Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Halloween 2017: October 10
Cult of Chucky (2017)
Consider Chucky's place in the pantheon of seventies/eighties horror icons. Michael Myers and Leatherface are trapped in ever-repeating, never ending cycle of reboots and remakes. Jason and Freddy have remained unseen for quite a few years, producers unable to get sequels made to successful new films. Chucky, meanwhile, has kept going over thirty years. The same man, Don Mancini, has written every film in the series, as well as directing the last three. There's never been a remake or reboot, all the films remaining in the same continuity. Despite going direct-to-video for the most recent entries, there's been no appreciable drop in quality. If anything, the two newest films have been some of the best received in the series' history. The brand new “Cult of Chucky” has received reviews just as positive as “Curse of Chucky” did. It's certainly an impressive achievement for a guy who isn't even four feet tall!
Four years have passed since the events of “Curse of Chucky.” Nica, a survivor of Chucky's last rampage, has recently been transferred from a maximum security facility to a medium security mental institution. She has been convinced that Chucky was never real, that she murdered her family. During a group therapy session, Nica's doctor introduces a new prop: A Good Guys doll. Soon afterwards, a woman named Tiffany – claiming to be the guardian of Nica's niece – also brings a Chucky doll to the group house. After that, the murders begin again. In the blood of one victim, the phrase “Chucky Did It” has been written. Nica quickly begins to believe that the killer doll is after her again.
On his third feature, Mancini has developed into a surprisingly strong director. “Cult of Chucky” looks really good, considering its budget. The snowy asylum setting is gorgeous. The snow-covered landscapes, outside the building, are sweeping and isolated. The asylum, meanwhile, is slate white and disconcertingly sterile. Mancini shows his obvious debt to DePalma in several ways, with a split-screen sequence, crash zooms, and a Bernard Hermann-inspired score. Mancini even brings this grace and beauty to the murder scenes. A shattering glass assisted decapitation is orchestrated in a seriously impressive way. The other deaths are just nasty and in your face. A tongue-ripping is intimate and frenzied. A man being stabbed and disemboweled is delightfully gratuitous. A drill to the head is squishy and graphic.
When you look at the mess that has been made of the “Halloween” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series, you really start to appreciate the concise continuity of the “Chucky” films. “Cult” is peppered with in-jokes and call-backs to previous films. Tiffany appears in both human and doll form. At one point, the character expresses confusion over whether or not she's Tiffany or Jennifer Tilly. Most importantly, Andy Barclay – Chucky's archenemy from the first three films – has a hefty supporting roles. I'm a little disappointing with how that subplot plays out but the little boy's transformation into a gun-totting badass is pretty cool. The way he retrieves a firearm near the end is especially clever. There's even a surprise, post-credits cameo from a beloved, if often overlooked, character from the series.
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)
What is it about the classic monsters that make mashing them up so irresistible? Is it because Universal set a precedence with their monster mashes in the forties? Is it because Frankenstein and Dracula are iconic characters that happen to be in the public domain? Maybe it's because every young monster kid wonders if “X would win in a fight with Y.” This tendency even extends beyond the horror genre. “Billy the Kids vs. Dracula” asks who would emerge victorious in a battle between the legendary gunslinger and the king of all vampires. It made sense from a financial background, as both monster movies and westerns were popular with kids in the sixties. In the decades since then, the film has acquired a reputation as a notorious stinker. Even John Carradine considered it his worst film, which is really saying something.
William Bonney, otherwise known as Billy the Kid, is trying to put his old life as a gunslinger and a criminal behind him. He has moved to a small Western town and is romancing a sweet girl named Betty Bentley. Their peaceful courtship is interrupted when a strange man enters town. He claims to be Betty's uncle, come to give her news about her mother's death. Young maidens around town begin to die mysteriously, drained of their blood. Betty's uncle becomes overly protective of her, generally acting strange. Billy begins to wonder if a vampire is active in the neighborhood. Could Betty's uncle be Count Dracula?
Matching this low budget western charm are some really campy horror theatrics. Naturally, the special effects are incredibly cheesy. Dracula turns into the cheapest rubber bat imaginable. Whenever he's hypnotizing people, bright orange lights shine on John Carradine's bulging eyes. Dracula prays on all his female victims in the exact same way. He leans towards their bodies before the camera cuts away, revealing two bloody pinpricks on their necks. (Dracula does earn a surprisingly high body count, thanks for taking out a whole stagecoach early on.) The last act features some dime store candles and a cardboard coffin. The film's commitment to this Z-grade horror aesthetic also ends up being weirdly charming. It feels home-made, cheesy but utterly earnest.
I can certainly understand why some people would turn their noses up at “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.” From most objective perspectives, it's the crappiest of low budget horror crap. But low budget horror crap can have charms of its own. There's something to be said for a sincere flick like this. “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” was shot back-to-back with another western/monster movie fusion, “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter,” and released on the same double bill. Both films were the final credits of William Beaudine, a director who made over two hundred movies, since the twenties. I doubt these were the films he was most proud of but they're probably his most discussed movies now. [7/10]
The first two seasons of “Masters of Horror” did not feature any women directors. This says less about the showrunners and more about how underrepresented women are in both the horror genre and director in general. For all the shit I give it, at least “Fear Itself” corrected that. Mary Harron, who made a genuine masterpiece with “American Psycho,” would direct the show's seventh episode. “Community” follows Bobby and Tracy, a young married couple who are trying to conceive. They are invited to move into the Commons, a gated suburban community. At first, the Commons seems welcoming and idyllic. However, Bobby soon begins to notice strange things. Couple's personal moments appear on the television. A community council hand out punishments for private matters. Soon, the couple are being targeted by their neighbors.
“Community” is a more psychological episode of “Fear Itself.” It plays off the concept of a perfect neighborhood, revealing itself to be a nightmare in time. Ocassionally, this set-up provides for some genuine chills. After a wife is accused of infidelity, she is tied-up in the middle of town, forced to wear a pig mask, and pelted with rotten vegetables. Two things make that moment creepy. Firstly, we find out the wife chose this punishment for herself. Secondly, there's later a scene of young kids recreating the scenario. The slow reveal of the collective sociopathy of the Commons is generally effective, how it begins with intrusively binding contracts and gets worst. We see a drunken husband is missing a leg. The discovery that private moments are broadcast to the whole development is also pretty unnerving.
The previous episodes of the “Wolf Creek: The Series” were directed by Tony Tilse, a veteran Australian television director. But for the season one finale, Greg McLean return to the characters he created. The eponymous episode begins with Eve arriving in Wolf Creek, having been directed there by Ben “Jesus” Mitchell. Mick has left her a scrapbook, revealing some information about his childhood. From there, she tracks down the killer's birthplace. Mick is waiting for her, having captured and tortured Detective Sullivan. A fight to the death soon ensues between the serial killer and the girl who's been hunting him.
Tony Tilse has actually been doing a fine job with the series, up to this point, but Greg McLean clearly brings a different approach to this world. McLean shoots the outback with an eerie stillness, drawing attention to Eve's isolation. The attack scenes are brutal and visceral, McLean bringing the same frenzied style here that he did to the films. The flashback sequences are shot in black and white, McLean often emphasizes moments with slow motion and close-ups. That could've come off as cheesy but, surprisingly, works really well.
Ultimately, this “Wolf Creek” is all about the confrontation between Eve and Mick. In that regard, it doesn't disappoint. The fight between the two is bloody and drawn-out, both receiving some punishment. Throughout the climax, we come to understand that Mick respects, and might even like, the girl. I was curious how far the show would take this confrontation, considering a second season and a third movie are planned. It cops out a little, in that regard, but still allows Eve to get her revenge. There are losses as well, giving the conclusion some weight. The final moments, where Eve is reunited with the Maori truck driver from episode two and her dog, are surprisingly touching. After seeing her in a state of emotional trauma for the entire series, it's nice to see the girl smile. I think the show has earned that. [7/10]