Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas 2017: December 2

Lake Alice (2017)

On the days when my podcast co-host and I have absolutely nothing else to do, we often find ourselves watching movie trailers on Youtube. Usually, we end up going down the rabbit hole of trailers for upcoming horror movies. I'm not talking about the glossy studio releases or the buzzy upcoming indies. I'm talking about the shit. The super low budget horror flicks that pack their trailers full of cliches and jump scares. More often than not, we laugh or roll our eyes. Occasionally, however, we come across something promising. I had not heard of “Lake Alice” before. Yet I found the trailer to be effective. The promise of a snowy, Christmas-set slasher seemed right up my alley. So I decided the film would fit in with my December watch list.

Sarah is returning to her home town, in rural Wisconsin, for Christmas. She's brought along her boyfriend Ryan, who her parents have never met before. Soon, the four are vacationing at the family cabin near Lake Alice, which is blanketed with snow this time of year. While there, Ryan proposes to Sarah, which she enthusiastically accepts. This happy holiday is soon interrupted. In the middle of the night, a masked figure knocks on the door. Soon, the family is being stalked by a knife-wielding killer.

“Lake Alice,” the feature debut of director Ben Miliken and writer Stevie Jane Miller, is clearly a low budget film. It's one of those horror films that clearly couldn't afford big name actors or flashy make-up effects. So instead, the movie tries to compensate with some snowy atmosphere. And it almost works. “Lake Alice” is very much a slow burn. It spends the first forty minutes developing the characters and the town around them. So we spend a lot of time with the cast. The script goes out of its way to introduce three or four separate red herrings, most of which end up adding to the body count. Random stops by cops, visits to bakery, or trips to gas station become more ominous than they probably should be. An unseen figure watches and records the family's activities. The long build-up to the slashing makes you wonder if “Lake Alice” is actually attempting to create atmosphere or is just wasting time. I'm split on that myself, as the film is interchangeably tense and tedious.

“Lake Alice” runs all of 77 minutes long and the carnage doesn't begin until the half-way point. If you're expecting a gore-fest, you're going to be disappointed. There's a throat slicing, a head bashing, and a full body burning but none of these scenes are especially explicit. The film attempts a certain voyeuristic edge, with the killer recording most of his murders. There's occasionally a tense moment but, too often, the murderer sneaks up on the victim in an obvious way. There's one clever twist involving the slasher's identity but it's still pretty easy to guess. The killer certainly has a neat appearance. The combination of a dark parka and a white ski mask, with the blackened eyes emphasized, is a striking look.

The film's cast is a mixed bag. Brad Schmidt plays Ryan as an optimistic guy and strikes an occasionally charming moment. Caroline Tudor, as Sarah, is obviously a novice performer. Tudor's delivery is often pretty flat. Her screaming is not especially convincing either. Peter O'Brien, a character actor of some note that is probably the movie's biggest name, plays the dad, Greg. (Unless, perhaps, Eileen Dietz – otherwise known as the demon face from “The Exorcist” – counts as a big name.) He does a good job of making his obvious contempt for his daughter's new boyfriend clear without being a jerk. Probably the best performance in the film is Laura Niemi as the mom and she's out of the movie for most of its run time.

So “Lake Alice” tries. I can appreciate that. However, the film ends up being a little anemic. The short run time and minimalist plot combines to make a movie that doesn't offer much. The choice of favoring suspense over gore, or even over jump scares, is an admirable one. It doesn't quite work though, as the film's cast and characters don't quite live up to its ambitions. I suspect the director's next film will probably be better. The film does utilize its December setting well, with a gift-giving scene around the Christmas tree and plenty of stomping around in the snow. [5/10]

The Simpsons: Marge Be Not Proud

The very first episode of “The Simpsons” was Christmas themed. Oddly, the series has not returned to the holiday too often in the years since. However, it's second Christmas episode – from the seventh season, a season packed with classic episodes – may be the show's best December-related offering. “Marge Be Not Proud” begins with Bart lusting after “Bonestorm,” a “Mortal Kombat”-style, hyper-violent video game. He asks for it for Christmas but Marge refuses, saying the game is too expensive and too violent. Bart wants the game so badly that he decides to shoplift it. He's immediately caught but the security guard lets him go, as long as he doesn't return to the store. Naturally, the Simpsons goes to that same store the next day for a family photo. The revelation ends up effecting Bart and Marge's relationship in a serious way.

“Marge Be Not Proud” is packed full of fantastic gags. Lawrence Tierney has a hilarious guest spot as the store security guard, who becomes angry at a cheese-and-cracker set and baffles Bart with his odd words. This leads to an inspired weird gag, where Bart imagines the back of the car seat as the guard, who utilizes the built-in ash tray. Milhouse contributes some inspired moments, involving a ball-and-cup game or Bart trying to get close to his mom, desperate for mom-related affection. The boy's imagination leads to some great moments, such as an imaged dreary Christmas in prison or video game characters coming to life to egg on his theft. (Including, I must point out, Sonic the Hedgehog.)

This is a Bart centric episode, though Homer gets some great moments. Such as his insight into the “Police Academy” series, his reaction to Allan Sherman, or the particular way he sets up a baby gate. Lisa gets one or two funny moment as well, such as her metaphor about the bathroom rug, her comments about artificial snow, or her reaction to the final moment. There's some other free-roaming absurdity here, such as the reoccurring gag about a golf game or an insightful appearance from Troy McClure. And, of course, the “Bonestorm” commercial is a classic.

Ultimately, what makes “Marge Be Not Proud” a classic is its more poignant moments. In the beginning, Bart is uncomfortable with how his mom treats him like a little kid. Following his shoplifting episode, Marge begins to treat her son differently. She no longer sees him like a child. It's a feeling most kids and parents have to deal with eventually. The episode brings the subtle changes to a growing relationship to life in an effective way. The conclusion, which shows that familial love can overcome anything, is surprisingly touching. This mixture of hilarious absurdity and emotional character interaction is often when “The Simpsons” was at its best. That is clearly on display here. [8/10]

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