Friday, 18 October 2019

I'm the worst lesbian ever

The Horror Diary continues - no, not the op-ed section of the Guardian, I speak of course about my ill-advised attempt to watch horror movies and tv shows every day for the whole month of October.  Fun fact: I have realised that horror is literally my least favorite genre.
Still, like Brexit, I can't stop now, so...

8th OCT - THE COLLAPSED posits itself first as a post-apocalyptic thriller, but then edges towards horror territory as it progresses, my main takeaway being "oh dang, this is where Birdbox got the idea."
I kind of guessed the twist a bit too early for the film to have entirely worked, but on balance I would say, middling acting and micro budget aside, this was pretty good.
AFTERMATH is a more traditional post-apocalyptic thriller, hitting beats familiar to the genre and its fans, and while not particularly inventive, it's a competant entry in the PA canon.  The only reason I watched it was because it came from the Screamfest channel on That There Youtube, which is a good place to stop for horror movies between 3 and 50 minutes.

9th OCT - DOOM: ANNIHILATION is the second live-action adaptation of the game that isn't the first or best FPS (First Person Shooter), but it is almost certainly the daddy.  Some scientists find ancient tablets inscribed with satanic runes and decide to jump up and down on them to see what happens.  SPOILERS: nothing good.
Actually, "nothing good" is a pretty apt review summary for this.  It's like one of those micro-budget Asylum movies about zombies fighting mercenaries, only the sets are nicer: some not-great actors deliver some not-great exposition, then one of them goes "sheeeeeeeeyit!" and does some shooting, the zombies rush at the characters and get shot for a bit, then someone goes "WTF is happening here?" and some more exposition happens, tensions in the group, they try to withdraw to safety but are thwarted, then have to pursue a McGuffin, there's a big fight and maybe a twist about one of the characters being secretly bad, an explosion, then a character goes ARGH at the camera and the credits roll as a rock track goes DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN.  If that sounds like a movie you think you'd enjoy watching for the 16th time, this is for you.  If not, you might find this a bit poo like I did.
The original Doom live-action movie at least had a visceral and gory charm to it, but this is just rote shooting and zombies going RARG, and despite the demon FX being practical, the director does that thing you see in CGI movies where nothing seems to hurt the CGI monsters, until something does because the script calls for the action sequence to be over.  Here, that takes the form of millions of bullets being shot at the zombies and demons and having no effect until the monsters just suddenly keel over, which, the more I think about it, is pretty much how the damage mechanics in the original Doom game actually worked, because obviously the limited graphical capability of PCs and consoles of the era used primitive bitmaps that didn't register any visible damage no matter how much you shot at them, you just kept shooting at them until the death animation finally triggered.  However, this is clearly based on the 2016 reboot of the DOOM videogame franchise in which visible damage was a prominent feature, so I guess that kills dead any notion I had of thinking of this as a deliberate homage to the original.  It makes me think of that movie Spectral which I have never watched and don't intend to because I saw some clips in which soldiers were shooting at ghosts and I just thought "a whole movie of guys not realising bullets don't work but they keep shooting anyway?  Fuck that."

10th OCT - CTHULHU, which can be watched in its entirety on the old internets thanks to its director putting the entire thing online:

It's a work about Lovecraft's cosmic mythos in the same way that those Lovecraft videogames are, IE not very, it just takes some names and ideas and welds them to an original story in much the same way Castle Rock did with the Stephen King mythos, only Cthulhu is nowhere near as smug, unoriginal and irritating as Castle Rock was.  At nearly two hours and lacking any special effects shots to speak of, it might not strike many as much of a horror, but luckily Youtube's Hbomberguy - better known as the Donkey Kong-playing and Mermaids-funding arch-nemesis of sitcom-writing transphobic bigot Graham Linehan - has gone and produced a very good video exploring how the film, despite its low budget and lack of name actors and being set in an entirely different century to the source material, nonetheless explores the themes of Lovecraft's work, only swapping out Lovecraft's next-level IRL racism and replacing it with fictional homophobia.

11th OCT - SHERLOCK HOLMES vs DRACULA - available to listen to in its entirety here on that there Youtube, which is clearly doing a bang-up job of stopping copyright infringement.

It's a fun romp about Dr John Watson's outrage at both being sniped by an Irishman in getting a certain tale into print, and at being written out of the account entirely, prompting him to set the record straight on how the prince of vampires met his end thanks to the efforts of the world's greatest detective.
Worth a listen if you want something to distract you from the soul-crushing task assigned to you by your employers, which was how my brother came across it while processing appeals lodged with the DWP against the benefits sanctions imposed by the criminally-incompetent third party contractors imposed on the DWP by our parasitic government, and I'm glad he sought solace in audio dramas while he worked, because I thought Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula was quite the whizzer yarn.  Fun story: the third party contractors at the DWP are not just negligent and criminally incompetent - their actions often result in verifiable deaths - but they're also criminally criminal, too, creating fake benefits claims so they can funnel money into their own accounts.  It was reported in the local papers over here in Norn Iron recently - particularly the notoriously shit-stirring Sunday World - and rather than deny it, the people in charge of the DWP offices in Belfast launched a witch hunt for the whistleblower and gave the entire building a bollocking about talking to the press, then swept the whole thing under the rug as best they could and moved the guilty parties on quietly because the company they worked for had tendered new contracts with the government and they didn't want to risk them losing out with a minor scandal involving the theft of hundreds of thousands of pounds from sick and disabled people who would later - fun fact - go on to kill themselves and send notes to the DWP staff in Belfast blaming them for the act, further contributing to the air of depression already permeating the building.
Yes, that was leftfield, but you know, it's October and the whole point is horror, and if you can't be horrified at a bunch of dead poors or the criminality that put them in their graves, then how's about this: the Sunday World sells a half million copies every Sunday and its stories are freely available to the mainland press, which means that the BBC and the Guardian etc have deliberately buried this story.  Never trust a liberal.
I particularly liked that Van Hellsing rebuffs Sherlock Holmes' aid because he thinks Holmes is an attention whore, and then Holmes and Watson flounce off with a "GOOD DAY, SIR!"  lol wat a qween etc.  ANyway, it's a fun yarn, give it a listen.

12th - THE HOWLING REBORN is... well, I'm stuck to describe it, as I am pretty sure "this is one of the worst films I have ever seen" has been thoroughly devalued as a critical appraisal through overuse, thanks to the ready availability of streaming services only too happy to put any old garbage up for viewing as long as it pads out the library of available content, but this really is one of the worst films I have ever seen.
I shan't be drawn upon the particulars because that would mean reliving it, but suffice it to say my main qualms stem from unlikable characters, a dumb plot, dreadful dialogue, and a general feeling of a missed opportunity.  I can usually get behind even terrible films if I feel the makers tried, but this has all the telltale signs of a quick, soulless cash-in that has devalued an already-devalued brand, and even though a couple of the actors seem to be making a fist of the material, there's nothing they can do.  I will say the lead character's transformation into a werewolf is identical to the transformation sequences from the Glen A Larson television series MANIMAL, though.  Make of that what you will.
Speaking of getting behind terrible films, PARASITE is a 1982 dystopian sci-fi body horror creature feature featuring an 18 year-old Demi Moore and some sort of toothy turd-like leech monster thing.  I am obviously going for ths soft sell here, but this was actually a pretty fun z-movie from the VHS era, featuring some welcome genre subversion like the punks terrorising a small town turning out to have sympathetic backstories, and the almost Lovecraftian offscreen horror of a post-collapse America now run by corporate gangsters - LOL moviemakers in the 1980s were way off on what the future was going to be like, amiright?

Made by Charles Band, who runs a cottage industry producing and directing good bad movies like this, Metalstorm and the Puppet Master and Dollman series, I have no problem telling you I found this enjoyable even if the snob in me still feels compelled to levy the caveat that "enjoyable" and "good" are not synonyms.  Pure trash.

MANIAC COP - tagline:  "ACAB - BUT SOME MORE THAN OTHERS!" - is also a good bad film, from master of exploitation b-movies Larry Cohen, who for some reason critics got it in their heads was in on the gag more than his contemporaries and so they treated his output as if it was satirical in intent rather than just blackly comic.  Cohen is a writer who just takes a concept and runs with it, even if that means the protagonist of the movie takes a dive (in this case literally) around the start of the third act, and the rest of the movie is led by someone who was until now little more than a glorified cameo.  I do love Bruce Campbell, but he is not a leading man for this kind of story.  Obviously there is a rich vein of commentary to be dug into the premise in which a cop is killing innocent citizens and the actual police force - abetted by the judiciary and city hall - try to deny this is even happening, but really, it's just a trashy and fun movie.  I watched this by mistake as I was actually looking for MANIC COP, the story of a depressed policeman with anxiety issues okay this is not true but you try ending as many reviews as this without drying up sooner or later.

13th OCT - MANIAC COP 2 - tagline: "HE'S THE WRONG ARM OF THE LAW!" - because part one was good and I guess there must be a horror fan somewhere in my home town who doesn't lock his house when junkies are on the prowl for some quick cash to score them a hit of that sweet sweet spice melange, because the local CEX had the second Maniac Cop on dvd for the low low price of 50 pence and who am I to say no to a deal like that?  The only salve I can place upon my guilt at rewarding crime by shopping in CEX is that theft is merely capitalism in a more pure form and thus I am encouraging... erm... critique?  Probably.  50 pence!  Robert Zdar returns as the butcher with a badge and makes quick work of the survivors of the first movie before going on to make friends with a serial killer, murder a police station, and break into a prison before being set on fire and head-butting a bus until it explodes.  So uhhhhhh more of the same, just on a marginally larger scale with some impressive action setpieces involving a cop shop shootout and a couple of car chases, but the real highlight is surely one of the greatest proprietary theme tunes committed to posterity.

14th OCT - MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE mixes voodoo into proceedings, but otherwise doesn't depart from the formula I'd come to expect based on the last two movies, including an off-the-rails third act.
By the third entry in a series, diminishing returns have usually set in, but this franchise isn't exactly what you'd call high art to begin with, added to which the same writer/director team (Larry Cohen and William Lustig) have been at the helm of all three films, so even when it gets a little slower here and there or heads into more blatantly slasher territory, it's still mostly consistent with previous films apart from a gunfight in a hospital that reminds you that John Woo's influence really was a thing back in 1992.
I argued for Maniac Cop 1 that it wasn't quite as political as people might want you to believe, but now there's three of 'em and in-universe everyone knows there's an unkillable cop walking around murdering at will, so the political reading is pretty unavoidable now.  All in all, I really enjoyed this trilogy, and it's a shame Robert Zdar never got to reprise his starring role for a fourth outing, though I fully expect a remake any day now.

15th OCT - NIGHT VISIONS is an early 2000s Twilight Zone knock-off that apparently had a commitment from Gary Oldman to serve as the show's host, but the producers insisted on Henry Rollins, who is shot from the thighs up so you can see his flexed muscles, and you know he's flexing for the camera on account of you can see he's balling his fists like he's ready to fight someone up, which you know that he won't do because it's a pretty open secret that Rollins is a humongous pussy in real life and often spends a lot of the running time of his spoken word beat poetry performances talking about - actually, I probably don't need to go any further than that, do I? Gosh but that reads a bit judgmental.
There's a great old Twilight Zone episode called "He's Alive!" about a racist meathead played by Dennis Hopper who starts taking tips on oration from Hitler's ghost and instead of ending with the words "in the Twilight Zone" as usual, the closing monologue was something like "remember when you hear a name called or a minority attacked that He is alive because through these things we keep him alive"  and I thought boy it sure is quite the journey from that to Henry Rollins standing around in tank tops looking like an action figure saying lines like  "when you spend all your time being a bastard, sooner or later you'll piss off the wrong asshole."  O brave new world.
Anyway, this show kind of sucks.  It's not good in the conventional sense, but it does boost some recognisable guest stars, and while a lot of the twists are pretty shoddy, it usually does a good job of creating a spooky atmosphere while getting to that point, often playing with the viewers' expectations of what comes next by second-guessing the conventions of act-based teleplays, like the episode set in a darkened radio station where you genuinely have no idea who the killer stalking the main character might be because the show has just made a point of killing everyone who had a speaking part, or the plane crash episode where you kind of know what the twist is, but the show just keeps throwing other twists at you to wrong-foot you and it gets to the point that episodes paint themselves into a corner and so they just... end really quickly.  The twist isn't as important as shitting you up, and I guess that at least differentiates it from Twilight Zone.
Not a great show, but I suppose I did enjoy it while it lasted, and I would argue that dated and naff as it is, it's still better than the recent Twilight Zone reboot.

16th OCT - BODY BAGS, a triple bill anthology featuring directorial input from Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter, the latter of whom doubles as the film's host, which I was not expecting.  He does a good job as a sleazy coroner introducing various tales about the body parts which wash up in the morgue, examples of "our national pastime - violent death!".  The tales are, frankly, not much cop at all, though I did like the straightforwardness of the gas station segment.  Mark Hamill... oh man, Mark Hamill just could not pick a good script to save his life, and in interview he is open about his doubts about going into voicover acting, the career path which led him to create the definitive version of The Joker.  Still, he has at least got to do those Star Wars sequels lately - which proves he still picks lousy scripts, but at least he's making some bank.
Also checked out the pilot of the new CREEPSHOW tv series currently airing on the Shudder channel, and it is most certainly a television series called Creepshow.  Yep.
No idea what to say beyond "it kinda sucks real bad."  A lot of effort clearly went into it, but it isn't good.  I had high hopes when I saw the host was a crude animatronic, but then it dawned on me that tv maybe doesn't need yet another horror anthology.  Or maybe I don't need to see another horror anthology right now.
I did like the practical werewolf effects in the second episode, and the willful embracing of garishness and harsh lighting, but the silent host really throws things off, as it draws attention to the fact that the makers looked at the old show and saw the giggling ebullience and glee of the host and decided that this wouldn't fit in with modern sensibilities, but rather than depart from the branding they just took out his monologues - though you can still see the script for them in the introductory panels in the fake comic book that serves as the show's framing gimmick.  A show that's slightly ashamed of itself is a sad thing to see.

17th OCT - NANCY DREW is the latest attempt at bringing the teenage sleuth to live-action land, but don't get your hopes up as it's a CW show, so 2019's Nancy Drew is more or less guaranteed to be about a diverse gang of 20-something actors playing teenagers who solve a murder while having underage sex, an evaluation of which I am so certain, I am writing this introduction before viewing the actual pilot of the show.
(No, really, I wrote this and then went and watched the show)
Yep, called it.
Anyhoo, what made me take a look was the promise of there being possible supernatural goings-on in the series, and I'll just pull the band aid off this one, the writers and producers have just straight-up lifted the Grand Theft Auto 5 ghost thing and plonked it into their identikit teen show, but it's okay because this is the CW, a network run by middle aged people making television for thirsty teenagers and shame has no place here.
What it most reminds me of is Scooby Doo Mystery Inc, a really slapping kids' show from several years back, in that the general tone and atmosphere is almost identical, though obviously Mystery Inc does not have a very diverse cast unless we want to start a conversation about whether Scooby is black or not.
I often hold that Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the worst films ever made, but that it's quite hard to tell because it's so well put-together - as films costing a quarter of a billion dollars tend to be - and likewise, Nancy Drew 2019 is pretty bad, it's just that it's hard to tell because everything is put together with such studied competence that all you're left to criticise is how corny and unambitious it is, and good luck with selling that as a criticism in a world where easily over 50% of media is remakes or adaptations.  I did like that they waited almost four whole minutes before Nancy has her first sex scene of the episode, which on a CW show these days practically makes her a nun.  I guess it might be interesting to see how a CW show handles a prudish lead character for a change, but beyond that I don't see what makes this stand out.
 HUNTRESS: RUNE OF THE DEAD is a Swedish Western but with vikings instead of cowboys and zombies instead of Native Americans.  It is not very good.  It takes roughly 120 minutes of a 145 minute run time to get to the zombies, there isn't any clear protagonist, no central arc or theme for characters... I am not really sure what the point was.  I managed to get this far without watching anything with zombies in it and to be honest, I should have kept that rule going.

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