Oct 122018
 

Z Nation is a zombie apocalypse show on the SyFy channel. I am personally sick of all things zombies, but Z Nation is in its 5th season and I keep coming back to it. Why?

My pitch for Z Nation is imagine Walking Dead if it was fun. It is created by the same studio that makes Sharknado but the show never hits that level of campy stupudity. Instead, it opts for the kind of wild hijinks you except in a tabletop role-playing game where people have a loose grasp on biology and physics. yes, early on there is a tornado with zombies in it but later there is a guy who collects zombies of famous dead people. There was a wonderful group of survivors who were trapped at a team-building exercise and now can only communicate through the talking stick. There types of zombies that range from plant monsters to zombie bears. This show has imagination.

The other reason for watching Z Nation is that they have a black woman, named Warren, who is their leader and resident bad-ass. It is refreshing to see a black woman in charge in a genre show. Warren has so many great moments over five seasons that she is one of my favorite action heroines in any show.

The other great character is Murphy. He is a prisoner who received an experimental dose of zombie cure in the early days of the apocalypse. After surviving twenty zombies bites, Murphy becomes the most important man in America and now the heroes need to transport him to a lab on the other side of the country.

There are other great characters like Doc the aging hippie, 10K the not-psychotic sniper, Addy the tomboy who’s good with gadgets and others. People come and go in this series like any zombie show, but these characters all have meaningful moments and die much more heroic deaths. No one gets their brains bashed in on the side of the road by a nutjob with a bat.

So yeah, if you are burned out on zombies, or burned out on sad people hacking parts off of each other, give Z Nation a try.

Oct 102018
 

Phantasm 2 opens with a young woman talking about the dreams she is having. Because this is the 80’s and the woman is blonde, she has psychic abilities. Her dreams recap the events of of the first Phantasm and adds the helpful bit of info that the main villain, the Tall Man, is coming for her.

We cut to the last few minutes of the first movie where Mike gets pulled through a mirror in his bedroom. never fear, because Reggie, the middle-age balding icer cream vendor is there to save him! Well, not so much as Reggie gets trapped in the kitchen with an empty shotgun and surrounded by the Jawas of the first movie. Reggie solves this problem by turning on the gas on his oven real high, grabbing Mike and then jumping out the window as his house explodes in fireball. Wow!

Except none of that happened. We see Mike, all grown up and looking sour in an insane asylum. See, he imagined all of that. Whoa, something happened and then it turned out to not be real? You just got Phantasm’d!

Anyhoo, Mike gets released from the asylum by pretending to be sane and the first thing the kid does is dig up the local cemetery. Turns out there are no bodies in those graves, which even Reggie thinks is suspicious. Reggie still isn’t sure about Mike and his psychic visions until Mike has a vision of their house exploding with all of their family. Two seconds later, the house explodes and kills all of their family. Well, Reggie is on board now. It is time to go hunting a Tall Man, his Jawas and his killer flying spheres.

After the dreamlike quality of the first movie, the sequel is pretty straightforward. Mike and Reggie go from town to town, following the Tall Man’s trail. They load up on weapons and make a few of their own because that is what you did in the 80’s. Just ask McGyver and the A-Team. They run into a few traps before finally finding psychic girl from the beginning of the movie. when she gets kidnapped, they launch an attack on the Tall Man’s new funeral home, which is just as deadly as the first one. Things blow up and damsels are narrowly saved.

You could argue that this movie is more of an action movie rather than the horror movie that the first one was. There are a lot of fight scenes and close calls. This movie had the biggest budget of any of the Phantasm movies at a whopping three million dollars and it shows in the bigger explosions and stunts. This movie hads a mythology of the Tall man slowly killing small towns across America and you can tell the studio really wanted to make this into a franchise.

There are still some creepy moments though. The shots of abandoned small towns are unsettling. The Tall Man has some human henchmen, called Gravers, that are never explained. Their wiliness to participate in these atrocities heightens the malice. The Jawas are still almost laughable except for one or two scenes that remind you that they are reanimated corpses.

The small budget means there is a lack of even background actors, which gives the movie a desolate feel,. Every set looks empty because there are at most four characters in any scene. I know if this was deliberate, but it reinforces the idea that America is slowing dying off. It also the closest the movie gets to feeling like a nightmare.

All in all, this feels like the dumber bigger brother to the classic of the first movie, but still a lot of fun to watch. Reggie is the only guy in horror who looks like a regular joe and that means a lot.

As for the Tall Man, he’s still a creepy mother-fucker.

 

 

 

Oct 012018
 

Slice is a 2018 movie that opens with the murder of a pizza delivery person who was making a delivery in Ghost town. What is Ghost town? Well, the city of Kingfisher realized they had a terrible ghost, witch and werewolf problem that probably had something to do with the local asylum that kidnapped, experimented on and then murdered their patients in a mass grave of 40,000 people. To fix the problem, the town bulldozed the asylum, paved over it and then moved the ghosts to their own part of town. The ghosts live in their own part of town and some even hold jobs in the regular part of the city. Problem solved!

What happened to the mass grave that got paved over? Well, they built a strip mall on it and in the strip mall is the same pizza place that employs the delivery person who was murdered. Hmm. Maybe the problem wasn’t solved.

As you can tell, it is a crazy movie. There are more murders of pizza delivery people and an ex-girlfriend of one of the delivery folks, played by the awesome Zazie Beetz, decides to go on a quest for justice and revenge. There is a crooked mayor played to perfection by Chris Parnell and a group of mean ladies who are trying to get the pizza place demolished to put the souls of the mass grave to rest. There is also a sloppy cop, a bright-eyed reporter lady and a handsome werewolf suspect. The movie is often stolen by the ghost employee of the pizza place repeating omens of doom than any Malachi would be proud of.

Now, I said this movie was crazy. I don’t know if I would call it good. It has some pacing problems but it has some laugh out loud moments and there are some plot twists that legitimately took me by surprise. The best thing this movie has going for it is the cult movie sensibility where it works hard to be its own thing instead of miming other cult movies. I also want to point out that despite the subject matter, this is not a horror movie. The only blood is when someone gets their throat cut and you have seen more blood on CSI. It is a comedy movie.

Slice is original and that alone makes it worth your time.

 

Sep 192018
 

Years and years ago, my parents watched Phantasm and due to their very negligent approach to parenting, I watched it at the tender age of 7 or 8. The final scene was responsible for me being terrified to be alone in a room with a mirror for the next five years. Good job, Mom and Dad!

Now that I am a grown adult with only a minor phobia of mirrors, I list Phantasm as one of my favorite horror movies. It stars Mike, a young kid who’s parents died and now he is being raised by his handsome older brother, Jody. Mike is a rightfully obsessed with his only surviving family member and spies on Jody all the time. On one of his spying trips, Mike realizes something is weird with the local cemetery and undertaker, unnamed in the movie and called the Tall Man in the script. The Tall Man puts coffins in the ground but after the ceremony, he picks the coffin up by himself and takes it back to the creepy house that doubles as a crypt.

Mike, being a young kid in the 70’s. investigates like he is Nancy Drew. Along the way he consults the local blind fortuneteller and her granddaughter, breaks into the mortuary, wrestles what looks like a Jawa from Star Wars, nearly gets killed by a flying metal sphere, escapes the Tall Man, and oh yeah, severs some of the Tall Man’s fingers but he bleeds yellow ooze and the fingers keep moving. And then the severed finger turns into a giant bug for some reason and nearly kills him.

If this movie sounds crazy, well, it is. It is wonderfully crazy. Weird shit keeps happening. Most horror movies would have stopped with the flying sphere and the Jawa, but no, Phantasm keeps throwing weird shit at you like a nightmare that won’t give up.

Mike eventually tells his older brother Jody what is going on. They also realize, hey, isn’t Mom and Dad buried there too? What has the Tall Man done with their bodies? The brothers load up with shotguns and get in their cool black muscle car to go avenge their parents.

Hey, that sounds familiar.

Holy shit, Mike and Jody are prototype Sam and Dean Winchesters! Jody is the cool older brother who doesn’t care for feelings but he loves his Mike. Mike is the sensitive younger brother who catches on to things while his older brother is just interested in banging hot blondes!

So, back to the movie. Jody and Mike recruit their friend, Ice Cream Truck driver, Reggie, and go fight the Tall Man and his flying sphere and Jawas. More crazy shit happens. The biggest reveal may be that this isn’t a horror movie, but a science fiction horror movie.  Reggie eats it but in the end, the brothers drop the Tall Man down a shaft and they celebrate their victory.

And now I am going to discuss a spoiler. If you have never seen Phantasm, stop now and walk away. Please, go watch the best horror movie and then back to me.

Seen it yet? No, What did I just tell you?

Okay, now you saw it? You’re not just lying are you?

You are lying! Go on, watch it.

Okay, now you have seen it. Tell me how Reggie dies. Okay, I believe you now.

Spoiler!

It was all a dream. Mike wakes up, and we see him with Reggie. The entire movie was a dream. Jody died in a car wreck and Reggie is raising Mike now. Reggie tells Mike that it was all a nightmare and that it is perfectly natural to think dream about his dead brother and to make up some sort of monster.

Which is cool and all until the Tall Man snatches Mike through a mirror. Freaking mirrors!

Normally I would be against a “It was all a dream” ending, but for Phantasm, it works so wonderfully well. The whole movie is a nightmare. The Tall Man and his endless powers are perfect for a dream. The way the movie just keeps escalating is typical of a dream as well. The weird gate to another world is typical of a dream shifting tone. It also explains why Mike is always spying on Jody. It’s Mike’s dream and he is clearly following his brother who he knows subconsciously is dead.

Holy crap, Phantasm is a movie about grief. The Tall Man is a personification of Mike’s fears and sorrow. Instead of just another weird horror movie, Phantasm is a thoughtful movie about loss.

Well, right up until the Tall Man appears and snatches awake Mike, but hey, still a damn good movie.

 

Aug 082018
 

Coherence is a 2013 movie about a dinner party. Eight friends gather together for fun and drinks when a comet flies by. One of the characters says that his brother is a scientists and warned him that when the comet goes overhead, don’t go outside and call him if anything weird happens. Of course, the party people decide to GO OUTSIDE and that is when weird shit starts to happen.

I can’t really tell you anything else about the movie without giving it away. It is an interesting mystery that unravels in a clever way. What I can tell is that once the weird shit happens, cracks and faultiness appear in the friendships and the characters begin to turn on each other. Grudges, secrets and betrayals bubble to the surface and you soon discover that these eight friends have no business dealing with a weird mystery together.

The weird mystery is what keeps the movie from degenerating into a reality show. It is a truly puzzling mystery that stands up to close inspection.  This is a movie that is going to hold up well on multiple viewings because the viewer is going to look for more clues and find them.

And since I can’t tell you anymore about it, no matter how much I want to discuss the last twenty minutes, I’ll stop now and let you go see it for yourself.

 

Nov 132017
 

American Horror Story is an idea that I like a lot. Every season is a brand new story and new characters. The story wraps up within the season giving you a beginning and end. They recycle a lot of their actors, giving the series the feel of a playhouse putting on new stories.

The execution of these stories can leave a lot to be desired. Even with just one season, the stories can go on too long. There is an obsession with torture and despair that drags the show out of entertainment and into just hard to watch. Some of the actors play the same damn type of character over and over again which ruins the potential freshness of a new story. Worse of all, many interesting ideas will be tossed out but never really followed up on and some arcs end too abruptly to be satisfying.  For these reasons, even though I sometimes still enjoy a season of AHS, I have never had a season that I could recommend.

That has changed with the sixth season, not available on Netflix. The season is called Roanoke and has a quite a few new gimmicks. One, the show is presented as something that is being aired on television. It is a reenactment show about two poor bastards who bought the wrong house in the North Carolina woods. We have two sets of actors for all of the characters. There are the “real” people discussing their experiences in a studio and then there is the actors playing them in the reenactment. The story unfolds and weird shit happens. There is a shit ton of ghosts, evil hillbillies and strange sightings.  In the fifth episode, the reenactment series wraps up. It is pretty much a self-contained story.

In the sixth episode, we begin a new season of the fake show. The first season was such a hit that the producers are bringing back the “real” people and their acting counterparts to spend a few days in the house as a reunion reality show with cameras. As you can imagine, terrible shit happens. The “show” is built from the footage recovered by the authorities.

This is a really neat development. None of the actors think this shit is real. The real people know it is real but they have their own reasons for coming back. When the monsters show up, they are far worse and scarier than what we have seen before because as the audience, we have only seen what has been reenacted.

The final episode of the season is made up of footage from three different shows, including a True Crime show, a live interview show and a Ghost Hunters-style show before spending the final act completely divorced from found footage and more like a normal show. If you love found footage stories like I do, this season of AHS is a true gift.

I’ve talked a lot about how the show is structured but that isn’t my favorite part. The best part about this show, without going into spoilers, is that the most important character is a black woman. The “show” vilifies her so they can have a villain and you the audience is left guessing whether she is as bad as she has been portrayed. It is a season long discussion about racism in ways I would never expect from AHS. It is also a discussion about how media creates villains out of people and who do they pick? The really dark black woman who is no angel. The last five episodes of Roanoke tackles these issues in interesting ways and I would rank this season almost as racially significant as the movie, Get Out.

The season isn’t perfect. There is still quite a bit of torture. You know if it graphic when they announce a discretion warning AFTER the scene where someone has his intestines pulled out. I feel the first five episodes could have been a bit more creative with their gimmick, but I accept it because the first five episodes are setting the table for the really excellent last five episodes.

So yeah, if you like horror and you like interesting black characters, you should really watch season six of American Horror Story: Roanoke.

Oct 272017
 

Trick ‘r Treat is a 2017 anthology movie about the horrible things that happen in a small town one Halloween. Instead of a framing story, there is a mysterious small figure who wanders from story to story until he gets his own story is revealed at the end. The body count is high but every story has a moral, even if that moral is don’t fuck around with the spirit of Halloween.

I love this movie so much. It hits everything I want in a Halloween movie.

Mysterious central figure? Check.

Anthology of short stories? Check.

A story about kids being dicks and getting what they deserve? Check.

A story with hot chicks in costumes? Check.

A story that actually embraces the holiday of Halloween as a concept and not just as a background for a typical horror movie? Check.

Bad people getting punished? Check.

Again, I love this movie too much to be objective. I also don’t want to spoil anything by going into more detail. Let’s just say that I watch this every year and it is always great. With the possible exception of John Carpetner’s Halloween, this is the quintessential Halloween horror movie in my book.

 

Oct 192017
 

A Dark Song is a 2016 Irish Horror movie. Horror might be too strong of a word though it certainly gets very dark. It is a slow burn of a movie where little happens until the third act but it is easily one of my favorite movies about the occult. Heck, it might be my favorite occult movie.

Sophia is a middle-aged woman who wants to perform a long ritual in order to get her wish. Because of the complexity of the ritual, she hires occult expert, Solomon, to help her. The ritual requires that they stay isolated inside a house for weeks, possibly months until the ritual works. During this time, they are strictly forbidden from leaving the house and they must perform all sorts of labor-intensive tasks.

Being a movie, not everything is straight forward. Both participants have secrets and the rituals they perform offer little in the way of showing progress. This creates tension between the two as Sophia wonders if Solomon knows what he is doing or maybe this magic stuff is bullshit. It also creates weird scenes where a flower petal is discovered in a room and both of them rejoice because they are sure it means SOMETHING is happening.

Which I got to tell you, is pretty much the most occult thing I have ever seen in a movie.  In movies, the occult is special effects, music cues and quick plot developments. In real occult practice, there is no visual special effect. There is just the doubt that you have been wasting your time doing a quirky creative project.  That doubt, that questioning of your sanity and that over-eagerness to interpret something, anything in a positive light is what dealing with the occult has been for me. This is the first movie that reflects that experience.

Being a movie, shit does eventually happen but it is a sideshow to the tension between Sophia and Solomon. This ritual requires honesty and trust and neither are saints. There is a betrayal that made me lose all sympathy for one of the characters but it is also the kind of betrayal you see too much in the occult community.

I wish I could tell you about the ending but much like the ritual they perform in the movie, it is best seen after you put in the work of watching the movie.

Aug 282017
 

In this episode of Blood Drive, the Gentleman becomes the new Master of Mayhem while Slink is demoted to janitor. The Gentlemen proceeds to over-compensate by blowing up three unnamed drivers and then trying to hold a management meeting where he emphasizes having class as well as sadism. He also gives Grace and Arthur a hard time and is annoyed to discover he just can’t murder people who are not actively racing. We are also treated to the most awkward seduction attempt of all time as Arthur tries to seduce the Gentleman so Grace can steal the control box.

Meanwhile, Slink lurks around corporate headquarters somehow managing to upstage executives while wearing a janitor’s outfit. He stabs my favorite corporate executive in the cafeteria showing once more that Heart Enterprises has a very slack employee-on-employee violence policy. Slink quickly tricks Tortured Cop into doing something stupid like opening a vault door while on camera because hey, Tortured Cop wouldn’t be Tortured Cop if he wasn’t so gullible.

Speaking of Tortured Cop, he has a subplot where he discovers that Evil Robot Woman is also fucking his former Cop Boss who I had totally forgotten about. He kills Cop Boss and Aki helps him get away with it. Is the cold robot having feelings? Probably!

Inside the Vault is a terrible monster with the best origin story ever. Dr. Vermaak, heart’s mad scientist, put all the nasty chemicals he had on hand, put them in one beaker and planned to inject it into a test subject. Before he could do that, he got startled and spilled the crap in the face of the test subject who became a Brute or Hulk depending on your mythology. A Brute that is traumatically susceptible to freaking out when something wet gets on his face.

The Brute is teleported to the Blood Drive where he fucks shit up. The Gentleman begs Grace and Arthur to stop it and they sure try in an awesome fight sequence between two heroes and an unstoppable muscle machine. My favorite part of the fight is when they slam a giant blade inside the monster who then later SHITS IT OUT of his body.

The Blood Drive executives are pissed that the Brute is killing the Blood Drive and Slink offers to fix it. They know he caused it but have no choice but to put him back in charge. Slink then uses the Gentleman’s own car to ram the Brute and after popping the hood, Grace and Barbie are able to feed the monster to the engine. Problem solved!

Oh wait, there is still the matter of the Gentleman vs Slink. Slink put it best when he said, “Oh please. You can’t out-dandy me!” As Slink whips the Gentleman’s ass, Slink also brags about how he manipulated everyone into the Blood drive with years of planning and secret scheming. That scheming includes getting Grace’s sister committed to Grace would do the Blood Drive, which I really would not have done in front of Grace. Oops!

The Gentleman ends up blowing his own head off thanks to some sabotage from the Scholar and one of the Blood Drive’s best characters comes to an end. Oh well, at least we keep the Scholar who might be the show’s most sympathetic character.

Stray thoughts,

At one point, the Heart CEO gives this speech.

“This race is the greatest sacrifice in human history. It’s a blood-stained altar. The gore-soaked peak of a Mayan temple. The smoke from an erupting volcano on Mount Olympus. And that pleasing aroma is not for a god, it’s for Heart Enterprises, the most powerful corporation in the known universe.”

Now maybe I am still buzzing from American Gods but this reinforces my idea that Heart gets their power from a supernatural source. There is a dark god in that Gap and he wants sacrifices.

Grace and Arthur’s battle with the Brute was awesome mostly because it was something happening in the background and off-screen while more important shit was happening on screen. Most shows would have made the Brute fight the centerpiece of the show but Blood Drive saved that for Slink vs the Gentleman.

It looks like Tortured cop and Evil Robot Woman might become a couple which would be my favorite wicked romance in a long time.

 

 

Jul 032017
 

Blood Drive is a television series on the SyFy channel. It is set in the far dystopian future of 1999 where everything has turned to shit and gas is now 1000$ a gallon. There are food shortages, gas shortages and a helluva morality shortage but one thing there is not a shortage of is blood because every time someone dies, there is a geyser of that stuff.

The plot of the first episode is that a super hot goody two-shoes male cop is forced to team up with a super hot not-so-good female driver in a deadly race across country where all of the cars run on blood instead of gasoline. It is an illegal race run by Julian Slink for a group of lowlifes that also seem to crop up in apocalypses. The prize is ten million dollars but at the end of every day, the last person to cross the finish line gets their heads blown off by bombs implanted in their heads. Carnage and hilarity ensues.

It is an interesting show. When Rodriguez and Tarantino did their Grindhouse Double Feature, I thought they were ushering in a new wave of genre movies. I thought that as an audience, we were smart enough and at the same time, hungry for a sort of pseduo-grindhouse style where we embrace the crazy spectacle and mock the stupidity of the genre while still creating material that would fit in the genre. It was a big inspiration for my own novel, Pusse’ and Cox and I patiently waited for the rest of the world to do the same. Other than Hobo with a Shotgun, and a few other movies, it didn’t really happen. The closest we got was Jack Shear’s excellent Planet Terror, the RPG.

Now here we are, ten years later and we have one of the true inheritors of Rodriquez and Tarantino’s vision. The plot is stupid but gloriously entertaining. The references to previous genre movies are as endless as they were in Planet Terror or Death Proof. The characters are ridiculously hot and instead of indulging in will-they or won’t-they, the two main characters fuck in the first episode to save their lives. This is a show that knows what their audience wants and it gives it to them in bucket loads of blood, gore and sex.

Having said that, I had a small problem with the show. The cars need blood to drive so all of the racers are looking for victims to kill. At one point, a car full of smiling cheerleaders gets hijacked. It was disconcerting as a viewer to watch the cheerleaders tied up, crying and screaming. The cop stops it but you know, I was taken a bit out of the show. Up until this point, with the exception of the cop, we had seen only really nasty people in a nasty world. Even the cop’s police force maintains a quota of teeth that they beat out of citizens.  It is easier to accept gore and violence when you accept that everyone is a piece of shit anyway and probably deserve what they get. The cheerleaders break that concept and get me distracted thinking about to really deserves to get fed into a hungry engine rather than sitting back and enjoying the violence.

Funny enough, I am three episodes in and a similar situation has yet to happen again. I hope the show runners learned from that.

Stray thoughts,

ContraCrime, the police force owned by a corporation has as their motto, “We kill because we care.” Fuck, that is pretty much our police in the real world, isn’t it?

Julian Slink runs the race and I didn’t say much about him because you really have to see him to appreciate how awesome he is. He has the pacing of a DJ, the humor of a horror host and the menace of a promotion broker who really just wants to make some money this time.  he is played by the amazing Colin Cummingham and he is a delight in every scene.

How weird is this world? We got engines that look like something out of Hellraiser drinking blood, androids posing as people, a Murderous Clown driver, cops who carry computers that instantly assess crime penalties and pulse bombs in the back of your necks.

Did I mention how ridiculously sexy everyone is? Christ, even the male cop is supernaturally sexy.