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.

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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.

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.

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. 

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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.

Image result for the thing 2011
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. 

Image result for the thing 1982
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. 

Image result for the thing from another world
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. 

Image result for the thing 1982

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. 

Image result for the thing from another world
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. 

Image result for the thing 2011
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. 

Related image
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. 

Image result for the thing from another world
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. 

Image result for the thing 1982 cast
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.

Image result for the thing from another world
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.

Image result for the thing 1982 cast

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. 

Image result for the thing 2011

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.

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.

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. 

HocusPocus - 1Show
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? 

HocusPocus - 2Emily.png
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. 

HocusPocus - 3DunDunDun
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). 

HocusPocus - 4Marshall.jpg
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. 

HocusPocus - 6Binx
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.

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.

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:

Clownado - 1LakeOfFire
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. 

Clownado - 2Clowns
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.” 

Clownado - 3BalloonTorture
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.

Clownado - 4Effects.png
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.

Clownado - 5BlackElvis
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.

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Halloween Review/Amazon Prime Review – Human Lanterns: The Kung-Fu Horror Movie Someone Asked For

I got a request to review a Chinese horror movie and it was definitely unique.

SUMMARY (Partially inspired by Romeo and Juliet)

Two Households, both alike in dignity,

In pre-industrial China, where we start the show,

Where Master Tan humiliates Master Lung,

By showing Lung’s wife Chin, Yen-Chu, Lung’s former ho.

Okay, that’s all the poetry, because I’m running out of time. 

So, two local rich guys, Kung-Fu Masters Tan (Kuan Tai Chen) and Lung (Tony Liu), have a long-standing rivalry. Lung mocks one of Tan’s lanterns before the upcoming lantern festival, but in return Tan shows Lung’s wife Chin (Ni Tien) a prostitute, Yen-Chu (Linda Chu), with whom Lung had an affair. Yen-Chu is now with Tan. Lung proceeds to insult Tan and decides to show him up by commissioning the most magnificent lantern imaginable for the festival. He goes to the best local lantern maker, Chao Chun-Fang (Lieh Lo), whom Lung had formerly defeated in a battle for the hand of his wife. Despite still hating Lung, Chun-Fang agrees. 

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Lung is throwing SHADE at Tan’s LAMP. Get it?…. I hate myself for that joke.

Soon, a man in an ape suit and skull begins abducting women related to the two Masters and skinning them to make them into lanterns. Each master believes the other is behind it, leading to growing enmity between the two while the women of the town are at risk. 

END SUMMARY

So, this is an interesting combination of horror and kung-fu (Wuxia) film. The style of the movie is reminiscent of the other martial arts movies of the 1970s (though this was 1982), and the two leads are all veterans of the genre. Tony Liu was in three separate Bruce Lee films, and Lieh Lo was a superstar before Bruce Lee’s star was on the rise. The writer of the film, Kuang Ni, as well as the director, Chung Sun, both did a lot of those movies, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the namesake of the Wu-Tang Clan’s first album. The reason I bring this up is that the horror elements in this movie are significantly smaller than the kung-fu elements, but I imagine that’s because the latter was more solidly in the team’s wheelhouse. That said, while the horror elements are relatively small, they’re horribly graphic and disturbing. 

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Seriously, well choreographed fight scenes.

Naturally, since a lot of the movie is done in the Wuxia style, the villain in this movie can’t just be a crazy person who abducts and skins women, though that would be horrifying enough on its own. No, instead the villain is a martial arts master whose physical prowess is on display most of the time that he’s on-screen. It’s not just that he’s clearly extremely dextrous and has the traditional Wuxia ability to jump 30 feet in the air and land on a lily pad, his movements are wild and erratic, reminiscent of capoeira or drunken boxing, which only feeds into the idea that he’s insane. When he’s abducting women, the camera adopts a predatory feel, following him as he stalks his prey, particularly the first abduction. More horrifyingly, he’s not just crazy, he’s loving what he’s doing. When he knocks out a victim at one point, he just keeps flipping her skirt up and down and laughing maniacally, something that is more notable because the other laughter in the film is very formally styled. Seriously, it’s like people loudly reading the word “HA” off of the script. 

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Looks ridiculous, is insidious and vicious. Books are not their covers, people. 

Unlike most US horror films at the time, most of the victims in this story are not guilty of any particular societal indiscretion (as far as I know of Chinese culture). Yes, one of them is a prostitute, which I suppose merits death in almost all cultures for some reason, but she’s still portrayed as a good person. One of the victims even appears pretty much random and is shown to be a skilled martial artist in her own right. I guess pretty much all the victims are guilty of the crime of being women attached to powerful men, and that’s, again, something that usually can merit death in a film in the 80s in almost any country. However, they aren’t just murdered, they’re fairly graphically sexually humiliated, raped, and then skinned alive. While the blood and gore in the movie truly look fake, we get a look at all of the minute details of the things that the villain is preparing to do and then the actual flaying is shot from a distance, which lets our imagination take over. The effect is disturbing. 

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Oh, and close-up reaction shots which just make it all the more tragic.

The rivalry aspect of the film adds another layer because, even though the villain is the maker of the human lanterns, the two Masters are more focused on each other than the abductor. At one point, the villain literally just capitalizes on an opening because they’re trying to kill each other. Now, the two aren’t unreasonable for believing that the other is behind the abductions, given their mutual hatred, but it really is interesting to see just how much distrust exists between the two. When they do manage to work together, that makes it all the more interesting, because they can’t quite cooperate fully. It’s always a struggle to get past old grudges. 

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For the record, more horror movies need this kind of finale.

I’d never heard of this film before, so this request was definitely one of the more random ones, but I am glad I saw it. Sure, it has a bunch of stuff in it that was so upsetting I genuinely thought about turning it off, but it also had a lot of things in it that were extremely impressive, particularly the martial arts scenes. Also, it has a fan made of knives, which is one of the first times that it makes sense as a weapon to me. If you’re a fan of horror, particularly visceral horror, and also love martial arts films, this is your Citizen Kane. If you aren’t, then I’d recommend giving it a miss and watching Modern Love. Either way, go on Amazon Prime.

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 – Funny Games (2007): The Scariest Thing Is Us

A fourth-wall breaking movie about two psychopaths playing with a random family. It’s a comedy, clearly.

SUMMARY

George Farber (Tim Roth), his wife Ann (Naomi Watts), and their son Georgie (Devon Gearheart) are staying at their lake house for a vacation. When they arrive, they discover that their neighbor Fred (Boyd Gaines) has a few guests, Peter and Paul (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt). The two new guests come over to borrow some eggs, but they end up making the Farbers feel uncomfortable. When finally asked to leave, the pair attack the Farbers and hold them hostage, torturing them physically and psychologically and all because it’s fun for them, and for the audience. Peter frequently discusses film trends and tropes, while Paul literally breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. 

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And yes, the bad guys are dressed like ultra-yuppies.

END SUMMARY

This is a remake of the 1997 film of the same name, but it was by the same director, Michael Haneke. The only major differences are budget, language, and the caliber of actors involved. Not that the cast in the original Austrian film are bad, quite the contrary, but the cast here really sell the film. While the violence is, if not toned down, then at least changed a bit, most of the scenes in this movie are lifted directly from the original, from the lines (albeit translated) to the camera angles to the sets. While that might sound like Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, let me assure you that this movie is actually good. Also, Haneke’s copying himself, so I think that doesn’t count as a rip-off.

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And both are amazingly well-shot. 

The big thing about this movie is that it’s pretty much designed to be the opposite of expectations. That’s exactly what Haneke was going with in the original and this carries the same theme. The idea behind the movie is that it’s violent, but there is no underlying meaning or purpose to anything in the film. It’s supposed to be a critique of violence in media being meritless, and how we somehow forgive certain violent acts in film as long as they’re done in the “right” way. We’re fine with Clint Eastwood gunning down a town full of people or watching Jason Vorhees massacre a group of horny teens, because those are the “approved” kinds of violence. In modern narratives, violence is permissible as long as it’s either redemptive (i.e. John McClane dropping Hans Gruber off of a skyscraper) or punitive (i.e. the T-Rex eating the bad guys), but this film defies that by having all of the violence enacted upon pretty much innocent people for no reason. 

FunnyGames - 6GeorgieBag
Yes, EVEN ON THE KID.

Beyond that, the movie doesn’t try to get us to blame the two sociopaths for doing these things, but instead has Paul keep winking at the camera, literally, and ask us what we want, pointing out that the reason why there’s so much violence in the media is because we desire that. Moreover, it asks us to ask ourselves WHY we desire it? What the hell is wrong with us that we’re not disturbed by watching John Wayne kill thirty men, even if they deserved it? If we’re justifying it by saying those people aren’t real, then why would it disturb us when these people are tortured and murdered in this film? The point of this movie is that we really need to ask ourselves why we’re so okay with violence. As a fan of action and horror movies, I usually just say it’s part of a natural catharsis, but it’s not like this isn’t a question people have asked for millennia. This is just a fairly original way to ask it again.

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Yes, he’s literally asking you a question. It’s awesome.

The reason why this works so well is because this movie is really well done. Any art film can ask a philosophical question and pretend that it’s deep, but Michael Haneke focused on making an intense and interesting film first, then building the message organically into the story. The cinematography is first class, the dialogue is compelling despite being awkward, and the performances are all great. A weirdly notable thing about the movie is that nobody looks good in it. Everyone looks like they’re under stress and half-beaten when they’re supposed to be, but not in the way that Hollywood actors usually portray “tired.” These people look like they’re at the ends of their ropes, and I appreciate that they were willing to be shot that way, like they’re actual humans in this situation. 

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Yes, even the kid can look like crap. It’s weird that this is rare.

This is a horror movie, but it’s not a traditional one. Even the director says it wasn’t intended to be, but what else would you call a movie that not only shows you something revolting, but leads you to ask yourself why you wanted to watch that? Really, I recommend everyone watch this at least once, because it truly is a unique movie… except that there are two of them, I guess. 

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Also, they both include the best use of a remote in film.

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: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – Must-See for Horror Fans

I take a look at this amazing mockumentary that doesn’t get the love I think it deserves.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Light)

The first part of the film is shot as a documentary. A journalist named Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her cameraman Doug (Ben Pace) and back-up cameraman/sound guy Todd (Britain Spellings) are invited by a man named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) to witness his preparations to become a “slasher.” It turns out that in this world all of the famous slashers (Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, etc.) are real. However, they’re not supernatural, merely people who are experts at planning and psychology that enable them to feign superpowers. Leslie is a boy whose family was killed by a town when he was a child, but he survived and plans to take vengeance upon the local teens. 

BehindTheMask - 1Interview
He’s refreshingly honest. Way better than most politicians during interviews. 

 

Throughout the first half of the film, Leslie introduces the camera crew to his work, showing the planning and preparation he undertakes to create one night of mass murder. He also instructs them on the importance of the various tropes to creating the legend that fuels a slasher’s fame: Picking a survivor girl (Kate Lang Johnson), finding a nemesis (Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund), murdering a trusted older person (Zelda Rubinstein), playing up his legend to the teens, and selecting the optimal group of victims for his slaying. He also introduces them to his mentor, Eugene (Scott Wilson). As Scott Wilson was Billy in Black Christmas, he’s arguably the original “slasher,” and his character might actually be Billy himself. The camera crew starts to be drawn into Leslie’s activities due to his passion and charisma.

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His mask is just the right level of detailed. 

The second half of the film is the horror movie that Leslie has been preparing, and it plays out beautifully.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, for Halloween, I wanted to do 13 reviews: 4 requests, 4 classics, 4 indie films I picked at random, and 1 review that is kind of all 3 for Halloween itself. The problem is that my indie films mostly sucked. In The Tall Grass wasn’t blowing my skirt up, Head Count was mediocre, and the third movie was so horrible that I nearly went insane (you’ll find out what that is next week). For the fourth film, I was determined to find a really good movie. So, I watched Eli on Netflix, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer on Amazon Prime, and You Might Be The Killer (which will be a bonus review, since I ended up writing it before changing my mind). Those are in ascending order of quality, but I still felt like I owed you a really good movie. So, I cheated a little and picked an indie film I watched a few years ago, because I really wanted to be able to recommend a movie that everyone should see.

BehindTheMask - 3Ahab
Partially because of the great cameos.

This is really a masterpiece in dissecting the horror genre, specifically the Slasher subgenre. While it doesn’t have the budget of, say, Cabin in the Woods, it does just as good of a job reminding us of why we love these movies. The first half of the movie is basically taking apart all of the mysticism of the slasher figure by explaining how all of the supposed supernatural abilities that they demonstrate are, in fact, just elaborate ruses and unbelievably dedicated planning and training (he does SO MUCH cardio). It also explains why certain tropes keep emerging, like the relations between the killer and the survivor girl, the early interactions that preclude the finale, and the final girl herself. Moreover, it examines the imagery and the underlying themes behind so many of these tropes, including having Leslie explicitly state the sexual undertones between the confrontation with the final girl. 

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Clearly he’s a theater major. 

Perhaps my favorite part of the movie is when Leslie and his mentor try to explain why someone would want to be a slasher and, through that, why society not only likes slashers, but why we need horror movies. It’s because this is what we have nowadays to face our fears and challenge ourselves. In order for good to triumph over evil, there has to be evil. In order for us to conquer our fears, we first have to be given a reason to be afraid. It’s awesome to actually have a movie go beyond just saying what is and isn’t good about the genre and directly address why it is or isn’t important to our culture. 

BehindTheMask - 5Billy
It’s a solid monologue.

A huge strength of the film is the ability to alternate between objective and subjective viewpoints, giving us both intellectual and emotional stimulation. The way it uses humor as a set-up for horror is outstanding. It essentially presents the night in two different scenes, one of Leslie explaining how everything would work through clinical terminology and fun little asides and jokes, then we get to see how it actually plays out and how horrifying the effect becomes. It’s even more interesting as Leslie starts to come into conflict with Taylor over his methodology and philosophy, because she starts to ask all of the questions that usually make horror movies seem ridiculous, only for Leslie to counter that he has already considered them, something he makes fatally obvious later. 

Honestly, this is one of the best black comedies I’ve ever seen. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

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.

Halloween Review – In The Mouth of Madness: Carpenter + Lovecraft = Amazing

John Carpenter brings us this story that manages to capture the madness and existential terror of H.P. Lovecraft.

SUMMARY

John Trent (Sam Neill) recounts his story to his doctor, Dr. Wrenn (David Warner). Trent was an insurance investigator who was asked to look into a claim by a publisher called Arcane Publishing. When he was first given the request, he was attacked by a man wielding an axe asking if he reads “Sutter Cane.” He discovers that the insurance claim is regarding the disappearance of horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen “Das Boot” Prochnow), and that the axe-wielding man was Cane’s agent, who went mad from reading Cane’s work. Arcane Publishing’s director, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), assigns Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), to help Trent find the missing author. Trent manages to piece together the covers to all of Cane’s books into a map to a location from Cane’s book called Hobb’s End. Styles and Trent head off to find it.

InTheMouth - 1Hobb'sEnd
If I ever get published, I’m hiding maps in the covers. Maps to various Shoney’s restaurants.

The two experience some disorienting phenomena on the drive, only to end up suddenly appearing in Hobb’s End. They wander around the town, finding characters and places from Cane’s novels, which Trent claims are part of a publicity stunt. Styles disagrees, admitting that the initial insurance claim was a stunt, but that the town was not part of it. Styles heads inside the church of the town trying to find Cane, who shows her his last book, In the Mouth of Madness. She quickly goes mad for him, literally and figuratively. A mob of the people in the town start to attack Trent, and he attempts to drive away, only to find that any attempts to drive out of the town only lead back into the center of the village. He crashes his car and wakes up next to Styles in the church. In the church, Cane reveals the truth of his work to Trent: Trent is one of his characters, created to deliver the manuscript of In the Mouth of Madness. Once the book is read by enough people, it will open a connection to an extradimensional realm of monsters who will destroy the world. Cane then rips himself open, becoming a portal to the monster realm. Trent escapes through the portal, with Styles staying behind, ending up in reality. 

InTheMouth - 2Portal
I would read this book, right up until the madness overtook me.

Back at Arcane publishing, Trent reports that he destroyed the manuscript and lost Styles. Harglow tells him that there is no Linda Styles. Trent was sent alone, the manuscript was delivered, the book has been published already, and a movie adaptation is set to come out soon. Trent, going insane with the realization, kills a reader of Cane’s work, getting himself committed to an asylum. After he finishes relaying the story, Trent awakens to find the asylum abandoned and evidence that monsters have overrun the world. Trent goes to see the movie version of In The Mouth of Madness, which is the same film that we just watched. Trent starts to break down when he realizes that he is, in fact, fictional. 

END SUMMARY

This movie is part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy along with The Thing and Prince of Darkness. The three movies are about three different concepts of how the world could be destroyed, whether by aliens, by the devil, or, as here, by creatures beyond our reality.  Unfortunately, this film is the middle child of those three, with The Thing towering over it as a masterwork in horror and Prince of Darkness being mostly forgettable. In the Mouth of Madness is in-between, with a ton of great and memorable scenes and ideas unfortunately inter-cut with a decent amount of forgettable filler. Hell, I didn’t remember some of it until this re-watch and this is like the 10th time I’ve seen this movie. Still, the good parts so far outweigh the bad that I have to recommend this movie for literally anyone that enjoys horror.

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I’ll get around to doing all three of these eventually, I’m sure. 

This is one of the best adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft on film and it’s not even a real adaptation. It’s hard to say that this isn’t a film absolutely dripping with love for his work, though. Sutter Cane’s books are all references to Lovecraft, including “The Hobb’s End Horror,” a clear nod to “The Dunwich Horror,” and the film’s titular book being derived from At The Mountains of Madness, one of the most central and broad works by Lovecraft. By playing up the themes of Lovecraftian horror without actually using the author, the film manages to use some of the best parts of it while also avoiding some of the more controversial aspects of Lovecraft’s work.

The racism. I’m talking about the racism. 

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Though, it wasn’t like he was the most racist person in the 1920s. 

The central themes of Lovecraftian horror, or cosmic horror, mostly revolve around the idea that humanity is so insignificant that all of existence is pointless or hopeless. Typically this is because of the revelation that the thing we call reality is only a small piece of it, and that we are surrounded by beings that are so much greater than us that their very presence means that all of humanity is rendered but a speck in the eye of the universe. When confronted by this revelation, characters in cosmic horror usually respond in one of two ways: madness or misanthropy. Either you go insane because the human mind isn’t capable of understanding things that exist in dimensions beyond our reality or you decide that the fact that these creatures are out there means that humanity needs to be destroyed by them. This movie has both of those reactions. 

InTheMouth - 5Movies
I mean, wearing a cross-drawn asylum outfit with popcorn helps sell the insanity.

However, it adds in a layer that the main character’s existence, and eventually the existence of everyone in the movie, is rendered even more pointless than the Lovecraftian cosmic horror because they become aware that they are only characters in the movie that we’re watching. While the citizenry of Hobb’s end are fictional beings in a fictional setting, by having Trent enter into the “real” world and then witness the film that we’re watching, he becomes a self-aware character who is now aware that the story is ending. When the credits roll, he stops existing. Given the state of him at the time, perhaps this is a mercy. Much like in plays by Tom Stoppard, Luigi Pirandello, or Samuel Beckett, the existence of the self-aware character questions whether or not they have an existence beyond just the show itself, but here we have a character who was created as a fictional entity within the work of yet another character, who was given life in a higher-realm (the film) only for the purpose of bringing about its end. If this is confusing, that’s kind of the point. If you were in this film and facing what Trent is, you wouldn’t just be confused, you’d be standing on ground that doesn’t really exist. Your mind would shatter, like his does. 

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I mean, he takes it in some stride.

When it came out, this movie was not a hit. In fact, it pretty well tanked, much like The Thing. While The Thing has since been recognized for the work of genius that it is, In the Mouth of Madness is begging to be reevaluated by a newer audience. This movie came out in 1994 and the only adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft we’d had so far were the Re-animator movies that don’t really address any of those themes (though those movies are awesome). This movie tried to convey a sense of the hopelessness and overwhelming insanity that would be felt by someone living in a Lovecraft story, and that’s just not what people expect from a cinematic narrative. I’m not saying this is a perfect film; it definitely lags in a lot of places and should probably be 20 minutes shorter (though a decent amount of filler IS a Lovecraft trait), but it’s essentially trying to get the audience to imagine something that’s inherently unimaginable, and that’s a hell of an ambition. 

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Although, you do get a little glimpse of some eldritch abominations.

Even at the time of release, though, people recognized the strength of Sam Neill’s performance and of Carpenter’s direction. The environment that the two create within the story is dripping with dread. Prochnow’s portrayal of Cane, while brief, is extremely memorable and powerful. The scenes of the impossible geography of the city of Hobb’s End still make me uneasy even now. 

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Also, just… damn, man. That subtle intensity. 

Overall, this is a great movie. It’s one of my favorite horror films, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you really need to take a shot at it yourself. 

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.

Halloween Review/Amazon Prime Review – Ticks: The Most Early-90s Horror Movie Ever Made

Alfonso Ribeiro of Fresh Prince, Rosalind Allen of SeaQuest DSV, Seth Green, and Peter Scolari of Bosom Buddies star in a movie about mutant ticks.

SUMMARY

It’s California and it’s the 90s and the greatest threat to the world is Marihuana (Spelled that way at one point in the movie, no joke), followed by Steroids, apparently. Drug grower Jarvis Tanner (Clint Howard) is using steroids to grow stronger cannabis, but it turns out that the runoff has made the ticks in the area gigantic and given them a neurotoxin that’s akin to LSD. 

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He’s one of those infamous tea-drinking cash croppers.

In Los Angeles, Tyler Burns (Seth Green), a boy whose father once abandoned him in the woods for two days, is forced by that same father to go on a wilderness retreat in order to cure him of his fear of the woods and being alone… that he got from when his dad got drunk and abandoned, alone, him in the woods. And no, no one ever goes “wait, your dad got drunk and left you in the woods and HE’S telling YOU to just get over it?” Oh, and he drops him off under an overpass in downtown LA.  In the early 90s. When violent crime peaked and roughly at the time of the Rodney King riots. I assume that his father wants him to die, is what I’m saying.

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Parenting: Not all of them need to live, right?

The wilderness retreat is run by Holly Lambert (Rosalind Allen) and Charles Danson (Peter Scolari), and includes several fellow campers: “Thug” Darrel “Panic” Lumley (Alfonso Ribeiro), Rich girl Dee Dee Davenport (Ami “my dad was in the Monkees” Dolenz), Dee Dee’s boyfriend her parents hate for being Hispanic Rome Hernandez (Ray Oriel), mostly mute rape-survivor Kelly Mishimoto (Sina Dayrit), and Charles’ daughter, Melissa (Virginya Keeyne). While stopping on the way into the woods, the group meets local pot growers Redneck Jerry (Barry Lynch) and a British cross between Gary Busey and Gilderoy Lockhart called Sir (Michael Medeiros). 

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“Yo Chuck, these burgers ain’t half-bad” – A line someone thought someone else would say.

At camp, Tyler discovers a giant tick egg in the cabin and destroys it. Later, in the woods, he finds a giant tick on Melissa’s back and kills it, but when they report it Charles dismisses it as normal. Panic’s dog Brutus is attacked by a tick, leading Panic to quit the retreat and head off into the woods. Tyler and Charles take Brutus to a vet (Judy Jean Berns), where a giant tick pops out of him, killing the dog before the vet kills the tick. Panic gets lost in the woods until he’s attacked by a tick that burrows inside him and makes him hallucinate. He ends up finding Jerry and Sir’s pot farm, leading Sir to shoot him and also accidentally start a forest fire. To survive the shooting, Panic downs a bag of steroids he stole from Rome. 

Ticks - 5Tick.png
It’s alive!!! IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

Dee Dee finds Jarvis in the woods, infested with ticks, before he dies. She gets bitten by a tick and is rescued by Rome back to the cabin. Melissa and Kelly go fishing and find that the local Sheriff (Rance Howard) has been killed by Sir and Jerry. Everyone ends up back in the cabin as the fire that Sir started forces the ticks towards them. Charles lets Sir and Jerry in, but Panic arrives and tells them Sir shot him before dying. Sir shoots Charles and forces Jerry to go and get the van so they can escape. A tick kills Jerry and he crashes the van into the cabin. Sir forces everyone to hide by trying to shoot them, before a man-sized Tick bursts out and kills Sir. Tyler manages to fight off the ticks, get to the van, and rescue everyone, before the supertick attacks Rome. Tyler sets it on fire and drives off with everyone. Back in the city, a giant tick egg falls out of the van.

END SUMMARY

This movie is so very, very bad in all the best ways, bringing it right back to awesome.

First of all, this movie clearly tried to make sure that none of the characters were in the same social group. In the ‘90s everyone was trying to make sure that diversity was in every film and this one goes above and beyond. We have a protagonist group made up of almost every race, class, and background, none of which really has any impact on the movie. We have a kid with trauma who frequently shows no signs of it. A rape victim who stays silent until the movie decides “okay, she can talk now” and then NOTHING IS EVER SAID ABOUT IT AGAIN. Then we have Panic, who is supposedly an inner-city tough guy who still goes on retreats with these yuppies, with no explanation as to how that happened. The fact that he’s played by Alfonso Ribeiro makes it ambiguous as to whether he was actually just a softy, or that Alfonso Ribeiro just isn’t capable of playing a tough guy. Hell, even the villains are a dirty redneck and an English guy who’s obsessed with his appearance, two groups that just don’t seem to mesh without some sort of explanation. This part of the 90s really focused on saying “these people totally hang out, but we don’t want to explain anything about how that happened.” I’m not saying diversity is bad, I would advocate the opposite, but, screenwriters, it’s actually interesting to hear how groups like this come together, or at least see signs of it, rather than just going “we made this character Asian, are you happy now?”

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She’s a rape victim who is too traumatized to speak, but then casually talks about rape. Dafuq.

The special effects in this movie are actually not as bad as I would have expected. Sure, none of the ticks look real, but they all look sufficiently gross and alien to get the point across. They also squish in a disgusting way that makes me kind of squeamish. The “fake blood and guts” budget was pretty sizable, is what I mean. The final scene of the tick bursting out of Alfonso Ribeiro looks simultaneously fake and satisfyingly unnerving. 

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They try to keep it in the dark, but… it’s a bad fake head.

The performances in the film are all cheesy, but they’re above what you’d expect for a low-budget horror movie. Given that Clint and Rance Howard, Ron Howard’s brother and father, respectively, are in the movie, I’m assuming that someone on the film had enough clout to get the other people on the film as a favor. I mean, most of these people peaked in the 80s and 90s, aside from Seth Green, but that means this film happened when they all actually could have gotten other work. 

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These two deserve their own show.

However, the MVP for this film is the person that did the closed captions. This is only half a movie if you have them off. First of all, whoever did it does not know what a car horn is, because whenever one goes off, it’s just called “background noise.” Second, it inconsistently goes between describing sounds and doing onomatopoetic renderings of them. Some of the best ones include “Terk-er-Terk-er-Terk-er,”  “Chucka-Chucka-Chucka,” and “simple engine chugging” all for the sound of an engine, “thick liquid splatting” and “ploop” for the sounds of tick eggs falling, and the absolute, uncontested, best sound effect description in the history of cinema:

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“Oh. Right. Those.” – Every human.

The weirdest thing about this movie is that it clearly suggests that everything that happens is as a result of steroids and marijuana. The application of steroids to cannabis is what makes the ticks in the first place, then the man-sized tick comes from Panic’s body being filled with steroids. Now, I’m not saying that steroid abuse isn’t bad, but… it’s still freaking ridiculous to make a monster movie with that as the cause. I mean, people on steroids don’t suddenly get 20 times larger and they certainly don’t get more fertile. Pot doesn’t make people aggressive and I don’t believe it has that effect on any animals, either. It’s just such a sign of when this movie was made that those things could be the source of the monster. 

Ticks - 3Marihuana
These people believed Reefer Madness.

Overall, I will say, this is a must-see for fans of bad monster movies. Really, you’ve got to check it out, if only for Alfonso Ribeiro trying to be a thug. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen. And make sure to keep the captions on, because they are just a treat.

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.

Halloween Reviews – The Babadook: The Monster of Loss

I take a look at the 2014 Australian Horror Film that has quickly distinguished itself as a masterpiece of psychological horror. 

SUMMARY

Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) is a widow raising her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after her husband Oskar (Ben Winspear) died driving her to the hospital to give birth. Sam has a lot of eccentricities, including sleep issues and an obsession with building weapons to fight imaginary monsters. One night, Sam asks Amelia to read him a book called “Mister Babadook.” It contains a story about a creature who dresses in a top hat, a coat, and taloned gloves, whose presence is announced by three loud knocks. It tortures whoever knows about it until it eventually makes you wish you were dead. Sam, terrified by this, won’t stop screaming and becomes convinced the monster is real. His constant terror leads her to have to stay up comforting him. 

Babadook - 1Reading
I love that the Big Bad wolf wears a similar outfit to the Babadook in his version.

As time passes, Amelia starts to find signs that Sam is acting out, but Sam says it was the Babadook. Because of this, she destroys the book of the Babadook. At his cousin Ruby’s (Chloe Hurn) birthday, Sam gets upset about Ruby mocking him for not having a father, so he shoves her out of a tree house, injuring her. On the way home, Sam sees the Babadook and has a seizure, so Amelia gets a prescription for sedatives. 

Babadook - 2Book.png
How does “Dook Dook Dook” become horrifying?

The next day, she finds the Babadook book reassembled on the front door with new words saying that the harder you deny the Babadook exists, the stronger it gets. It then depicts her killing her dog, her son, then herself. She burns the book then receives a call of a voice saying “Ba Ba-ba Dook Dook Dook,” the creature’s signature. She tries to report the incident to the police, but becomes afraid when she sees the Babadook’s costume in the police station. Amelia starts to see visions of the Babadook, leading her to become increasingly disturbed and aggressive towards Sam. She starts to have dreams of murdering him. Eventually, she sees an image of Oskar saying that he’ll come back if she kills Sam. Amelia realizes this is just the Babadook in disguise, but ends up possessed by him.

Babadook - 4Possessed
It’s somehow creepier as a pop-up book.

Amelia tries to kill Sam, but he manages to knock her out using his anti-monster weapons. She awakens and tries to kill him again, but he shows her that he loves her and she vomits up black mist, purging herself of the Babadook. Sam reminds her that you can’t get rid of the Babadook and he’s pulled upstairs. She chases after him and confronts the Babadook, driving him into the basement and locking the door. 

Babadook - 5Costume
He takes off his costume and somehow gets worse.

The two are later shown doing much better, with Amelia being much more attentive and caring towards her son. It’s also revealed that the Babadook is still alive, and Amelia is feeding it earthworms in the basement.

END SUMMARY

First of all, the Babadook is one of the better monsters that has been made in the last few years of horror. It’s not just that it’s creepy, it’s that it gives you exactly enough information to make itself seem so much worse. According to the internet, a constantly accurate and reliable source, the Babadook is only on film for about 3 minutes in a 94 minute movie, but it uses those short appearances to the fullest. Its powers are mysterious and appear to be inconsistent throughout the movie, but that’s only because the Babadook serves more as a metaphor than an actual monster, and that’s scarier than almost any machete-wielding man in a mask. This is a monster you will likely actually face one day: Loss. 

Babadook - 3Dreaming
Everything feels just not quite real when your world gets destroyed.

Throughout the movie, it’s made clear that the Babadook is a representation of Amelia’s feelings of loss for her dead husband and her repressed anger at having to be a single mother. Sam is not exactly an easy child, to the point that Amelia’s sister even says she doesn’t like him, but that’s because he constantly thinks that some invisible force is attacking his home. The reason he thinks this is likely that he sees his mother reacting to her memories of Oskar, which cause her to show signs of being in pain despite nothing physically happening to her. In other words, even though the loss is solely hers, it spreads to hurt her child, the same way that even though she’s the one that is possessed by the Babadook, it ends up causing her to take it out on Sam.  It’s coming to a head now, because, as it’s almost Sam’s birthday, it’s almost the anniversary of Oskar’s death.

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I love the way her arm looks like a shadowy claw.

Because this is a Hollywood movie, we naturally also have to see grief involve the five stages of the Kübler-Ross Model. When the Babadook first starts to appear, we see Amelia denying it, which makes sense as she’s been denying her feelings for several years. Next, we see her become angry at Sam, blaming him for her feelings and for her inability to move on. We see her considering bargaining Sam’s life for Oskar’s, though she quickly rejects that. Then, we finally see her sitting, unmoving, on the couch watching old movies on TV, something indicative of depression. Finally, we see her confronting her grief and accepting it, learning to live with her loss. 

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I’m sure the sandwiches are also a metaphor… for sandwiches.

The movie also does a good job of showing us that it’s all aspects of loss. Amelia is shown to be unable to masturbate because Sam constantly ambushes her in the night. She’s shown to gaze longingly at a couple making out in a car, because she hasn’t had anyone in 6 years. Her sole focus in her life has to be her son, due to his issues, but that doesn’t stop her from remembering when she had someone to help with her basic needs. Moreover, her focus has been so great that she never has really had time to grieve for her loss, and that’s what ultimately brings forth the Babadook. As with any loss, you can’t ever really get rid of it, the same way that you can’t get rid of the Babadook. The more you deny your feelings on it and repress them, the stronger the feelings of loss will become, much like how the Babadook gets stronger the more you deny his existence. Eventually, your feelings will start to control your actions, leading you to do things you normally wouldn’t. The only way to regain control is not to deny your feelings, but to admit you have them and learn to live with them. The movie also shows that it helps to have someone you love when you do it, symbolized by Sam’s love purging her of the creature.

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This is yet another reason why you shouldn’t make out in the front seat.

One of the best elements of the movie is the “Mister Babadook” book. Not only does its eerie imagery and haunting rhyme foreshadow the events of the film, but we also only see parts of the pages, hiding some of it the same way that the monster itself is hidden. Interestingly, there are parts of it that I think you can only see by reading the actual, printed version of the book. The ending, particularly, is important. The last few pages contain the following rhymes:

Dare to look me in the face, try to put me in my place,

I will cause you so much strife, but you might just get out with your life.

Whether adult or child, best to give me a home

Put the welcome mat out, with a room of my own

Accept that I’m here, and from you I have grown

Keep me smaller in size, I might leave you alone.

This makes it explicit that the Babadook is something that comes from the person reading the story. It doesn’t exist on its own, it’s only a thing that grows out of you. I appreciate the restraint it must have taken not to include this in the movie and leave some ambiguity for the viewer about the nature of the monster. 

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This was the first movie by director Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the script and the short-film that inspired it. This was a hell of a first outing, is what I’m saying. She wrote a solid horror movie that has a solid message underneath it. I haven’t seen her second film, The Nightingale, yet, but I see it mostly has positive reviews despite its intensely horrifying subject matter. She’s someone to keep an eye on for sure.

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.