Movie Review: BEFORE I DIE

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before I diParade Deck Films
2016
NR

Dammit.

Dammit dammit dammit dammit.

Look, I’m not going to mince words, here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been angry for having watched a movie. Indifference? Yes. Irritation? Yepper. Insulted? Plenty of times. Been reduced to madness-induced laughter? I call those “Thursdays”. But a movie that was so badly made that, once the end credits ran, all I can think of is to do violent things to the movie for having teased me with promises it never intended to keep. Or, at least write a very terse review of it for my blog.

I believe the last movie to do that was 2000’s Lost Souls. Well, that has been dethroned and replaced with this movie we’re discussing right now: Before I Die.

Before I Die happens to be one of those movies that are free streaming with my Prime account. You better believe I’m gonna get as much mileage out of that as I can. But, sometimes that means being duped into watching a movie like this because the movie poster art and descript blurb made it sound interesting. Here, let me reproduce the descript from Amazon, and tell me if this doesn’t sound the least bit tantalizing:

“Strange spiritual obsessions begin to unearth age-old secrets in a small Northwest town, leading a pastor to suspect that all might not be as idyllic as he first imagined and personal threats await anyone who dares confront them.

I mean, sure, it’s kind of a generic sounding horror premise, one that has been done since Hawthorne and Poe’s time, but at least it wasn’t another “teenagers trapped in a haunted asylum” or what have you movie these low-budget straight-to-video movie makers seem to favor.

What I got instead, was something that was ineptly made on all levels. The movie starts at a potluck gathering in a Congregational style church basement, and for 110 minutes of the movie’s nearly 2-hour run time, it maintains that level of excitement throughout. The movie just drags on and on and on, with a story that has less to do with horror, and more to do with a PBS drama, with some lame attempts at “oooh, spooky shenanigans afoot!” thrown in to remind us that we are, in fact, watching a horror movie. The acting is amateurish at best, and is so wooden you’ll be picking splinters out of your brain for days after. The effects are…well, there are no effects, really. The plot is so meandering and at times confusing that the big “twist” reveal seems more of an afterthought tacked on.

Watching Before I Die did the impossible: it made m want to watch the television show 7th Heaven for some excitement. To say that I was disappointed with this movie is a gross understatement. Avoid this movie like the festering blob of undigested guacamole dip that it is.

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Movie Review: ANTISOCIAL 2

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antisocial 2Breakthrough Entertainment
2015
NR

Hey, look. It’s a sequel to one of the more mediocre Millennial horror movies I’ve had the displeasure of watching. What were the changes of there being one? I’m not certain why, but we have a sequel. And by some twisted masochistic logic that only I can understand, I was compelled to watch Antisocial 2: Antisocial Harder.

Gads, I’m already using bad humor as a coping mechanism. This is not a good sign.

So, anyway, after a voice-over recap of the first Antisocial, we find the final girl from the first movie — Sam — emerge from the trunk of a beat up car, having spent the night there to be safe from any attacks from those feral humans that were fully zombified from the Red Room virus referred to as “users”. It’s evident that, sometime between the end of the first movie and now, she managed to get preggers, as Sam is clearly in the third trimester. She then drives off in the car, which is when we realize that Antisocial 2 is going to be a Post-Apocalyptic Road Trip movie. She gives birth to her baby in an abandoned building, where the kid is immediately taken by a crazy (but uninfected) lady spouting off religious end times gobblety-gook and Sam is left to die, but of course she survives and takes off to find her kid and drive around some more. Somehow, three years go by, and while trying to score some munitions Sam runs afoul of users, who are turned away by a precarious preteen who has figured out how to hack the Users to do her dark bidding get them safely out of the way. Seems the Read Room social media chat room is still alive and well, making more and more infected Users, causing them to become kind of a hive-mind collective. It’s convoluted, yes, but let’s just go with it. Seems the preteen kid is the daughter of a crazy military scientist who ran away due to…well, he’s a crazy military scientist. Seems he’s doing experiments on not only the Users, but also the ones that are normal because they had the DIY tumor removal that was done in the previous movie, of which Sam is one of them. Of course, the two are captured by the military that the kid’s dad works for, and is brought back to the base, where it appears that Sam’s three-year-old is at. This kid, because he was in-utero during the infection, has some wicked psychic abilities, because of course he does. The military science guy does a bunch of SCIENCE! things, Sam discovers her son is alive and well an in the facility, yadda-yadda, they escape only to have things end on one of those frustrating sequel baits.

Well, I’ll give Antisocial 2 this — at least it didn’t insult my intelligence by just rehashing the same story beats and tropes as the original movie. No, instead Antisocial 2 insulted my intelligence by copying and pasting ideas and tropes from far better horror and sci-fi movies. You know the ones: Day Of The Dead (the original, as no other versions exist in my reality), I Am Legend, Zombieland (without the humor), Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and Children Of The Damned, to name a few. I did find the concept of the Red Room virus turning the infected into a kind of hive-mind organism intriguing, and wished they explored that a bit more than what they did with the story. Overall, though, I found Antisocial 2 to be mediocre for the most part, while picking up a bit at the very end. I don’t hate myself for watching this unnecessary sequel, but I’m not clamoring for another one. I wasn’t clamoring for this one after watching the first one, but here we are.

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.

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: 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.

Book Review: BRIEF CASES (The Dresden Files)

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brief cases dresden filesJim Butcher
ACE
2018

It’s been three years since the last book in the Dresden Files series was released. Three long years without our favorite Chicago-based wizard detective to experience exciting supernatural wackiness vicariously through. Fortunately, there’s been a recent publication of another short story collection by Jim Butcher, something that will tide me over until the next book in the series comes out. Loves me some Dresden Files.

Anyway, yeah, Brief Cases was recently released through ACE Books, collecting several short stories that Butcher wrote for other publications, plus one that was only released on this collection, if I have my information correct. Let’s dive in and see what we got, shall we?

  • “A Fistful Of Warlocks”

We take a trip back to the Wild West of the 1800s, where the warden Anastasia Luccio rides into the town of Dodge City, hot on the heels of a warlock, and teams up with a deputy sherif named Wyatt Erp to take on the warlock’s posse and their zombie horde.

  • “B Is For Bigfoot”

Harry Dresden takes a case from a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders (River Shoulders for short) to check up on his son, who goes to school in Chicago. The kid might be being picked on by bullies; only, it turns out to be more than that.

  • “AAAA Wizardry”

Dresden regales a class of young wardens in training with a tale of when he took on a case involving a boogeyman to illustrate the five “A”s of wizardly investigation.

  • “I Was A Teenage Bigfoot”

Once again, Dresden takes a case from River Shoulders, this time to check up on his son — who is now a teenager and attending a private school — and find out why he’s sick. On account of, the son of Bigfoot shouldn’t be getting sick, let alone lain out in the infirmary. It might be black magic afoot…but you’d never guess for what ends.

  • “Curses”

Dresden is hired to try and get a curse put on Wrigley Field in 1945 lifted so the Cubs can actually win for once, darn it. This takes him deep in the realm of the Tylwyth Teg, to speak to the caster of the curse. Who knew the creatures of folklore were big baseball fans?

  • “Even Hand”

A story told from the point of view of John Marcone, the Chicago crime lord that’s a perpetual thorn in Dresden’s side. Here, Marcone is best upon by a rather nasty member of the Fomor — Cantrev Lord Mag — who’s there to collect a baby that was stolen by the White Court’s human servant Justine. Things go boom.

  • “Bigfoot On Campus”

One last case from River Shoulders, and this time he wants Dresden to check in on his now college-age son due to a premonition of danger. Which may hold some water, as Dresden discovers that the kid is dating the daughter of a White Court vampire.

  • “Bombshells

Told from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, from her post-wizard apprentice days, due to Dresden still being considered dead at this point; she takes a mission to infiltrate a Swartves stronghold to rescue Dresden’s half-brother Thomas Raith; only, she discovers things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. To be fair, they never are.

  • “Cold Case”

Another one from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, this time as the newly-minted Lady of the Winter Court. She is charged with collecting a long-overdue tribute from the Miksani. After arriving at the small Alaskan seaport, she discovers the reason why they’ve been so tardy, and teams up with the young Warden Ramirez to get things back in order.

  • “Jury Duty”

Harry Dresden is summoned to jury duty in the case of a former bodyguard for a crime boss accused of the murder of a man one year prior. It seems fairly cut and dried only Dresden has that inkling that something’s not quite right. So he goes investigating, along with one of his werewolf friends. Wackiness ensues.

  • “Day One”

A story told from the perspective of everyone’s favorite polka-loving, Sword of Faith-wielding mortician, Waldo Butters; this one concerns Butters’ first case as a newly-minted Knight of the Cross, which involves a rogue baku that’s feeding off the fear of the children in a hospital ward.

  • “Zoo Day”

The final story in this collection has Dresden taking his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his dog (and current guardian of Maggie) Mouse on a daddy/daughter/doggie day at the zoo to look at some animals. This one takes turns with the point of views, starting with Dresden, who encounters a young warlock; Maggie, where she faces off with some nasty haunts that are possessing other kids at the zoo; and finally Mouse, where he meets a dark figure from his past. Also, there’s french fries.

Of the stories in this collection, I believe I enjoyed “A Fistful Of Warlocks”, the three involving Bigfoot and his half-human, half-bigfoot son (especially the “Bigfoot On Campus”, as things really go boom there), and “Zoo Day”, as we not only get a good story involving Dresden trying to be something he’s not accustomed to — being a father — but also the three points of view, one being the ironically named Mouse. That was great, there.

Mind you, all the rest of the stories contained are all top-notch, containing the quality type of action, mystery and humor that comes with this series, only contained in easily digestible bite-sized pieces. I’m afraid I went through my Kindle edition of this a bit too fast, as per usual. It was that kind of engrossing. Recommended.

Book Review: STRANGE WEATHER

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joe hill strange weatherJoe Hill
William Morrow
2017

Joe Hill’s follow-up to his fantastic novel The Fireman is a collection of four novellas, titled Strange Weather. Of course, being a fan of Joe Hill, I purchased my copy of Strange Weather the same week it was released. But, in kind of a first, I got my copy as an e-book through Google Play. Not that this will become the future standard for my literary indulgences, mind you. Just went with this format for kicks and giggles.

So, four short novels collected in one binding. Let’s dive in and see what came out of Joe Hill’s brain droppings, shall we?

  • “Snapshot”

A successful middle-aged man reminisces back to the summer of 1988, where he runs into a creepy guy with a camera you really don’t want to have your picture taken with.

This was a pretty taught thriller with an object that seems to call back to the Stephen King novella “The Sun Dog” from the Four Past Midnight collection. But, “Snapshot” is far from a rip of that story. The two feature instant cameras that do weird stuff, and that’s where the similarities end. The camera in “Snapshot” is far more sinister. The story also manages to be emotionally wrenching, with the theme of losing your identity and saying goodbye to your past. I also found myself empathizing with the main protagonist, as I too was the fat young teenager back in ’88. What a year. No creepy gangly old men with cameras, though. That I know of.

  • “Loaded”

A disgraced mall security guard shoots and kills the jilted mistress of another mall store manager, a Muslim woman and her infant son shee was carrying, and a young man who witnessed the incident, thinking it was all a terrorist attack. He’s hailed as a hero of the community, everyone praising him, including his estranged wife and young son. Until a reporter from the local paper starts digging for the truth, and the “hero” finally snaps under all the pressure.

“Loaded” is one of those super tense thrillers where the real life terror depicted in the story is only amplified by the real life horror that plays out on the news at home, with shootings seemingly on the rise. Hill did a rather good job with making the antagonist nunced and sympathetic to a point; though in no way do you really side with him, as what they’re doing is despicable, but you can kinda see where he’s coming from. Overall, a very good story that rather pissed me off with the ending, there. Well done, sir. Well done.

  • “Aloft”

A young man’s first attempt at skydiving, to honor the wishes of a friend that died of cancer, results in him getting stuck on a cloud that’s not really a cloud (at least, it doesn’t act like actual clouds do…which is an understatement), and he’s stuck trying to figure out how to get down, and the cloud doesn’t seem to want to let him go.

The fun thing about speculative fantasy fiction is the taking of an otherwise absurd-sounding concept, and spinning it into a yarn that makes it work. “Aloft” does just that, with a concept that sounds more like a comic strip gag — a guy skydives and gets stuck on a cloud. Joe Hill takes this and makes it right engrossing, giving things a nice mystery surrounding his situation, as well as working out some relationship issues.

  • “Rain”

One afternoon in Boulder, Colorado, it begins raining razor-sharp crystalline shards that kills or seriously wounds anyone caught outside in it. This includes the girlfriend of our story’s protagonist, who, soon after the first freak storm, sets out on foot to Denver to try and find her girlfriend’s father to inform him of his wife and daughter’s tragic demise from the freak storm, and try to make heads or tails of what’s going on, and try to survive.

In a note in the afterwards portion of this book, Joe Hill admits to writing “Rain” as kind of a satire of his own post-apocalyptic novel The Fireman. Maybe I’m not smart enough to get the satire part; it’s probably too subtle for a meathead like myself to notice the first time reading. I do, however, recall reading a story in a collection of youth-oriented science fiction stories back in grade school, one that involved a kid playing outside on a planet his human family have settled on, and almost getting caught in a flash storm that rained sharp crystals from the clouds, much like in this one. Only, that story wasn’t as nuanced or, you know, set on Earth as “Rain” is. A lot more plot, a lot more character development, and…well, let’s just say this is probably the best kind of kooky cult types you want to be stuck next to. Give or take singing Genesis songs in the middle of the night.

Once again, Strange Weather manages to solidify Joe Hill as one of my top favorite genre writers in the past ten years. He has one of the most fertile imaginations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, and this collection is further proof of that. Highly engrossing, time seems to just fly by as I read this. Highly recommended, this.

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