes, there are some major timeline issues established here. Toulon commits suicide in the first film in 1939 - a couple years before this film takes place. Not sure how they could have missed that one, but they did. Also, just before Toulon kills himself, he is working on creating Jester, and Blade seems like the established leader of the pack. However, in Toulon's Revenge, Jester already exists and Toulon does not build Blade until near the end of the film. I don't have an explanation for either one of these oversights except laziness or just outright not giving a shit and thinking audiences wouldn't notice.

These problems actually don't end up being that big of a deal, really. I liked the rest of the story presented here, mostly because it further explained an important part of the franchise's mythos, and because the characters and acting were surprisingly good. Though I didn't know their names before looking into this film and only recognized their faces, it was nice seeing actors like Richard Lynch as Major Kraus and Ian Abercrombie as Dr. Hess in Toulon's Revenge. They help bring better substance and realism to characters that otherwise might have been kitschy or campy - this goes for the new Andre Toulon as well, who is wonderfully played by Guy Rolfe. He's very different from William Hickey's Toulon in the first film, but still portrays him as a kindly old man who probably never would have used his "friends" for violence had not grief forced him to.

The story aspect that I quite enjoyed here was the fact that all of the puppets actually used to be people that Toulon knew in his life. This was touched upon in Puppet Master II, but it's given heavier meaning in part three because most of these people were victims of the Nazis. This is also true for Toulon's beloved and supportive wife Elsa when it is revealed that her spirit actually resides in the doll known as Leech Woman. To me this seems almost a little disrespectful to have his wife be quite possibly the grossest of all the puppets, but who knows? Maybe it's something they discussed previously. But probably not. Anyway, two other puppets - Jester and Pinhead - are the only other puppets that are given a backstory so far: two normal people struck down by the Nazis. Toulon fashions Blade to resemble Major Kraus, but does not actually put his soul into the doll. Blade is already animated during Kraus's death scene, so that confused me a little bit as to who he is really supposed to be.

The puppet featured most prominently in Toulon's Revenge is actually a new one (new to the series, but not new to the wonky timeline) - Six Shooter, the Wild West cowboy with six arms each holding a gun. I love his huge grin and flair for spinning all his guns at the same time. He has some good scenes, like when he's scaling the side of a building, and then later in the scene when he shoots General Mueller and sends him flying out the window. How those tiny guns could actually do any damage is anybody's guess. Maybe it has to do with the magic. Tunneler, however, gets to commit the best murder of all when he is in the car with Toulon and two Nazis after they have kidnapped him and Tunneler tunnels through the back of one of the Nazis seats and all the way through his body in a wonderfully bloody fashion. Nice! Major Kraus's death is also nicely elaborate and well done, when Toulon and the puppets spear him with hooks and ropes and suspend him from the ceiling - making him a human marionette - and then make him fall back to the ground right on top of a huge axe. The puppets themselves are puppeteered very well when they are in motion, and though the animation they use a few times is a little jerky, it's not horrible. Better than the previous film, at the least.

This is so weird, I'm actually really getting into these movies now, and I totally did not expect that. Puppet Master is not the greatest series of films so far but it's definitely getting better and it's definitely interesting. Toulon's Revenge is the best out of these first three, mostly because it does not have uninteresting and unimportant characters to follow and not care about. The story seems to work best when it is directly focused on Toulon and his puppets, so hopefully the latter movies will follow this same formula.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Movie Roundup: Visiting Hours (1982), Machete Kills (2013), and Stage Fright (2014)

Visiting Hours (1982)
Michael Ironside is one of the most recognizable and most fun actors working today, I think. Many might not know his name, but they've definitely seen his distinctive face here and there over the past few decades. I think he's great, so I was very excited to see Visiting Hours - and he more than delivered for me! Visiting Hours is a strange, Lifetime-esque kind of movie wherein an obsessed creep (Ironside) stalks a feminist news reporter, Deborah, first in her home, then in the local hospital. Rather than being a rather banal hack 'n' slash movie where lots of innocents are butchered as Ironside makes his way to his target, the movie is actually a quite tense thriller/drama. I liked the scenes with Ironside that explored his psychopathy, and also liked the stuff with the nurse that Deborah befriends. Her character also adds to the strange woman-power theme of the movie, as she is a single working mother. I'm guessing this theme has something to do with what happened to Ironside's character as a kid - where his mother killed (?) his father. But even this is a little convoluted because the father seemed like the initial abuser and she was just defending herself. Why would this lead to the character's hatred of women? Whatever, I'm no psychologist. Visiting Hours is a good movie, especially for fans of Ironside. Definitely recommended.

Oh yeah, and William Shatner is in the movie too. Awesome.

Machete Kills (2013)
I watched Machete Kills right after Visiting Hours, in the hopes of ending the night on more of a fun note. Oh, I could not have picked a more perfect movie to achieve that goal! Just like its predecessor, Machete Kills is nothing more than a straight-up crazy flick with hot women, hilarious acting, and outrageous violence. Even if you think the gore and violence starts out amazingly in the beginning with Machete literally slicing through a bunch of cartel guys - trust me, it gets about 100 times better. Sometimes there's a bit of a lull while some crazy backstory or side story is explained, but they more than make up for it with face-changing killers, multiple helicopter kills, boob and penis guns, and one deliciously brilliant little device that turns the human body inside out instantaneously. Really, it's just glorious. Danny "Machete" Trejo and the rest of the outrageous and somewhat oddball cast (Sophia Vergara, Mel Gibson, Alexa Vega, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlie Sheen) are just as awesome as you think they are going to be. I was surprised to find out that these other characters actually managed to outshine Trejo at times! Blasphemy! But the man takes it in stride, and knows that he is the only MACHETE. Okay, now I'm getting weird. Machete Kills kicks serious booty. Watch it.

And dear goodness, they had fucking better make Machete Kills Again In Space because I will be all over that.

Stage Fright (2014)
All I can say to myself is, "I told you so." I told you, self, that you probably will not like the musical/comedy/horror thing called Stage Fright - Meatloaf or no Meatloaf. I'm not generally a big fan of musicals - though there are definitely some that I love - but I thought one that tried to combine itself with the  horror genre was at least worth a look. The problem with Stage Fright, though, is that it is not really that great at any of the genres that it tries to employ. Maybe I'm not the best judge, but it's a pretty crappy musical and an even worse comedy. The first musical number is slightly amusing because it's not what you expect, but after that it's just a weird mish-mash of genres and tones, at which you don't know whether to laugh or cry. The killer is ridiculously easy to figure out, as are his motives, so in the end you don't care because you know how it's going to end. Meh, don't really have anything else to say. Didn't dig this one.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master II (1991)

Sometimes known as having the subtitle "His Unholy Creations," Puppet Master II still doesn't exactly live up to what I thought the series had to offer, but it's starting to go in the right direction. Even though plot is once again a bit convoluted and confusing, and the main characters are dull as dishwater, the puppets get to shine a lot more - and that's really all we want to see anyway.

The sequel opens with Pinhead and the other puppets resurrecting Andre Toulon from the grave with a magic potion. It then jumps to our main plot and cast members, who are a group of paranormal investigators setting up shop in the Bodega Bay Inn. They are there to look into the accusations of psychic Alex from the first film and what happened there, along with the strange death of Megan Gallagher. At the same time that the investigators either start to go missing or get murdered, a strange man appears at the hotel, claiming that he owns the place.

It's really not the greatest plot they could have come up with, but it seems to come mostly from necessity - the need for uninteresting characters to be the victims of the puppets. One thing that they improved upon plot-wise was giving the audience a bit more of a peek into the magic that brought the puppets to life and also what brought Toulon back. The puppets don't just kill because their master told them to - Toulon needs different parts of fresh human flesh for his potion. That's gross, but I like it. There is also some excitement in the addition of Torch, a bulky Nazi-looking puppet with bullets for teeth and a flame-throwing arm. He gives Blade a run for his money in the badassery department. I was happy to see that the puppets got more animation this time around, with many more shots of them, full-bodied, running and jumping around. And the animation wasn't too shabby.

So there are some crazy random scenes in Puppet Master II. First, the leader of the paranormal dudes is Carolyn, and her brother Patrick unfortunately becomes the first (seen) victim of the puppets when Tunneler tunnels into his forehead. This becomes a strange situation because the police are never involved, and there's a confusing scene of the characters all gathered around his body in some cold room. Wait, what? Did they just put him in the hotel's walk-in or something? Later on, there is another crazy and really inappropriate and suggestive scene of a child playing outside with his GI Joe, or Ken doll, I could go either way here. Anywho, for some reason, a six-year-old has a whip and proceeds to use it on his shirtless doll, who is leaning against a tree. I'll just give you a minute to ponder that... When Torch shows up in the scene, it's implied that he kills the boy but I really hope that isn't true.

Toulon's role in this movie is also quite strange. The audience is given a little more of his backstory when they show him and his wife Elsa procuring some of that aforementioned magic potion from a guy in Cairo. When Toulon shows up in the present, he arrives looking not unlike Claude Rains's The Invisible Man and calling himself Erique Chanee, even though it's more than obvious who he really is. And instead of focusing on restoring the diminishing power in his puppets, Toulon goes on a weird side-mission where he becomes convinced that Carolyn is his dead wife and wants to use the potion to bring her back or something. This is apparently not a good idea because it angers the puppets and they end up killing their own master. I'm a bit confused as to how this is going to work out in later movies if Toulon comes back again or something, because he seems to have a very complicated relationship with his puppets. Up until now they have seemed mostly loyal to him, but since they are puppets, I'm thinking there's not much of a conscience going on.

The movie ends on an insanely creepy note that thoroughly disturbed me, and I was glad to see it all over. Puppet Master II definitely has its quirks and its low-budget appeal, plus the addition of a bomb-ass new puppet and some more backstory on Toulon make me think that maybe the series is headed in the right direction. Eight more movies to go. Let's find out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: "Under the Blade" by Matt Serafini

Author Matt Serafini's bio lists him as being a lifelong horror fan who has contributed his knowledge and talent to two of the biggest horror websites - Dread Central (current) and Bloody Disgusting (former) - and who also put that passion into two horror novels - Feral, and the subject of today's review, Under the Blade. That was enough to convince me to read the novel for myself when contacted for a review, because I believed that a horror book written by a true horror just had to be good. And believe me, it was.

Under the Blade follows middle-aged Melanie Holden, a college professor at a crossroads in her life and career when she decides to return to the town of Forest Grove - a place that holds dark memories for her. In 1988, Melanie was just a teenager when she fought and killed Cyrus Hoyt, who was responsible for the bloodbath that killed her friends at Camp Forest Grove. Decades later, Hoyt is just a legend to the local teenagers in Forest Grove, but when trouble starts almost as soon as Melanie arrives, she realizes that her terror is not over.

I have to admit that I was very disappointed by the first chapter of the novel, and didn't have much hope for the rest. The novel's opening is the bloody encounter that Melanie has with Hoyt at the camp, and the overused clichés were not to my liking. The lone female survivor stalked by a brutal killer at a summer camp. Finding the dead bodies of her friends in the cabins. The two lovers speared together on a bed. The mention of the town crazy who warns the teenagers of a murderer in the woods. The final battle at the lake, including a trip in a canoe. That should all sound familiar to horror fans, and I feared that this was the extent of what the author had to offer me. Surely a fellow fan can come up with something more original than that!

And indeed he does! While everything does start off in very familiar territory, Serafini builds on this story in such a way that the amazing conclusion is lightyears away from where you thought it would be. Everything goes way beyond the surface story of Cyrus Hoyt, Melanie, and the local police officer with the rebel wife, becoming more and more involved with each new chapter that keeps adding more layers as you go. The history of the town plays a big role in the tension-filled last third of the novel, and I absolutely loved the reveal of just what has been going on for the past forty years (and even before that).

Having a woman in her forties as a main character in a horror story was a nice change of pace. This role was perhaps better suited for an older heroine, as she proves herself to be more resourceful and stronger, despite the horror she witnessed and took part in decades ago. She bites off the nose of two people, for crying out loud. That's pretty hardcore. Serafini writes Melanie quite believably and admirably - I can hardly think of anything that I didn't like about her. Though she's not sure of him at first, Chief Nathan Brady is a nice counterpart to Melanie's character - he's young, but also experienced, someone who has a lot to prove to his father-in-law and to the whole town, which causes problems for him at home. His wife Trish is an thirty-ish hellion who can't stand small town life and resents having to return to the home town that she hated. All are likable, easy people to follow through the course of the book, and Serafini gives the reader plenty of time to focus on each one and decide what they think of him or her.

Author Matt Serafini
Being a horror fan, I'm guessing that there was no problem for Serafini when it came to some of the novel's gore-soaked sequences. There were definitely times when I wished that this story was a movie and not a novel because some of the stuff that he came up with would look awesome onscreen. The climax holds the most amount of blood and gore - and also fire and skeletons - but there is no shortage of the red stuff in the earlier parts of the novel to get the reader pumped up for the rest. When an author can get a gorehound like me to actually cringe at just words on a page, that's when I know that I'm reading something that really effective and was written with fans in mind.

Under the Blade is a truly awesome output from an author who knows his stuff and has an obvious love and respect for the horror genre. The novel has just the right amount of mystery and suspense to keep the reader invested until the last page, and enough horrific revelations to make the conclusion completely satisfying and worth the wait.

Under the Blade can be purchased through Amazon here!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master (1989)

I have sometimes suffered greatly for this little blog. I put my faith in the Wishmaster series, only to be thoroughly crushed with each inept installment. I slogged through all of the Howling sequels - though that was sometimes fun. And now I will attempt to tackle another series that I am not quite familiar with: Puppet Master! I picked up a DVD pack with all the films (except the last one) for just 99 cents at my last convention, so hopefully the only thing I will be wasting is time if they end up sucking.

The first film opens with the Puppet Master himself, Andre Toulon hiding away his puppets in the wall of a hotel before two assassins can get to him. Why they are there to assassinate him is never really explained, but he ends up killing himself first anyway. I found out later that they were Nazis, which opens a whole other bag of questions that I hope gets explained later on... Anyway, in the present day, a group of psychics gather at the hotel and are one by one slaughtered by the puppets, who are controlled by a colleague of theirs who discovered Toulon's secret for eternal life.

I'm sure that I've seen at least one of the Puppet Master films... or perhaps it was the Demonic Toys crossover film... Either way, you're going to have bear with me as I go through these films, because I've not seen them before, and I've heard that the timeline of the series is all kinds of jumbled up. So far, my impression of this first film is not really that great.

The main thing is that the movie is quite boring. I don't recall any of the Puppet Master films ever being described as overly gory or anything like that, but one would think that movies with puppets who are alive would be a bit more entertaining than this. It takes the movie almost a good thirty minutes to get to what is really the meat of the plot with all the psychics and stuff. I did actually like this part of the story - that all these people had similar, yet different, gifts that bonded them together. This is what makes them targets of their colleague, Neil Gallagher, so that he will be the only one who knows Toulon's secret magic. Apparently, he wants Toulon's puppets to kill them all because they will be able to read his mind - even though none of them have gotten any kind of inkling of his plan thus far. It's a shaky plot point at best, but let's just go with it because we have to.

At the very least, Puppet Master can boast that it is the film that introduces some very interesting and deadly little toys to audiences. The leader of the pack is Blade, the white-faced, black trench coat wearing puppet with a hook for one hand and a knife for the other. Barbie's worst nightmare is Leech Woman, a sweet little female doll who is able to vomit up huge leeches out of her mouth. Jester is the puppet that Toulon is working on at the beginning of the film, although he apparently doesn't get his actual jester hat until later. Pinhead (not that one) is an interesting little dude with a tiny head and huge, human-sized hands, and Tunneler has a large cone-shaped drill coming out the top of his head. There are a couple others that are not featured as much, so maybe we'll get to see them in future installments.

The film rightly has a dose of comedy in it, but it is careful about not going too far. There are a lot of exaggerated or comedic sound effects having to do with the puppets and the sounds they make. None of them actually talk, but they do make funny little grunting and squeaking noises - plus there was that part where the little "plop" sound effect was used when Pinhead's head was removed. The deaths that the puppets inflict are equally gross and funny, too, so that keeps up the comedic undertone. But that's sadly the only thing interesting about any of the death scenes, because they are pretty tame, and most of them are not even shown.

As for the human characters who are the victims of these boring deaths... well, they suck. They're all either really annoying or really uninteresting, and the acting isn't that much better either. And since no one would watch a Puppet Master movie for the riveting character drama anyway, we can just leave it at that.

It's not a particularly stellar start to the Puppet Master series, but I do still have hope that these pint-sized freaks will eventually bring me something truly entertaining in future installments. One down, nine to go... let's do this!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Rabies (2010)

A random group of characters and a series of unfortunate events make up the first horror movie to ever come out of Israel. In my review of Big Bad Wolves, Israel's hugely successful film from last year, fellow blogger Elwood Jones reminded me of Rabies and I am so grateful to him for that. Be warned, though: Rabies is most definitely not what I would call your typical horror film.

The movie opens on an adult brother and sister pair who have run away from home and end up in the woods on a fox reserve, where the sister has fallen into a trap. When the brother goes for help, he runs into a group of travelling young people, who in turn run afoul of two cops. These intertwining lives get even more tangled as things go downhill for everyone.

That's about the best I can do on a plot description for a movie that basically has no plot. Usually that doesn't mean anything good for a movie, but for Rabies, the fact that it has no real plot is the movie's gold. It works, and I don't understand how the filmmakers made it work, as that takes some real talent. Rabies was actually the debut film of the same writing and directing team that knocked my socks off with the aforementioned Big Bad Wolves, and I only hope that they continue making movies like this because they are obviously good at it. Like, really fucking good at it.

With no main character, the movie jumps around between all the random people that show up in this one area of isolated woods - and they all represent the epitome of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, just for different reasons and in different ways. The humorous events in the film would almost be slapstick if it weren't for the horrific undertones. Comedic scenes sometimes end with a punch of horror - like the untimely death of a character (it's a horror movie, that's not a spoiler!) - which really manages to keep the audience on their toes. With this kind of tone, you never know where the movie is going to go, and with the kind of surprises that Rabies has in store for you, this is actually a wonderful thing. It's all so confusing, uncomfortable, intense, and yet light at the same time - such a jumbled mess of emotions, but I love it!

One of the greatest techniques utilized in Rabies is when the filmmakers actually choose not to show the audience specific scenes. I found this to be a bit of a delightful disappointment, as odd as that sounds. There are a couple of scenes - specifically, the bear trap scene and the standoff with the molester cop scene - where a lot of tension is built up for what is going to happen before the scene cuts to something different. When we come back, the exciting thing has happened off-camera.  Though you're disappointed that you didn't get to see it, you're also sort of gleefully impressed at the film's ability to fuck with you.

All of this is brought to life not only by the talented writers and directors, but also by the actors. Lior Ashkenazi, who played funny cop Micki in Big Bad Wolves, is a cop here again but a much different one. One of the uncomfortable elements of the story is the encounter the two girls have with the two cops - Lior is the nervous, adorable one who wants to reconnect with his wife, and his partner is the complete opposite. Seizing the opportunity of being out in the middle of nowhere with two hot chicks in tennis outfits, Lior's partner starts molesting one of the girls and actually implies raping them later (and that he's also probably raped before). The other girl gets pissed and takes the cop's gun and things escalate from there. This scenario is just one of several crazy ones interlaced in this story, and is a great example how they take a horrific situation and keep it light, even ending it with something that is hilariously satisfying... but still horrible. Everything else you'll just have to experience for yourself, because there is way too much going on in Rabies for me to talk about here.

I bet pretty much everybody who watches this movie is left wondering one thing. Well, they're probably left wondering a hundred things, but the biggest question I had is, Why the hell is the movie called 'Rabies'? I've thought about this long and hard, and... I have no clue. If you ever find out, please tell me. Until then, I'll just take Rabies for what it is - a brilliantly written and executed film by some very talented artists. Highly recommended movie.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Find Me at WickedHorror.com!

Hey there, blog buddies! Just wanted to take a quick minute here to let you all know that in addition to this here blog, I will also be writing about horror stuff on the website Wicked Horror - you will also find the writings of Zena, the Real Queen of Horror on there as well!

It's a great little website with horror news, advanced reviews, retrospective reviews, and random top ten/five lists from some wonderful and enthusiastic writers.

See that? That's my review of Hangar 10! So please, if you have a spare couple of minutes, head on over there and take a gander at what we have to offer. Register or follow us and get your horror fix every day.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Review: Fantasm (2013)

As some of you may know, I am sort of a newbie to the horror convention scene, having only just attended my second con earlier this year. But I knew just after the first one that I would do my damnedest every year to make it to this event so that I could experience all the amazing feelings I had there again. It truly is an amazing place for horror fans to gather.

Horror fan Kyle Kuchta went to his first convention at 15 years old, and had to take a hiatus from going while attending college. He decided to make a documentary about the convention circuit and the community it creates in order to understand just what it is about these gatherings that keeps fans coming back for years and years.

Over the course of two years, Kutcha attended five conventions, including Monster-Mania, Rock and Shock, Spooky Empire, and HorrorHound Weekend. He procured interviews with vendors who attend several conventions a year; convention volunteers; and even with some amazing convention guests - Tom Atkins, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Tuesday Knight (obviously an Elm Street reunion going on there), and Richard Johnson. With his camera, Kutcha manages to capture all those great convention moments that makes the experience so special for all those who attend, and really captures the essence of what a con is - a huge crowd of people who are all there to share their same love of horror films.

Indeed, some of the interviewees took the words right out of my mouth when they were talking about why fans love going to these events. They hit on all the ideas of a sense of family and community that regular convention-goers have, and the sense of belonging they feel there that they may not have in their everyday life. The importance of social media was also good to include, as it definitely helps keep convention friends closer together in between con weekends. The best quote, though, was from Jack Bennett, who said that cons are great just because it gives fans a chance to finally talk to other people about what they love. If any of you have ever tried to talk horror to someone who is not a horror fan, you know the importance of this. To be able to say something or make a reference and be understood, and to not be looked at like you are weird - that's truly a beautiful and welcome thing.

A part of me sort of has to like Fantasm because the subject matter is close to my heart, but I have to be honest and say that I was a bit disappointed at how unfinished the documentary feels. Yes, Kutcha did an amazing job at getting great interviews, and his subjects gave great answers, but there is so much untapped territory here. Why didn't he interview the people who put on the conventions? All of the interviews are also either with guests or vendors - why not any of the thousands of attendees that were available, especially since they are basically what the documentary is about? I was beyond confused at that huge oversight.

There were also many parts where the doc could be jazzed up a lot. Kutcha got some great shots of all the different goings-on that happen at conventions, but there is nothing to accompany them, not even any music. I understand that this was a doc that was made for no money and is being self-distributed by Kutcha, but some basic Google research doesn't cost anything, nor does it cost anything to add in a layer of text to some shots with simple convention facts or figures. Show the growth and popularity of these cons with the number of attendees to different shows; talk about how much money is spent to put the shows on and how much vendors make at the shows - do something to continuously educate and entertain your audience, that's what a good doc does. With Fantasm short runtime (it clocks in at about 55 minutes), there was absolutely enough time to add in these little tidbits that would have made the piece that much more engaging and important.

Fantasm has a lot of heart, but it still remains only the beginning of what a documentary about conventions should be. Perhaps if enough word gets around about Fantasm, it will get a nice backing and give Kutcha the opportunity to really make it the definitive convention documentary.

Fantasm is available for purchase at http://fantasm.storenvy.com/