Monday, October 16, 2017

Who's the Winonyaest of Them All?

Amazon Prime may have been slow to the streaming game, but BOY are they currently doing wonders for horror fans with questionable taste!

Quick Plot: Megan is an LA goth kid whose Beetlejuice-Era-Winonya-Ryder-Meets-Madonna-With-Hints-of-Boy-George style isn't exactly embraced in her new suburban high school. Only Nikki, a friendly overachiever with a horny boyfriend and a Tracy Flick-ish ambition to be school president, makes an effort to befriend the city girl. They quickly bond over a shared nemesis-ship with the school's reigning mean girls, although Megan becomes distracted quickly by something far more sinister at home.

With daffy widowed mom Karen Black too busy trying to find a husband, Megan bonds with the antique full-length mirror that had been left behind in her new room. The relationship intensifies when the lonely goth girl discovers the mirror can help her wreak vengeance on her enemies in especially creative ways.

Directed by Marina Sargenti (who like most female filmmakers, went on to primarily work in television), Mirror Mirror seems to be collecting all of the leftover, soon-to-be-expired goofiness of '80s horror before the world was willing to admit that 1990 was a new decade. As slashers and supernatural scares slowly faded from the big screen before being uprooted by post-Scream slickness, movies with the kind of goofy gore like Mirror Mirror would become an endangered species whose only refuge was Blockbuster shelves.

Mirror/Mirror is far from being an original tale. Rainbow Harvest's Megan could not look more like the costume department camped outside of Tim Burton's dumpster in the hopes of finding some scraps of Lydia Deetz that they could spin into their lead's ensemble, and the popular queen bees feel ripped off any high school assembly line. At the same time, this is a movie that includes a scene where ditzy Karen Black tries to charm the pet cemetery dead animal retriever (played by William Sanderson, no less) with a romantic home dinner while fending off an fly infestation caused by an evil mirror. 

And hey, that's not even the best scene IN this film! Among other moments of joy, we get a jock being eaten by said evil mirror, the film's popular villain being burned in an evil mirror-induced shower, and Ned Ryerson being doodled to near death (see note below; it makes perfect sense, trust me). Mirror Mirror is never scary, but it's fun in a way that somehow manages to balance today's camp with an earnestness of its time.

High Points
Something I appreciated about Mirror/Mirror is how Meghan, despite being our main character, is kind of a jerk. Yes, we feel bad for her and hate the Heathers who immediately mark her as a social target, but while she may be lonely and sympathetic, she has a somewhat complicated mean streak of her own, cruelly ignoring her mother's feelings when her dogs turn up dead and savoring her newfound murderous power without much regret. Nikki is the moral heart of the film (and an incredibly pleasant one at that), but I simply found it interesting to center a fairly formulaic horror film on a more-complicated-than-usual character. 

Low Points
I suppose I could have taken a clearer commitment to tone, since the film never fully decides whether it's tongue is in its cheek or not

Lessons Learned
If your friends are dropping dead around you, be sure to make yourself the best sandwich in the world, just in case it ends up being your last meal

Psychiatrists are VERY Beverly Hills

Putting your hand down a garbage disposal is a choice you make only if you have no affection whatsoever for the hand that will inevitably be destroyed by said garbage disposal

In world before online dating, one could always count on pet cemeteries as a great way to meet a potential partner

Look! It's - 
Stephen Tobolowsky, in the very typical Stephen Tobolwsky role of a square teacher who gets his comeuppance via angry voodoo teenage girl doodling

And Look CLOSE! It's- 
Kristin Dattilo, a name that excites that very small but enthusiastic audience segment who knows Days of Our Lives' Lucas Robert-Horton's real-life sister/the chick who played the single teenage mom Brandon Walsh dated briefly in Season 1 of Beverly Hills 90210 when they see her!

Mirror Mirror isn't a particularly good movie, but it's incredibly fun and EXTREMELY of its time in the best possible way. Like most films streaming on Amazon Prime, it looks like someone dropped the print in water and dried it out on a clothesline, but I think most horror fans will still find themselves enjoying its charms. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

I Hope I Get It

I don't exactly know why it's taken me so long to get around to 1983's Curtains. While it's never had a hugely positive reputation, it DOES have a doll, mannequins, interpretive dance, Samantha Eggar, and, most importantly, figure skating. If that's not a movie made for Emily Intravia, then frankly, I just don't know who I am anymore.

Quick Plot: Director Jonathon Stryker (John Vernon) is attempting to mount production on Audra, a drama about a woman going insane. Film star Samantha Sherwood (the always great Eggar) is set to star and decides to undergo intense research by posing as a madwoman, going undercover and living in a mental asylum to prepare. It's method acting to the extreme, and apparently, a little too much for what Stryker wants from his leading lady.

Some time later, Stryker decides to recast his leading lady via a weekend audition session with six young contenders. Included in the group is Brooke, a seasoned pro, Christie, a figure skater(!!!!!), Patti, a comedian, Laurian, a dancer, Tara, a musician, and Amanda, who is stabbed to death before she gets the chance to reveal her trade for the talent show. 

Thankfully for all, Samantha has managed to escape from the asylum just in time to join the Survivor-meets-A Chorus Line-esque audition weekend. Naturally, the other applicants are slowly picked off, all seemingly by a multitalented masked figure. 

I didn't know much about the behind-the-scenes (or curtains) happenings involved in Curtains at first, so my initial reaction was that this film was an enjoyable mess. Some sequences are weirdly wonderful--figure skating death because OBVIOUSLY, but also a decent stalking scene and some of the drama surrounding the genuinely good and magnetic Samantha Eggar--but throughout the film, there's a lack of focus that hurts the overall effect. Too many of the young females are shortchanged in their characterization, leading me to miscount who was left and to watch one of the final girls wondering who she actually was. 

Turns out, of COURSE Curtains was a mess because that's what happens when your director walks off the set, your producer finishes shooting over the course of a few years, various cast and crew members are replaced, and rewrites abound in a way that changes your story and tone. 

So yes, Curtains is an incredibly flawed and sometimes dull film. Thankfully, it's also weird enough to justify its place on the lower tier of Canadian cult classics. This is a movie that involves death via interpretive dance. If that doesn't excite you, we simply run in different circles.

High Points
She may not have loved the material, but Samantha Eggar gives a genuinely interesting performance that helps to elevate the overall film

Low Points
Aside from Lynne Griffin, the rest of the younger female characters simply don't get enough time to stand out as individuals, making it hard to be invested in any of the tension as the numbers go down

Lessons Learned
All's fair in love and auditions

To best keep pepperoni hot, stick it to your butt

You might be an insecure figure skater because you haven't made it to the Olympics, but any gal who can tie her shoelaces while wearing fuzzy gloves should win a gold medal for something

Curtains is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and while it's not quite a lost gem of '80s cinema, it is unique enough to warrant a watch if you've never done so. You won't get nearly as much figure skating as you should, but isn't that always the case?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Come Geek With Me

GUYS! I'm doing a thing. A LIVE thing, 

For those East Coasters, come to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY, next Friday (THE THIRTEENTH!) for Kevin Geeks Out, a bimonthly variety show of sorts for the fun-loving nerd in us all. Most specifically, the Stephen King loving nerd that resides in your inner bully, rock 'n roll star, religious zealot, psychic kid, or whatever vessel you hide under your blue overalls. 

I'll be diving deep into Mick Garris's 1994 television adaptation of The Stand, one of the most gloriously '90s and awkwardly weird pieces of modern history. Put on your best Canadian tuxedo and join the fun!

M-O-O-N, that spells I hope to see you soon. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Urband Scream What You Did Last Summer Legend

A teen slasher that includes urban legends AND a cat fake-out? Innovation was a BIG thing in the late ‘90s.

Quick Plot: It's a poorly lit night on Lovers (Lovers', right?) Lane when two teenagers' front seat lovemaking is rudely interrupted by an escaped mental patient with a hook hand cutting up the couple in a nearby car. In a shocking twist, the victims aren't horny high schoolers but the wife of the town sheriff (and mother to 4-year-old Mandy) and the husband of the school principal (and dad to Michael). 

You'd think that this would be scandalous, but somehow this small town seems to bury the crime from everyone but Mandy, who saw the messy cleanup. As far as the rest of the town knows, Michael's dad died of a heart attack and since the hook dude was returned to his asylum (conveniently run by Mandy's creepy-and-not-at-all-suspicious Uncle Jack), nobody ever seemed to realize that a brutal urban legend-worthy double homicide took place so close. 

Thirteen years later, Mandy is a nerdy high school senior who reads J.D. Salinger while Michael is the BMOC with a blond queen bee of a girlfriend named Chloe (who we at some point find out is Uncle Jack's daughter and therefore Mandy's cousin; there are apparently all of 19 people living in this entire town). With a Valentine's Day kegger scheduled for the evening, new girl in town and on the cheerleader squad Janelle (seconds-before-Scary-Movie Anna Faris) sets her sights on Michael, who has just dumped the bitter Chloe. 

A few more poorly lit teenagers team up for a night on the titular street  unaware that the hook-handed murderer has escaped and is on the prowl. What follows is a fairly straightforward, SUPER poorly lit slasher that gets some minor redemption with the oh-so-Scream-worthy reveal of its twist.

Lovers(‘) Lane is not a good movie. The story has been told a dozen times before, the tension is as tight as a sweater three sizes too large, and the murders are fairly uninspired. That being said, Lovers(‘) Lane is also one of THE most ‘90s movies I’ve seen in some time, and for purely nostalgic, very stupid reasons, that makes it slightly better than it should be. 

Just take a look:

Oversized shirt with a single big vertical stripe, modified mushroom cut, hemp choker, and baggy jeans for the boys. Boyfriend's letterman jacket and baby barrettes for the girls. This is a movie that seems to include a pig sighting purely for the purpose of having its characters reference Babe. Mind you, this in no way improves the quality of Lovers(‘) Lane. It merely makes it weirdly enjoyable for someone who graduated with the class of 2000.

High Points
I love a good mean girl, and Sarah Lancaster’s Chloe gets to have some sneering fun with the occasional bitchy insult

Low Points
Look, I get that director Jon Ward wasn’t given buckets of money to make this movie, but considering how much he saved on his female characters’ bra budget, would it have killed him to invest a little more in lighting his film so we could, you know, see it?

Lessons Learned
The rules of Lovers(') Lane states that only one partner can ever hear anything suspicious happening outside of the parked car

The majority of teen-related car accidents happen because everybody inside the car is screaming and flailing to dangerous levels of chaos at once

Unless you’re wearing some form of facial armor, do your best to avoid hunting down your fellow classmates during yearbook photo season

The Winning Line
"I wish I was her daddy so I could spank her when she got home."
Spoken by a representative of law enforcement. Um.


Lovers(‘) Lane is near the bottom of the barrel of Scream ripoffs,  but if the idea of that barrel smelling like Surge and CK1 excites you, then hey, why not kill 90 minutes via Amazon Prime?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dyin' to the Oldies

A supernatural slasher is still a slasher, but when you make it in 1989 and set it in the most 1989 gym that has ever 1989'd, you've got something very, very special. 

Quick Plot: After practicing her dance routine in an empty workout studio, a young woman named Laura is nearly steam roomed to death (or nearly dissolved to death like an alka setlzer, in the words of the very professional LAPD). Odd accidents continue to follow for a full week, ranging from the mild (a hot shower that doesn't relent) to fatal (a muscle man being weight lifted to death by a malfunctioning machine). 

Something is clearly amiss at Starbody Health Spa, a trendy gym whose main selling point is how it integrates technology into the equipment. Lording over the control room is the creepy David, a tech wiz who just so happens to be twin brother of the late Catherine, wife of Starbody owner Michael.

So what became of Catherine, you ask? After pregnancy complications, Catherine lost her baby and became paralyzed from the waist down. With her husband surrounded by a gaggle of young aerobicizers, she went mad, wheeling herself outside and committing suicide via fire. Michael recovered from his loss, moving on to Laura...much to the chagrin of the increasingly hostile David.

Now several unexplained deaths into a regular week at Sarbody, is David using his programming skills to destroy Michael's spa? Is it Michael's lawyer and shady co-owner? Friendly manager Ken Foree? Friendly manager Ken Foree's amazing rainbow blazer?

More likely, it's the spirit of Catherine possessing David, urging him to slaughter gym members in increasingly creative ways. How creative, you ask? Aside from aforementioned benchpress-to-death and steam-room-to-death, there's the inevitable tanning bad meltdown, mirror explosion, power smoothie blender malfunction, and my personal favorite, food-obsessed-chubby-detective-being-locked-in-walk-in-refrigerator-fooded to death. 

Death Spa is basically Carrie if Carrie was a gym member and William Katt wore neon. It's everything you ask for from a horror movie made in the late '80s, but somehow with even more hairspray and joy. It is a beautiful thing.

High Points
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better source for fashion tips than EVERYTHING WORN BY EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE

Low Points
My own personal gym phobia is the nightmare of being stuck on a treadmill that won't stop moving, so I was mildly disappointed not to see someone be jogged to death

Lessons Learned
Never lift without a spotter

Hacking means experimenting with computer programs

When leaving the house to confront your backstabbing partner and lawyer, make a statement by wearing your Macguyver jacket without a shirt

Death Spa is a terribly wonderful movie. It's more '80s than your acid washed brain can fathom, and more ridiculous than you can dream a little dream. Crack open a can of TAB, line up your cocaine, and queue it up on Amazon Prime for one fun night.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eat Me

Font choice is not something one should ever take lightly. Consider the prologue of Souleater, which opens in the past with subtitles overloaded with serif, leading me to try to figure out if "beavy" meant something different in the 13th century. 

Quick Plot: Welcome to Bixby, home of Tucker's Motel, a diner, and a house in the woods that contains a souleater. Put that on your postcard and mail it.

If you're like me, you may very well hear "souleater" and think "sin eater" and be taken back to The Order, a film with better font choices but far less energy than today's feature. If you recall, a "sin eater" is a handsome centuries old cursed Catholic who helps sinners get into heaven via a side door that opens with sin eating. A souleater (one word, apparently) just eats souls.

On hand to fight the souleater is weathered priest Father Dolan and his protégé, Spencer. The pair teams up with the local po-lice (including the film's big name grab, Peter Hooten) and Demon and Pike, a pair of grizzled bikers looking for Pike's soul-teasing daughter. There's TRON-esque night vision, mild CGI (that in fairness, makes The Order look even worse), and when in doubt, zombies.

Directed, co-produced, co-written, edited, sound edited, and title designed by Michael Lang, Souleater is, without question, an indie horror film. It doesn't look great, it doesn't sound great, and nobody will be having nightmares after it's over. That being said, it's clearly made with heart and enthusiasm by all involved. The actors aren't going to show up on the list of Oscar nominees anytime soon, but nobody is phoning anything in. That's something.

I can't say Souleater is a good film by most measures, but in its very specific realm of micro-budgeted horror, I can't say it isn't more watchable than a lot of what's out there in bargain bins. 

High Points
I wouldn't be surprised if it was simply a case of casting convenience, but it's always refreshing to see a cast primarily made up of actors on the other side of middle age

Low Points
I could quibble with the dialogue and performances all I want, but at the end of the day, what really gave me the most pain with Souleater was its damned font decisions

Lessons Learned
Priests are second only to rock stars when it comes to leaving a motel room in ruins

The key to impressing a small town Florida deputy is to demonstrate a modicum of skill level with chopsticks

People just won't take you very seriously if your first name is Demon

Never hit a lady in front of bikers

If you enjoy slightly-more-professional-than-homemade horror movies, then Souleater can go on your Amazon Prime watchlist. Personally, I don't have much of a palette for this level of film in my grumpy old age, but I can certainly acknowledge there's still charm in DIY filmmaking for some genre audiences. If that's you, then have fun.