Movie Review: DOLLY DEAREST

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dolly dearestTrimark Pictures
1991
R

“I want my dolly!”

Stand back, everybody, as I’m about to nerd all over you again. Because this movie we’re reviewing today stars Denise Crosby, who is known in Star Trek fandom as both Lt. Tasha Yar and her own daughter Sela on The Next Generation. Mind you, her acting career stretches over a decade before then, but there’s no life before Star Trek for some geeks. Or after, sometimes. To horror fans, she’s known famously for playing the mother in the original Pet Semetary movie in 1989. But, this isn’t a review of that good movie. No, this is a review of the schlocky possessed evil doll movie Dolly Dearest.

In Dolly Dearest, an enterprising American Guy purchases a quaint doll factory in Mexico. He probably got it cheep due to its proximity to an ancien Mayan burial tomb for an entity with a name that translates as “Satan on Earth”. After he and his family — his wife (Denise Crosby!) and young daughter — arrive, they all check out the factory, which, as it turns out, leaves a bit to be desired. But, they discover a bunch of pristine leftover dolls, and one of them is given to the daughter. this doll manage to creep out their housekeeper, because DOLLS ARE CREEPY. Those soulless eyes, staring at you, unblinking, emotionless, you know they’re watching you as you sleep…

Okay, I’m back, after hyperventilating in the corner a bit. Where were we? Right, then…

Seems that, due to the close proximity to the fenced off bomb cave of Satan on Earth — and also because of a recent mishap while unearthing the remains of this delightful sounding corpse — the girl’s new dolly has been set to EVIL, and is trying to possess the kid. As dolls tend to do.

In the pantheon of “evil doll/toys” movies to come out in that time period, Dolly Dearest is probably the lamest of the bunch. It’s dull, slow-moving and about as tension-filled as a tea break with your great-grandma. It gets a bit more entertaining when all the dolls come alive and it’s evident the effects doing so are not exactly up to snuff. The big highlight here is Rip Torn, who plays an archaeologist and tries his darnedest to maintain a plausible accent. Otherwise, I found myself checking the clock on my phone way too often while trying to get through this Child’s Play knockoff. Pass on this one.

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Movie Review: HOTEL OF THE DAMNED

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hotel of the damnedUn’Corked Entertainment
2016
NR

Abandoned hotels are a staple of horror movies. You have your haunted hotel, or…well, that’s pretty much it. Unless we’re talking about an abandoned hotel that has cannibal hillbillies squatting in them, like in Hotel Of The Damned.

This being one of the offerings on the Amazon Prime streaming, I really wasn’t expecting much. I had my expectations lowered. And, it seemed like one of those movies I could throw on, and not pay too close attention to while I transcribed stuff on my laptop and still could follow along with the plot.

I mean, the plot itself is a tried and true one: dark and stormy night, car wreck, nearby abandoned building to take shelter in…this is the standard beat of every “true ghost story” legend in my personal library. Only, instead of ghosts, this hotel is haunted by cannibals. Also, instead of your typical group of annoying young adults being the ones finding themselves stranded and spending the night there, the movie does get a bit creative with that trope.

A recently released ex-con is hoping to make things right with his estranged daughter. Things get to a bit of a rocky start when he learns that she has run off with her junkie boyfriend. So the ex-con and his pal track them down to bring the daughter home, with her boyfriend in the trunk of the car. On the way, they manage to crash the car and left stranded, so they take up refuge in a nearby abandoned hotel until morning. Things go well enough as to be expected, until they happen to run into a family of cannibals living in the hotel as well. From then on, it’s a game of avoid being captured and eaten and try to escape, with varying results.

Overall, Hotel Of The Damned was the kind of horror survival movie that gains some points with making the cast not a bunch of annoying teenager stereotypes, and going with a more nuanced gangster father/daughter/junkie boyfriend setup (with the friend of the gangster father for that extra zip and zing). However, by the time they get in the accident and hole up in the abandoned hotel and encounter the cannibals, things settle into the standard cat-and-mouse game you would expect.

As a movie, Hotel Of the Damned is okay. It works better with its family drama aspect, and maybe should have ditched the cannibal horror aspect and worked with that angle. Otherwise, it’s not a bad way to kill some time.

Movie Review: The REVENGE OF DOCTOR X

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revenge of doctor xToci Company
1970
NR

“How in the hell can anybody be so utterly stupid as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?”

 

Usually, when you mention celebrated director Ed Wood, the very first thing that pops into your head is probably Plan 9 From Outer Space. As well it should, as it’s easily in the Top 5 of famous So Bad It’s Good movies. While that may very well be his ultimate legacy, most don’t realize his prolific output, not only as a director, but also as a writer. There were several movies made that were strictly written by Ed Wood, like the subject of this review, The Revenge Of Doctor X.

In this instance, Ed Wood was uncredited for the screenplay. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, filmed in 1966 and released in 1970, this movie also has gone by the titles Venus Flytrap, and Body Of The Prey. As always, the version I watched went by the title of The Revenge Of Doctor X, so that’s the title I’m going with.

In The Revenge Of Doctor X, a burned-out NASA scientist whose introduction we see raging against a rocket taking off on the Florida coast, is ordered to take a vacation. So, he decided to fly out to Japan for some R&R, but then picks up a Venus Flytrap plant before heading out. I don’t know, that seems to be something that would have a bit of trouble with customs officials, I would think. Anyway, he takes his new-found interest in botany and stays in an abandoned resort that’s situated next to an active volcano. So, the guy decides to fully embrace his mad scientist vibes and goes ahead with tinkering the Venus Flytrap, thinking this is the next evolutionary step between humans and plants, and creates a humanoid carnivorous plant monster by cross-breeding the Venus Flytrap with an undersea carniverous plant he picked up after diving with a bunch of locals. Soon, the plant monster escapes, does some damage at the local nearby town, and the doctor goes and tries to stop the carnage. Goofy wackiness ensues.

As campy, low budget sci-fi movies go, The Revenge Of Doctor X is pretty campy. The lead actor constantly chews up the scenery, flying into angry outbursts at the drop of a hat. It’s actually rather amusing to witness this guy. The rest of the acting from others is hammy, there’s some surprise topless nudity that is beyond gratuitous (I don’t know if they were trying to exploit the Japanese culture with that, but still…thanks for the mamories, there), and the creature effects are…well, they’re what you would expect from a low-budget 60s sci-fi flick. Cheesy, campy and right fun to look at.

Bad directing, bad acting, momentous leaps in logic…meaning, you have to see this to believe it. Sure, The Revenge Of Dr. X languishes in obscurity, and I would have never heard of this had this not been on the Amazon Prime streaming I was browsing through, but really this movie needs to be watched at least once just for the experience alone.

Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinée flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

Movie Review: MOTEL HELL

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motel hellUnited Artists
1980
R

“I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all. My meats…I used preservatives.”

Well, here we are. One of the pantheon of legendary cult favorite horror movies that I knew, as a fan of horror flicks, I was required to watch. Hotel Hell was one of those titles that I remembered always seeing on the shelves at the old Applause Video store whenever my family would make the weekly pilgrimage to Fremont, Nebraska in the 1980s, in the Horror section, the box artwork hypnotizing me with the two smiling leads on the cover, somehow conveying a nice balance between friendly and inviting with complete insanity. It simultaneously intrigued me and repulsed me at the same time. Which meant, I so wanted to watch this movie. Of course, at that age, that wasn’t going to happen, as there was no way I was going to convince my parents to rent it. It was always some obscure live action Disney movie or something we would end up getting.

Anyway, long story short, I recently finally gotten around to watching Motel Hell by way of the Amazon streaming service. Having done so, and knowing what kind of cult following this thing has, did I like this? Would my younger tween self have liked this had my parents consented to let me watch it? Well, let’s get to the rundown, and then let’s see if I’m able to ‘splain m’self.

The titular Motel Hell is actually Motel Hello, only the neon light “O” is on the fritz, and keeps blinking out. It’s an out-of-the-way cozy place that’s owned by Farmer Vincent, who is known all over the 30-mile radius for his extremely tasty meat snacks. Along with his sister Ida, they take care of their customers as well as keep up with the meat production. The secret to his famous smoked meats is a blend of pork, which he raises himself organically (or so he says), and also some humans that he can trap from the road that passes by the place. One night, while doing just that, he snags a biker and his girlfriend, knocking both of them out. The biker went into his “human garden” hidden on his farm; the girlfriend gets told her boyfriend died, and so she develops Stockholm Syndrome and begins helping out on the farm. This causes a bit of a rift when a bizarre love triangle between the new girl, who has fallen in love with Farmer Vincent (eeeew), Ida, who doesn’t want to share her older brother (eeeeew) and the younger brother, who’s also the local sheriff, who has the hots for the new girl but is unreciprocated (SEE: in love w/ Farmer Vincent…eeeeew). Things come to a head (no pun intended) when the humans in the Human Garden manage to escape and attack the family, which leads to a chainsaw showdown at the end.

After watching this movie, going in with minimal knowledge of it beyond a couple of hick folks make meat snacks out of people (which always elicits a cry of “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” from me, regardless of who’s around to hear it), I emerged from this experience…well, not a changed man, per se, but I now understand why Motel Hell is held in such high regard. It’s a black comedy about back road cannibals that isn’t exactly the best one of this sub-sub genre — movies like Parents and the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre would come out later in the decade and prove to be far more effective — but it has a kind of laid-back charm that casts aside the whole political commentary side of things, and just gives us an off-beat story that’s chock full of WTF moments (those swingers, a rock band called Ivan and the Terribles, and the one and only Wolfman Jack as a local televangelist) but also a kind of charm to it, as well as the lo-fi effects kills on and off screen.

Overall, I found Motel Hell quite enjoyable on that campy fun level. It’s not the best one, and you get the impression that the writer and director could have pushed the limits just a bit, but were maybe afraid to do so halfway through the production. But, Motel Hell also is far from the worst one of the bunch. It’s available on the Amazon Prime Streaming, which is how I watched it, but however you take in your movie watchin’ experience, I would urge you to check out Motel Hell at least once.

Movie Review: ANT MAN AND THE WASP

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ant man and the waspMarvel / Disney
2018
PG-13

“You can do it. You can do anything. You’re the world’s greatest grandma.”

The third Marvel-based movie for this year (I’m counting Deadpool 2, even though it wasn’t a Disney-generated Marvel movie), and this one is a sequel to 2015’s Ant Man.

While I surprisingly enjoyed the first Ant Man, it still was what you would call a stand-alone, almost filler type of movie that Marvel put out. And while the response was positive, and the inclusion of the character in Captain America: Civil War was supremely satisfying, the sequel wasn’t exactly something I was counting down the days to go watch. Still, I was looking forward to watching this with the Exalted Geeks. We did so on the Sunday after it opened, instead of the Saturday, which is our normal modus operandi for doing these; the reason being is that everyone was at the Shakespeare On The Green in Omaha that Saturday, so we just shifted to Sunday. Anyway…

After a flashback involving the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, getting lost into the Quantum Realm while taking down a nuclear missile, we come across the former second Ant Man, Scott Lang, having some bonding time with his daughter at his place of residence. He’s been on house arrest since the events in Captain America: Civil War, and is nearing the end of his sentence indoors. Then one afternoon, he has a dream where he was Janet van Dyne playing hide-and-seek with her daughter, and so he leaves a message on Hank Pym’s phone, which leads to Scott getting kidnapped by Pym and Hope van Dyne to help triangulate the location of Janet so they can mount a rescue mission. Only, there’s the issue of Scott’s house arrest and the possibility of him spending 20 more years in the slammer if he’s caught, as well as both a black market tech dealer and this phase-shifting thief that goes by Ghost that’s making things a bit more complicated with the rescue mission.

Ant Man And The Wasp was a very enjoyable movie, with the standard breathtaking action bits, some mind-blowing sequences in the Quantum Realm, and just the right amount of comedy mixed in at the right places. The scenes between Scott Lang and his daughter was touching and quite believable, with Scott trying to explain why doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially when it seems his loved ones always get punished as well. The inclusion of Laurence Fishburne was fantastic, as he could fill the part of someone who would conceivably go toe-to-toe against the likes of Hank Pym. Of course, the best scene in the entire movie goes to the interrogation of Luis, a favorite of mine since the first Ant Man movie. Every scene he’s in is gold. Pure gold. He needs to be in the upcoming Avengers movie next May, if he wasn’t one of the casualties of Thanos’ elimination of half of the universe’s population, that is.

Overall, Ant Man And The Wasp was a highly enjoyable comic book action flick. It doesn’t add to the overall grand arc that Marvel has been building for the past ten years, but it’s a nice brick in the wall. Recommended for a matinée, at least.

Movie Review: The CLEANSE

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the cleanseVertical Entertainment
2016
R

Hey, do you remember Darlene’s boyfriend/husband from the original run of the television series Rosanne? You know, the kind-of whiny, passive-aggressive guy with the weird hair? Yeah, I may be dating myself somewhat. Let me try that again: Hey, do you know that guy from the Big Bang Theory? I don’t know if he’s dating or married to anyone on the show, as I don’t watch it. But, the guy with the hair? And used to be on Rosanne? The actor’s name is Johnny Galecki, if that helps. Yeah, that guy. He happens to star in this movie here, The Cleanse.

Like a lot of horror-esque movies that are not exactly on the beaten path, I learned of The Cleanse by way of the Who Goes There? podcast (one of the few horror podcasts worth your attention, you should check them out), which recently featured an episode talking about this movie. It piqued my interest enough to check it out myself. Also, I used the phrase “horror-esque” earlier, because this is really more of a comedy fantasy drama that has a bit of horror in it. Meaning, it’s a gender-bending movie that is essentially the first full-length movie made by writer/director Bobby Miller.

So, what we have with The Cleanse is a story about a man (Galecki) who can’t seem to get out of a downward spiral his life took after getting stood up at the altar and losing his job. He comes across a late-night television ad for a retreat that promises to help those who are chosen to participate. After being chosen (of course he would, otherwise this would be a very short, very pointless movie), he arrives at the resort, along with the other three that were picked, where they all drink four jars each of some kind of cleansing liquid tailor-made just for them. After drinking these, three of the four vomit up odd slug-like critters that remind me of that catapiller-dog thing from House 2, which manage to be both horrible and adorably cute at the same time. They’re told that the creatures are the physical manifestations of all the toxic emotions and anxiety that has built up over the course of their lives, and part of the cleanse is putting the creatures to death by their own hands. The problem is, it seems that everyone who had–for lack of a better word–given birth to these things have bonded with them, so going through with the final phase of the cleanse is a bit harder than it sounds. Which, considering these things are growing and developing a kind of nasty bitey-bitey thing, might be a problem very soon.

Overall, I found The Cleanse to be an interesting mish-mash of sorts, blending together the aforementioned genres into something that works more as a dramady if collaborated with David Cronenberg. The movie isn’t bad, but then again you don’t get a lot of reason to care about the characters enough to really get invested in the story. Galecki seems to have one defining character trait in his acting: milquetoast, and his character in this movie does nothing to change that. The boyfriend/girlfriend couple are totally wasted, two-dimensional characters that seemed superfluous to the overall story. They could have been cut all together, and it would have taken nothing away from the story. As you can probably guess, the two big names on this — Anjelica Huston and Oliver Platt — are underutilized, but great when they get their miniscule screentime.

The Cleanse, when all is said and done, is just meh. It feels half-baked, but it does have its moments. The critter effects were just darned cute. But, if you’re wanting a less cerebral, less graphic type of horror blend like The Cure For Wellness, The Cleanse may be just for you.

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