Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 12

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

Years later, direct-to-video sequels to half-forgotten horror franchises rarely produce quality work. Just a few days back, I watched “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer,” an ugly, stupid film that gives you a good idea of how these things usually turn out. Reportedly, “Urban Legends: Bloody Mary” came about because the rights-holders hoped to launch a series of cheaply made, profitable DTV sequels, unconnected save for the urban legend theme. None of this inspires much confidence in “Bloody Mary.” Maybe that’s the reason the film winds up exceeding expectations.

A high school in a small Utah town has a local legend. Back in the sixties, at the prom, a trio of jocks spiked their dates’ drinks. One girl, Mary, realized what was happened and fled. When the boy found her, he accidentally killed her, hiding her body in a trunk. Mary then became the Bloody Mary of legend, the spirit summoned by saying her name in a mirror. Nearly forty years later, trouble occurs at the same school. Samantha prints a story in the school newspaper, incriminating the football team. As payback, the jocks kidnapped the girls and hid them in the woods for a week. The ritual awakens the spirit of Bloody Mary. She takes revenge on the boys, dispatching each in the manner of an urban legend. Samantha has to unravel the mystery behind Mary’s legend to stop the killings.

“Bloody Mary” is unrelated to either previous “Urban Legend” movie, save for a brief call-back to the first movie’s events. Instead of being a slasher flick, it moves into the territory of supernatural horror. Given the vengeful ghost is a girl with long black hair, it seems likely the film was made to cash in on “The Ring” or “The Grudge.” Despite the change of sub-genre, part three utilizes its gimmick far better then either of the previous flicks. Each murder scene is patterned after a famous myth. Others are referenced throughout. The script is slightly sloppy. Plot points don’t always connect clearly. The big reveal in the last act is easy to guess. Yet the movie is entertaining. It’s even slightly thoughtful, making statements about macho aggression within high school. While it’s never quite a thoughtful Snopes-style study of modern folklore, it seems interested in what urban legends have to say about our culture.

I like the cut of “Bloody Mary’s” jib. Sadly, as a horror movie, it is frequently hokey. The scenes that should be scary are often laughable. A dead dog in a closest is an obviously fake special effects. Shaky CGI effects are used multiple times. Mary’s face becoming a screaming skull or dissolving into a spinning sand storm doesn’t convinced. Jump scares, that aren’t even that well edited, are employed too often. When Mary confronts one of the boys in a hotel, she… Beats him to death with her hands? Not something you’d expect a ghost to do. Sometimes, it seems like director Mary Lambert was going for humor. A jock is cooked inside a tanning bed while his date chatters mindlessly on a cellphone. Another is killed, his penis exploded, when he pees on an electric fence. The most effective horror sequences follows the Spider Bite myth. A hideous zit on a girl’s face bursts, spiders crawling over her body, biting her too death. It’s a lengthy, gruesome death scene. Sadly, once again, those cheesy CGI effects intervene. Computer-generated spiders are nowhere near as scary as real ones.

So “Urban Legends: Bloody Mary” isn’t really scary. Why do I kind of like it anyway? The cast is headlined by Kate Mara, a talented actress who still hasn’t crossed over into genuine movie stardom yet. As Samantha, Mara has a likable can-do attitude. Unlike the other movies, where the detective scenes feel purely functionary, watching Mara follow leads and dig into the past is amusing. She has solid chemistry with Robert Vito, as her equally curious step-brother. (I also like that the male lead is a brother, instead of a love interest.) Rounding out the cast is Tina Lifford as Grace. A radical black activist in the seventies, Grace still wears her afro with pride. It’s a fun character to introduce into the film and the script takes her relatively seriously. Even the jock victims are far more rounded out then you’d anticipate. Almost immediately, the ringleader wonders about his actions and cries about his dead friends.

Maybe “Bloody Mary’s” better-then-expected quality can be attributed to a script by Michael Dougherty, the screenwriter of “X-Men 2” and fan favorite “Trick r’ Treat.” The latter film certainly shows that Dougherty has a respect and understanding of urban legends. “Urban Legends 3” didn’t exactly relaunch the franchise. A fourth entry, “Ghosts of Goldfield,” was planned but ended up being released as a stand-alone film. The movie doesn’t entirely work but I wound up being somewhat charmed by it anyway. At the very least, it is way more interesting then any of the other films in this series. [6/10]

Nocturna (1979)

Here’s another one you can blame on the VHS Preservation Society guys on. When they picked up “Nocturna,” they described it as a disco horror musical about Dracula’s granddaughter. How could I resist a premise like that? Weirdly, the movie was one of three Disco Dracula movies released in 1979. That year also saw the release of “Love at First Bite” and “Dracula Blows His Cool.” With a premise so outrageous, you’d think I would’ve heard of “Nocturna” before. Having seen the movie, I now understand why the film is so obscure.

In Transylvania, the Dracula clan has fallen on some hard times. Unable to sustain themselves on blood alone, they’ve converted the castle into a hotel. This bothers Dracula and his werewolf henchmen Theodore. Drac’s granddaughter, Nocturna, welcomes the idea. A funky disco band performs in the club one night. Nocturna notices the guitar player giving her goo-goo eyes. The two immediately fall in love and travel to New York. There, Nocturna is caught up in the activities of urban vampires. However, her boyfriend is human and doesn’t know that she is a vampire. Her love for the mortal man seems to be transforming Nocturna into a human, something that deeply upsets her grandfather.

“Nocturna” doesn’t come remotely close to living up to its awesome premise. The movie is, however, truthful to one element of its “horror/comedy disco musical about Dracula” log line. There is a shit ton of disco in this movie. The presence of Gloria Gaynor and Vicki Sue Robison on the soundtrack was widely touted on the VHS art. Both only contribute a song each to the film. Gaynor recorded the reasonably-catchy theme song “Love is Just a Heartbeat Away” as a favor to a friend. Robison’s song, “Nighttime Fantasy,” plays over a lengthy scene of Nocturna just walking through the streets. The rest of the music is composed by nobodies like Moment of Truth or The Heaven n’ Hell Orchestra. There are long scenes of musicians singing or people dancing in a disco. Whether or not you like disco, the songs at least provide some energy to the movie. (Save for painful love ballad “Why Do Lovers Come Together?”)

Energy is something the rest of “Nocturna” is definitely lacking in. The film is horribly paced. There are long scenes where not much happens. The movie barely has a plot, building itself around a series of hokey, one-note jokes. Stupid comedy is the name of the game in “Nocturna.” Theodore lusts after Nocturna but she rejects him. The movie claims he is a werewolf but he never transform. Instead, this sets up a dumb gag about hairy palms. (Theodore is played by odd-ball stand-up comic Brother Theodore, who doesn’t get to show off any talent he had.) There’s a go-nowhere subplot about a council of vampires debating going public. One vamp complains about modern people eating too much sugar, making their blood unpalatable. Another vampire is a Huggy Bear-style pimp, who sells powdered blood. When a cop stumbles onto the vampire meeting, they all turn into cartoon bats and fly away. John Carradine and Yvonne De Carlo, both of whom shot their extended cameos in a few days, trade blood and bat-related puns. These are the kind of lame gags “Nocturna” is built around. None inspire laughter.

Certain aspects seem to suggest that cheap laughs and disco dancing weren’t the only things the makers of “Nocturna” had on their mind. The movie is loaded with nudity. A very long scene is devoted to Nocturna stripping, taking a bath, and then oiling her body up afterwards. Before hand, she wears a see-through nightgown. The camera lingers on Nai Bonet’s body in a lascivious, extended manner. Not long afterwards, she has a sweaty love scene with the male lead, which includes a crunchy porno groove soundtrack. Another very long scene takes place in a massage parlor. Run by the aforementioned vampire pimp, four women stripe and seduce the man. Even a disco dancing scene has a sleazy side, as Nocturna and her boyfriend strip down to their underwear on the dance floor. Despite so many obvious appeals to prurient desires, these scenes are hopelessly boring. You know something is wrong when not even naked tits can get an audience interested in what’s happening on-screen.

The saddest thing about “Nocturna” is that star Nai Bonet was apparently very invested in it. She raised about a third of the budget on her own. The film’s production company bares her name. I don’t know if it’s the actress or the material but Bonet gives an incredibly flat, off-balanced performance. (Other parts of her are, uh, not so flat.) She would retire not long after the movie flopped, suggesting she took its failure personally. Some sources call the film a “cult classic” and maybe it is among disco fanatic. For the rest of us, “Nocturna” is a painful slog, a laughless and rhythmless stream of nonsense. [3/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Staired in Horror

“Staired in Horror” has one of the most novel premises of any “Tales from the Crypt” episode. A crook on the run from a cop-assisted lynch mob flees into the Louisiana swamp. He comes upon an old building where only an elderly woman lives, the elderly being his preferred type of victim. However, a beautiful young woman seemingly lives up stairs. The old home is cursed. The old woman grows younger the further up the stairs she walks, while any potential lover grows older while moving in the same direction. This forces the two to meet in the middle if they want to make love. Their potential coupling is interrupted when the cops catch up with the crook.

It’s not often I say this but “Staired in Horror” is a “Crypt” premise that could actually sustain a feature length film. The episode, which was co-written by Teller of all people, barely has enough time to explore the idea in a half-and-hour. Just as the story is getting really good, it ends. There’s still fun to be had here. Stephen Hopkins’ direction is moody, the old house characterized by an amber tone. When the woman relates the tale of how she was cursed, the camera follows up the stairs after her. In voice-over, we hear the voices of the event as it happened. That’s a cool shot. D. B. Sweeny is nicely despicable as the run-away murderer, despite the ridiculous Cajun accent he puts on. Rachel Ticotin is gorgeous when not under make-up, bringing a lot of sensuality to the role. R. Lee Ermy has a fun bit part as the shouting sheriff. Most every tale from the crypt has a cruelly ironic ending. “Staired in Horror” has maybe the most amusingly mean conclusion the show ever contrived. Though more obviously could have been done with such an interesting set-up, “Staired in Horror” is still a good time. [7/10]

So Weird: Mr. Magnetism

Late in its third season, “So Weird” returns to the high school setting it started with. With the science fair quickly approaching, Annie attracts the attention of Zach. So many of the girls at Hope Springs High have a crush on Zach that he’s nick-named Mr. Magnetism. This moniker becomes literal when his lab experiment gives Zach magnetic abilities. Seemingly bipolar, the boy pushes Annie away as often as he attracts her. Soon, he is abusing his new abilities, endangering his own life and the life of those around him.

“So Weird” rarely focused on romance and, to season three’s benefit, that didn’t change when Annie came on the scene. When a love interest was introduced, it was usually because it tied into the episode’s theme. This is also true of “Mr. Magnetism.” Sadly, the rest of the episode is typical cornball season three bullshit. Zach’s abusive behavior is never threatening. He opens filing cabinets, moves some tables, and tosses sweet potatoes around the cafeteria. The creepiest thing he does is showed up outside Annie’s house in the middle of the night. Though the stalking really should be the focus of the episode, it takes a back seat to cheap special effects and bad magnet puns. Craig Olejnik’s performance is over the top and Zach’s bad behavior is overly melodramatic. Just to further annoy me, the episode also features Annie’s stupid spirit panther and a musical performance from Alexz Johnson. It’s so disappointing to see Mackenzie Phillips, a pop music veteran, become a back-up singer to some would-be Christina Aguilera. At least the finale, where Zach crashes the science fair, features some dramatic direction from Paul Lynch. Lastly, in my experience, guys named Zach are rarely chick magnets in high school.  [5/10]

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