Tonight's arthouse study on distrust of strangers and human politeness comes from director Karyn Kusama, the gal who most recently brought you 2009's Jennifer's Body. Can't recall how I felt about that one and I'm too lethargic from radiation treatments to go back and see, so...chop, chop. There's been a great deal of positive internet press about this one of late, causing me to set aside whatever disdain I'd already developed towards it due to a weak, unengaging trailer I'd already checked out a while back, and give it a look. Afterall, a shitty trailer does not a dumpster fire movie guarantee.
This snob fest could use David Hess and Johnny Morghen.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new squeeze, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi...say that one five times fast), pull up outside David and Eden's (Michael Huisman, Tammy Blanchard) swanky digs in the Hollywood Hills for a dinner party, after wiping out a coyote with the car on the ride there. Eden is Will's ex-wife, who previously attempted suicide after the accidental death of their young son together. David is a fellow she took to during a grief-support group, having spent two years together away from their friends, some of which in Mexico, where the couple picked up Sadie and Pruitt (Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch) , two new age oddballs who share their bizarre notions on pain management. Besides experiencing painful flashbacks from their time together while noticing Eden hiding away a sizable bottle of pills and noticing that David has locked all the doors behind the guests. And where the hell is Choi, anyway? He should have been here by now.
If a hipster hides in a high end joint, would anyone bother to find him? David pops in a promotional video for a group called 'The Invitation' that deals with pain and grief on a spiritual hippie level, as evidenced by footage of the head kook talking a dying woman through her final moments of life. If that hasn't weirded out enough guests, a parlour game of 'I Want' turns into Pruitt's impromptu confession of having accidentally murdered his wife. Will's suspicions are temporarily put to rest when Choi finally does show up, but then there's that pesky laptop, left open to files concerning 'The Invitation' and their true motives, just waiting for an inquisitive partygoer to stumble across while sneaking about the place. Don't drink that wine! Instead, pass it this way so I can put myself out of my misery. I've seen scarier episodes of Quantum Leap, ferchrissakes. "Mexican suicide cults are all the rage these days. Join one, reaaaally you should."
In the arthouse world, you'll find two approaches to cinema, more often than not. One is overly excessive, the other is purposely minimalist. Either can make for an effective film, if utilized properly, with heaping doses of self-awareness and artistic flair, but I can't help thinking that tonight's movie might have served itself better had it chosen the former instead of the latter. For a film that many are calling "one of the best horror movies of the year", there really isn't any horror to speak of. The script is smart, the cinematography is excellent, and there's some tension early on, but the plot reveal is obvious a lot sooner than it ought to have been, and the pay off is weak and shockless. Interesting, but rarely engulfing. Worth a look for those aforementioned elements, but ultimately forgettable. You could have had something here. Two wops.
In distress? Or just yawning. I think we know the answer.
Those of you out there closer to my age (old bastards, we are now) fondly recall the 1980's as a decade where anything at all could be brought to life upon the silver screen through the extensive usage of practical special effects like prosthetics, stop motion animation, animatronics, or miniatures, and films like The Howling (1980), The Beast Within (1982), An American Werewolf in London (1981), and The Thing (1982) were living proof for rabid genre fans worldwide to enjoy. Enter ADI, a special effects team hired by Universal to provide practical effects for a Thing prequel, only to find most of their gruesome handiwork had been digitally replaced in post-production by computer generated imagery. After a YouTube channel full of videos containing their missing artistry proved wildly popular among fans, Alec Gillis, the director of tonight's review, created a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign to give the people what they really wanted: a practical effects-heavy monster movie like they used to make 'em, and thus, Harbinger Down was born.
" I brake for sea cucumbers," notes Graff (Lance Henriksen).
After watching a Russian spacecraft burning up upon re-entry and crashing into the Bering Sea, we are fast-forwarded thirty years to the present, where two grad students, Ronelle and Sadie (Giovonnie Samuels, Camille Balsamo) are accompanying their prof, Stephen (Matt Winston), on an experiment documenting global warming's effects on whales, aboard Sadie's grandfather's trawler, Harbinger, while he and his crew do some King Crabbin' in the Bering Sea. What could possibly go wrong. Oh yeah, spaceship in the ice. Not only does the dead cosmonaut inside show no damage from the fiery crash when Billy Idol was on the charts, he looks as though he just expired yesterday. Scarfaced, vodka-drinking, man-beating Russian stereotype, Svetlana (Milla Bjorn), seems to take a special interest.
"Oh lawdy sweet Jeezus hepp meh!" It's funny, because it's true.
Turns out the dead fellow's cadaver was loaded with tardigrades in a Soviet attempt to prevent him from burning up upon re-entry, and the resilient microscopic organisms might have been compromised by cosmic radiation in space, causing them to mutate into a shape shifting monster that can survive inside the bodies of Graff's (Lance Henriksen) crew, or stalk and kill those unaffected with an ever morphing range of interstellar weapons, i.e. teeth, tentacles, pincers, fluid-spraying stalks, the whole gamut of bleeech, baby. Add the fact that Svetlana has set charges all over the vessel with plans of hopping a nearby submarine before the fireworks begin, and you can start to fathom what kind of a boffo, knockdown, drag out finale you're about to witness...
You probably should have read the side effects in fine print on your new erectile dysfunction medication.
Much credit is due to to the makers of tonight's movie, which stands as a genuine throwback to the heyday of motion pictures of it's type, a brand of film sadly all but lost in this modern era of corporatist shortcuts, and penny-pinching producers who would sooner castrate their production to assure the proper box-office returns for their shareholders, moviegoers and their acute preferences be damned. If you siiv through all of the available genre movies provided by streaming media services online, you'll find little else but cheapskate cgi-heavy SyFy fare, assembly line trash of no artistic merit, aimed at dumbed down audiences who can't tell the difference between a good movie or a steaming dump. An effort like tonight's review deserves more than that, and should be championed and uplifted by those of us who still know better. See it, pass it along to your peers, and perhaps someday in the future, movies like this will again be the norm, not the exception. Three wops, and a strong recommendation.
Things always seem more extreme in Australia, don't they? Take this recent "Animals Gone Amok" entry from the land down under, for example, not to be confused as a sequel or remake to the 1977 film of the same name, gods be praised. After all, that one featured performances by Joe Don Baker and R.G. Armstrong among its cast, so any comparison between the two is liable to leave the newer release in the older film's dust.
"How many dogs have bit, have bit the hand of the man that feeds them? ", ponders Adam (Jack Campbell).
The Wilsons, as led by stubborn patriarch, Adam (Jack Campbell), are a family struggling to make it on a farm they can no longer afford. Mother Carla (Anna Lise Phillips) has taken to moonlighting with veterinary work, to little avail. Their youngest, Henry (Hamish Phillips) , enjoys wasting lazy, Lassie-esque days frolicking in the sun with the family pooch, and hiding bullets in a crawl through maze attached to the house. Their oldest, Sophie (Katie Moore), hates the isolation of their current digs, preferring yapping away for hours on end on the telephone with cute boys. To compound matters, something feral and bloodthirsty has been leaving a gruesome trail of mutilated livestock across the property, despite Adam's best efforts to preserve his dwindling sheep with steel traps.
I hope Shari Lewis is okay, because Lambchop has seen better days.
After showing up with threats of property foreclosure, the bank manager stops roadside for a piss, blanketed by the forest's dense treeline, which camoflage the pack of attacking canines, that promptly tear him asunder. Back at the farm, the Wilsons have unwittingly found themselves on the wild dogs' ever expanding dinner menu, and it's soon obvious that the family will be forced to pool every last ruthless resource just to survive until morning unscathed, as the bellicose breed even takes down a policeman responding to their distress call. Can Adam tie off his growing list of dog bite wounds and protect his family from the pillaging pooches? Is Carla a resurrected gang member, judging by the ease with which she wields that carving knife? Will Henry retrieve the hidden bullets from the maze without being transformed into dog yummies? Will Sophie ever get off the phone? Find out these answers and more when you see this one for yourselves...
So messed up, I want you here. And in my room, I want you here.
What this particular doggie in the window has going for it is some lovely cinematography, with ample towering crane shots, some relatively brutal gore, and tension and atmosphere in spades, despite some originating from the time tested old jump scare. The dogs are appropriately menacing, even if some of the human cast fails to pull its own weight while trudging through an improbable script. Bottom line, I was entertained, and moreso than if I had spent the same ninety minutes surfing funny dog videos on YouTube, which, for the record, I try to never do. On the scale, Pack earns a pair of Wops, and would serve you well as a middle movie in a mangy mutt marathon. Worth a look.
" It's Muttley and Dastardly from now on, see?!!?"
Some of you readers closer to my age will fondly recall the first time movie cameras visited Boggy Creek back in 1972, when the prolific Crabtree family's backwoods tranquility was violently disturbed by a belligerent bigfoot, and Fouke, Arkansas would never be the same. In 2010, filmmakers would again focus on the area's swampy hominid, but the results bear little resemblance to it's cult classic predecessor. The Crabtrees have been replaced by horny party slags in bikinis, the autobiographical folk tunes have disappeared, leaving terribly forgettable 90's-esque alternative pop numbers and simulated cowgirl-style sex in their wake. Sounds like empty-headed fun, in theory...
"My abs and I are enjoying a pensive moment."
After her father is tragically smooshed in traffic while jogging on the side of the road (or as we former drunk drivers used to call it , twenty points), Jennifer is easily convinced by pal of color, Maya, to like, make for her late father's cabin, nestled in Boggy Creek, for some therapeutic rest n' relaxation. Only Maya has taken it upon herself to invite her prankster boyfriend, Troy (Bryan Massey), along for the vacay, and her Matchbox 20-looking buddy, Dave (Damon Lipari), who's taken it upon himself to invite vapid cooze, Brooke (Stephanie Honore'), for partying purposes, and because she won't shy away from a good cocking down. If you're keeping score at home, that's zero dick-stractions for poor Jenny, who's been having flashbacks of being chased through the woods as a child by a sasquatch, but is a good sport afterall, and agrees to the swampy soiree.
"Why I no get invited to hooman parties? I party heartily enough!"
After much lifeless deliberation that wouldn't sound out of place on a scripted reality show on MTV, Mopey's luck seems to change for the better, as Dave grows weary of clingy Brooke, and tells her to hit the bricks. She does, and is dragged off for some interspecies in n' out, by everyone's favorite hairy horndog. Jen also meets the hunky Casey (Cody Callahan), a neighbor-turned-cryptozoologist who's also been cuckolded by the boss of the woods, and despite his best warnings, Troy and Dave turn up gutted like so much tilapia, and Maya also becomes a sex worker for Sasquatch. Jennifer's only hope is a mad dash towards the highway, in hopes she doesn't end up the engine in a Bukwas love train, in the process. Insert non-twist twist ending here.
"We are Farmers...bum bum bum bum bum bum bum."
Besides the gaping deficiencies in the plot, the shaky camerawork, the grating soundtrack songs and the flatlined montage sequences that stiffly accompany them, the amateur delivery of dialog by the non-actors involved (watch Jennifer 'hyperventilate' as evidence), there's also the matter of the suit, which wouldn't make it on the discount rack of a high end costume shop. There's some gore reminiscent of Night of the Demon (1980), but it quickly sinks in the sea of suck that this movie clearly is. Leave this Bigfoot undiscovered. One wop.
When enthusiastic indie filmmakers shop their movie ideas to potential investors with the promise of perks and those familiar huge returns at the box office that inevitably dry up into a Video on Demand run on sites like NetFlix and Hulu before the initial hype has fully evaporated, it reminds me of a delicate balance that goes unquestioned and is maintained within the industry. It is because of this balance, one of copycatted topical familiarity and recognizable face-based drawing power, that nothing truly original or groundbreaking ever sees a decent release. Take Animal (2014), for example.
Looking for a coherent script? Gonna need stronger flashlights....
After seeing two couples fleeing for their lives through the forest at night, no doubt from an unclassified thingie of unequalled aggression, homicidal to humans and not above snacking on the first bimbo who trips over her own feet and falls (such tropes are easy prey. And delicious.), we're then introduced to a gaggle of self-important, collegiate humps fixing to wander off into the same woods for an all-day hike. Don't get lost looking for an elusive waterfall you visited as kids, whatever you do. Oops. There's the cadaver of Barbara the Clumsy (Eve. Yes, THAT Eve) to stumble upon. Jeff (Parker Young) soon joins her as the latest member of the bodycount, thanks to that aforementioned "animal". The survivors make it to a not-all-that remote cabin that is in the process of being fortified by the three survivors from the initial attack. One, Douglas (Amaury Nolasco), is a cynical prick, only concerned with saving his own miserable hide. One is Joey Lauren Adams, former favorite of that fat comic book nut from New Jersey that dabbles in movies. Has it been that long?
"Finally free of the patriarchy out here, and all I can think about is cooking flapjacks..."
Next comes the heroic escape attempt that Douglas nearly puts the kibosh on, getting him tied to the stairs for all his worst efforts, and then the late Jeff's squeeze, Mandy (Elizabeth Gillies) reveals that she's been carrying his unborn baby. Sean follows that up with the revelation that he and Jeff had also been buttcheek buddies together. At least the "animal" isn't playing with it's food (Matt) directly below them, in the cellar. Oh wait, it has. The group manages to spring Matt from the jaws of the beast, while Carl eats heroic death running interference for them as they escape upstairs. Doug puts out the suggestion that they all escape while it finishes off Matt, then breaks loose and beats him to death himself when they refuse. Whatta guy. He's next. The remaining yobs plot to trap the "animal" while they raze the place to the ground, which is effective until the second one appears and further thins the herd until Mandy drives over it's dome, a la Phil Leotardo, to safety. At least there aren't any more...
"No, Ike, any damned thang but those reptile loafahs of yoahs!", pled a hysterical Tina Turner.
Tonight's effort was produced by no less than the delectable Drew Barrymore herself, and still scores significantly lower than "marrying Tom Green" on the Bad Idea-O-Meter for the sultry celeb, no stranger to genre flicks, having lent her image to such films as Cujo, Cat's Eye, Firestarter, and Scream, throughout her career. The movie is brief, with a running time of less than ninety minutes (leaving out elements like plot and character development will do that for you), but fails ultimately in delivering anything at all that horrorhounds won't have encountered better examples of, hundreds of times already ("Feast" comes to mind, instantaneously). O solo Woppo.
"Heeeey youuuuuuu guuuuuuuuuuys!" That was an Electric Company/ Rita Moreno reference, if you're keeping score at home.
Tonight's review goes out to those of you out there who'll watch anything, without whom such a movie (a sequel, actually, to 2012's Two Headed Shark Attack, of course) could be slung together by the man whose familiarity to direct-to-SyFy shlock extends to the aforementioned original as well as high brow genre gold titles like 2010's Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus and Megaconda, etc. ad infinitum. You could maybe forgive one credit like this on a guy's resume, but Christopher Olen Ray should probably be ashamed of himself at this point. Your total lack of discretion concerning what you watch allows bowel-busters like tonight's movie to be scattered with faces like B-movie hero, Danny "Machete" Trejo, celebrity stylist Karrueche Tran, and pro wrassler extraordinaire, Rob Van Dam, thus, keeping them off of the soup lines, so there's that, too.
Is your intelligence insulted by this screenshot? Of course not.
So, this giant, inexplicably mutated, three-headed Great White Shark has come to exist by feeding off a floating garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. The predatory, improbably animated beast is fond of both ninja-style attacks in mid leg-high shallows and magnificent hundred foot Warner Brothers cartoon-style surface breeches on top of its screaming, helpless victims, and it isn't long before it has thoroughly terrorized an island based research facility, headed by an Asian dip named Dr. Laura Thomas (Karrueche Tran) who likes to nod repetitively after loudly shouting orders and directions at people (this would be where the dialog would be, in a conventional release, by the way), and makes no qualms about it, either. There's a few "we've gotta swim to the other side of that there, to survive" 's, and everybody's willing to sacrifice themselves for their friends a little too frequently during this lifeless struggle to escape the facility as the monster follows the trail of aquatic pollution towards death and dismemberment. Laura nods approvingly.
Throw spatial reasoning to the wind. Flat or hologram? You decide.
A few set-dressing mannequins manage to climb aboard a boat in the nick of time, and what are the odds that there's a spiffy riverboat packed with partying primadonnas and palookas alike in the direct path of our monstruous triple threat, in desparate need of a lunkheaded improbable rescue. Why, there's even a motorboat full of hardcore, tattooed bait n' reel commandos, as led by an embarrassed-looking Danny Trejo (as well he should be, dammit), on the way and willing to lend a hand...or a machete, if need be. Be careful, Vato, as I've heard many a grizzled old sea faring man relate to those that dare, if you chop off one computer generated head, three more are liable to instantly pop up in it's place, and that's a five headed shark attack waiting to happen, but that's another movie in and of itself, and David Hasselhoff, Danny Bonaduce, and Corey Feldman haven't even signed on for it yet. They will. You know they will. Flush.
"How about a leg my way, you greedy bastard..."
What a fucking mutt. This is surely the lowest common denominator in today's horror genre, just below those dime a dozen direct-to-video poltergeist/possession pics all over Netflix and Amazon Video these days. Take the crappiest of a long line of Italian Jaws rip-offs you can find, Mattei or D'Amato, your culprit of choice, and it looks like the Spielberg original in comparison to this, most likely. In the same vein, more than one of you out there will probably stand for an hour in single file line to pay hardcore bucks for the opportunity to get a photo op with one or more of the "stars" at the five hundred-fifty-sixth horror convention this year somewhere, and be glad of it. More power to you, though I've got to be first to tell you, you're on your own there. I've got some very guilty pleasures among my historically specific tastes in rotten cinema, admittedly very guilty indeed, but sludge like this could never be among them. Not ever. Zero Wops.
As if enormous mutated three-headed Great Whites weren't bad enough, there's the power of multi-head regeneration, as well. #Science