Warlock: The Armageddon

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the original Warlock that not only have I completely forgotten every scene, I also failed to remember it spawned two sequels, only one of which received a theatrical release.

Before they caught a break with Leprechaun, indie studio Trimark Pictures tried to franchise it.  Curiously, Warlock had been shot in 1989 but didn’t even get issued until early 1991.  It didn’t even make that much money.  It barely broke even.  But they were undeterred.  While there have been many numerous additional installments in the Leprechaun series (after two and with the exception of Origins, everything else went straight to video), they eventually gave up on Warlock after number three.

Having now screened Warlock: The Armageddon, the second chapter and the last to play in cinemas, I’m amazed they kept going.  It is not scary at all.  It contains many cheap special effects.  And the plot is ridiculous.

Early on, we learn about druids, guardian angels empowered by God to protect the Earth from evil.  Every thousand years, during a lunar eclipse, the devil attempts to somehow impregnate some poor woman through an immaculate conception in an instant in order to send his son into the world.  (Gotta love the old cloudy contact lenses gag.)  To stop this, the druids activate six unimpressive-looking runestones to keep him in hell.  However, if the devil’s son manages to steal those colourful rocks within six days before another eclipse occurs, another awful special effect wil be unearthed to cause chaos.

How deadly can your villain be if he has to follow this absurd loophole to cause shit instead of just sending his loyal minions up to Earth at any time he wants?  There’s no Dark Tower here to keep the hounds at bay, just a few remaining, mostly senior citizen druids who are basically less inspired Jedi knights.  The ghost of Obi-Wan weeps in protest.

But they have a secret weapon: their children.  Chris Young and Paula Marshall play a teenage couple who keep their unconvincing romance a secret because her seemingly-in-denial-about-the-devil-spawn druid priest daddy don’t approve.  Their plans to go away together while he works and she goes to college falls apart because she feels she’s still needed in this small California town even though she doesn’t want to live here forever.  Neither realize their lame destiny as druid warriors.

And what do you need to do become a druid warrior exactly?  Well, first, you have to be murdered.  Then, you get brought back to life.  And, of course, you have to be trained.  Young and Marshall learn how to move baseballs around, lock and unlock doors and burn things purely with their minds.  They’re not powerful enough to improve the special effects or the plot.

As the lunar eclipse happens over New York City, a young woman preparing for a hot date is chosen by Satan to instead rebirth Julian Sands, the blond, stoic heel burnt to a crisp in the first Warlock.  (The arriving boyfriend unwittingly supplies his black wardrobe.)  There’s a weird moment where after he removes all the goo and guck, he sticks his hand in her scratched-up face like she’s Bob Campbell from Soap.  Using her as a conduit, Daddy Dearest gives him some instructions.  Find the six runestones and call up that cheesy demon effect.  The druids in California have two, the rest are spread out across the country.  He only has six days to accomplish this or the Earth will be spared.

How many times have we seen films like this where the villain has to collect a bunch of powerful junk before finally being able to wreak havoc on their enemies?  What’s the point of being unstoppably evil if you have to go on a time-consuming scavenger hunt first?

As the California druids eventually prepare Young and Marshall for battle, Sands has to get the owners of those four elusive runestones to willingly give them up.  Again, I don’t understand why he can’t just steal them or even buy them.  An owner of a travelling freak show offers him one for just a hundred bucks which he considers an insult knowing its true value.  A smarter person would just pay the dumb asshole and shut up already.

Instead, as he does with all the other owners, he tricks him into giving it up.  (Why is this necessary?  He’s the devil’s son!)  Considering what happens to the gun-toting art dealer, and fashion designer Joanna Pacula, circus boy should consider himself lucky.  The overwrought little person who works for him, however, not so much.

As Warlock: The Armageddon drags on to its worthless finale, its technical deficiencies continue to pile up.  When Sands walks down that imaginary set of stairs, are we really that dazzled?  Do the filmmakers really think we can’t tell that’s not Marshall taking a tumble off her motorbike?  Did they really expect to get away with using all that poorly executed chroma key without anyone noticing?

To further demean itself, the film relies on The Undead Killer cliche three times.  Not once is it ever frightening, mainly because you expect it every single time.

Warlock: The Armageddon is a shameless thief, pulling familiar bits and pieces from more famous movies.  (Star Wars, Carrie, the chanting music and those special knives from The Omen.)  It doesn’t work as a horror film.  It most certainly doesn’t click as an action piece.  (In particular, the opening flashback sequence is too dark and mainly used for pretentious opening credit freeze frames.)  And that romance between Young & Marshall is weak.  I don’t believe they’d ever have a cup of coffee together, let alone have an impromptu romp before war.

The familiar set-up makes it quite difficult to create any credible level of suspense.  It also doesn’t help that unlike Star Wars, there are no memorable, fully developed characters or standout fight scenes to rally around.  It’s formula filmmaking with zero enthusiasm.  No wonder Julian Sands looks and sounds like he’d rather be doing anything else.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 27, 2018
9:09 p.m.

Advertisements
Published in: on September 27, 2018 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s Alive (1974)

She awakens in the middle of the night moaning in pain.  More kicking? he asks.  Nope.  It’s time.  We need to go to the hospital.

Her name is Lenore.  She’s a beautiful redhead married to Frank, a chain-smoking PR executive who looks like Dennis Hopper.  They already have an 11-year-old son.  Frank’s remarkably calm.  So is she.  But after he’s awakened, their boy is worried.  On TV, he learned about a mom dying during childbirth.  That won’t happen to your mom, says Frank.  Everything’s going to be fine.

Because this is how the horror film It’s Alive opens, we know better.  Even Lenore knows something is wrong.  This pregnancy feels different.  Before the child even arrives, the doctor marvels at his weight in utero.  10, maybe even 11 pounds, much bigger than her first.

Lenore is about to give birth to a murderous monster.  It will kill everybody in the delivery room and escape without detection.  There will be more victims.  We have no idea why he’s so pissed off.  Maybe he read the script.

To its credit, It’s Alive is not awful.  Thanks to a number of good, natural performances, it’s better than I expected it to be.  But it’s far from terrifying.  Because the film was first released in 1974, there’s a lot of restraint typical of the era.  Yes, there are bloody aftermaths but much of the violence is suggested or only heard, just not very effectively.  There’s a scene where the baby manages to hide in a milk truck.  When the delivery guy reaches in to grab some bottles from the front seat, he gets pulled into the back.  The only visual evidence of mayhem is the blood blending in with the spilled milk on the street.  Ho-hum.

The filmmakers have to conceal the kid as much as possible for obvious reasons but I don’t think they concealed him well enough.  Even brief glimpses reveal he won’t give you nightmares.  You can tell Warner Bros., the distributor of the film, spared expense.  I highly doubt legendary make-up whiz Rick Baker who created him ranks this as one of his greatest achievements.

When Frank witnesses the bloody crime scene in the delivery room, his expectant joy of having another son immediately turns to deep despair and rage.  He blames the hospital for this mess.  They respond by leaking the family’s identity to the press.  You would never know Frank is a public relations expert as you watch him flip out on nosy reporters.

While the son has been safely spending time with a neighbour and his parents reel from what’s happened, the police embarrass themselves by conducting a foolhardy manhunt for the freak child.  There’s a dumb scene where they pull their weapons out in front of an ordinary baby.

They eventually track down the mini monster at his brother’s school.  But they don’t do a particularly good job of keeping him in their custody.  Inevitably, he adds two more notches to his murder belt as he easily makes his way to his family’s California home.

Like the police, Frank is determined to kill the damn thing.  But Lenore, now kooky and giggly, is aghast.  She actually loves the monster and wants to protect it.  So does his big brother once he runs home and spots it in the family basement.  Frank will have a similiarly tearful bonding moment of his own when he finally sees what his sperm has wrought in the final act of the film but not before he wounds it with his rifle.  It leaves a long trail of blood as it heads towards the Los Angeles River.

How and why did Lenore and Frank conceive of this homicidal mutant?  The movie puts forth some curious theories.  Maybe Lenore has taken too many pills which concerns a drug executive who’s worried about a potential lawsuit.  Maybe radioactive matter damaged the baby during too many X-ray exams which Frank denies.  Maybe it was the smog or pesticides.  Perhaps it’s best there is no concrete answer.  But it would’ve been nice to have had a scarier baby.

As Frank tries to come to terms with his situation, he’s asked to sign away his parental rights to the child so it can be studied by science.  (Doesn’t Lenore get a say in this?)  With so much media interest in the story, even an outrageous nurse presses her luck concealing a tape recorder as she tries to get the recovering Lenore to open up surreptiously on the record.

It’s Alive has had a curious history.  When Warner Bros. executives looked at it in 1974, they were very disappointed.  According to writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, they barely marketed it, dumping it into theatres.  At one point, it was the third movie of a triple bill that included Caged Heat.

But when it was released in Europe and Singapore, it was a hit.  A few years later, when new executives began running the company, they had their own screenings and put forth a very effective reissue campaign that turned it into a sleeper.  In one week, it actually outperformed Rocky.

I wasn’t alive when It’s Alive was first unveiled and while I’ve always known about it, this is my first chance to actually watch it.  While I appreciated the earnest performances from the mostly unknown cast, the movie lacks a menacing tone.  Bernard Herrmann’s score is far below the bar he set with Hitchcock’s Psycho.

There’s one genuine albeit cheap jump scare when Frank goes down the basement to fiddle with that dead light bulb but that was the only time I jolted.  The rest of the time I wondered why I should feel so uneasy.

It’s Alive ends with a cliffhanger.  Another mutant baby has been born in Seattle.  But in It Lives Again, there are three such monsters.  Here’s hoping this time they spare the family cat.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 27, 2018
8:09 p.m.

Published in: on September 27, 2018 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Crawlspace (1986)

The notorious Klaus Kinski was the face of death.  No one understood that better than David Schmoeller.

In 1999, Schmoeller made a bitingly funny, revealing short film called Please Kill Mr. Kinski where he recounts in a perfect deadpan the lengths the legendary Polish-German actor would go to to torment him on set:

Showing up an hour late on more than one occasion.  Constantly complaining about his suggestions. Physically fighting his crew.  And screaming with his hands on his face whenever he would say “Action!” or “Cut!”

Say something else or nothing at all! would come the unwelcome reply.

Very quickly, Schmoeller realized that he couldn’t let Kinski win, especially after the temperamental thespian learned about his plan to have him fired.  Having already read a Playboy interview where the actor noted his “allergy” to directors who would often quit in exasperation at his perennial freak-outs, he was determined to finish shooting his movie no matter how poorly his star behaved.  This determination became even stronger when one of his producers threatened to kill Kinski for the insurance money and when the crew’s insistent demands to “Please kill Mr. Kinski” grew increasingly louder.

All of this is far more interesting than Crawlspace, the highly derivative horror film they made together in Italy.  Kinski plays a mysterious apartment building landlord who only rents to beautiful women (shades of The Toolbox Murders).  He frequently spies on them by literally crawling through the vents and watching their every move (Norman Bates was also a voyeur in Psycho).   Sometimes, he releases rats (he must be a Willard fan) or slaps his pocket knife against his hand so they’ll talk to him about the unexplained disturbances in their rooms.

If any of them happen to have a boyfriend over, that’s bad news for the boyfriend.  He abhors competition.

Kinski likes keeping parts of his victims in jars as trophies:  The eyeballs of one tenant’s paramour.  The ringfinger of another.  And the tongue of a woman he’s been keeping in a cage for god knows how long.  Even his little kitty isn’t safe which is more of an unfortunate accident.

In the movie’s opening scene, a woman meets a grisly end when she enters Kinski’s apartment.  So another woman (Talia Balsam, George Clooney’s ex-wife), a cute journalism student, moves into her old place.  (Unnoticed by Balsam, Kinski burns his hand on her oven until she agrees to move in which is odd.)

Soon, a bespectacled, chain-smoking man (Kenneth Robert Shippy) arrives at Kinski’s door to call him out for killing his brother, something he hasn’t been able to prove.  (Has he heard of a search warrant?)  Kinski’s big secret is that he’s a Nazi doctor responsible for murdering a bunch of patients and tenants.  Shippy’s uninvited presence is so unsettling to Kinski that for the first time he feels vulnerable.  It’s surprising how long he takes to off him, though.

Throughout Crawlspace, Kinski narrates his diary entries with as little energy and enthusiasm as possible.  I get that he’s supposed to be this even-tempered, remorseless sociopath but beyond the occasional smile on his fabulously creepy face, he derives no real visible joy from being the villain.  After every murder, he tries to kill himself by playing Russian roulette, a test to see how powerful (or lucky) he really is.  The problem is you know he’ll survive every time.  Otherwise, this would be another short, not a feature, which defeats the purpose of these scenes.

Kinski’s Nazi is a lot like his Count Orlock in Nosferatu The Vampyre, the delightfully eerie remake of the overrated yet highly influential 1929 silent original.  Both are ancient creatures of an ugly past stuck in a holding pattern with no end in sight.  Both are addicted to unhealthy ideas.  In Orlock’s case, it’s the consumption of human blood, the only thing keeping him alive.  I love the scenes where he wheezes, his breathing so laboured you wonder if he needs an oxygen tank.

Both men clearly prefer death over their violent routines but only Orlock resonates as a character, a lonely, pathetic ghost of a man trapped in an unwanted purgatory unable to end his eternal suffering.  In Crawlspace, the Nazi connection seems unnecessary and confusing.  (Kinski actually seems appalled that the Nazis “euthanized” persecuted Jews.)  At no point does Kinski espouse racist views of his own.

While it’s true that the Aryans conducted horrific human experiments, Kinski is more interested in creating deathtraps for his victims who aren’t extinguished for their non-existent Jewishness but because they’re inconvenient obstacles or reluctant objects of his desire.  In other words, stripped to his core, he’s a vengeful misogynist, an indistinguishable quality from most movie slashers.

The weirdest scene in the film is a blatant rip-off of a similiar moment in Curtains.  A man stalks a woman, a pop singer, in Kinski’s building right outside her window.  He breaks in, brandishes a knife and appears to be on the verge of raping her.  But just before the attack, she makes it clear this is all very consensual (she has already cut her bra to expose her nipples) and not the first time they’ve role-played like this, a welcome departure from Curtains which waits until after the “assault” before unveiling the bizarre, belated twist.  Softening the moment even further, in Crawlspace, the boyfriend goes from worrying about climaxing too quickly to not being able to finish at all.  Regardless, it’s a strange sequence to watch.

The second weirdest scene is near the end when Kinski decides to put on make-up and declare himself a God while watching an old Hitler propaganda film.  He looks like a past-his-prime Mick Jagger trying to lazily imitate Heath Ledger’s Joker.  It’s not scary, it’s weird, which perfectly describes Crawlspace as a whole.

The movie’s lack of originality flows all the way through to the end when Talia Balsam’s journalism student starts discovering all the dead tenants in her building much like Jamie Lee Curtis did in her friend’s house in the original Halloween before her final, obligatory confrontation with Kinski in the vents and his apartment.  At one point, it looks like Kinski has finally succeeded in ending his own rampage.  But a formula slasher film requires a formula ending and so Kinski has one last chance to vanquish the Final Girls, one last round of Russian roulette.  Only this time, he’s not holding the weapon.

In that moment captured on film over 30 years ago, you get the unmistakable feeling that writer/director David Schmoeller wishes he was the one who pulled the trigger.  It would’ve been a better ending.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 21, 2018
7:18 p.m.

Published in: on September 21, 2018 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bad Moon (1996)

22 years ago, I went to the movies at the Centre Mall Cinemas.  After paying to see the first feature, I stuck around and snuck into a second, a routine I had mostly perfected for half a decade.  Shortly after I walked in and sat down, the lights dimmed, the purple curtains were raised and the ads started running.

In the middle of the “Coming Attractions”, the usher walked in and spotted me.  I knew exactly what he was going to ask me.

“Excuse me, sir.  Do you have a ticket?”

“No, I don’t.”

“I’m sorry, sir.  But you have to leave now.”

There was no sense in pretending.  I walked home.

The best part of this story?  There was no one left in the theatre.

That’s right.  No one paid to see Bad Moon that late November evening which literally played to an empty house.

Having finally screened the movie two decades later on Blu-ray, I now understand completely.  This is not one of the best werewolf movies ever made.

Bad Moon is based on a book called Thor, not the famous comic book hero but a very smart German Shepherd.  The novel is told from his perspective.  The movie is not although we do see the odd POV shot (dogs can’t see colour, morons).  This narrative change doesn’t make a lick of difference.

Thor is the protector of Janet (Muriel Hemingway), a single attorney with a young son, Brett (Dennis The Menace’s Mason Gamble in a less grating performance).  Having left the D.A.’s office in Chicago for a small, undisclosed town in the woods (really beautiful Vancouver, B.C.), she’s adjusting fine to less intensive civil cases while he hasn’t made a single friend beyond Thor.

Her brother, Ted (Michael Pare), just had a memorably awful experience in Borneo.  While bonking his hot companion in a tent after completing an assignment (while an oblivious native tribe sits in a circle outside wondering why the horses are freaking out), a guy in a werewolf costume rudely interrupts their coitus.  She gets scratched to death but Ted manages to survive with just scratches.  The guy in the werewolf costume gets his head blown off.

Three months later, after quietly returning to his sister’s small town, he contacts her hoping for a visit to his Airway trailer home parked near a lake.  He reveals no signs of what has been happening to him.  At first, Thor jumps him in a friendly manner.  But once inside the Airway, he clues in.  Ted can’t lie to him.  Brett accidentally discovers his Lore Of The Werewolf book but keeps this important discovery to himself.

Janet wants Ted to stay with the family but he resists at first.  Then, some tree measuring worker gets murdered (night shifts suck), the police arrive and Ted suddenly changes his mind.

For the rest of the movie, Thor eyes Ted with his hypnotic brown eyes like a hawk (the dog’s a natural performer), constantly staring at him from the family’s kitchen window and right outside the door of his trailer which baffles the clueless Janet and Brett, that is when he’s not running off and barking like a maniac.  Ted eventually gets annoyed with this and provokes him into attacking him.  Animal Control soon takes him away but you know he won’t stay in custody for very long.

Bad Moon runs only 80 minutes but because the finale is never in doubt, it feels longer.  Janet is supposed to be intelligent but look how long it takes her to figure out what’s happening to her brother, roughly half the running time.  She literally has to read his journal to discover the truth and even then, she still has to see him transform before being completely convinced.  Despite discovering that Werewolf book, Brett still doesn’t believe they exist.  Instead of just coming right out and explaining his dilemma, Ted drops opaque hints.  After a while, we feel like we’re watching an Idiot Plot unfold.  It’s never a good sign when an animal is smarter than your human characters.

Bad Moon tries to buck tradition by suggesting that werewolves can be killed with conventional bullets rather than silver ones and that any moon rather than just a full one can bring on an unwanted transformation (even though the moon is full during every night sequence).  None of this really matters anyway because the film remains quite predictable.

The inconsistencies of Janet and Ted are hard to ignore.  Ted is supposed to be this tortured guy, not unlike Lawrence Talbot, the original Wolfman, but there are moments where he seems to enjoy having the upper hand on Thor.  There’s an unintentionally funny scene where Ted gets revenge on the pooch for, um, leaving his mark on his trailer.  As a deeply agitated Thor is being dragged away by Animal Control, Ted smirks and gives him a sarcastic wave.  But after their inevitable final confrontation, he’s begging the German Shepherd to finish him off, recalling the tone of his anguished journal entries.  Ted’s whole reason for reconnecting with his sister and his nephew in the first place is to find a cure for his “disease”.  When has familial love ever killed off werewolfism?

Janet is able to see right through a con artist who visits her home to try to get a phony lawsuit going.  (He, too, provokes Thor into jumping him even though he doesn’t actually bite him.)  But she can’t immediately figure out that Ted is keeping this big secret from her.  After finally knowing what actually happened to his hot gal in Borneo (Ted has photos of her dead body in the trailer), she asks him point blank where she is.  Seattle is not the correct answer.

There’s one werewolf tradition that everybody looks forward to in a horror film:  the transformation scene. But when it finally happens in the final leg of Bad Moon, it’s so poorly done even the filmmakers have admitted they fucked it up.

Even before that, though, we’re just not scared of the werewolf.  No matter the conviction of the growling on the soundtrack or the occasional, sudden head turn towards the camera it always looks like a guy in a costume.  And that’s clearly a fake dog on his back during a climactic fight scene in the family home which results in more undesired silliness.

In my life, I think I’ve seen only three really solid werewolf movies:  Wolf with Jack Nicholson, The Howling with Dee Wallace and the Canadian film Ginger Snaps.  Everything else has been either average or terrible.

Bad Moon falls into the latter category.  22 years ago, that Centre Mall usher did me a favour by kicking me out of that theatre.  If I knew who he was, I’d write him a thank you note.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 16, 2018
3:47 p.m.

Published in: on September 16, 2018 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jeepers Creepers 3

Villains are supposed to have more fun than anybody else in the movies.  They have no restrictions.  They can say and do whatever they want.  They can even get rich off their own depravity.  Once they achieve supreme power, usually their ultimate goal, the party really gets started.

The only drawback?  They eventually get killed off.  Like the man said, “Parties aren’t meant to last.”

To a certain extent, horror movies are a different story.  Even though many vicious killers and monsters meet grisly ends again and again, thanks to greedy film executives and filmmakers, they never truly die.  They live on in franchises and reboots, carrying on their reigns of terror often like obedient zombies until the money runs out.

And when you really stop to think about it horror movie villains live far more depressing lives.  I’m reminded of the only good scene in Friday The 13th Part 2 when we discover how Jason Voorhees lives when he’s not murdering horny teenagers.  He lives alone in a dump, basically.  For a moment, you feel empathy for him.  The loneliness must be unbearable.  And then he starts mindlessly hacking people again and the moment passes.

Next to Count Orlock in Herzog’s eerie Nosferatu remake, the most depressing horror movie villain of all has to be The Creeper in the Jeepers Creepers franchise.  Part human, part vulture and apparently part vampire, like Voorhees, Orlock, Michael Myers and many others, this growling deviant only has one purpose:  to kill people who haven’t done him wrong.  He does this every 23 years in the Spring for 23 straight days.  Why?  We still don’t know.

We first met him in the original back in 2001 when he tormented siblings Justin Long and Gina Philips.  Then, in the 2003 sequel, he took his time picking off high school jocks in a stranded school bus.

In Jeepers Creepers 3, it’s feeding time again.  The film isn’t exactly a sequel to number 2, it’s more of an inbetween-quel.  It’s supposed to follow the events of the original and lead into the middle installment.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the earlier chapters (almost 20 years) that I don’t remember if The Creeper had actual transportation beyond his own wings.  In number 3 he drives around in what’s referred to as a “Frankenstein” truck because it’s comprised of parts from other vehicles.  It’s a death trap, basically.  If you happen to get nabbed by this pony-tailed beast and thrown in the back alive, like a couple of unfortunate characters do, good luck getting out.  The thing is booby-trapped from the inside.  It’s not built for camping.

When in pursuit by outmatched cops, it can release rolling bombs out on the street.  Forget firing guns at it.  The bullets ricochet back at you.  And when it’s parked, stay away from that tailpipe.

This has always been a fundamental problem with this series.  The Creeper can’t be killed.  He does his dirty work for an entire film and then disappears until the next one.  If he was actually scary and compelling (part of the problem is we see his unremarkable face up close too much), I would be ok with this.  But he isn’t and so, the whole endeavour feels like a waste of time.  There’s no suspense whatsoever.  History keeps mindlessly repeating itself.

Does The Creeper even enjoy being an unrepentant assailant?  It’s hard to tell sometimes.  One wonders what he does when he isn’t feeling homicidal.  You also wonder if he’s the only one of his kind.  If he is, it would explain his bad mood.  And what does he do for 23 years straight?  Meditate?

In between the murders, which aren’t frightening and thankfully not as brutal as you would expect, we meet his victims and the people in their lives:  a bunch of mostly clueless, powerless cops, several snotty motorbike-riding teenage boys, a girl who loves her horse, her girlfriend, the freckled boy who loves the girl with the horse and the girl’s grandmother played by Meg Foster who seems to be stuck in horror movie hell these days having languished in a couple of dismal Rob Zombie turkeys recently.

In the first scene of Jeepers Creepers 3, a detached hand falls from the sky.  For two decades, it’s been buried on her farm and she’s eager to dig it out.  All the while, her dead son, the one who buried it in the first place, reappears to warn her about The Creeper’s return, a recurring theme in the dialogue.  She’s the only one who sees and hears him.

Once she finds it, she discovers by touching it she can get a history lesson about the monster’s origin.  All we see, however, are Foster’s famously hypnotic blue eyes replaced with cloudy contact lenses.  One of the cops well aware of The Creeper’s actions goes through the same experience.

So, what did they see and what did they learn?  They’re not talking.  But near the end of the film, they leave the hand for The Creeper to find and a sign that reads, “WE KNOW WHAT YOU ARE”.  His resulting roar kills off a bunch of crows.  And we never see him again.

So, what is he exactly?  Why the big mystery?  My guess is his backstory has yet to be written.  Great.

For the first time in this series, the heel shows vulnerability.  He gets blasted by something called a Vulcan cannon attached to the back of a pick-up.  It kind of reminded me of Jesse Ventura’s handheld high-octane machine-gun in Predator.  Despite eating a shitload of bullets, The Creeper doesn’t croak, he just slows down a bit.  When he discovers the horse-lovin’ gal (who he snatches at one point) is alert in his makeshift meat wagon, she manages to get him close enough to that driver’s seat booby trap.  He loses an eye but shortly thereafter he already has a replacement.  Or did he just pop the old one back in again?

When Gina Philips returns at the end of the film to remind us that she’s still pissed off about what happened to Justin Long in the original Jeepers Creepers, you get that sinking feeling that yet another chapter of this awful franchise is in the works.  By God, let’s hope not.

All three films were written and directed by Victor Salva who is better known for being a convicted sex offender than a worthy filmmaker.  Most creeps in Hollywood are protected because they’re profitable talents like Oscar-winners Mel Gibson and Roman Polanski.  Salva is neither now so it’s surprising he’s still active in the business, especially in this welcome #MeToo era.  The first two Jeepers Creepers, his most popular films, were released by MGM who were going to do a third installment that was going to be very different from this one.  In the works even before JC2 was out, indie studio Screen Media Films ultimately released it in theatres for two nights only last year.

Because he couldn’t help himself, Salva has one of his teenage boy characters make an inappropriate remark about one of the girls in the film.  It was apparently excised for the super-brief theatrical run but I clearly heard it on my DVD copy.  He hasn’t reformed at all.

Like The Creeper himself, there’s no joy to be found in Jeepers Creepers 3.  No scares, either.  James Bond villains have way more fun.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 8, 2018
10:22 p.m.

Published in: on September 8, 2018 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Perfect Guy (2015)

The Perfect Guy isn’t quite your usual intruder-from-hell thriller but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.  Despite welcome deviations from the normal formula, it can’t help but stick with some tired conventions.

The movie stars lovely Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball) as a California state lobbyist involved with Morris Chestnut.  She wants to be married and have kids.  He clearly wants neither.  They’ve been together two years, she’s 36 (he’s 35) and she wants a stronger commitment.  He thinks it’s too soon (stalling tactic), she says that’s not good enough (she’s getting impatient) and he’s out the door.

Earlier that same day, Lathan is ordering an Iced Latte, the same drink handsome, soft-spoken stranger Michael Ealy wants.  They make eyes at each other and she starts acting flustered.  She almost leaves without her drink.

Two months after her break-up with Chestnut, while being pestered by some drunk white guy at a restaurant, Ealy suddenly and conveniently appears again to scare him off.  “I’m now twice in your debt,” she coos not knowing who’s she dealing with.

He calls her at work the next day even though she didn’t give him her number.  When we find out he specializes in corporate espionage, that should be a pretty big fucking red flag.  But, of course, it’s not.  Their relationship intensifies to the point where they get busy in a bathroom at a late night club.  Their lack of sizzling chemistry marks one of many credibility problems.

When introduced to Lathan’s parents, the transparently phony Ealy is all politeness and overwrought gestures.  (The couple has to sleep in separate beds because apparently we’re still in 1953.  Ealy’s bizarre acceptance of this when Lathan tries to climb into bed with him does not come off the way he think it does, another red flag.)  Because Lathan tells him her dad (Charles S. Dutton) loves baseball, he surprises him by taking him to a Giants game.  (Their seats are behind home plate.)  During grace at dinner, Dutton says Ealy is welcome back any time.

But everything changes one night when the couple stops at a gas station.  While Ealy is in the convenience store, another nervy white guy tells Lathan she loves the car she’s in and asks if it’s ok if he takes a snap.  Ealy returns and proceeds to beat the living snot out of him.  Guess he wasn’t ok with the photo-op.

Lathan immediately distances herself from the psychotic Ealy but that doesn’t stop him from continually phoning and texting and stalking her outside her house, pleading with her in vain to resuscitate their dead relationship.  Changing her number three times does not end the harassment.

The pleading inevitably turns to outright threats like the one left on her car.  When she eventually goes to the police on the advice of her otherwise dopey friends, curiously she doesn’t give the cop assigned to her case the note.  He is, of course, totally useless and so Lathan is on her own.

Because she stupidly forgets her key during one of their dates, she has to use her spare, hidden in a fake rock, in plain view of Ealy.  It takes her way too long to realize that this was a terrible mistake.  By that point, Ealy has already hacked into her computer and knows exactly what she’ll be doing at any given time and where.  He also does weird things with her pillow, glass and toothbrush.

Despite being sent a restraining order during a job interview (perfect timing), Ealy knows full well the police aren’t gonna do shit beyond feeble interrogations and so he continues his harassment campaign going so far as to kidnap her cat Rusty.  It’s always a bad sign when a victim in an intruder-from-hell thriller has a pet but remarkably, the puss survives this time.

When Chestnut returns to try to work things out with Lathan, Ealy watches them fuck on his comp.  In a couple of unintentionally hilarious moments, there he is again watching them shower together pressing his latex-gloved hand on the glass and there he is right under the bed as they hump.  Come on.

Knowing they’re going out to dinner (in the same place he had started romancing her himself), there he is calmly sipping on booze as Lathan starts freaking out.  Chestnut makes the fatal mistake of confronting him.  In an unusual twist, Ealy does not act like a Bond villain.  There’s no hesitation on his part on eliminating the competition.

Meanwhile, Ealy sends a surreptitiously captured sex video of Lathan & Chestnut to her fellow employees including her otherwise kindly boss and a number of their clients which results in a suspension.  He also sends her a fake suicide note meant to cover up his planned murder of her.

When Lathan’s next-door neighbour notices Ealy being up to no good, he really starts to lose it.  God, how many times has an on-screen killer like this thrown someone down their basement stairs?  Pick a new gimmick, psycho.

The increasingly sympathetic police officer assigned to her case loses it himself when he moronically attacks Ealy after he fails to break him in yet another go-nowhere interrogation.  It’s genuinely surprising that Ealy lets this go.  Maybe if it had happened earlier, he would’ve pressed charges or sought violent retribution.  Then again, he’s Black and the cop’s white, so never mind.

At any event, with the law increasingly unhelpful to her ongoing dilemma, the cop meets with her at a diner and in not so many words basically tells her that maybe she should just shoot the bastard when he inevitably invades her home again.  (In real life, that would get you a 20-year sentence but whatever.)  Suddenly, Lathan becomes incredibly brave, scaring another woman away from Ealy on their date, costing him yet another I.T. job and then trashing his place leaving a spray-painted message hoping he’ll take the bait.

Of course he takes the bait.  He’s relentless and not as bright as he thinks he is.  (He’s also not that terrifying despite sometimes generating genuine heel heat.)  And once again, a movie villain falls for the old running shower routine.  I find it very hard to believe she would be that hesitant to fire.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 8, 2018
12:40 a.m.

Published in: on September 8, 2018 at 12:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Death Wish (2018)

The original Death Wish starred Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered pacifist architect whose entire world is rocked by the murder of his wife and the sexual assault of his teenage daughter.  Feeling unbearable guilt for not being available to protect them while they were attacked by a trio of deviants in the family’s apartment he gradually transforms himself into an unrecognizable figure, a man of unapologetic violence.

What’s that old saying?  A conservative is a liberal mugged by reality?

Bronson’s Kersey wasn’t a superhero or even a vigilante, really.  He was bait, irresistible for any would-be mugger or assailant who dared approach him because he seemed easy to beat.  As they’d make their evil intentions known, he would pop them, posing an intriguing ethical question.  Was he right to deliberately put himself in dangerous situations just so he could exorcise some righteous anger against street thugs not unlike the ones who harmed his family?

You might not like the answer.  You might think it’s irresponsible.  But you have to acknowledge the film’s audacity, cleverness and skill.  We cared about Bronson and his family.  The scene where his wife and daughter are viciously assaulted is terrifyingly quick.  Tranquility erased by chaos in a matter of seconds.  The film convincingly captured the paranoia and vulnerability of white America at that time.

This new ghastly version of Death Wish stars Bruce Willis as Kersey.  This time, he’s a passive ER surgeon married to the ageless Elizabeth Shue.  They have a teenage daughter bound for college.

Plans to celebrate Kersey’s birthday go awry when he’s called into work at the last minute because a fellow slicer who was supposed to cover for him has a bad fever.  So, the women decide to surprise him by baking a cake.  At the same time, three masked home invaders enter the scene.  I’m not sure how much money the family makes (they do have a coveted safe) but surely they’ve could afforded a home alarm system.

The thieves are not very smart, either.  One teases the idea of being a rapist but thankfully backs off because of his irritated colleague.  One of them stupidly leaves out a knife which, of course, is used by the daughter (who we learn in an earlier scene has self-defence training).  Shue is able to elbow the head thief in the gut and then drench another one with a hot liquid.  As she urges her kid to get the hell out of there, the head robber makes the dumbest decision of all.  He pops both of them.  (Why didn’t they just do this job when no one was home?)  Shue croaks but the kid survives.  Kersey finds out firsthand when they arrive in his ER room.  The kid spents much of the rest of the movie in a coma.

Stunned, Kersey starts seeing therapist Wendy Crewson.  He can’t sleep in his wife’s bed so he takes refuge on a couch in the basement.  He absorbs himself in the world of guns.  He watches a weird TV ad featuring a gun-totin’ babe and actually meets her at her store.  He contemplates buying a weapon but doesn’t actually commit.  It won’t be his only visit.

After burying his wife he has a fateful car ride with his father-in-law who spots poachers on his land.  After getting out to blast them he says something that changes Kersey’s life forever.

Kersey keeps bugging a detective assigned to his case for any information that will give him peace.  But there is no peace because there are no good leads.  As it turns out, a good lead shows up fortuitously at Kersey’s ER.

There’s an earlier scene where Kersey and his family are leaving a restaurant.  The valet who goes to pick up their car overhears their birthday plans.  Once inside, he takes a screenshot of their address.  Because the family was originally planning on being away from home that night he figures this will be a simple job with no complications.  He passes on the tip to the three dumb robbers now on the loose.

When that same valet shows up dead in the ER (did his colleagues snuff him out?) his gun falls out. Conveniently, Kersey is the only one who spots it.  He also obtains his cell phone which points him in the direction of a liquor store.

Before all of that, Kersey takes a discarded hoodie from one of those bins at the bottom of his hospital and takes a walk.  He notices a couple of carjackers stealing a van and starts blasting, eventually causing a crash.  The driver dies inside but his co-conspirator who, correct me if I’m wrong, now has only one eye, stumbles out and somehow continues shooting.  Kersey pops him and then does something that makes him deeply unsympathetic.  With the shooter no longer a threat, he kills him anyway.  The whole incident is captured on a cell phone and promptly posted online.  Two radio shows start debating whether Chicago really needs “The Grim Reaper”.  These are not good debates.  The words “civil liberties” are glaringly absent.

The original Death Wish was set in New York during a period where crime was a massive problem. Although America has seen significant statistical drops across the board several decades since, real-life Chicago in particular has stubbornly maintained a massive gun crisis for years.  Much of that is due to the needless criminalization of hard drugs, a major source of income for street gangs, a fact that is completely disappeared in this remake.

Another major factor is the constant proliferation of weapons which does gets mentioned.  But that’s not the reason the Kerseys are targetted.  At the time of the home invasion, they don’t possess any guns.  The thieves are really just after anything they can re-sell which Paul discovers once he heads to the back of that liquor store.

Like the robbers, Kersey is making things up as he goes along.  He constantly changes hoodies and makes sure his face isn’t captured by any pesky surveillance or nosy cell phones.  He’s smart enough to keep his head down as much as possible but clearly not smart enough to remove a hospital tag.  And he probably should’ve practiced shooting more before taking out the carjackers.  He’s very fortunate the cops are a little slow to figure out what he’s up to.  His contientious doctor brother (Vincent D’Onofrio in a good performance) is wrongly suspected initially because like The Grim Reaper, he’s left-handed.

The shootout at the liquor store leads him to the guy his daughter slashes with that blade.  And this is where the Death Wish remake becomes monstrous.  In a scene that would not have been out of place in any of the Taken releases, Kersey tortures the man, a mechanic when he’s not robbing people, to get the name of the head robber.  After he jabs him with a needle and opens him up, he literally drops a car on him.  The result is so nasty I’m surprised the next scene isn’t Kersey getting hired by the CIA.

It’s not the only one.  There’s a terrible sequence involving one of Kersey’s ER patients.  A young Black kid has been shot in the leg for reasons that are never really properly explained.  After bonding with him over basketball, Kersey finds out his assailant, a street tough known as The Ice Cream Man.  Kersey finds out where he is, approaches him, declares he’s his “last customer” and murders him in front of a whole slew of neighbourhood witnesses.

How is this ok?  How does this make Kersey “the hero”?  He’s no better than the hoodlums he executes.

And then comes the ridiculous finale.

Kersey’s daughter awakens and comes home with him.  On the elevator ride out of the hospital, that elusive final robber, the dumbest motherfucker of them all, rides with them.  Underneath the polite small talk is a warning.  This isn’t over.

What was the robber doing in the ER?  Under threat of exposure, he lures Kersey into an absurd, public shootout in the bathroom of a night club.  Both are wounded.  Considering how reckless they are, there should’ve been more casualities.

The robber recruits a couple more thugs to invade the Kersey house yet again that same night.  (And yes, there’s still no alarm system.)  Despite carrying automatic weapons, they’re easily outsmarted.  I mean, honestly, do you really think he was under the covers or taking a shower?

As per usual in movies like this, The Fallacy Of The Talking Killer strikes again as that dopey thief announces a dastardly plan instead of pulling the trigger again which gives Kersey plenty of time to blow him away.  It happens so fast it feels anticlimactic.

In the original Death Wish, Charles Bronson’s Kersey never did locate his family’s assailants which added to the tragedy of his transformation.  And unlike the ultimately indifferent Chicago cops in this inferior remake, the New York cops were deeply torn about what to do with him.  Realizing a prosecution would be difficult and unpopular, he agrees to leave the city.

There’s no such dilemma facing Bruce Willis in this version, despite the rightful skepticism of the two detectives assigned to his case.  In the end, the one he’s been trying to get answers from is more interested in ending his loathed gluten-free diet than conducting a thorough investigation.

Willis is not the right guy to play this troubled man.  It’s hard to imagine him letting some mouthy soccer dad boss him around.  John McClane wouldn’t take that shit.  When he’s cast in an action film it’s not a surprise that he will get violent.  A better choice would’ve been someone who hasn’t done a film like this before, someone whose devolution into violent fascism would’ve been more startling.

The original Death Wish wasn’t exactly politically correct but this remake is so overtly racist that not even Black radio broadcasters criticizing The Grim Reaper’s actions is enough to give it a pass.  Directed by noted horror hack Eli Roth (who made the godawful Hostel and the overrated Cabin Fever), it doesn’t live in the real world.

Recent revelations about the Chicago police’s never-ending brutality against people of colour don’t exist in Death Wish.  There is no Homan Square or corruption.  The film unpersuasively argues that the cops aren’t able to do what Kersey does because they’re stymied by due process and sheer incompetence.  When Kersey obtains that cell phone from the dead valet, he contemplates telling that detective but then changes his mind.

The implication is unmistakable. The law is useless so he’ll handle this one himself.  Look, I’m all for the abolition of police for a whole lot of good reasons but I believe in restorative justice, not this fascist bullshit.

The original Death Wish inspired four atrocious follow-ups.  In all of those sequels Bronson’s Kersey acts a lot more like Willis in the remake.  As a result, he’s no longer a relatable human being.  In the original, he struggles with his anger, at one point vomitting after an early altercation.  Willis briefly experiences night terrors.  But both men steel their nerves and ultimately lose their sense of compassion and empathy.

In the first scene in the remake, Willis can’t save a cop whose been shot which stuns the cop’s frantic partner who thought he drove fast enough for him to make it.  When the partner learns that the killer is in the same ER, he can’t believe Willis is going to try to save that “animal”.  That dehumanizing word lingers uncomfortably in the air.  It is not the only time it will be uttered in this movie.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 7, 2018
11:45 p.m.

Published in: on September 7, 2018 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Transporter

The opening scene of The Transporter might be the best one.

Jason Statham plays the title character, a meticulous professional who leaves nothing to chance.  He makes special deliveries for all sorts of unsavoury characters including the bank robbers he picks up just outside the French Chamber of Commerce.

As soon they all pile in, though, there’s an immediate problem.  There are four of them, not three.  Statham only agreed to three.  With tension building, he calmly explains how this unexpected development could muck everything up.  As the police arrive, one of the thieves makes a snap decision.  And they’re off.

Statham turns out to be an excellent driver who never worries about disappointing his clients.  After a spirited chase by some very frustrated French police, they safely arrive at their destination without any unwanted followers.  But then, the head robber makes a bonehead move.  He wants Statham to do some more driving.  He even offers more money to sweeten the deal.

Statham’s Transporter may be amoral but he’s not a crook.  And he’s not foolish.  He refuses the bonus and the extra job.  He’s a stickler when it comes to honouring every detail of a deal and with good reason.  Later on, we learn through a TV report that the robbers get apprehended due to an unforeseen accident.  If only they had made prior arrangements with The Transporter they’d be set for life.

Statham’s chauffeur-to-the-thugs reminds me a little of George Clooney’s assassin in The American.  Both lead solitary lives.  Both are non-judgmental when it comes to taking jobs.  And both are clever enough to never expose too much of themselves to legal scrutiny for much of their careers.  That is until we learn their weakness:  vulnerable women.

However, it’s fairly clear from the beginning that Statham’s fate will be very different than Clooney’s.  He’s not planning on retiring after one last job nor is he ever in any true danger despite finding himself in the middle of several beautifully executed action sequences, one of which feels greatly inspired by Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

The second Statham opens that suspiciously moving black bag in the trunk of his BMW, his idyllic life of indifference is no more.  His long dormant conscience takes over.  And he’s not happy about it.

A young Chinese woman (Shu Qi) is supposed to be delivered to a sleazy human trafficker (Matt Schulze) but Statham arrives late (she briefly runs away after requesting a pee break) and he lies about opening the package, a rule he never violates.  After dropping her off, he makes a pit stop.  Then his BMW explodes.  Two knocked-out cops who spotted him carrying Qi back to his tricked-out ride were in the trunk.  He only stopped to get them refreshments.  He may have lost his way but he’s not an animal.

Enraged, he returns to Schulze’s lair (he’s conveniently absent) and kicks some serious ass.  Curiously, he doesn’t rescue Shu Qi.  But she ends up hiding in the back seat of a Mercedes he’s just stolen anyway.

First, he abandons her.  Then, he changes his mind.  She learns he’s ex-military and not a threat and yes, there is an attraction that they inevitably succumb to.  (At least they have chemistry.)  When that nosy inspector (Francois Berleand) comes back for another round of questioning, Qi pretends she’s the cook.  (Yes, this movie doesn’t exactly have great politics but whatever.)  I like how Statham never gives away what he actually does when Berleand stops by.  He’s consistently unflappable.  But the cop clearly sees through his convincing charm act even if his inspections aren’t exactly thorough.  He knows he’s not getting the full truth.

Qi reveals that Schulze is the only one who knows which storage container her family and hundreds of other Chinese slaves are being imprisoned in.  What he doesn’t know is that one of her family members is in cahoots with Schulze which is never really explained but never mind.

The plot of The Transporter is beside the point.  It’s just a convenient thread to transport the likeable Statham from one gripping action scenario to another.  His lethality is not to be underestimated.  While it’s true that the villains could at any time just pull out a pistol and pop him (either they take too long to do this, talk too much or have bad aim), it’s great fun nonetheless watching him brutalize thug after thug with his perfectly timed kicks and punches when he’s not shooting them to death.

The Transporter could’ve easily starred Jackie Chan who has long specialized in these thinly plotted, hyper-paced chop socky affairs.  Like the Drunken Master himself, Statham often uses objects within reach to get out of seemingly impossible jams.  It’s almost balletic how he pulls it off with such precision and fluidity.

Needless to say, the film is nowhere close to being realistic.  (Would a cop really let a loose cannon like Statham out of custody just so he can get his extrajudicial revenge on Schulze and rescue Qi?)  But that’s not why we watch movies like The Transporter.

With Daniel Craig close to ending his run as 007, there’s been much speculation as to who will be his replacement.  Maybe it’s Jason Statham’s turn to take over.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 2, 2018
1:26 a.m.

Published in: on September 2, 2018 at 1:26 am  Leave a Comment