Nov 192018
 

In the last Phantasm movie, Mike and Psychic Girl were ripped out of the backseat of a hearse even though the Tall Man was absolutely, positively, no way out of this dead.  The third movie picks up with the Tall Man stepping out of a portal and walking past his corpse. What? How is that possible? Forget thinking about it reader, this is Phantasm.

The movie cuts to Mike and Psychic Girl getting ripped out of the hearse. Mike, now played by his original actor, wakes up and oops, Psychic Girl is dead and has her head chopped off. Tall Man is coming for Mike but Reggie, the world’s greatest ice cream vendor, saves him. Mike then slips into a coma. Two years pass with Mike in a coma.

Okay, bear with me because this is things get weird, even for a Phantasm movie. While in a coma, Mike is visited by the ghost of his brother Jody. Jody helps Mike snap out of his coma just in time to fight off a evil maybe-possessed nurse. Once Mike is awake, he finds out his brother’s brain was placed inside one of the killer spheres. Yes, the secret ingedient for making a cool killer sphere is human brains. Jody broke free of his control and is now helping Mike!

Right until Mike gets kidnapped. Sigh.

Now Reggie has to go save Mike, again. Along the way, he picks up a small child who is the last survivor of his town, and incidentally, a crack shot with a pistol. Reggie also picks up a kick-ass black woman who was in the Army and wields nunchucks. Tagging along with this insane group is Jody, the renegade-now-good-guy killer sphere.

If Phantasm was a dream and Phantasm II was an 80’s action movie, then Phantasm III is a tabletop role-playing group. The guy playing Reggie refuses to roll a new character, there is the guy who min-maxes so he has the best fighter but his disadvantage is that he is a child, there is the woman playing her tough woman character from a streetfight game, and finally, you have the one player who insists on breaking the theme of simple humans against dark forces and wants to play a dark force-turned-good.

 

And you know what? It is fucking glorious. It doesn’t matter how many players or characters there are, the Tall Man is still awesome and they just gives him more people to fuck up.

there is a big climatic battle and we find out the secret to his immortality: the fucker is just a meat puppet for the killer sphere inside his head! Creepy! You gotta kill the sphere if you want to kill the evil man.

Oh, and Mike is just a killer sphere inside a body too. What? How? Why? This changes everything, maybe? I feel like I have been Phantasmed.

So the gang kills the Tall Man and his sphere for good this time. The cool woman decides to leave the party before the Phantasm tradition of the heroes getting fucked at the end of the movie and good for her. That player has been paying attention. Mike leaves too, probably to wonder the earth, visiting town after town and solving their problems but then moving on because of his dark secret.

What about Reggie and Kid Shooter? Well, Reggie gets swarmed by like a hundred killer spheres. Turns out the Tall Man has been busy. Kid Shooter tries to save him but then the Tall Man FUCKING APPEARS EVEN THOUGH THAT BASTARD SHOULD BE DEAD FOR REAL THIS TIME. Before Kid Shooter can complain to the gamemaster, Jawas grab him from behind and pull him through a door.

Sorry Kid Shooter, you should know better than have your back against anything in a Phantasm movie.

Oct 312018
 

Haunting on Hill House is a tight ten episode series on Netflix about a doomed family who once lived in a very doomed house. The series is split between the past, when the family used to live in the haunted house, and the present, where the surviving members of the family try to deal with the PTSD of their experiences. They are pretty haunted.

Haunted house stories follow a set pattern. There is the naive family who has no idea what is going on, followed by creepy incidents until everyone realizes they are haunted, which usually leads to some investigations into the history of the house and ends with the collective decision to somehow fight the ghosts. The flashback style of the show short-circuits most of that. There never is an investigation phase for one thing.  For most of the series, half the characters never realize there are ghosts. There is still a fight with ghosts at the end, but the rest of the series breaks all the usual patterns to present a unique kind of ghost story.

Well, maybe not that unique. The director, Mike Flanagan, got his start with Absentia. If you ever saw that soul crusher of a movie, then you are moderately prepared for Haunting of Hill House.  See, there might be supernatural weirdness and ghosts in both stories but the real horror is grief and how we deal with it. Flanagan uses Hill House to tell the story of each family member dealing with the death of the beloved mother. One resorts to drugs, one uses major denial and fictionalizing the events, one uses meaningless relationships, one turns to controlling her life and family and the other, well, the other is still dealing with a ghost that keeps harassing her at the worse moments of her life, but you get the idea.

But I don’t want to give you the feeling that this is all sorrow and woe. There is a lot of really creepy ghost shit. There is not a single jump scare as it uses slowly creeping dread to make sure you are afraid to walk down a dark hallway alone.

There is also a lot of strength. These characters have gone through Hell, and those who fight are some of the most inspiring characters you will see in a ghost story. Once you understand how truly fucked these characters are, every triumph they accomplish is just that much more amazing.

I can safely say that Haunting of Hill House has been the highlight of this October. Creepy, smart and infused with real emotion, it is all the best that horror can be.

Oct 232018
 

Halloween is a strange franchise. The first movie is arguably the greatest slasher movie of all time. The sequels however, are among some of the worse in movie franchise history. There have been attempts to recreate the magic of the first movie by bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis a few times, but rarely do those movies work. Rob Zombie tried rebooting the franchise in typical Rob Zombie style, to debatable success. Now we have Halloween 2018, a movie which is a direct sequel to the first and ignores 40 years of sequel history.

To my great delight, it works. I would say this movie is as good as the original, which is something I never thought I would be saying. Maybe it is John Carpenter’s new music which makes the movie feel so sinister, or maybe it is Jamie Lee Curtis’s involvement as a producer which gets the important parts right, but whatever the reason, the movie is fun, scary and chilling.

One element that worked for me is Jamie Lee’s character of Laurie. Ever since Terminator 2, we as audiences have been taught that if a woman survives a killer than she transforms into a bad ass in later movies. That’s cool and I am all for it, in this movie, Laurie comes across as a bad ass AND someone deeply traumatized by what she went through. Sure, she shoots guns, trains in fighting and has a secret bunker but she also has shaking fits when she sees Michael and breaks into tears during confrontations. Every cool thing she does to fight back is made ten times more impressive by the fact that you know Laurie is scared shitless doing it. That’s a powerful detail that resonates with me, and is true of most trauma survivors I know in real life.

Another element I enjoyed was the obsession some characters had with finding out what makes Michael Myers tick. These characters are fixated on the fact Michael has never spoken or explained his actions. They pester Michael and other characters to provide clues for Michael’s psyche, as if there can be some great rational theory that explains everything. This quest for answers is a human thing to do, but it is also a movie audience thing to do, as the audience craves anwsers. Studios crave anwsers too, which is why we get reboots with extended scenes about Michael’s childhood.

But the theme of Halloween almost anti-intellectual. Laurie, the heroine, and the late Dr. Loomis, the therapist who knew Michael best, simply state that there is no understanding of Michael because he is pure evil. It is a the opposite of everything we are taught in a world that puts psychological forensic science on a pedestal.  It is also against out forgiving nature to think that every bad person has a reason. The idea that some people are just monsters is too frightening to comprehend. The movie even takes time to wipe out the theories put in past movies that Laurie is related to Michael. They want to make it clear that Michael has no reason, rational or irrational, for hunting Laurie.

As for the rest of the movie, I really enjoyed it. Michael, who is really just a bastard in a mask, is terrifyingly efficient in this movie. He is like a shark that finds a deadly object, then finds someone to use that object on, and then looks for a new toy and a new victim. Rinse, wash, repeat. Sometimes he mutilates the bodies and poses them in Halloween theme displays. Why? Who the fucks knows.

So you should go out and watch the movie in theaters while you can. After you do so, be sure to pick up the soundtrack so you can never rest easy in your house again.

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.