Archive for the Paul McMahon Columns Category

The Distracted Critic: SCARCE (2008)

Posted in 2013, Cannibalism, Cannibals, Distracted Critic, Horror, Paul McMahon Columns with tags , , , on July 24, 2013 by knifefighter

SCARCE (2008)
A review by Paul McMahon– the Distracted Critic

S-POSTERSCARCE (2008) was written by Jesse T. Cook, who brought us MONSTER BRAWL in 2011, and John Geddes, who brought us EXIT HUMANITY, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. SCARCE has been in my queue for a while, and I had no idea the brains behind EXIT HUMANITY had such a big hand in this one. It looked like a cool “chased by monsters through the snowy woods” movie, and I’m always good for a monster movie. Turns out, though, that SCARCE is a story about cannibal rednecks. It’s written by-the-numbers, incorporating all the “cannibal redneck rules” during its running time.

“How will anyone find you when you have been eaten?” asks the tagline, and it seems like there’s a pretty straightforward answer to that if you’re not too… rhypophobic. Rule Eight: Cannibal rednecks love referring to their own poop.

The first thing we see in this movie is a naked bloodied man running through the woods. It catches our attention right quick. Within a few moments, he runs out of sight and screams, and we know he came to a bad end. Rule Thirteen: With cannibal rednecks, everyone comes to a bad end.

Next up, we meet three snowboarding buddies. (Aside: They’re in their cabin watching a horror movie called EXIT HUMANITY. One of them shuts it off and says “Who watches this shit?” To which I am forced to respond: “Me. Me is who watches this shit.”) The buddies go to a party where they indulge in gallons of alcohol and pages of stilted dialogue. The next morning they leave Colorado to drive home to New Jersey. They are forced off the interstate in Pennsylvania due to a snowstorm. A greasy fat guy in a huge neck brace gives them directions back to the highway. Rule One: One Cannibal redneck always waits a few miles from the property to give the lost and confused bogus directions.

Trevor, Dustin and Owen are the secret ingredients in SCARCE.

Trevor, Dustin and Owen are the secret ingredients in SCARCE.

In no time the three friends get lost and crash. Trevor suffers a compound fracture of the shin that tears his jeans. Owen and Dustin leave him and walk for help. They see a cabin up on a hill and veer toward the front door. When no one answers, they walk around the house. Dustin gets interested in all the weird redneck paraphernalia in the back yard, while Owen is surprised that the back door of the house is open. Predictably, they walk inside. Rule Three: The cannibal redneck diet consists of idiots who make idiotic decisions.

The owner of the house finds them inside, but– surprise, surprise– he’s a nice guy and drives them back to the wreck, where they find that Trevor is gone. Ivan thinks it was Wade, who’s “always been the helping kind.” With no other options, Dustin and Owen agree to spend the night with Ivan, who will drive them to town in the morning, after the storm runs its course. Rule Six: Cannibal rednecks can be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.

Ivan has only meat for supper, and offers them some. Dustin is a vegetarian, but he tries some so he doesn’t offend Ivan. Rule Seven: Cannibal rednecks will always feed your friends to you.

The next morning, Owen wakes alone. He starts to panic, but then Dustin shows up with Ivan and a list of chores. The snow has tapered off, but Ivan insists they can’t leave because the storm isn’t finished. Dustin wants to help Ivan out instead of sitting around worrying. Owen wanders off to search for cell phone reception. Rule Four: Cannibal rednecks always live where there’s no cell service.

Owen returns from his fruitless trek to find the cabin empty. He wanders upstairs and finds a cassette tape of the blizzard report they’ve been hearing. Then someone in a huge black mask is behind him. Rule Eleven: Cannibal rednecks wear masks to look scary.

Ivan and Wade play their own version of Iron Chef in SCARCE.

Ivan and Wade play their own version of Iron Chef in SCARCE.

Owen wakes bound and gagged in a dark cellar next to Dustin and in plain view of Trevor, who’s being held upright in a medieval crow’s cage. Owen now has time to ponder more of the cannibal redneck rules, such as:

  • Rule Five: Cannibal rednecks have unsettling facial deformities
  • Rule Nine: Cannibal rednecks are constantly sharpening meat cleavers
  • Rule Two: Cannibal rednecks have already eaten their wives and daughters
  • Rule Twelve: Cannibal rednecks will set their victims free and hunt them down because it makes them “taste better”
  • And we can’t forget Rule Ten: Cannibal rednecks lack table manners, chew with their mouths open, and never, under any circumstances, use napkins.

Aside from acting and directing, Jesse T. Cook plays Trevor and John Geddes plays Owen. Most of the other actors have only this movie on their resumes, except for Steve Warren, who plays Ivan. You might have seen him in 2007’s THE SIGNAL.

It doesn’t take long for this movie to fall apart completely. There are lapses of logic that would make even Ed Wood Jr. contemplate a re-shoot. The holes of ridicule include people running through three feet of snow on various leg injuries (yes, even a compound fracture), a job two men can barely succeed at is later accomplished six-times-over by one man who’s too fat to put his own socks on, and there are a handful of injuries that were apparently applied with disappearing/ reappearing latex. There was also a handgun that fired sixteen rounds (I went back and counted), but upon further research I learned that there is at least one handgun that can hold a sixteen-clip magazine. Whether the weapon in the movie was one of these, I can’t verify, but I suspect it’s possible since they listed Chris Warrilow, who had a role in the movie as a “gun wrangler,” in the credits.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything to make me want to recommend this picture. They got the sound of snow squeaking in sub-zero temperatures exactly right. They got the random scatter of lightweight snow whipping around exactly right, which is impressive because I think it was CGI’ed, since not a single flake ever landed on anyone’s black jacket.

As far as I’m concerned, this movie is strike two for John Geddes. His next film, HELLMOUTH, is based on Tony Burgess novel THE HELLMOUTHS OF BEWDLEY (Mr. Burgess also wrote PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING, on which the movie PONTYPOOL, 2009 was based). I’ll check HELLMOUTH out when it’s released later this year.

For now, I am forced to give SCARCE half a star, with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

tHe rEaSsEssmENt FiLes: THE FACULTY (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Aliens, Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by knifefighter

THE FACULTY (1998)
A Reassessment File
By Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

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For a long time, THE FACULTY had the unofficial title of “My Favorite Monster Movie I’ve Only Seen Once.” I don’t recall the specifics of when I first watched it, other than it was a rare occasion that I could turn off all the lights and unplug the phone and let myself get completely swept away. The movie wasn’t designed to win awards or revolutionize the horror genre. It was designed to be a haunted house on film, a monster-infested roller coaster that genuflected to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The novel actually gets a mention during the course of the film. THE FACULTY has always existed in my head as a 3 1/2 star film. Time to see if that rating holds up.

We open with Coach Willis (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, 1991) abusing and insulting his football team like any good stereotypical football coach. After he chases off his team, he is approached by someone we don’t see, and when he turns around his attitude softens. We shift into the school, where Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth, Lilith on TV’s CHEERS) shoots down requests for new computers, educational field trips, and this year’s musical because there’s not enough money. Of course, the football team will get their new jerseys and jock straps and helmets because that’s what the school board and the parents want. After the meeting, Principal Drake returns to her office, where Coach Willis is waiting for her. He attacks, and Principal Drake defends herself with a pair of scissors. Finding the doors of the school locked, Mrs. Olson (Piper Laurie, CARRIE, 1976) helps her escape and re-lock the doors, trapping Coach Willis inside. Then Mrs. Olson attacks Drake with the scissors. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she says.

Coach Willis teaches his boys to put on their "Game Face."

Coach Willis teaches his boys to put on their “Game Face.”

School day. We’re treated to a smorgasbord of assault and battery, aggravated assault, assault with intent to maim, and assault with a deadly weapon, all of which are simply called “bullying” on school property. The main victim is Casey (Elijah Wood, THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, 2001 – 2003). While he is beaten by Gabe (Usher Raymond, SCARY MOVIE, 2013), he is scorned by classmate Stokes (Clea Duvall, IDENTITY, 2003). Elsewhere, Stan (Shawn Hatosy, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS, 2009), captain of the football team, is telling his girlfriend Delilah (Jordana Brewster, FAST & FURIOUS 6, 2013), captain of the cheerleading squad, that he’s quitting the team to focus on academics. Delilah does not take the news well. “What am I supposed to do while you’re on this yellowbrick quest for a brain?” she asks. Meanwhile, Zeke (Josh Hartnett 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, 2007) drives himself to school, roaring past school busses and screeching around the parking lot. Students leap this way and that to keep from getting run over. He immediately starts selling pens full of white powder out of the trunk. Ms. Burke (Famke Janssen, X-MEN, 2000) comes to scold him, and while she reminds him that she is the authority figure, it’s obvious she’s not up to the task. Further still, newcomer Marybeth (Laura Harris, DEADWEIGHT, 2013) is trying to find the office. With her southern drawl, she compliments one of the kids on her nose ring. “It really brings out your eyes,” she says.  In the teacher’s lounge, we meet the school nurse, Ms. Harper (Salma Hayek, SAVAGES, 2012), and the irony is thick because she’s got a cold that won’t go away.

Having met most everyone, we rejoin Casey, who is now having lunch at the top of the deserted football stands. As he starts back to the school he finds something large and slug-like in the grass. Curious, he brings it to his Biology teacher, Mr. Furlong (John Stewart, I don’t need to introduce you to THE DAILY SHOW, right?), who doesn’t know what it is. With the help of Zeke, who is far more brilliant than you’d believe for someone repeating his senior year, they determine that it’s a new organism. They drop it into an empty aquarium at the back of the class, because all Biology labs have full but fishless aquariums “just in case.” The slug sprouts red tendrils and swims around, and an excited Mr. Furlong dreams about calling the university.

Later on, the plot thickens when our heroes find the aquarium empty.

Later on, the plot thickens when our heroes find the aquarium empty.

The teachers begin to act out of character. Principal Drake begins to call students to the office for an “ear exam.” Coach Willis keeps his cool when Stan finally gets up the nerve to tell him about quitting. Soon after, in the locker room shower, Stan is surprised by Mrs. Brummel, the school’s oldest teacher. She  begs Stan for help, and patches of her hair and skin tear free when Stan tries to push her away. A little later on, Delilah, who is also the editor of the school newspaper, takes her star photographer, Casey (because somehow the school bullies don’t attack him when he’s wearing a camera), into the teacher’s lounge to dig up a cover story for the next issue. When Coach Willis and Mrs. Olson surprise them, they hide in a closet and watch the pair attack Nurse Harper. Then the corpse of Mrs. Brummel falls on them from the back of the closet….

Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY, 2005, GRINDHOUSE, 2007, MACHETE, 2010, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and MACHETE KILLS, both 2013) directed this one. Say what you want about the man, he makes a ton ‘o fun for the big screen. This project was one of his early films, and only the second that he didn’t write himself (the first was FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, 1996, which was written by Quentin Tarantino). He has a great time with this idea, and his enthusiasm infects the cast, as well. It plays like everyone is having a great time with their roles. The scenes are busy and detailed, and infused with enough comedy to keep things light without overpowering the monster story.

"Somebody missed the memo that warned against getting these things wet.

“Somebody missed the memo that warned against getting these things wet.

There’s a little continuity slippage about what this creature can and cannot do. This is mainly apparent in its inconsistent ability to heal its host’s body. A more serious flaw is how Rodriguez has stretched the compare-and-contrast between the normal school and the infested school. The violent scenes of the pre-infested school feel too over-the-top for a suburban school like this one. The shenanigans that go on seem more suited to a prison yard– some of it rivals the pre-Joe-Clark Eastside High School of LEAN ON ME (1989). It does set up an interesting dilemma for the students, though, making them decide if they really want things back the way they were.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this one all over again. The only change I’m making is to upgrade its unofficial title to “My Favorite Monster Movie I’ve Only Seen Twice,” but I suspect it won’t hold that title for long because like the best roller-coasters, I want to go again.

Original rating: 3 1/2 stars.
Reassessment: THE FACULTY keeps its 3 1/2 stars easily.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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The Distracted Critic: EXIT HUMANITY (2011)

Posted in 2013, Distracted Critic, Historical Horror, Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Zombies with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by knifefighter

EXIT HUMANITY (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

eh - drawnShow of hands—who’s sick and tired of zombie movies? I know, I know… most of you. I keep trying them, though, searching for that one that will re-energize and re-vitalize the genre and get them on a creative and exciting basis again. EXIT HUMANITY showed more promise than most, being tied in with the Civil War. Choosing that setting seemed like a bold decision, and the trailer’s clips of Confederate- and Union-attired zombies caught my interest. But like most trailers these days, those clips were misleading.

The movie opens with the voiceover of Malcom Young (Brian Cox, TRICK ‘R TREAT 2007, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 2011) who possesses “a sacred journal passed down through generations of my family, dating back to the American Civil War.” It’s a grim story, filled with drawings and writings that “recount a fateful tale of the living dead.” He’ll read it to us now. “As a warning.” Drawings appear on a blank page, a Confederate flag and an armed soldier, along with the words: Prologue The War. The whole thing is meant to demonstrate that they’re creating a literary-style movie, which makes it “important.”

The story opens with armed Confederates resting and somehow surprised by a contingent of Union soldiers tromping through brushy woods. During their battle, a bloodied Union soldier with a vacuous expression stumbles through the brush and falls on our hero, who screams and screams and wakes in a cabin covered with blood. The body of his wife is sprawled on the floor in front of him, a hole blasted in her head.

We learn that it is now six years after the war, and Edward Young has returned from a two-day hunting trip to find his wife a zombie and his son, Adam, missing. After mourning and burying his wife, he takes his aptly named horse Shiloh and goes off in search of Adam. As he heads out, you cannot help but think of his cabin as if it’s sitting at the center of a clock face. Edward leaves in a random direction in search of a boy who also presumably left in a random direction and has at least a two-day head start. With the help of Movie Magic, though, Edward comes across the boy in no time.

'"I have become a fury of death killing death," Edward Young says.

‘”I have become a fury of death killing death,” Edward Young says.

After burning his son’s body, he remembers a time when Adam watched him draw a waterfall. Adam asks where it is.  “It’s many miles from here,” Edward says. Adam makes him promise that someday they will travel together so he can see the waterfall firsthand. Now, Edward decides that this waterfall is where he’ll bring his son’s ashes before taking his own life.

Before long, Edward’s wanderings take him to town decorated with the spiked heads of zombies. As other zombies start to close in on him, he takes refuge in a church, where he meets another traveler. They are wary of each other, but soon the shared peril of encroaching zombies melds them in a grudging trust. That is, until the new traveler sucker-punches Edward, knocking him out. When Edward awakens, he is alone with this man, Isaac, who immediately gives Edward his stuff back and apologizes, replacing the tension created by his betrayal with confusion about what the hell the point was. Did Isaac get off on lugging his own stuff, Edward’s unconscious body, and all of Edward’s stuff to another room in the church? Why not just ask Edward to follow him? This was nothing more than a poor writing decision, which was then ignored in favor of Isaac asking Edward for help.

 '"I kill lots of men who are already dead," Isaac says.

‘”I kill lots of men who are already dead,” Isaac says.

“They” have taken his sister, Emma. With a little prodding, Edward learns that “They” is headed up by General Williams (Bill Moseley, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005 and DEAD AIR, 2009), who believes that someone in the area is immune to the bite of the undead. There is no explanation of why he thinks this (nor, as we learn later on, is there any way he could have even suspected it), but he believes that if he can find this immune person, then a cure to the plague can be fashioned by his good friend, Medic Johnson (Stephen McHattie, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 2005, PONTYPOOL, 2008). Edward hears all this information from Isaac, but still refuses to help. He’s got to bring his son to his final resting place and keep his date with a pistol, after all. It takes only a few schoolyard-level insults to his manhood before Edward screws up his face in an “I’ll-show-you-I’m-not-a-namby-pamby!” look and agrees to help.Right away, Edward is captured by General Williams’ regiment and thrown into a prison cell underground. Williams was a Confederate, which means he fought for the South, which means he lost– and yet here he is, six years later, still wandering the countryside with his men. The soldiers under Williams are taking one healthy prisoner a week and letting zombies bite them. If the victim turns into a zombie, he or she is thrown into the cage of zombies to bite the next victim. Isaac infiltrates this bunker and rescues Edward and Emma, thereby achieving alone what he insisted he had to have help to accomplish. As the three make their escape, Edward is shot. With no shelter and no place to hide, Emma leads them into the woods, reminding Isaac of the cabin deep in the darkest forest-—the cabin of the old lady they teased as children.

“But she’s a witch,” Isaac says.

They find the cabin and Emma knocks on the door. As Isaac tends to Edward, the cabin door opens, Emma is pulled inside, and the door slams shut again, leaving Isaac to panic and scream outside.

In between scenes, we are treated to more chapter headings and pencil drawings of zombie kills. This gives the movie a very calculated “quirkiness,” because “quirkiness” is far easier to achieve than writing something meaningful and haunting and relevant and thought-provoking. The makers of EXIT HUMANITY have put a quick wrap-up to Edward’s stereotypical “zombie-plot” of hunting for a missing loved one, switching instead to a poorly plotted man-versus-man tale with zombies in the background. This is the most significant decision they’ve made.

Newcomer Mark Gibson plays Edward Young. His work here is very good, hopefully enough to assure him more work down the line. Adam Seybold, another newcomer, plays Isaac. The poor guy is hamstringed by a character that was not thought out sufficiently. Dee Wallace plays Eve, the ‘witch.’ Dee is recognizable from decades of horror movies, from CUJO (1983) and THE FRIGHTENERS (1966) to THE LOST (2006)  and this year’s THE LORDS OF SALEM. Stephen McHattie, a fantastic actor who gave us one of the best horror performances of 2008 in PONTYPOOL, plays Medic Johnson. Why would they cast someone of his caliber and then give him nothing to do? He’s barely in the film at all, and when he is, he’s drunk and confused and apologizing to General Williams. Speaking of which, Bill Moseley plays the loony General, turning in the best performance possible with the most poorly written character in the whole film. Williams is written as a raw nerve, screaming and hollering and throwing things in situations where it would be far more effective to have him become still and thoughtful and… threatening. The more I think about the General and his soldiers and that entire situation, the sillier the whole thing seems.

'"Watch EXIT HUMANITY only if someone is insisting upon it this intensely," I say.

‘”Watch EXIT HUMANITY only if someone is insisting upon it this intensely,” I say.

If you, too, are looking for the zombie film that will re-energize and re-vitalize the genre, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I give EXIT HUMANITY half a star and four time outs.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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The Reassessment Files takes a second look at THE PROPHECY (1995)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Angels, Christopher Walken Movies, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2013 by knifefighter

THE PROPHECY (1995)
A “Reassessment File” by Paul McMahon, the “Distracted Critic”

P - VHS coverIt will come as a no-brainer to anyone reading this that I’m into horror movies. I have favorites outside the genre, of course, as well as a brother who is a full-fledged movie buff who has introduced me to a great many films I would not have chanced without his urging. One memorable night a number of years ago, he showed up at my place waving a VHS box at me. “I have a horror movie you’ve never heard of!” he said. At the moment I would have snickered at his folly, he dropped THE PROPHECY in my lap. “It’s Christopher Walken playing a bad angel. You’re gonna love it!”

The movie held my attention throughout. At the time, I was reading a great many books on the philosophy of religion, comparing theologies between Sky Father faiths and Earth Mother beliefs. While THE PROPHECY didn’t delve into this head-on, it did bring the two together in an interesting way. Not interesting enough for me to remember the specifics, though. Whenever discussion of the movie has come up, I’ve remembered that I watched it, but couldn’t recall anything beyond Christopher Walken playing a bad angel.

Looking back, I don’t remember anything significant about it, so I’d retro-actively rate it a single star. Recently, due to the urging of another friend, I dug up a copy and popped it in to see if I’d missed some deeper worth years ago.

We open with a voice over tale of the first war of Heaven and the banishment of Lucifer along with a third of heaven’s legion of angels. God’s elevation of man over angels precipitated the second war of Heaven, which split the remaining legion in half, leaving the sides locked in a stalemate that has kept the gates of Heaven closed since the beginning of time. The Angel Gabriel has come to Earth—where angels are mortal—with a plan to break the stalemate by stealing an evil human’s “dark soul” and making it fight for his side, thus breaking the stalemate and winning Heaven.

From here, we are dropped into a church. There is Latin, clouds of incense, a Cardinal, bishops, and deacons awaiting Ordination as priests. We’ll choose to ignore the major movie goof of a completely empty church behind them– ordinations are typically SRO.  Deacon Thomas is called. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Sunday School knows that a character named Thomas in a religion-themed movie will lose his faith. As Deacon Thomas lies prone before the feet of the Cardinal, he is assaulted by visions of bloodied angels that make him cry out and turn away. In the very next scene, Thomas is a LAPD detective standing on a rooftop and looking down at the city—taking in an angel’s perspective, if you will.

Now it’s time for more exposition as the Angel Uziel drops in on the Angel Simon, who has been sent by God to keep the dark human soul from Gabriel. Simon throws Uziel out of an apartment window, where he is crushed by an out-of-control automobile that is barreling down that exact dead-end alley at that exact time. By the reactions of the investigating officers, they never expected to find anyone behind the wheel and aren’t at all concerned that no one’s there.

Here comes Deacon Detective Thomas. He pokes around Simon’s apartment and finds an obituary for a Colonel Arnold Hawthorne from Chimney Rock, Arizona; a theological text that Thomas himself wrote back in the day; and an ancient, hand-written Bible that contains a twenty-third chapter of the Book of Revelations. “There is no twenty-third chapter,” he tells the medical examiner. After Gabriel incinerates Uziel’s body on the floor of the morgue, leaving nothing for the medical examiner to investigate, Thomas decides to head to Chimney Rock, because apparently the LAPD has no budget to telephone law enforcement in Arizona to follow up on leads, and, apparently, there are no jurisdiction lines in this movie, so Thomas’s LAPD badge gives him carte blanche across state lines.

Simon steals and then hides the dark soul in a school girl who was nice to him, because nothing displays eternal gratitude like jamming the soul of a cannibalistic war criminal into someone’s head. Gabriel finds Simon and tortures him, but Simon will not reveal the location of the soul. Thomas enters Hawthorne’s apartment and discovers a trunk full of evidence that the deceased Colonel is a Korean War criminal, because criminals like this keep mementos of their crimes out in the open for easy access on the off chance that an out-of-his-jurisdiction cop will show up without a warrant to poke through their belongings. Shaken, Thomas enters a local church to contemplate his situation. Gabriel appears in the pew behind him and freaks him out by knowing things about him that he shouldn’t. Then Gabriel disappears, forgetting to warn Thomas off the case, or fooling him with a false trail, or anything else

Proof that Gabriel is an angel and not a man-- when he gets lost he actually stops to ask for directions. (His assistant here is played by Amanda Plummer, PULP FICTION (1994).

Proof that Gabriel is an angel and not a man– when he gets lost he actually stops to ask for directions. (His assistant here is played by Amanda Plummer, PULP FICTION (1994).

Gregory Widen, best known for writing 1991’s incredible firefighter movie BACKDRAFT, wrote and directed this one. He does everything by the numbers here, using tried and true camera angles throughout and taking no risks, thereby failing to put a personal touch on the work. The writing is circular and hollow, silly in places, and doesn’t hold up to the slightest theological scrutiny.

When the movie ended, I remembered my brother’s words from so long ago. “It’s Christopher Walken playing a bad angel,” and that is part and parcel of this film. In fact, that’s what they should’ve written on the back of the VHS box. Walken acts creepy and delivers his lines in that halting, oddly emphasized way of his. There’s a feeling of “That was cool” when the final credits roll, but nothing more substantial than that. Walken has made a career out of this unique delivery, utilizing it in such films as THE DEER HUNTER (1978), BILOXI BLUES (1988), PULP FICTION (1994), SUICIDE KINGS (1997) and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)…. He’s got 123 titles listed on IMDb, and all of them have in common the “Walken Mystique.” I’ve heard it said that if you’re a casting director in Hollywood and you need to fill the “Walken Type,” you are stuck with having to cast Christopher Walken or re-define the type. This is his movie, plain and simple.

Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas share a moment in THE PROPHECY. If he'd had more screen time in his surprise role, Viggo would have stolen this movie from Christopher Walken

Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas share a moment in THE PROPHECY. If he’d had more screen time in his surprise role, Viggo would have stolen this movie from Christopher Walken

Elias Koteas, (LET ME IN, 2010), plays Thomas Dagget. He does a good job with the role, but with 82 titles beneath his name, he hasn’t exactly created a “Koteas Mystique.” Eric Stoltz,(MASK, 1985 and also PULP FICTION), shines as the angel Simon. He’s been in 115 movies, and what little I can find of a “Stoltz Mystique” is not very flattering. As the film rolls along, there’s a surprise role played by Viggo Mortensen, known mainly for playing Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-2003) and Tom Stahl in David Cronenberg’s HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). With only 55 titles to his credit, Viggo is well on his way to establishing a “Mortensen Mystique.” Virginia Madsen plays Katherine, the school teacher who teams up with Thomas to protect the possessed child from Gabriel. She will be best known as the protagonist of CANDYMAN (1992). She also played Tommy Lee Jones’s love interest in 1988’s GOTHAM. There is definitely a “Virginia Madsen Mystique,” but it may only affect me….

Altogether, watching this one a second time after so long, I was slightly more impressed with it story-wise, however it still felt like there was way more unsaid and unexamined than showed up on the screen, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Still, there was a lot of interesting acting from both Christopher Walken and Viggo Mortensen, and I’m always interested in watching Virginia Madsen grace the screen. If your aim is to watch any of these actors do their thing, you could pick far better showcases for their work. The story here remains uncompelling and unmemorable.

Original rating: 1 star.

Reassessment: 1 star.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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The Distracted Critic visits HOUSE (2008)

Posted in 2013, Christian Horror, Haunted Houses, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by knifefighter

HOUSE (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

H - dvd

I watched HOUSE by accident. It was a drab and boring night and I was flipping through Netflix Instant Watch when I saw the listing and thought, “William Katt? George Wendt? Richard Moll? That was a fun movie!” I clicked the title and saw that this one starred Reynaldo Rosales “Never heard of him.” Heidi Dippold “Who?” and J.P. Davis “I thought he died… no, that was J.T. Walsh.” Just as I was going to flip away from it, I noticed that the director’s last name was Henson “Brian Henson? I loved his NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES episode ‘Battleground’!” I clicked PLAY.

The opening was pretty cool, interspersing a tale of a woman being stalked by her husband with the names of the cast. Names like Michael Madsen, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook and Lew Temple. With a cast like that, I decided to stick around.

We meet a couple driving through Alabama, obviously lost. Jack Singleton (Rosales), a stereotypical man, acts like if he can just drive fast enough he’ll magically arrive at someplace he knows. Stephanie Singleton (Dippold), his wife, hounds him to slow down. He screams “BE QUIET!” at her a few times, but doesn’t slow down. A cop passes them, giving a few blips of his siren as a warning. As they argue about the meaning of the cop’s actions, they come across a wreck and almost run the cop over. Jack apologizes, his wife flirts like crazy, and instead of ticketing them for speeding or reckless endangerment or failure to yield, he tells them a shortcut back to the highway.

The cop is played by Michael Madsen who has 217 actor credits on IMDb. He’s been a ton of different characters throughout his career, but I will only ever think of him as the ear-collecting Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarrantino’s 1992 RESEVOIR DOGS.

Michael Madsen plays the cop, the chicken's role is uncredited.

Michael Madsen plays the cop. The chicken’s role is uncredited.

Jack and Stephanie head off on the shortcut but don’t get far before they hit a chunk of metal in the road that punctures two of their tires. They pass another car with tire trouble as they walk for help. No surprise, they come upon the same old house where the man hunted his wife in the opening montage of the movie.

They find a guestbook in the front hall, but Jack and Stephanie do not sign it. All they want is the use of a phone so they can be on their way… and that’s what they’d ask for if anyone was around. They call out a few times and then another couple comes down the stairs, Randy (Davis) and Leslie (Julie Ann Emery). Randy incorrectly assumes Jack owns the place. Jack correctly assumes Randy owns the disabled Beemer back on the road. They discuss what to do next, and are interrupted by a very creepy looking guy who looks at Leslie and says: “You’re purdy.”

Lightning flashes outside, and suddenly there’s a woman standing on the other side of the room. She introduces herself as Betty. She says the creepy guy is her son Pete, and her husband Stewart is fixing the fuse. She says the rates are twenty dollars a night, per person. Randy asks if that includes food and Betty says there’s enough to go around. “But you gotta clean up,” she says. “Only pigs… eat in their own muck.”

Betty is played by Leslie Easterbrook, Pete by Lew Temple and Stewart by Bill Moseley. They’ve each got dozens of acting credits, but they’ll be best remembered by readers of this site by another film they did together, Rob Zombie’s 2005 masterpiece, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson's 2008 movie HOUSE.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson’s 2008 movie HOUSE.

As the couples dine, a commotion rises outside and the “family” panics and starts locking all the doors and windows. Betty starts yelling at the two young couples, scolding them for bringing the “Tinman” to their home. A tin can is dropped down the chimney, and upon it has been written the House Rules. “Rule number one: God came into my house, and I killed Him. Rule number two: I will kill anyone who comes into my house like I killed God. Rule number three: Give me one dead body before sunrise, and I’ll let rule number two slide.” With this reveal, their night of survival begins.

There was a lot that struck me as “off” about this film. There was no profanity that I could recognize. Though Leslie wore a dress that revealed a good amount of cleavage, at no point was there nudity. On top of that, creative cutaways kept the violence—the horror-movie money shots—off screen. Those were just the stylistic oddities. The philosophical oddities were subtle but even more disturbing.

Leslie’s childhood was terrorized by sexual abuse perpetrated by her uncle. The onus for this is placed squarely on her for being “an evil temptress,” not just by the creepy backwater family, but by everyone present. Jack and Stephanie’s marriage was shattered by the accidental death of their daughter. Again, it’s accepted by everyone present that the onus for that is entirely on Stephanie. Jack is the poor soul doomed to shoulder her failure for the rest of his life—even though we’ve seen in flashback that Jack had been present when the accident happened, but was too busy working to even speak civilly to his daughter. I began to feel irritated by this movie.

Horror films have long gotten a bad rap for being misogynistic. For every film that depicts a strong female character that tries to survive instead of relying on a man to save her, you can find dozens that treat women like baggage the male characters have to coddle, protect and lug around. While the women in HOUSE seemed stronger than your average horror movie fodder, the movie reared its misogynous head in a creepily different way. It played as if everything bad that ever happened was a woman’s fault. It’s even implied early on that Jack would never have had any trouble driving if Stephanie hadn’t been nagging him.

As the plot entered its endgame, the characters began to speak Christian-ese. That’s when I realized what was going on. Christian-ese is a language Christians use when they don’t want non-Christians to realize they’re being preached to. It wasn’t until the end credits that we were told the movie was “Based on a novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.” For those unfamiliar with the culture, Peretti and Dekker are Christian novelists who sell insane amounts of books. A novel penned by them side-by-side is the Christian equivalent of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s THE TALISMAN. Had I seen that credit at the start of the film (and there was no hint of it, I went back and checked), the “Original Sin” attitude of the movie wouldn’t have taken me by surprise.

Robby Henson has directed Christian horror before, 2006’s THR3E. To many, the phrase “Christian horror” sounds as satisfying as “diet cotton candy” or “virtual hug.” It’s an interesting phrase, but it’s bound to lose something in the practical world. The vast majority of fans do not appreciate horror movies with explicit “Good wins over all” endings. POLTERGEIST III (1988) and THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE (2007) leap to mind as examples. Both of these films came across as sermons. HOUSE isn’t quite as heavy-handed as that, though the movie hopes to convince you you’re a sinner so that you’ll dedicate your life Christian ideologies. I’m not going to judge whether or not the film succeeds at that. I only have to judge its merits as a horror film.

If you want the experience of watching “Christian horror,” then I’d have to say that this is a movie to check out. Not only does it boast a fairly lucid plot (Christian sensibilities and philosophies aside), you get to enjoy Michael Madsen and horror movie cult favorites Bill Moseley and Leslie Easterbrook chewing the scenery as only they can. If, however, you’re after a really good horror movie, then I’d have to recommend you steer clear. Hunt down something better… like, say, Brian Henson’s awesome short movie “Battleground.”

I’m gonna give HOUSE two stars, which surprises me, but it’s possible I was enthralled with seeing Mr. Blonde and Otis Firefly onscreen together. I kept hoping they’d break into an Epic Rap Battle. As for timeouts, there were three– a “trinity” of them, as it were.

Reynaldo Rosales is Jack and Heidi Dippold is Stephanie, who are terrorized in the HOUSE.

Reynaldo Rosales as Jack and Heidi Dippold as Stephanie are terrorized in the HOUSE.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

The Distracted Critic – ENTER NOWHERE (2011)

Posted in 2013, Enigmatic Films, Existential Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on May 15, 2013 by knifefighter

ENTER NOWHERE (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

Enter-Nowhere

ENTER NOWHERE is a film with aspirations. It wants to go places, get noticed, be remembered. It wants to be a contender.

A rough-looking couple enters a convenience store called Catena’s and walks directly to the furthermost corner without so much as a glance toward the attendant. They start making out and you get the definite feeling that this is a kiss for luck. Next thing you know, they’re both holding guns on the attendant and demanding all the money in the register. Once they have it, the man runs for the car, but his girl stays behind and demands the attendant open the safe.

“I’ll open it, but I don’t think you’ll like what’s inside.” He then challenges her about making the life decisions that have led her to be holding a gun on him. “You don’t even care that you’re going nowhere,” he says. She shoots him.

Title Card: ENTER NOWHERE

Now there’s another woman, lost and afraid, wandering through the woods. Her movements are clipped and tight. She comes to a cabin in the woods. Inside, she finds a backpack with a baggie full of granola and eats a fistful. Someone starts moving around outside the cabin. We see dark shoes approaching, see the head of an axe dragging in the dirt. The man with the axe, Tom, turns out to be a nice guy. Both he and the woman, Samantha, have been stranded here because of car trouble. Tom says he’s been here for a few days, but hasn’t been able to find a way out. While there’s no phone, they do have an antique two-way radio. Of course, it’s broken. Night falls, Samantha says she’s pregnant, and Tom lets her have the bed, volunteering to sleep on the floor.

The next morning, Tom sets out for her car, thinking he can siphon the gasoline from his crashed truck and use it to get Sam’s car running. While he’s gone, Sam hears someone else wandering around outside the cabin and opens the door to find the blonde girl from the opening segment, the one who shot the attendant, passed out on the porch. Samantha moves her inside the cabin where she wakes and is none to happy to be there. She tells Samantha her name is Jody, but that’s as friendly as she gets. When Tom returns and takes her lighter to start a fire to warm the cabin, she gets downright belligerent.

Later on, Jody makes an offhand comment to Samantha, asking why she’s way out in Wisconsin, and Samantha insists they’re in New Hampshire. Tom thinks them both crazy, because he knows for a fact that they’re in South Dakota. Each of them is absolutely sure where they are. A plane they can’t see passes overhead.

The next morning they set off together determined to walk until they reach civilization. After walking most of the day, Jody trips and falls hard to the ground. Sam discovers that she tripped on a trap door in the woods. They hope that whatever is behind this door will hold the answer to why they’ve been brought together, but they find only a bomb shelter filled with German antiques and old wine. They take what food they can carry and resume their walk, only to come upon the cabin again. “That’s impossible,” Jody says.

There are no clues snuck in just for the audience in this film. We get to discover what's going on along with the protagonists.

There are no clues snuck in just for the audience in this film. We get to discover what’s going on along with the protagonists.

All the elements are here to make a film people will notice and talk about for a long time. It’s got a premise we’ve seen before (most notably CUBE, 1997 and IDENTITY, 2003), strangers coming to an unfamiliar location with no inkling of why they’re there. The resolution is one that writers Shawn Christensen and Jason Dolan took some time to think up. First time director Jack Heller (the upcoming DARK WAS THE NIGHT, 2013) cites Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock as role models, and truth be told you can imagine either director wanting to be at the helm of this story. This is one of those rare tales that is compelling because the audience learns what’s happening at the same pace that the characters do. Heller does a very good job with a limited budget. His credits previous to this include work as a producer on seven movies. It’s plain to see that he’s spent a lot of time on set, watching directors work.

Sara Paxton (THE INNKEEPERS, 2011) plays Jody, and she makes this character pop off the screen. This is a woman who’s had nothing easy her entire life and has learned to act out in anger, causing pain to everyone she meets before they have the chance to hurt her. Katherine Waterson (MICHAEL CLAYTON, 2007 and ROBOT & FRANK, 2012) plays Samantha, and at first I thought her rigidity was an acting fault, but later on we learn that it’s entirely reasonable behavior for her character. Scott Eastwood (GRAN TORINO, 2008 and TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, 2013), son of legendary actor/ director Clint Eastwood, plays Tom. His character is a “nice guy,” almost to a fault. There were times that he seemed disconnected from what was happening, though, at times so profoundly that it pulled me from the spell of the story.

For all its desire to be an important film, there are a few logic lapses that throw a bump in the narrative flow, as well as one blatant “goof” that had me rewinding the scene to be sure I saw it correctly. I did.

I saw a lot of promise here, for the director, for the writers, for the actors. While the film itself is pretty good, I wouldn’t urge you to go out of your way to hunt it down. At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend you avoid it at all costs, either.

Apparently, this classic model car was equipped with power windows when it was made.

Apparently, this classic model car was equipped with power windows when it was made.

I give ENTER NOWHERE two stars, with three timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

The Distracted Critic: SEVENTH MOON (2008)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Demons, Doomed Tourists, Enigmatic Films, Evil Spirits, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on May 1, 2013 by knifefighter

SEVENTH MOON (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

SeventhMoonb

SEVENTH MOON is a movie that slipped past me back in 2008. It was part of the Ghost House Underground series released by Lionsgate. If memory serves, that specialized line of movies was the main gist of its advertising, so I’m not surprised I never realized Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999, and ALTERED, 2006) directed it. I was excited to learn of the film’s existence while I researched his film LOVELY MOLLY (2011) last November, and have looked forward to checking it out.

Eduardo Sanchez is becoming a favorite director of mine. He knows how to develop scary situations and is good at creating characters you can care about. He does that here, too… at least for a little while. The action starts in late afternoon and lasts until dawn. The instant the sun set on screen, though, the most frustrating movie experience I’ve had in a very long time began. But, before I get ahead of myself…

The film opens with a quote, as all Sanchez’s movies have so far. “On the full moon of the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell open and the spirits of the dead are freed to roam among the living.”—Chinese myth.

We meet Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart, MIRRORS, 2008, and both CRANK movies, 2006 & 2009), an American couple on their honeymoon in China. They are wandering a crowded street during the festivities of The Hungry Ghost Festival, marveling at the actions of the locals who are burning papers in the street. The papers signify sacrifice (in order to have the wish written on the paper granted, they have to sacrifice it). After Yul has a debilitating share of wine, they leave the area and meet up with Ping (Dennis Chan, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, 2012), their chauffer.

Ping starts to drive them to Anxian, where Yul’s family lives. Yul falls asleep almost immediately. The sun sets. Melissa falls asleep, too. Ping stops at the top of a hill and Melissa wakes up. He apologizes for getting lost. “These roads are tricky,” he says. He points to a small village down the hill and says he will go and ask for directions. An hour later, Melissa wakes Yul and tells him what’s going on. He, of course, decides they should leave the car and go look for Ping.

At first they think the village must be deserted. Then they find a crowd of animals tied up in the center of town. They knock on doors and shout questions about Ping. In response, the hidden residents yell out the same words over and over. Melissa asks what they’re saying, but Yul’s Cantonese isn’t very good and all he can say for sure is that they’re calling something to join them. Mel and Yul return to Ping’s car and find that he left the keys, so they start it up and try to drive back to civilization.

It isn’t long before Yul swerves to avoid a naked man running across the road. The car bogs down in mud. He climbs out to push while Mel drives. It takes the added motivation of a ghostly shriek from the dark woods to get him to shove the car free. As she drives, Melissa blames Yul for everything that’s happening because he’d been the one that wanted to come to China.

Mel tries to swerve as another man, this one clothed, runs into the road. She strikes him, and then insists on getting out of the car to help. He is more wounded than the car can account for, but he is conscious and says in Cantonese that the Moon Demons are coming. Mel and Yul get the injured man into Ping’s car, but as soon as Yul climbs behind the wheel, four naked men jump on the car and start pounding on it.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: 'Pale Men.' Yup. That's what they're called.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: ‘Pale Men.’ Yup. That’s what they’re called.

Yul guns the engine and drives in reverse because the road is too narrow to turn around. Predictably, he drives off the road and crashes.

Mel immediately realizes that the naked men will follow the car’s path through the brush so she leads Yul and the injured man away from it. The three of them freeze and listen to the Moon Demons thumping on the car, and after a while, the injured man tells them they must find something alive to leave behind for the Moon Demons to kill. That way, they will leave them alone. He might have given Yul a sidelong glance, but it was impossible to be sure, because the thing was so ridiculously dark.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

I’ve enjoyed Sanchez’s work before, as I said, but this film is plagued by shockingly poor decisions. The first is his choice of lighting the film…or should I say, his choice of NOT lighting the film. While I realize the majority of the film’s action transpired in a remote area of China that was without streetlights or any other kind of electricity, the night this all happened was supposedly a full moon. Surely the lighting could have been fudged just a little bit? As it was, the majority of the film was nothing but a mass of dark shadows offset by squiggles and blotches of darker shadows. It was literally impossible to make out what was happening on screen. With a make-up effects man as experienced as Mike Elzalde (DREAMCATCHER, 2003, PAUL, 2011, ATTACK THE BLOCK, 2011 and the upcoming NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR), I’d think you’d want to showcase the work you paid for. Apparently not so much.

The second poor decision is the use of a hand-held camera for the entire movie. There is no reason for this at all. The shaky camera work was an important part of the story in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT because it was supposed to be shot by an amateur film crew (i.e., the main characters did the work). There is no such situation in SEVENTH MOON. Not only is the shaky camera dizzying and hard to follow (especially since nothing is lit properly), it doesn’t stay with one point of view. It jumps all over the place, inside and outside of the car. There are far-off establishing shots and other shots so dark and undecipherable, it seems as if they might have kicked the camera under the car seat.

I’d like to comment on the actors performances, but I have to be honest and admit that I couldn’t see much. There was a bit of screaming and a LOT of heavy breathing, though, and I’ll assume it was all done in the right places. The story, or what I could discern of it, wasn’t memorable. It lacked the element of humanity that’s been present in Sanchez’s other works. Instead of working through problems and confronting personal fears as in BLAIR WITCH, ALTERED and LOVELY MOLLY, in this one it’s just a couple of characters who aren’t very well developed trying to survive the night. It seemed that these characters continually made foolish choices because that’s what they were created to do.

It disappoints me to have to recommend that you ignore a film by Eduardo Sanchez, but truth be told, there’s nothing to see here. At all.

I’m giving this one 0 stars, and although it’s misleading, I’m giving it 0 time outs, as well. Truthfully, I itched to walk away from it for most of the running time, but I knew that if I did I would never go back.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon