Movie Review: RETURN TO HORROR HOTEL

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return to horror hotel
Indie Rights
2019
NR

  • Anthology of twisted tales spanning horror/sci-fi/suspense. Giant attacking bed bugs, a magical charm turns girls into beauty queens, a WWII sailor who hasn’t aged, and the terrorizing severed hand of dead magician Harry Houdini.

So, here we are again, taking a second dip into the collected shorts gleaned from the Horror Hotel web series, Return To Horror Hotel. Look, I understand that I’m obligated to watch the sequel to one of the more painful horror anthologies I’ve had the displeasure of watching; if you know me, you understand that I have something of an almost irresistible urge to watch the sequel to any movie I’ve seen, regardless of how awful and/or painful it might have been. It’s the same thing with books and television shows. I may need to seek professional help.

Anyway, in Return To Horror Hotel, we’re once again reminded of the definition of “misnomer” as we visit the seedy motel in the middle of nowhere with four shorts: “Sleep Tight”, where a couple of young kids check in with the World’s Worst Aunt and have to spend the night staying safe from giant bed bugs that were mutated by the blood of a steroid using body builder. “Guillotine” has a beauty pageant contestant with a personality that would make Cardi B look like Mother Teresa trade her car for a pendant made from a piece of wood from the guillotine used on Marie Antoinette that supposedly makes the wearer irresistibly beautiful. “No Time For Love” finds a young woman delivering a book to a reclusive World War II Naval vet who seems to have not aged a day since taking up residence in the motel. And finally, “Houdini’s Hand” ends things with a couple of petty thieves who have stolen the titular hand, said to give whoever possesses the mummified hand the ability to get into any locked location, and of course they soon discover they got more than they bargained for, especially when the original owner demands that they return the item.

I have to admit that, unlike the first Horror Hotel movie, there is actually a bright spot hidden within here: “No Time For Love”, which actually plays things relatively straight, resulting in an actual thought-provoking and effective Twilight Zone-style short. Mind you, the premise seems to have been borrowed from the 1992 movie Forever Young, but still–a seed of potential, this one. Give it the ol’ spit-n-polish in the production and acting, and we have something memorable.

As far as the other three go, however, Return To Horror Hotel is more of the same kind of bad acting, bad scripting, bad production and ultra campiness that made watching the first Horror Hotel so painful. “Sleep Tight” was far too busy for its own good, and when the child actors are the least annoying things in your short, that really says something about the acting quality. Also, how come we never got more of that motel manager? I want more of him, please. Him and his ever-present bucket of chicken. Here’s your unofficial mascot/host of the series, guys. Anyway, “Guillotine” was just annoying, and apart from a few unintentional chuckles I got from “Houdini’s Hand”, that one was rather forgettable.

Overall: Return To Horror Hotel is another disappointing check-in. You can find much better horror anthology flicks out there. Pass this one up.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 15: He Dies At The End

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halloween'ing 2017
Sometimes, you don’t want a full-length movie to get your Halloween horror fright on. Sometimes, just sometimes, a bite-sized short will do the trick. And thus, I present to you He Dies At The End, a nice, brief short (only four and a half minutes long) that isn’t short on the suspense or the sense of dread and such.

Alone in an office, a man is taking part in a strange online quiz, to find out how he will die.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: TUSK

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TuskA24 Films
2014
R

“Are you really mourning your loss of humanity? I don’t understand. Who in the hell would want to be human?”

I freely admit that I am a fan of Kevin Smith. One might say “nominal fan”, as it’s mostly his movies that I’m familiar with, with the criminally short-lived Clerks animated television series and videotaped speaking engagements as supplemental material. Even though I’m aware of the other non-movie making endeavors, I haven’t really committed to check out his podcast–the Smodcast, if you will–nor have I read any of the comic books that have spun out of his mind, as well as the reality show based on his comic shop. Okay, I did read his run on the Green Arrow comics back in the day. I’m beginning to babble again, sorry.

Tusk is Kevin Smith’s second foray into the horror movie genre, after Red State. I have yet to watch Red State, so I have no idea how good that movie is (though I’ve seen varying reports on that floating around the interwebs). The premise of Tusk caught my attention, though: a podcaster travels to Canada and stays with a reclusive wheelchair-bound old man under the auspices of gathering stories of the man’s very abundant life for the podcast. Unfortunately, the old coot has other plans for the lad…plans that involve transforming him into a walrus. And as the hapless podcaster slowly loses his humanity at the hands of the madman, his best friend, girlfriend and an odd French Canadian detective are on the trail to find him.

I have to admit, after hearing about the premise, I was more than a bit skeptical about whether or not it was going to work. Mind you, Smith has a talent for taking absurd-sounding premises and making them work smashingly in one form or another. But Tusk, on the outset, sounded at best like a satire on the torture porn flicks that brought us the likes of Human Centipede. Mind you, I have yet to acquire enough self-loathing to actually watch Human Centipede, so I’m just going to assume my baseless speculations on this issue is the correct one. You would be surprised at how well doing that works.

Anyway, I have to say that I rather enjoyed watching Tusk. It was a very tense slow-boiler of a thriller horror movie, letting the story itself build with some interesting character development, some very well-written dialogue, and some rather good performances by the cast themselves. As a matter of fact, I would say that a lot of my ability to suspend my disbelief relied on the believability of the characters (as it does in other movies). Especially with the dialogue. With a lesser actor, a line like “You will be a walrus, or you will be nothing at all!” would come off as completely goofy; Michael Parks, however, lends a very credible amount of dramatic weight to the material, and you can tell he’s savoring every last bit of his performance.

Overall, I enjoyed Tusk. It was tense, at times hard to watch (for all the right reasons), and has an ending that didn’t insult my intelligence what so ever. Which is a rare thing, considering a lot of the genre movies I’ve seen. I would urge anyone to check out Tusk at least once.

Movie Review: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS [2006]

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Movie Review: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS [2006]Screen Gems
2006
PG-13

“Have you checked the children?”

Some teenager is babysitting in a very swank house, she receives some harassing phone calls, stalked by some guy, then…well…let’s just say that by this time, it was too late to demand my money back at the box office in front…*sigh*…

FADE IN, INT. SCENE
You are sitting in a comfy chair, reading this review of When A Stranger Calls remake, when the phone besides you rings, making you visibly jump. You pick up the phone, lifting it nonchalantly to your ear

YOU: Hello?

heavy breathing

YOU: Grandma? Is that you? What have I told you about making phone calls to the outside world?

CLOSE UP: The telephone speaker end on your ear

DEEP VOICE: You’re going to suffer tonight!

YOU: Who is this? If you’re from that collection agency, I told you, the check’s in the mail!

you hang up the phone

CLOSE UP: Telephone. Phone rings. You look warily at it, then pick it up again.

YOU: Hello?

DEEP VOICE: Don’t do that again!

YOU: Who is this? Is this a prank?

DEEP VOICE: SILENCE, MORTAL! You will suffer tonight!

YOU: What are you talking about?

DEEP VOICE: You’re going to see that remake of the “okay” 1979 film When A Stranger Calls later tonight.

YOU: How did you know that?

DEEP VOICE: You will suffer! Suuuuffeeeeeeeer!

YOU: *sigh* Okay, I’ll bite…why will I suffer by watching this movie?

DEEP VOICE: What you are about to subject yourself to is ninety minutes of pointless, underdeveloped crap that’s mostly filler, in the “We don’t have a full-length screenplay, so let’s shamelessly stall as much as possible” way of things.

YOU: Oh, co’mon…it’s an hour and a half! It can’t be that bad…

DEEP VOICE: You’re wrong. It is that bad…and MORE! The first hour consists of a girl alone in a house, doing nothing much. She is wearing an orange shirt so bright that it will do irreparable damage an hour into the movie. You won’t really care about her character because she’s so underdeveloped. Then the pain…the pain…it truly begins!

YOU: Right. Melodramatic freak.

DEEP VOICE: You don’t get it, do you? The pain, it…it’s indescribable. The phone rings non-stop. Silly “BOO!” scares. The girl gets yawn-educing prank calls. She strolls around the house non-stop instead of figuring out how to work the television. Heed my words, hapless mortal- the evil of this redundancy will set within your veins and you will witness clock padding in a film like you never have before!

YOU: Uh-huh. Listen, I’ve seen bad movies before…

DEEP VOICE: YOU KNOW NOTHING OF THIS PAIN, THIS SUFFERING!

YOU: How do you do that?

DEEP VOICE: Do what?

YOU: Talk in all caps like that?

DEEP VOICE: SILENCE! Heed my warning! You are about to subject yourself to a movie that will set up red herrings, situations and side characters with possible potential, but do practically nothing with them! A film so full of plot holes that it will turn your feeble brain to Jello! A film that will take a scene of a girl walking down a darkly lit corridor and stretch it and stretch it and streeeetch it until you’ve attempted to slit your wrists with your empty bag of popcorn! And nothing hurts worse than a paper cut! Except maybe…THIS MOVIE!

YOU: Um, yeah…listen, I gotta…

DEEP VOICE: After the first hour of pointless time killing, some clichéd and underused stalk and slash scenes will unfold. You may think this is good, but you’re wrong! You will watch, and mourn all the exciting scenarios and potential this film could have had, yet blatantly ignored! And just when you think the hurting has stopped, the flick will end things in a way that you saw coming before the opening credits rolled! Do you understand what I’m saying? The last few minutes are so standard, so predictable, so clichéd, so cheap, that you will know them BEFORE THE MOVIE EVEN STARTS! Maybe even after the second or third preview.

YOU: Are you finished? Because I really need to get going, here…

DEEP VOICE: Fine! Brush off my admonishments like so much dandruff! But heed my final warning, mortal. The only twist that you will witness in When A Stranger Calls, the sole “surprise” that the film has in store for you…was already revealed in the trailer!

YOU: Wow…you are really a freak…

DEEP VOICE: EVIL! SUFFERING! UNHOLY WASTE OF TEN BUCKS! OOOOGIE-BOOGIE!

YOU: You’ve really got to teach me how to talk in all caps like that. Listen, it’s been fun, but really…I gotta get going or I’m going to miss the previews. Give me a call, we’ll hang out sometime.

DEEP VOICE: Crayons taste like purp…

CLOSE UP: Phone receiver being set on the cradle.

You shake your head, stand up and grab your coat.

FADE OUT

…there. Not only did I just save you money, but I also entertained you by making this a movie script. Or something. Now you can send me the ten bucks you would have spent on that pointless exercise in Hollywood crapola…and here’s hoping Arrow In The Head doesn’t read this…and if he does, hey, it was an homage, dude…

Movie Review: SIGNS

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Movie Review: SIGNSTouchstone Pictures
2002
PG-13

“There’s a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?”

Ex priest and widower Graham lives on a secluded farm in Pennsylvania with his two kids and younger brother. One morning, Graham awakens to find a set of mysterious crop circles have manifested in his cornfields, which sets off a chain of eerie events that eventually puts his life and his loved ones at a huge risk. Either the surviving members of Led Zeppelin are doing a cover shoot for another boxed set, or there’s an alien invasion afoot. Either way, be afraid…

Since he hit the scene with his suspense tour-de-force The Sixth Sense in 1999, M. Night Shyamalan has been tagged the “Twist Ending Guy” of movie makers. While that may be deserved (and works as both a blessing and a curse, when you think about it), what many going into one of his movies may miss entirely is Shyamalan’s incredible talent for writing completely fleshed-out and deeply character-driven scripts. Any writer can write a twist ending- it’s the rare ones that can make you care about the relationships with the characters that give the twists their full effect.

With Signs, I put off seeing it for quite some time since it came out in both theaters and on DVD, simply because I was a bit burned out on the whole “twist ending” thing. So, while I was house sitting for my sister and brother-in-law, I grabbed their copy and popped it in one night, and let it play. Must say, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time (actually, I could, but movie wise, really…). I found it well-written, well-directed, and well-acted by all the cast. First off, Mel Gibson is one of those actors I’d watch, simply because he’s in it. Wonderful casting decision there, as you just immediately connect with his tragic character, a man who struggles with his life, his loss of faith due to his wife’s death, and his relationship with his family. It’s genuinely touching, and I got attached to these people.

While the feel is very somber (like most Shyamalan films), there was some very unexpected humor in this film. The dialogue is very witty, and the chemistry between the actors (both the adult and child actors) was truly engaging. Even the quirky residents of the nearby town (that Army recruiter was a riot) gave a very real feel to the place. And that, my wonderful freaks, is what upped the horror ante in this movie. Because of the sharp repartee and genuinely warm chemistry between the cast, I found myself feeling comfortable and safe…then BANG! The film would drop a fear bomb in my lap, catching me completely off guard and making me wet myself. Figuratively. Really.

Without giving much away, for the few of you who haven’t seen this yet, the horror element worked because of the fact that it takes place in a self-contained environment with a handful of people I let myself get attached to, and a very minimalist approach that lets the viewer’s imaginations fill in the blanks. Which means, even though you don’t really see it until the very end, these things manage to scare you long before they’re revealed. And he does show us something, it’s much more effective. There are some truly chilling moments and the entire time, I felt uneasy. Which means, Signs did its job and then some.

Signs is, IMNSHO, a very well done and multi-layered suspense movie that does it right. I’m kicking myself for not having seen it sooner…

Movie Review: LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH

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lets-scare-jessica-to-deathParamount Pictures
1971
PG-13

“It’s not the cake!”

Jessica goes to the Connecticut countryside for some rest following her release from an institution where she has just recovered from a nervous breakdown. She arrives with her husband and friend, but the three find little relaxation. Instead, they become entangled in a creepy tale of the supernatural which involves murder, an attempted drowning, a séance, disappearing bodies, vampires and constant torment for Jessica. Her marriage is strained, she hears voices, and she can’t escape the mental turbulence which haunts her – for there really is something after Jessica.

Up until a little while ago, I haven’t heard about this early 1970s horror flick. Knew nothing about it. And when I rented this, I did so because of the DVD artwork – spooky, albeit a bit generic looking – and the title honestly sounded like one of those 90s-era teen horror fests. Maybe even something from the Aughts. That’d be the 2000s, for those of you not up on the date vernacular.

Anyway, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a low budget psychological thriller / horror that, from the extensive research I did on the history of this movie – and by that, I mean ten minutes on Google – is remembered fondly by many as a spooky and unnerving cult classic. Considering I hadn’t heard of the movie until just recently, I have to wonder if that has a lot to do with fond childhood memories, like how I fondly remember The Black Hole freaking the earwax out of me as a child, even though I understand now how cheesy the movie is. Early childhood perception counts for a lot, I under stand that well.

However, being a somewhat hardened and jaded 30-something horror nerd, watching this movie was a bit of a drawn-out experience. One could use the word “boring”, really. Keeping in mind that Let’s Scare Jessica To Death was released in 1971, when the country was still feeling the effects of the misguided acid trip that was the later 1960s, a lot was focused on establishing something called “atmosphere”. Or, that could also be because of the lower budget, the effects being nonexistent, and that’s all they could go on. And for the most part, the movie succeeded in that aspect. Thing is, that’s probably the only thing going for it, and that’s not enough to carry my interest.

There were several things that made me scratch my head, wondering what they were thinking. Things such as, if Jessica just got out of a mental institution, does it make sense to 1) pick her up in a hearse, and 2) make little side stops at graveyards to encourage her hobby of making gravestone rubbings? Seems counterproductive, I’m just saying. Also, there’s the issue of what happens when they discover someone squatting in their house, someone who doesn’t seem all that stable to begin with. What do they do? Make her dinner, then invite her to live with them. Yeah, that’s…um, exactly what I would do? Further proof that hippies shouldn’t be relied upon for good decision making. And while we’re on the topic, for hippies they sure do use a lot of pesticides on the apple tree farm. You’d think they’d be more of the organic type. But, whatever. Hippies. *Pfffffft*.

Anyway, to wrap things up here, with the pace at little more than a crawl, acting that flounders between over-the-top and awkward, and a build-up and conclusion that, frankly, is kind of insulting…yeah, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is one I won’t be revisiting any time soon.

Movie Review: The EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE

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EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSEScreen Gems
2005
PG-13

“Once you’ve looked into the darkness I think you carry it with you for the rest of your life.”

Based on the very sad true story of Anneliese Michel, who went through the ordeal in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the trial of Father Moore, who conducted the exorcism of the titular character, told via flashbacks in a tense courtroom drama…

You read that right. In actuality, the style of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is a courtroom drama (like an extended version of Law And Order: Trial By Jury), with some very deep debates on religion versus science. It’s only during the flashbacks do we see the heavy (and very well executed) supernatural horror side seep in. Basically, because this movie was marketed as a straight-up horror movie, in the same vein as The Exorcist and The Omen (still wondering what that reviewer was thinking when he wrote that), there’s a bit of confusion with most who saw it with me that night. So, keep that in mind walking into the theater…

Moving on, I must say that, all false advertising aside, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose was incredibly engaging. A very smart film, in fact still has me thinking about it (as of this writing, I got out of the theater approximately two hours ago). The material was handled very well, with both sides of the issues bringing very compelling and dissecting arguments. The two lawyers, played very well, played things tight and under-dramatic, making for some entertaining and engaging listening in. I also liked the fact that the priest on trial wasn’t portrayed as some usual crackpot and crazy Christian. Instead, he was very well-kept, strong in his faith despite his circumstances. The scenes where he’s telling his lawyer about the dark spiritual war going on was matter-of-fact, instead of the usual wild-eyed madman rantings. Nicely done, I applaude the writers…

Now, about Emily Rose herself. In a word- amazing. The actress that portrayed her did a fantastic job, working up the possession (or was it epileptic/psychotic?) angle effectively, while at the same time displaying an endearing vulnerability that drew me in completely. I found myself wanting to take her up and comfort her while she was going through her personal hell. Handled by a lesser actress, and that angle would have killed it for me. Here, I was sold on Emily’s plight…

That said, I now want to point out that the horror elements were just as effective and, I gotta say, kicked me in the teeth in various places. Very dark, stylish and often shocking flashbacks, nicely done. While the all-too-brief scenes where she’s flipping out and seeing people turn into demons were the focal point of the television ads, they were still effective (although, I must admit, even the stuff that I didn’t see coming didn’t make me jump…while the entire theater around me did. Mayhaps I’m just jaded at this point, I don’t know). The parts that got to me the most, though, were the full-on manifestations, scenes that made even myself pause and think, “That ain’t right.” I was disturbed. And that says something right there, doesn’t it?

Alas, though, those portions are few and far between, and when you get down to it, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is really a debate on the controversial aspects of religion versus science, based around alleged supernatural events. And while the movie did effectively keep an open mind on both possibilities, the courtroom scenes did seem to drag on longer than what could have been. But don’t let that turn you off from seeing it. Bottom line is, it’s a very thought-provoking movie, with some really disturbing elements. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night, really…

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