Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's a Horror to Know You!

Today, I was featured on the front page of always entertaining horror website, Kindertrauma. I filled out their It's a Horror to Know You survey. Some of the people looking at this probably came from there but I figured to drop a link here for the handful of my regular readers who might be in interested. It's a good write-up.

Unkle Lance even complimented my taste in film in the comments below. I didn't intentionally focus on indie film but you can't deny that's the sort of thing I tend to like. I especially like how the line-up of pictures makes this look like a role-call of notable women in horror.

Anyway, I've got more content coming. A new Director Report Card, for a filmmaker with a big movie coming out in the next few weeks, is just about done. I hoping to get a new Bangers n' Mash episode up before the end of the week. Might have some more stuff cooking here and there. Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bangers n' Mash 6: Nerd Vomit

In the latest episode of the Bangers n' Mash Show, JD and I tried something different. We didn't choose any one specific topic and instead just let our minds wander. We talk about everything from comic books, the Avengers, recently released films, summer movie season of 2012, and a bunch of other shit. Eventually the episode just devolves into a quote fest of "Mystery Men."

I'm not real happy with the way it turned out. Needless to say, this isn't an experiment I'm interested in revisiting.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish V

The year was 1993. Cannon was long gone, replaced by limping indie distributor 21st Century Film Corporation. Charles Bronson was seventy-two, only separated three years from the death of long-time wife Jill Ireland, and reportedly dissatisfied with the direction of his career. I can’t imagine anybody thought these where the ideal circumstances to make a fifth film in the long-in-the-tooth “Death Wish” franchise and yet, the uninspired entitled “Death Wish V: The Face of Death” rolled into production. It was Bronson last theatrical film. He was resigned to television flicks for the rest of his career.

Living in New York again and looking every bit as jowly and wrinkled as you’d expect a man in his seventies to look, Paul Kersey is teaching architecture and taking it easy. He hasn’t killed creeps in years. Showing a stunning lack of pattern recognition, Paul is involved in a foolhardy romantic relationship with Olivia, a fashion designer. Predictably, she is being threatened by her ex-husband and father of her thirteen year old daughter, Tommy O’Shea, a psychotic Irish mobster. I don’t suppose you can see where this is going? Somehow, Paul isn’t all ready ventilating these creeps and, literally minutes after proposing to her, Olivia has her face brutally smashed into a bathroom mirror by a cross-dressing creep. Interacting with the cops and witness protection agents like Batman interacts with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, Kersey quickly gets involved with the police’s investigation of O’Shea’s crimes. After his fiancĂ© is gunned down on the roof of their home and O’Shea gets custody of the daughter, Paul is forced back into his old ways. Voice-over flash-backs to earlier scenes in the movie and revolver clicking follow.

Age finally caught up with Charlie. I guess at seventy-two Bronson realized he couldn’t throw punches and trade blows anymore. He spends a lot of time sitting in a car, watching people. An inordinate amount of the film’s run time features Kersey running away from bullets and ducking behind things. The most physical action we get is Bronson’s stunt double diving off a building into a very conveniently place pile of garbage bags. At one point, he gets knocked to the floor by a single blow to the back of the head with a small log. He really was too old for this shit by this point. (Though it’s good to know that there was precedence for Sly and Arnie gunning people down well into their seventies. I wonder if Willis and Statham are damned to the same fate?) He does get a number of amusing, some of them so-bad-they’re-amusing, one-liners. There’s actually one kind-of cool gun sequence, I’ll give it that much.

The movie makes up for the lack of action by upping the absurdity to hilarious heights. Early on, an obese man working in Olivia’s sweatshops is run over by one of O’Shea’s goons. The guy goes flying through the air, smashing through a restaurant window in slow-motion. Since Kersey is obviously too damn old to be out there gunning down creeps on his own, he decides to outsmart the criminal element. He poisons a dude’s canoli, watching from a distance while the guy chokes to death. Stunt-forklifts are employed. In maybe the movie’s most notoriously dumb moment, Paul employs a booby-trapped remote-controlled soccer ball to blow one of the goons right the fuck up. Once the bullets finally start to fly, Kersey spends a lot of time standing right in front of machine gun fire while taking the shooters down with one-shots from a tiny revolver. (Wildey wasn’t available?) In the last act, the movie ramps up the gore by sending a guy through a crushing, processing, vice thingy and dipping another dude in an inexplicable acid pit. The movie bends to accommodate Bronson’s age. At one point, a goon literally just stands around while our geriatric hero wraps him in saran wrap. In addition to this, we get a number of hilarious Catholic funerals. The priest is dismayed when the mob pulls out their guns in the church.

The movie doesn’t pinch on the exploitation though, seemingly to make up for the lack of action. There’s a ton of casual female nudity, including naked models, semi-naked models, naked hookers, and naked mobster trophy wives. When O’Shea takes over Olivia’s modeling company, the “classy” outfits are replaced by see-through chain-mail bathing suits and g-strings. Just to nail home how sleazy this is, there’s a disco ball installed as well. The mobsters love it but, hilariously, the fashion critics are incredulous. There’s amazingly no rape in this movie. There’s even a strong female police officer. (Don’t worry, she dies pretty early on.) I’m still just going to assume that undistinguished schlock director Allan A. Goldstein probably has an issue or two with women anyway.

Michael Parks is the bad guy and plays it particularly hammy. His character is impotent, which frustrates him to no end. He delights in torturing people. (There’s actually a lot of torture in this movie. Go figure.) He throws Italian deserts at people, makes snide comments to reporters, and generally sweats it up to leathery heights. The movie does pad its cast out with a pretty impressive line-up of scumbag character actors.

The movie ends with Kersey walking away from another creep well-dead, telling the near-by cop that if he ever needs him again, to give him a call. Despite further Batman-ing the premise and obviously setting up a sequel, producers and the real world decided we really didn’t need “Death Wish 6” through “Death Wish 9.”

Watching this series in its entirety has really made me learn to appreciate Charles Bronson. In real life, by most accounts, he was a quietly intelligent, soft-spoken, laid-back guy. I think he probably would have been a pretty cool older uncle or something, you know? Maybe that’s just me. The DVD appears to be a straight VHS rip and has tracking lines all over it. Sort of perfect, maybe? Shame Paul Kersey didn’t get a proper send-off and Bronson was retired from a hip replacement just four years later. It was for the best, probably, but a certain part of me wishes (death wishes?) we could have gotten one more movie to wrap things up for good and send Paul Kersey on his way. (5/10)


I really had to reach for this one. You can’t really call character actors Robert Joy or Saul Rubinek “stars” and they were both nearly twenty years into their career by this point. Maybe Claire Rankin counts? This was her first role as Parks’ girlfriend and has gone on to a career of TV guest spots and bit parts in forgettable movies. Though that's pushing the definition of all the above phrases. Man, this franchise really did fizzle out at the end.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish 4

The Death Wish franchise continues to evolve. The first two were crime-thrillers with action elements. The third was a bat-shit crazy, over-the-top action-extravaganza. “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown” seems to strike a balance between the two tones. It’s definitely a straight-up action film but it’s only somewhat ridiculous.

The film opens with a Bronson in its natural environment: In an isolated parking garage, filling creeps full of holes. The movie actually takes its time revealing Charlie. Instead, we follow an innocent women being sexually assaulted in her car by a trio of magically appearing thugs. (I’m beginning to think Michael… I mean, J. Lee Thompson has some issues with women.) The opening scene is quickly revealed to be a dream. Paul Kersey is back in LA and retired from killing creeps. He’s gone back to designing houses and has a much younger girlfriend with a teenage daughter. Because this was the “Just Say No” era, there was a different threat to the white, upper-middle class instead of random street crime: D.R.U.G.S. Expectantly, the daughter dies of a very sudden cocaine overdose, forcing Kersey to shoot her dealer onto the electric roof of a bumper car rink. He is quickly subcontracted by a millionaire with a similar grudge against the drug business. Ol’ Paul pulls a “Yojimbo” by playing LA’s two biggest drug cartels against each other. How does he do this?: By killing lots of people.

Stylistically, the film is quite different in other ways from previous three. J. Lee Thompson has a very different directorial style then Michael Winner. Winner’s style, while not flat, was pretty frills-free. Thompson, on the other hand, does some more stuff. The dude loves his dolly shots, dramatic pans, and zoom-ins. Overall, LA is a little more atmospheric looking then it was back in part II. Bronson himself is much more physical this time. He gets into three or four close-quarters hand-to-hand fights. Previous films usually limited him to standing, shooting, and occasionally stepping behind something. Here he does more fighting, running, and whacking people in the face with a lunchbox. Kind of impressive considering he was nearly seventy at the time.

Given the series’ history, I really expected this one to involve Kersey gunning down street-level drug-dealers, regular crack peddlers. Instead, he’s actually after crime families, high-ranking Mafiosos in grey suits. While it kind of removes the series’ central gimmick, it also removes a lot the uncomfortable, unpleasant elements that especially haunted the last film. Instead of being a conservative revenge fantasy, the movie instead becomes a typical Charles Bronson action flick. And a pretty badass one too. He raids a drug lab set inside a fish processing plant. He blams away some crocks with an Uzi in the back of a video rental store. (Its walls covered with posters for other Cannon movies, no doubt intentionally.) He tosses a guy off a high-rise apartment. While the two crime families blast away at each other, Bronson picks off select baddies with a sniper rifle. The film’s big climax takes place in a roller disco/video arcade with Kersey sporting an assault rifle / grenade launcher combo. He gets a few cool one-liners in too. There’s even a plot twist at the turn of the second act. It’s not hard to figure out considering it comes after all the story lines are seemingly wrapped up and there’s still twenty minutes of run time left, but I still appreciate the effort to fix the formula up.

But what about the ridiculousness I mention earlier? This movie does indeed have some hilarious moments. A group of cops are apparently unable to drive with a light-weight plastic grate pushed onto them. The resulting car crash kills them but, everyman Paul Kersey long since becoming an indestructible superhero, he crawls away unharmed. He also apparently keeps his arsenal behind his refrigerator. You noticed I haven’t mention Kersey’s girlfriend in three paragraphs. That’s because she shows up at the beginning and is completely forgotten about until the very end. In a shocking plot twist that should surprise absolutely nobody watching the movie, it doesn’t end well for her. The best is saved for last. Prompted by the umpteenth death of a loved one, Kersey turns his wrath on the movie’s final boss, in a death scene that made me laugh for like a solid minute.

No, it’s not sophisticated viewing. I mean, no shit, it’s not sophisticated viewing. But as far as brainless eighties action goes, it’s pretty damn satisfying. And I have way less liberal guilt about enjoying it. Of course, Kersey gets away with everything at the very end. At this point, the series barely recognizes what he’s doing is against the law. However, and maybe it’s just me, the ending can’t help but make me think that, as in Brian Garfield’s original novel, the titular wish of death is actually beginning to refer to our main character’s desire to end it all, and not the hordes of faceless thugs unintentionally committing suicide-by-Bronson. Don’t worry, readers, dis ain’t ova. (7/10)


He hadn’t yet established himself as one of the most famous heavies in the industry (and something of a modern Bronson figure himself), but Danny Trejo was on his way to that status with his part in this film, his first speaking role. He plays an Italian gangster (!) named Art. (!!) He gets killed by an exploding wine bottle.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish 3

If the first “Death Wish” was a mostly serious examination of vigilante justice and the second was the exploitation movie version of the same story, “Death Wish 3” is the video game take on the concept. It is completely divorced from Brian Garfield’s source novel and has more in common with a Punisher comic book. The movie still tries to sell Paul Kersey as a normal man in the beginning but, by the first five minutes when he’s shoved a guy’s head through the bars of a prison cell, it’s no use. Paul Kersey has become an ultra-violent superhero. He doesn’t even design houses anymore.

The movie dispenses of any grey areas and gets right to the point. Literally, in the opening minutes, before we even really know who the characters is, Kersey’s old war buddy Charlie is killed in his home by a group of leather and bandana wearing ‘creeps.’ (The young criminals are never called anything else.) The character exists to die and has no deeper importance then to inspire outrage in Paul and outrage in the audience. Back in New York, Kersey is immediately taken in by the cops, blamed for his buddy’s death. While in jail, he meets Fraker, another psychotic creep with shaved-off eyebrows. Fraker hates Bronson almost indiscriminately and is immediately set up as the film’s super villain. The cop knows who our protagonist is and flat-out give him carte blanche, despite his conviction that he’s retired from vigilant-ing. It doesn’t take a lot to change his mind. He becomes a vigilante sanctioned by the law. Kersey quickly meets up with an apartment building filled with similarly old people, smack-dab in the middle of New York’s most crime infested ghetto. His quest to defend the residents of the apartment complex soon escalates into an all-out war. He becomes a Galaga ship, gunning down an endless army of faceless color-coded enemies. The video game tone is further enforced by the synth heavy main theme. The rest of the movie reuses Jimmy Page’s part 2 score, keeping all the rumbling guitars and animal growls.

Despite taking place in the then modern day, New York as depicted in this film appears post-apocalyptic, overrun with vaguely Mad-Max-ian gangs. In addition to the uniforms of leather, denim, chains, and bandanas, Fraker’s gang all have weird division symbol marks painted on their faces. One of his underlings is a purse-snatcher called The Giggler, who does exactly that. Before the third act, he gets on the phone with Creeps-R-Us and orders an army of thugs who desire nothing more then to wreak havoc. They do cocaine, rape women (I’m beginning to think Michael Winner has issues with women.), ride into town on giant motorcycles, and blow up buildings with grenades. The characters are constantly compared to cockroaches and, like roaches are uncontrollably driven to eat, reproduce, and poop, these creeps are biologically motivated to rob, rape, and create chaos. The police are completely powerless to stop them. The cops spend more time hassling the completely innocent apartment tenants. Only one man can stop this massive wave of petty crime. One man with a mustache. 

There are other clues this film takes place in an alternate universe. Charles Bronson orders massive guns, including a handgun designed to kill elephants but does just fine on people, through the mail. Aside from a young Hispanic couple, three guesses what happens to the wife, the gangs solely threaten middle-age to elderly people. More so then any of the other films, this is a fantasy for Conservative nut jobs terrified by all the youngsters around them. After shooting a ‘creep’ in cold blood in front of a bunch of people, every one cheers and claps in joyous celebration. Before the film is over, all the normal folk, the old black lady, the elderly Jewish couple, the cop, all of them learn to embrace the joys of vigilante justice. Charles Bronson is their violence messiah, come to teach them all that the only good creep is a dead creep. The movie does nothing but celebrate and prop up this frankly psychotic world-view. I love brainless action movies and even this made me a little queasy.

Just a little though. The entire last half-hour of the film is almost nothing but Bronson gunning down creep after creep, many of them with a giant WW2-era belt-fed Browning machine gun. It’s easily the highest body count of his career. While I imagine the people who made the film had no idea how hilarious hipsters would consider it twenty years later, there’s certainly no mistaking it for reality. If you want gloriously over-the-top bloody action, “Death Wish 3” delivers in spades. Its pure carnage that would be unmatched until Rambo went to Burma.

Despite being surrounded by nothing but death and gunfire, Bronson seems in pretty high spirits throughout. I think this is the most he’s smiled during the entire series. He loves hanging out with his new group of friends and the chance to murder creeps completely unopposed by the law seems to be heaven for him. He gets a much younger girlfriend and even a love scene. She has maybe fifteen total minutes of screen time before, guess what?, she gets killed, in maybe the funniest moment in a movie full of unintentional hilarity. It doesn’t slow Bronson down much. He ends the movie smiling, walking away from a city in flames.

Morally reprehensible but irresistible in its absurdity and stupidity, thanks to countless cable showings, “Death Wish 3” has garnered a cult following for exactly those qualities. Any body who takes it seriously is probably insane and I fear for their families. Everyone else feel free to laugh your asses off at it. (7/10)


Alex Winter, future Bill S. Preston and star/director of the deranged-in-a-different-way comedy “Freaked,” plays Fraker’s second-in-command. His introduction involves jumping on a woman’s windshield and demanding to perform violent cunnilingus on her.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish II

Eight years later, Bronson found himself working for the Cannon Group, the leaders in eighties exploitation action-movie cheese. It wasn’t long before Golan and Globus wanted to sequelize Bronson’s most iconic film. Refusing to work with any filmmaker besides Michael Winner, “Death Wish II” was quickly thrown together.

Looking even more like a grouchy old man sneering at a world full of eighties punk, basically the same shit happens to Paul Kersey again. Living in LA, still working successfully as an architect, Kersey has got a nice apartment, a pretty attractive girlfriend, and a Spanish maid. His daughter is still mute but overall seems much happier. A gang of new wave goons, some of them with shaved eyebrows, in pink glasses, pastel outfits, snatch Kersey’s wallet. He knocks them on their asses in retaliation. Revenge is a two-way street though. The gang of five find Kersey’s apartment, brutally rape his maid in an incredibly uncomfortable, utterly sickening scene, kidnap his daughter and rape her too, forcing her to jump to her death. Basically, new decade, new city, same shit, same ol’ Bronson.

This time Paul Kersey’s reaction is much more muted. Honestly, his reaction to the news of his daughter’s death is almost resigned. Kind of a fed up sense of, “Aw man, not this shit again.” After angrily chopping some wood, Kersey gets right back into shootin’ mode. The biggest irony about the original film is that Kersey never got to take out the goons that destroyed his family. The sequel immediately corrects that nice moment of ambiguity. Paul knows exactly who the thugs are and goes after them personally. He rents an apartment above a church. (For a fact, there’s a lot of religious stuff going on in the background in this film. Not sure if that was intentional or just accidental.) Trying to hide his nightly murders from his girlfriend and the cops, who are well on his trail after New York, Kersey lives a double life.

The action is heavier this time. Which actually makes the movie more fun. The shoot-out in the parking lot is good. The gun battle with the gang and the weapons dealer, which involves a lot of dodging behind trees, is pretty cool. The scene were one of the thugs tries to kill Kersey with a forklift is somewhat suspenseful. There’s more blood in the squibs. Aside from the rather disturbing rape scene early on, there’s some random nudity and implied rape floating around too. (Michael Winner had some issues with women, I’m thinking.) So it’s definitely much more of an exploitation film then the first part. Bronson even gets to throw around some one-liners. There’s a great one too. You’ll know it when you hear it.

The punks are way more cartoonish then before. The film is even more of a reactionary fantasy because of it. The film kind of plays like Bronson and Winner pissed off about all the new wave kids out there. Oddly, Charlie actually acts a little in this too. His scenes with Jill Ireland, his real life wife of many years, are nicely warm with a lot of smiling and humor. It contrasts with how cold and executioner-style he is with his enemies.

In the last act, the leader of the gang doesn’t get sent to real prison, but to a mental hospital. Well, that kind of thing won’t stand. Bronson goes completely immoral by faking papers and disguising himself as a doctor. He sneaks into the hospital with the intent of murdering the scumbag in cold blood. What follows is a pretty cool close-quarters fight scene making good use of a shiv and a shock therapy machine. It continues the theme from the first film that Kersey is still a regular dude and isn’t beyond getting surprised or taken at a disadvantage. The bad guy’s death is kind of hilarious though. Once again, Bronson is allowed to get away, scot-free. The film cheers on his complete abuse of power and even suggests that it will continue. And that this is a good thing. 

So part 2 is a skuzzier, dumber affair then the first film. Three of the punks are black but the film never stops to question the implications of a wrinkly old white guy shooting young black kids full of holes, much less portraying those black kids as anything but paper-thin villains. But if you’re looking for action, it does deliver. The Jimmy Page score has a lot of screaming guitars, making the whole thing even more macho. The franchise is all ready sliding out of possibly intriguing territory into empty-headed guilty pleasure. (6.5/10)


It’s hard to miss a young Lawrence Fishburne as the gang member sporting pink wrap-around sunglasses. His boom box doesn’t protect him.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish

The “Death Wish” series are the sort of films Conservative love. There are people in the world, let’s face it, white and elderly people, who look at the streets and these kids today and the crime rates and think the world is seriously on the brink. So, when you’ve got elderly, white Charles Bronson, a paragon of old-fashion American masculinity, going out and shooting punks dead in cold blood, it speaks to a certain part of the population. It’s a fantasy. If there’s any truth to how Bronson took the script, it was a fantasy for him too.

Which is a little odd, when you consider the source material. The original novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield isn’t so much about vigilantism as it is about what it takes to turn a pacifist into a vigilante. It’s about violence rotting away at the culture it inhabits. Paul Benjamen (Kersey in the movie) is a bleeding heart liberal until muggers break into his house, beat his wife to death and rape his daughter into a state of catatonia. We get a lot of pages describing Paul’s peace of mind slowly eroding until he can’t sleep any longer. The book’s more then half way over by the time he finally takes the law into his own hands. By the end of the book, when he’s picking off hopped-up teenagers playing deadly pranks, it’s more then implied that his acts of vigilantism are no less random and unjustifiable then the attacks that started the ball rolling. It’s a book about how violence can only corrupt and destroy.

Not quite as much of that as you’d expect is ejected from the original 1975 “Death Wish.” Oh, all that stuff about violence being bad is nowhere to be seen, that’s for fucking sure. But the movie dwells a little more on how this all weights on the protagonist’s state of mind then I remembered. Charles Bronson, so completely stone-faced and utterly unfeeling in ninety percent of his roles, actually allows himself to show some emotions. The character starts out as a pacifistic architect. The first scene of the film shows Kersey on the beach with his wife, enjoying a nice romantic moment, setting up the inevitable lost. When he gets the news of his wife’s death, the camera lingers on his eyes and he’s rendered speechless by grief. His interaction with his stunned daughter and her anguished husband show his frustration and depression over the situation. Bronson never cries, of course not, and we certainly never see the level of angst over the event that was displayed in the book. The guy drowns his sorrows in his work. But you do see the toll it takes on Kersey’s shoulders making his slow descend into isolation and, eventually, the justification to pick up a pistol and pop punks, more plausible.

The movie quickly descends into complete revenge fantasy not long after that. Director Michael Winner and its star weren’t interested in exploring the ambiguity of Kersey’s actions. He’s fully justified and his shoot-outs with crooks are nothing but glamorous. The movie is shot more like a thriller then an action flick. The film makes it clear this is mostly a normal guy and he’s more-then-a-little over his head, even if it is fucking Bronson we’re talking about here. There might be some more stuff going on under the surface here. Early on, we see a Western stunt show. Later on, Kersey quotes cowboy lingo before collapsing from his wounds. Is, maybe, just maybe, the filmmaker making some sort of comment about how impractical the wild west credo is when applied to real life or the modern age? Probably not, but I like to think so.

The original is a classic, in its own way. The opening title presented over the setting sun, while the darkly jazzy tones of Herbie Hancock’s score play overhead, is atmospheric and set the dark tone of the film to follow. The scene of Kersey shooting down a gang of thugs on a stairway is fantastic and I really like the final sequence set in an abandoned construction site. Morally reprehensible, perhaps, but pretty entertaining. It’s the film that broke Bronson out of the western mode he had found himself and turned him into as big of a star as he would ever be. (7/10)


Jeff Goldblum has his debut role as one of the punks who rapes Bronson’s daughter and murders his wife. I think Jeff got the part just because he looks so much like a sweaty hophead.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recent Watches: The Moth Diaries

4. The Moth Diaries

Vampires are fucking everywhere these days. This isn’t news and, frankly, people bitching about the overabundance of vampires is almost as annoying as the crappy movies themselves. We all know who is to blame. It’s gotten so pandemic that even respected filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Neil Jordan (again) are getting caught up in the fad.

It’s out of this environment that emerges “The Moth Diaries,” the latest from Mary Harron. Based off the young adult novel by Rachel Klein, so all ready a red flag goes up for me, the film is a modern retelling of “Carmilla,” the original lesbian vampire story. The film even outright references the original source material. Taken place at an all-girls prep school in some unspecified location, the story revolves around the intense friendship between Rebecca and Lucy. The two are bestest best friends forever, so close that the movie knowingly implies a, possibly one-sided, lesbian attraction. This budding Sapphic love is disrupted by the appearance of Ernessa, an odd (and odd-looking) girl that Lucy seems uncontrollably drawn too. The two quickly become inseparable, causing Rebecca a great deal of angst over her lost lady love. When students and teachers start dying mysteriously, and Lucy stops eating, Rebecca’s paranoia around Ernessa reaches manic levels.

It’s not difficult to see Harron’s attraction to the material. An obvious feminist, a story revolving around an almost completely female cast and filled with such blatant gay subtext was no doubt appealing for her. The sexually confused mind of a teenage girl is mostly unexplored and fertile ground. The movie could have potentially been a feminist rebuttal to the subjugated, boy and virginity obsessed women of the “Twilight” series. Not to mention a film knowingly identifying as “gothic,” but not in the Hot Topic sense of the word, is kind of cool in this day of age. All of this doesn’t matter because “The Moth Diaries” is uniformly dull.

First off, none of its young cast brings much to the material. Sarah Bolger in the lead role acts at the level of a Disney channel sitcom. Her emotions appear totally disingenuous and the heavy-handed voice-over she’s given just further bogs down the film. Sarah Gadon practices her blank stare technique throughout most of the film. She’s totally flat and has zero chemistry with any of her co-stars. Lily Cole has a freakish doll-like face. (Seriously, look at her.) Despite this potentially adding to her character’s uncanny attitude, the movie downplays and prevents her from looking like a walking Kid Sister doll most of the time. It’s probably the best of the three central performances but the actress nor the film once convincingly sell Ernessa as the mysterious, alluring, or threatening presence the story says she is. She simply exists to push the plot forward.

The story is a jumbled-up mess. The movie has a preoccupation with suicide. Her father’s suicide still haunts Rebecca and she considers it herself. This subplot goes nowhere except adding a superficial layer of irony when another character’s fate is revealed. Several story threads are picked up, dropped, and never mentioned again. A bisexual, partying class mate is dismissed early on, never brought up again. A teacher, played by Scott Speedman, develops an attraction to Rebecca and the two even kiss, despite Rebecca being an obvious lesbian and this not being a story about teachers macking on their students. This event seems to have been thrown in seemingly for the hell of it. It amounts to nothing. None of the character’s death contributes to the story and, after an initial show of shock, no body seems much bothered by them. The movie replaces the cat symbolism of “Carmilla” with moths. I guess because moths metamorphise and this is a story about teenage girls growing up? Either way, it’s unexplained and under-realized.

As the story nears its end, our heroine begins to have vivid hallucinations and nightmares. Many of these scenes, such as one of Lucy and Ernessa floating into the sky and turning into a cloud of sparkles, come out of nowhere. The obvious intention is to show Rebecca’s deteriorating mental state but it’s handled so matter-of-factually that it just comes off as another scene in the movie. The film is barely eighties minutes and these moments just pad out the last act more. The antagonist’s demise is handled in such a flat, unassuming manner that any potential dramatic tension is completely undermanned. Mary Harron’s visuals are sometimes crisp and intriguing but she shows no aptitude for gothic atmosphere and seems almost as bored as the audience. Despite her post-“American Psycho” reputation, she’s not much of a horror director.

At least the movie isn’t a PG-13 “Twilight” rip-off. There’s some blood and two somewhat explicit sex scenes. Faint praise, but the movie is more nuanced then that series, since it isn’t just the demented romantic fantasy of a sad Mormon housewife. It at least attempts to address some serious and complicated issues. Attempts and fails. “The Moth Diaries” is a future film that time forgot. [Grade: D]