Session 9: Let’s Go Crazy – Netflix Review / 13 Reviews of Halloween

A team trying to clean up an old abandoned asylum find… I guess what you might expect in an old abandoned asylum?

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Gordon (Peter Mullan) is the owner of a company who takes a rush job to remove all of the asbestos in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. His crew includes: Mike (Stephen Gevedon), who knows much about the building’s history; Phil (David Caruso), his second-in-command who is dealing with a breakup; Hank (Josh Lucas), a gambling addict; and Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), Gordon’s nyctophobic nephew (afraid of the dark). While in the asylum, Mike discovers a box containing a total of nine sessions of audio-recorded interviews with a former patient named Mary Hobbes (Jurian Hughes). As they start getting to work, Mike starts listening to Mary’s tapes, finding out that she had dissociative identity disorder. Soon, strange things start happening around the asylum. It turns out that some things might be more than just a trick of the mind.

Spoiler: Asbestos is NOT the real killer.

END SUMMARY

The key to this movie is the atmosphere. It starts with the building itself. It’s a giant, sprawling relic of the past that clearly has a bad history, but it’s not as apparently menacing as many horror settings. It’s got a lot of light areas and white walls, but also a lot of hallways that quickly turn into underground tunnels. The open spaces being connected by tight and isolated rooms allows everything to go from “okay” to “oh no” at a moment’s notice, keeping the viewer always on guard. The fact that everywhere has signs of decay, death, and torment only serves to heighten the feeling that this is not a good place to be. But, again, it doesn’t always rely on dark corners and creepy hallways to have the threat. Sometimes, a room filled with an almost eerie light can provide the grounds for the feelings of dread that permeate the film. Also, it was an actual abandoned asylum, so there’s an extra level of authenticity to the creepiness.

The crew sometimes used stuff that was left in the building. Creepy stuff.

The other key to the atmosphere is how well these characters come off as authentic. They all have their own reasons for taking this job and they all are desperate to get out of their current situations. Their interactions show a closeness and a joviality. That makes it even more disturbing when, as the film progresses, their talks start to get more and more strained and aggressive. Moreover, all of them have different reasons why they might suddenly be growing stranger. One of the best parts of the film is that you can never be sure who is being influenced by what, even when the really bad things start to happen. By having almost everyone in the film being a suspect and an unreliable narrator, you can never be certain of what is real. 

You know how you joke about lobotomizing your friends? … everyone does that, right?

The cinematography in this film, while not incredibly unique, does a great job of framing shots such that you can never quite get the full picture of what’s happening, even when there don’t appear to be any supernatural forces at work. It gets taken up a notch later when we find out that someone on the crew seems to have completely snapped, but we don’t know who and we don’t know if it’s even real. When the final revelations in the film start to snowball, the certainty comes almost as a relief even as the horror rises.

Great framing and color work here.

Overall, this is a great work of psychological horror. Give it a try.

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Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: Savior of the Franchise – Netflix Review / 13 Reviews of Halloween

Let’s just admit that this is the best Scooby-Doo movie.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-ish?)

Mystery, Inc. has broken up. Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) has a hit TV show with her cameraman Fred (Frank Welker). To celebrate Daphne’s birthday and her new supernatural investigation series, Fred invites Velma (B.J. Ward), Shaggy (Billy West), and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) to reunite for one last ride. Unfortunately, despite looking for ghosts, all the gang finds are people in suits trying to steal things. The gang eventually winds up in New Orleans where a woman named Lena (Tara Strong) invites them to see Moonscar Island where her employer, Simone Lenoir (Adrienne Barbeau) has a real haunted house. The gang starts to encounter some strange happenings, but is it ghosts or a hoax? Hint: It ain’t a hoax.

The unmasking goes a bit awry.

END SUMMARY

Between 1969 and the present, there have only been 9 years in which no new Scooby-Doo media was released. Six of those years were between the end of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo in 1991 and this movie. The franchise was potentially on its last legs, aside from Cartoon Network’s occasional reruns and its annual 25 hours of Scooby-Doo marathon. But, it did well enough on repeats for the network to give this film a shot. It was assembled by people who had mostly worked on more serious shows than the traditional Scooby-Doo, like Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron. In fact, this film was basically a recycling of an unused script from that show. Because of that, this movie went in a new direction for the franchise: Legitimately kind of dark.

Not just in the art style, but yes, in the art style as well.

It’s not just that the zombies are real in this movie, it’s that by this point in their careers, Fred, Daphne, and Velma no longer even consider the possibility that magic could be real. While there had been some real ghosts or monsters in some previous Scooby-Doo works, most of them involved Scrappy-Doo instead of the human gang. When Velma and Fred encounter things that seem supernatural, they immediately move to debunking it, comparing it to other times that they’ve dealt with manufactured mysticism. The only ones who still appear to be humoring the idea of real ghosts are Shaggy and Scooby, which makes it better that they’re the first ones to encounter the zombies, because no one believes them. Despite the fact that the zombies are real, though, there is still a legitimate mystery as to why they’re attacking and how they came to be. 

It helps that this is a version of the gang that is really good at solving regular mysteries.

The soundtrack to this film is great. The theme song was performed by Third Eye Blind and there were two original songs in the film composed by the band Skycycle, “The Ghost is Here” and “It’s Terror Time Again.” I sometimes still find myself humming the latter whenever I see any kind of horror montage. That’s actually part of why I picked this film, even though the request was actually for “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.” The other part was that the only movie of 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo came out recently, and it was not great.

Since this film came out, Scooby-Doo has had five more series and thirty-eight more films, including Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, one of my favorite series ever, and it would not have been possible without this film reminding people that the franchise still had untapped potential. If you ever had any love for Scooby-Doo, give this film a try. If you have never seen Scooby-Doo, this is the best pond to dip your toe in. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Idle Hands: Not Quite the Devil’s Work – Amazon Review / 13 Reviews of Halloween

Stoner gets dealt the worst hand ever.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa) is one of the laziest human beings on Earth. He lives with his parents, doesn’t have a job, and just generally smokes pot all day. Shortly before Halloween, his hometown gets attacked by a serial killer that claims Anton’s parents (Fred Willard and Connie Ray). Anton, however, is so oblivious that he misses the bloodstains around the house for several days. After trying to get weed from his friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson) and failing, Anton finally finds his parents’ bodies. Mick and Pnub come over and discover that the killer is, in fact, Anton, or, more accurately, Anton’s right hand, which is now possessed by a demon without his knowledge. The hand (Christopher Hart) then kills Mick and Pnub and tries to kill Anton’s cat, making him run into his neighbor and crush, Molly (Jessica Alba). The two end up making out as Anton covers for his murderous hand. Mick and Pnub come back to life as zombies and the three have to stop the hand from sending Molly to Hell, with a little help from a druidic priestess named Debi (Vivica A. Fox) and Anton’s neighbor Randy (Jack Noseworthy). 

Fun fact: Mick and Pnub are more successful as zombies.

END SUMMARY

I haven’t seen this movie in years, but my first thought on re-watching it was “man, Devon Sawa does some really good physical acting.” Throughout much of the movie, the humor is that he can’t control one of his hands and that he’s constantly fighting against it and he pulls it off pretty well. I know that later in the film, when the hand is cut off, it is played by Christopher Hart, the same actor who played Thing in Addams Family Values, but my understanding is that while it’s attached, all of the strange, angry, and inhuman motions were by Sawa. It’s not quite the level of comedic ability of Steve Martin in All of Me (which everyone should watch) or the amazing robotic movements of Logan Marshall-Green in Upgrade or even the horror/comedy of Evil Dead II, he still does a great job of playing a guy who is literally fighting his own body. I think the fact that I could even try to compare it to all of those great performances speaks highly of his acting. 

Honestly, it’s impressive how much you don’t doubt it.

Anton’s character is fairly different than most horror protagonists. His possession is seemingly a punishment for his sloth and, in order for that to make sense, he has to be far lazier and stupider than almost any normal slacker. He’s so oblivious and focused on getting high that he misses the obvious signs that his parents have been murdered. This level of ridiculous exaggeration should make him unlikeable, but Sawa plays him so naturally hapless that you can still end up rooting for him. 

He’s not a great guy, but he’s not a murderous demon.

Seth Green, Elden Hanson, and Jessica Alba are all great supporting roles. Green and Hanson are both the perfect “slightly more productive” stoners to act as comic relief. Their easy adjustment to being involved in the supernatural, particularly after being resurrected, is particularly humorous, and they’re both naturally great at delivering absurd lines in an amusing way. Alba’s main role is to somehow justify being attracted to Anton despite the fact that he literally never removes any article of clothing he’s wearing in the film over several days. Somehow, she almost makes it seem viable by seeming like she’s kind of an odd duck herself. It’s still insane that any woman, let alone this one, would want to sleep with Anton, but at least her performance lets you move past it.

Fun fact: He hasn’t bathed in 5 days and she wants him bad.

The movie itself suffers from a lot of issues with pacing and never quite nailing the tone. The opening to the film plays out like a legitimate horror movie, but the rest of the film is a farce. Debi and Randy only show up for a few minutes and, with anyone less than Vivica A. Fox, would be completely forgettable. It also relies more on the fact that it has a naturally ridiculous premise to keep it interesting than quality writing. Still, I find the film pretty funny for what it is and I think the hand serves as a pretty decent monster throughout. I can say that it deserves more than the 15% it has on Rotten Tomatoes.

She is a foxy lady. I won’t apologize.

Overall, I’m not going to say that you need to see it, but it’s worthwhile if you’re a horror/comedy fan.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Ginger Snaps: The Only Metaphor for Womanhood Men Might Understand – Shudder Review / 13 Reviews of Halloween

A teenage girl starts to find her body going through changes.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Brigette and Ginger Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle) are sisters who have long had an obsession with death. They even have a death pact which is supposed to be enacted when the two turn 16 if they haven’t left the suburbs. Despite the fact that Ginger, the older sister, is almost 16, she has yet to hit puberty. One night, while on their way to take vengeance on a bully, Ginger gets her first period. The blood attracts a creature which has been behind a number of dog killings in the area and Ginger is attacked and bitten before the creature gets run over by a car belonging to a local drug dealer named Sam (Kris Lemche). 

Oh, hey, teenage girls who look… normal.

Soon, Ginger starts to undergo a number of strange transformations. She starts to become aggressive, her wounds heal fast, grows hair in strange places, has heavy menstrual flow, and finds a tail coming out of her backside. Naturally, she’s told that it’s all part of becoming a woman. However, Brigette realizes that there is truly something wrong with her sister. She and Sam have to try and stop Ginger from really letting her wild side run free… or eat anyone. 

END SUMMARY

If you’ve read this blog before, you’re aware that my favorite horror films are ones which use the medium as a way to address actual issues. This film is at the pinnacle of horror metaphor films, being a satire about how society treats women, particularly women’s health. The film can somewhat be represented by the scene in which Ginger and Brigitte explain Ginger’s symptoms, but all of them are dismissed by the school nurse as being parts of “becoming a woman.” In fact, any time that a person who doesn’t believe in the supernatural is told of Ginger’s condition, they assume it’s just part of puberty.

Ginger’s bloodlust from her lycanthropy is mirrored by her awakening sexuality. Carnivorous and carnal are constantly intertwined. As she grows more lupine at times, she also grows more confident and feminine at others. It’s made even more blatant when it’s revealed that the two ways to infect people with the disease are through biting or through sex. As her body and behavior change without her having any conscious desire for it, she becomes both more interesting and more repulsive. I swear that werewolves were created just for this metaphor. 

Ginger OH SNAP

John Fawcett, the director and co-writer, wanted to make a female-led horror movie and approached screenwriter Karen Walton about it. She essentially only agreed on the condition that this film treated women in the opposite way that the genre usually does. I think it would be hard for someone to say that the movie didn’t live up to that promise. Ginger and Brigette are both well-crafted characters who have way more personality than almost any main characters get in a horror movie, let alone female characters. They’re oddballs, but they’re believable. Their relationship is the core of the movie because they’re extremely close and it shows even when their friendship becomes progressively more strained. Focusing more on this than much of the traditional horror is one of the strong points of the movie. It depends heavily on the performances of the leads and they nail it so hard they got two sequels (well, a sequel and prequel).

They seem to have such a strong bond.

Overall, this is just a fabulous movie and I really recommend it to everyone. It’s not as scary as many horror films, but it will change your perspective more.

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The Craft: Witches Be Crazy – Amazon Review / 13 Reviews of Halloween

Welcome to the 90s, when Neve Campbell was everywhere.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

High Schooler Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles with her father (Cliff DeYoung) and stepmother. She quickly draws the eye of the three local “witch girls:” Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell), and Rochelle (Rachel True). The three need a fourth to complete their circle and discover that Sarah has natural abilities. They ask her to join them and explain their deity, a primordial force called “Manon.” At the same time, Sarah goes out with Chris (Skeet Ulrich), a local boy, who immediately proves himself to be a crapbag. The four witches each cast a spell to help them get what they want, but they soon find out that magic can have a lot more consequences than they expect. Deadly consequences.

She makes Cyclops’ glasses look good.

END SUMMARY 

So, I was given the choice by request between either this or Practical Magic. I chose this and I regret nothing. I first saw this movie when I was 12 and thus started my crush on Neve Campbell and, thanks to her and Fairuza Balk’s Nancy, goth chicks in general. It was fairly formative, is what I’m saying. Despite that, I do have to acknowledge that this isn’t the greatest movie, but it’s probably top of my list of “young girl gets supernatural powers and hijinks/mayhem ensue,” slightly edging out Blake Lively’s sister Robyn in the 1985 movie Teen Witch. This movie is significantly darker than that one, of course, but I still consider them in similar veins.

There’s more comradery here… at first.

Actually, it’s the darker elements that make me remember this movie. First, we see the darkness that drives each of our main four girls. Sarah feels guilty because her mom died giving birth to her and thinks her dad resents her, leading her to be suicidal and depressed. Nancy lives in a trailer with her mom and abusive step-dad. Bonnie has severe burns on her body that she feels make her a monster. Rochelle is mistreated by Laura (Christine “Marcia Marcia Marcia” Taylor), the racist captain of the dive team. Each of these background stories is wildly more exaggerated than most films would do, but since it’s a movie with real magic, the disbelief is already suspended. Then, we see the decline of each of the girls as they indulge in their fantasies. Sarah enjoys teasing Chris who is now in love with her. Nancy gets a nice new apartment and gets rid of her step-dad, but starts to crave power. Bonnie becomes vain from her new appearance (although, this one is more implied than shown, since she still looks like Neve Campbell in the 90s). Rochelle gets revenge, but eventually regrets it so much her own reflection won’t look at her. It’s a basic plot, but it’s just how far they’re willing to take each storyline that sets it apart. 

Also all the snakes they used.

Mostly, though, it’s the aesthetics and the insane imagery that make this movie. The costumes evolve with the characters, going darker as the characters do. Then there are shots that just come out of nowhere, like a toilet full of mealworms or a beach full of dead sharks. They’re powerful images that stick with you. The CGI is very ‘90s (AKA bad), but many of the practical effects shots are solid and hold up well. Again, it’s how over-the-top the film is willing to go that matters.

Let’s see if the sequel this month is willing to go as far.

Overall, I still liked this movie. It’s not going to win any awards for best screenplay, but it was the second best movie with Skeet Ulrich and Neve Campbell that came out in 1996 (admittedly, comparing it to Scream might be a tad unfair).

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Addams Family Values: The Creepiest Family in Film Returns – 13 Reviews of Halloween/Amazon Prime Review

One of the few sequels I like better than the original.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Gomez and Morticia Addams (Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston) welcome their third child, Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper). Unfortunately, the older siblings, Wednesday and Pugsley (Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman), don’t take well to the new child, attempting to murder him, as Addams are wont to do. To help, the Addams parents hire a nanny named Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) who is, in reality, a serial murdering black widow. She seduces Gomez’s brother, Fester (Christopher Lloyd). When Wednesday becomes suspicious, Debbie has her and Pugsley sent to summer camp under relentlessly chipper Counselors Gary and Beck Granger (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski). Fortunately, the Addams family can handle more than a mere serial killer and a summer camp. Also featuring Christopher Hart as Thing, Carel Struycken as Lurch, and Carol Kane as Grandmama.

They don’t usually come out during this time of day.

END SUMMARY 

I am a fan of the original Barry Sonnenfeld Addams Family movie from 1991, but it’s more for the stand-out scenes than the film as a whole. The plot of the original film was pretty incoherent and is wrapped up by one of the strangest series of dei ex machinae in history. Still, the cast was so good that it was still incredibly fun. This film has the same cast, but also comes up with more entertaining things to do with them and a more compelling plot. It doesn’t hurt that the slightly lighter tone here allows for some more varied, but actually ultimately darker, humor.

And some great quips.

I really can’t understate how perfect the casting was for this film. I don’t think I will ever envision Morticia Addams as being anyone other than Anjelica Huston. She was born to play the role. I mean, I loved Carolyn Jones in the live-action series, but Huston nails it as hard as Hopkins nailed Hannibal. Raul Julia and John Astin are both very different but equally good portrayals of the ultimate loving husband, although Julia unfortunately was sick during filming and it does make his performance a little less energetic than the first movie. Christina Ricci proved herself to be an incredible Wednesday in the first film, but in this movie she also has to play Wednesday dealing with both puberty and her captivity within a camp that promotes “normalcy.” Honestly, the scenes of the kids rebelling against the counselors are some of my favorite gags. Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of Fester always surprises me because it’s so very different from any of his other iconic characters, but he disappears into it just as much. In this, he has to be the lonely man who believes he’s found love and is willing to constantly overlook the obvious red flags. Speaking of red flags, Joan Cusack was a great addition to this cast. Her ability to play a sociopath who is able to put up with the oddities of the Addams family and, in fact, able to manipulate them presents an actual, believable obstacle to the perfect family. 

The best marriage in film.

It also is impressive that this movie can get away with so many of the jokes it does. The older Addams children repeatedly attempt to murder a baby, only to be thwarted in borderline slapstick ways. If it weren’t for the cartoonish nature of their attempts, we might be put off by the infanticide. Similarly, after Wednesday leads a revolt at the summer camp, it’s implied that at least some of the children have been killed and that the counselors are going to be roasted to death on a spit like Saint Lawrence, but it’s mostly offscreen and played for laughs by every character, so you can ignore it. The darker and more dryly humorous tone of the first movie only allowed for dark references to the horrors, this movie gets to show them off. 

Still better for MacNicol than “The Powers That Be.” Remember that 90s kids?

Overall, just a great movie and a fantastic sequel. It’s still my favorite incarnation of the Addams family. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Halloween-Leftover Review: You Might Be The Killer – Good Twist on Old Tropes (Spoiler-Free… ish?)

A young man and his horror-genre savvy friend try to figure out what’s happening at a summer camp stalked by a masked murderer. 

SUMMARY

The movie starts in Medias Res with Sam Wescott (Fran Kranz) escaping from what he believes is a real life horror movie slasher. He calls his friend Charlotte AKA “Chuck” (Alyson Hannigan) and asks her for help. She asks for information and Sam starts to recount the events he remembers from the last few days. Sam owns the Camp Clear Vista summer camp and has just brought in a group of his fellow counselors. It turns out that a number of them have been killed by a man in a wooden mask over the last few days as Sam has been helpless to stop them. Sam tries to figure out who the killer is with Chuck’s help, only for Chuck to come up with a horrifying theory: The Killer might be Sam.

YouMightBeTheKiller - 1Sam
Fun fact: Counselors are really, really easy to kill.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, I say “Spoiler-Free… ish” because the title of the movie is You Might Be The Killer. With a name like that, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that part of the movie involves Chuck trying to convince Sam that he might, in fact, be the killer. Chuck proposes, despite the fact that this takes place in a world very similar to ours, that Sam might be the victim of an ancient magical curse that compels him to take on the role of a scary movie slasher. It doesn’t help that Sam had just relayed a story of such a slasher to the group at the beginning of the Summer, nor that Sam has been suffering some stress-induced blackouts when the killer is nearby. 

YouMightBeTheKiller - 2Mask
Granted, I might black out if I was next to this.

The story is not conveyed chronologically, which helps with some of the suspense. The fact that Sam is not only an unreliable narrator due to his blackouts, but also due to potentially deliberately ignoring events, puts us in the same position as Chuck. If you’re a horror movie aficionado, you’ll enjoy having her run down lists of tropes as she tries to figure out what exactly is happening, and they’ll likely be the same tropes that you would be running through. The key to this movie is that the people behind it very clearly love horror films and it shows. While the movie Scream was based around deconstructing most of the tropes from 70s and 80s horror by having characters who were aware of horror tropes, here we have a character who is aware that their self-awareness of the trope is now itself a trope. It’s basically the meta-evolution of the genre.

YouMightBeTheKiller - 3Possession.png
Mind blowing, I know.

The strongest feature in the movie is the interplay between Sam and Chuck. Despite the fact that they never have a scene together in the movie, they have such a natural chemistry and such a steady back-and-forth that you feel like they’re really part of the same events. The supporting characters are mostly stereotypes from horror films, but they’re done so earnestly and over-the-top that you really enjoy being reminded of the films that inspired the characters. The killer is very derivative of old-school slashers, but it’s supposed to be, and the design is pretty neat. The kills are also a nice balance of classically gory and creatively shot.

YouMightBeTheKiller - 4Chuck
I assume all her scenes were filmed in one day, as they’re all… this.

The biggest downside to the film is that, because it’s a horror movie dedicated to tropes, it’s still beholden to them. Because of that, it always feels like it is somewhat constrained by the premise and doesn’t go far enough in the commentary or the fun. Some of the humor is also going to be too niche for a lot of viewers, but will make some horror lovers feel like they’re hearing someone lecture them. Also, it’s not on the same level of clever dissection of the genre as Cabin in the Woods, which means that it doesn’t quite feel as distinct as it could. It sometimes feels like they’re trying to say “hey, we’re awesome for doing this super meta film,” without realizing that other meta films have been done and, frankly, better.  

Still, if you’re a fan of horror, you probably need to give this one a shot. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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13 Reviews of Halloween: The Things (The Thing from Another World, John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Thing (2011))

I take on the task of looking at three takes on the same idea over 3 generations.

*Update* okay, my draft last night didn’t save, so I’m posting this at work with a bunch of quick replacements I could find for images that I’ll post as the day goes. Don’t fire me, please.

SUMMARY

Each of these movies is an adaptation of the story “Who Goes There?” from 1938. 

Image result for who goes there
Fun fact: John Campbell was a horrible racist, which I guess just means he lived through the ’20s.

The general plotline of the films is that an Antarctic, or Arctic, research station finds a frozen alien spacecraft. The alien is revealed to be a threat to the world, because it consumes life forms and then propagates itself at a rapid pace, sewing a large amount of distrust among all of the humans. Everything else is going to be part of the compare and contrast.

END SUMMARY

This is the conclusion of my 13 reviews of Halloween. Four of the reviews were classic movies, four of them were reader requests, and four of them were independent movies/lesser seen films. This review has all three of those, but they’re all adaptations of the same story. This review originally ended up being over 3500 words. I’ve edited it heavily in order to get it to a reasonable length for a blog post. Maybe one day I’ll post the full thing, but… well, due to my own stupidity, I didn’t save a copy of the full review, I just cut it down. Long story short, this is a long story, short.

A little background here: 

The Thing from Another World was made in 1951 by Christian Nyby, who really was just an editor throughout most of his career. It was in black-and-white and was produced by Howard Hawks’ studio, the makers of Scarface and The Big Sleep. It was a low-budget sci-fi horror film that was designed mostly to capitalize on the anti-scientific-exploration mentality that was prevalent after the world realized that “oh hey, atomic bombs are bad now that Russia has them” as well as the growing threat of “communism.” It was a big hit both commercially and critically, doing better than more well-known films like The Day the Earth Stood Still. It’s still considered a classic monster movie and holds up better than most movies from 1951. 

Image result for the thing from another world
This shot was considered original in 1951.

The Thing is a movie made by the legendary John Carpenter in 1982. It could represent any number of potential social issues, because the central focus is that anyone could secretly be an alien and you’d never notice. That said, it could represent absolutely nothing and still just be a great horror film. The Thing was a critical flop of epic proportions, with most of the people saying it was too bleak and too slow to be a decent film. However, as time passed, the film was reconsidered by most audiences, where it went from being one of the most hated films of all time to one of the most celebrated films. It stands today as one of the best examples of practical effects in the 1980s and of suspense in films. The fact that it is so dark and depressing, what made people hate it when it came out, is now what sets it apart from other horror films. It’s just a masterpiece through and through.

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This shot is just… damn amazing. Even with something so amazing, it’s still so barren.

The Thing is a prequel to the 1982 movie that was made in 2011 because you can always cash in on nostalgia. While the Carpenter film depended heavily on practical effects, the 2011 movie tried to replace it with CGI. Sadly, the CGI did not improve the film. While the Carpenter film has a slow pace to increase the paranoia and uncertainty of the audience and the characters, this version seems to go slow solely because the Carpenter version did. It also suffered because the end of the film had to correspond with the observations of the location from the Carpenter version. Ultimately, it wasn’t very successful either critically or commercially.

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Yeah, this dove right into the uncanny valley. 

The big constants in every version are the alien, the setting, the team, and the paranoia. I’d originally intended to go through each, pick a winner and a loser in each category, and then do an overall analysis to determine the best movie. The problem was that I immediately knew that the one done by John Carpenter was going to win every category. It’s one of the best horror films ever made and one of my favorite movies, so… yeah, that one is going to win literally everything. Instead, I’m just going to explain WHY it wins. 

1) The Alien

The alien is a global threat. In The Thing From Another World, the creature feeds on blood and is plant-based. It’s blood subsequently grows other plants, which will eventually feed on more blood. In this way, if it were to get out of the tundra, it would cause carnivorous plants to take over the world. In the 1982 The Thing and its 2011 prequel of the same name, the alien consumes living matter and can absorb the memories of anyone it eats, allowing it to perfectly duplicate its victims. After it consumes enough mass, it can duplicate itself into another organism, making any number of itself until it could eventually consume everyone on Earth without anyone even knowing it. 

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Everyone in this photo might be the Thing.

If it comes down to why The Thing wins here, it’s a combination of, ahem, things. First, the alien in the older movie, while it is played by the legendary James Arness, is nowhere near as scary. It’s also nowhere near as focal to the threat of the film. It basically shows up, gets injured, drives a guy insane, then dies in an incredibly stupid trap. It’s still fairly lethal, but much easier to deal with, due to it not propagating on its own. Also, it’s extremely humanoid, which removes some level of intimidation. 

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This was the scariest thing in the atomic age, aside from bombs.

Meanwhile the Carpenter alien is a nightmare. It not only infiltrates with ease, but quickly consumes and spreads itself at such a fast pace that neither the characters nor the audience can ever be sure who is human and who isn’t. Now, you may point out that this is the same monster from the prequel, and that’s technically true, but A) it’s inherently not original, B) the creature is nowhere near as creative in its killing, and C) the digital special effects for it just don’t match up to the practical effects of the Carpenter film. Rob Bottin and special-effects legend Stan Winston really came up with some disturbing shots. 

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2) The Setting

Every version of the movie takes place in a frozen wasteland. This is essential to the story, because it is the only reason why the creature doesn’t immediately start taking over the world. 

In The Thing From Another World, the setting is the North Pole, which is unique among the movies in the sense that it’s on the exact opposite side of the world, but… how the hell would you know? I mean, it’s just a snowy desert. However, unlike the other two movies, the setting is much more tied in with the military. It’s ostensibly an arctic research base, but it is run by the air force and staffed by airmen. The base also is designed to be visited more often, keeping the feeling of isolation at a much lower level than the other films. To be fair, the movie is supposed to be more of a monster epic, as opposed to a psychological thriller, so the lack of isolation isn’t as noticeable. 

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Most of the setting is just the outfits.

The 2011 version takes place at the set which the cast of the 1982 film briefly visit, that of a Norwegian research station called “Thule,” an ancient term for the border of the world (solid reference there, guys). Similar to the 1951 movie, though, the fact that people keep coming and going from the station removes some of the elements of isolation compared to the Carpenter version. The station is also designed for more clinical research, which makes it seem more pristine and somewhat unloved. However, the movie does include the inside of the alien ship, which… actually is kind of a disappointment. The ship looks similar to most spaceships from alien movies, with hallways designed to accommodate humanoid inhabitants. This is despite the fact that the alien that inhabits it is a shapeshifter who wouldn’t need such regular dimensions. It still looks cool, but not as cool as it could be. Yes, we technically see part of it in the original, but there was a lot of room to expand on this in inventive ways that I think didn’t happen. 

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Seriously, it’s so clean and organized.

 

Then there’s the original. The people staffing the American research station aren’t scientists, they’re blue collar workers. They wreck stuff. They put their feet on stuff. You really believe this is the kind of place where a bunch of guys get stuck together for months at a time. But mostly, it drives home that this is the kind of place that is separated from the rest of the world. They can barely go outside for any amount of time, so the inside is kind of dirty and crowded and lived in. The shots of the landscape just show whiteness and emptiness everywhere; it’s perfectly bleak and isolated.

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The darkness just shrouds the void. I love that.

3) The Team

This is probably the category in which each of the movies is the most fundamentally different. It’s a little unfair that John Carpenter had Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, and Donald Moffat, although the 2011 film did have Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. The Thing from Another World’s biggest star was James Arness as the monster, and he had only just started his career at that point. 

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He wasn’t even on Gunsmoke yet.

However, it’s not just the performances and the caliber of actors that set the John Carpenter film apart. It’s the kind of people being portrayed. In The Thing from Another World, most of the cast are either military or scientists. A lot of them don’t know each other and thus, any distrust between them is kind of easy to create. Several of the people already have inherent issues, because the scientists don’t like the military and vice versa. None of the characters are particularly memorable aside from Carrington (Robert Cornwaite), a scientist who becomes obsessed with the alien. In the 2011 Thing, the team is composed almost entirely of scientists who were working at the Norwegian Antarctic research station. They have history together, but they trade out fairly frequently. They’re also always rational about the situation, reacting to it more analytically than would maybe be natural. Then, there’s the Carpenter version. 

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I can’t keep the cast straight, because… they’re mostly just people in parkas.

The 1982 The Thing features a team of blue collar workers who have all been stuck together for a long time. They’re close, almost to a familial point, but they’re not a pleasant family because they keep getting stuck together for such long periods of time. They have a level of “f*ck off* that they wear on their sleeves. Additionally, these are mostly normal humans who frequently react with emotional outbursts. One of my favorite scenes in film is when R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), gets mad at losing to the chess computer on site and pours scotch into it, destroying it. It’s such a perfect representation of the kind of people who are at this station, and they’re so much more relatable to the viewer than teams of scientists or military personnel. By making the characters more normal, it makes the horror of their situation more understandable to the viewer and more powerful. 

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I mean, these are literally just the guys who do stuff like this for the money.

4) The Paranoia

Since this is the core theme of the original story, each of the versions has tried to convey it.

In the black-and-white film, the paranoia comes from the fact that the monster can propagate an entire army via the seed pods on its body and that it can convince people to follow it based solely on its superior genetics. It was apparently seen as a metaphor for Communism in the McCarthy era. The monster, while humanoid, drains its victims and grows new emotionless soldiers to replace them. I don’t think it’s a great metaphor, but then again I have the benefit of knowing how the Soviet Union panned out so far. Ultimately, while everyone is afraid of the threat of the monster, it still doesn’t give the same level of “trust no one” as the other films.

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That said, it does still tell you that people are crazy.

In Carpenter’s film and the re-make, the paranoia is because you actually can’t trust anyone. Moreover, in the 1982 film, the audience is in the same boat as the characters. We see a character get eaten and absorbed by the thing, but only in shadow, and we never get any confirmation who that character was. That’s the point, though: Anyone could be the Thing and you’d never know. Now, the creature appears fairly early on in the movie and nobody knows that it is an alien at first because it appears as a sled dog. That means, in retrospect, it could potentially have killed and assimilated anyone, because no one was even aware of the threat. Ergo, anyone can be the monster. Trust no one.

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The prequel has a similar premise, because it’s ostensibly the same monster, but it has two major flaws. First, it takes almost an hour to get the thing into the movie and we know that it wasn’t there before. In other words, everything we’ve seen before then had to involve only humans, so we can’t read anything into those actions. Also, the people are aware of the Thing and its powers almost immediately, meaning that while the paranoia is palpable, it goes from 0 to 60 in about 2 scenes, rather than the slow build of Carpenter’s film. 

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So the winner is: Carpenter’s film. I literally said that it would at the beginning. There was never a question. However, I like all of these movies, although I admit that the 2011 prequel feels mostly unnecessary. The Howard Hawks film is a great monster movie that, while definitely dated, still can keep your interest and the prequel, while flawed and derivative, still does an amazing job of keeping the continuity of the previous film. However, Carpenter’s movie is not just one of the best horror films ever made, it’s one of the best movies ever made. Rather than being a metaphor for a particular idea like Communism, Carpenter managed to make a film about one of the most perpetually disconcerting inherent aspects of human consciousness: You will never, ever, truly know another human being. Now, you can have people you are close to, people you are completely honest with, or people you think you can understand, but you will never be positive that they’re that way with you. They could always be hiding something or, more likely, they could just change in a way that isn’t reflected physically. In this movie, Carpenter plays upon one of the most basic issues in the human experience and points out that, when we are forced to confront that fact, we immediately start turning on each other. It’s truly a bleak outlook that most movies wouldn’t even try to take on. 

Happy Halloween, my readers. Regular schedule will come back in November, with probably a few hiccups due to plans. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Halloween Review – Hocus Pocus: You Love It, Don’t Play

I got a request to review one of the corniest, cheesiest, most absolutely lovable Halloween films of all time.

SUMMARY

Half of my audience is hopefully going to skip this part because they replay Hocus Pocus in their heads 10 times a day during the month of October and will likely yell at me for not perfectly summarizing their favorite line or scene in the movie. 

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They can recite the script from the Villains Spelltacular. 

For the rest of you, here we go:

It’s Halloween in 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, and Thackery Binx (Jason Marsden/Sean Murray) sees his sister Emily (Amanda Shepherd) get taken into the cottage of the witch sisters: Mary (Kathy Najimy), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Amok Amok Amok Parker), and Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson (Bette F*CKING Midler). The witches absorb Emily’s youth at the cost of her life and turn a protesting Thackery into a cat. The townsfolk capture and hang the witches, but Winifred casts a spell that will resurrect them whenever a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle during a Full Moon on All Hallows’ Eve, but what are the odds of that happening? 

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She dies a horrible death of being literally soul-sucked. For kids!

300 years later, to the day, Max Dennison (Omri Katz) and his sister Dani (Thora Birch) have just moved from Los Angeles to Salem. Max, who gets bullied by two idiots, Jay and Ernie (Tobias Jelinek and Larry Bagby), and embarrassed in front of his crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw). However, Allison reveals that her family runs the Sanderson cottage museum. Max goes with her to the house in order to impress her and, showing he doesn’t believe in superstitions, lights the Black flame candle. On Halloween. During a full moon. And he’s a virgin. 

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I don’t apologize for this.

The witches return and it’s revealed that the spell only brings them back for one night unless they can consume the lives of enough children. They plan to start with Dani, but Max tricks them into thinking he’s a sorcerer using a lighter and the fire sprinklers, allowing them to escape with Winifred’s spellbook and Binx, who is revealed to still be alive and able to talk. The witches give chase until they’re stopped by a consecrated barrier, leading Winifred to resurrect her unfaithful lover Billy Butcherson (Doug “I don’t know why I don’t have an Oscar nomination” Jones) as a zombie to pursue them. The sisters try to explore the modern world, discovering that Halloween is a holiday and that Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall are not, in fact, the Devil and Medusa (it makes sense in context). 

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Hey, this is a cameo kids totally got.

The kids make it to the giant town-wide Halloween party to find their parents, but Winifred enchants the partygoers to dance forever using a song that is absolutely the best scene in the movie. The children end up trapping the witches in a kiln at their school, but they resurrect again a short while later and kidnap Dani and Binx. Sarah hypnotizes all the children of Salem to the cottage. Max and Allison manage to get Dani back and flee to the cemetery again, with Billy the zombie switching sides. The witches try to give Dani the potion that will allow them to consume her life force, but Max drinks the potion himself, forcing them to try and consume him. The sun rises before they can, leading them all to turn to stone and shatter. Binx dies and his soul goes to heaven with his sister’s, and presumably Max and Allison have the most boring second date in history.

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Zombies by Disney are fancier than by Romero. Still, kind of a cool look.

END SUMMARY

This movie was basically torn apart by critics when it came out. It has a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes even with the number of people who have reviewed it since with their nostalgia glasses. While I’m not a professional critic, or even a very good amateur one, I do understand why this probably happened. Critics tend to follow a rubric when they’re reviewing and I guarantee this one performed low on almost every category. The script to this film is so needlessly bloated and unfocused that if you were to read it, you’d probably get lost. The protagonists have basically no emotional journey and they’re so bland that Max is short for “Maximum ‘90s, Minimum effort.” Billy the zombie’s character makes no sense. I mean, yes, it makes sense that he’d want to hurt Winifred, because she killed him, but it makes no sense that he would keep following her orders when she’s not there if he can just rebel in the first place. The two bullies, Jay and Ernie, are the least believable bullies since Bulk and Skull from Power Rangers. It’s super weird that people mock Max for being a virgin when the kid’s clearly only like 14. Also, Binx’s failure to prevent the black flame from being lit is insane. There’s only a full moon on Halloween roughly once every 18 years, meaning he only has to work about 20 nights in 300 years and he doesn’t just tell people “I’m a talking cat, don’t light the magic candle” on one of them? Or just piss on the candle so it can’t light? For that matter, why hasn’t he stolen and hidden it in 3 centuries? Ridiculous. So, yeah, there are flaws from a technical standpoint that would definitely turn a critic off.

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Seriously, they’re so bland. Cute as hell, but bland.

However, as someone who is not a professional critic trying to fill a rubric, I say: screw all that noise, this movie’s amazing. 

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The talking cat was surprisingly well-done for the 90s.

When I reviewed The Muppets before I started this site, I wrote: 

“…[T]he fact that everyone in the movie, from the puppeteers to the actors to the cameos to the extras, all seem to be having fun making [it makes the audience feel some of that joy]. In any scene, everyone looks like they’re about to break out into a big smile…”

Yeah, well, this movie has that same thing going for it. While the protagonists might be weak and generic, the Sanderson sisters are amazing. Bette Midler plays every scene as big as possible and she looks like she’s about to break character just because she’s enjoying every moment of it. Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, while I don’t think they’re having quite the same level of fun, are also clearly enjoying being able to play the most ridiculous and campy version of a character possible. They respond to each other in a feedback loop of absurdity that moves past “stupid,” barrels past “moronic,” and runs all the way back to “awesome.” Whenever the three are on-screen, you feel the joy radiating out of them and can’t help but be charmed by it. It’s a stronger spell than any used within the film. 

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I mean, look at the light in her eyes.

 

 

Then there’s the musical number. The setup is that Max steals the microphone at a dance and identifies the witches to the crowd. Winifred quickly plays it off as a joke and starts singing the song “I Put a Spell On You” with her sisters as backup singers and dancers. Think about how insane this scene is. Winifred, earlier, was faked out by a lighter and a road, but here she not only doesn’t question the microphone or what it is, but proceeds to belt out a cover of an actual song from the 1950s with massively changed lyrics, which REFERENCE ANOTHER SONG (“The Witch is Back”). Now, arguably, she could have picked up the song’s name because she just heard the band play a completely different version of it, but that’s like reading The Iliad and then improvising The Aeneid. Sure, they’re similar in the broad sense, but the style and content are completely different. While the actual spontaneous dance number is ridiculous, the fact that her sisters can naturally sync with her is foreshadowed by the fact that they move in unison earlier in the movie. This scene is a perfect representation of this movie: Everything about it is insane, it doesn’t follow the internal logic of the film, and is so enjoyable that it’ll be in your head until the day you die because the people doing it are clearly hamming it up more than the Tasmanian Devil at an All-You-Can-Eat pork buffet.

It also helps that this movie is absolutely covered in Halloween. It takes place on Halloween Night and celebrates pretty much everything about the Holiday: Trick-or-treating, costumes, black cats, witches, scary stories, candy, zombies, and, of course, random mischief that would normally be illegal. 

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So. Much. Halloween.

I fully admit that this movie doesn’t work on a lot of levels, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can recognize its flaws and still love it for what it is: Fun. Just a big ol’ ball of Halloween fun. I watch it every year, and I don’t intend for that to change.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Halloween Review – Clownado: I No Longer Fear Hell

I am now freed from any concern of eternal torment, for nothing could be as horrifying as what man hath wrought.

SUMMARY

It was a great wailing and a gnashing of teeth. There was a lake of fire, which was also of blood. The screams of anguish permeated through every atom of my being, only for me to realize that the cacophony was escaping from my own throat. Or, others might describe it thus:

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Artist’s impression.

A woman named Savannah (Rachel Lagen) tries to leave her husband, a clown named Big Ronnie (John O’Hara) for another man. Turns out Ronnie is the jealous type, so he kills the new man and starts torturing Savannah. Savannah turns to her friend Autumn (Jeanne Silver), a voodoo priestess, to curse Big Ronnie. Rather than just killing them, however, Autumn’s spell gets turned back on her and Big Ronnie and his clown posse of questionable mental health get superpowers. They can fly through a tornado and gain strange monstrous attributes. Soon they start to wreak havoc upon all the unsuspecting victims they can find, including the audience.

END SUMMARY

Those who read this blog regularly are probably aware that I have four irrational fears: Clowns, spiders, spider-clowns, and clown-spiders. The book IT was really rough on me, is what I’m saying. Also, the game Dark Cloud 2, weirdly. So, naturally, when a horror movie came out that is focused entirely upon clowns, I decided that I would face my fears and see it. A friend of mine, we’ll call him “AndTheRippers,” recommended that I drink myself just shy of blacking out to watch it, and I took that advice to heart. It probably saved my life, but I don’t know that death wouldn’t be a respite from living in a world where this film roams freely, able to claim innocent victims. So, I am here to warn everyone. 

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It was shot during the director’s blue period.

Clownado is what happens when the Asylum, makers of Transmorphers and Avengers Grimm has too much dignity for an idea. It’s what happens when Troma Entertainment, maker of Killer Condom, goes “that’s in poor taste.” Gigli is art compared to this, and that movie caused a number of Hollywood executives to spontaneously self-decapitate. Technically, this is not the worst movie I’ve seen, because Iconoclast exists and this movie at least has stuff happen in it, but I really have to debate whether “nothing” is better than “being stabbed repeatedly in the mind.” 

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This image makes less sense in context.

The movie tries to apologize for all of its faults up front by saying it’s a VHS tape of a late-night movie from the 90s, which… yeah, it kind of makes sense that this would come from there. While a lot of movies do this as a style choice, here, it really does feel like a way to avoid having to know anything about making decent movies. Because of that, any editing problems, camera mistakes, bad special effects, or sound errors are inherently forgivable as “part of the low-budget charm.” Well, not to me, Clownado, not to me.

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Remember when Terminator 2 came out in 1991 and looked much better than this?

Similar to the effects and editing, the movie hopes that the strange low-budget body-count increasing characters will also be overlooked as being part of the genre. If you asked me to remember most of them, I would be talking in broad strokes. I know there were strippers, because of course there were, and rednecks, because of course there were. There were also storm-chasers because the title has “nado” in it, even though the Clownado is explicitly magical and ill-defined. To its small, small, small, credit, there is at least one character that I will never forget: Random Black Elvis (Antwoine Steele). Yes, this movie has an African-American Elvis impersonator who gives the closest thing to a believable performance in the movie and I will treasure him always as Tantalus would treasure a small drop of water on his tongue.

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My hero.

However, the clowns are the most ridiculous characters and not in the way they wanted. The clowns have accents, but never the same accent from scene to scene. Sometimes they talk like tough-guys from the 1920s, sometimes they talk like greasers, sometimes they talk like Bozo the clown. Sometimes they switch between them in mid-sentence. I can only assume that the crew working on this film had earplugs in to spare them from the madness that would be inherent from viewing this movie that closely, so they probably didn’t notice. Alternatively, they couldn’t afford a second take. Potentially more horrifyingly, these might have BEEN the best takes.

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Mobster clown with leftover eyes from The Crow? Sure, that’s a thing now.

Now let’s talk about clown boobs. Yes, this is a thing that cannot be avoided in this movie, and if my writing starts to devolve into a string of curses for my fate, just know that I am doing this for you, dear readers. So, there is a female clown in the movie named Satchel (Cayt Feinics) and, I suppose there’s no other way to say it, her breasts eat people. They literally transform into tiny horrifying maws of death and she shoves people into them. I’m pretty sure she also grows a mouth from her stomach, but I think my mind was so broken from the former body horror that I was incapable of comprehending the things onscreen for a while. It’s not even a particularly clever lead-in to the revelation, I think she just says “Look at my perfect t*tties. They’re all natural motherf*cker” and then throws someone head first into her chest teeth. I don’t know who this scene was written for, but I suspect that the target audience are currently serving a mandatory sentence somewhere. 

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Someone made this. Some human made this real thing.

Look, I’m not against doing intentionally bad movies, like Sharknado, and I love unintentionally bad movies, like The Room or Troll 2, but both of those still have some amount of heart and effort behind them. This felt like someone cared long enough to go “Sharknado exists and so do Clowns, what if we tried to cash in on both of those?” and everything after that was just “add stuff to make it feature-length” and “add enough gratuitous gore to make someone out there find their future in serial murder.” The main thing is that, despite the creativity of some of the set-ups, the movie still feels unimaginative and lackluster. I realize that a lot of great works are born from the idea of “let’s throw these two things together and see if they become greater than their parts,” but this was a ton of elements thrown into a movie and none of them really are given anything more than lip service. I never cared about anything or anyone on screen aside from maybe Black Elvis. I’m a coulrophobic and the movie was less scary for the presence of killer clowns than it was for being just a giant waste of time. 

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Horrifying, but not for the right reasons.

Avoid this movie like the plague. Not the bubonic one, something more painful, like a plague of small scorpions coated in gonorrhea and lava that climb into all of your orifices at the same time. Honestly, that still sounds better than this movie. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.