Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 8

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

Despite not being that good of a movie, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” grossed an incredible 125 million against a budget of 17 million. There’s no way a sequel wasn’t happening. Besides, “Scream 2” proved that sequels to self-aware slashers could be just as successful as self-aware slashers. After deciding against the logical working title of “I Know What You Did Two Summers Ago,” the ridiculously entitled “I Still Know What You Last Summer” was released to similar commercial success.

Like “Scream 2,” this one opens with the survivors of the first film now in college. Julie is still recovering from the trauma of Ben Willis’ revenge-killing spree. It’s putting a strain on her relationship with Ray, even if he’s considering proposing to her. Unexpectedly, Julie and her roommate win a radio contest for a paid vacation to the Bahamas. Ray is invited but, the night before the trip, he is attacked by a mysterious man in a slicker. The group arrives in the Bahamas during hurricane season, to an empty hotel on an isolated island. Soon, people begin to die. The Fisherman has seemingly survived and continues his quest of vengeance against Julie and her friends.

A complaint I had against the first “Last Summer” is, for a slasher movie, it had surprisingly little blood. “I Still Know” definitely corrects this. For that matter, the sequel follows the slasher formula to a tee. The characters are trapped, via a hurricane, in an isolated location, a small island resort. The script introduces multiple minor characters that exist just to increase the body count. The kill scenes are far gorier. Unimportant cast members receive hooks to the chin and back, before being dragged around. The Fisherman mixes up his method too. Garden shears, meat cleavers, and fishing spears (in a double impalement, no less) are employed. There’s way more blood and the death scenes are far more extended. More so then before, the dead victims have a tendency to pop out at unexpected (but not really) moments. And, once again, the Fisherman never breaks a sweat when pursuing his prey, always walking slowly and causally. No, there’s no nudity but the movie at least has the good sense to get Jennifer Love Hewitt in a bikini. For someone who enjoys junk-horror slasher snack food, “I Still Know” is more then willing to indulge.

Another aspect holding back the original was its annoying cast of characters. The sequel fixes this too. Brandy’s Karla is less gimmicky and obnoxious then her pop star casting suggests. Mekhi Phifer as Tyrell, her boyfriend, is funny. His tendency to pursue food or sex, even in a crisis, seems realistic. Mostly, the supporting cast is full of goofy, one-note joke characters played by likable character actors. Jack Black plays a white guy with dreads who sells pot, hamming it up ridiculous. (He goes uncredited, probably to maintain his dignity.) Jeffrey Combs shows up as the asshole hotel manager, grimacing at the young cast every time he’s on-screen. Jennifer Esposito brings some ballsy gusto to the thankless part of the sarcastic bartender. Bill Cobbs plays this movie’s variation on the Crazy Ralph character. He’s a creepy old man, a blatant red herring, and introduces a completely dumb voodoo subplot. All of these characters are as thinly written as can be. It’s incredibly easy to guess who will die and even in what order. Yet the talented actors and goofball script add enough color to make for campy entertainment.

I suspect dumb camp may have even been the intention. The titular message is printed on a karaoke screen, at one point. It takes four characters to undo a plastic zip-tie, in maybe the movie’s most melodramatic scene. The person occupying the Fisherman’s slicker this time is obvious. Just through process of elimination, you can guess the killer’s identity. When the reveal comes, via the actual capital of Brazil, it’s hysterical. Also dumb is Freddie Prince Jr.’s entire subplot. He spends the whole movie trying to get to the Bahamas, escaping a hospital, pawning the engagement ring, and hi-jacking a boat. He shows up just when he’s needed but isn’t smart enough to turn the safety off on a gun. Jennifer Love Hewitt growling “Why won’t you fucking die?!” is just one example of this movie’s endearing dumb streak. Another example: The inevitable shock ending building tension via toothbrush.

Guys, I think I finally get it. “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” is stupid as hell, in the same way the later “Friday the 13th” sequels are. Most of the expectations you have for an underachieving slasher sequel are fulfilled. Gorier kills, goofier characters, and a script that is gloriously unaware of how derivative it is add up to make a sequel exponentially more entertaining then the dour original. May it enliven last summer and every last summer of the future. [7/10]

Necromancy (1971)
The Witching

This past weekend at Monster-Mania, I stopped by the VHSPS society booth, the coolest place to buy DVDs at the convention. The booth was running a “buy three, get one free” deal. I asked them to recommend something “weird and eighties” to me. One of the guys handed me “The Witching,” saying it wasn’t eighties but was definitely weird. Some horror movie starring Orson Welles and Pamela Franklin? And, as a glance at the back of the box showed, it was directed by Bert I. Gordon? I’ll take a risk on that for six dollars! An internet search showed that “The Witching” was merely a re-release title for an earlier movie called “Necromancy.” The VHSPS guys didn’t lied. “Necromancy” is certainly weird but that, unfortunately, doesn’t always mean good.

Lori and Frank, who have recently suffered a miscarriage, move into a new town called Lilith. Frank has come to work at the local toy factory. Lori finds the town unnerving. All of Lilith is watched over by a strange man named Mr. Cato. There are no children in Lilith. The townsfolk are open about practicing witchcraft. Soon, Lori realizes she’s been summoned to Lilith and that Mr. Cato has some bad plans for her.

“Necromancy,” or “The Witching” or whatever you choose to call it, has a seriously incoherent script. On the way into town, Lori and Frank witness a car crash. The crash’s victim ties into the main plot, in a way that’s not made clear. Mr. Cato’s ultimate goal is to resurrect his dead son and Lori may or may not have this power. But if Lori was the objective, why has Mr. Cato invited other people to town? Why does he put the girl through so many antics, if this one ritual is his ultimate goal? How come no one else in town can have kids? Why did the witches perform a ritual to give Lori a miscarriage? Why is Lori receiving visions of a demonic woman? Or visions of the past or future? A lot of things happen in “Necromancy” and few of them tie together in any sort of logical way.

I have a theory about why the script is so incoherent. Bert I. Gordon wrote a movie about witches and necromancy. At some point, he decided to mash that idea up with a low-budget rip-off of “Rosemary’s Baby.” “Necromancy” is blatantly derivative of Polanskis’ film. (One of the movie’s many alternate titles was “Rosemary’s Disciples.”) In both, a young woman enters a new home and suspects something weird is up. No one will believe her and she doubts her own sanity. In both, her husband is involved in the cult. Gordon’s version ladles on the exploitation elements. There’s lots of nudity in “Necromancy.” The female Satanists are frequently topless. One, absurdly, wears a robe with cut-out boob holes! There’s even a little light S&M during one sequence. There’s not much gore though, probably because boobs are cheap but corn syrup is expensive. The weird thing is that “Necromancy” gets some things about paganism right. The Horned God is referenced and the point is made that paganism isn’t synonymous with Satanism. Sadly, most of this is dropped by the end, in favor of typical devil movie shenanigans.

So what about that promised weirdness? There are many odd scenes in “Necromancy.” As previously mentioned, a strange woman floats over many of the scenes, whispering vaguely ominous threats. What her purpose is or why she’s there is unanswered. Franklin’s character has many odd visions. She’ll imagine herself nude, being burned at the stake. One dream has her floating out of a casket, foreshadowing the downbeat ending. A baby goat puts in a cameo, tied to an alter, and never appears again. During the rituals, one person wears a cow head, which is probably the movie’s only real moment of unintentional humor. One cult member bares an uncanny resemblance to Gene Wilder. Disappointingly, “Necromancy” is short on what-the-fuckness or laughable moments. Mostly, the movie is just boring.

Pamela Franklin is as talented a scream queen as you could’ve asked for. However, she seems as confused by the script as the viewer is. No amount of mumbling or obesity could rob Orson Welles of his natural gravitas. His hushed line readings provide a smidgen of creepiness in a few scenes. Look, I’m all for seventies devil worship movies. I’m a card-carrying member of the “Brotherhood of Satan” fan club. But “Necromancy” is a mess, an disjointed script combined with a muddled execution. [4/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Revenge is the Nuts

Very few episodes of the “Tales from the Crypt” TV series shared their source material with segments from either of Amicus’ film adaptations. Season one’s “And All Through the House” and this episode, “Revenge is the Nuts,” are the exceptions. Arnie Grunwald operates a home for the blind but runs it like a prison. He turns off the lights, heat, and plumbing for the blind residents. They have no other option then to take the abuse. When Shelia, a young blind girl, shows up at the home, Grunwald becomes especially sadistic. His behavior forces the blind folks to take drastic actions.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Amicus’ “Tales from the Crypt.” I can’t really recall if the movie’s “Blind Alleys” is superior to this episode, which adapts the same story. Jonas McCord’s direction is moody, the whole show bathed in blackish blue colors. The cast is talented. Anthony Zerbe is especially despicable as the villain, dripping sadistic intent in every word. Teri Polo is resilient as the combat boots-clad Sheila. Isaac Hayes, Bibi Besch, and John Savage are all likable as other characters in the home. Zerbe’s character is so hateful, and the blind victims so put-upon, that seeing him get his punishment is especially satisfying. The episode’s grisliness seems totally deserved. Once again, it’s that inevitable punishment that keeps this tale from coming off as overly mean-spirited. [7/10]

So Weird: The Great Incanto

After the last episode was so promising, season three swings back around to sucking. While out on the road, a young magician calling himself the Great Incanto bums a ride with the Philips. At first, Incanto seems to be an especially talented stage magician. Soon, he reveals that he’s literally magical. His name isn’t actually Incanto either. Turns out, he stole a bag of tricks from the real Great Incanto. Now, the more powerful wizard is on the kids’ trailer, determined to get back what is rightfully his.

I fully expected “The Great Incanto” to instill some cheesy moral about how stealing is wrong. Nope, it turns out. The faux-Incanto, whose real name is George, defeats the real deal in a magical duel and gets to keep his abilities. What kind of message is that sending to the kids? Once again, a season three “So Weird” episode winds up reminding me of “Goosebumps,” the inferior kids’ horror show. The episode is heavy on the cheesy CGI effects. A hula girl bobble head springs to life. A floating face forms in a pile of pepper. These are, at least, honest attempts are horror. In a better episode, these moments could’ve been mildly spooky. Moments like this are lessened by far goofier scenes. Any time George sneezes, wacky shit happens. A duck, a lava lamp, old-timey wigs, or bagpipes appear. It’s a gag the episode leans on way too much. On top of everything else, Kaj-Erik Eriksen – how’s that for a name? – is fairly annoying as George. As limp as “The Great Incanto” is, it’s still mildly effective which is more then you can say for most of this season. [5/10]

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