Saturday, December 23, 2017
I finally caved and watched the new It movie. I was hesitant not only because I'm so fond of the television miniseries from 1990, but I thought the movie had a suspicious amount of overhype and push. (After The Dark Tower bombed so badly it could be seen from space, I feel that the studio tried that much harder to make It succeed, and I feel like a lot of the positive criticism It received was artificial.) I tried to keep an open mind. People would always say an R-rated, full-length feature film could and should be able to do more than a made-for-TV movie in 1990. But did it?
To put it plainly, I didn't like it. For its long run time and focus on just one portion of the book, I found it incredibly lacking. It didn't have much heart or a soul. I'd like to say I couldn't call it a "bad" horror movie, because there's just a lot of terrible horror movies out there, especially from the past several years, but I never found the movie scary in the slightest. Not once. So, while not the worst made horror movie, it is, in a sense, a bad horror movie in that it's a horror movie that lacks terror, tension, suspense, eeriness. And you know something else? It's not exactly visually stylish. So it didn't make much use out of the millions it had for a budget; it looks more like something made for television than the 1990 miniseries people like to disparage.
I've always read horror fans who compared Pennywise to Freddy Krueger. (That's the dream team-up for a lot of fans.) This movie plays to me very similarly to the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street in terms of seeming so hollow and trying so hard, but achieving so little. And it plays like A Nightmare on Elm Street movie if Freddy Krueger was very bad at what he does. The scenes where a character encounters Pennywise has the feel of one of the Nightmare franchise's dream sequences, but Pennywise is easy to shake off whereas Freddy would, at best cause damage, at worst KILL YOU! So, Pennywise feels ineffectual here.
Pennywise is a huge problem of the movie. Bill Skarsgård is just far too young for the ancient, evil, sadistic monster Pennywise is supposed to be. He has no presence, so you never feel the threat of Pennywise is conveyed. He's constantly looming, he can show up at any time, but throughout the movie, I kept feeling like he was just a lackey, and I was waiting for the real head honcho to show up. Skarsgård is just too young and doesn't have the acting credentials of someone like Tim Curry, so he doesn't give the character any weight. (Tilda Swinton was considered as Pennywise -- that would have been pretty interesting, I think she's an unpredictable performer who can do a lot with a little.) Instead, Skarsgård must rely too much on the make-up and effects to make Pennywise scary, and that fails, too. Pennywise's look here is just too extreme. They tried too hard to make him look like a "scary" clown to the point where he's NOT scary. The movie approaches each scare scene in the same way -- from the music tipping you off to jittery camera work, it's all calling out to you directly "Ooh, isn't this scary? You're meant to be scared right abouuuuuuuuut HERE!" and it just doesn't work. Some horror movies telegraph their scares -- this one might as well have had text on the screen telling you when and where you were meant to start getting scared.
Pennywise wasn't intimidating or menacing, no matter how giant or monstrous they'd make him via CGI. From even the trailers, I genuinely laughed at Pennywise. Not in a "Oh, he's a good, scary clown" way, but in a "they honestly think this qualifies as scary" way. As in, I can't get past the way he reminds me of Peter Sarsgaard's Hector Hammond character from that terrible Green Lantern movie. (Tell me I'm wrong, from the monstrous head to the high-pitched squealing.) They tried too hard...
Speaking of trying too hard, Richie Tozier. They wanted every line out of his mouth to be a comedic slaughter of vulgarity, but he just played like the worst comedian, sweating on stage trying to get you to laugh before you could rightly heckle him off. SO obnoxious. (Seth Green's Richie wasn't exactly a comedic genius in the original, but you didn't want Pennywise to show up and bite his head off.) The kids surprisingly weren't bad -- I didn't like Jaeden Lieberher as Bill or Finn Wolfhard's Richie -- but I felt like they were very interchangeable and not as distinct or defined as the book or miniseries made them. (Why change it from Mike to Ben as the one who documents the history of Derry and Pennywise? Not only does it make more sense for the character who becomes a librarian to be the one with that knowledge, but it makes Mike completely unnecessary in this movie.)
The biggest problem I had with the movie, though, is losing the magical realism. The kids are written as mini-adults who knew everything and could do everything. Part of the power of the story is that these kids band together and defeat this awful entity through unity and their faith. In the novel, in the miniseries, they have that innocence that allows them to IMAGINE and BELIEVE in things that aid them in their struggles. Their belief that silver will hurt IT because IT's a monster, or Eddie's stepping up to save Stan with his inhaler or Stan's Boy Scout mantras being used as prayers. That the kids are so bullied and beaten down by life, and that faith and imagination got them through, and it's something that greatly helps them overcome IT, something that they even retain as adults, it's just such a crucial, necessary part of what makes Stephen King's IT so powerful.
But, typical of the state of the world and especially Hollywood today, I assumed it was deemed too "cheesy" and jettisoned in favor of what we got -- vulgarity and fisticuffs and Bill arming himself to take on Pennywise with a bolt gun. (I'm surprised they just didn't give him a Smith & Wesson.) The final showdown with Pennywise is RIDICULOUS. I never thought these characters would confront a personification of fear by charging It and just trying to beat it up, like some schoolyard bully. And Pennywise is just kicking them back like he's goddamn Jet Li, and they're bouncing off the sewer walls like all of the CGI Agent Smiths from that terrible Matrix movie. And Bill gets in a couple of headshots with a gun! (How could the moviemakers not keep Pennywise's GREAT response to the Losers when they keep shouting "Kill It! Kill It!"? Pennywise is such a non-presence in this movie. What the hell have people been going on about?) Maybe this all sounded good on paper and looked cool on the big screen, but it's a failure dramatically. Try hard. (I also think it was a mistake to have Beverly have a vision of them returning as adults to fight It; that really robs Part 2 of the drama, where the kids were 75% sure they actually defeated It, knowing deep down they didn't, and having to overcome their fear to return to Derry. Now they already know. Where's the drama?)
If It can be summed up, it's "try hard." The scariest part of the movie was thinking about all of the ways they'll try harder in the sequel. They've already said they plan to make Mike a junkie, but what possible "edgy" direction can they come up with for the others to show just how screwed up they became? Will Bill go from a horror writer to a porno director? Will Bev be a prostitute? Will Eddie be a sexual predator? Will Ben be a serial killer, basing his crimes off of NKOTB lyrics? Will Richie become a politician? Another thing to consider: they probably think Skarsgård's youth will be an advantage over the older actors, but considering he couldn't be menacing enough to convincingly terrorize kid actors, he's going to be hilarious going up against actors twice his age.
On the bright side, this flick made me appreciate all that Tommy Lee Wallace was able to accomplish with the 1990 miniseries. I now like that movie even more than I already did.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
The big attraction of this movie is Joseph Stefano, screenwriter of the original film, returning. Stefano didn't care for what the previous sequels did, so he ignores them, which is bad-ass. There's nothing to outright make the sequels obsolete, you can still fit them in if you choose, but this movie wanted to be and CAN be viewed as a direct follow-up to the original. There's only brief inconsistencies, including with the original, but no worse than the ones II and III created. These inconsistencies are really just a mark of what happens when sequels spiral out of control and you make sequels so far after the original.
Psycho IV is simple, but effective: Norman -- seen living in a nice house and shown to be married -- calls into a radio show, whose topic is matricide, to recount his story. Before I go further, I have to say that if you're watching these movies one after the other and take II and III into consideration, it's unintentionally hilarious just how many chances Norman's been given, despite proving he shouldn't be on the streets. But if Stefano intended for this to be like a Psycho II instead, a direct follow-up to the original, that's not an issue.
Norman calling into this radio show is a bit of a lazy way to frame the flashback scenes, and that's basically what the entirety of this movie is. I'm of the opinion that it's probably best to never depict Norman's past on screen, to leave it a mystery, to leave that ambiguity about the character. (So I have no idea how A&E's Bates Motel show has milked this exact set-up for four seasons now.)
I think probably the strongest part of the movie is the early hint that Norman's wife is pregnant and his confession to the radio host that he has no choice but to kill again, meaning his wife. So it becomes a bit of a tense stand-off, this radio host trying to keep him on the line and trying to prevent him from going through with it. I think this would have made a really good short story, and it's a more interesting part of the movie than the mystery-shattering origin story which is filmed in a corny way, as per the Mick Garris norm. Because this also brings back the sympathy for Norman that was obliterated in II and not even a part of III -- Norman fears he'll pass along his mental problems to his kid. His wife went against his wishes to not have kids and stopped trying to prevent it, so he's upset with her, and feels there's no way out but to kill her. After phoning it in for the last movie, Perkins' performance during this part is effective; there's pain and fear there.
I don't know if this is just something that happens in retrospect or if it was known and intended, but there's a sense of sorrow and finality hanging over the movie. I don't know if this movie was intended to be the end because of diminishing returns or if it might have had to do with Perkins' health, but there's certainly a sense that this is the final Norman Bates story, not only by having him relive his life, but ending with him burning down the Bates residence to be rid of his past. This adds another layer to Perkins' performance, and makes Norman's fear for his offspring, Norman's reluctance to kill again and Norman's all around skittishness and terror more haunting. The other sequels had these moments of "Fuck, yeah! Norman's back" when he gets up to old tricks again, but here in this movie he's terrified. He doesn't like what he was, and could still be. He doesn't feel like he can truly be cured, but he doesn't want to be a killer. II and III are outlandish, but here Norman feels like a person again.
The movie's not exactly scary or suspenseful, but I feel like story is more of its goal than being scary or suspenseful. It's certainly not suspenseful in the sense that most of the movie is devoted to the past, so there's no real stakes or danger -- you know Norman's going to kill, you know he'll get away. And the scenes set in the past are done in a bit of a hokey way -- while this movie makes the wise choice of bringing back Bernard Hermann's classic music from the original, it uses it in predictable, eye-rolling ways. (Norman's first kill? Accompanied by the classic music that screeches when Janet Leigh's Marion is killed. A lightweight mistake.)
I've said before that I'm not really a fan of director Mick Garris. His movies have a plainness to them, and his scare scenes play lighthearted to me, like a Tales From the Crypt episode or something. This movie succeeds on the script and most of its performances, from Perkins to Olivia Hussey, and CCH Pounder to Warren Frost.
Olivia Hussey's work here is overlooked. I think she does a great job in this movie, but it's become cool to trash her in favor of Vera Farmiga from A&E's TV series. I'm going to risk pissing off a lot of people, but "Mother" has always been kind of cheesily depicted to me. She always has that bad Aunt May wig, the overly large floral dress. Virginia Gregg's voice-over performance is a little too cartoonish. (I know I'm always going on about how I like the subtlety of the original, but I'm always surprised a sequel never had Norman actually wear Mother's corpse. That would have been grisly and over-the-top, perhaps, but creepy. Probably not something you could get away with in 1960. The sequels adhered too close to the original, right down to keeping the EXACT Mother look, which didn't age well and doesn't play in color. Try not to laugh when Henry Thomas is dressed like Mother, dubbed in a woman's voice saying stuff like "Drive, whore!" I don't think you're meant to laugh. There's a reason Hitchcock kept "her" in the shadows, and you only saw Norman dressed as her briefly at the very end.)
So here with this movie, and Hussey's performance, Norma feels like a full character, an unstable character who can be threatening in her fits of rage, but also at turns charming. So you can see, in a more believable way, that Norman inherited her illness as well as being effected by her abuse.
Norman's wife, Connie, was a nurse at the institution Norman was at. She knew all about him, and thought he was husband material? What's wrong with this woman? Also: super professional of you! But the actress is good and likable, so you worry about her at the end there, when Norman takes her to the Bates house, where he plans to kill her. She convinces him not to, to give their kid a chance, and he listens, before going back to the house and burning it down. Throughout the scene, he starts seeing phantoms throughout the house -- Norma, her boyfriend, the first girl he killed -- this was an interesting idea, one that probably read better than it plays. And *if* they knew it would be the last Psycho movie, wouldn't it have been neat to throw in something of Norman's most famous kill, and have a Janet Leigh look-alike?
I think a strong end to this movie would be for Norman to have listened to Connie and sent her away as he burned down the house, but he just stays at the house and lets himself die. Maybe they were hopeful Perkins would have been able to do more? Before the credits roll, they play a sound effect of a baby crying, so they were probably planning to at least pick up and do a "Son of Psycho" thing, which...thankfully they didn't end up doing.
The movie could have used a stronger director, but it's all in all not as weak as I remembered it. I'd probably rank the series like this:
2) Psycho IV
3) Psycho 2
4) Psycho 3
Monday, September 12, 2016
This is the movie I must remember when I think of Psycho's awful sequels. II tried, and IV is OK for what it is, but this thing's a lazy, slapped together mess and no one's trying in it. (The tell-tale sign of an actor who's bored with a role: when they start directing.) If Psycho II made things a little too Halloween-y at times, this movie's aim is far, far lower, and it ends up coming across as a sleazy, low-tier movie like Sleepaway Camp...II. It's lacking in scares, subtlety, characterization, suspense and quality -- this sucker slips into unintentional parody.
I always thought I remembered this movie having style, which made it stand out compared to II's reverence for Hitch making it rigid and IV's TV-movieness, but the style's really only in just the opener, which tries to evoke a Hitchcock eeriness. Taking place in a church, it focuses on main character Maureen, a troubled nun attempting to commit suicide by jumping; when another nun intervenes, she is accidentally pushed to her death by Maureen, who's given the old pink slip by the church. Like the plummeting nun, it's all downwards from here...
The script basically plays out like a '70s porno. Maureen hitchhikes, is picked up by a sleazy aspiring musician played by The Lawnmower Man. When The Lawnmower Man tries to make the moves on the ex-nun, she flips out and runs away into a storm. Lawnmower Man, meanwhile, winds up at the Bates Motel and takes on a job there. Ex-nun eventually makes her way to the Bates Motel and is too exhausted to run away once she sees pervy Lawnmower Man working there, so she takes a room (and he swindles her out of five more dollars than the room costs, which was nice of him).
The movie devotes a lot of time to the Lawnmower Man, for reasons unknown, and the way he swindles people and hits on any woman who comes on screen, dead or alive. (At one point, he steals Mother's corpse -- conveniently at a time the police were searching Norman's house -- and taunts Norman by giving it a kiss. The dude is really more demented than Norman.) Lawnmower Man's part is what makes the movie so sleazy, as we focus on him and his motel conquests. (One bizarre scene has him in his room with a woman he's picked up at a bar; he sits in a chair naked, with two lamps over his junk, moving them like spotlights on the woman, who's on the bed and making out with one of Lawnmower Man's many nude pin-ups he has on the wall. This is exactly the kind of big things Hitchcock must have predicted for Psycho.) What I find strange, other than devoting so much time to this pointless character, is in his final confrontation with Norman, the TV in the background is playing a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, so it gives his struggle with Norman cartoon sound effects, and when Woody does his trademark laugh, Norman thinks it's his mother and yells at her. It had to be somewhat intentional, but why make such a mockery out of things? Why didn't anybody put a stop to this ridiculous shit?
Anyway, there's also a side-story involving a very obnoxious writer who's initially interested in Norman to write a paper about the logic behind a supposedly reformed murderer reentering society, but just ends up with her trying to find the whereabouts Mrs. Pool, aka Old Lady Retcon from the previous movie. Lawnmower Man tries to pick up Obnoxious Writer from a bar and she's not interested until he gives her a book of matches with the Bates Motel's name on it. (Where does Norman get the money to print stuff like this? We know business is slow, as he tells Lawnmower Man when he's hiring him. And remember in the last movie, when Norman fires Dennis Franz for turning the place into a sleazy a-a-a-a-a-a-adult motel? Lawnmower Man makes Sipowicz's place seem like Legoland.) Suddenly, Lawnmower Man is Obnoxious Writer's spy for any funny goings-on at the Bates Motel.
Meanwhile, Norman is being his old twitchy, suspicious self. He flips out at the sight of Maureen, thinking she looks like Marion Crane. She even has the same initials. (Let it go, man!) The only thing they share in common is a short blonde haircut, but Maureen actually looks more like Anne Heche than Janet Leigh. I guess Norman saw into the dark, horrible future of the remake there, and that's what has him spooked. Maureen ends up deciding to slit her wrists at the Bates Motel, and ends up being saved by NormanMother, who's in her room to kill her. As her life is fading out, Maureen sees NormanMother as a vision of the Virgin Mary, and his/her knife as a crucifix, which...could have played better than it comes across. It doesn't work and seems laughable.
Norman ends up saving her and they try to make a romance between Norman and Maureen, which I think could have been interesting, if it had been the centerpiece of the movie and written by someone better. Maureen obviously has some problems (she sounds like she wouldn't mind finding Lemarchand's puzzle box), so it would have been interesting to see this star-crossed love between two mentally ill people pulled off in a more serious movie that knew what it was doing. Because why bother with Norman when we can focus on Lawnmower Man picking up chicks in bars and a bunch of rowdy people renting rooms at the Bates Motel, giving Norman a body count! Because Norman killing women pissing on toilets is what Psycho's all about. (He kills a random partygoer who's on the toilet! And this character, upon seeing NormanMother, even says "You almost scared the piss out of me." I would not have been surprised in the slightest if NormanMother had replied "Good thing you're on the terlet, then," before killing her. That's the level this movie is on.)
The love story goes nowhere, with Norman accidentally killing Maureen, and the final showdown being between NormanMother and Obnoxious Writer, who awkwardly unloads a heap of exposition about Mrs. Pool not actually being his mother, she's his aunt who just pretended to be his mother because she was jealous of her sister, Norman's real mother, and kidnapped him and...whatever. Does anybody care at this point? Norman "kills" the Mrs. Pool corpse, which could have been a strong image in a better movie, and is hauled away for the other murders. He remarks that, even if he's institutionalized for the rest of his life, he's finally free. It kind of would have been a nice arc if he came to this conclusion through the love of Maureen or something. Maybe by allowing himself to be with her and defying "mother" purges him of any "Psycho" inclinations, and maybe Jeff Fahey's nutty character kills Maureen and THAT breaks him. That might not be medically realistic, but it's not like these movies care, especially at this point. I don't know, but I guess they figured there's nothing like an irritating character doing a hyper info dump about the latest retcon to wrap up your movie. And then, ha-ha, Norman pulls out Spool's dead, severed hand as he's riding off to the nuthouse, trying and failing to recreate his creepy smile to the camera from the original film's ending. I guess he's just full of shit and thinking he'll get another sequel, no matter how bad this one's been.
That's another problem with this movie. While I didn't like Psycho II trying so hard to recreate shots and moments from the first one, they did it out of fear and respect for the first one. Here, it just feels cheap and lazy. They'll quote lines and repeat moments, but it comes across in a dumb, predictable and jokey way like a Family Guy parody, and not an homage or an unsettling case of history repeating itself.
There's a scene with Maureen and Norman at the hospital, shortly after her second suicide attempt, that sums up this movie. It goes something like this...
Maureen: I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused you. I guess I've gone a little mad!
And your response is "Don't say it, Norman. Don't do it, movie. Just don't. Don't say it. It's going to be cheesy. Don't do it."
Norman: We all go a little mad sometimes.
Motherfuckers! They went there. How lame. How clumsy. If this movie can be perfectly described in one word, it would be clumsy. A clumsy spoof of Psycho.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
A sequel to what's considered one of the best movies of all time sounds like insanity, and while I'm not really fond of Psycho II, it could have turned out worse. The movie has some clever ideas -- maybe tries to be a little too clever -- and a lot of my problems are in the execution and in some of the casting choices. (Namely: Meg Tilly, who I think is miscast as Mary.) It's not entirely plausible, in my opinion, and not subtle, forgoing the thriller and atmospheric horror of the original in favor of a mystery-suspense plot that takes brief excursions into slasher movie territory. (I'm assuming Psycho II came about as a way to ride the popular Halloween slasher cash wave. Which is funny when you think of how Halloween wouldn't exist without the original Psycho.)
I think when Hollywood tries to make a sequel so long after the fact it should be approached with suspicion or even apprehension -- maybe the style of filmmaking has changed too much, maybe the actors have gotten lazier, maybe there's too much corporate greed driving it -- but Psycho II has an interesting premise which necessitates a lengthy passage of time. (Though, again, I'm not sure of its plausibility.)
After two decades of psychiatric care, Norman Bates is deemed well enough to release. While 22 years is a long time, and you might find it striking to see how aged Bates/Perkins looks, Norman's problems were so severe, you're wondering right off the bat how he could come close to approaching being healed. But, there he is, despite protests and petitions, being cut loose. Strike two for plausibility? That Norman's psychiatrist thinks it's suitable to take him back to the Bates house and motel on the Universal lot to live. There's exposure therapy, sure, but letting Norman out and taking him immediately to such a traumatic place for him? Bad news waiting to happen. Norman's even apprehensive and twitchy about being there, but the Doc is all "Hey, c'mon! It's home. You'll be comfortable here. Forget all of those bad memories, Norman! Hey, too bad the state has cut back on our budget so we can't have someone tend to you full time, as planned, but that would get in the way of your murderin' for our sequel!"
Strike three of plausibility is the idea of someone immediately scooping Norman up for work. While Norman was never convicted of murder (by reason of insanity), I know of the real life programs that give jobs to ex-cons, and while the character employing him says they're doing it out of Christian duty (but her real motivations come up later), I still don't really buy it. The very same day he's released, he gets a job. And it's a small town, so you know everyone has heard Norman's story. They've had 22 years to tell it, to gossip, to have it grow and mutate. And everybody's pretty much OK with him! A dude who kept his mom's corpse, dressed up like her, killed several people and buried 'em in a swamp...I don't think a lot of people are going to be eager to have their lunches cooked by him.
The main idea of this movie is interesting. On the surface, Norman seems better. He seems he wants to stay better. But someone is cruelly trying to manipulate him and push him over the edge. It's damned cruel, but it works with the whole way Hitchcock and Perkins were trying to make you pity Norman in the original. And the people trying to push him over the edge...Lila Crane, Marion's sister from the original, and her daughter Mary, who works at the diner and befriends Norman. (Though she's not Lila Crane anymore, but Lila Loomis. This movie marries her to Sam, which I think is a big mistake, just making Sam and Lila both look coldhearted. Like "Hey! Good thing Marion got killed, or else I couldn't have shacked up with you! Fuck Marion, who needed her, anyway?" If the original's screenwriter, Joseph Stefano, thought a romance between Sam and Lila was a plot turn best avoided, I think it should have remained avoided.)
Vera Miles returns as Lila, who's out for revenge, her and Mary playing tricks on Norman -- passing through his house dressed as his mother, leaving him notes, pestering him on the phone -- with the goal to get him to snap, so he'd be recommitted, with the key thrown away. Vicious, but you can imagine Lila doing something like it. (Another lapse of plausibility, though? I don't think she'd endanger her daughter by making her do these things. Knowing damn well what Norman's capable of, and after losing her husband, I don't think she'd just throw her daughter into the center of danger.) The joke's on Lila, though, because Mary ends up feeling sorry for Norman and rejects her mother's plan and tries to protect him.
Meanwhile, Norman slips more and more, insisting he's been talking to his mother. (The movie gets pretty repetitive, with all of the Norma mind-games going on and denials and mother this and mother that -- you have yourself one motherfuck of a drinking game here.) While Mary's certain it's Lila resuming her plan, she starts to suspect there's a third player when the little mind-games that have been played on Norman begin to escalate...with MURDER! It's an interesting twist, and the film makes it clear it's not just Norman picking up old habits, but it results in a sloppy retcon of a climax...
The seemingly kindly old woman who hired Norman at her diner ends up being Norma Bates' sister, who claims Norman is actually her son, and she had him out of wedlock when she was young and was a nut who was institutionalized so Norma raised Norman and...yeah. Retcon, and pretty much goes against any of the background info you heard about Norman in the original. And it's a retcon that doesn't even stick, it ends up getting retconned itself, so it becomes a nice mess. After Norman's been cleared of this movie's crimes, Mrs. Spool confesses to him that she was responsible. Norman's just listening casually and kills her, taking her corpse to Norma's room. I think it's meant to be a "fuck yeah, the Psycho is back!" moment, but it doesn't work for me...
And I know the point of the reveal is that Norman's snapped again, and it doesn't even matter who Norma Bates was, who his mother really was -- it's always been Norman and his mind's representation of his mother. There is no Mother, only Norman, and it doesn't matter what dead body is sitting in the Bates house as long as he believes it's his mother. But...it doesn't work for me. Part of it's the retcon, because I think the point could have been made without the "twist" that Mrs. Pool was his actual mother, but it's also the way it removes any ambiguity. If you're meant to pity Norman, and never be sure if his killing is his mental condition or not, this removes any doubt as he casually and deliberately kills Mrs. Pool for the sake of continuing his crimes. It just seems like there hasn't been any progression made, and that the movie just went in a circle and ended the character where he started.
And for as harsh as Lila's plan was, I think the movie goes overboard in how they handle her and Mary's demises. Lila, a character and actress from the original, is given a nasty, Friday the 13th-styled death, where she's stabbed through the mouth with a butcher's knife to the point where the blade pops out through the back of her skull. Grisly overkill, and the type of death that Game of Thrones uses to dispose of their nastiest characters.
I assume Mary's death is meant to be tragic and a Hitchcockian twist, in which she tries to convince Norman there's no Mother by again dressing like her. Once she discovers Lila is dead, she flips out and tries to defend herself with a knife, stabbing Norman, who is further cut by grabbing onto the blade. The police show up, with knowledge of Lila and Mary's plan and seeing Norman with what looks like defensive wounds on his hands, and mistakenly gun down Mary. This is going just one twist too far, and the way it's handled makes the police characters look incompetent.
The movie goes on about 25 minutes too long, takes one turn too many and yet somehow feels like it's just chasing its tail.
Friday, August 26, 2016
What's there left to say about Psycho? Especially coming from a smart-ass like me, who respects Hitchcock, but isn't reverent of his work. Psycho is a legendary movie, considered not only one of the (if not the) best horror movies, but one of the best movies of all time, while also considered to be the godfather of slasher films and modern horror, inspiring numerous horror creators. The movie is bullet proof...but has had a couple of dents put into it. Unlike what Hollywood says, I do think remakes can negatively effect originals, and I think the 1998 remake taints the 1960 original a bit. I'm unfortunately going to talk about the remake while talking about the original in this post, and some of the quick fixes that the remake could have made, and maybe have been improved. I hope to go on to talk about the sequels, because I've long dismissed them as inferior, but I haven't watched them for a while.
I first saw the original Psycho in the late '90s. I've never really been a snob about older movies, I had been exposed to a lot of older movies, but I would still be skeptical when I'd hear people talk about how scary or disturbing Psycho was. I had seen things like The Birds and Vertigo and didn't find the former scary, and only eventually enjoyed the latter as a noir mystery. I hate to admit it, but I had that obnoxious youngster point of view of "How scary could that old B&W movie be?"
So I put off watching Psycho. And at the point I first saw it, it had already become a legend, so it was one of those movies I felt like I saw without having seen it -- you know the iconic parts, you know the twists, so there's no real urge to watch it. But you just always hear good things about it. And, at the time, I had a real fear of mental illness and psychological breakdowns, so I gave it a chance thinking maybe, if not actual scares, there would be something unsettling about it. And I had built in my head an idea of what Norman was like, and while it was more outrageous and monstrous than what the movie presents, there was a dread building the longer it took him to appear.
So, in the wee hours one day, I sat down and watched Psycho. And I was into it! It didn't make me hide behind my couch or anything, but there were some effectively eerie scenes and shots, it had great atmosphere, and it was, of course, well made and acted. And then shortly afterward that horrible remake hit, and I found a further appreciation for the original and how subtle it is. And it's important to remember its subtlety, because...
I then read the book by Robert Bloch. The book comes across to me as a sleazy pulp -- it's one of the rare instances of a movie greatly improving on the book. And, in the book, Norman was the biggest serial killer cliche you can imagine -- kept to himself, lived at home, in his 40s, fat, balding, four-eyed, alcoholic, cross-dresser, peeping tom, porno addict, into the occult, etc. He really just checked off every box possible in the Skeevy Stereotype Cliche List(tm). Now, the movie obviously keeps a couple of those ingredients, but goes against the expected by toning down the character and casting Anthony Perkins, who had been known for playing nice, average guys. And you can't overstate the importance of Anthony Perkins' casting and performance, because rather than overplay Norman as a repulsive creep, there's a sympathetic quality to his performance, a youthful joy and a likability which the sequels will get mileage out of and would be complete failures without. Perkins was Hitchcock's choice, and it was an inspired one.
Perkins' Norman is immediately friendly and seemingly well-meaning; sure, he's awkward, but that's chalked up to the motel not seeing many customers and his being isolated. There's a few moments of oddness, like he can seem defensive or irritable, but I find pretty much every character in this movie acting a little odd. And, at any rate, he's not acting like an out and out creep. I hate to bring up the remake, but that was a big problem with Vince Vaughn -- from the first frame he's in, he's just a weasely little creep.
(Imagine if, instead of being a lazy, pointless shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's film, the remake had decided to be closer to the book. With apologies to Jason Alexander, I pictured him as Norman when I read the book. Imagine Jason Alexander as Norman -- I think Alexander could have actually turned on the charm and thrown you off. I don't know why Hollywood always mistakenly thinks Vince Vaughn is a good dramatic actor. In fact, I feel like a lot of the remake's problem lies in the casting. Gus Van Sant tried too hard to cast people who had the most buzz at the time, all to make his movie "hip," rather than who would be good for the role. The remake would still be pointless, but I think a different cast would have helped somewhat. Or maybe even just shuffle around some of the people. I'll get to more of that in a second.)
Even when you rewatch it or already know all of its secrets, you just feel a pity for Perkins' Norman, as he cleans the scene of Marion's murder in a panic. You watch that scene initially thinking he's covering for his mother, when he's really covering for himself, but Perkins sells the way Norman is disgusted, pained, shocked and saddened by Marion's death and his "mother's" crime. While Norman has a split personality, and therefore is unaware of what he does as "mother," it's kind of interesting to watch this movie and pick apart dialogue, like when Norman is talking about his mother, think of it as him talking about himself. (Like when he knowingly describes what it's like inside a psychiatric hospital.) He's cleaning up his own crime scene, but the film lingers on that scene, and wants you to be as nervous as he is about the possibility of being caught. This movie would not work without Perkins. Hitchcock's a manipulative bastard for wanting you to root for Marion ripping off that guy's money and wanting you to sigh in relief when Norman disposes of bodies.
One interesting aspect of the Marion character, that I don't think I've seen many people talk about, is the way that her conversation with Norman influences her decision to return to Phoenix with the money. Norman's talking about the traps you'll find in life, Marion realizing the trap she's set for herself; she thinks stealing money and running to Sam will guarantee a life of happiness, when she'll be trapping herself and Sam in the paranoid lives of criminals, never comfortable for they're always be looking over their shoulders. So, she decided to do the right thing and face the consequences, seeing the light in a conversation with the man who will shortly end her life and prevent her from carrying out that decision.
Marion's a sorrowful character, stuck in a rut and not wanting to let a good thing and better sounding life get away from her. So when she sees a door of opportunity, she dashes through it, another man's money in her hands. Janet Leigh was only around 33 at the time of this movie, but she makes the character come across as older, beaten down. Unhappy. And because of the film's time period, and the societal judgments and taboos of that era, her desperation to marry Sam instead of all of the sneaking around makes more sense.
Marion's story just doesn't seem to work as well in that remake, between the modern setting and the technological advances in police procedure making her caper and motivation seem a bit unbelievable. And Anne Heche is horribly miscast; you don't like her, she doesn't convey the unhappiness or desperation. Just a terrible casting choice. Heche was 28 at the time of the movie, when Marion should have been a little older...I think it would have helped if she and Julianne Moore swapped roles, Moore as the more mature Marion and Heche as the young, rebellious sister Lila, searching for her missing older sister and not taking shit from anyone who gets in her way.
I always thought John Gavin was a problem as Sam; he's just a stiff, awkward performer, like when an athlete takes a stab at acting. (I can't believe we were close to having Gavin as James Bond.) You don't really get the impression he even worries about Marion that much, which is how viewers (and sequel writers) make the leap that he ends up with Lila, which just makes Sam seem like a bastard. Viggo Mortensen's not much of an improvement in the remake, but here's another time when maybe the remake should have swapped cast members: I think Mortensen would have been a more interesting, chilling Norman than Vaughn. Let Vaughn play Sam, that would have been against type at the time. And lastly: replace William H. Macy with Robert Forster as Arbogast. Forster, hot off of Jackie Brown, was wasted as Dr. Exposition in the final act, while Macy looks and sounds like a kid playing private detective. See? Maybe the remake could have turned out slightly more watchable with just some cast swapping. The shot-for-shot approach was still an idiotic mistake, though. If you're going to "modernize" the movie and make it "hip" for the new kids, why would you just Xerox a movie from over 30 years ago? Either truly update it, adapt the book more faithfully, or take a new approach. (How about Norma Bates with a split Norman personality? What about a daughter with a father fixation?)
I don't care how Millennial and n00b it sounds, but it's hard to watch this movie now and not wonder how moviegoers at the time didn't feel massively cheated. You spend about forty minutes with Marion and she's disposed of, then you spend the rest of the movie with the murderer who's covering his ass.
Did the audience start the movie, seeing its initial robbery plot and be like "Why's this called Psycho? Who's supposed to be the Psycho? What's Psycho about stealing some cash? That happens in every movie. Where's Anthony Perkins? He has top billing. Is Janet Leigh the Psycho? She seems OK. She likes to imagine detailed conversations on her drives a little too much, but she seems OK. Oh, here's Anthony Perkins. He's a little twitchy, but he doesn't seem like a Psycho. OK, he's a peeping tom, but that's not really Psycho, is it? Why's he have top-billing if he's just going to be a weird side character on Janet Leigh's road trip? What the...who's this old broad hacking into Janet Leigh? I guess we found our Psycho! Why don't they ever show her? Couldn't they cast her? That's weird. Why name the movie after a character you don't see? Wait, Anthony Perkins is covering up the murder. Maybe he IS the Psycho! Or a Psycho. What...what the hell am I watching here? Wait, there is no old broad, it's Anthony Perkins playing dress up? OK, he's the Psycho. What was all that stuff with Janet Leigh then, that average love affair/rip-off plot? I'll tell you what's Psycho, making us sit through that stuff. Takes 40 minutes to get to the actual Psycho! I'll tell you who the Psycho is, Alfred Hitchcock, that's the Psycho! What a weird movie."
What a weird movie indeed. And the sequels only get weirder. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
When I saw 1988's Night of the Demons when I was a kid, I could tell even then that it was on the lower end of production quality. My family rented a lot of horror movies, and this one was a dud with my family, and my mom even coined a term for it. But, for even as cheap as I thought it was, there was something about it that stuck with me -- more than just the scares or good looking ladies (Jill Terashita spent years etched into my memory) or gore, it had an energy to it. When I went back and watched it when I growded up, I appreciated the movie even more.
The movie's just fun. It's an entertaining funhouse ride, but what's great is that it does manage to still have scary moments and take memorable, surprising turns. It's a Halloween party or haunted house attraction or spooky carnival ride in movie form. The premise of high school kids having a Halloween party at an abandoned funeral parlor always seemed to me like such a cool, fun idea. They tease each other with stories, the town folklore, of the place being haunted, but little do they know what they're in for. Further adding to the fun atmosphere of the movie is the way the cast seems to be having fun -- it's one of those movies that just looked like it was a blast to make.
One of the things I find interesting about the characters is the way that most of them are pretty antagonistic towards one another, but when hell's breaking loose, they do try to help one another. A hooligan like Sal would probably be about saving himself in another movie, but he does stick around to help out here. I remember being shocked by Sal's death when I was a kid -- I thought he was cool, and he seemed like he would have made it out alive. You also have Roger, who's initially depicted as being a bit cowardly -- he's the first to run, and in the middle of the movie, he breaks down in tears at the hopelessness of the situation, needing consoled by the heroine -- but he ends up stepping up and putting himself in danger for others in the end.
The real star of the movie, though, is Amelia Kinkade as Angela. The creepy, loner goth girl who's behind this Halloween shindig, she's the first to realize there's something evil and sinister targeting them, and that her innocent Halloween games are becoming serious, but she's just dismissed as being the kooky one who's into the occult. When she ends up possessed, she becomes the movie's biggest villain, and is rightfully made the star and face of the franchise. Even though the sequels don't live up to the original (and should be ignored), Kinkade makes Angela a memorable horror monster, at once having fun in the role but also still managing to actually be scary. (Steve Johnson's make-up effects are great; he worked on Fright Night, and you can kind of see Evil Ed's disfigured vampire form in a lot of the possessed character make-up in this movie.) Kinkade deserved better sequels and Angela might have been up there with the likes of Freddy, Jason and the gang.
(I have to take this time to mention the awesome VHS cover art. It's Kinkade in demon make-up, creepy and in demonic joy, holding an invitation to her party. The classic tagline is "Angela is having a party. Jason and Freddy are too scared to come, but you'll have a hell of a time." How awesome is that? I actually had no idea for the longest time that it was Kinkade's Angela on the cover, I thought it was just a random demonic monster not even in the movie. That's how cool the make-up is, how much Kinkade transforms herself.)
As a kid who always heard horror stories about the perils of Trick-or-Treating -- the warnings, like about checking your candy -- the end of this movie gave me the willies when I was a kid. It's meant to be comedic and over-the-top, but, still...that grumpy old bastard who wanted to give the razor-filled apples to kids getting a dose of his own medicine was a gory shock. That the razor apples are used by the guy's wife to make apple pie is pretty ridiculous; we know the wife wants the guy dead, so that explains how the razors survived the transition from apple to pie, but how'd he eat any of the pie without noticing the crisp, just-peeled razor deliciousness!?! Ah, whatever. It's still a funny and shocking "trick" to end this big old Halloween party...
"Halloween Party." It's what the movie was meant to be called before the producers of Mikey Myers' movies shot it down. But that's the perfect title for this movie -- it's a Halloween party in film form. That term my mom once coined for this movie, which she hated? I clearly remember when we returned this movie to the video store. As my mom handed our rentals over to Heidi, the video store clerk who I had a bit of a crush on, Heidi asked what we thought of the movies we rented. My mom was quick to start trashing Night of the Demons. "That wasn't just a B-Movie, it was a BBB-Movie; filled with butts, boobs and bad-acting." Well, to her it might have been a BBB-Movie. To me it's the perfect Halloween movie.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
One of the joys of going to a video store back in the day -- something today's kids don't get to experience -- is just wandering around the genre of your choice, taking in all of the covers, looking at the back of the tapes for more pictures and descriptions and whatever ravings a critic (known or invented) gave that movie. You were sometimes tricked into renting a movie that was never heard of, not even by the people who were involved in making it.
Sometimes you could get input from another customer or clerk; if they steered you towards a shit movie, you never knew whether to question their taste or if they were being an asshole. It was all fun, though, the video store, hunting for movies to rent. When video stores introduced the 5 for 5 deal, chances are you were renting more shit than good stuff, but sometimes a dud or B-Movie would leave you with something entertaining to remember it by.
Most times with B-list horror movies, they were never scary. For those movies, I think you really had to watch them at a certain age for there to be any scare factor going on. When I was a kid, I was creeped out by Dr. Giggles. Dr. fucking Giggles! Despite the fact that it's tongue-in-cheek and a very stupid movie, some bits stayed with me, and I can still feel a little heeby-jeeby at the memory when I watch the movie now. That's the way it is with several horror movies, especially the subpar B-ones or direct-to-videos, and that's the way I feel about today's entry, 1988's Chillers.
It doesn't take a film major to realize that Chillers isn't cinematic gold...or even just cinematic. It has the production value of your local dentist's TV ad; the acting ranges from "tolerable" to "wow, way to make porn stars look like Royal Shakespeare Company members;" the plot is thinner than toilet paper. But when I saw this movie as a kid, a couple of things must have spooked me out enough to remember it all these years later. I find when there's a movie that bothered you as a kid, what festers in your memory is always more disturbing than what the movie is actually like when you get around to rewatching it. You're like "Really? THAT is what gave me the willies? I thought it was played scarier than that. I didn't remember the actor being such a goddamn hambone with cheese."
Chillers is a movie shot in West Virginia, by a West Virginian writer-director and featuring folks from West Virginia regional theater. This has to be a horror first. And not only that, but it's obviously a MOVIE first that this is a movie taking place in WV and about WV with people from WV that's NOT about barefoot, inbred, hillbilly cannibals! So, let's applaud the movie for that alone! It takes creativity and restraint to accomplish that. (This movie is probably also the only movie in history to feature the fast food joint Rax, a regional place that had cheeseburgers so good that you knew it had to be made out of Soylent Green.)
Chiller is an attempt at a Twilight Zone-y series of vignettes -- a group of five travelers, waiting at a bus terminal on a stormy night, share with one another the strange dreams they've had within the previous night. They try to one-up each other in terms of fucked-up'ness of their dreams, and each dream sequence has a Twilight Zone-y twist or surprise to them. Sound interesting? Don't get excited -- the box art ruins what ends up being the movie's biggest twist.
The first dreamer to share her story is Lindsey, who looks like the illegitimate daughter of Meg Foster and Martha Plimpton. She's a failed swimmer who begins getting coached by a mysterious diver named Billy Waters (no foolin'), who looks like the illegitimate son of David Rasche and Necros from the James Bond film The Living Daylights. She begins a romance with Billy, and one day sees him dive into the pool and never come up. She gets the lifeguard, and both hop into the pool, not making much of an effort to search, sticking to the same spot despite the fact his disastrous dive occurred from the other side of the damn pool. They give up their lazy search and later talk to the manager, who thinks Lindsey is crazy or "up to some sorority trick," because he reveals that Billy Waters...DIED FIVE YEARS AGO. Did you get the Chillers? Probably not, because this is the most underwhelming segment of the movie.
From that moment on, Lindsey's dream turns into being chased around the indoor pool by a zombiefied Billy and other random dead swimmers. This entire segment takes place at this indoor pool, thrillingly. The undead water enthusiasts eventually corner Lindsey in the shower and she wakes up with a case of the Chillers. As Lindsey was asleep and dreaming this nightmare at the movie's start, she doesn't actually get to tell the others what her nightmare was. Which is a good thing -- comedian Daniel Tosh has a bit about when you tell a friend a dream you had, only to realize halfway through the story how stupid you sound. (He used a harsher, more un-PC word than "stupid.") Lindsey would have REALLY been tasting that right about now, had she told the other travelers.
As they all attempt to calm Lindsey, admitting that they've each had terrible nightmares within the last couple of days, Mason, the lone kid of the group, is the first to step up and recount his nightmare for the others. Mason, who looks like Waldo from those Van Halen videos, dreamt about going camping with his Scout Master and two other kids. Right away, something seems off, because...there are only three kids in this troop? It's a three member troop, and they don't even have uniforms! They're just in grey sweats, with a cheap sticker on their upper arm. Yeah, this is a totally legit organization here. This ain't a real troop and this guy ain't a Scout Master, and poison ivy or shittin' in the woods ain't the only things the trio should be worried about. I'm not saying these three are running the risk of getting Canteen Boy'd, but that's exactly what I'm saying.
No, the Scout Master is a seemingly normal guy, just enjoying nature with his three member troop. They're setting up camp, and one of the kids goes to fetch firewood when he comes across a mental case who thinks they're invading his territory. The mental case returns to camp with the kid, where he beats up the Scout Master and orders them to vacate the premises within an hour. Scout Master Bob is meek and a nerd, but he's filled out the paperwork and has permission to camp here, and he loves nature, dammit, so he's not going to be ordered around by a vagrant nut! He decides to ignore the threats and stay put.
The only scout who's into this camping stuff is Mason, who eventually wakes up to see his two fellow scouts tied up, and the vagrant tied up and hanging, dead. Surprise! Scout Master Bob might not be the pervert you were afraid he was, but he's a nutcase. He spares Mason for being the only one to appreciate camping and nature. Mason eventually attempts to free the other two kids, but is stopped and pursued by a disappointed Bob. He gets close to grabbing Mason during a chase, but falls hand-first into a bear-trap, giving Mason the time to get back to camp, free the others and attempt escape. Their method? They pile into the Scout Master's car. That's right, these kids are actually going to try to drive away...in a forest...at night. If Scout Master Bob isn't going to kill them, their genius decisions are. They see there aren't any keys in the ignition, when Bob pops into view of the driver's side window, having chewed his hand off to escape the bear trap. (He had earlier voiced admiration at wolves for doing so, which was still the least creepiest thing about his whole little endeavor.)
Handless Bob popping up in the window is something that scared me when I saw this when I was a kid. Now it just plays goofily, the actor really just going too over-the-top and not being all that creepy. I think this story would have been improved had the scenario not come across as being so shady from the start; actor Gary Brown's doing a good enough job at making Bob seem just mild-mannered and ordinary, so you CAN see where the surprise was supposed to fit. It would have been great if the movie could have pulled off the shock and reveal that Bob was the one attacking the kids and the real one to fear. But the way it's depicted, you can't help but raise an eyebrow, and even the vagrant nutbar accuses him of being up to no good. When THAT guy finds it weird...
People who have seen this movie tend to think this segment's the best. It had potential that wasn't reached. The two bratty kids are also funny, and there's also a nice shot where Mason's being chased through the dark forest, lit in a blue light. That was the end of Mason's story, and next up is Sharon, with the battiest dream of all...
Sharon, a dead ringer for Ma Walsh from 90210, is a lonely woman who has a crush on the new local anchorman, Tom, whose actor is so nondescript I don't even have a funny comparison to make. Sharon likes to talk to Tom when she's watching him. Sharon is weird. But, wait, what is this -- one night, she actually hears him say something back to her! Instead of being spooked or questioning her sanity, she rejoices. He muttered something about calling him and she whips out the old Yellow Pages, calling the station. Instead of being spooked or questioning his sanity, Tom answers the call. And in what's the most bizarre conversation since the invention of the telephone, she's all "I'm totally normal and I never do this, but I watch you on the TV every single day and I like you and I totally am never forward like this, Mr. News Reporter, but would you like to go out with me, an obviously unstable and weird nobody, sometime...?" And then she slams the phone down without hearing a reply. I'd like to think she realized how dumb she sounded, but I think she might be possessed by a 12 year old and was genuinely afraid of his answer, "Like, OMG, does he still like me even after I was weird like that?"
And then, time passes, and suddenly, someone is at her door. It's the reporter! Sharon prayed to the Bad Romance Novel Gods and was heard! Well, how else did he find her? This was the '80s, before Star 69 and caller ID. He claims he looked her up in the phonebook, although she didn't leave her number. (I guess there's only one Sharon Phillips around? Don't you find, when you look in a phonebook, that no matter how plain or weird a name, there's always like a dozen bastards with the same name? Did he just go around Sarah Connor-ing every Sharon Phillips in southern WV?) He at least acknowledges that he feels crazier for showing up than she probably did for calling. Sometimes, the characters in this movie actually show some logic, which is strange for a cheapy movie like this that doesn't usually care and could get away with just being batshit crazy since it's all a dream, anyway.
Anyway, instead of being spooked or questioning her sanity, she welcomes him in, where they sit around and she literally tells him the sucky, unremarkable journey that is her life. I'm not exaggerating or making a joke there, she's meant to be a dull, depressed loner. Instead of his being spooked or questioning her sanity, the reporter guy is into her. Soon, they're awkwardly making whoopee, and wait, what's this...Tom lifts his head up and is revealed to be a vampire! He swoops in for the kill, and Sharon is the most calm vampire victim of all time. No reaction. But his being a vampire explains why he's NOT put off by her; her imagining hearing him talk to her through the television was an intended suggestion on his part.
We're then introduced to my favorite part of the movie, Tom's daytime guardian, a really foxy, scene-stealing goth-punk chick, who looks like the rebellious, illegitimate goth-punk daughter of Maura Tierney and Stevie Nicks. In her first scene, for no real reason, she kills a pizza boy when she shows up. She slowly drains his blood into a vase, steals the pizza, and is then shown eating her free victory pizza with Tom, which makes Tom the only vampire in movie history that likes pizza. Days pass, and Tom explains to Sharon that he won't turn her into a vampire but just feed on her for a while.
He chose her because she's pathetic, with a "depressing existence," and since he sees her as dead already, he thinks he's doing her a favor by letting her live her final days fulfilling her fantasies. As his assistant blackens out the windows of Sharon's apartment, Tom's begun his vampire nap in a body bag, which the assistant zips up. Body bags instead of coffins always make me think of vampire going on camping trips or something. It's supposed to be cool and different, but...it's a sleeping bag. It makes you picture vampires making blood S'mores and singing some Cure, camping near their Port-a-John, no doubt filled with the black stool that accompanies all of their blood consumption.
We then cut to the assistant doing a weird dance to a weird song, like Violet in Friday 5 or Angela in Night of the Demons, all while Sharon sneakily stakes Tom (with a freaking hairbrush), while he's zipped up in his bodybag. This is a bit disappointing, as it means Goth-Punk the Vampire Babysitter isn't the greatest at her job, no matter how cool or good looking she is while (not) doing it.
Sharon flees the scene of the kill, getting the hell out of her apartment, but surprise! The assistant can apparently teleport and is there to stop her. Just then, a cop shows up asking about the missing pizza boy. He notices the loud music and acts like it's a murder confession or something! "That music's pretty loud. Want to explain it?" And then Sharon takes off out of the building, while the assistant returns to Sharon's apartment. Every cop show I've ever seen, scripted or reality, would have the cop chasing down the person who's leaving the building, rather than the one holing themselves up in one of the building's rooms. This brilliant cop goes after the assistant and we hear a few gunshots, but are never shown or told what the hell's happened.
Meanwhile, Sharon flies home to her sister's, where she's hospitalized for being so weakened by the vampire. While in her hospital bed, Sharon turns to the playing television; the city's local anchorman is retiring, and hands over the newscast to...Tom! I guess that's what happens when you randomly stake a vampire through his sleeping bag. The genius probably staked him in the nards. On a sidenote: isn't it a little lame and stereotypical that the two female characters in this movie have romance-related dreams?
The next one to tell their dream is Ronnie, who looks like the ne'er-do-well brother Bobby Van never wanted anyone to know he had. His dream sequence seems pretty quick and simple. While one day reading the newspaper, he's kind of saddened to read the various tributes family members write for lost loved ones. When he reads of a kid who died, he pounds his fist on the paper, wishing aloud he could do something to help. Suddenly, the kid materializes in his house. In a quick montage, we see Ronnie calling the kid's parents and telling him to pick him up. It's a silent montage, so we don't hear what's being said, and I guess we're not treated to any dialogue because what the fuck is that conversation going to be? There's no logical way to write that. The parents are happy to see the kid, Ronnie is self-satisfied, and goes about his day.
Later on, Ronnie is going through the paper, wanting to try this weird ability again, choosing to use an obituary this time. Judgmental bastard he is, he skips over anybody who died at an older age. He picks out a 22 year old, works his magic, and the dead dude appears before him, just as before. Although the obit says the guy had no family, Ronnie's like "Not my problem!" and sends him on his way, wherever that could be, it's not Ronnie's concern -- he's just wowed by his cool power.
Ronnie eventually goes through a family photo album, coming across a photo of his dead brother, who looks 20 years older than he is. (And nothing like him; the brother's parents must have been Barry Nelson and French Stewart.) Ronnie places his hand on the photo, wishing him to return. He does! And he's actually kind of pissed about it -- he now thinks about having to die and lose people all over again.
Without any time to worry, the 22-year-old Ronnie previously resurrected breaks through the door with a shotgun! Fuck yeah! What's this about? He demands Ronnie resurrect some of his buddies. Turns out this 22 year old isn't some innocent kid Ronnie brought back, but an executed murderer. When the murderer threatens Ronnie's brother, Ronnie quickly grabs the paper and does a reversal of his power, wanting to send the murderer back to where he came from. It works, and the murderer vanishes. And then, shortly afterward...Ronnie vanishes, too! Do you have the Chillers? The reason is because the paper with the murderer's obit was laying on top of Ronnie's photo album -- specifically, a high-school photo of Ronnie, so when he wished the murderer away, he wished himself away, too.
OK, this whole thing was another thing that stuck with me from the first time I saw this movie. On one hand, the power to bring back the dead through obituaries is at least something new in a movie, but the way it's played is kind of goofy. People laugh at it, and it's a weird concept, but it's all in the depiction -- because it's basically just a bit of a reverse Death Note, using supernatural powers to kill (in this case resurrect) a person through their name, and that anime works for some reason. At the risk of sounding like a total wussy, obituaries gave me the willies when I was a kid, so maybe that's why this segment worked on me. And the whole bringing back a killer and then ending up erasing his own existence was unsettling to me. Stop laughing at me! The biggest problem is the way the deceased return looking the way they did on their burial day -- I know this is a dream, and a magic power we're talking about, but I'd like to imagine something more Hellraiser-y, like Uncle Frank rebuilding himself back to life from nothing.
That leaves the last traveler to tell his dream, Conrow, a college professor. Looking like the bastard son of Gabe Kaplan and Geraldo Rivera, Conrow...is the worst actor in this movie. The guy had to be the local pharmacist or something. A banker. He is just...*bad*. His line readings are that -- readings. His delivery is so lifeless, I just tune the guy out, and have to rewind and listen to him again, trying not to fall asleep. And he raises his eyebrows on every word he says. Thanks for saving this guy for last. His dream's too underdeveloped, as if it was shot as an afterthought, for it to be the movie's last story, too.
|The newspaper's out-acting this guy!|
His dream's about a college course he teaches, about some ancient Mayan spirit that possessed warriors and violently won battles for them, making human sacrifices. He offers his class the incantation that was said to bring forth the spirit. One of his students is fascinated by all of it, and later that night recites the words and ends up possessed. (She looks like if Jean Grey was possessed by a Deadite and not the Phoenix.) She acts very Deadite-lite, kills a couple of people and attacks the class in a scene that wants to be Carrie-like, but comes across like a Freddy's Nightmares dream. Conrow recites a spell that's supposed to exorcise the spirit, but I guess in the tradition of Ash Williams, doesn't recite every single little syllable, no, but he basically said it, yeah, and the entity sticks around just long enough to force the girl to plunge a knife into Conrow's heart.
Lackluster, right? Derivative. Dull. Made worse by Conrow's expert acting ability. Now, after each person told their dream, the kid, Mason, would tell them that it's not scary. "That's not scary!" Which is kind of tricky of the writer, you know? Why would you admit your own attempts at a horror story isn't scary? Why am I watching your supposed horror movie, then? Anyway, the bus then arrives. The entire time the five have been at the station, there's been one dude asleep the entire time, with a newspaper over his face. I didn't mention this, because I can't imagine it coming into play.
The five board their bus, but wait...what is this? The man Ronnie sits next to is his brother! Conrow sits next to that redhead student of his, who was possessed! Lindsey spots across the aisle the zombiefied Billy Waters! Sharon sits next to the Sexy Goth-Punk the Vampire Babysitter! Mason sits next to the crazy forest dweller, and sees his two friends across the aisle! The bus driver turns around, telling his passengers that the next stop is Babylon! The bus's destination sign then switches over to "Hell." Mason flips out and runs out of the bus, frantically, back into the station. He tries to wake up that dude who's been sleeping throughout the whole movie. A bloody stump falls to the man's side. Holy shit, it's crazy Scout Master Bob! Do you have the Chillers yet?
Well, even if you did, the next scene kills 'em. It's Mason, bolting upwards in bed. It was ALL just a dream! The kid was dreaming he had a scary dream and that four other assholes had scary dreams and they told each other their scary dreams, which made his dream so elaborate in that he invented dreams for four other people, and then had to dream them twice for the sake of retelling them! What the fuck did this kid eat before going to bed, and how much acid did he sprinkle onto it?! I think a normal person's mind would explode. Mason breathes a sigh of relief. "Now THAT's scary!" he looks into the camera and says. Not really, Mason, but nice try. Infuriating is what it is. You just wasted our time on bullshit that didn't happen, Waldo.
Would it have been so bad to just have the dreams -- as screwed up as they were, as off the wall bonkers and/or supernatural they seemed -- be the way the characters actually died, and its the spirits of the fives that are meeting up at this bus station? Or that the dreams were premonitions of the crazy ways they're about to die? "It's all a dream" endings just make the entire story a waste of time.
I know I've been poking fun at this movie, but I like it for some reason. I'm not going to pretend like it's a great movie, or some obscure gem, but it has its certain charms and is entertaining. It's cheap and the acting's spotty, but there's at least some thought and creativity going into the stories, unlike those try-hard Syfy movies that are intentionally trying to be cheap and cheesy -- those movies are really just lazy and dumb and pointless wastes. A couple of the story ideas in Chillers ARE interesting (the vampire targeting lonely, depressed people; the Reverse Death Note powers), and needed reworked and to be in a movie with better production values or in a movie that wanted to be more serious. Chillers tries to play it serious and comedic, but the overall cheapness adds more to the comedic vibe -- while there's intentional humor to the script, there's a lot of unintentionally funny stuff, as well. But, hey, Chillers obviously has something going for it for me to have remembered it. Maybe I'm just amused by its being a Wild and Wonderful horror movie, or just the nostalgic attachment from being creeped out by it when I was a kid.
Writer-director Daniel Boyd followed this movie up with Strangest Dreams: Invasion of the Space Preachers, another cheapie B-movie filmed in WV with WV theater actors. It's a sci-fi movie, a riff on cheesy sci-fi movies from the '50s and '60s, and most of the actors from Chillers make an appearance in the movie. (Ronnie actor Jim Wolfe is the lead) This movie has Troma backing, so I assume Boyd had slightly more resources here than with Chillers, because there's more variation in locations and it doesn't have the local dentist ad visuals of Chillers. (I poke fun at Chillers' production value, but it doesn't look all that worse than something like The Evil Dead or El Mariachi, both considered indie classics. Chillers, to me, is really like an '80s Carnival of Souls.) The performances in Strangest Dreams are also a step-up, with the returning actors from Chillers seeming more at ease. It's a funny, amusing piece of silly fun, a movie with a giddy spirit that makes you smile along. You can make it a double feature by buying the two-movie DVD set at Boyd's website.