Movie Review: The NUN

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nun, theWarner Bros. Pictures
2018
R

“What’s the opposite of a miracle, Father?”

You have to admire how many movies James Wan can squeeze out of The Conjuring franchise. The first two Conjuring movies proper, then two Annabelle movies, and now a movie involving that freaky nun that was in The Conjuring 2. And like the Annabelle spinoffs, The Nun is a prequel to all of the movies in the series, making this one the first in the overall series, story-wise.

Anyway, I was looking forward to checking out The Nun when it was set to come out in the theaters in September. I thought that the very brief yet very memorable scenes with the nun in The Conjuring 2 was the best parts of that movie, and was curious what story they could tell with this one. But, because scheduling and the less-than-favorable reports coming in from the various review blogs, vlogs and podcasts I read/watch/listen to, I decided ultimately that The Nun was going to be one of those movies I would watch when it became available on on digital rental format. Which is now.

So, was The Nun a snooze-fest? A predictable, nothing-but-jump-scares waste of my time? Well, let’s get the rundown out of the way, here, and find out…

When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in “The Conjuring 2,” as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

Overall, despite all of the negative reviews this movie got when it was first released in theaters, I did enjoy The Nun more than I thought I would. It was more on a Hammer-style Gothic B-horror movie level, which is probably the best way to come at these type of movies. The use of the settings, the shadows and atmosphere was utilized to great effect; the story was a slow-build mystery that, while a tad on the predictable side, managed to throw in some twists and turns throughout the run time. Of course, The Nun isn’t what you would call a “scary movie”, as what it does for actual scares are more boo-scares than anything else; as I mentioned before, if you take in the very Gothic atmosphere and setup (and get past thinking the possessed nun is Marilyn Manson in Catholic cosplay), you may find that The Nun can get under your skin pretty effectively.

Not as bad as everybody is saying it is, The Nun is very much worth a rental on some dark, cold and rainy night.

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Movie Review: RARE EXPORTS

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rare exportsOscilloscope
2010
R

“The real Santa was totally different. The Coca-Cola Santa is just a hoax.”

Truth be told, I actually have something of a soft spot for Christmas. There is a good underlying Gothic aesthetic to this holiday, a kind of beautiful darkness mixed in with the whimsy and wonder that the season brings. There used to be a grand tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve, a tradition that lives on in the plethora of Christmas-themed horror movies to choose from.

Which brings us to Rare Exports. This is a movie that I was told I needed to watch since it was put out in 2010. What kept me from getting around to doing so until now was because this was a foreign subtitled movie. Yeah, yeah, lame excuse, I know. I’m not a big fan of reading along in movies, is all. Unless it’s a silent movie. But, I digress.

Of course, like a lot of the movies I’ve been watching recently, Rare Eports was available on the streaming service I utilize, and since t’was the season and all that, I figured it was time to settle in and give Rare Exports a look-see and find out what the hype is all about.

A young boy named Pietari and his friend Juuso think a secret mountain drilling project near their home in northern Finland has uncovered the tomb of Santa Claus. However, this is a monstrous, evil Santa, much unlike the cheery St. Nick of legend. hen Pietari’s father captures a feral old man in his wolf trap, the an may hold the key to why reindeer are being slaughtered and children are disappearing.

Rare Exports isn’t so much a Christmas horror movie as it is a dark fantasy based on folk tales. Okay scratch that–Rare Exports is really a coming-of-age tale of a young boy that happens to utilize a folk tale setting to tell the story. It’s the interaction between Pietari and his father that drives the story, with Pietari coming to terms with his situation and stepping up into being a man. Or whatever.

Of course, the nutmeg in the eggnog here is the way the story plays off of the concept of an ancient, more malevolent Santa, one that–by description and visual design–sounds more like Krampus. However, we never really see the (literally) big buy–only his horns sticking out of a gigantic block of ice. Which is enough to drive the sense of dread and tension. No, where the filmmakers succeeded in making Rare Exports a dark folk tale was the depiction of Santa’s elves–which looked like feral old men, not at all twisted and scary looking at first…but then the eyes and body language transmit otherwise. It’s subtle yet powerful.

There’s some very good use of shadow and keeping things in the darkness, along with the setting lending to a sense of isolation and palpable cold you can feel yourself while watching this. But, that’s not to say that everything is all grim and dark; there is a sense of humor here, especially when we get to the explosive climax and see what happens with all of Santa’s elves. It’s…not what you would expect, but it makes sense, really.

So, overall, I’m sorry it took me eight years to check out Rare Exports. It’s a well-made and greatly engaging dark Christmas folk tale, something that, if you haven’t seen this yet, you should do yourself a favor and do so. Recommended.

Movie Review: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS

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santa claus conquers the martiansEmbassy Pictures
1964
NR

“Well, when Voldar ‘accidentally’ left us in the airlock and then came up here and ‘accidentally’ threw the door switch, we knew we had to get out of there in a hurry or that would be the end of us. Eh, uh, ‘accidentally’, of course.”

The first time I watched this classic hilarious-for-all-the-wrong-reasons bit of Holiday Sci-Fi cheese was by way of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode roasting this chestnut. Didn’t matter that it was the middle of summer, or that it was late at night; I was marveling at the sheer awfulness of this movie, and constantly doubled over in laughter from the constant barrage of barbs being slung at this from the MST3K crew.

That was then. And now, nearly twenty years after happening upon that particular episode, I now own the original movie sans the color commentary alongside the MST3K episode. And as many fans of this particular brand of bad movies understand, it’s a holiday tradition that gets shown every year in the annual Christmas movie list.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is so deliciously bad: the ridiculous premise, the thin story, the cheap costumes and sets (this movie is famous for using Wham-O! brand air popper guns for “freeze rays”, and perhaps the worst guy-in-a-polar-bear-suit and cardboard robot I’ve seen this side of The Forbidden Planet), the groan-inducing acting (also featuring the debut of a young Piza Dora), and a theme song that is incredibly annoying yet will become lodged inside your skull. In a certain way, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is the perfect metaphor for the Holiday season, really: you know what you’re experiencing is shoddy and bad, but you can’t help but enjoy yourself despite the goings on. I can’t be the only curmudgeon this time of the year.

Regardless of your take, you owe it to yourself to watch Santa Claus Conquers The Martians at least once. I would recommend the MST3K edition for you newbies out there. For those of us seasoned veterans out there, you know the drill: Grab your friends, keep the eggnog flowing, and sing along with me- “Hor-ray for SAN-TEE-CLAUS!”

Movie Review: COOL WORLD

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cool worldParamount
1992
PG-13

“I’m a cartoonist. I drew all this. I have visions. I translate this.”

While growing up in rural Eastern Nebraska in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my family had a monthly tradition where we would drive to Sioux City, Iowa to the Southern Hills Mall (shout-out, there) after church, and spend the afternoon there. They would give my sister and me some monies, and we were off on that day’s adventure. Mostly, if there was any new movies of interest out at the time, I would use part of the $20 to see the flick at the theater inside that mall. And in the summer of 1992, one of those movies I watched in that theater complex was Cool World.

Keep in mind, I wasn’t as pop culture-savvy back when I was 18 as I am now, so I had no idea who Ralph Baskshi was, let alone his contribution to the world of animation. All I had to go on was that Cool World was a blend of live action and animation, so it had to be like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, right?

*sigh* No. No it wasn’t. Let’s get this over with, then…

Jack Deebs is a cartoonist who is due to be released from jail. His comic book Cool World describes a zany world populated by “doodles” (cartoon characters) and “noids” (humanoids). What Jack didn’t realize is that Cool World really does exist, and a “doodle” scientist has just perfected a machine which links Cool World with our world. Intrigued at seeing his creation come to life, Jack is nonetheless wary as he knows that not everything in Cool World is exactly friendly.

On my first watch of Cool World back then, I remember being beset by a combination of confusion and boredom. Having rewatched Cool World decades later just to give it a second chance in my old(er) age…yeah, this movie is still a very disjointed and confusing mess. Even after gaining a more informed appreciation of Ralph Baskshi and his cult films. The characters — both live action and animated — have no personality…and inexplicably, there’s a bunch of non sequitur bits of animation that just shows up and distracts from the story. And speaking of the story, that’s all over the place, not even adhering to their own established rules of their universe, and features a bat-guano climax ending that will make your head hurt before fading away into a memory that you eventually question you ever really experienced in the first place.

Overall, Cool World may have started off as ambitious and subversive, but ended up more a confusing mess. Watch if you’re morbidly curious, otherwise pass on this one.

Movie Review: HELL HOUSE LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel

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hell house llc 2Terror Films
2018
NR

Last year around this time, I stumbled across a little horror flick entitled Hell House LLC on the streaming service I utilize. I went in not expecting much, and came out of it far more impressed with the movie than I had expected. It was rather effective for squeezing as much quality horror out of the small budget it had, and became one of my favorites in the found footage category of horror movies.

As it turns out, while I would have been satisfied with just a one-and-done movie, the creator of Hell House LLC envisioned a trilogy, and has just released the second installment in September of 2018 (this year, as of the time of this writing). I was unaware of this, and found out about it when Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel was a featured review on the Who Goes There? Podcast. This sequel is available for streaming exclusively on the Shudder TV site, and will become available in a wider market come January of next year, but I had to check this out on the Greatest Season of the Year just because. Let’s take a look, shall we?

It’s been eight years since the opening night tragedy of Hell House, LLC and still many unanswered questions remain. Thanks to an anonymous tip, investigative journalist Jessica Fox is convinced that key evidence is hidden inside the abandoned Abaddon Hotel–evidence that will shed light on the hotel’s mysteries. She assembles a team equally hungry for answers with one goal: break into the hotel and discover the truth.

When compared to the first Hell House LLC movie, The Abaddon Hotel feels a bit weaker in execution. It doesn’t seem as focused in the plot, and seems to rely a bit too much on trying to answer all the questions that were raised with the first one. The movie managed to create the thick atmospheric tension and dread of the first movie; indeed, the inter-splicing of footage from other outside victims of the hotel helped to build the stakes for what the main characters are up against. Two come from a couple of kids who venture into the hotel on a challenge or dare, and seemed to me to punctuate how entirely stupid the kids these days are. A little tip, boys and girls: When you go up to a run-down, purportedly haunted place that others have rumored to never returned from after going in, and the door opens right up for you by itself, like it wants you to come right in, that’s the signal to TURN AROUND AND RUN AWAY.. I don’t care if there’s a visible plate of cookies right there. To quote a certain Mon Calamarian Fleet Admiral, “ITS A TRAP!”

That little geeky rant aside, I do have to admit that the character building here is pretty good. With the exception of the psychic guy (which, just by the way he was played here, was my default favorite character, regardless of how everything about him was a cliche’d trope, right down to his demise), I found myself surprisingly caring for the film crew that ventured into the hotel looking for answers. Mind you, once inside the hotel, the movie tended to rely a bit too much on the mannequins moving positions when you look away and look back. Still a bit effective, yes, but I found myself splitting my attention between the scene going on in the foreground and keeping an eye on the background for the inevitable Jack-In-The-Box scare to walk by. I have to admit, though, that at least the movie didn’t use any music stingers to insult your intelligence, and let us use our imaginations for a lot of the horror here.

Sadly, the weakest part of the movie is at the final ten, fifteen minutes. This is where the actions stop and become a full-on exposition dump, possibly in an effort to explain and answer the questions everyone had after watching the first movie. This, in my not-so-humble opinion, sucks away a good chunk of the mystery surrounding the hotel itself. It doesn’t completely ruin the movie, by any means; it just would have been a much more satisfying middle part of a trilogy had it just cut out that exposition part at the end and left us with another disappearance of another film crew, like at the end of the first movie. In other words, the twist fell flat and needed some pruning.

Overall, Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel was a decent follow-up to the surprisingly good first movie. It managed to maintain a level of spooky atmosphere and genuine tension, all the while, like with actual haunted house attractions this time of year, the intensity isn’t as great the second go-round, simply because of familiarity. Still, highly recommended, this one.

Uncle NecRo Watches: HALLOWEEN 2018

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UNCLE NECRO WATCHEShalloween 2018 banner
It’s been 40 years since the release of the horror classic that gave birth to our greatest fears in a William Shatner mask. Of course, Uncle NecRo and Brian went to see it, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. Were we pleasantly surprised by a treat? Or did this turn out to be yet another nasty trick? Listen in and find out…

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Movie Review: PRAY.

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prayCross Shadow Productions
2007
NR

I’ve always said that the horror genre is the perfect medium for Christians to get involved in. I say that with absolutely no sarcasm or irony whatsoever. But, of course, this is generally not very well received by most of my fellow brethren and sisteren who share the faith in Christ Jesus as I do. You may have noticed that I don’t generally watch a lot of Evangelical Christian produced movies, for the obvious reasons. But, once in a while, I come across something so utterly adorable that the Evangelical Christian market puts out, I have to actually watch it just to marvel at it. Sometimes I enjoy it for all the wrong reasons. It’s the same reason why I love movies like The Room and Birdemic.

Recently, thanks mainly to the YouTube channel Say Goodnight Kevin, I discovered the attempt to make a Dove-Approved, family friendly slasher horror. That, of course, seems as feasible as dividing by zero. But, then, here we go. The movie is called Pray. (that period is actually part of the title, not the indicator that I’m done writing the sentence), and I believe I may have found that rare treat for my bad movie watchin’ tastes. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Madison and Lacy enjoy an out-of-town Christian rock concert. After some eerie events, the friends decide to drive back to their hometown. However, someone or something follows them home! Events unfold that find Madison alone at the mall later that evening. The mall closes, and we find our heroine mysteriously trapped inside. It will take her resolute strength and unflinching faith to escape!

Pray. is the most amazeballs movie I’ve every had the gleeful joy of watching. I mean that. This movie manages to hit near The Room levels of badness that it must be seen to be believed. There is just so much to unravel here that I really don’t know where to begin. But, here goes.

First off, not only do we start with a text of the definition of the word “miracle”, but the movie itself doesn’t think that we, the viewers, are competent enough to take it in, so there’s a handy-dandy voice-over reading the text out loud for us. I love it when the movie I’m watching decides to insult my intelligence right off the bat. It gets this out of the way, so I can settle in and enjoy things. Anyway, the acting here is about what you would expect from a low-budget Christian-based independent flick–meaning, I wouldn’t be surprised if they used volunteers from the church to film this, with a script that just had a general outline of what was going to go on, some minimal dialogue actually written out, then the rest just improvised for filler. There’s a scene early on, when the gang of kids emerge from where the nondescript “Christian rock concert” was, and the WGWAG* has his guitar strapped to him. He wasn’t a member of the band. He brought his acoustic guitar with him to the concert. Look, I’m acquainted with plenty of acoustic guitar enthusiast youth group types, and I’ve yet to witness any one of them take their guitar with them to a concert, Christian, rock or otherwise, unless they’ve got a set to play themselves. But, I digress.

The pacing and editing is shoddy, the film making is worse than amateur, many of the shots were lit very badly, and don’t even get me started about the complete lack of actual scares, tension or suspense in this so-called “horror” movie. Look, I understand that, to get a movie “Dove Approved”, there has to be certain homogenizing going on to get just the right amount of sanctification to make this family friendly. I wouldn’t be complaining much if the makers of this movie just relied heavily on jump scares, but even that’s too scary for Christians, apparently. Mind you, there’s a lot of music cue buildup to what you may thing will be a scary payoff, but no. The actual killer in this–listed on the IMDB page as “the Shape”, so they’ve ripped off something from a much, much better movie, par for the course for any Evangelical Christian attempt at pop culture–looks so very much lame: a hoodie and one of those translucent masks that you can get at any dollar store nearby. And that final twist ending itself not only insults your intelligence, but then punches it in the gut, and spits on it as it lays on the ground in the fetal position, before riding off with its girlfriend on a motorcycle. Seriously, this twist will make you pine for the days when “The call is coming from inside the house!” made your bellybutton pucker.

So, what else do I have to say? Would you believe there have been two sequels to this movie? With the third one in 3D. Because of course there is. You better believe I have those two cued up in my streaming account as we speak. In the meantime, though, Pray. (you gotta remember that period, it’s important) needs to be watched by everybody. Highly recommended for all the wrong reasons.

[*=“White Guy With Acoustic Guitar”]

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