Last of the Monster Kids

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 9

Before we get on to tonight's batch of reviews, I'd like to give a shout-out to Kaedrin. A fellow Six Weeks of Halloween participant, he said some very nice things about the blog and the Halloween Horror-fest Blog-a-thon recently. Go read his stuff too! While I'm here, I'll also mention Kernunrex, the man who invent the Six Weeks, who is doing a great job himself. Go read his stuff too! Okay, on with the reviews.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

The indie horror scene has a way of surprising me. More then once, I’ve seen films I’m anticipating fizzle out while something else comes completely out of nowhere, becoming a critical darling. Late last year, suddenly everyone started talking about “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” when no one had even heard of it moments before. The film’s logline, “The first Iranian Vampire Western,” seemed irresistible to a lot of people. The movie’s feminist subtext, indicated by its title, certainly attracted attention. About a year later, director Ana Lily Amirpour already has a high-profile follow-up in development. The question must be asked: Does it live up to the hype?

The citizens of Bad City do their best to survive in a town where drugs, prostitution, and death are commonplace. Arash wanders the streets, trying to make a living for himself and his junkie dad. Unbeknownst to everyone else, a vampire vigilante wanders the streets at night, killing those she deems unworthy. Arash and the girl are soon on an unexpected path towards each other.

Descriptions of “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” are likely to put some potential viewers off. The movie is shot in moody black and white. The story is obviously allegorical, from the name of its location – Bad City – all the way down. The script’s focus on drugs, prostitution, misery, and a feminist subtext is likely to alienate some. Despite being shot in America, the film was filmed with an entirely Iranian cast and all the dialogue is in Iranian. There’s some random skateboarding thrown in too. Accusations of it being pretentious arthouse hogwash are bound to fly. And they’re not entirely unwarranted. The movie’s pacing is incredibly slow at times. There’s not much story, as the script is mostly focused on characters wandering around in isolated subplots until they occasionally collide. Basically, the movie doesn’t invite viewers in with open arms. It’s aggressively not for everyone.

Those going in expecting typical vampire movie thrills are definitely going to be disappointed. There’s not much vampire action for the first half-hour or so. Mostly, the early scenes focus on Arash, his junkie dad, and a seedy pimp abusing a prostitute. When the Girl wanders it, she plays coy, slowly revealing her fangs. Though there’s not a lot of bloodsucking and neck-biting in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” when it happens, it counts. Sheila Vand is equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying as the Girl. Her huge eyes stare in rage and contempt from under her hood. When she corners a little boy, and threatens him into being a good boy, she is truly intimidating. The violence is brief but makes an impact, such as when she bites a man’s finger off. When the movie goes for horror, it can be surprisingly effective.

Even more surprisingly, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” isn’t just a vampire movie. It’s a vampire romance movie. Another surprise: It works pretty well! At a rave, Arash drops some E, dons a cape, and starts calling himself Dracula. While wandering home, he encounters the Girl. You’d expect her to kill him but, instead, the two strike up a relationship. Arash Marandi and Sheila Vand have nice chemistry. The scenes of the two hanging can be surprisingly poignant. A moment where the two meet in front of an abandoned energy plant and have a deep conversation without ever looking at each other sticks in the mind. The Girl’s reoccurring dreams about him proves that he’s getting to her too. At the on-set, you think the movie is doing some sort of post-modern comment on the popularity of the vampire romance genre. Yet the script plays it relatively straight. The sincerity of the performances and the gentleness of the screenplay makes it work.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” was sold as a “western.” It’s not. There’s no horses, shoot-outs, or western ghost towns. Aside from the plot of someone coming into town and settling trouble, the most obvious western element is the score. The music intentionally recalls Ennio Morricone with building strings and crying trumpets. Music actually plays a huge role in the film. “Death” by White Lies, a wonderful number, plays while Arash and the Girl meet in her bedroom. Surprisingly powerful Iranian pop songs play throughout, lending a melancholic tone to many of the film’s scenes. The script even throws in a reference to Lionel Ritchie’s inexplicable popularity in the Middle East. Honestly, the movie is more of a musical then it is a western.

Like I said, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is definitely not for everyone. It’s looks really interesting. The movie is certainly good at setting a tone, with its maudlin pacing, pits full of dead bodies, and transgressive characters. The ending is unexpectedly hopeful considering the bleakness of the material. It doesn’t all works. Some scenes meander and others aren’t related to the rest of the movie at all. Yet there’s a odd power to the proceedings. Paired with its keen visual sense, good soundtrack, and memorable performances, it certainly makes for an interesting experience. [7/10]

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)

“I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” made over 80 million dollars at the box office, qualifying it as a success. Despite this, there’s little information about whether or not a second sequel was ever planned. According to the IMDb trivia page, a script for a new “I Know” film was written around 2000. The end of the late nineties slasher revival probably sank any interest in that. It is doubtful Jennifer Love Hewitt or Freddie Prince Jr. ever would’ve returned for such a project. And what would you even call it? “I Know What You Did the Summer Before Last Summer?” But in 2006, eight years after the last film, an option was about to expire or someone had some money to spend. The old script was dusted off, totally re-written, and a new film was scrapped together. Crapped onto the direct-to-video market in 2006, “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” was released to total indifference.

Amber, Colby, Zoe and Roger are all teenage friends. While at a carnival, they talk about the legend of the Fisherman, a slicker-clad killer who avenges wrong-doings with his giant hook. Immediately, they enact a prank involving the Fisherman. However, something goes terribly wrong and a fifth friend ends up dead. The group decides not to disclose the details of the prank. A year later, the four are still feeling guilt over what happened. Suddenly, someone begins to leave threatening letters, saying he know what they did last summer. A figure in a slicker, carrying a hook, emerges. Not long after that, people start to wind up dead.

“I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” is basically an in-name-only sequel. None of the characters or cast members from the previous movie appears. The only exception is the Fisherman himself. A mildly clever element has an urban legend-inspired killer becoming an urban legend himself. The reveal that Ben Willis has become an undead creature is definitely dumb though, especially since he has no reason to be going after these characters. The titular message is, somewhat inevitably, sent via text message. Mostly, “I’ll Always Know” is incredibly tedious. An entire hour passes before there’s any murders. The Fisherman appears to taunt or chase the characters. Long scenes passed without anything interesting happening. These scenes are meant to develop the bland characters. Woo hoo.

Being boring and derivative is one crime. Worst yet, “I’ll Always Know” is ugly. The direction is awful. Frequently, jittery editing is employed, shots shaking and jerking around for no damn reason at all. This kind of crappy rock video style editing appears throughout the movie. It’s not scary, intense, or interesting. I don’t know why it does that. In addition to that, the movie has an ugly grayish black coloration. The soundtrack is equally obnoxious, loud shouty rock playing many times. The film looks like a thousand other cheap, ugly, stupid movies, music videos, TV episodes, or commercials.

Of course, no one would expect a direct-to-video horror sequel to look decent or have interesting characters. So how does it function as a cheapy slasher? Eh. The kill scenes are not especially creative. A throat is slashed, even though I’m not sure you can do that with a hook. Several victims are stabbed or eviscerated. Only a half-hour after I saw the film, the only death scene that sticks in my mind at all is someone being impaled on a forklift. The gore is not memorable. The film is so darkly shot that you can’t see much. There’s some blood and torn flesh but not much else. The killer gets a decent demise, sucked into a giant snow-blower. The ski-resort location isn’t very interesting, mostly composed of cold steel and bland brick. In short, the film can’t even satisfy the cheap, easy expectations of a slasher flick

Out of the dubious “I Know What You Did Last Summer” trilogy, it turns out only one movie is any good. And that may just be because I like cheesy slasher sequels. One out of three is a bad score. “I”ll Always Know” is the most facile attempts to extend a long since dead franchise. Now, there’s talk of remaking the first movie. In truth, Ben Willis becoming an undead entity is appropriate. Any series that makes even a little bit of money is doomed to be resurrected multiple times. It looks like we’ll forever know what you did last summer, even if nobody has asks that question in well over a decade. [3/10]

Tales from the Crypt: The Bribe

“The Bribe” is one of the most straight-ahead morality tales “Tales from the Crypt” has ever done, which is saying a lot. A man named Zeller has just been promoted to fire marshal. Using his new position of power, he plans to shut down the strip club run by his daughter’s sleazy ex-boyfriend. The same day, his daughter looses her scholarship, endangering her educational future. Conflicted but determined to ensure his daughter’s future, Zeller takes a bribe from the strip club owner. Looking to cover his tracks, Zeller talks a pyromaniac into burning down the strip club. This has tragic consequences.

I’m not exactly sure where “The Bribe” is coming from. Zeller is a traditional moralist who is sort of a prick. The strip club owner is a sleaze-bag and a blackmailer. Even the daughter is a liar and manipulative. Then again, all their motivations are sort of understandable. Who are we rooting for here? In truth, the episode is most enjoyable for Terry O’Quinn’s intense performance. He seems totally convinced in his goals. The direction makes some nice use of color. The strip club provides plenty of opportunities for nudity. The writing has a nicely ironic, and even tragic, element to it. “The Bribe” is one of the few times “Tales” were the twist ending is genuinely surprising. Though a bit confused, it’s a decent enough episode. If nothing else, it’s worth it for all the political puns the Crypt Keeper makes in the wrap-around segments. [6/10]

So Weird: Meow

Remember a few weeks back when I said that every horror TV series has to do an episode about mummies? Here is “So Weird’s” attempt. As a surprise to Annie, Molly swings the tour bus by a small Midwestern town famous for its museums. The museum they stop by specializes in ancient Egyptian artifacts. Unfortunately, the building is closing down because someone keeps scaring the guests away. While there, Annie finds a mysterious cat. Soon, she makes a connection between the living cat and the mummified cat in the museums’ archives.

“Meow” is never scary. Most of the episode is devoted to Annie wandering around the museum, searching for the cat, or looking at artifacts. The whole idea of a mummy cat is pretty silly but also kind of cute. The episode handles it pretty well. As a pet owner, I can understand a mummy wanting to come back to life to reclaim its cat. The final scene, of Annie being confronted by the princess’ mummy, is mildly spooky. Or as spooky as the show could get, at this point. What I like about “Meow” is scenes of the Philips family hanging out together. Watching Jack and Cary joke around and fight with chopsticks is cute. The family sitting around a table, eating Chinese food, is charming in a home-y kind of way. Notably, Annie isn’t in these scenes. The stupid magic panther shows up at the end, spoiling much of the good will “Meow” has generated. Though not extraordinary or anything, “Meow” is still one of the more charming episodes of “So Weird: Season Three.” [6/10]

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