The slasher subgenre seems to exist these days, mostly, within the realm of nostalgic throwbacks. I guess the bloody murder-fests will always be linked to the seventies and eighties. Clever reinventions of the style have been done – including one from the original “Scream’s” writer earlier this year – but have yet to break out with the public at large. Instead, it seems only the big, recognizable franchises are being revived. Maybe those are the only ones movies studios are willing to put in theaters. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that it does bring me some comfort to be watching a new slasher sequel a year after the last one. I didn’t love 2022’s “Scream” but a willingness to crank out a new one in twelve months, like in the good old days, is nice to see.
“Scream VI” arrived in theaters this past March but it’s set around Halloween, making it fitting viewing for this season. A year after Samantha Carpenter, her sister Tara, and their friends Chad and Mindy survived a new set of Ghostface murders in Woodsboro, they’ve moved across the country to New York City. Sam has been the target of internet conspiracies, that accuse her of being the actual killer, and has become overly protective of Tara. Try as Sam might to outrun the legacy of her actual father Billy Loomis, a new Ghostface has caught up with her in Manhattan. This latest murderer has a personal grudge against the heroes, with familiar faces like part four’s Kirby and Gale Weathers quickly getting involved too.
keep the I.P going and always catch audiences off-guard. This idea is clearly inspired by Marvel and other cinematic universes, not so much anything in the horror genre.
Moreover, “Scream VI” doesn’t actually seem interested in surprising or shocking the viewer. There’s exactly one twist that caught me off-guard in this sequel and it doesn’t come until the last act, during the (always tedious) trademark sequence where the killers laboriously reveal their identities and motivations. Otherwise, most of the narrative misdirects and false leads are easy to predict. In fact, I found myself taken out of the movie several times by gaps in real world logic. Sam and Tara casually break a law in order to save a friend and face no consequences for it. At no point, despite being high-profile people-of-interest in a murder investigation and known targets of a killer, are they ever offered police protection. The entire last act of the movie is set in a massive shrine to the Ghostface killings, full of artifacts from previous movies. Which is a neat idea that stops making any sense the minute you think about the logistics of assembling such a collection. Is this nitpicking? Maybe. But a properly immersive horror flick doesn’t have you thinking about this shit.
Neve Campbell ducking out of this one but the lack of Sidney Prescott might’ve forced “Scream” to actually evolve. Instead, the killer’s motivation are directly rooted in the last film’s events. The half-assed nods towards social commentary – the QAnon-like dis-info campaign swirling around Sam and one of the killers seemingly being an incel – are minor variations of part five’s limp invoking of toxic fandom and other Trump-adjacent malcontents. There’s no bite to any of it. “Scream VI” is happy to tickle nostalgia for the older movies and nothing much else.
Despite the trailer’s insistence that this Ghostface isn’t anything like the others, “Scream VI” feels strangely low on stakes. It pretends to have an “anyone can die” structure but it’s always obvious which characters will survive and which are knife-fodder. The film, in general, seems oddly inconsistent about how invested we should be in these characters. Sam and Tara’s conflict plays like melodrama, as does the somewhat random decision for Chad and Tara to develop a will-they/won’t-they dynamic. The interaction between the likable core cast is still probably the best thing about “Scream VI” and a few moments even made me chuckle. Yet the group banter is too flippant. (Okay, the line about Letterboxd did make me laugh.) Everyone behaves a little too much like hyper-confident action movie bad-asses, especially in the last act. These people saw friends and loved ones brutally murdered right in front of them, many of them literally have scars from it. Shouldn’t they all be a bit more traumatized, instead of trading Marvel superhero style quibs? Compare this to David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” and “Halloween Ends,” which devoted extensive time to the effect such events would have on people. “Scream VI” seems half-assed in comparison.
Ultimately, "Scream VI" left me feeling much the same way the last one did. When it's good, it's pretty good. (And I liked the horror references, which range from the expected "Jason Takes Manhattan" homage to "4 Flies on Grey Velvet," as well as numerous nods to more moderns films.) Yet the sequel stubbornly refuses to learn from the past films' mistakes, instead replicating the same structure for the sixth time in a row with only cosmetic changes. That isn't a big deal in a Jason or Freddy film, where you have a charismatic killer and comfy junk-horror vibes to grab the audience. In a whodunnit film where we are expected to be invested in the actual characters, it presents more of a challenge. I have no doubt much of the same cast and crew will return for a seventh killing spree, even if the directors aren't. I guess I'm on the hook to watch that one too but my opinion remains that someone desperately needs to blow up the "Scream" series with some genuinely fresh ideas. [5/10]
Over the previous two Halloweens, I reviewed two of the three mad scientist movies Boris Karloff made for Columbia with director Nick Grinde. Last time, I promised to cover “The Man with Nine Lives” next September and wrap up the trilogy. Well, the time has come. Each of these three films have similar stories, with Karloff playing scientist dabbling in ostensibly plausible new medical treatments. In “The Man They Could Not Hang,” it was an artificial heart. In “Before I Hang,” it was an anti-aging serum. And in “The Man with Nine Lives,” it's cryonics. In fact, the movie even begins with a little title card informing the audiences of 1940 that freezing bodies to delay illness is not science fiction but fact and may one day be a common place occurrence. I think writers at the time might've overestimated the efficiency of freezing technology.
Dr. Tim Mason has pioneered a revolutionary new medical treatment that involves packing patients in ice, essentially putting their bodies into hibernation while procedures are performed on them. Mason declares his work to be a potential cure for cancer, a statement which gets his funding cut. Alongside his nurse/wife Judith, he decides to seek out Dr. Kravaal. A decade earlier, Kravaal was researching the same methods when he mysteriously vanished. Tim and Judith explore Kravaal's abandoned mansion. After she falls through the floorboards, they discovered a hidden room downstairs packed in ice. Inside is Kravaal. They defrost him and he wakes back up from this state of apparent death. There's also five other men frozen inside the vault. While Mason is eager to help Kravaal continue his research at first, it soon becomes clear that the doctor is more than a little unhinged.
Almost all of Karloff's mad scientist characters were sympathetic, to one degree or another. Boris couldn't help but make his doctors somewhat reasonable, their initial quest into unnatural science usually motivated by a good cause. This is definitely the case in “The Man with Nine Lives.” Dr. Kravaal only wants to heal people. He's only motivated towards extreme acts by short-sided, greedy businessmen. When the recipe for his solution is burned, that's when Karloff leaps up with a gun. Yet even after committing murder, Kravaal seems pretty reasonable. Maybe it's Karloff's pleading eyes or the fact that he rarely raises his voice. By the end of the film, you get the impression that its villain is far more misunderstood than he is calculating. Karloff, of course, was excellent at playing exactly this kind of character. Most of what works about “The Man with Nine Lives” can be credited to him.
By the way, the title is essentially a non-sequitur. Kravaal can only really be said to have two lives, as he's awaken from his death-like slumber in the beginning. As for the men also kept in the vault, there's five of them. Counted once, they comes up one short of nine. Counted twice, that puts the tally of lives at twelve. I guess “The Man with Twelve Lives” doesn't have the same ring to it... While Karloff always manages to make a movie worth watching, and the film certainly scratches my itch for a creaky old horror movie, I can see why this one is not as discussed as much as the other films old Boris made with Nick Grinde. By the way, Karloff made another mad scientist movie with Columbia around this time, with a different director, so I guess I know what's on the list for next year's marathon. [6/10]
Years ago, I referred to “Masters of Horror” as having one of my favorite premises for a TV show ever, even if the episodes didn't always live up to that promise. While Mick Garris has had no luck reviving that concept in the last eighteen years, Guillermo del Toro – who gave the original Masters of Horror their name, after all – would try something similar last year. As part of his fruitful development deal with Netflix, the beloved filmmaker would conceive the series “Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities.” It would be eight hour-long episodes, each directed by an established filmmaker handpicked by del Toro and many of them based on stories by well-known authors. While many of the chosen directors could be better described as up-and-comers than “masters” exactly, I still felt the same spirit emanating from this project. Just to make the idea even more fun, del Toro hosts each episode, plucking objects from the titular cabinet and clearly channeling “Night Gallery”-era Rod Serling.
Based on a short story by del Toro himself and directed by his regular cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, “Lot 36” follows embittered Vietnam vet Nick. At the start of Desert Storm, he's taken to buying abandoned storage units and selling the contents for easy cash. Badly in need of money, he purchases the mysterious Lot 36. Inside, he discovers a photo album of Nazi memorabilia, a candelabra made from the melted down gold teeth of Holocaust victims, and a table adorned with a pentagram. After getting the table appraised, he learns it contains three volumes of a four-volume arcane text. That the table was used in seances by a notorious family of German war manufacturers, said to have summoned demons. Retaining to the storage unit to find the fourth book, which will make him rich, Nick discovers something much more frightening.
I have no idea if this is true but it's easy to imagine that del Toro wrote the original “Lot 36” story around the same time he was working on the first “Hellboy.” Both narratives deal heavily with Nazi occultism meeting up with Lovecraftian horror. In fact, I wonder if del Toro hadn't tried writing this story as a feature film at one point. “Lot 36” lays on the back story a little too thick at times. The elderly original owner of Lot 36 is introduced chopping up rabbits and later bunny hops around, the exact meaning of which is only hinted at. We gets lots of information about the degenerate acts of the Nazi family, which also involve incest and body swapping. Specific rules are laid down for the summoning ritual to work. It's a lot to absorb in all of 45 minutes, none of it exactly adding to the simple narrative either.
I enjoyed the first season of the “Chucky” TV series, even if I had the same problems with it that I do with most serialized television. The season two premiere picks up right where we left off, with Andy Barclay driving a truck full of Chucky dolls (and a gun-wielding Tiffany) off a cliff. We leap ahead six months. Jake has moved in with a new foster family, living in Salem, New Jersey, and bonding with his new little brother. The distance has put stress on his relationship with Devon. On Halloween night, both get a threatening phone call. That same night they are shown a video live-stream of someone very short walking into Lexy's home. It's not long before the trio reunite, all of them convinced a certain homicidal plaything is about to come back into their lives.
If nothing else, I am impressed with how much story Don Manchini squeezes into “Halloween II.” It wraps up season one's cliffhanger, breaks the gang up before getting them back together again, and introduces the idea of Lexy abusing drugs to cope. Just when you think the episode is settling into the classic “Child's Play” formula of a creepy doll manipulating a little kid... The titular “My Buddy” knock-off comes crashing back into the story. This proceeds an unexpectedly grisly pay-off, before the episode points in the actual direction season two will be going in. The misdirect totally worked on me. Chucky's abrupt re-entrance cuts through all the bullshit, the violence genuinely surprised me, while the final reveal promises something much more interesting than a rehash of the first season's story.