Trick (2019)

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By the narrowest of margins, I’m going to recommend Trick.

It was barely compelling enough for me to see it through, largely based on a gutsy performance by Omar Epps as FBI agent Mike Denver, a haunted man tracking a Halloween-masked serial killer.

Epps is the big fish in this cinematic small pond and acquits himself as a true professional, elevating a maxed-out-credit-card budget and a ponderous script to a level that is almost entirely serviceable.

Nutshell: Anonymous adolescent Patrick (“Trick”) Weaver (Thomas Niemann) becomes an internet celebrity after flipping his mask and stabbing a bunch of his classmates at a Halloween party. Despite being gutted by a fireplace poker, falling out a five-story window, and getting shot several times by Denver and Sheriff Jayne (Ellen Adair), Trick’s body is never found.

Coincidentally, teens in neighboring towns are similarly slaughtered on subsequent Halloweens, leading a determined Denver to ponder the possibility of a copycat killer—or one that’s seemingly returned from the grave.

Director and co-writer Patrick Lussier is an industry lifer with editing credits that date back to MacGyver in the late 1980s. It’s not surprising that Trick is competently crafted in terms of action and pace, and there’s more than enough blood and guts to pacify the psychos.

However, if you’re paying attention at all, there are plot holes aplenty, and when some characters we barely know reveal themselves to be key figures in a vast conspiracy, the effect is more confusing than clarifying.

Mostly what you get with Trick are familiar tropes stitched together in haphazard fashion, in the hope that genre fans will recognize and appreciate a modest tribute.

 

Satanic Panic (2019)

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In search of diversion, I stumbled upon Satanic Panic, a spirited romp about a pizza delivery driver named Sam (Hayley Griffith) who just wants a lousy tip from a bunch of hungry devil worshippers and their curvaceous cult leader, Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn).

It’s her first day on the job and she needs money to put gas in her scooter. In addition to fast-paced mayhem, Satanic Panic is very much a movie about class struggle, as dirt-poor Sam must avoid becoming a sacrifice to Baphomet (what a lousy time to be a virgin!) while trying to collect a few measly bucks from weird rich people in a gated community.

Billed as a horror/comedy, Satanic Panic is a hugely entertaining bootstrap operation driven by the same delirious spirit of amateurism that inspired Sam Raimi and friends to set up shop in the woods. Who knew that there were so many monsters, demons, witches, perverts, and sacrificial summonings behind closed doors in such a good neighborhood?

Director Chelsea Stardust and writers Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghagen (Mohawk), successfully walk a watchable line between wigged out Grand Guignol excess (reminiscent of the late Stuart Gordon), and the basic narrative about how Sam is a wage slave trapped in a bourgeois hell.

Will Sam find the fortitude to fight back and overthrow her oppressors? Hey, she’s a working-class hero delivering pizza for a living! Of course she does!

And what’s with this no tipping bullshit?

 

One Cut of the Dead (2017)

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If you made a Christmas wish for an undead version of Truffaut’s Day For Night, I have some wonderful news. Writer-director Shinichiro Ueda pulls off multilevel moves on a micro budget in One Cut of the Dead, a riotous ride about the joy and terror of no-frills filmmaking, and the question every horror director asks themselves during a production: Do we have enough fake blood?

A small Japanese film crew sets up in an abandoned munitions factory as a location for a slap-dash feature for cable channel Zombie TV. The tyrannical director (Takayuki Hamatsu) wants real fear from his star-crossed leads, Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) and teen heartthrob Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya). This motivational tactic comes to fruition when the little troop faces an undead ambush.

Unfortunately for the young actors, the director has apparently joined the other side in his pursuit of cinematic excellence, and the director’s wife (Harumi Shahama), who serves as company den mother, no longer trusts anyone—and she’s got an axe.

While the single-cut, running hand-held camera splatterfest is the main course in One Cut of the Dead, the backstory of how the plucky crew successfully pulls off a nearly impossible realtime shoot is funny and frantically paced, and gives one a deep appreciation of frugal artists on a deadline.

During filming, the one-shot restriction requires actors to nervously ad-lib entire scenes and take inexplicable pauses in the action to await the arrival of makeup and effects people to throw more blood and body parts on the scene. But the show must (and does) go on. Somehow.

Lovers of quality cheese will be pleased and gore hounds will howl.

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Count me among those who thought A Quiet Place was an adaptation of the excellent Tim Lebbon novel, The Silence. The similarities are many, but chief among them is that both stories take place after the world has been decimated by blind, winged predators that attack sounds.

Furthermore, in each case the plot revolves around a family with a hearing impaired daughter, who have managed to stay alive due to their mastery of sign language. Coincidence? I hope Lebbon got paid for his trouble.

Real-life couple John Krasinski (who also directs and co-wrote the script) and Emily Blunt, star as Lee and Evelyn Abbott, the parents of three, whoops, make that two kids, who live the quiet life on several rural acres.

Perhaps not thinking far enough ahead, Lee and Evelyn conceive another baby, which, as we all know, never make any noise. If you can get passed this rather obvious lapse in logic, then you should remain emotionally invested enough to make it through the entire movie, as Mom and Dad heroically protect their offspring from flying terrors that look like gargoyles imagined by H.P. Lovecraft.

The Abbott clan’s desperate need to remain stone silent under any circumstances (including childbirth and stepping on a goddamn nail) keeps the stress level near the tipping point. And then it spills over into the audience where it belongs.

As the title suggests, the biggest change of pace happening here horror-wise, is the lack of not only dialogue, but sounds in general. A Quiet Place exists in an enviably noise-free environment, where children are encouraged to play the Quiet Game on a full-time basis, lest they become lunch.

 

 

 

 

Crawl (2019)

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Treated myself to a new movie from Amazon, and settled on Crawl, the turbid tale of Haley, a dutiful daughter (Kaya Scodelario), who drives into the heart of a Florida hurricane to rescue her injured dad (Barry Pepper).

Complication One: Dad’s trapped in the cellar of their family home and it’s rapidly filling up with water.

Complication Two: The rising floodwaters are teeming with bloodthirsty alligators.

This is not an intricate narrative, and director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes) wisely keeps the focus on what’s going to pop out of the water next. There is some obligatory backstory about the bond between father and daughter, forged while the the latter trained to be a competitive swimming champion, but it’s just enough to make the audience understand that Haley has a fighting chance against the gators.

As the waters rise, Aja tightens the screws to the point where one can’t help shouting out words of encouragement to Haley and her pop, such as, “Get out of there, dummy!” or “Stop thinking about old swim meets and haul ass!”

There’s not much dialogue in Crawl. Seriously, the script is probably like 10 pages long, and both Scodelario and Pepper play their parts to the hilt while submerged in bloody water. Ultimately, the movie succeeds because Aja never allows us the leisure time to get bored with their plight.

It’s one crisis after another, and they’re usually hungry.

Bad Moon (1996)

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Werewolves, like mummies, have been relegated to second-tier movie monsters, no question. Just ask Benicio Del Toro.

On the other hand, there are fantastic werewolf movies, that any cinephile worth their silver bullets should pay rapt attention to this Halloween season. Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis’ American Werewolf In London (both released in 1981) are two crucial examples. If you haven’t had the hair-raising pleasure, get on them before the wolfsbane blooms. Chop, chop!

Since lycanthropes get little love from the critics, I’m going to point you in the direction of something rare and valuable: a very watchable werewolf fable with a hero dog, called Bad Moon.

Written and directed by legendary weirdo Eric Red (screenwriter of The Hitcher and Near Dark, among others), the movie stars deadpan tough guy Michael Paré, who, once upon a time, was a somewhat bankable actor (Eddie and the Cruisers, 1983, Streets of Fire, 1984).

Here, Paré sinks his teeth into a meaty role as a cursed photojournalist visiting his widowed sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) in the wooded wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Unbeknownst to Janet and her son Brett (lovable towhead Mason Gamble), beloved Uncle Ted recently emerged from the jungle after a nasty scrape with a vicious lupine predator, and everyone around him is looking more like Today’s Special with each passing hour.

Fortunately, Thor (Primo), the family German Shepherd, isn’t fooled by this man who looks familiar but smells all wrong. I mean, come on, who goes jogging in the woods all night long?

And thus begins a very real pissing match between guardian and invader.

Other than one sex scene and a few moments of grisly flesh shredding, Bad Moon could be an old Disney film. There’s an inquisitive child, a virtuous mom, a sinister uncle, and a really brave dog.

I’m as surprised as anyone that I got so wrapped up in a boy-and-his-dog movie that I was legit cheering for the fearless canine to save Mom from the Big Bad Werewolf.

Michael Paré and Mariel Hemingway get top billing, but the dog steals the show, plain and simple.

Good boy, Thor.

 

Southbound (2015)

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The Allman Brothers were right. The road goes on forever—in hell!

With its parallel storylines laid out in nonlinear fashion, Southbound plays like a supernatural Pulp Fiction. Characters overlap briefly in a moment of transition, and the next tale of damnation/redemption begins, with narration by a lonesome DJ (Larry Fessenden), who functions as a sort of high desert Crypt Keeper on the road to nowhere.

“The Way In” and “They Way Out” are the bookend narratives that frame the action, as a pair of hit men (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Chad Villela) attempt to outrun their fates on an infernal stretch of highway that has no exits, no cell phone reception, and no hope.

An all-girl rock band tries to keep it together despite creative differences and being bewitched by wholesome cultists (led by Dana Gould), in “Siren.”

A distracted driver (David Bruckner) creams a woman in distress and calls 911 for help in “The Accident.” Sounds sensible, but who answers the phone?

An obsessed avenger (David Yow) searches for his sister in a small town populated by unfriendly folks.

For anyone who’s never seen an episode of The Twilight Zone, this might be a plot spoiler, but it becomes pretty obvious, pretty fast, that these events are taking place in the Netherworld.

Both the the highway itself and the little communities it serves are a perpetual purgatory where lost souls can relive the worst nights of their lives on a continuous loop.

Some characters develop self-awareness and accept life in limbo, finding it preferable to being torn apart by demons, as befalls anyone foolish enough to think there’s a way out through the desert.

Plot spolier #2. There isn’t.

The various segments are written and directed by an assortment of creatives, some more talented than others, but the overall entertainment value offered by Southbound is bountiful indeed. Yes, it’s worth the trip.

Added Value: Take a drink whenever a character says, “What the fuck?”

 

 

 

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