Saturday, November 23, 2013

REVIEW: Pet Sematary (1989)

That isn’t how you spell cemetery! Instant zero stars, review over!

Director: Mary Lambert
Starring: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne

Oh okay, I’ve read the Stephen King book; calm down. It was one of my favorite books as a teenager just for how absolutely, uncompromisingly dark and morbid it was. It’s said that it was the only one of King’s classics that he didn’t want to publish at first – he thought it was too scary. So in response to that, we got a movie version a few years later that mostly failed at recreating that scary and morbid atmosphere…let’s review Pet Sematary.

We start off with a graveyard for pets, with voice overs from the kids who buried them there. Well gee. Isn’t that a happy way to start off your movie? Fortunately after that, we get something much more grounded in every day life…a family arrives at their new home and is too busy re-enacting a Norman Rockwell painting to notice their two-year-old son Gage wander around the yard and almost get run over by a truck in the middle of the road.

All that's missing is a white picket fence, which would ironically have helped these morons quite a bit...

You could have just not let him wander near the road. You know, like decent parents. But I guess that would have prevented the introduction of the most sane and well-balanced old man ever, Jud Crandall.

They didn't have an old peoples' home in this town, I guess...

Am I being sarcastic with that last bit? Well, you decide: the first thing he decides to show them as a neighborly kindness is an old graveyard for buried pets, the same one as in the opening. “Hey, welcome to the neighborhood, let me show you a creepy old pet graveyard!” Isn’t that kind of weird? You could have shown them the nice areas to have a picnic in, or the general store downtown, or even the spot on the hill where you looked up at the full moon as a young man and realized you were stuck with that goofy accent for your whole life. But instead you show them a graveyard for dead pets killed in the road.

Oh, yeah, that’s where most of ‘em come from…seriously, here’s a piece of advice for you: PUT UP A FUCKING STOP SIGN ON THAT DAMN ROAD. How has that never been brought up at any community meetings or anything?

“Hey, we got this road where it seems like nothing but giant trucks come through, and there are tons of animals and little kids that might be in danger! Is it worth putting up a stop sign or at least some “drive with caution” markers?”

“Nah. We’re going to wait until an evil clown appears on the road before we do anything.”

“But there’s an Indian burial ground that brings dead things back to life just up the hill from the road! What if…”


Yeah, I guess that’s how it went. Anyway, we get some decent enough scenes of main character Louis Creed, his wife Rachel and his daughter, Mediocre Child Actress, interacting with one another and their cat, who they call Church. But I call him Cheap Scary Plot Foil. These scenes aren’t anything too bad or whatever, but the acting is about as credible as, well, any Stephen King adaptation this side of the Kubrick Shining version. King’s dialogue never translated well to the silver screen, like at all, but I don’t think the goofy acting really helps matters.

But anyway, we have more important things to show…like a grouchy old housekeeper who constantly tells Rachel how jealous she is of her marriage. Gee, I sure hope this character has a point in the end! Otherwise it would just be strange and non-sequitur.

"I'm just looking for my decency and likability...oh, wait, I left it at home..." 

We also see Louis at his job as a doctor. Some guy is wheeled in after a horrible accident, and like any good hospital, the whole place goes nuts and turns into complete chaos, even the nurses and orderlies, because of this. The guy’s name is Victor Pascow, and I only bring that up because for some reason, he’s an integral part of the plot. He knows Louis’s name somehow and reappears throughout the film as a sort of ghostly spirit guide…why? I have no fucking idea. Stephen King stories always have this sort of unexplained supernatural element to them, but this one is pushing it.

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…so Pascow dies and later appears to Louis in a dream, guiding him outside into the woods and explicitly telling him never to go beyond the Pet Sematary and into the Micmac Burial Ground. Since Louis had no idea it existed at this point and likely wouldn’t have known about it at all if Pascow hadn’t told him about it, this scene kind of shoots itself in the foot. Bonus points because Pascow comes off more like a character from a Return of the Living Dead movie than anything actually scary. How are we supposed to take this seriously?

It's like a Muppet version of Dawn of the Dead. Shaun of the Dead looked less silly.

The next day is apparently Thanksgiving, so Rachel and the daughter, Ellie, go to Rachel’s parents’ house by themselves. Why doesn’t Louis go with them? Because apparently he doesn’t get along with her parents…sounds like a shitty Thanksgiving, then. Instead he just gets a dead cat:

Jud, being a stand-up guy, decides to take him out to the old burial ground where, apparently, dead things buried there can come back to life. They bury the cat. Louis talks to Jud about it and it’s only NOW that Jud decides to let Louis in on a little secret. Apparently as a kid, Jud buried his dead dog at the burial ground, and it came back as a horrific blood-stained monster:

He got ketchup all over him!

So let me get this straight. He knew this whole time what horrible things that burial ground could do, didn’t tell Louis any of it, and still took him up there anyway? What kind of sick sadist is this guy? I guess his explanation is that he didn’t want the daughter, Ellie, to be without her cat, but what kind of reasoning is that? He would rather her have a horrific abomination of nature that would scare the living bejeesus out of her? I mean, holy shit, how much less sense can you make?

Well, I guess if you count the fact that the daughter comes home and doesn’t notice that the cat is now a horrific abomination of nature, Jud’s lies and deceptions aren’t so bad. How can she not tell there’s something wrong? She even says the cat smells bad! How does the mother not notice? It’s one thing for the cat to stink a little after running around outside. But this is supposed to be like, corpse rot of death. Wouldn’t that be, I dunno, A LITTLE BIT NOTICEABLE after a while?

I guess it’s understandable though, since that random grumpy caretaker lady kills herself shortly after. Why? Well, to incite Rachel to tell Louis about her sick, demented sister who died when she was a kid. That’s right. The caretaker’s only point in life was to serve as the catalyst for a horrible flashback scene. I guess I can’t blame her for killing herself then. I mean, wouldn’t you? Take a look at this shit:

What is that? It looks like Beetlejuice if he was run through a concentration camp. I remember this storyline from the book – it was integrated into the story a lot better there. Here it’s shoehorned in very awkwardly in the wake of a random death scene. Basically it goes like this: Rachel had a sister when she was a kid who got some kind of debilitating disease, confining her to the back room of the house because the parents were ashamed of her or something.

Who are the two random fat people in the corner? Never explained...*Twilight Zone music*

One time her parents left her alone with the sister, and the sister died. Rachel ran out the door and cried but also thought she could have been laughing…this incident, apparently, gave her an odd relationship with death for the rest of her life. I remember this plot thread being relatively well done in the book, but here it’s just done awkwardly – maybe they should have left it out, because it really fucking sucks actually. It tries for unsettling and disturbing, and mostly hits “kind of weird and a little comical with how over the top it is.” How am I supposed to take anorexic Bride of the Lizard People sister seriously?

Yeah, real fucking ominous and scary there. Hacks.

And I get it – it’s the 80s, the special effects aren’t going to be that great. But they didn’t even really try at any kind of atmosphere. If The Thing, released several years before this, could make one of the scariest movies of all time with just practical effects, and Re-Animator, released around the same time, had much better looking zombies, what is the excuse for the lack of effort in making any of the effects here look remotely scary? They’re just goofy.

Anyway, so Louis hears that whole creepy dead sister story, and says it gives him “one more reason to hate Rachel’s parents” for leaving Rachel alone with the sister. Which is fine and well, except later we see that the parents are fine and really not portrayed as neglectful or abusive or anything. So what’s the point of putting any of this in the movie? Nothing really, except to waste time – which is one of the movie’s favorite things to do.

Tragedy strikes later on when their young son Gage is killed by a truck when he wanders out into the road. Again, stop signs, they’re not a foreign concept! It’s all very tragic and sad and what not. But honestly, I can’t get over the hypocrisy here…so Louis is so quick to condemn Rachel’s parents for leaving her alone with her sick sister, but he can’t even watch his own fucking son when he’s walking into the very dangerous road full of speeding 18-wheeler trucks? Nice double standard there, asshole. Also, nice over-dramatic “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” shout right after it happens – doesn’t diminish the weight of the scene at all

I'd make a Darth Vader joke if this came out 15 years later!

So I guess some of these scenes are decent enough. Overall the movie at least tries to give a shit with these scenes, even if they’re not doing a terribly amazing job of it…though I can’t speak much for the goofy funeral scene where Rachel’s dad socks Louis in the face – deservedly so. Everyone starts screaming and shouting, and the whole thing comes off as more comical than it should. Pet Sematary, making child death way funnier than it ever had a right to be!

Rachel and Ellie leave to go live with Rachel’s parents for a while, and Louis ponders bringing Gage back to life with the burial ground. If you didn’t think it was stupid enough that Jud knew the effects of the burial ground and let Louis bury the cat anyway, well, the movie is about to top that. Jud then tells Louis the story of some guy who got buried in the burial ground after being shipped home from war in a coffin. In the book, this was an effective and morbid section. The movie treats it, unsurprisingly, like a big joke, having him bumble around slurring his words like a drunk. A middle finger to fans of the book if there ever was one.

So, yeah, that’s the size of it – Jud knew ALL THIS HORRIBLE SHIT happened at that burial ground, and showed Louis anyway. The stupidity is just reaching dizzying heights here, looking down on unsuspecting movie viewers and laughing at them. But hey! At least we have like twenty minutes of the ghost of Pascow “helping” Rachel to get back home after this!

Yes, if you weren’t convinced that this was just a schlocky horror comedy, well these scenes are like bright glowing neon lights pointing directly at that realization. We get all these ridiculous scenes of the ghost of Pascow, looking more and more like the ghost of Bill and Ted every scene, giving little hints to help her rent a car and hitch a ride after the car breaks down.

This has to be simultaneously the best and worst moment in the whole movie

She can’t do that shit on her own? She really needed help RENTING A CAR from the airport? Yeah, I guess that’s really one of those things that’s just too complicated to figure out without a ghost helping you. And to think these scenes were actually green-lighted by some poor sap of a studio executive…

Meanwhile, the now undead Gage preys on Jud by giggling childishly and asking to play hide and seek…yeah, real bone-tingling scary there. How come Jud doesn’t just leave his house and make a run for it? We see clearly he had many opportunities to do so. Oh well. Gage makes pretty sure he won’t be running anywhere any time soon:

How lovely…

When Rachel gets back, she for some reason goes to Jud’s place first instead of her own house. She sees the hallucination of her creepy dead sock puppet sister, which is as lame as ever, and then…

No. No, no, no, no no no. That can’t be real. You can’t be serious with that. When at any point in human existence did we need a cross-dressing undead baby? What the fuck was going through the director’s head when she allowed that in the movie? In fact, I think I know exactly what happened here. Gage came back to life the reincarnation of a certain fictional character…

If you were actually dumb enough to continue watching after that, we see Gage killing Rachel too. Louis the next morning gets a phone call from Gage – because that makes sense, even though he was too young to know how to use a phone when he was alive…and Gage tells him, quite creepily, that he wants to “play” with Louis. Louis stands there and shouts “WHAT DID YOU DO?!?” kind of like an over the top sitcom parent after the kid smeared finger paint all over Grandma’s expensive China plates. Just add in a goofy musical cue, cut to commercials, and the effect would be complete.

We get some more shitty ass acting when Louis yells at Church the cat to die after poisoning him – standing in the street and yelling at a dying zombie cat…not exactly a place you look forward to finding yourself, but there we are anyway. He goes inside and proves how hard it is to fight a two-year-old. Real fuckin’ gripping.

There is one good scene, where he has to kill Gage a second time with a lethal injection of some kind of poison. It’s a touching scene and is done well. I think it’s too little, too late.

The movie ends with Louis carrying zombie Rachel off to bury her in the burial ground. Pascow appears again and over-dramatically tells him not to do it, whilst simultaneously also sounding about as bored as anyone would with this mediocre script.

Contrast the seriousness of what happened with Pascow's girl shorts...

This could have been a powerful scene – if they cut out the silly ghost and didn’t have Louis muttering to himself about how it would work this time. In the book, everything he said was internal monologuing – NOT dialogue said out loud. Like most terrible book to movie adaptations, the movie feels the need to cram in all of that internal stuff and not just SHOW it through the visual power of filmmaking. Pretty fucking weak.

So, yeah, Rachel comes back and kills him for being a terrible actor and a terrible character, and then the movie ends.

Pet Sematary, promoting necrophilia since 1989.

So Pet Sematary kind of sucks. It’s silly, the characters are bland and the acting is pretty much awful. When I was a teenager and read the book, I didn’t see this movie because I feared it would be like this – just robbing all the power and macabre magic out of the story. And this movie was exactly what I thought it’d be back then. It’s got a few decent parts, but really it’s nothing like the book aside from the superficialities like the ideas in the plot – it’s got none of the darkness and mystery of the book.

And I don’t know. The book probably had some holes, too; plenty of the flaws I pointed out here were in the book, too. But King’s style of writing convinced you that the world you were in was real. That was a big asset to the story, as it is to any good book. The movie doesn’t immerse you like that. It can be entertaining at times, in a schlocky, silly sort of way, but it’s not the deep and immersive work that the book was. King’s writing style just doesn’t translate well to the screen. You can’t just take his long-winded dialogue and often abstract plot ideas and put them to film with no alterations. You have to make some changes to make it seem more natural, which Pet Sematary and most other King films do not do.

Oh well. There is a remake coming out, supposedly – maybe THAT will be closer to what I actually wanted from this story. It’s a far cry. But it won’t make this movie any better.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

REVIEW: V/H/S 2 (2013)

While the first V/H/S wasn’t anything intellectual, it was a fun anthology horror flick that called back to the 80s and pulled off some interesting twists with the handheld-cam format. There was a lot of energy and it was a great flick to sit back and drink a beer to. So how about we make a sequel with a bunch of short films that play like outtakes from the first collection? It’s more like the table scraps of the first V/H/S rather than a legit sequel. Let’s just get this shit over with.

Directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard
Starring: Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsey Abbot, various others for the other shorts

So yeah, we start this off with some idiot filming people having sex in a motel. He gets caught by the cleaning lady and, at this point I realize it’s how the director of this film made excuses to his probation officer. “I wasn’t making a porno! Uh, look, I spliced in some of my friends’ homemade horror movies! It’s art! IT’S ART!!!”

We then get introduced to our main character Larry, played by Lawrence Michael Levine. Heh…yeah, I’m real sure him playing a character with an abbreviated version of his own name was such a stretch. He’s going to some house with his girlfriend Ayesha, where they’re being paid, I guess, to look into the disappearance of some kid. Larry says that “the cops wouldn’t care about some missing college kid” – heh heh, well you’re of course completely wrong and stupid, but okay. They get to the house and the girlfriend decides to sit down and watch some videos…

Badger from Breaking Bad, noooooo!

Yeah, apparently that’s supposed to be the kid they’re looking for. So what, the first movie had a relatively simple, unobtrusive wrap-around story about crooks finding some dead guy’s house with a bunch of evil videotapes. This one has a stupid hipster looking kid who probably just smoked too much weed and passed out in the basement reading Ayn Rand.

The first story we get is about some guy who’s getting a new bionic eye with a camera in it after an accident. Pretty interesting set-up. I do think it’s pretty stupid that they apparently waited until AFTER they put the damn thing in his head to tell him that they’d be watching his every move. The NSA's latest master plan! I can't wait for someone to blow the whistle on this one and then spend the next several months globe-hopping the world. Eh. Personally I’d take looking like the cover of a bottle of Captain Morgan over having a bunch of old perverts watch me take a shit every morning.

So he goes home and immediately begins to see ghosts everywhere, turning this into a low-rent version of The Shining. Probably still more enjoyable than Stephen King’s 1990s TV remake though. All I can think is how jealous I am that this douchebag has such a nice place, though:

Seriously, what the hell? What does this guy do? Is he some kind of rocket scientist? My guess is he’s probably just some rich kid who never bothered to come out from the shadow of his parents’ checkbook.

I guess the ghosts begin to freak him out until this one chick shows up at his door. She comes inside, demands a beer and then tells our main character that she has a cochlear implant that allows her to hear ghosts. If that isn’t stupid enough for you, just take a look at her idea of how to “cure” seeing all these ghosts:

Yup, her way of getting rid of the ghosts is to take off her shirt and fuck the main character, because…well, I’m guessing the director was forced to put some cheap tits in the movie just in case the audience was getting bored in the long gap between the last tit shot and this one. What a great reason to put something in a movie. Oh, did I say great? I meant cheap and useless.

“But wait,” you may be claiming, “what if it’s done for story purposes?” Well, just take a look at how well that idea worked to ward off those pesky ghosts…

...she's supposed to be drowning there, if you couldn't tell.

Yeah, the ghosts start killing them almost immediately after they finish having sex. Isn’t that just amazing? We see the main guy finally get fed up with it all and cut the eye out of his head. It doesn’t help though, and the ghosts kill him anyway. What a happy ending.

I figured out later that this guy is actually director Adam Wingard, who had nothing to do with writing this segment. He also did some good shit with the first V/H/S and made one of the best segments on ABCs of Death - keep up the good work, dude; you are cool.

Back in wrap-around land, Larry tells Ayesha to keep on looking through the tapes so the film can keep going. Oops, I mean “in case they find something about the missing kid.” Uh huh. Sure.

Next we get a story about some guy with a bike helmet cam for absolutely no reason, telling his girlfriend how much he enjoys riding around in nature in the morning. Of course we then see him truly enjoying nature by riding his bike to the tune of loud, disjointed electronic dance music – there is no greater way to show man’s connection to nature! None!

Then he gets turned into a zombie by some chick with a serious biting fixation. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a zombie movie told from the POV of one of the zombies? No? Well too bad.

Then they crash a birthday party. Oh no, some guy that looks like The Rock isn’t too happy that zombies crashed his kid’s party!

What are you doing with that truck? All I wanted was a slice of cake! Stop it! No! Noooooooooooo----

Oh okay, so he survives that too. He gets a call from his girlfriend which reminds him of all that he’s lost. So then we get the first ever on-screen zombie suicide. Geez, right after the first robot suicide the other day! Isn’t the world such a bizarre place?

Back in wrap-around palooza, Larry finds Ayesha with her nose bleeding and says something about how they left her medication at home. Because it’s such a great idea to leave her all alone in a house full of creepy video tapes where a kid may or may not have died, he does exactly that, going to find her some medicine at the nearest drug store. She pops in the next tape.

And okay, so this one, “Safe Haven” is the one most talked about in this entire collection. I gotta level with you though. It’s really not that good. I know people like this one quite a bit, but I don’t know. To me it just comes off as a long, boring, self-indulgent trudge. But far be it from me to get ahead of myself; no no – let’s go through this whole thing step by step. Get your pill boxes and glasses of wine ready. You’ll need ‘em.

So it’s about a bunch of journalists, I think, after some story about a weird Indonesian religious cult. They talk to their leader at a cafĂ© and find out that yes, he really is every single clichĂ© you could think of with a character and plot like this. Mousy little dude talking crazy about how there is a literal afterlife to which he will lead his followers like sheep across a valley? Check. All that’s missing is anything of interest.

So they convince him that they’re REALLY OBJECTIVE JOURNALISTS, and yes that does need to be in all caps, and so they can come into his crazy temple of insanity and film shit. And that’s what they do. Even though right away they set about showing exactly why they’re not objective by asking questions about why everything is so crazy. But how can you blame them when the little girls at this place talk about how this cult leader guy is actually just a creepy pedophile? It’s not like there’s anything to be said for actually being truthful and just showing no bias when doing a report like this, right? Fuck it. We need to show off how morally superior we are!

So objective. You're the master of journalism.

Hell, most of these bungholes don’t even stick closely to the interviewing for long enough for it not to devolve into a soap opera. Two of them go outside and end up arguing about how they got pregnant even though the girl is with one of the other guys in the crew. Isn’t this just the perfect place to argue about this shit? And oh yeah, we gotta have the fucking camera on when arguing about it, just so the guy the chick is actually dating can overhear them while out getting some batteries! Hey, weren’t we making a movie about an evil religious cult? Nah, that was too fucking boring. The soap opera shit, though; THAT’S where the money is! Genius filmmaking.

"You're just mad because I'm an exact replica of M. Night Shyamalan!!!"

That’s the thing, too – the first V/H/S mostly stuck to one camera to tell the stories, resulting in some very clever set-ups. This one has multiple cameras and switches between them like a regular movie would. So what’s the point? The only interesting aspect of the style of the first V/H/S film was the one-camera element. Without that, it’s just a bunch of hackneyed shit. Are you seriously telling me that these people all died horribly and bloodily and then some asshole took the time to splice together the footage from their cameras into one home movie? Give me a break.

So yeah, the whole place just goes insane and turns into a really lame haunted house ride, like something you’d see at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. The one stoner moron of the group is stuck with crazy religious psycho while he pauses the interview to begin the apocalypse.

No, seriously. He begins the fucking apocalypse. He says some magic voodoo horseshit over the loudspeaker and then everything goes crazy. When stoner moron tries to interrupt, crazy religious psycho doesn’t like that, and rips off his shirt and stabs the guy in the throat on camera, just like that.

The Hangover did it better.

That’s the other thing with this story. Were they just planning to do this all along, even if the journalists did remain objective and treated them fairly? What’s the point of even having these people even come in if you’re just going to kill everyone, even your own followers, that same day at apparently a very specific time? “Hey, this is our judgment day in which hell will take over the Earth, but I think I’ll invite some stupid kids with cameras in!” It’d be one thing if this was some kind of elaborate set-up, but it’s not – at the beginning of this mess, the crazy religious guy was reluctant to let them in because the media usually portrays the religious cult in a negative light. SO WHAT THE HELL IS THE LOGIC OF PROVING THEM RIGHT? Isn’t going insane and stabbing people exactly the kind of negative stigma you didn’t want? There’s really no way of making this logical in any form. There’s no excuse.

It’s just so odd of a time frame – this is the day we’re going to end the world and kill ourselves; let’s invite journalists to do a TV interview? What if the journalists had scheduled things a day later? What would the crazy religious cult’s calendar look like then?

But hey, fuck it, who needs things that make sense? Let’s have a bunch of guys shoot themselves for no reason.

That's just what (insert Indonesian stereotype here) does to you after too long! PS, I apologize in advance to the country of Indonesia.

And let’s have an execution-style lineup that one of the main characters stumbles upon, and the guy just lets him live for no reason – or just because the film needs to drag on and on forever.

And I mean it DRAGS. This thing never seems to end! I’ve watched two and a half hour films that go by faster than this! Ugh, so what, they strapped the pregnant girl to a table and let her give birth to a demonic black goat? How utterly unexpected! Maybe she wasn't just cheating on her fiance. Maybe she she had some, erm, extracurricular interests in terms of who she was sleeping with on those lonely week-nights...

What happens on the farm, stays on the farm.

Some other shit happens, but who really cares? I don’t. Next scene.

Back in Everybody Loves Wrap-around, Larry returns and finds Ayesha unconscious on the floor. Being a genius, he of course shouts for help in the house they’ve broken into; the one that has already been established to be empty. I’m sure that will do you plenty of good, you imbecile. So then he takes her to the hospital and saves her life.

"Hmm...nah, I don't really care. I feel like watching some movies!"

HA HA! Just kidding, he sits down and watches another videotape. What a worthless piece of crap he is. There are no words for how much I don't understand any of this right now.

But hey, at least the next short is so stupid it will numb your brain to any perceived inconsistency in the wrap-around’s plot…

You know what was wrong with the rest of this movie? The camera work was too visible. It wasn’t nauseating and shaky enough to make you feel like you were trapped in a dice box in a game of Dungeons and fucking Dragons or something. I’m so glad the final short decided to rectify those mistakes!

This one is about…aliens or something. There isn’t much to be said for it because not a lot happens. Bunch of kids play pranks on each other like a rejected 1980s comedy sequel, and then aliens show up and kill them. Some of this could have been effective, as they have a nice setting and the colors and lighting are pretty cool. But you can never actually SEE anything going on – it just becomes a bunch of shaky-cam nonsense, making Cloverfield and [REC] look like masterpieces of calculated and well-paced cinema.

Jesus, this is annoying. And the wrap around segment ends with that kid Larry and Ayesha were trying to find becoming a zombie and, I guess, killing them or something. He gives a goofy thumbs up and then a crappy punk rock song plays over the credits.

You know, I think that last bit sums up the movie; it really does. The first one, while campy, at least didn’t have any outright silly moments like this, practically winking to the audience in that lame self-aware mode. Horror got lame when that kind of thing was introduced. And the ending of this one sums up the entire tone – jokey, hokey and lame as hell.

I mean, OK, it’s not unwatchable or anything. Despite its problems, there was still actual effort put into this, even if it seems pretty minimal overall to me. But it’s just so weak. The writing is a pretty half-assed attempt at horror comedy, and while it’s not all bad or anything, it’s not very good either, coming off as insecure and insincere – these kinds of “self aware” horror comedies always seem like the makers would be embarrassed to be caught watching any of the movies they’re parodying.

The only exception is “Safe Haven,” which isn’t goofy at all, rather just boring, poorly written and overly long, riddled with plot holes the size of minivans. It’s just a piece of shit. I know people like it and all, but I really can’t get behind that one at all.

Well, that's V/H/S 2. Aren't you just looking forward to the endless run of less and less interesting and well produced sequels in the next few years? Ugh. I'm just going to bury my head in the sand now, and pretend the first one was a stand-alone film.

Images copyright of their original owners.

Monday, November 4, 2013

REVIEW: Season of the Witch (2011)

“Hey, I just got inspired to make a movie!”

“How did that happen?”

“I went to a Renaissance fair, got drunk off my ass and then vomited it all up outside while a bunch of lecherous hobos watched!”

“…how would that inspire you to create anything?”


Director: Dominic Sena
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman

(This review co-written with my friend, Michelle Lewis.)

Yes, Season of the Witch. In honor of this month being the four-year anniversary of this blog, I was contemplating what to do in celebration. To do so, I had to take into account a couple of things – all sorts of very technical elements such as, what would yield the funniest jokes? What would be something that would catch peoples’ eyes?

Then I decided to just be lazy, and throw all of that in the garbage and review the one movie that has both Nicolas Cage AND Ron Perlman at the same time – this one. How much balls do you have to have to put those two guys in a movie together? The universe might as well explode. Oh boy; I just can’t wait to see what kinds of shenanigans this movie has put together to exploit the (perhaps, sometimes unintentional) comedic talents of these two men. Let’s get started.

We start off with this subtitle informing us that the makers of the movie went back to 1235 A.D. to the City of Villach to shoot the first scene. That’s some dedication right there!

Then we get the greatest period of feminism ever – when women got accused of being witches for basically no reason at all and then got hauled into the river by an angry mob. We see exactly how fair this is when you have two normal looking girls pleading for their lives on one end and then this old crone with a glass eye damning everyone to hell.

Now, now, she might not be a witch. Don't discriminate! She just looks, acts, talks and probably smells like one, but still. We live in a PC world, goddammit! RIGHTS FOR THE WITCHES!

Kind of poisoning the well there! I mean, you could make a forty year old balding male accountant look like a witch just by putting him NEXT to that lady! It’s like showing a crime scene lineup full of regular guys except for the one known serial killer who admitted to murdering seven people in cold blood for no reason. Doesn’t exactly do wonders for the public confidence in everyone in the vicinity.

But enough of that. We have some fun crusades with Nic Cage and Ron Perlman to sit through! In case you didn’t know, medieval crusaders in the days of the black plague often made wisecracks about buying each other drinks after the battle ended, showing no fear or regard for the terrible casualties about to ensue. I’d say this is just how guys act, but really it just comes off like both of them are huge jackasses. Or rather, the writers were being huge jackasses, because this is about as historically accurate as The Washingtonians. At least that movie had cannibalistic George Washington imitators. This movie has, what, shitty special effects and costumes borrowed from the retirement home production of The Seventh Seal? Please.

"Hey, do you think this is rock bottom yet?"
"Nah, I was in The Last Winter a few years ago."

So they go through God knows how many battles (quite literally) until this one time when Cage accidentally stabs an innocent woman. This prompts them to question their religion and what they’re fighting for, going off on their super holistic leader guy about how hypocritical it is to kill in God’s name.

Uh, yeah…nice sentiment, guys, but there’s one little problem. Pardon me if I’m stepping on the toes of the battle-weary when I say this, but, WHERE THE FUCK WAS THIS WHEN YOU WERE STABBING AND MURDERING HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE IN THE PREVIOUS BATTLES? So what, you can ram your sword through droves of other guys, but when ONE WOMAN accidentally steps in front of your sword, THAT’S when you suddenly cry bullshit? I’m sorry, that’s just too stupid to let pass.

"Hey, it's okay. I punched a bunch of women in one of my other recent movies! And then I was dressed as a bear for some reason! Ha ha ha...what I'm saying is, don't hold it against me."

I mean, yeah, I get it – they’re starting to become disillusioned with the crusades and whatnot. That’s fine. But the way this movie is handling that very delicate subject matter is just off. We see them fighting battles without protest throughout over three years’ time, and then suddenly they’re against it because one innocent person died? Not that they’re wrong to be upset about that, but it’s just poor writing. Maybe if we had gotten more dialogue and seen them slowly changing their minds, it would have worked – but I guess a 90 minute movie just has no space for petty things like character development, right? Pfft, who needs it?

So Perlman and Cage say they’re leaving. The higher-up general guy threatens to stop them, and I imagine there’s probably some sort of rule in their military about deserting, but the whole army just sits there and watches them go, not bothering to follow them, restrain them or anything. Best army ever? I think it is.

Perlman and Cage go wandering through the world with no clear motive or destination in mind. They eventually come across a city where the black plague has taken effect, rendering everyone into extremely expensive Halloween store makeup. I mean, this stuff must have been at least $30 to buy, and for multiple people? Totally cleared out the director’s rich girlfriend’s parent’s credit card. They get exposition from some random guy about the plague and then end up getting arrested.

So after talking to the world’s oldest haunted house prop...

That's Christopher Lee, so the "oldest haunted house prop" bit isn't entirely farcicial.

...and declaring that they no longer follow the Church, they get thrown in jail for about five seconds before getting charged with the task of hauling some girl to some other town where she’ll apparently be tried for the charge of witchcraft in bringing the plague to the town. Perlman cracks some jokes about how mortified the priest looked when Cage said he didn’t believe in the church – yeah, scenes like this really make me so invested in the drama going on. I bet The Seventh Seal’s dramatic moments would have been way better if the characters were cracking unfunny jokes throughout all of them, right?

So then they start their journey. They need a guide though, and so they of course make the most logical choice – some guy who’s been arrested and put in one of those head-lock things for fraud. Isn’t that what most sensible people would do? I know I would. It’s just like the time I was searching for a navigator for my pirate ship and then decided on a blind guy. Best choice I ever made!

Yup, nobody else they could have had to be this guy. Instead of just spending an extra five minutes asking door-to-door, they had to pick the guy locked up for criminal activity - genius.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about the stupidly stupid adventures of Cage, Perlman, two priests with sticks up their asses, generic criminal guy with no personality and helpless girl in a cage. My what a jolly motley crew they make! It’s about as fun as going to a funeral.

We get tons of scenes of them just wandering around in the woods. Sometimes there are attempts made at drama between the characters, but they fall about as flat as the North Dakota plainslands. Mostly this is because the writers clearly just didn’t give a shit – every choice they make comes off as goofy, but you can tell they’re pretty much deadpan serious about all of it. There’s really no sense of fun or self-awareness with these scenes, both of which might have helped the film. Nobody likes a silly movie trying to be serious.

The thing is, most of these scenes just have no purpose. Like really – what relevance does the scene where they meet that altar boy have?

Look at that face. That is the face all young men have when staring down Ron Perlman.

Yeah, so they come across this altar boy with a sword who wants to join their team mostly because the script says so – Lord knows I’d have second thoughts about forming an alliance with Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage, but I guess back in the days of the plague they didn’t have the Internet to know who these two guys are. We get a drawn out sword fight between Perlman and the kid, which pretty much just leads up to the kid joining their party anyway. I guess the swordfight isn’t too bad or anything, but c’mon, why even bother? Don’t they have a job to do? Why waste time with this?

How about another scene later where they have to push their cart across a rickety old bridge? Cage girl offers her help and says the whole thing would be lighter if they let her out – how? It’s a giant wooden piece of shit! You probably weigh like 90 pounds! They don’t let her out and spend a lot of time nearly getting killed on the bridge. You may be asking why they don’t even attempt to find some other way around. Well, the answer to that is simple – they don’t have time. They do have time for pointless sword fights, but not for trying to find alternatives to plunging to a certain death. Priorities: they’re not just for the sane anymore!

So they get across the bridge finally. We get an overly long scene where the girl escapes from her cage and runs away, only for one of the two priest guys to get killed off in a cave by accidentally running into the altar boy’s sword. He doesn’t seem to see the altar boy at all, instead seeing a woman in front of him instead. Which seems strange enough for Cage to start wearing an expression on his face that’s supposed to be either contemplative or constipated. I can’t really tell.

Let's just compromise and say 'confused.'

In between all of these scenes we get some of them all sitting around at night. They talk about how wrong it is to believe that the girl is a witch and how close-minded the church can be. It’s interesting to hear this kind of dialogue, and it could potentially have some relevance and make the film more substantial. However, all of this will become entirely moot by the film’s ludicrous conclusion. I won’t spoil it yet, but trust me on that.

In the meantime, we get scenes like this, where a bunch of werewolves tear that criminal guy apart in the woods:

And I don’t mean werewolves like the normal sense; no…I mean literal werewolves. Wolves that change into, well, more demonic wolves. Isn’t that kind of weird? Why not just have regular demonic wolves? Is there a point to them changing their already scary wolf-faces into even scarier, deader looking wolf-faces? I dunno. I guess I just don’t have the necessary genius to understand the clearly brilliant mythology of this world. Is it a straight historical crusades story? Is it a supernatural tale of witchcraft? Who knows?! Not even the movie, apparently.

It may seem like I’m just complaining about nothing here. That is because the movie is incredibly fucking boring. It’s about as interesting as watching a monkey pick its nose.

So, sigh, I guess they get to wherever they were going, some church or something. They go in and find a bunch of priests who thought it would be an awesome idea to get the black plague. Guess you didn’t pray hard enough, guys!

Well, to be fair, they didn't catch his good side with this picture.

After some more bullshit exposition, they realize the girl tricked them into coming because she wanted to go to the church all along. Why? Well, because for some reason the church is the only place she has the power to turn into one of the worst special effects you’ll ever see:

Seriously, look at that shit. That was the best you could do? Movies from 30 years ago had better effects than that! It’s hideous looking! Using that kind of CGI is tantamount to just admitting you have nothing worthwhile to contribute creatively. Did the special effects guys just think it would be funny to fuck with the movie? I mean, I get it; Lord knows I’d be bored enough too if I had to sit and watch this crap for that long just to edit in the effects. But the least they could have done was go all the way with it. Why not just put this in the movie and really screw with it?

So they have some big, stupid Hollywood style battle and Nic Cage and Ron Perlman both die. We get a partial ass shot of the now-cured girl and then a phoned-in monologue about how she and the altar boy will remember Cage and Perlman forever.

It’s all just so contrived. Why bother having all that bullshit about doubting the church and the accusations of witchcraft if you were just going to end with a big goofy monster fight at the end? While they potentially had some interesting cultural and religious subtext with the talk about how hypocritical and fear-mongering the church was, ALL OF THAT is ruined when they just throw in the vomited-up spawn of mid-90s dollar-store computer-game Satan at the end. How are we supposed to take this seriously at all with that in the film? It’d be like making a provocative film about the Great Depression only to reveal at the end that, in the movie’s universe, the Great Depression was caused by aliens from outer space.

And hey, you know what was entirely missing from this review? Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage jokes! What the hell? Shouldn’t a film with both of them together be absolutely loaded with opportunities to make ridiculous jokes and riff on their performances? But no, they’re actually not too bad in this. The one thing that could have saved this movie was totally ridiculous, hammy performances by these two, and the film is so shitty, it couldn’t even grant me that one small pleasure. And I think that’s the final straw. This movie sucks! I for one am glad to be done with this brain sodomy forever. Avoid at all costs!

Eh, fuck it. Just have a beer and celebrate the four-year anniversary of Cinema Freaks! I’ll start you off.

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