Last of the Monster Kids

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Halloween 2018: October 16

Victor Crowley (2017)

While slasher franchises rarely end for good, “Hatchet III” mostly wrapped up that particular series. The quest to bring Victor Crowley's curse to an end, to kill the unkillable ghost, seemed to be complete. 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of the original “Hatchet,” because we're all old and will be dead soon. Fans arrived at what they thought was a screening of the original film, only to be greeted with a surprise. They were actually shown a brand new sequel, entitled “Victor Crowley,” filmed in secret and to be released later in the year. It was a pretty great tactic to drum up interest in a series most people assumed was over, once again displaying Adam Green's marketing savvy. Once released to the general public, “Victor Crowley” received a warm reception among fans of these hatchet-faced murder-fests.

The first three films took place on subsequent nights. So when “Victor Crowley” jumps ahead ten years, it's actually taking place in 2017, the year the sequel was released. In the time in-between, Andrew Yong has written a book about his experience, being the only survivor of the three day long massacre. (Though many people suspect he was the actual murderer.) A group of young filmmakers, obsessed with the Crowley legend, travel to Honey Island Swamp to film a movie about the killings. At the same time, Yong has agreed to appear on a true crime show. His plane happens to crash in the swamp that same night, killing the pilots and injuring the passengers. The young filmmakers arrive to rescue Andrew and the other, unaware that they have accidentally resurrected Crowley.

The “Hatchet” films have always been low budget affairs, most of the money obviously going to the gore effects. “Victor Crowley,” however, seems to be the cheapest production yet. Long stretches of the movie are confined to the water-logged airplane set. The gore in the film is the least convincing yet. The scenes of Crowley tearing off limbs or chomping off heads are unimpressive, obviously fake limbs being ripped away while too-bright fake blood spurts out. I will give Adam Green one thing. “Victor Crowley” is better shot than his previous “Hatchet” movies, the swamp looking more atmospheric, even if the movie is obviously cheaper overall. His script, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Victor Crowley is literally brought back to life by a Youtube video.

What really makes “Victor Crowley” disappointing is its slipshod screenplay. The film seems especially disinterested in Crowley's victims this time. The youthful filmmakers, seemingly the protagonists, are offed early on. One semi-major character is killed at the end, almost as an afterthought. With little else to motivate the story, the film relies on crude shock humor. Even by this series' standards, the jokes are obnoxiously crass. At a book signing, an overweight man asks Andrew to sign his penis, the full frontal male nudity lingered on. There's transphobic and homophobic jokes. Women seem to get it the worst. In-between the unscrupulous publicist, the extremely mean-spirited ex-wife, and the sarcastic college student, the film seems to take too much delight in making women bitches and then messily executing them. And, as always, there's just so much edgy profanity.

Also hinting at “Victor Crowley's” lower budget is the lack of recognizable cult stars in the cast. Aside from Kane Hodder, of course, who has now played Victor as many times as Jason. “Sleepaway Camp's” Felissa Rose appears as a duplicitous publicist with an obnoxious Jersey accent. Troma regular Tiffany Shepis has a small supporting part. Jonah Ray appears as the opening kill. Tony Todd and Danielle Harris have cameos. Otherwise, the cast is occupied with hard-working but mostly unknown character actors. Dave Sheridan is alternatively annoying and endearing as an overeager, would-be actor. Laura Ortiz, previously from Green's “Holliston” TV series, might've been likable as Rose if she wasn't given such atrocious dialogue. Parry Shen is mildly amusing as Andrew but elevating him to leading man status stretches his talent to the breaking point.

You'd think, with it being the big anniversary movie, Adam Green and company would've cooked up something special for “Victor Crowley.” Instead, it's more of the same. I suspect the film wasn't just shot in secret but written quickly as well. The characters are sketchier than ever before. The plot is slapped together. The production values are low. It has all the signs of being a somewhat desperate attempt to continue the series pass its logical end point. There's a mid-credits teaser, setting up the possibility of a fifth film. I suspect inertia and Green's continued enthusiasm will push that through eventually. I'm finding myself genuinely wishing they would let this one go. The “Hatchet” movies have been fun, from time to time, but this lackluster sequel suggests Victor Crowley should have stayed dead. [5/10]

Satan's Triangle (1975)

After watching “Trilogy of Terror” recently, I'm finding myself craving more vintage horror TV movies. “Satan's Triangle” is one I've heard about for years. The ABC Movie of the Week for January 14th of 1975, it combined two seventies supernatural fads. Devil movies were still pretty hot, with “The Omen” arriving the next year. The Bermuda Triangle was also a frequent target of fascination at the time. (An example: “In Search Of..” would debut two years after this movie, the Triangle coming up as soon as the fourth episode.) It doesn't have the cult following of Dan Curtis' output or the name recognition of “Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.” However, it would seem the film still traumatized those who were young when it originally aired.

Somewhere near Bermuda, the Coast Guard receives a distress call. Helicopter pilot Pagnolini and winchman Haig are deployed, venturing into the notorious triangle. They discover an adrift schooner. The deck of the boat is littered with corpses. The interior of the boat includes a seemingly floating body. Haig discovers only one survivor: A high-class escort named Eva. After the copter is struck by lightning, the winch malfunctions, stranding Haig and Eva on the boat until Pagnolini can return. While waiting, she tells him what happened. While on a fishing trip, the boat picked up a priest floating on some wreckage. Mysterious misfortune, attributed by the priest to the devil himself, soon befell everyone aboard. And the curse is ready to continue.

I never know what to expect from old TV horror movies. The best use their limited scope to their advantage. The worst are hokey bullshit. While “Satan's Triangle” has a few cheesy moments, mostly from odd photography effects when lightning strikes, it's otherwise a surprisingly eerie affair. The music score contains enough odd attributes to create a spooky atmosphere early on. The image of dead bodies on the boat, impaled on glass or dangling from the mast, are conveyed in a spooky way. Having the majority of the film be told in flashback adds to this foreboding feeling. By the time we get to the last act twist, a successfully unnerving tone has been built up. The climax kicks off with a genuinely creepy shot of someone smiling, leading into an ending that is downbeat and unsettling.

The Bermuda Triangle legend collapses under the smallest bit of scrutiny. The number of disappearances in the Triangle are no higher than in any other stretch of sea. “Satan's Triangle” even acknowledges the skeptical approach. After Eva explains her versions of events, Haig examines each of the mysterious deaths, finding a logical explanation for each of them. (Even the body seemingly hanging in the air, a weird death that plays out in an amusingly outrageous fashion.) The explanation “Satan's Triangle” cooks up for the weird things going in the Triangle is certainly more interesting than aliens or Atlantis or dimensional vortexes or whatever people are claiming these days. The devil himself terrorizing ocean-goers is more thrilling and novel than any of that stuff.

As was usual for seventies TV movies, “Satan's Triangle” features some slightly washed-up talent in the cast. Doug McClure stars as Haig, bringing a likable roguish quality to the film's hero. He has solid chemistry with Kim Novak. Novak plays Eva as someone slightly disconnected from reality, obviously traumatized by what she's seen, but still dripping with sensuality. Alejandro Rey has a booming voice which is well utilized as the priest, who often makes big sweeping statements about the crazy situation they're in. I also liked Michael Conrad as the helicopter pilot, a crotchety old man with a strict moral code. I wish the film used Ed Lauter a little more, who appears in a small supporting role.

I can totally see why kids in 1975 would've been spooked by “Satan's Triangle.” Its creepy events are largely left unexplained. The ending does not provide much catharsis for the viewer. Instead, it wraps up with a creepy feeling. This is probably the best Bermuda Triangle movie I've ever seen, as most stories dealing with this premise are of a poor quality. The film doesn't seem to have been officially released on DVD, at least not in Region 1. However, copies of decent quality are floating around Youtube. I suggest you check it out, if you're in the mood for a slightly cheesy but ultimately effective bit of mid-seventies spookiness. [7/10]

Tales from the Cryptkeeper: Ghost Ship

The final episode of “Tales from the Cryptkeeper's” first season covers another lightly spooky horror trope I remember being weirdly prevalent when I was kid: A haunted ghost ship full of skeletal pirates. (As far as I can tell, this cliché wouldn't get a proper cinematic adaptation until Disney's “Pirates of the Caribbean” films kicked off.) Surfer dudes Ben and Mike take a yacht, belonging to Ben's dad, out for a joyride. The trip quickly goes wrong, the boat sinking after they skid over a patch of rocks. The two dudes are soon pick up by a mysterious galley. They are introduced to the ship's inhabitants: A crew of skeleton pirates, led by the viscous Redbeard. Soon, the guys are recruited into a mission to recover some missing gold.

“Ghost Ship” draws heavily from another early nineties artifact. Ben and Mike are essentially Bill and Ted. While Mike is Jamaican, with the required accent, Ben's voice actor is obviously attempting a Keanu Reeves impersonation. The premise – Bill and Ted vs. Ghost Pirates – is a fun one, that “Ghost Ship” utilizes fairly well. Seeing the two dudes keep their spirits up, no matter how perilous or crazy their adventure gets, is amusing. However, the episode is fairly low on horror content. The cackling skeletons are played for laughs and are easily dispatched. Only the look we get at Redbeard's rotting face is likely to scare the kiddies. The episode's moral, about how getting a job is better than being a slacker, is fairly forced in. Still, this one has its enjoyable moments. [6/10]

Going into “Tales from the Cryptkeeper,” I had no idea if I would enjoy it. While I love many of the kids cartoons of the nineties, plenty of them are awful as well. A Saturday morning version of “Tales from the Crypt” could easily have gone either way. I'm happy to say I mostly enjoyed the first season. While there were a few stinkers, the show did a really good job of maintaining the “Tales” style while leaving behind the R-rated elements. “Gone Fishin',” “Fare Tonight,” and “Grounds for Horror” all could have been easily rewritten into episodes of the main series but managed to be entertaining even in their sanitized form. I'm looking forward to covering the other two seasons next year, if the gods of Halloween are with me.

Wolf Creek: Singing

I was enjoying season two of “Wolf Creek” but it hits a serious snag with “Singing.” The story has split into several threads. Rebecca, Brian, Oskar and Nina continue their trek towards the Wolf Creek crater but encounter trouble, when Nina is bitten by a snake. Meanwhile, Steve and Kelly are separated. Steve is picked up by a pair of Aboriginal trackers. They know who Mick Taylor is and are soon attacked by him, leaving one dead and the other wounded. Kelly has managed to avoid being captured by the killer but, when Steve is grabbed instead, she has to intervene.

In “Singing,” season two of “Wolf Creek” does exactly what I was worried it was going to do. Brian mercy-killing Michelle becomes a source of drama between the four on-the-run tourists. Oskar and Brian end up getting into an argument, which quickly escalates into fisticuffs. Group in-fighting is among my most hated horror tropes. People arguing about petty bullshit when they should all focus on avoiding the serial killer after them is seriously annoying. The random snake bite seems like another contrived story move, to keep things dramatic and interesting during the season's fourth hour.

As annoying as the unnecessary in-fighting is, it is less baffling then the episode's sudden introduction of Aboriginal mysticism. Yes, I'm being serious. After one of the trackers is stabbed by Mick, a indigenous medicine man heals him. He then performs a magical chant, which seems to disable the killer. Not only does this play into worn-out stereotypes about Magical Indians, it also introduces an element of magic into an otherwise grounded-in-reality series. The show then discards this subplot minutes after it first appears. Making you wonder what the point of this confounding digression was.

Still, “Wolf Creek” has its pleasure even during a weaker episode like this. Kelly, expertly played by Laura Wheelwright, is quickly becoming my favorite character. She displays a tough and resourceful side in this episode, getting the drop on Mick. (If the show wasn't determined to stretch things out for six hours, the story easily could've ended there.) I also like Mick's interaction with the captured Steve, which ends in a nicely grisly fashion. Hopefully, season two quickly looses the narrative bloat so common to serialized television, that it has mostly avoided, in the next episode. [5/10]

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