Back at the beginning of the month I started a blogathon...er...cast-a-thon based on slasher flicks. The idea was simple: create a cast of movie characters from non-horror movies that you'd like to see killed, and throw in one other character you'd like to survive. We call that last one The Final Girl. As we often do with the things that leak from our brains, I thought it was a great idea. I had fun putting my cast together. But alas, not many of you created your own.
Oh, the horror.
No worries, I'm okay.
Just promise me you still love me.
A couple of you were brave enough to indulge your sadistic side and offer up a number of live bodies to be killed off. They are...
John at Hitchcock's World gave us a cast that includes a hated Star Wars character, a Ben Affleck character, and the most iconic super-spy of all time.
The Flick Chicks, Jenna and Allie, offer up a ladies' man, a clueless admissions officer, and some eye-candy.
Right here at home, I also put a Star Wars character on the chopping block, as well as a gold digger, and a man in a dress.
Many thanks to the bloggers who participated. Of course, I'm flexible when it comes to blogathon deadlines. That means that if you still want to get in on this, create your own cast and I will happily add a link to your work right here in this post.
There are two hundred something known scanners in the world. They have telepathic ability up to and including the ability to take control of the bodily functions of others. They can make people drive into buildings, turn a gun on themselves, change a person's heart rate, even make someone's head explode. That last thing is depicted in glorious fashion during the movie's most famous scene. Normally, a scanner can't stand to be in the same room with another without some bad things happening. However, Darryl Revok (Ironside), a very powerful scanner is organizing them into a cohesive unit so they can take over the world. Dr. Ruth (McGoohan) is part of a government organization out to stop them. They have one scanner left working for them, Cameron Vale (Lack). Dr. Ruth sends Vale to infiltrate Revok's organization and bring him down.
Scanners succeeds when the titular characters are allowed to do their thing. Witnessing their capabilities is a dread inducing experience. Like the normal humans in the movie, we understand that having these people become dominant members of society means being at the mercy of their every whim even that means one wants to kill you without ever laying a hand on you. This is why the head exploding scene is so effective. It gives us a very clear explanation of the power of a scanner. The stakes are instantly raised to very high levels. It helps that the visuals showing this are simply priceless. It's by far the best effect used in the movie.
When speaking of visuals, I have to mention that the movie leaves a lot to be desired. After the aforementioned head explosion, most of the "fx" consists of people contorting their faces and maybe their bodies into supposedly pained expressions as the camera studies them. While it sounds okay in theory, it's funny in execution. I was reminded of the movie Breakin' where we get lots of shots of extreme close-ups of some dancer's face as it twists into some strange visage. I crack while watching that. I don't quite go that far, here, but it's enough to take me out of the movie. Not until very late in the game do we get some more real deal scanner stuff. During this scene, the faces fit because the fx aid in what the scene is trying to accomplish.
With all of that said, the most striking visual of them all might be Jennifer O'Neill as Kim Obrist, a scanner who joins forces with our hero. However, the movie fails her as a character. She seems to lack any substantive purpose other than including a female in the proceedings. The problem is that she feels far too unexplored. We get why she wants to help Vale, but that's about all we get about her. Things happen later that suggest she could be far more entertaining and far more important to the outcome. Unfortunately, it's arranged so that she sits out the climactic scene. We're left with Cameron Vale. The issue there is that Stephen Lack just doesn't deliver a compelling performance, at all. We know he's on the right side of things, but he is so lacking in charisma, we don't necessarily feel the compulsion to root for him. It is also detrimental to his cause that the first big moment they have together, it's obvious they should have and could have acted before everyone else in the room was killed. Yes, they're the good guys, but they have a hard time endearing themselves to us. On the flipside of things, as Darryl Revok, Michael Ironside is solidly creepy, but disappears from the movie for long stretches at a time.
The movie also suffers from not quite knowing what it wants to be. Some movies manage to weave multiple genres together to create a thrilling narrative. This one does it backwards. It takes what could be a thrilling narrative and breaks it into separate genres. Scanners starts off like a horror flick. Like I said earlier, the very existence of such people is enough to rattle our cages. However, it shortly abandons the effort to get under our skin to mimic a spy thriller. Sadly, this isn't all that thrilling. It's actually rather generic excepting the use of scanning in a few instances where guns would otherwise be used. We even get into computer hacking that doesn't make a lick of sense. I get that this was made in 1981 and society was not as technologically advanced as it is now. Still, the way one particular is interacted with is explained in such a nonsensical manner that even then, someone involved should have realized this was too big a pile of bs to fly. Of course, this leads us to the finale. For that, we make a jarring switch back to horror. Then we get another inexplicable moment to finish things off. Nothing that happens to this point even remotely suggests that what takes place is a possibility. It goes far beyond what either the explicit or implied capabilities of a scanner are. After the computer deal, it was just another instance where I was taken completely out of the world of the filim and rolled my eyes. Ultimately, this sank the movie for me. I understand that Cronenberg is a master of horror and that this movie has a sizable cult following and spawned some sequels. I, myself, am a huge fan of Videodrome. On this outing, he made too many curious choices that didn't quite work for me. Scanners, themselves, are an interesting concept, to be sure. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the idea is far better than the execution of it.
Once again, I'm excited that we've reached Thursday. However, boys and girls, this is a bittersweet one for ol' Dell. This will be the last Halloween themed edition of Thursday Movie Picks hosted by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. If you've been around, you know that I've gone full bore with the horror genre all month. Therefore, I'm a bit sad to see it coming to an end. Since we must move on to more regular movies in a few days, why not go out with the sub-genre that might produce the most actually scary movies of them all: haunted house flicks?
I've been into horror ever since I saw The Exorcist air on network television as a wee lad some thirty-five years ago. So yeah, I have socks older than most bloggers. With that much experience with the genre, it should come as no surprise that movies never scare me. A number of them have manage to disturb me, but none make me think something is really about to get me. However, I'd be lying if I said that after a particularly good haunted house flick in the discomfort of my own dark home, I didn't give an extra thought to the sounds one normally hears in the dead of night. With that said, I'm going to just jump right in to a trio of hidden gems that made me have to remind myself that the creaking I just heard was merely the house settling.
The Amityville Horror
I'm sure you'll notice that this is the remake and not the 1979 classic. Here's the deal: the original is arguably the most famous and revered haunted house flick of all time (possible exception to Poltergeist. The remake is most certainly not. In fact, it's fairly despised. I understand why. It takes the original story and stuffs it into thirty minutes less movie. However, it works for me. The original, while a better movie, has a tendency to drag. This one moves swiftly along and ups the visual ante by a wide margin. It's a quick, but fun ride that's not as bad as its reputation. It's also a chance to see Ryan Reynolds play something besides a smart-alec. (my full review)
Here, we have a movie that flew under most people's radar, but is loved by most who happened to see it. The Orphanage is a wonderful tale about a family that has moved into a drafty old mansion that used to house an orphanage, of course. Shortly after they get there, their own son goes missing. Meanwhile, mom is hearing and seeing all sorts of strange things. I mean, just look at the creepy picture above. Of the three movies I'm recommending this week, this is the most sure-fire winner.
Here's another movie that doesn't get the credit it deserves. Like the remake of The Amityville Horror, it's a quick shot of creepiness, clocking in at a mere 86 minutes. The selling points here are the wonderful performance by Elizabeth Olsen and the rather unsettling noise made by an old-school camera. Her character has returned to her family's old summer house with her dad and uncle. Before long, she's hearing and seeing things everywhere. It all leads up to one of the most delicious twists ever. (my full review)
We meet Tim (Thwaites) as he is turning 18 and about to be released from a mental institution after six years. What put him there in the first place was that he shot and killed his father after his father had tortured and murdered his mother. Allegedly. His sister Kaylie (Gillan) doesn't remember it that way. She thinks the real culprit is the mirror that hung in her parents' bedroom. Yes, the mirror. According to her, it is pure evil, has been around for centuries, and has left a trail of dead bodies in its wake. She believes the mirror was not simply present for these deaths, but actively caused them through psychological manipulation. Years of therapy has helped Tim realize this just isn't the case. Undeterred, Kaylie returns to the house where it all went down with her brother in tow. She arms herself with a bunch of cameras, a small dog, some houseplants, instructions for her boyfriend to call and check on her every hour, on the hour, and a nasty looking anchor attached to a kill switch. With all of this in place, Kaylie sets out to prove her brother and the rest of the world wrong. While this is going on, we also get to see the events surrounding the death of their mother as they unfold.
After starting with a bang, literally, Oculus just kind of moseys along for a while as Tim and Kaylie take turns spewing reams of psychobabble that passes for exposition. Basically, Kaylie says "Mirror, bad! Mirror really bad! Look at dead people!" Tim responds with "is not," and they do it all over again after a flashback to what happened six years prior. As an audience, we're taken right to the brink of losing interest. Suddenly, a funny thing occurs. Both stories, the one in the past and the one in the present pick up and things start happening. Our interest is piqued and we find ourselves engaged in what's going on with these people. It helps that the tension is considerably ratcheted up as Kaylie continues to tempt fate on end of the spectrum and the situation between her parents begins rapidly deteriorating.
The story of the parents, has a classic haunted house...er...haunted mirror feel. In fact, it seems to take a lot of its cues from The Amityville Horror. Then again, what ghost story doesn't? Of course, there is a twist thrown in which I won't reveal. The present story is the more original of the two. Sure, there's the mirror, but there is also sibling rivalry taken to absurdist extremes. There are also questions of mental health as well as wondering aloud where we can and cannot assign blame. On the surface, this manifests itself in some nice moments where our heroes, and us by extension, have to guess whether or not what they are seeing is really there.
Overall, Oculus is a solid movie, one that starts slowly and manages to increase the tension as it goes. In this regard, it's a nicely done horror flick that relies much more on psychology than on buckets of blood. This is a nice change of pace for American horror, so long emphasizing body count over the intrinsically disturbing. On the other hand, it's just a mirror. Not only that, but for all the research Kaylie put into this thing she couldn't come up with one possible source of its power or one other person to corroborate her theory. Thankfully, this plays into the mystery of whether or not she and/or Tim are insane. However, it also makes it tough to get worked up over a malevolent mirror, no matter how many tragedies are attributed to it. It's also problematic that we can sniff out the ending in advance. The clues are too massive for us to ignore. I won't give it away, here, but our destination becomes apparent too soon. Therefore, while we enjoy what we see, we can't help but feel like it should have been better.
My good blogging buddy John over at Hitchcock's World has given his fellow bloggers an important task. We must save the world. To do so, we have to assemble an investigative team stop the Old Ones, or one of them, at least. If you're like me, your first question was 'who are the Old Ones?' In that case, you need to brush up on your H.P. Lovecraft. In lieu of, you know, finding out about them on your own, check out this post on John's site to get the low down on our pending destruction. Hopefully, this will spur you on to create your own team and take down one of these rather unforgiving deities.
There are some rules for putting together a team. As per Mr. Hitchcock, they are as follows:
Choose an Old One you wish to prevent from destroying out world. For those of you not familiar with Lovecraft, I'll provide a list below with some information on each and what little information is known about them.
Select a group of horror movie characters you believe are cut out for the task of fighting the Old Ones. They don't have to actually be from a cosmic horror story, but they should have experience dealing with "horror" in some sense of the word. Because of the unpredictable nature of what we are dealing with, there is no limit on how many characters you can have in your party.
With each character you choose, provide a few words explaining why you chose that character and what you think they can contribute to the investigation.
There are no limits on how many players can go against a specific Old One, but if even one is not pursued by a single player, than you can say goodbye to everything you hold dear.
I will say that for my team, we may be stretching the definition of a horror flick. Sorry, John. Rules were made to be broken. Besides, we're talking about saving our collective asses, here. Now that that's out of the way, let's get don to business.
The Old One We're After:
In John's words: Ia Shub-Niggurath, the legendary "Black Ram of the Woods" or "Goat with a Thousand Young". Not much is known about her beyond rumors, although there are stories of strange creatures that are said to worship her. Ordinarily she is not someone you want to have anything to do with, nor are any of her thousand young.
Hmmm...our work is cut out for us.
Col. Colin Caine
Dealing with the unusual and extremely dangerous is what this guy does. This includes going into the corona of Halley's Comet and finding an alien ship that just happens to contain extraterrestrial vampires. His ability to deal with that makes me confident he can deal with this.
Captain Miller is definitely a guy who has experience trying to hold his team together in extremely adverse situations. As captain of the Lewis and Clark, he led a rescue mission to recover the Event Horizon. This involves a trip to another dimension, visions of his crew being mutilated and tortured, and sacrificing himself for the good of the mission. My kind of guy.
World War Z
I would hope that the UN would want to be involved in a mission to save all of humanity. Since I say they will, we're sending in an investigator they might always readily admit works for them. And since this is the guy they called to deal with a global zombie outbreak, I'm willing to give him a shot at tracking down Shub-Niggurath.
Shaw is devoutly religious and in search of the beginnings of humanity. However, I think we can pull her away to help save it. After all, there are rumors of underground shrines to Shub-Niggurath and she also has experience dealing with entities that might have lots of offspring and wants to kill us. Speaking of off-spring, she had to give herself a c-section when an alien planted a fetus inside of her. Yeah, she's a survivor.
I think a guy specializing in paranormal extermination could certainly be of use. After all, he's saved New York City, and thus, the world, twice from entities beyond the wildest imaginations of most humans. He ain't afraid of no Old One.
Just in case our team somehow gets close enough, but doesn't finish the job the first time, Corazon would be able to help us figure out what we're dealing...if it's something biological at all, that is. It also helps that she's used to doomed missions having been sent to re-ignite the sun. Yeah, she's in.
Someone has to get us there. Why not someone who has shown she can not only fly the vessel, but work on communications, if the need arises, and is willing to go down with the ship? Rosa is willing to do just that for the greater good.
Who better to deal with this type of threat than Dutch? Let everyone else handle the brainy stuff, this dude's got muscles upon muscles, knows how to handle a guns, and deal with entities that most certainly aren't human.
Sure, she doesn't have Dutch's brawn, and doesn't have the greatest memory, but she can definitely take out hordes of zombies. That might not take down Shub herself, but it will surely help with her thousand young. We need that kind of help.
Even when you think you know what you're getting yourself into, it still might be hard to believe when you're actually there. Argento's Dracula is one such place. I mean, the cover of the DVD drips with ooey-gooey cheese. It's animated and shows a guy I presume to be the titular Dracula in the upper left hand corner. Next to him is a larger picture of a female vampire with a lower-than-low cut top. The words beneath her are from some critic proclaiming this to be a throwback to the vampire flicks made by Hammer Films, complete with "heaving bosoms." I paraphrased most of it, but put quotation marks around the phrase "heaving bosoms" because I definitely remember seeing "heaving bosoms." Perhaps it's sad that I couldn't directly quote all of it, but clearly remember "heaving bosoms." In fact, I'm pretty certain I can remember every bosom I've ever seen heave. By this point, I'm just appeasing my own juvenile sense of humor by harping on this. Can you blame me? How often does a guy reviewing allegedly legitimate movies get to talk about heaving bosoms? Too often, apparently, so I'll stop.
And I should. Because the fact of the matter is...sigh. Let's stop for a moment. Occasionally, I have to chastise myself. I started a sentence with 'and,' then followed that by starting the next one with 'because.' Every professor who had a hand in getting me through to an English degree is collectively groaning as you read this. Or, not. They probably have no knowledge of this blog, let alone pay attention to it. Whatever. You're here about a movie, right?
To pick up where I left off, there was something else on the cover letting me know I was in for a cheesetastic experience. In fact, this was the thing that really inspired me to check out Argento's Dracula. This thing is actually a man. He's not just any man, but one who has come to symbolize B-movie madness. Of course, I'm talking about the one and only hobo with a shotgun, Rutger Hauer. Perfect. Play.
The movie is a loose adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic tale. By loose, I mean very loose. It uses the same main characters, presumaby, the same time period, and the same basic idea. Jonathan Harker (Ugalde) is hired by the mysterious Count Dracula (Kretschmann) and travels to stay at the Count's castle. What exactly he's hired for is never made clear, unless I just missed it. That's entirely possible since I was distracted by the rather early appearance of a heaving bosom. To be honest, this bosom doesn't actually heave. It's completely free of any of the constraints that might make heaving possible. Sorry. It's to the point where I can't help myself. Shortly, Tania (Giovanelli), owner of said bosom, is taking the walk of shame through the woods after a tryst with a dude in a barn when a gigantic owl swoops down on her and reveals itself to be Dracula. Yup, an owl. Chomp, chomp, suck, suck, lady vampire. Her job for the rest of the movie is to try to seduce Harker every time she sees him only to be thwarted by the Count himself who has other plans for the dude he hired for reasons undisclosed. Other folks run around trying to figure out what to do about the Count and after about an hour, Rutger Hauer shows up as Van Helsing and takes matters into his own hands.
Most of what's going on here can't possibly pass for good film making. However, the only part of this that's problematic is the clunky pacing, particularly during the first half of the movie. There are a few stretches where you might find yourself bored. Everything else that's happening is terrible on a hilarious level. This even includes the one "good" thing going for it, aside from heaving bosoms, that is. I'm talking about the acting. These performers are all in, going for broke. Most of them are over the top in a manner reminiscent of classically trained Shakespearean thespians doing MacBeth in the park like their next meal depends on it. This gives the whole production a little extra pop, adds to the zaniness of it all. And yeah, dammit - did that again, Rutger Hauer goes Rutger Hauer and Dracula has all the classic vampire strengths and weaknesses plus a few more. Owl and stuff. By stuff, I mean giant praying mantis. Boys and girls, we're dealing with a movie so bad it's bosom heavingly awesome.
Today is a big day. This is when Malcolm's (Wayans) girlfriend Kisha (Atkins) is moving in with him. He has a spacious house with a pool and a jacuzzi and a housekeeper named Rosa (Forte) to help him maintain it all. Of course, the second Kisha gets there, strange things start happening. It soon becomes apparent that there is a ghost in the house. And since this is a found footage movie, every oddity is caught on camera. Just so you don't go thinking this has any chance of being scary I'll let you know that this is a parody of the Paranormal Activity franchise. Therefore, comedy, or something like it, ensues.
The setup is familiar. Things happen, with the most extreme stuff occurring during the wee hours of the night. In the mornings, our loving couple watches the footage to see what went on for themselves. The difference between this and the movies it pokes fun of, plot wise, is that this is really all about sex. Nearly every joke overtly references some form of the act or another. This includes a rather extended scene of a threesome involving Malcolm and a pair of teddy bears. You might laugh yourself silly, become too uncomfortable to laugh, or both. Like much of the movie, it goes out of its way to be crass. A Haunted House also leans toward stereotypes and male homophobia (being completely okay with female homosexuality, naturally). Take it, or leave it.
Now that you know what to expect out of this movie, I can probably stop writing. However, I do want to touch on some of the highlights. For me, the biggest is Marlene Forte as Rosa. She is the one who made me laugh most consistently. She also takes what could be just a sliver of a character and forms a fully realized being. To be perfectly honest, it probably helps that we only get her in small doses. I'm judging by the plethora of supporting players who come to the house at some point. Most are at least a little funny for the first few minutes after they show up, but manage to wear out their welcome. Another positive is that whether you love it or hate it, it's not boring. The run time is thankfully short. On top of that it moves quickly because things are constantly happening that grab our attention.
While I wouldn't call A Haunted House good, I will say it wasn't nearly as painful as it could have been. It's better than another Wayans Brothers horror spoof, the Scary Movie franchise. Unlike those, it doesn't just re-enact random scenes from a bunch of movies appearing schizophrenic and pulling us in way too many directions. A Haunted House uses the template provided by Paranormal Activity, even to the point of imitation, but creates its own self-contained and cohesive narrative. You need not have seen twenty other films to get most of the jokes. Really, you don't even have to have seen Paranormal Activity. It stands up, or falls down depending on your tolerance for humor that might be beyond raunchy, on its own accord.
Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is the co-host of a late night radio show in Salem, Mass. Not surprisingly, they are currently discussing the legendary Salem Witch Trials. Of course, she will soon encounter some practitioners of the black arts. While leaving work, she is given a record, yes a record, that has mysteriously appeared at the front desk with her name on it. Listening to it makes her feel like crap and induces some disturbing visions. There is also the strange new neighbor who isn't supposed to be there. Watching Heidi freak out ensues.
The Lords of Salem is one of those movies that plays on a loop. Generally, Heidi wakes up and stumbles around her apartment with her dog nearby. Something weird happens then she's off to work. We then see a little of the radio show after which she goes home and gets drunk with someone. Somewhere in here the music plays and something else weird happens. Rinse. Repeat. Throughout this cycle her mental health seems to be deteriorating. Unfortunately, after the first time or two through the cycle it feels repetitive.
Things aren't helped much by some predictable characters showing up. Withing seconds of meeting certain people we have a fairly accurate idea of who/what they really are. They all just look and act too shady to be anything else. The mystery is sapped out of the film rather early because of this. The only real intrigue left is the visuals presented whenever our heroine starts seeing things.
There are some strong resemblances between The Lords of Salem and 2012's Lovely Molly. In both, the protagonist is a woman who is a recovering drug addict and begins seeing things she can't explain. The difference is in that movie, Molly's addiction is taken seriously by the film itself. Here, Heidi's is treated somewhat cavalierly. Much of LM is built around other characters believing her to be slipping back into her old ways as we watch her fight not to during an extremely stressful time in her life. We sympathize with her and wonder if it's all in her head. In The Lords of Salem Heidi's history with drugs is also a known factor by her friends. Their concern appears token, at best. By that I mean, they regularly start up her all-night drinking sessions. It's as if no one, including the writer/director/star's husband Rob Zombie included, has the slightest clue that there is any problem whatsoever with a drug addict binge drinking. It subtracts from the idea that anyone gives a crap about her. If the movie itself doesn't, why should we? This is a crucial question that is never answered. As a result, we have nothing to grasp except a few disturbing pictures.
Disturbing. That's the key word. Rob Zombie strives to make all of his movies match that description. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes not. This is one of the nots. He tries to do it by attempting to make us recoil from what we see rather than reaching into and shaking our core. Sure, there are some ugly images here that may make some of us cringe. But once that fleeting moment passes there is nothing to truly heighten our sense of dread. The ending is his last ditch effort at freaking us out. Truthfully, it's a great singular shot that does appeal to our soul more than our eyes. Had the movie leading up to it been better, it would be a downright brilliant finale. As it stands, it's the best part of a bad movie.
The theme for this week's Thursday Movie Picks, hosted by the amazing Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves, is one that is near and dear to my heart: vampire movies. Vampires are my favorite of all movie monsters. Well, they were, until the Stephanie Meyer led wussification of them. So yeah, I still fully believe that Edward Cullen must die.
Thankfully, there are some vampire movies of recent vintage that I'm proud to call blood sucker flicks. However, they aren't as widely known as the tripe that rakes in all the box office dough so I'm definitely calling these hidden gems. In fact, all three of my picks made my list of the best vampire movies since 2000. Chronologically, they are...
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
A wealthy man whose daughter has been abducted by vampires hires D, the best hunter in the business to bring her back safely. What transpires is a wild, violent, and strange ride into a world overrun by vampires. D himself is half-vampire. To oversimplify, think of this as an anime version of Blade. Since that's selling it way short, just see the damn movie. Without the kids.
30 Days of Night
In a small Alaskan industrial town, the sun is about to set and won't come back up for 30 days. When that happens, a group of vampires shows up with sharp teeth and large appetites. And that's pretty much it. This is one of the most savage and visceral portrayals of vampires ever committed to film. There are no romantic notions, no thoughtful metaphors, just hunting for food. These vampires...and the food they eat...are about as raw as it gets.
Oldboy director Park Chan-wook delivers this ridiculously under-seen vampire flick. It centers on a priest who, through a blood transfusion needed to save him from a deadly disease, becomes a vampire. If wrestling with that weren't enough for the man's conscience, he finds himself falling in love with a married woman. He turns her. Then the real fun begins. (full review)
For this installment in the Paranormal Activity series, we switch from a sprawling quiet suburb to a cramped inner-city apartment building. Instead of focusing on Katie (Featherston) and/or members of her family, we follow around Jesse (Jacobs) and Hector (Diaz), a couple of guys who just graduated from high school, but don't really seem to have much direction. Their days consist of a little skateboarding, smoking a little pot, trying to get into some girl's pants, videotaping everything, and avoiding the occasional horde of thugs who happen to notice that they're suddenly on camera. After hearing some strange, erotic sounding noises coming through the vent from the apartment below, guess where they drop their camera. What they see enhances, but doesn't quite confirm their belief that the lady who lives in said apartment is a witch. To cut to the chase, strange things start happening in Jesse's apartment, and to him personally.
Once again, we follow the Paranormal Activity template. Someone lugs a camera around while odd things happen and someone is possessed. Aided by the home footage look that permeates the series, the acting is pretty natural. It is a major plus to be able to say anything good about the acting in the fifth movie in a horror franchise. And it's true. Watching these two guys just be boys is easily the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, nothing else holds much water. The jump scares don't make us jump and certainly don't scare us. The plot meanders way too much for its own good. The whole thing makes less sense any other film in the series, and ends with a lame tie-in to those movies. Part of that is simply due to location. It simply doesn't work.
The change in scenery creates a big problem for this film that its predecessors didn't have. Part of what makes a haunted house flick successful is the isolation felt by the inhabitants. It's easy for neighbors to not believe you have ghosts because they may never hear or see anything. This fosters a sense of hopelessness in both the people living in the house and the viewers. The only people that might help are ones you call when times are desperate, members of the clergy or oddballs that fancy themselves to be ghost-busters. More important to the atmosphere of the movie, there really is nothing else going on. By changing to a crowded urban landscape the plot is instantly convoluted. There are too many people that could, and should, know something. There are also too many people who don't give a crap what's going on. There are just naturally too many agendas to present for this type of story. This leads us in the audience to more willingly question the events in the movie. Our ability to suspend disbelief is more seriously tested. When things are focused on the happenings inside a single family house where the neighbors aren't too close, it's easier for us to be absorbed by the movie and experience it. With The Marked Ones, we just watch it. Magic already fading due to the redundant nature of being a franchise with an installment every year, is now completely gone.
Two dim-witted blokes working on a construction site think it's their lucky day when they discover a hidden underground room. They journey down the dark stairway hoping to find a buried treasure only to become zombie food. Switching over to more stupid people, we meet brothers Terry (Hardiker) and Andy (Treadaway) as they're assembling a crew to help them pull off a bank robbery. They also make a stop to visit their grandfather Ray (Ford), a World War II vet now living in a rest home. Of course, the heist doesn't go according to plan. As they're trying to escape the bank they see that just about everyone in town has been zombified. Our heroes, plus a few others, trying to rescue Grandpa and his friends at the rest home, and just trying to stay alive ensues.
From time to time, we get some good laughs, and some cringe inducing gore from Cockneys vs. Zombies. It's a lively affair that stars a tad slow, but picks up considerably once we get to the bank robbery. Much of the humor comes from the stupidity of our co-leads. Together, Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway make a funny enough pair. The psychotic behavior of Ashley Thomas as Mental Mickey, the "back in my day I woulda..." quality of Alan Ford's performance as Ray, and Michelle Ryan and Katy pointing out the idiocy of everyone involved all elicit their fair share of laughs.
Even as we're getting those laughs, we're not as thrilled with it as we should be. What holds the movie back more than anything is its completely derivative nature. It's most obvious influence is, of course, Shaun of the Dead. Not only does the plot go in many of the same directions, but Terry and Andy come across as a knock off version Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Like I said, they aren't terrible, just not nearly as good as the originals. CvZ also draws heavily from the crime comedies of Guy Ritchie. A number of exchanges between characters and even the characters themselves feel like they were picked up off the cutting room floor of Snatch, or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Again, the way it happens here is okay, but pales in comparison to its own inspirations. That makes this a movie that's okay, but probably works better if you haven't seen the films it draws from.
By November of 1984, I was only thirteen years old, but already starting to develop my lust for slasher flicks. I had already seen Halloween, Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, and the first three Friday the 13th movies. There are probably a few more that I'm forgetting, but you get the picture. Naturally, when I saw the commercial for Wes Craven's latest, A Nightmare on Elm Street, I had to see it as soon as possible. My bestest buddy in the whole wide world also wanted to see it. Here's where Mom came in. I was only thirteen. How else was I going to get there? Sure, my friends' had parents that might be willing to take us to the theater, but they weren't all as liberal as my mom when it came to what types of movies us kids watched. all, she was fully aware I was watching stuff like Porky's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin, and Zapped!, along with the aforementioned fright movies.
Don't judge her.
In this case, I can't recall the amount of begging that actually took place. I do know that Mom isn't much of a horror movie fan. She's not utterly opposed to them, at least back then she wasn't, but she'd rather watch something else most of the time. Still, I, or we, did enough whining to get her to bite the bullet, load up the car, and take a bunch of us to meet Freddy Krueger. By a bunch of us, I mean myself, three siblings, my bestest buddy, and his little brother. My three siblings, by the way, all younger than I. In fact, I was the second oldest of all since my friend was six months my senior. My youngest brother brought up the rear at a whopping four years of age.
Don't you dare judge her.
What we saw was simply, and still, one of the best slasher flicks ever made. Just in case you're somehow unfamiliar with the story, I'll give you a quick rundown. Years ago, Freddy was the janitor at a local school and murdered a bunch of kids. He was arrested, but got off on a technicality. Not willing to take that lying down, the neighborhood parents got together and burned him alive. Now, it seems Freddy is haunting their children from beyond the grave through their dreams. The kicker is that if he kills anyone in their dream, they die in real life. And yeah, he kills up some Elm Street kids in their dreams. One of them actually went to have a fairly successful career. It was the kid who got sucked into his own bed during a dream only to have all of his blood and guts come shooting out of it like a geyser. He was played by some guy making his big screen debut by the name of Johnny Depp. You might have heard of him.
Didn't I tell you not to judge her?
That scene featuring Depp is just one of a number of surreal sequences. Another featured a girl who seemed to be flying about the room as her body was being repeatedly gashed. Still another, showed the heroine being dragged into her own bath water which turns out to be a bottomless pool, waking up just before she meets her end. Often it wasn't immediately clear that the person being shown had fallen asleep. This added to the mystery of things. The entire movie significantly raised the bar on what could be done with dream sequences. Of course, spoiler alert, the good guys figure out a way to stop Freddy. They think they kill him, but that's not really the case as we're set up quite nicely for a sequel. The credits roll. We go home. Then the fun starts.
That four year old brother of mine had watched this entire movie unfold without flinching. At least, I didn't see him flinch. He certainly never crawled into Mom's lap, bury his face in her bosom, or even call her name. He hung in there like a champ. I was proud of the boy. Then, he showed his true colors. Whatever colors a four year old has, of course.
When we got home, he had to use the restroom. He ran to the upstairs bathroom, went in and dropped his pants. I happened to be coming up the stairs right behind him and noticed he left the door open. Being a good big brother, I closed it without even thinking about it. Suddenly, my brother screamed as loud as humanly possible, ran to the door, and yanked it open. My first reaction was to ask what in the world was he doing, since his pants were still down around his ankles. All he could do was point toward the bathtub. I laughed and tried to close the door again, but he was having none of that. So yeah, my brother used the bathroom with the door wide open. I don't know about your house, but that was most certainly not a normal occurrence at mine.
The fun wasn't quite over for my brother. During those days, he and I slept in the attic which had been transformed into a bedroom. We each had a side and were separated only by the staircase leading up to it. Once he made it up there, it was well past his bedtime, so he got his pajamas on and...
didn't get into bed.
Instead, he just stares at the thing. I remind him that it's time for him to hit the sack. Since he was obviously having a flashback to the demise of Johnny Depp, he started feeling all over the mattress, checking for holes to be sucked into. It took quite a while for him to be satisfied that Freddy Krueger was not going to grab him from somewhere beneath the bed and spray his insides all over the ceiling. When he reached that point, he manage to lie down and actually sleep through the night.
Sometimes, people are too smart for their own good. And by people, I mean mad scientists in movies. James Brewster (Lugosi) is one of those. I'm not sure what he was actually trying to accomplish, but he's managed to transform himself into an ape in the old school Roddy McDowall sense of the word. He's totally in control of his thoughts and actions. However, he walks kinda-sorta like an ape, has hairy knuckles, and can't stand up straight. On the plus side, he's almost as strong as a gorilla and has grown a thick head of hair with an awesome beard to match. In my world, he has two clear choices for what he should do next. He can either get himself a costume and fight crime, or get a costume and try to take over the city. Either way, dude should be dressing up and making a name for himself. But alas, Dr. Brewster doesn't live in my world. He lives in the...ahem...real world of 1940s sci-fi/horror. So, no costume. Dammit.
When we meet him, he's inexplicably in a cage in his house laboratory with a "real" ape. And by "real," I mean a dude in a gorilla suit. This is also the first time his sister Agatha (Urecal) has seen him since his accident. For good measure, there's a reporter (Ford) and his lady photographer (Currie) snooping around because, apparently, Dr. Stewart is famous and has been reported missing. Yes, it's important that the photographer is a lady because this movie was made in 1943 (hate to keep harping on the era). She's just been hired by the newspaper (remember those?) and the reporter keeps questioning her abilities because, well, girl. Don't worry. She has a witty comeback for every one of his snide remarks. Later on, get this, she even defends herself. This is downright progressive stuff for its time.
I'm off track. Let's get back to our doctor friend. Instead of going in either of the directions I suggested, he's hell bent on curing himself. Other than being slumped over, I'm not sure the cons outweigh the pros of his new condition. Hell, I even forgot to add that he can communicate with apes now, in their language. I'm just not seeing the big problem, here. Actually, I do see the problem. Given the time during which this movie was made I get that it's tinged with anti-Nazi sentiment. After all, they were touting themselves as the superior race and killed a lot of people to push their own agenda.
Ahhh, the killing. Now, we finally get to the meat of the story. To cure himself, Dr. Brewster announces that he needs human spinal fluid. How he reached that conclusion or how it works, or how anything he did to this point worked is never even hinted at, so don't ask. Of course, the only way to get spinal fluid is to extract it from real live people, killing them instantly. Guess what the doc does with the aid of his trusty gorilla pal? If you guessed go on a killing spree, give yourself a pat on the back with your newly elongated simian arms. The gorilla actually does the killing, after which J-Brew jabs a needle in their back and drains them. As you might imagine, this practice is frowned upon.
The way the film plays out it's abundantly clear that we're not watching a classic monster flick. Dr. Brewster starting the movie in a cage is just one of many nonsensical things that happen. The most ridiculous is the random old dude who shows up everywhere in town and directly alters the plot. He pops up out of nowhere to tell people what to do and then disappears again. Eventually, he breaks the fourth wall and explains who he is. I'll just save that little surprise on the off chance you might actually watch this. Sadly, or maybe not, he gives the most interesting performance after Lugosi. The horror icon was clearly past his prime of a decade earlier, but still seems to be giving it his all. Unfortunately for him, but not me, the movie around him is a steaming pile. Mind you, it's often an inadvertently hilarious steaming pile, but still a steaming pile. That makes The Ape Man so bad, it's awesome!