#Isawthat

Brian’s Best Films of 2018

There were a ton of great movies that came out this year, and I also caught up on a bunch of fantastic films from previous years that I missed. I was tempted to do a “top ten movies I WATCHED this year” list but that might be too confusing. So I’ll limit myself to only 2018 films, although having experienced the magic of the WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL and NEON MANIACS, I’m sorely tempted to put those on the list.

You can find recaps of these flicks all over the internet, so I don’t feel the need to reproduce them here.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the top 10 films I saw in 2018.

10. THE RITUAL

I love the hell out of Adam Nevill’s work and can only hope the success of this flick will usher in a few more adaptions, hopefully NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE (starring Tom Hardy as Knacker, please…). THE RITUAL features an amazing creature design, but also fantastic chemistry between the leads.

9. THE ENDLESS

Kind of like LOST, except at the end I was in awe of the creators’ skill at crafting a unique and unsettling vision instead of angry at them for wasting six years of my life. If I were to revisit this list next year, I’d imagine THE ENDLESS might even get bumped up a few spots.

8. PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH

I know nothing about the previous Puppet Master movies (something I’ll have to unfuck soon), but LITTLEST REICH was just an hour and a half of pure joy. I mean a guy gets his head cut off and pees on his own face, what’s not to love?

7. THE NIGHT COMES FOR US

Not a horror movie, even though it’s been covered by a ton of horror sites. What it IS is two hours of the most brutal action you’ll ever see. All kinds of kick ass.

6. A QUIET PLACE

This movie is a master class in tension. The opening scene did a great job of establishing the scenario and showing us how far the filmmakers were willing to go (all the way).

5. MANDY

A super rad journey through a series of heavy metal album covers. While I often get annoyed when people in movies stand there not saying anything to each other (looking at you, Nicholas Winding Refn), MANDY is such a surreal, fever dream of a movie that it works. Any movie that features both an axe AND a chainsaw fight gets my twenty bucks.

4. INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND

This movie did something that is pretty much guaranteed to piss me off (no spoilers), but here’s the thing—they got away with it. While there are some shades of TEXAS CHAINSAW, INCIDENT is very much its own thing, and what a fantastic thing it is.

3. ATERRADOS (TERRIFIED)

The little boy, yo. That scene alone would be enough to make me adore this movie. The way the narrative is structured echoes the hauntings in the story, and it’s all very, very cool.

2. THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

I don’t want to sound like a hipster here, but THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW is a strong example of the argument that horror almost HAS to be low-budget in order to be truly scary. There’s one scene in particular where the father is talking to his son that might be the scariest thing I’ve seen all year. That’s it, a conversation—no monsters, no demon nuns, no levitation. Absolutely brilliant. Aside from a minor logic flaw (and what horror movie is totally bereft of that particular bugaboo), WITCH is just about perfect.

1. HEREDITARY

Toni Collette FTW. The pole. Blonde cult creep. Gabriel Byrne as a professional door-opener with a questionable accent. This movie’s a fucking masterpiece.

On Halloween

Halloween MIGHT be my favorite horror franchise. Growing up in the '80s, I remember being aware of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger through other kids at school, even though I wasn't allowed to watch the movies and they probably weren't either, at the time, so my knowledge of the slasher icons was filtered through this game of telephone. I knew what they looked like, and generally that they were BAD, but I didn't know that Freddy appeared in dreams--he was just a scary-looking dude with knife hands. My friends and I would write stories where we'd get into battles with them while skateboarding the mean backstreets of Alexandria, Virginia. At least until we started getting into real fights because Billy killed Johnny in one of his stories or vice versa. My third grade teacher swiftly instituted some limits on what we could write about, even though she still took pains to encourage our creativity.

Regardless of how little direct experience I had, the slashers were inescapable. In retrospect it's kind of weird thinking about elementary school kids dressed up as Jason for Halloween. Not as weird as a kids' animated series based on the Toxic Avenger, but up there. 

The first HALLOWEEN I saw was the much scoffed-at sixth entry in the series, THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. I don't care what anyone says, I love it. Some amazing kills, the douchebag shock jock, some genuinely creepy moments (lightning flashes and we see Michael standing on the other side of the blinds, for example). And the scene in the hospital when Michael suddenly starts slaughtering all the cultists he'd supposedly been working for/with? Chilling. 

Since this was the '90s and I made a few bucks a week that I mostly spent on weed, CDs, and unfortunate fashion choices, it took me a while to go back and watch all the entries in the series. Now I'm the proud owner of every last one on Blu-Ray. Since I've watched every movie several times and somehow still have a girlfriend I think I'm uniquely qualified to rank the entire series.

Without further adieu, I present to the class my definitive ranking of all the Halloween movies. 

Honorable Mention: SEASON OF THE WITCH (this is worth watching for Tom Atkins' incredibly shitty alcoholic '80s parenting alone, but the entire flick is a joy).

10. HALLOWEEN V: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

A bullet-ridden Michael commando-crawling into a river and being nursed back to health by a hermit. Tina is the Poochy of the Halloween series. Rachel is killed off unceremoniously. The psychic powers are stupid. Everybody makes dumb decisions and they're too lazy to make it NOT look like Pasadena. This movie sucks. 

9. HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION

Busta Rhymes kung fu fights Michael Myers. That's all you need to know.

8. HALLOWEEN II (Rob Zombie version)

I can see why people hate the Zombieweens (and also everything else Rob Zombie does other than scream about burning through the witches) but other than the white horse stuff I found this movie to be pretty enjoyable. The part where pro wrestler Mikey flips over a cop car is fun even though at that point we're not watching a HALLOWEEN movie anymore. 

7. HALLOWEEN: H20

After killing off the franchise's Tommy Jarvis in the first few minutes of the previous film and turning up the Cult of Thorn nonsense to 11, retconning Laurie Strode back into existence seemed like a good idea. This movies wears its late '90s influences on its sleeve. Some people criticize it as the WB version of HALLOWEEN and they're not wrong, but it's fun and has a few really iconic scenes (Michael lowering himself from a pipe one-handed). 

6. HALLOWEEN (Rob Zombie version)

Rob Zombie made half a good HALLOWEEN movie.  I don't need to spend any more time with little Mikey Myers than we did in John Carpenter's original, and seeing the escalation of Mikey killing animals and bullies ruins the impact of his sister's murder. The whole point was that his sister's murder was totally out of left field. No build-up, no warning signs. That's what was so scary about it. The second half of the movie is tense and terrifying, however, and the dynamic between Laurie and her friends works well. 

5. HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (Producer's Cut)

I'm only ranking this movie at #5 because of the competition. The part where the Mark of Thorn appears on Loomis' wrist at the end was a total shark-jump. 

4. HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (Theatrical Cut)

Already got into what I liked about it further up. Far from a perfect film but it will always have a place in my cold, dark heart.  

3. HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

Kind of a stealth remake, the FORCE AWAKENS of the series. But there are a lot of cool moments, it's generally well-made, and inserts a dose of realism (and additional conflict) with the drunken Haddonfield militia running around shooting dudes in bushes. Unfortunately it also lays the groundwork for the worst elements of the series, psychic powers and unbelievable resurrections. And Donald Pleasence's makeup is, uh, distracting at best. 

2. HALLOWEEN II (orig)

THE STAIRS SCENE you guys. 

1. HALLOWEEN (orig)

Maybe not the first slasher film, but maybe the best, and it really holds up. Is John Carpenter the greatest horror director of all time? Yes, yes he is. 

UPDATE: I’ve seen HALLOWEEN 2018 and damned if I know where to put it. Definitely in the top half of the list. Maybe 3.5? It’s good, go see it.

Too Much Monster

If you haven’t seen 1990’s HARDWARE, you’re missing out. The cameo by Lemmy, the voice cameo by Dee Snider, William Hootkins*—and that’s all before we meet the MARK 13, one of the cooler killer robot designs to debut post-Terminator (a look that gets even cooler when scrap metal artist Jill gets it a fresh coat of paint). There’s much fun to be had, but the movie’s got one problem—too much monster.

Not that we SEE the MARK 13 too much—budget restrictions are often a horror director’s friend, forcing them to suggest things to the viewer, to engage the viewer’s imagination, rather than just trotting out a CGI monstrosity. But the MARK 13 does suffer from the same problem that any monster designed by a child does. Ask a kid to draw you a monster and they’ll probably make it shoot lasers out of its eyes, breath fire, teleport, fly, and more. There’s a misconception that the way to make something scary is to throw more and more powers into a bucket, which only goes so far. Omnipotence isn’t that scary or even interesting. In the face of a truly unbeatable threat, there’s no reason to be afraid, just depressed. Death is inevitable.

In addition to the badass buzzsaw it sports, the MARK 13 can also inject its victims with a hallucinogenic poison. For me, this was too much. I wanted to see the robot tearing its victims apart. The poison function is an unnecessary layer of icing on an already-frosted cake. No thanks.

HARDWARE seems like one of those movies that’s kind of begging for a remake. If that ever happens, I hope they give the MARK 13 its buzzsaw and let it go to town with that, and only that. Way more fun.

*Who is probably worthy of an article/national holiday in and of himself—Hootkins appeared in both STAR WARS and RAIDERS, and even freaking BATMAN and FLASH GORDON. The guy was all over the place in the ‘80s.

We Need to Talk About Mike

Real quick, SPOILER ALERT for Better Call Saul—though I’ve got a blanket spoiler warning in effect for this blog, since I’m not talking about a thirty-year old horror flick I thought I’d throw an extra one in here. Just to be nice. Okay, really because I don’t want to hear any whining.

Anyway, SPOILERS.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s up with Mike Ehrmantraut’s storyline this season. While I’ve enjoyed the hell out of Jimmy’s (de)volution, Kim’s internal battle for her soul, Howard becoming a hot mess and the fallout from Nacho’s switcheroo with the meds, I’ve been baffled by Mike’s plot the last few episodes. His infiltration of Madrigal Electromotive and subsequent chat with Lydia were fantastic, but his story has flagged quite a bit after transitioning to his supervised construction of the super-lab.

Why? There’s no tension.

When the super-lab was first revealed on Breaking Bad, I did wonder how Gus Fring managed to build such an expansive meth-making operation beneath his laundromat. But at the same time I didn’t need to know—I chalked the presence of the lab up to Gus’s intrinsic Fring-ness. Let’s face it, the man could make the Earth rotate clock-wise with nothing more than a steely glare (I mean maybe a raised eyebrow too).

Flash forward to BCS, where we get the origin of the super-lab, which is about as interesting as the origin story of any other building. Someone built it, the end. There’s no tension to the storyline because we know that no matter what trials and tribulations the German team face, the super-lab gets built. We also know Mike doesn’t get killed by a random falling beam, and we don’t care enough about the Germans for any of their construction-related deaths to affect us one iota (although that Kai guy is kind of a jackass).

So what the hell is Vince Gilligan doing here?

I mean, he’s doing something, right? He’s Vince fucking Gilligan, not Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Everything means something, everything has a purpose. He doesn’t have throwaway characters, as evidenced by some of the cameos and bit parts in the series (so glad to see Huell back and looking pretty damn healthy, by the way). Why is he showing us this?

Maybe because this is Mike’s heel turn.

Even though Mike doesn’t harbor any illusions about who Gus Fring is, he’s still a good guy who takes pride in his work, and wants others to do the same (see the aforementioned Madrigal montage). His word means something to him, a handshake is an iron-clad deal in his world.

He still thinks they’re going to build this lab and then the whole thing ends in Miller Time (as Mike might say).

And that’s the trick. Despite the precautions, despite the sally port, Gus Fring will not suffer these men to live once they’re done building his super-lab. Alex and Cyrus are going to slaughter them, and Mike’s going to lose his shit. He’ll confront Fring, maybe there’s even a moment where he comes close to killing him. We might end the season with a rift between Mike and Gus, but by next season that rift will be healed.

This storyline isn’t about Mike building a super-lab. It’s about the scales being pulled from his eyes, and when they are he’s not going to look away, completing his transition from cop to crook. And when we look back at these last few episodes, all the Bing Crosby montages and jackass German guys will have been worth it.

Death by Exposition

I caught the found footage flick #Screamers last night (now streaming on Amazon), based on the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of another Dread Central Presents joint (Terrifier) and the whole "tech nerds hunting an evil viral video maker" premise seemed fun. Despite some decent performances, solid justifications for continuing to film when creepy stuff happens, and the sheer joy in seeing annoying startup gurus get murdered, the whole thing seemed like a donkey-brained waste of time. And a lot of that stems from the fact that there's too much exposition.

Something on the order of the first fifteen minutes of the film are devoted to a "documentary" where we meet the various personages involved in Gigaler, an awkwardly-named YouTubish startup (based in Cleveland because BUDGET). The employees are varying degrees of charming, their banter isn't bad, and the set design is pitch-perfect. But nothing that happens in the first fifteen minutes makes me think I'm watching a horror movie. Imagine if Blair Witch was just shopping at REI for backpacks, making GORP, and Heather doing an improv class or something and no one got to the woods until the third act. And no one MENTIONED the witch until the second.

Yeah, that's what #Screamers is doing.

Sci-fi and fantasy often (and rightly) get criticized for info-dumping on their audience, and that's basically what this movie is doing. I'm kind of surprised they didn't start with Tom and Chris signing an office lease or filling out incorporation paperwork. Point is it's the WRONG place to start the movie, and there's nothing creepy or unsettling (for the audience--Griffin whose title is probably 'social media ninja' is apparently weirded out by milk). Eventually, Griffin finds a stupid jump-scare video that was already dated in the early '00s and everyone up to the execs thinks it's going to put Gigaler on the map.

Uh, no.

Add in some nonsense about a Jack the Ripper suspect and, well, the less said the better. Since the film centers on a viral video, the best place to start would be with the video itself. Two minutes of conversation about Gigaler's finances (and that was a major missed opportunity to increase tension and justify the dunderheaded way Tom goes about, well, everything he does--they're desperate for traffic because they're weeks away from closing their doors and no one knows but the founders) and history could have supplanted fifteen minutes of fake documentary. Cut all that shit and then maybe they could have worked in a scare in the first few minutes.

Or, you know, at all.   

  

Crying Werewolf

One of the hardest parts of constructing a solid horror narrative is giving your characters a reasonable motivation to stay in the location where the terror happens--even casual fans will snidely ask, "Duh, why don't they just leave LOLZ" the minute spooky shit starts happening. Other then setting your story in the proverbial cabin in the woods (or going post-apoc), the most effective way to believably put your characters through the ringer is to employ the apocryphal (and false)  fable of the boiling frog. Start with innocuous but ambiguous happenings, ratchet up the tension and severity, and by the time your characters realize what kind of story they're in it's too late. One way to do this is to have a character cry werewolf--they are the only ones experiencing the most severe manifestations of paranormal activity (hey-oh), but for whatever reason the other characters don't believe them.

Hell House LLC almost gets this right.

In HHLLC, a crew of professional haunters crashes a creepy, abandoned hotel in order to turn it into the haunted house to end all haunted houses in time for the Halloween season. Head haunt-cho Alex has directed Paul to document their efforts, ostensibly to make it easier for them to replicate the experience when they rebuild everything the next year. Paul's the first one to notice anything out of the ordinary going on, and Alex blows him off when Paul tries to talk to him about it.

So far, so good--we've got a character experiencing crazy shit that would make most of us run screaming out of the house, but he's not the one in charge. Alex isn't seeing or experiencing anything other than being woken up in the middle of the night by his annoying friends/crew members, so he's got no motivation to leave. Paul does, but doesn't have the ability to make it so. This dichotomy gives them a realistic reason to stay in the hotel until everything goes well off the rails.

Unfortunately, there's one moment where everyone's motivation falls apart, and the damnedest thing is it's eminently fixable.

Paul captures a sequence of film that's undeniable--the immobile clown dummy from the basement standing at the top of the stairs, the dummy moving its neck (which the characters have repeatedly stated it could not do), and then disappearing. In the sequence of film everyone in the house is accounted for. Paul plays the film back for the other characters, who all go oh shit and then quickly assume it's just Paul fucking with them.

Which almost works, but there's a problem. It's clear from the footage that none of the guys could have dressed up in the clown suit--we see them seconds later on the other side of the house. In order for Paul to be pranking them, the footage would need to be doctored, and that particular plot point isn't set up well. There are moments where Paul is portrayed as an irreverent slacker, but not as a master prankster--if his character had been set up as a hipster Loki it would have worked. But given what we're shown, I'm not buying the reactions of the other characters to Paul's footage.

To fix this moment, and by extension the reasons why the characters choose to stay in this haunted hotel, a quick scene could have been inserted earlier in the film showing Paul executing a serious practical joke on the rest of the crew. Preferably involving video editing. That's all it would take for me to buy the other characters' dismissive attitudes.

So, to recap--have your character cry werewolf. Have a relatively powerless and reputationally-challenged member of the group bear witness to the real horror. Give the other characters plausible reasons for not believing him or her. And then let the terror ensue!

 

 

 

That's NOT How You Anti-Hero

Don't watch Anonymous 616.

Or maybe do, this post will probably make more sense if you've seen it, but I'm definitely not recommending this thing to anyone, so when you've sat through an hour and half of pure what the fuck don't look askance at me, okay?

As with everything I do here, SPOILERS.

I write about horrible people that do horrible things. Theoretically I don't have a problem with a movie about a pervert who smokes DMT, tortures his friends to death, and then cuts out a twelve-year old's heart and eats it in a misguided bid to become God, although with something that extreme it's got to be handled very, very carefully to be effective.

THIS MOVIE IS NOT EFFECTIVE, for one primary reason: this is not how you anti-hero.

Anonymous 616 follows Sgt. Hipster (I can't remember any of the characters' names and I don't want to give this thing's IMDB entry a single fucking click) and a bunch of cannon fodder including Director's Wife*, Bland Realtor, Other Chick, and Daughter. Oh yeah, and Reverend What the Fuck there at the end. None of the characters are interesting--Bland Realtor's main distinguishing feature is that he likes to play shitty butt-rock at a high volume because he can, Other Chick is Vaguely Ethnic™, and Director's Wife has godawful taste in men in both the movie and real life. We learn nothing of consequence about any of these people, and none do anything of note other than die miserable deaths at the hands of Sgt. Hipster.

I've got no problem with a morally ambiguous lead. I fucking grew up in the '90s, where every single character was an anti-hero including Superman for a hot minute. But anti-heroes need to have some sort of unorthodox morality, an interior code. Think the Punisher or Dexter Morgan--neither kills wantonly, both have certain types of people that they won't kill, selection criteria, etc. Dexter wouldn't have saran-wrapped Rita (RIP) to a table because of a paranoid suspicion that she was cheating on him.

Sgt. Hipster isn't an anti-hero, he's a creepy POS from the beginning, and there's really no conflict. His own personal Tyler Durden IMs him and tells him he can do whatever he wants, and he does--Jesus Christing his best friend to the wall with a nailgun conveniently left lying about, smothering his girlfriend with a plastic bag, and much, much worse. It's like if Hostel followed Saladhands for the whole movie. What the hell are we supposed to be cheering for?

If Sgt. Hipster had struggled with his destructive impulses in a meaningful way, this movie might have been kind of interesting. If Director's Wife, Other Chick, or Daughter had turned into the typical Final Girl and put a few nails into Sgt. Hipster's skull, this movie could have been a run-of-the-mill horror trifle. As it is, the movie forces the viewer to sit in an irredeemable garbage person's POV for an hour and a half with no one to root for. The good guy's don't have to win, and we don't have to follow them, but if the monster's front-and-center we need to be able to glimpse the humanity under all those teeth.

And here? There's not even teeth, just dentures and the meat that gets stuck in between.     

*Not 100% on this but pretty sure.

UPDATE: If you want to debate, great. I'm wrong about all kinds of shit. But don't fucking post your own movie reviews here or links to your blog, they will be deleted.  

   

I'm Going to Kill You...Right After I Get This Dope-Ass Chest Tattoo

I had a lot of fun watching Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2. Up until the part where I started yelling at my TV, that is.  I mean I was still having fun. But angry fun.

Having not seen the first one, I'm not sure how much setup I missed out on. The movie starts in media res with Brian Austin Green playing Vince Vaughn and cleaning up the scene of Chromeskull's first rampage. We know he's in charge because he's wearing a suit and acting like a dick. I'm assuming he stopped by the gas station on his way from his day job as a Vegas club promoter and/or vape salesman. Something unrealistic happens with 2011 cell phones and then he stabs the last movie's final girl to death in a motel room with a crazy-looking dragon knife he bought in a Venice Beach head shop (probably).

So far, I'm in. Schlocky '90s actors and "hey, it's that guys?" Sure. The killer's mask looks cool AF, and the idea of a slasher requiring a support team actually makes a hell of a lot of sense. Unfortunately they don't go into the backstories of douchebag club promoter, ethnicish hot chick or nerdy tech guy, but I'm sure they all have reasons for being there. Mostly financial, but at least douchebag club promoter seems to be acting as an understudy to the titular Chromeskull (including having a couple random blacksmiths make him an uber-headshop knife in a scene reminiscent of Moe Syzlak's classic "and that's how I turned five guns into one gun").

Considering that I don't often question the motives of the faceless henchmen in Bond or Batman movies (although I've got an idea for a short story on that topic I'm going to have to write one of these days), it would be unfair to spend too much time picking apart the lack of motivation for Chromeskull's support team. Ditto the dumb decisions made by the cops solely in service to the plot ("let's send the CSI tech who has a gun for some reason to a suspicious location with no backup," "let's split up," etc.), or the extreme upper-body strength exhibited by the various villains that allow them to slice someone's face in half like it was a mound of butter. All that stuff I can live with. No, the thing that really killed this otherwise-entertaining flick was a pre-climax montage where douchebag club promoter becomes another Chromeskull. 

After telling his kidnapping victims to "run around the facility for awhile" and "find something fun to stab me with," he walks into another room where there's a tattoo artist hanging out for some reason (!) and then proceeds to get a three hour chest tattoo. 

I'm not a tattoo artist, but I've got a lot of tattoos. My Jack O'Lantern on my right calf is a similar size to the skull tattoo douchebag club promoter gets, and took about four hours. Granted there's some color in there, so I'll shave an hour off, but still--we are talking about a three hour minimum tattoo. Who takes three hours to get a tattoo (from a tattoo artist who is apparently totally cool with kidnapping and murder and is just hanging out in this warehouse in case somebody wants some new ink) when you've got victims to murder? Not to mention the incredibly inept police are probably eventually going to notice their missing armed CSI tech and come looking for her in the exact same place where she last reported in from? YOU DON'T HAVE THREE HOURS FOR THIS SHIT. Nor do you have time to stare into a mirror running your fingers through your hair before finally shaving your head.

And seriously, what's the point? Part of the Chromeskull costume, in addition to the rad mask, is a suit. His victims can't see the tattoo. It only figures into the storyline when the actual Chromeskull shows up and kills club promoter Chromeskull for eating his lunch, and there's this dramatic moment where real Chromeskull rips open club promoter's suit and sees the tattoo. And then decapitates him. Like it's okay to dress up like him, but getting a tattoo is a bridge too far? 

At this point I think I've put more thought into this movie than the actual writers, so I'll end on this. Including a transformational montage right before the climax slows down the story, and not in an anticipation-building way. More in a why the hell is he taking all the time to do this way. Having the main henchmen transform into the main bad guy in order to be dispatched in a flying too close to the sun moment (not entirely unlike Alex's death in Breaking Bad) is in fact a cool idea. But better to show him slowly taking on aspects and mannerisms of his boss throughout the film, than have him sit in the tattoo chair for three freaking hours while the cops circle the warehouse.

Building tension before the climax is a good thing. But having characters do dumb and unnecessary shit (to a horrible nu-metal soundtrack no less) to put off the final act will just have the watcher, or read, squirming in their seat. 

And not squirming in a good way.