Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

How shameless is Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2?  Well, if you missed the original Silent Night Deadly Night, not to worry.  Number two gets you right up to speed.

In its first 40 minutes.

That’s right.  Nearly half of its 88-minute running time is devoted to completely rehashing the earlier film.  It unapologetically recycles half of the footage from its predecessor.

It’s fairly obvious why.  Part 2 doesn’t have nearly enough material to justify being a feature.  In fact, it’s one of the silliest horror sequels I’ve ever seen.

At the end of the first film, poor, tormented Billy, the kid who saw his parents murdered by a thief in a Santa costume, comes very close to getting revenge against the sadistic nun who put horrible ideas in his impressionable head about punishing the naughty at an orphange she ran.

His little brother, Ricky, who was just a screaming baby when they suddenly became orphans, witnesses his final moments and inevitably follows in his slasher footsteps.

As Part 2 begins, we catch up with him again as an impatient, chain-smoking adult in a mental institution as he’s about to be interviewed by his 13th psychiatrist, a mild-mannered widow who has no idea what he’s in for once he hits record on the reel-to-reel machine.

Eric Freeman, who plays the demented Ricky, overacts constantly with his eyebrows.  His glare is not even close to being intimidating.  Sometimes, he turns his head slowly and robotically like The Terminator.  His line readings are routinely forced.  After he needlessly recaps his brother’s story in full, he delves into his own troubled history.

Adopted by a Jewish couple who gave him a good life, like Billy, he had traumatic flashbacks as a child. Two nuns walking down the street freaked him out.  Seeing red fabric brought up more bad memories about Santa.

After his stepfather died, he started going for long walks in the woods.  In one flashback, he spots a drunken man attempting to rape his girlfriend.  (A blatant rip-off of a similiar scene in the first film.)  Once she successfully fights him off, he retreats to his truck to get another beer.  By the time he discovers Ricky in the driver’s seat, it’s too late.  The aftermath leads to an unintentional laugh, one of many.

When he turned 18, Ricky became a busboy at a restaurant.  We see him throwing out trash one night as he overhears an argument between two men.  One is owed money and a beating is in progress.  When it ends, Ricky prevents the thug from leaving and after no-selling a few punches Terminator-style, he stabs the man with an umbrella.  And yes, it opens up.

Then we find out about his girlfriend, a cute blond he met after she literally bumped into his motorbike with her car.  (There’s a genuinely funny scene when they go to the movies (a clip from Silent Night Deadly Night is shown in full screen, for some reason) and are bothered by some loudmouth in the back row.)  He lost his virginity to her but when he found out about her obnoxious, overbearing ex, well, he became a fan of “slut” shaming.

And that’s when Freeman’s already laughable performance devolves into full-on camp.  It’s hard to tell if he gave up trying to be scary.  After he escapes the mental institution to track down the evil Mother Superior (sadly played by a different actress who isn’t nearly as effective), now retired with strange bumps on the side of her face (does this happen to stroke victims?), Ricky starts channelling Jack Nicholson from The Shining.  Badly.

At no time is any of this scary.  How can it be?  It’s so over-the-top you can’t take it seriously.  (That electrocution special effect is particularly noticeable.)  I mean right from the very begininng there’s a big credibility problem.  During Ricky’s interview, he’s not in a strait jacket or handcuffs.  He’s not shackled at all.  He’s free to roam around the entire time.

Um, guys?  He’s killed half a dozen people!  Doesn’t that make him dangerous?  Shunning good judgment and common sense, the dumb shrink (it turns out 13 isn’t his lucky number) shoos away an orderly who rightly eyes the occasionally smiling Ricky with suspicion.

Can you believe they made 3 more sequels?  Thank God none of them played in theatres so I don’t have to see them.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
6:23 p.m.

Published in: on August 24, 2016 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Some movies want to be liked and respected.  Others want to be loved and treasured for all times.

Silent Night, Deadly Night dares you to hate it with every fibre of your being.  When it was released in late 1984, many took the bait.  Critics crucified it.  Parents torched it.  Politicians were outraged.  Even Mickey Rooney condemned it.  It lasted a week in theatres.

It was exactly the kind of reaction the filmmakers were hoping for.  (It more than doubled its budget in box office receipts.)  In fact, it’s right there on the poster:

“You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas.”

The filmmakers were so shameless in their sales pitch they deliberately tied their decidedly mediocre offering to John Carpenter’s more skillfully made thriller.  They had to do something to reel in the gullible.

So, what was it about this movie that enflamed the delicate sensibilities of so many Reagan-era Americans? A guy in a Santa costume killing people.

About a half hour into Silent Night, Deadly Night, a character we’ve gotten to know at three different stages of his tortured, young life completely snaps.  At age 18, he gets a job working as a stock boy in a toy store during the Christmas holidays.  As the big day draws near, the store needs someone to be Santa for the visiting customers and their kids.  They’re kinda desperate.  There’s not much time left to fill the position.

Unfortunately, young Billy doesn’t see Santa like everybody else does.  That’s because of one terrible day he had when he was five years old.

During a visit with his grandfather in a mental institution (the overly obvious zoom on the outside sign made me laugh out loud), he’s informed that Santa punishes naughty children.  The grandpa’s supposed to be in a catatonic state like De Niro in Awakenings but when Billy’s parents are busy talking with the doctor in his office, this crazy, cackling old man suddenly comes to life to ruin Christmas for his naïve grandson.

On the drive back home, Billy’s dad temporarily stops the car to assist a guy in a Santa outfit who’s having car trouble.  Billy freaks out at the mere sight of him purely because of what his duplicitous grandpa told him.  His now paranoid instincts unintentionally turn out to be correct however because we just saw the guy kill a cynical clerk for 31 bucks in an earlier scene.  In a flash, the dad is shot through the windshield and Billy’s mom is assaulted before her throat is slashed.  As his infant brother cries throughout this cringeworthy ordeal (which thankfully is somewhat restrained), Billy flees and hides, leaving him behind.

The next thing we know it’s three years later and Billy & his brother are living in a Catholic orphanage overseen by a sadistic Mother Superior.  Poor Billy can’t do anything without evoking her anger.  Completely oblivious to his traumatic state that recurs every Christmas, she ruthlessly punishes him not understanding how much further damage she’s inflicting on his already fragile psyche.  Her stupidity is terrifying.  God knows nothing else in this movie is.

He’s sent to his room for drawing a picture of Santa with knives stabbed into his body next to a decapitated reindeer.  He gets a literal ass whooping for leaving without her permission.  When he has a nightmare, his wrists are tied to the bed.  It’s only after amusingly slugging a visiting guy in a Santa suit after being stupidly forced to sit on his lap that we are thankfully spared from seeing him receive yet another cruel punishment.

When a kindly nun allows him out of room detention for that dark drawing to go play with the other orphans outside, mysterious moaning leads him to look in the keyhole of a room where a couple is having sex.  Seeing the young woman’s breasts triggers his memory of his mom having her top ripped open by the bad Santa which spooks him.  Right on cue, Mother Superior throws him out of the way and proceeds to whip the couple for enjoying each other’s company.  She’s not down with coitis.

That leads to a pivotal moment that changes Billy’s life for good.  Mother Superior explains to him that people who do naughty things must be punished.  Ten years later, after witnessing a fellow employee assault a co-worker he has a mad crush on during his toy store’s after hours Christmas party, he makes his inevitable heel turn while wearing that Santa suit as he strangles the combative son of a bitch with Christmas lights in the stock room.  Instead of showing appreciation for ending the assault, the cute brunette calls him “crazy”.  He offs her, as well.

And that’s about the time the purposefully offensive Silent Night, Deadly Night, an awkward mix of cheese & tasteless provocation, becomes just another unimaginative slasher flick only with lousy original Christmas songs.  (To be fair, I did like the outdoor scenery.)  After exiting the toy store, Billy seeks out more naughty victims like the amorous teen couple who should be studying and a bully who steals a kid’s sled.  Meanwhile, the kind nun who tried to protect him seeks out the assistance of law enforcement which turns out to be a really terrible idea.  They’re as unaccountable and reckless as real-life cops.

One of the biggest misconceptions about John Carpenter’s Halloween was this false notion that he was making some kind of conservative statement against teen sex.  Michael Myers didn’t kill those babysitters because they were fucking.  He killed them because they reminded him of his sister, his first victim.  They were distracted and wouldn’t fight back.

On the other hand, Silent Night, Deadly Night, like The Toolbox Murders, I Spit On Your Grave, Maniac and Friday The 13th among many other appalling examples, is very much about punishing the sexual.  Poor Billy is so screwed up about carnal pleasure that when he has a dream about fooling around with that cute co-worker from the toy store it turns violent.  Even his own “naughtiness” isn’t immune from the influence of Mother Superior’s pervasive sex-negative attitudes.

Inevitably, Billy’s trail of bloody carnage leads him back to the place where he felt most alienated.  But the movie, which only views him as sympathetic up to a point, doesn’t even allow him the pleasure of killing his biggest tormenter.  All it does is set up a sequel no one asked for.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 21, 2016
4:04 a.m.

Published in: on August 21, 2016 at 4:04 am  Comments (1)  

Masters Of The Universe (1987)

There are certain movies from your childhood that you’ll always love:  E.T., Back To The Future, Superman II, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the original Halloween and of course, the first Star Wars trilogy.

Masters Of The Universe is not one of those movies.

Back in the 80s, I was a huge fan of the cartoon show.  I never missed an episode.  Naturally, I also had dozens of action figures, tiny, plastic, sometimes flexible recreations of the numerous colourful characters featured prominently in the series.  Guys like Clawful (half man, half lobster), Cyclone (you could spin the top half of him around), Leech (a green monster with suction cup hands who sprayed water out of his mouth), Two-Bad (a two-headed monster) and plenty more.

When I heard a live-action feature of the show was coming out, I was thrilled.  (I don’t remember why I didn’t see The Secret Of The Sword, the animated feature.)  I had to go see it in the theatre.  That happened shortly after the film’s cinematic debut in August 1987.  At the time, I wasn’t exactly super critical.  I enjoyed it.  The following year when it hit home video, my dad rented it and I enjoyed it a second time.  Bare in mind, I was 12 and didn’t believe pro wrestling was a work.

Nearly 30 years later, watching Masters Of The Universe again (this time on Blu-ray) as a grown man in his early 40s, I’m wondering what I found so appealing.  Good Lord, it hasn’t aged well.

In retrospect, it was not a good idea to cast Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, the hero of the original series.  He looks ridiculous in his skimpy outfit and cape, clearly designed to show off his pecs.  His delivery of dialogue is so stiff it’s noticeable.  (Lundgren had yet to master English in his thick Swedish accent.)

His arch nemesis, Skeletor (Frank Langella), is a low-rent Emperor Palpatine with a skull for a face.  He even has his own version of stormtroopers.  The only difference being their uniform is black, not white.  Langella does his best to work up some heal heat but I never hated him.  No matter how times he pounds that ram-headed staff on the floor I never felt intimidated.  I also kept wondering why he doesn’t have any skin.  (Did the cartoon ever explain this?  I don’t remember.  It’s been a while, eh?)

At the start of the film, we learn that Castle Greyskull (which doesn’t look all that impressive today) has been taken over by Skeletor and his army after a war with the people of Eternia.  He’s taken the Sorceress (Christina Pickles wearing a silly-looking crystal headpiece) hostage and put her under a spell which will age her rapidly and drain her completely of her power.

Skeletor wants to be, wait for it, master of the universe.  (Kinda funny this was released the same year as Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, a far superior work.)  In order to achieve this goal he needs two things:  He-Man’s sword (think Excalibur) and The Cosmic Key.  What the hell is a Cosmic Key?  It’s a time travelling device that looks like an electronic pineapple.  You play it like a keyboard (this is an 80s movie, remember) and it opens up a cheap special effect that allows you to go wherever you want to at any point in time.

Skeletor thinks he has the only one but Gwildor (Billy Barty in heavy make-up), a troll that reminded me of the late Oliver Humperdink, the inventor of The Cosmic Key, has a spare.  After he’s rescued by He-Man, Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher), and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field), he randomly selects planet Earth as a make-do location after an early encounter with Skeletor’s occupying army at Greyskull.

They end up somewhere in the United States (we never know the exact location but I’m guessing California where the film was shot) where they eventually encounter a teen couple in crisis.  Julie (a very young Courtney Cox) is an orphan who wants to make a fresh start in a new city without her musician boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill) even though they’re both still in love with each other.  (That makes sense.)  Her parents died in an unexplained plane crash a year ago.  She’s a day away from boarding her own commercial flight.

When He-Man and his pals arrive, they lose The Cosmic Key.  Kevin spots it in a crater in a local cemetery and ultimately comes to believe it’s some kind of far out keyboard.  (He just so happens to play keyboards in his high school band.  Convenience!)  Curious, he leaves Julie behind in their high school gym (where the decorations for prom are already set up) to take the device to a friend who runs a local music shop.  (Why doesn’t he take her with him?)

Because he was tinkering with it, Skeletor now knows where He-Man and company escaped to.  (Does he secretly work for the NSA?)  In a scene overly reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, old skull face lines up a small group of baddies at occupied Greyskull and instructs them to retrieve the key and capture He-Man alive.  (Like the CIA, he loves to torture his prisoners.)  They’re not exactly competent.

Meanwhile, the passing commotion outside the music shop leads Kevin back to his high school where he encounters uptight cop Lubic (James Tolkin who hated “slackers” like Marty McFly in Back To The Future) who informs him that his girlfriend is MIA.  That’s a good thing because of the fire now extinguished.

Masters Of The Universe lurches from scenes like this to a number of pitiful action sequences.  None of them contain any tension, suspense, cleverness or conviction.  (Despite seeing it a couple of times as a pre-teen, I barely remembered much of it.  Not a good sign.)  Even when characters start flying around on circular platforms, there is no awe.  Also, I was struck by how sparsely populated this unknown American city is.  The only people who seem to notice all the unusual commotion going on are the characters themselves.

Inevitably, everything boils down to a final sword fight between He-Man and Skeletor (what’s with the strange lighting?) which is a far cry indeed from Luke Skywalker’s two memorable light saber showdowns with his father.  When I saw the movie in the theatre, I’m pretty sure I left as the end titles played.  It wasn’t until I saw the movie again on tape that I watched right to the end where I saw that credit cookie for the first time.  I’m amazed James Cameron didn’t sue.

Masters Of The Universe is as derivative as it gets.  Even the title music by Rocky composer Bill Conti is unoriginal.  It blatantly rips off John Williams’ soaring Superman anthem.  Hell, they even do the opening credits in a similar way.

But the movie does deserve some praise for its unexpected feminism.  Yes, Courtney Cox is pretty much a naïve damsel in distress (no, that’s not your mother, dummy) and her imprisoned Friends mom is reduced to telling the villain he won’t succeed but you can’t say the same for Teela or Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster and her hypnotic eyes), Skeletor’s number two.  As the Greyskull occupation starts falling apart, Evil-Lyn (now there’s a good pun for ya) is smart enough not to go down with the sinking ship.  You could argue she’s the most intelligent character in the film.  She has an excellent bullshit detector.  As for Teela, as they say in wrestling, she’s one of the boys.  Her abilities are never questioned.

Cannon Films, the distributor of this mess, were actually planning a sequel which would’ve excited my 12-year-old self.  Today, there are two reasons I’m glad it never happened:  MOTU bombed and the company went out of business.  That’s what you get for using junk bonds to make junk movies.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 31, 2016
6:00 p.m.

Published in: on July 31, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

No Invitation For Peace

All good moods must be destroyed
All dark thoughts must be enjoyed
An army of lies have been deployed
The path of truth I will avoid

No room for love in this hostile place
No chance of escaping this confining space
Better get used to this relentless pace
Fear and self-loathing you will embrace

I’ve stopped competing with the ghosts of my success
I can’t measure up.  I’m failing to impress.
An insatiable appetite for constant stress
Counterfeit thinking you refuse to address

There’s a rage inside me that knows no bounds
I’m always at the mercy of its seductive sounds
A frenetic heart that pounds and pounds
A gruesome force that frightens and astounds

There is no hope for a liberating release
How I long for this internal torture to cease
Misplaced resentment continues to increase
No forthcoming invitation for peace

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 18, 2016
6:24 p.m.

Published in: on July 18, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (1)  

Fragile Entanglements

It takes a while to notice your absence
A sure sign you’re truly missed
Confirmed your rejection with a single click
I guess I should be pissed

I don’t know the reason
There really was no warning
Should I feel dead inside?
What’s the protocol for mourning?

It’s not like we had a real connection
We only chatted once in a while
Those encounters were always pleasant
Unless I’ve been living in denial

But you’ve decided you’ve had enough
So I’m reaching for my tissues
Time to call back the therapist
And sort through all my issues

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 17, 2016
9:44 p.m.

Published in: on July 17, 2016 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed

She is jittery.  She slouches and shrugs.  She tries to avoid eye contact.  But when she does, it’s with deep suspicion and fear.  She constantly acts as though she’s completely allergic to her own body.

One of the best things about the original Ginger Snaps is Emily Perkins’ effective performance.  She plays the awkward, unsmiling Brigitte, a sullen teenager who forms a morbid pact with her older sister, Ginger (Katherine Isabelle).  From that very first moment she walks out the family garage, we see a young woman completely uncomfortable in her own skin.

After Ginger gets infected by a werewolf bite, Brigitte goes out of her way to find a cure for her.  In the film’s final scene, she has a needle full of monkshood in one hand and a knife in the other.  When Ginger lunges at her, fully transformed into a four-legged, mostly hairless hellhound, all Brigitte has to do is puncture her with the needle to save her.  She uses the knife.

In Ginger Snaps 2:  Unleashed, Brigitte’s fateful decision to infect herself with her sister’s tainted blood has put her in a complete state of denial.  Every day, when she’s not shaving the little hairs that spring up all over her body, she injects herself with monkshood, a poisonous substance for everybody else, but a temporary solution to delay her inevitable transformation.  She meticulously keeps track of how long it takes for her self-inflicted cuts to disappear.  The healing time is getting shorter and shorter.  Whether she likes it or not, she’s becoming a werewolf like her sister.

Her life is even lonelier than it was in the first movie (no parents this time around, Ginger only shows up as a mocking, know-it-all hallucination) and disappointingly, a lot more depressing.  Whereas the original Ginger Snaps was darkly humourous and genuinely creepy (but also a lot of fun), Ginger Snaps 2 is dour, pedestrian and witless, a significant comedown.

While Ginger embraced her new reality with unrelenting gusto, her gradual evolution strangely similar to puberty, Brigitte’s dilemma is no different than that of a heroin addict and about as delightful.  (Trainspotting, this isn’t.)  Without regular injections, she looks like hell and starts experiencing withdrawals.  Knowing what’s coming she wants no part of it.  Considering how she has absolutely no life whatsoever regardless of this, it’s a curious reaction.  What else does she have to do other than rack up fines for overdue library books?

Not helping matters is her involuntary stint in rehab.  As she fears the return of a mysterious werewolf that’s been hunting her for a while, among other obstacles, Brigitte finds herself at the mercy of a sleazy orderly who demands sexual favours for her confiscated monkshood.  While a couple other young female addicts service him before getting their particular fixes, Brigitte resists and for a time, quietly suffers in solitude.  If only she would let nature take its course.  Her stubbornness is not as noble as she thinks it is.

Meanwhile, an irritating, comic book-obsessed blond girl named Ghost (future Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany showing surprising charisma at such a young age), who enjoys talking in third-person narration (that gets tired real quick), gravitates towards her for reasons that don’t become completely clear until the end.  She’s in the rehab center visiting her terrified, badly burnt grandmother.

When Ghost tells an anxious Brigitte that she can help her escape, there’s only one catch.  Ghost gets to leave, too.  By the time they make their move, the werewolf’s killing game is already strong.

The rarity of female-centric horror films is one of the primary reasons why I like the original Ginger Snaps.  Plus, from its jolting opening scene, it hooked me.  Normally, I have a big aversion to gorefests (excessive blood tends to replace strong characters and a suspenseful plot) but because of the film’s cleverness in seeing remarkable similiarities between menstruation and werewolf transformations, all that blood is necessary.

Ginger Snaps notes the frustrating double standards of female sexuality in smart and humourous ways.  In a society that constantly puts males above females, sexually aggressive women are seen as scary, overly demanding, selfish even for making their pleasure a central focus of their carnal pursuits.  Ginger openly acknowledges how unfair this is and then proceeds to do what she wants anyway because she’s too powerful to be denied.  Plus, she now has an outlet to release all that pent-up anger that’s been building after so many years of being an outcast in her own town.

In Ginger Snaps 2, the reluctant Brigitte is far less willing to embrace her destiny which is not nearly as entertaining to watch, nor convincing.  She’s a victim who doesn’t need to be.  Whereas Ginger was addicted to her newfound voraciousness because it greatly improved her life, her younger sister is addicted to the illusion of recovery that repeated shots of monkshood will never fully deliver.  She’s wasting everyone’s time pretending she can beat this.  What exactly is she trying to protect?  A boring, isolated life?

The film is colder than the original and lacks its biting quips.  Brigitte gets brutally mocked for all those slashes on her wrist.  One fellow rehab patient thinks she’s bad at suicide attempts.  (To be fair, she has contemplated it at least once.)  Ghost gets pelted with pennies in the TV room.  Other rehabbers say and threaten cruel things to each other.  And, of course, there’s that manipulative orderly who demands sex for drugs.  As if it wasn’t already abundantly clear, there’s just no fun to be found in any of these sequences.

By the time we reach the somewhat surprising finale, when the truth about Ghost and her grandmother are revealed, the impact is drearily minimal.  We just don’t care.

Unlike the original, Ginger Snaps 2 also lacks a dynamic opening which proves fatal.  Watching an overly confident library worker attempt to pick up Brigitte is more eye-rolling and pathetic than amusing.  (He’s full of shit when he says he’s “just kidding”.  You only say that when you strike out.)  Not only that, her clichéd dismissal of his pitiful advances is much weaker than the very funny way Ginger turns down a future lover in the original.  (All she needs is a dramatic pause and one word to get the point across.)  Like Brigitte’s dilemma, there’s no recovery from this.  The needless sadness of her life sullies the entire atmosphere of the movie.

There was a third film in this series, a prequel called Ginger Snaps Back:  The Beginning, but it went straight to video because of the lack of audience enthusiasm for Unleashed.  It’s a shame, really.  Ginger Snaps showed even with all its low-budget limitations the unique appeal of a feminist horror film.  We need more of them.  God knows it’s an untapped area of creativity.

But let’s hope for better offerings than this downer of a sequel.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
7:34 p.m.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Zombie High

Talk about a misleading title.  You would be forgiven for thinking this movie, based solely on the name, is a comedic tribute to the works of George A. Romero.  (I mean, the living dead as high school students?  How could it miss?)

That’s not what you actually get.

18-year-old Andrea (a very young Virginia Madsen) receives a scholarship to attend an Ivy League-type secondary institution in her senior year.  Her jock boyfriend Barry (James Wilder) is right to be concerned.  He’s done some digging into the school’s history and has discovered that it was founded by some maniac who was kicked out of the military for brutalizing First Nations people.

That’s not the full story, of course.  But just that little troubling nugget of information alone is unable to convince the very blonde Andrea that maybe it was a big mistake to switch schools.  Also not bothering her, at least at first, is that one of her teachers (Richard Cox) wants to bed her.  In an early scene, he holds up a framed photo of himself with a woman who looks exactly like her.  Shades of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

This greatly alarms the ancient Dean Eisner (the late Kay E. Kuter who converted George Costanza to the Latvian Orthodox religion on Seinfeld) and with good reason.  You see, the faculty at this high-falutin’ academy are keeping a big secret, one that requires employing a huge suspension of disbelief.  When that big secret is inevitably revealed it makes no sense.  More on that in a moment.

The constantly smiling Andrea becomes friends with the obnoxious Emerson (Bridesmaids director Paul Feig in his first movie), an annoying classmate who hits on the few women invited to attend this traditionally rich white guy-only institution including Andrea herself.  She’s the only one endlessly amused by his hack material.  Even the boy-obsessed Suzi (the underappreciated Sherilyn Fenn), one of Andrea’s roommates, is repulsed by him.  And she’s not smart, either.  (She thinks it’s PSM, not PMS!)

Another classmate, the grumpily rebellious, spiky-haired Felner (Scott Coffey) resents his father so much for sending him here, the latest high school he’s been transferred to, that he gives everybody a hard time including Andrea who thinks he just needs Latin tutoring.  He eventually softens towards her after explaining that he’s not stupid (he knows how to translate), he just refuses to be a “fascist” like dear old dad.  (He graduated from this particular academy.)

At one point, after apologizing to Andrea and thanking her for her kindness, Felner decides to bolt.  But not that long afterward, he’s back in class, now a docile, highly obedient student.  That’s weird.  Even weirder is what happens to Emerson.  One minute, he’s being completely unfunny as usual, the next, the Dean announces to the entire school that he’s dead.

What’s going on here?

The answer lies in the school’s infirmary.  Finally realizing that something untoward is happening right on campus, Andrea sneaks in one night (couldn’t they afford decent security?) and finds Emerson’s body.  She finds a whole lot more in the basement.  Let’s just say she owes Barry a big-ass apology.

Zombie High was released in 1987 to little fanfare.  This isn’t surprising.  It’s one of the dullest horror films I’ve ever seen.  It’s so low energy you think Jeb Bush directed it.

It’s also a lazy comedy with no laughs.  There is zero attempt to make a satirical point about Ivy League schools.  (A campus statue wearing a tie isn’t cutting it.)  God knows there’s plenty of material in real life to draw from.

Angela is a middle class student entering an institution populated with the Jaguar set.  (In contrast, her boyfriend drives a shittymobile that overheats.)  We’re talking stiff rich kids with gold watches and fancy suits who devour The Wall Street Journal every day and dance like wooden robots to any kind of music.  They all look and sound the same.  Anyone with an actual personality like Angela’s roommate Suzi will eventually lose it not because of peer pressure but because of a ridiculous medical procedure.

As it turns out, the faculty of this supposedly revered centre of learning need the students to stay alive.  The way they accomplish this is so ridiculous it’s no wonder they want it kept secret.  Which leads me to an unanswered question.  If the only reason for this school to exist is to prolong your life, why would you want to prolong your life?  It’s not a good trade-off.

The Dean makes a speech early on claiming that a number of graduates have gone on to great prominence including one who became President of the United States.  But if the goal is to live forever without ever fearing death, why would you let one of your lobotomized students achieve power through your dumb procedure?  Why wouldn’t you want to become President?  Or at the very least, pull the strings in secret, which doesn’t appear to be happening.

To keep the student drones in line, The Dean keeps a running loop of a violin and a piano playing constantly throughout the school.  (It sounds like something out of Ken Burns’ Civil War.)  When Philo, the teacher that wants Andrea, suddenly decides he’s had enough of The Dean’s shenanigans and gives up on pursuing his confused student (who for a while can’t determine whether she’s attracted to him or not), he tells her to find a replacement tape he’s hidden.  Once it starts playing, the students will revert back to their former selves.

We never do find out what’s on that tape because Andrea loses it after being nabbed by The Dean.  Chances are, based on what happens in the film’s final scene it probably doesn’t feature bad 80s rock and roll.  (To be fair, I did like the first track during the opening titles.)

I’ve never seen a film so hesitant in its execution.  There is no serious attempt to be terrifying.  There is absolutely no confidence in the comedy.  Actors are selling jokes that land with the impact of a Nerf ball.  You have to feel for Sherilyn Fenn and Virginia Madsen, two charismatic cuties saddled with dumb characters to play.  They somehow manage not to embarrass themselves but imagine what they could’ve done with smarter material.

In the end, Zombie High feels like a blown opportunity.  There are no flesh-eating monsters patrolling this stupid campus at a sluggish pace, just a bunch of boring characters stuck in a dead-end story.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 27, 2016
8:19 p.m.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Antidote

You murdered me with your eyes
A fog of indifference has lifted
As blue as the naked skies
The perception of self has shifted
A witness to transformation
An arbiter of powerful change
An undeniable confirmation
You’re attracted to the strange

Your surge of electricity
Has resurrected the dead
Harmonious synchronicity
This desire must be fed
Foreign emotions released
For the first time in years
Self-hatred has ceased
I’m no longer in arrears

Humbled by your strokes
I’m firmly in your clutches
There’s no need to coax
I succumb to your touches
Reduced to a hush
In the glow of detente
I still feel the rush
Oh, how your eyes do haunt

The breath of conquest
So confidently heaved
Incredibly impressed
With what you’ve achieved
The antidote to my disease
You could write a book
As seductive as the breeze
I was killed with one look

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
6:23 p.m.

Published in: on June 22, 2016 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dolls (1987)

She is a miserable little girl.  Her parents are divorced.  Her kind, loving Mom lives in Boston while her verbally abusive Dad is now married to a rich snob who can’t stand her.  Her best friend is a teddy bear.

While en route to Monte Carlo, there’s a sudden thunderstorm, an odd occurrence since the weatherman on the radio has just said conditions would be clear and cool.  The rain makes driving impossible and just like that, it’s the end of this dysfunctional family’s road trip.  Two sticks in the mud are stuck in the mud.

Conveniently, an old castle just happens to be nearby.  But no one is answering the front door.  After sneaking into the basement, they make too much noise.  A suspiciously hospitable old couple materializes.  They don’t mind having company for the night.

Shortly thereafter, three more people join them.  They’re welcomed, as well.  None of them have any idea what they will be in for.

That’s the set-up for Dolls, a peculiar horror film that’s remarkably short on scares, thrills and laughs.  (I did dig the catchy, electronic opening theme music, though.)  Mercifully edited to a tight 77 minutes, a better movie is surely lurking somewhere underneath this mediocre one.

The troubled, lonely little girl is Judy (pint-size Stooges-era Iggy Pop lookalike Carrie Lorraine).  How she feels about her dad (Ian Patrick Williams) and his second wife (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) is summed up in a daydream.  She reimagines her discarded teddy bear (bitchy stepmom thinks it’s slowing her down) as an enormous, vicious monster.  It’s the only time she feels powerful.

The three people who eventually join them are Ralph (Stephen Lee who played the indecisive contractor on an episode of Seinfeld) and two Madonna-inspired hitchhikers he picks up off-screen.  Judy’s stepmom almost runs over the two punks in the first scene.

The two young women (Cassie Stuart and Bunty Bailey who played the love interest in aha’s Take On Me video) tease the child-like Ralph about a possible threesome which is all a smoke screen for their real agenda:  stealing his wallet.  But once they get a load of all the antiques lying around the castle, the plan changes.  Bailey decides that she’ll start scooping up the goodies all by herself.  You know immediately this is a terrible idea.

Why is it a terrible idea?  I will tell you why it is a terrible idea.  It’s a terrible idea because there are dolls all over this place and they are alive.  Not only are they alive, they’re homicidal.  And they don’t like assholes.  Unfortunately, they’re not very terrifying or interesting.

Judy’s dad, her stepmom and the two would-be thieves have zero perception of the tragedies that await them.  When the inevitable happens to Bailey, Judy, who witnesses her ordeal, tries to warn her family.  She nearly gets smacked for bringing it up.  Needless to say, they’re not very bright.

So then Judy startles Ralph who initially shows skepticism but becomes a believer when he sees Bailey’s blood on the back of her slippers.  They go looking for her up in the attic but it’s her pal Stuart who eventually finds her.

So, what’s with all the dolls?  Well, they were made by the old man of this castle, Gabriel Hartwicke (the nicely understated Guy Rolfe) who has an unusual philosophy.  He thinks adults should keep playing with toys.  He believes one’s childhood should never end and no parent has any right to say otherwise.  Good thing the completely unfunny Ralph is a big kid at heart.

There is some intelligence at work in Dolls, most especially in some of the dialogue.  It’s clearly conceived as a fantasy morality tale with the old couple serving as self-appointed judges of bad adult behaviour.  But the movie never establishes a true mood of malice in this castle set that isn’t all that creepy.  The mansion in The Haunting could’ve loaned it its considerably chillier atmosphere.

While they don’t come off as unintentionally silly, the horror sequences don’t exactly send shivers down your spine, either.  These demonic playthings come to life through puppetry and stop-motion animation.  The differing standards are too noticeable and hurt the impact of every scene.

I never quite understood why Gabriel and his witchy wife Hilary (Hilary Mason) who appear to be childless care so much about children and the preservation of their love of play in the first place.  What’s in it for them?  I also don’t think the adults their dolls target are nearly as cruel as they should be.  (Throwing a teddy bear in a tree?  Come on.)  I never hated them enough to the point where I wanted them all dead.  That said, did we really need Judy’s dad threatening to smack her with the mere gesture of his hand?  Surely, he can generate heel heat in a less exploitative manner.

By the end, a pattern emerges.  We learn this is not the first time an inexplicable thunderstorm has come out of nowhere to strand dickish parents and their long suffering children outside the old couple’s castle.  My question is how come the authorities aren’t aware of this?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 11, 2016
11:42 p.m.

Published in: on June 11, 2016 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Prowler (1981)

For two whole minutes, The Prowler is intriguing.  After that, it completely falls apart.

We begin in 1945.  Cleverly recreated newsreel footage covers the triumphant return of some 15000 American sailors from Europe following the surrender of Nazi Germany.  The narrator informs us that for some of these men the process of re-entering civilian life will be difficult.  For one thing, there is the serious matter of PTSD.  For another, it’s coming to terms with being dumped via a “Dear John” letter.

One year before the end of World War II, a young woman named Rosemary breaks the heart of one such soldier this way.  She reads aloud her complete note exposing incredible selfishness despite continuously claiming her ongoing concern for his well-being.  (She’s young, you see, and doesn’t want to be tied down any longer despite promising to be loyal.  Jesus, toots, would it kill ya to wait one more year?)  On the night of her college graduation dance, he kills her and her new sleazy boyfriend with a pitchfork.  Not cool, dude.

Exactly 35 years later, another class of college grads are preparing for their own dance, the first one allowed in Avalon Bay since the murders.  Sure enough, as night falls, that disgruntled soldier picks up where he left off as he systematically eliminates some of them one by one in the usual gruesome ways.  As a twisted tribute to his ex, he leaves behind a rose for every victim.

Since the town Sheriff has curiously decided to go off fishing all of a sudden, his flirtatious deputy Mark (Christopher Goutman) is in charge.  When smitten college journalist Pam (Vicky Dawson) barely escapes the psychotic killer (she’s written about him in her final school newspaper) after returning to her dorm to change her punch-soaked dress (nice going, Mark), he’s the guy she wisely turns to for help.  (She’s still mad she dances with someone else instead of her, though.  In his defense, the other woman wouldn’t let him go.)

Unlike most slasher pictures, The Prowler isn’t completely stupid.  Mark hauls ass to the school dance to order everybody to stay inside thereby saving dozens of lives.  Unfortunately, one such student leaves before hearing the announcement.  She meets a grisly end during an impromptu dip.  When a chaperone goes looking for her, well, we can’t have any witnesses now, can we?

When Pam flees the murderous veteran, she’s temporarily stopped by Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney from Reservoir Dogs).  He’s the reason there hasn’t been a graduation dance in 35 years.  Rosemary was his daughter.  Now retired and confined to a wheelchair thanks to a serious stroke, he has zero lines of dialogue.  He also mysteriously disappears after the bizarre, unexplained encounter with Pam.  (Was he killed?  Did he have another stroke?  Where the hell is he?)  Maybe he was hoping to meet her roommate who humourously flashes him from her bedroom window (he lives across the street) in an earlier scene.

After leaving the school dance and jailing a drunken grad, Mark and Pam break into the Major’s house looking for answers.  Unbeknownst to them, they have company.

It’s a testament to how bored I was that I didn’t even bother to guess the identity of the killer.  (His face is concealed for the entire film.)  But if you’re paying attention, you’ll probably figure it out.  A number of possible suspects are presented – the disgruntled grocer, his weird employee, the pervy old guy who watches a young couple make out in the basement at the graduation dance – but they all seem too obvious.

At one point, thanks to a tip from the disgruntled grocer, Mark & Pam head out to the local cemetery where they discover Rosemary’s defaced tombstone and her missing body.  (A fresh one has taken her place.)  A second trip to the Major’s home solves that mystery.

Not knowing much about its history before pressing play, I didn’t expect much from The Prowler.  But because of its unconventional start, I was thrown a bit.  Where is this going, I wondered?  Unfortunately, after a briefly appetizing beginning, the film disappointingly descends into convention as it rips off Psycho, Vertigo, Halloween, Friday The 13th, Carrie and My Bloody Valentine.  How I wish it was more ambitious and original.  God knows it starts off that way.

Vicky Dawson & Christopher Goutman, the two likeable heroes of this story, are unexpectedly fine here, as they lead a fairly decent cast, a rarity in 80s slasher flicks.  They have an easy chemistry.  It’s too bad they spend most of their time quietly exploring their bland surroundings very slowly.  In general, though, the acting definitely elevates the subpar material more so than it really deserves.

But decent acting can only take you so far.  Without a good, suspenseful story and a strong villain (beyond his shellshock & pissed off attitude, there’s not much else to the disgruntled soldier), there’s just no escaping the fact that The Prowler is an average movie that isn’t particularly scary.  What a waste of potential.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 11, 2016
8:16 p.m.

Published in: on June 11, 2016 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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