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: 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: CHARLOTTE

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charlotteRuthless Studios
2017
NR

Once again, Amazon Prime movie streaming service, you got me. You had me thinking Charlotte was going to be a horrible low-budget knockoff of the Annabelle movies. I mean, look at that video art up there. Decrepit-looking doll with a hand put up to her lips in the universal “ssshhh” gesture, with the subtitle of “The Doll Behind The Horror”. That image alone promises nightmare-inducing unintentional laughter-inducing scary doll horror goodness.

But no, that cover — just as concepts like “love” and “human decency” — is a lie. Instead of scary doll horror movie, we get an anthology collection of eight low-budget horror shorts plus the obligatory wrap-around gathered together in an 85-minute exercise in mediocrity, with maybe a couple of bright spots scattered in there.

So, the movie starts with the standard wrap-around short, titled “Ragged Damned”, where we’re introduced to the doll that I assume is the titular Charlotte, as it’s never really mentioned what the doll’s name is. Also, it looks nothing like the doll on the cover art of the movie. Anyway, said doll somehow takes the babysitter hostage, tying her up to the couch and forcing her to watch the series of short films while slowly…turning the babysitter into a doll, somehow. It just hurts trying to figure out the logic of this.

Anyway, the first proper short, “Counter Parts”, concerns a woman who had lost one of her legs and both of her eyes in a prior accident. She decides to get back her missing bits by way of VOODOO MAGIC! cursing her more famous twin sister. Of course, there’s a lame twist at the end, here…

The second short, “Dollface”, takes place on Halloween, where a woman’s husband goes missing whilst returning a lost purse, and stumbles upon a caged up girl. Turns out, the kid is caged for a purpose…

Short number three — “Tickle” — involves another babysitter, this one telling her charge the story of a troll that likes to sneak into the bedrooms of sleeping children to…TICKLE THEIR FEET! And of course, the troll is real…

In “Good Evening”, an old man summons something from his basement, and offers it finger food. And that’s it, really…

In the fifth short, “Get Off My Porch”, a suburban guy is terrorized by girl scouts he refuses to buy cookies from. And the girls are very persuasive…

In “The Judas Cradle”, a young woman comes to in a dark, dank basement with a mysterious guy tied up to a chair (just your standard Tuesday for your Uncle NecRo). Then another man — presumably the kidnapper — comes down to explain the situation for everyone…

In “My BFF”, a bratty kid receives a mysterious package containing a doll from the Uncanny Valley, and the mother doesn’t like it…for obvious reasons…

Finally, the last short, “Howl Of A Good Time”, a young girl sneaks into a horror movie festival, where she discovers the horror fans and movie theater employees aren’t what they seem. But, that’s okay, as the girl isn’t what she seems, either…

Where to begin on this. Let’s start with what I thought were the better parts, namely “Get Off My Porch”, and “Howl Of A Good Time”. Both were great fun, having something of a Robert Bloch feel to the style, especially with “Get Off My Porch”. I should point out that the FX company Scream In The Dark Productions worked on “Howl Of A Good Time”; I bring it up because they hail from my neck of the world in Nebraska, and it’s always good to be able to support some home-grown talent when I can. Mind you, this didn’t sway my opinion on the quality of the short, as I was unaware of this until the credits rolled and I could confirm this. I also want to say that “Good Evening” gets an honorable mention, due to it leaving things unexplained and in the shadows, as it were, making the mystery of what’s going on rather intriguing. Otherwise, all of the other shorts, and especially the wrap-around, are forgettable weak sauce. The only reason to really watch this is for the two shorts I mentioned, otherwise it’s not really worth the price of a rental.

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: 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.

Movie Review: The DARK TAPES

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dark tapes, theEpic Pictures Group
2016
NR

Oh, hey, look: a found footage anthology movie. On the Amazon Prime streaming. Who’da thunk it? Well, I chose to watch this due to the cover art itself, so let’s get this review over with.

If you’re new to this blog of mine, you may have noticed that I have kind of a low expectation upon found footage movies. I watch ’em because sometimes I’ve been surprised before, like with the V/H/S series, or with the first Cloverfield movie. But more often than not, they’ve turned out to be formulaic and stale, mostly involving invisible ghosts and such, always at some haunted location. Or family curse. I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity series. I do very much enjoy the anthology style of horror movie, so at least there’s that going for The Dark Tapes. So, does this anthology flick stand up, or does it fall flat? Let’s see…

The first segment is kind of the wrap-around short, the one that is shown in segments between the segments, acting as a lose glue to hold the films together. It’s called “To Catch A Demon”, and starts kind of weak, but then gets a bit more interesting as the segments go on. It does have a Lovecraftian sci-fi feel to it, and works on a certain level, with the low point being when the trans-dimensional creature speaks. Kind of unintentionally funny, there. Anyway, the first proper short is “The Hunters And The Hunted”, which comes off as a cheap Ghost Hunters/Paranormal Activity knock-off, for the most part losing me in the “been there, done that” feeling, when suddenly there’s a twist at the end that made me nod and smile in approval. Good save, there. Up next was “Cam Girls”, and is pretty much the weakest short in this, more or less an excuse in girl-on-girl titillation and gore, all on web cams. The end “twist” is the biggest middle finger to those watching. I do give them props for not featuring any nudity in this one, just letting the story stand on its on unmitigated suckiness. And finally, “Amanda’s Revenge” centers on the titular young lady who finds herself constantly visited and tormented by otherworldly beings, frightened at first but then figuring out a way to turn the tables and chase away these ETs for good.

Overall, there’s a lot of really good ideas featured here in The Dark Tapes that suffer greatly from the execution. The strongest point here, I thought, was the wrap-around “To Catch A Demon”, which reminds me of the Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. Second best is “Amanda’s Revenge”, with “The Hunters And The Hunted” saved from a strong ending but still doesn’t justify the weak first part. “Cam Girls” is just pointless. The low-budget effects can be off-putting at times, as well as some of the acting.

In the end, The Dark Tapes doesn’t do anything to justify the continued production of found footage movies, other than they’re cheep to crank out and make money on. Check out the three V/H/S anthologies for a much better example of doing the style right.

Movie Review: AMERICAN PSYCHO 2

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american psycho 2Lionsgate
2002
R

“I think I’ve identified this person as a textbook sociopath.”
“That seems to be the per-requisite for getting into college in the first place.”

There exists some sequels that, when watched, you get the sense that it started life as something else entirely. But then, it was tweaked somewhere during production to tie it into another, more successful movie. The reason as to why may vary, and sometimes the reworking is successful. Other times, it seems glowingly obvious. Like with American Psycho 2.

If you’ve ever seen the original American Psycho, there are two things evident: 1) This was a movie that wasn’t exactly begging for a sequel. I mean, it was pretty much one-and-done, there. And 2) American Psycho, despite the title, was not a slasher flick. Well, it was, but it wasn’t. Just watch that movie, you’ll get what I’m saying, there.

Which brings us to this sequel. American Psycho 2 is not only a straight slasher flick, but also stars absolutely no one from the first movie, and the only tie in with the original is a flashback from the main character as a little girl witnessing Jason Bateman’s death…which makes absolutely no sense, given the context of the first movie (again, go watch that one instead).

So, the story of American Psycho 2 has a criminology student — played by Mila Kunis — studying under a professor played by William Shatner. Take a minute or two to take that in: This is a sequel that stars the annoying girlfriend from That 70s Show, and William freakin’ Shatner. Anyway, seems the student was traumatized at a young age after she killed Jason Bateman, while he was assaulting her babysitter. Now, she has aspirations for the FBI, and with her professor a former FBI agent, she wants to become his teaching assistant, figuring that would help her chances. Only, the competition for that coveted position is pretty fierce. So, she decides to eliminate the competition the traditional way — by literally killing them. You don’t know how hard it was for me to keep from letting loose with multiple puns at this point. Anyway, wackiness ensues, yadda yadda yadda, then the movie ends. And you’re left lamenting such a waste of your time.

It is quite evident that American Psycho 2 is no sequel. Lionsgate just saw how successful the original movie was, and dusted off an unrelated script to awkwardly shoehorn the weakest tie-in for a quick cash grab. As a movie in and of itself, there’s nothing remarkable about American Psycho 2. It’s you’re standard slasher thriller that tries to be more of a dark comedy with a bit of social commentary, but everything is just “meh”. It’s a forgettable misfire that you can skip entirely. Instead, as I’m mentioned earlier, just watch the original American Psycho. You’ll be all the better for it.

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