Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Judgment

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hellraiser judgmentLionsgate
2018
NR

“This new millennium hurtles forward. Faith is lost. Mankind have become a vacuum without morality. So many souls seeking new and darker experiences. Degradation upon degradation, sin after sin.”

So, at this point in the game, should anyone who has been a fan of the Hellraiser movies even care at this point? The track record since going the direct-to-video rout back in 2000 with the release of Hellraiser: Inferno hasn’t been that great. There’s been maybe a couple of decent ones, but so far they’re underwhelming at best. Then Hellraiser: Revelations fell with such a loud splat, I figured that was it. Even if they did make another Hellraiser movie, it would just be going through the motions.

Then news of another Hellraiser movie started circulating. At first, there was talk of a reboot, but then that fell through. So, we got yet another direct-to-video original movie sequel, subtitled Judgment. And so, because I can’t not watch the sequel, it was with a resigned sigh that I pressed play and settled down, expectations at an all-time low.

So, how was Hellraiser: Judgment? Surprisingly decent, actually.

After a brief yet rather memorable bit featuring a new kind of Cenobite called The Auditor, we follow a couple of detectives following a case involving a grizzly serial killer dubbed the Preceptor. The detectives are brothers, Sean and David, who are joined up with a third detective, Christine to help with the investigation into The Preceptor, who apparently bases his murders on the Ten Commandments. Following up a lead that takes him to the house from the first part of the movie, Sean finds himself being questioned by The Auditor, who then leaves him to be judged by the Stygian Inquisition, when an angel intervenes to have him released. Sean escapes this Hell dimension with one of the iconic puzzle boxes, and after getting David, they both go back to the house to find that nothing is amiss, certainly no portal to hell or anything. That night Sean is tormented by nightmarish visions of the Cenobites and goes back to drinking. Later, Sean and Christine discover the cell phone of one of the Preceptor’s victims, which lead them to his hideout, where it’s learned that Sean is actually The Perceptor, when he incapacitates Christine, then abducts his brother and his wife. Seems the two were conducting an affair behind Sean’s back, so he makes the two open the Lament Configuration box, summoning the Cenobites to take them. Pinhead shows up and let’s Sean know that he’s basically screwed despite his attempts at bargaining with his brother and wife’s souls; the Auditor tries to take Sean back because he was judged guilty for his sins, but then the angel comes back to say “NAY” to that noise, because Sean is apparently part of heaven’s plan to instill fear into sinners. Then Pinhead rips apart the angel with his chains n’ hooks, to which he’s then banished from hell to walk the earth as a mortal man. Wait then to the end credits for an hilarious scene featuring The Auditor and a couple of Mormon missionaries. The end.

To begin, yes, I admit that Hellraiser: Judgment is another re-purposed script to get a quick movie out before losing the rights to the franchise. One might be jaded enough to say that Hellraiser: Revelations is more of an original Hellraiser movie than this one because of that. However, despite its many flaws sporting the Hellraiser re-purposing, Judgment was far more watchable than was the previous movie. I found The Auditor to be enjoyable as a character, and I wouldn’t mind having him incorporated in future stories. Pinhead, however, seems once again to be wasted potential. I miss Doug Bradley, really, and while Paul T. Taylor was passable, he lacks the charisma that made the character so legendary, even when he was regulated to showing up near the end to do his job in the later films. I also couldn’t help but feel Pinhead’s fate was cribbed from the second Prophecy movie and Gabriel’s fate.

While the mystery surrounding the serial killer was standard and predictable, still it worked on a certain level, with the best parts involving the house and The Auditor. Making this into more of a House Of Mystery type adaptation instead of a Hellraiser movie might have been a better bet. But, if you can look past the shoehorning of the story into a Hellraiser flick, Judgment was still a far better movie than some of the previous in the series. Worth a look, at least.

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Movie Review: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK

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when a stranger calls backUniversal Television
1993
NR

“I am not the reflection of anything. I am not an illusion. I am the truth. I’m invisible. Unknowable. You people are the real illusionists. You people are the real illusionists.”

Back in 1979, a very mediocre horror movie called When A Stranger Calls was released, to a chorus of yawns. I presume. I’ve never really watched the original When A Stranger Calls, but if it’s anything like the needless 2006 remake, then the possibility of me watching the original is very slim. Regardless, in 1993, a television movie sequel to the first When A Stranger Calls was broadcast. And I recently watched it. Why? Well, it was on Amazon Video. Also, I was morbidly curious. Also, it was a Rifftrax presentation. So, at least this would take some of the edge off of what was promising to be a rather dull 90-or-so minutes.

And boy howdy was this a massively dull movie to sit through. But first, let’s recap this thing, shall we?

So, we’re introduced to Julia, a teenager that’s babysitting for a couple one night, when a stranger knocks on the door stating his car is broken down and asks to come inside to use the phone. Instead of letting the guy in, she agrees to call the auto club for him, only to discover that the phone was dead. Instead of telling him that, she lies and tells him they’re on the way. Of course, he doesn’t buy it, and there’s a stilted back-and-forth that goes on for several minutes too long, before it’s revealed that the guy has been in the house the entire time and was throwing his voice to make it sound like he was outside. The kids are now missing, and the babysitter escapes, and now needs intensive therapy one would presume. Flash forward five years, and Julia is now a really reclusive college student who still has issues from the incident. Weird things start happening to her at her apartment, leading Julia to think that the stalker is back and messing with her again. Fortunately, the woman from the first film is now a counselor at the college she attends, and she takes an interest in her situation, offering to help. She then contacts the detective that helped her in the first film. He’s a bit skeptical about this, but agrees to help, while the counselor buys Julia a gun for protection. Except that Julia decides to shoot herself in the head instead, putting herself in a coma. The stalker is tracked down performing a ventriloquist act at a club; he gets away, and then finally shows up at the counselor’s apartment for a confrontation that ends with her getting shot by the stalker, then the stalker getting shot by the detective. Then Julia comes out of her coma and the end.

Overall, When A Stranger Calls Back feels longer than what it really is, mainly to the rather slow pace and dull story execution going on, as well as the wooden acting from the cast. No surprise that it was produced for television instead of a theatrical run. All these years later, and I’m pretty sure no one was demanding a follow-up to the original movie. I could be wrong, but given the time frame, someone was grabbing at straws for content to fill a slot. Okay, so technically it was broadcast on Showtime, which is more of a basic cable channel; let’s face it, though, a made-for-television slasher film is going to not be up to snuff. No pun intended, there. Pity, as I actually adore Carol Kane, as well as Charles Durning, both of which were in the first film.

When A Stranger Calls Back, let this movie go straight to voice mail. I hate myself now for that pun.

Movie Review: X2

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x220th Century Fox
2003
PG-13

“Logan, my tolerance for your smoking in the mansion notwithstanding, continue smoking that in here, and you’ll spend the rest of your days under the belief that you’re a six-year-old girl.”

Fascinating. All this time, and even though I’ve reviewed all the other X-Men movies that have come out, I’ve never did a proper review for the second movie in the franchise, X2: X-Men United. I don’t know what may have caused this glaring oversight; consider this my long-overdue rectification of that issue.

At the time, X2 was described by director Bryan Singer as a darker, Empire Strikes Back style movie for the Merry Mutants. And yes…that is a very apt description of this movie. And if you’re somehow unfamiliar with the X2 storyline, let me tell you…

After an opening where the President of the United States narrowly escapes an assassination attempt, Wolverine returns from the journey of discovery he went on at the end of the first movie back to the Xavier Institute to find Professor Xavier tracking a mutant with a very erratic movement pattern. Later, while the Professor and Cyclops are off visiting Magneto in his prison, and Storm and Jean Grey are out trying to find Nightcrawler (the mutant that tried to kill the President), a military scientist gets the go ahead to invade Xavier’s school for gifted students. Wolverine manages to get several of the kids to safety, and escapes with Rogue, Iceman and Pyro. Meanwhile, Xavier and Cyclops are captured, while Mystique helps Magnito escape his prison. The two then run into the other X-Men, and form an uneasy alliance to take down the military scientist that invaded the mansion. His name is Stryker, and turns out is the man who originally infused the adamantium to Wolvie’s skeleton. They find the location of Stryker’s underground base, where he is using Xavier to telepathically kill every mutant on the planet. They infiltrate the base, and manage to free the mutants being held there, as well as destroy the device that was going to kill all mutantkind, and Jean Grey dies using her powers to keep the burst dam from killing everyone before the X-Men’s jet can take off. Everyone is safe, but sad now, although Professor Xavier senses things are not over with Jean.

Overall, X2 is counted as the best of the first three X-Men films for good reason. The stakes were higher, not everyone gets out unscathed, the villains are cast in a more sympathetic light, and not everything is what you would call black and white, cut and dried, and what have you. When we get to the end, there’s a tremendous sense of loss, but also a glimmer of hope on the horizon. X2 is a very satisfying X-Men movie, as well as an action movie in general. I still watch this one frequently, at least once every year or so, and count this as one of the few sequels that was better than the movie that preceded it. Hindsight being what it is, obviously X2 was probably the last one that fans really liked, until the First Class prequel ten years later. Regardless, I can’t think of anyone who’s a fan of the X-Men movies who haven’t seen X2 yet; if this is the case, you owe it to yourself to rectify that. Recommended.

Movie Review: JASON X

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jason xNew Line Cinema
2001
R

“Jason Voorhees. He killed nearly two-hundred people and simply disappeared without a trace. Under the right buyer, he could be worth a fortune.”

 

It’s been said that one of the sure signs of a movie franchise jumping the proverbial shark is when one of the sequels is set in space. Or, is that an indication that the series is running out of ideas? It’s too early in the morning as I write this, and I haven’t had my coffee yet. Also, it’s a Tuesday. I have no idea what bearing this has on the review, here. Let’s move on before I devolve into a raving lunatic…

At this point in the game, any prospect of the Friday The 13th series going back to its roots was met with a very audible snicker. Almost ten years since the abysmal Jason Goes To Hell, and now we’re going to shoot Jason Voorhees into deep SPAAAAAAACE! to wreak gleeful mayhem. Let’s get to the rundown, shall we?

In the near future of…2010, Jason Voorhees is finally captured by the US gov’ment (I guess this is an alternative timeline where they didn’t blow him up in an airstrike) and being held at a research facility. Since Jason proves to be rather hard to kill, a scientist decides that, if they can’t kill Jason, the next best thing to do is to permanently contain him by way of cryogenic deep freeze. Another scientist accompanied by soldiers has alternate plans to research the hockey masked slasher’s rapid regeneration and seemingly immortal qualities, but they suddenly find themselves having to deal with an escaped Jason. The body count begins, until he’s finally lured into the cryogenic pod by the scientist that wanted him frozen in the first place. But, right as she activates the freeze, Jason manages to get in one final blow, killing the scientist, while everything in the room freezes due to a breach caused by Jason’s machete. Fast forward a few hundred years, and Earth is now a wasteland with all of the humans moved out to the creatively named Earth Two. Now, the old Earth is being explored by students on a field trip, where they stumble upon the popsicle’d remains of Jason and the scientist. They take ’em back to their ship to revive the scientist and study the body of Jason, while they fly back to Earth Two. Inevitably, a couple have sex, and if you know the rules of this game, that revives Jason to begin his delightful slaughter of whoever gets in his way. The revived 21st Century scientist rallies the survivors, explaining who and what Jason Voorhees is while trying to avoid getting kebabed. This goes about as well as to be expected, when they finally take him out with an android with really big guns. But, of course this is IN SPACE!, so Jason gets an upgrade thanks to a bunch of nano-tech to Uber Jason. Time to cue up the obligatory “Bodies” by Drowning Pool, sit back and watch the wackiness unfold before your eyes.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I absolutely love Jason X. It’s like the filmmakers went “screw it,” and decided to have fun with the story in a way that didn’t insult our collective intelligence like with Jason Goes To Hell. It doesn’t take itself that seriously. I would argue that Jason X knows it’s a bad movie, and invites you to come along and revel in the cheesy goodness. Okay, sure, the effects haven’t aged very well, and there’s maybe one too many former Andromeda co-stars in the cast, but really, this is a perfect way to spend a bitterly cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in April.

Movie Review: JASON GOES TO HELL

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jason goes to hellDimension
1993
R

“We’re going to Camp Crystal Lake.”
“Oh, yeah? Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex and getting slaughtered?”

Quick, what do you get when you make a Friday The 13th movie without Jason? If you said, “Part V: A New Beginning,” well…you’d be right. And also, not paying attention to the title of the review, here.

Jason Goes To Hell was not a real good entry in the overall Friday The 13th franchise. It’s remembered as a major trip-up, probably the most infamous of them all, and yes I’m including Jason X in with this. See, after Part VIII (the one where Jason takes a boat ride) in 1989, Paramount sold its property to Dimension, home of contemporaries Nightmare On Elm Street and Hellraiser series. Even though Paramount still held onto the rights to the title Friday The 13th (hence titling this merely Jason Goes To Hell), things looked promising — not only did Jason find a home with Freddy and Pinhead, but also a new movie was immediately put into production, one that was going to be helmed by guys who were a couple of fans who grew up on the iconic slasher series. Things were looking up from the perspective of us horror geeks.

And then the movie finally came out, leaving fanboys everywhere scratching their heads as to what the heck happened to our beloved series.

We begin with Jason Voorhees doing what he does best: chasing a neekid young lady around Camp Crystal Lake. It’s soon revealed that the neekid young lady was merely bait to lure the infamous slasher into a trap set by FBI, which takes him out by blowing him to bits by way of air strike. After effectively getting the only good part of the movie out of the way immediately, what’s left of Jason is sent to a morgue, where his still-beating heart is consumed by the coroner, because he was possessed by it. You heard me. Coroner-Jason goes off to do some more killin’, while a bounty hunter is trying to find members of Jason’s family bloodline, because apparently only member’s of Jason’s family can kill him, and also if Jason possesses a family member, he can become reborn back into the nigh-invincible killer zombie and continue his ongoing death spree. The bounty hunter finds Jason’s half-sister Diana, his niece Jessica, and Jessica’s infant daughter Stephanie, which makes Jason a Great-Uncle, I guess? Anyway, Jason shows up, kills Diana, but is fought off by Jessica’s ex-boyfriend / father of Stephanie, Steven. Steven is blamed for the murder, Jessica’s current television reporter boyfriend is trying to exploit the situation for ratings purposes, Jason is possessing people left and right, Jessica doesn’t believe Steven, but then does when Jason kills off everyone is the police station, other stuff happens, and then the final showdown happens at the old Voorhees house where a “mystical dagger” that’s totally from Evil Dead 2 is used to off Jason, but not until he’s finally reborn as he wanted, in a very, very disturbing and literal way. Then souls are released from Jason’s torso, and demon hands pull Jason to hell. Then Freddy’s glove takes down his hockey mask. The end.

Jason Goes To Hell is just a confusing mess. To be fair, this isn’t the first time the series hasn’t made sense — least we forget the telekinetic angle in Part VII — and one could argue that the Friday The 13th series jumped the shark long before this one — I maintain it did so twice, with Part V and Part VIII — but here, they really messed with the recipe to the point where I began to wonder if they just greenlit a 13-year-old’s fan fic and went with it.

I get wanting to go in bold new story directions, but Jason Goes To Hell lost sight of the core of the series, and Jason in general. Body possession by wormy homunculus-like critters from Jason’s still-beating heart to be reborn from another Voorhees? I…can’t even. Add to this the incredibly dull 3/4 after the admittedly cooler opening where they blow Jason up with an air strike, the pointless inclusion of the Kandarian Dagger from the Evil Dead franchise, by the time the famous stinger of Freddy’s glove pulling Jason’s mask down into the ground at the end, I was groaning in sadness and anger. Also, Jason doesn’t really go to hell during any part of the movie.

If you, like myself and my long-suffering heterosexual lifemate Nex did all those years ago, you want to watch all of the Friday The 13th movies in order, take my advice: You can skip Jason Goes To Hell. There’s no need to do so. Do yourself a favor and pass this up.

Yeah, you’re probably not going to be following my advice, are you? Eh, whatever. The pain killers are in the cabinet.

Movie Review: BATMAN FOREVER

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batman foreverWarner Bros.
1995
PG-13

“One man is born a hero, his brother a coward. Babies starve, politicians grow fat. Holy men are martyred, and junkies grow legion. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Luck! Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!”

So, here we are at the third installment of the Burton / Schumacher Batman movies. This, of course, being the one where Schumacher took over the directing duties, while Burton — not wanting to continue on with the franchise — was given Executive Producer credit.

Boy, howdy was there a noticeable tonal shift with Batman Forever. I went with a bunch of friends to see this the weekend it was released in 1995. I remember sitting there, watching the movie play out, thinking ot myself, “There’s a lot of dayglow in this movie.” Mind you, Batman & Robin was two years off at this time. But, Batman Forever seemed less whimsically dark and more…well, campy. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here. Let’s make with the rundown, shall we?

In Gotham City, former district attorney Harvey Dent turned supervillain Two-Face is causing all sorts of shenanigans, narrowly escaping capture by Batman, who starts off the movie with a quick McDonald’s commercial take. Meanwhile, Wayne Enterprises employee Edward Nygma is developing a way to beam television directly into everyone’s brains, which, as it turns out, is considered immoral by big industry, and thus Nygma is promoted to customer. After killing his former supervisor, he takes on the persona of The Riddler, devising a way to take down Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile, at a circus performance, Bruce and his psychiatrist date witness the death of a trapeze family saving everyone from a bomb planted by Two Face, leaving late-20s-looking “teenager” Richard Grayson an orphan. Of course, Bruce Wayne takes in “young” Grayson as his ward, while The Riddler teams up with Two-Face to mass-produce the mind-television thing to learn the secrets of Gotham’s citizenry…and also Batman’s secret identity. Meanwhile, Grayson is being a whiny ponce, and earns his name Dick by managing to break into the Bat-cave and taking the Bat Mobile out for a joyride. After running into the Dayglow and Glowsticks Gang, Dick demands Batman let him find and kill Two-Face, with Batsy not havin’ any of it, especially after stealing the Batmobile so soon after having it detailed and all. But, they have bigger problems, as The Riddler and Two-Face have discovered that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and thus arrive at stately Wayne Manor cause wacky mayhem and blow up the Bat Cave. Thus, Alfred creates the Robin costume, and he and Batman head off to take down the two nefarious ner-do-wells, just in time to sell more Batman action figures.

The best way this movie was described comes from the Honest Trailers on YouTube: “This is definitely the worst Batman movie I’ve seen thirty times.” I have to admit, despite the flaws in the plot and characters, there’s a certain kind of charm to this iteration of the Caped Crusader. You do have to agree that Joel Schumacher managed to do the impossible in making Jim Carrey not the most over-the-top character in this movie. Somehow, Tommy Lee Jones manages to out-mug Carrey. Chris O’Donnell is far too old to be playing the Boy Wonder, making his teen angsty thing rather off-putting. As for Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne / Batman, at the time when I first watched the movie, I thought he made a pretty good one. Now…eh, he’s decent, but that’s merely because there have been more actors having played the part. He’s still better than George Clooney’s portrayal.

Overall, yeah, I still watch Batman Forever once in a while. It holds a kind of campy fun, like with the 1966 Batman movie. However, to misquote a much, much better Batman movie, Batman Forever may not be the Batman movie we wanted, but it definitely the Batman movie we deserved in the 90s.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

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paranormal activity 4Paramount Pictures
2012
R

“He does not like you.”
“What? Who? Who does not like me?”
“You’ll find out.”

Fourth movie in the surprise horror series is more of the same, only this time, instead of being another prequel, Paranormal Activity 4 actually is a proper sequel, in that it furthers the story along from the end of Paranormal Activity 2.

Beginning on Halloween night, teenager Alex and her forever friend-zoned bestie Ben are taking Alex’s little brother Wyatt trick or treating, when they notice new neighbors moving in across the street, with a creepy little boy that happens to have a thing about playing in other people’s back yards in the middle of the night. Said creepy boy stays over at Alex’s place while his mother is in the hospital for whatever reason, and then it’s just a matter of time when Alex notices that, not only is Creepy Boy creepier than she thought, but weird, unsettling things are happening in the house. And little Wyatt seems to not be acting like himself, either. And what in the world is going on at that house across the street, there? Since this is a Paranormal Activity movie, if you’re wondering how things are going to end, then you haven’t been paying attention to the previous movies.

If you’ve seen the other three movies, you know exactly what to expect with this story—weird things happen to an unassuming family as told by a bunch of cameras, then frighteningly weirder stuff happens, then everyone either dies or get possessed by the malevolent entity I’m going to start referring to as “Cupcake” from here on out. At this point, though, I think the big innovative “twist” on the finding out of the presence of Cupcake was the motion capture dots that the video game console uses and that can only be picked up by the video camera. Even then, it didn’t really do much for me. Even at the end, when the cult shows up to do its typical thing, I was getting bored and trying to get the movie to get to the end finally by sheer will alone. Really, the only reason to continue watching this series this far is because you have some weird OCD thing that compels you to COMPLETE THE MOVIE WATCHING IN ORDER…like I do.

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