Movie Review: SUMMER OF ’84

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summer of 84Gunpowder & Sky
2018
NR

“Even serial killers live next door to somebody. Tough pill to swallow, I know, but it’s true.”

Summer, 1984: The perfect time to be 15 years old and free. But when neighborhood conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong begins to suspect his police officer neighbor might be the serial killer all over the local news, he and his three best friends begin an investigation that soon turns dangerous.

Nostalgia-based movies are, admittedly, rather fun to watch. Especially movies based on a year in a specific decade I remember living through. Which is to say, the 1980s. There have been horror movies that have been set in the 1980s that I’ve watched with varying degrees of success. The better ones happen to be the ones where the actual year they’re set in is merely a backdrop to the story, and not bogging down the movie with hamfisted nostalgia references. I seem to hold these kind of movies to a higher standard, mainly because of ties to my own childhood. I know when I’m being pandered to.

That was one of the concerns I had when going into watching the recently released Canadian mystery / horror flick Summer Of ’84. Was this going ot be gimmicky, or is this going to be a rather good mystery thriller with a good story that I can get lost in, with the year itself being merely the backdrop? All indications were to the later, as the various horror movie blogs and sites were giving Summer Of ’84 an enthusiastically positive thumbs up. So, I went ahead and took a gander at this little movie. Kinda glad I did.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that the story behind Summer Of ’84 borrows heavily from the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, with elements of Fright Night (without the vampires) and pretty much any 80s movie that involves a bunch of young teenagers banding together to solve a mystery in their small town. There are several nods to other horror movies, as well as to the classic Hardy Boys Mystery books that I recall devouring in my own youth.

As far as the year that it’s set in, Summer Of ’84 manages to not over-saturate the nostalgia factor, avoiding the temptation to go the “Hey, this is a thing that happened! Isn’t that NEAT?!?” Instead, 1984 is really the backdrop to the overall story, which is one that could have been set in any time period and still would have worked as a movie.

All of the actors were really good in their rolls, and the characters were written in a way that were spot-on, and made you care about their situations. There’s some actual depth to this movie, and not just your run-of-the-mill mystery thriller horror flick. Of course, for the majority of the run time you seem to think that you’ve got everything figured out, and expecting the upbeat type ending. But then, the final 20 minutes bucks the usual conventions and ends the movie with a chilling twist that, even if you did see it coming, will leave you with a hollow bleak feeling. The movie jukes us into a very unconventional ending, and I like that.

Overall, though this movie’s very limited release before being released on VOD came nowhere near Omaha, I would have like to check it out on the big screen, had I been given the chance. Regardless, The Summer Of ’84 was a rather enjoyable and engaging throwback of a movie with a resolution that will stick in your head long after the end credits. Recommended.

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Movie Review: The BERMUDA TRIANGLE

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bermuda triangle, theSunn Classic Pictures
1978
NR

The passengers and crew of a boat on a summer cruise in the Caribbean stray near the famed Bermuda Triangle, and mysterious things start happening.

Ah, the Bermuda Triangle. A classic in the pantheon of supposedly haunted mystery spots on this big world of ours. You’ve heard the legends, of ships and aircraft disappearing mysteriously in this stretch of ocean between Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and the southern-most tip of Florida. Paranormal enthusiasts have tried to explain things as supernatural something-or-other, alien abductions, or Atlantians annoyed with us surface dwellers. Of course, pop culture has been rather helpful in spreading the mythology and pseudoscience; one of which is the topic of discussion in today’s review, the 1978 Italian/Mexican joint flick The Bermuda Triangle.

Also released under the titles The Secrets Of The Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Triangle Of Bermuda, The Bermuda Triangle stars writer/director/actor John Huston, a man known throughout his career as the writer and director of genre classics, including the likes of The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, and The African Queen. The rest of the cast is…inconsequential, really.

The plot of The Bermuda Triangle itself, well…if you know your Twilight Zone, you can probably guess the plot, as well as the big twist ending. That part, I don’t mind. No, what makes this movie a chore to get through, it’s the bloody annoying and unlikable characters. Not the choppy editing, not the really bad English dubbing, not even the way it seems to take forever to get to the point. That’s all just rancid icing on this already rancid cake. No, from the get-go, the characters and their interactions and mannerisms make you want to punch them individually, every single time they come on screen. Especially that brat of a kid. To say nothing of the blatant misogyny of the lead character, always verbally ripping apart his wife in front of everybody at the drop of a hat. Then your intelligence is insulted by suggesting that the doll they find floating on the ocean is somehow causing all the weirdness and murder, which leads you to be rather glad that they’re all stuck in a hell of their own making, reliving their doomed voyage in a continuous loop with no hope of respite for all eternity.

What do you mean, “Spoilers”? I just saved you the pain of having to watch this yourself. From here on out, if you do watch The Bermuda Triangle, it’s on you. You’ve been warned. Stay away. Stay away.

Uncle NecRo Watches: HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

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happy death day 2u banner

Uncle NecRo is joined by Brian from the Will Code For Beer pubcast in watching the sequel to Happy Death Day, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2 U. Did he loath it as much as the first one? Did the movie actually pull off the impossible and made him like it? It’s…complicated. Let’s just say that, this is the first Uncle NecRo Watches that made him get a beer for the pubcast…

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Movie Review: DEMONIC

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demonicDimension Films
2015
R

“I want to put a baby in you.”

Demonic was another one of those movies I knew nothing about until stumbling on it on the Family Video website’s New Releases section some time ago. The picture itself wasn’t all that special–I have a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt with the same type of pattern–and the descript was another one of those stupid young adults play around with the dark forces, and wackiness ensues type scenarios I’ve seen so many times. But, this movie had the name of James Wan stuck to it. Sure, he was merely the producer of Demonic, and the cover listed it as James Wan Presents, which can mean he either had a bit of a hand in making this movie, or it’s just his name being lent out to lend a bit of legitimacy to an otherwise mediocre horror film.

Spoilers: Turns out it’s the latter bit.

Demonic centers on the aftermath of a horrific massacre where five college students were brutally murdered inside an abandoned home. Detective Mark Lewis and psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Klein question one of the few survivors who explains they were amateur ghost-hunters, seeking out paranormal phenomenon at the abandoned house, which was believed to be haunted. But what started out as a harmless activity turned into something truly terrifying.

Overall, Demonic wasn’t a bad film, per se. It did have some interesting use of visual atmospherics, as well as switching between the found footage style and standard filming techniques, using the found footage stuff as a means of exposition to what took place. However, the big downer with this is, if you’re even a novice with these kind of horror movies, you pretty much know what the plot is, beat-for-beat, pretty much picking out the big twist long before you get even close to it. For what it is, Demonic is not a bad way to kill some time. Good for an afternoon rental.

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.

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.

Movie Review: The DEVIL’S HAND

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devil's handRoadside Attractions
2014
PG-13

The Devil’s Hand is a one of the movies that was available for streaming on my Prime account on Amazon (for all the plugs I do for them, I should really look into getting some kind of monetary kickback or something), with a cover that looked straight out of one of those small rural-based horror flicks of the 1980s. Eh, it looked like a nifty way to kill 90 minutes or so on a Saturday morning.

Doing a bit of research on this movie, it seems that this movie went through several working names, including Where The Devil Hides, The Devil’s Rapture and The Occult. Nothing really too shocking, really. On the Staci Layne Wilson review of this movie on Dread Central, she mentions that, having been on-set when it was being filmed, what she expected based on interviews with the cast and director wasn’t what she got when she watched the movie. Not necessarily a bad thing, but still. I bring this up, because the description of The Devil’s Hand on the Amazon Prime site describes it as “Five young Amish girls accused of being ‘Satan’s children’ must fight for their lives when their devout community elders insist they be ‘cleansed’ before turning 18.” After watching The Devil’s Hand, I find that to be not quite accurate.

So, we begin on a dark night on June 6th, when six girls are being born to six mothers (this sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme). Since this community has a prophecy that states that on the sixth day of the sixth month, six girls will be born, and on the day of their 18th birthday, one of them will become the Devil’s Hand. Because of this prophecy and incredible coincidence (*cough*), this prompts the town’s head Elder Beacon (Colm Meaney! Star Trek’s Miles O’Brian to my fellow geeks out there) to come over and try to kill the newborns. The father of one of the babies takes umbrage with this, and stops the Elder from his grizzly purpose, but not able to stop one of the mothers from smothering her own baby out of fear of the prophecy.

Infanticide. Always a great way to kick off any movie. [/sarcasm]

Anyway, fast forward a few years, and the remaining five girls are on the very cusp of their 18th birthdays, and during a group dip in the nearby lake, a couple of towny boys decide it would be hilarious to go skinny dipping with them. This inspires the girls and their chaperone to pack up and head back to their respective homes. Turns out, all the girls have been deliberately left ignorant of the whole prophecy bit, but are being watched closely by the Elders for any evil shenanigans and the like. One by one, however, the girls are being systematically murdered by a mysterious cloaked knife-weilding individual. Of course, this makes the townsfolk begin to get paranoid, looking upon the remaining girls with suspicion. It also doesn’t help that one of the girls seems to have epilepsy, with her episodes being chalked up to devil fits or something like that. This also causes the “good” Elder Beacon to turn up the fire and brimstone…and use that as an excuse to perve on the girls. One of the girls gets the full shunning and ejected from the community (which makes one wonder…how is New Bethlehem — the name of the community — supposed to be a “beacon of light” to the outside world, as one of the elders mentioned, if they’re shunning it completely? It makes no sense, but more on that later), which leads to the remaining two girls to go after her and, with the help of one of the towny boys who seems to have fallen smitten with the girl with epilepsy, find sanctuary at the house of another former New Bethlehem resident who was shunned for allegedly making a pact with Satan…who happens to be the biological mother of the epileptic girl who thought her mother died when she was an infant. The reunion is short lived, however, as Elder Beacon comes calling to retrieve the girls, who manage to escape back to New Bethlehem under cover of Day For Night filter, they’re pursued by the townsfolk and that hooded knife-weilder, when everything comes to a head when it turns out [SPOILERS] it was the mother of the epileptic girl that was the knife-weilding killer, leveling the field for her daughter to become the Devil’s Hand. Which she totally does at midnight of her 18th birthday, which leads to her killing everyone and burning down New Bethlehem.

My 18th birthday involved a pizza buffet and a trip to one of the malls in Omaha. Anyway…

The Devil’s Hand is mediocre at best. It doesn’t seem fully developed as far as what kind of movie it wanted to be. It starts off as a slasher, but then switches into a kind of CW style drama that’s set with…well, I’m certain the label “Amish” is not the word to use. The style and look seem more in keeping with Puritanism, and John Calvin’s experiment with a community of holiness with Geneva, especially with the reference to New Bethlehem being a beacon of light to the world. Also, the men don’t have the standard Amish beards.

Cultural pedantic nature aside, to be fair, I actually thought The Devil’s Hand’s main strength actually was when it was a harrowing drama about spiritual abuse at the hands of spiritual leaders, and finding the strength to break free. There’s a scene that is more horrifying to watch than any of the slasher moments, involving Elder Beacon groping one of the girls under the guise of inspecting her for any evil influence. It made me sick to my stomach, and considering the recent controversy involving a former youth group pastor investigated for sexual abuse of students, it’s especially despicable. Of course, then at the last quarter of the film, it turns into a bad imitation of The Seventh Seal, and the big “twist” only leaves you groaning, “really?”, as it felt ham-fisted in there at the last minute.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, The Devil’s Hand is a good way to kill 90 minutes, but that’s really it. Again, it’s mediocre at best, comes off as more of a CW drama for the most part, with a disjointed plot and flat characters. It doesn’t insult your intelligence too bad, but except for Colm Meaney’s delightful scene chewing performance, there’s not much to care about when the end credits run. Worth a look-see, but not much beyond that.

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