Monday, February 29, 2016

Sugar & Spice & Slaughter

Give a dame like me an evil child and you end up with one happy, happy dame. Give that happy happy dame an extra dose of William Katt and, well,

you get it.

Quick Plot: Jodi is a troubled 8-year-old who loves her toymaker daddy and little else. As you might guess, little Jody does not take kindly to anyone trying to get in between them. Considering Daddy is played by the luscious William Katt, you can almost understand her jealousy. 

No one is safe from Jody’s ire. Not her grandmother (Days of Our Lives matriarch Peggy McKay/Caroline Brady), who survives a near-Drano prune juice poisoning only to take a deadly tumble down the stairs. Not her social worker, who all-too-slowly starts to see the pattern of her Electra complex, and certainly not her mother's best friend/divorce attorney who happens to also be keen on lending advice that could drive Daddy away to a condo.

Jody doesn't quite have the charm of a Rhoda Penmark, but she's still a rather ridiculously over-the-top killer kid. With fire engine red hair that would make Chucky green with envy, little Gabrielle Boni gets to scrunch her face in fury and deliver stiff one-liners after each homicide with relish. It's a ridiculous performance from a ridiculous character in a ridiculous film. Naturally, I was thrilled.

Directed by Silent Night Deadly Night 5's Martin Kitrosser (more on that later), Daddy's Girl has the feel of a more daring Lifetime thriller. I can't seem to track down exactly what station it was made for (and IMDB doesn't give it the "TV Movie" tag, so it may have even been theatrical) but its quick 90 minute packaging leads me to believe this had to be seeking a televised audience, particularly since the violence doesn't come near a Bloody Birthday or Mikey. Even so, Daddy's Girl is a little meaner than your average No One Would Tell in just how relentless it goes about making its young antagonist. 

I am not complaining.

High Points
The score that plays over the opening credits might be the most aggressively ominous music to come out of the '90s. Bless you, Daddy's Girl

Low Points
I guess it would have been nice to have some actual resolution as to where the characters go from here, if you want to be all picky about it

Lessons Learned
Chekhov’s law of Drano states that anytime you start with a closeup of said plumbing product, you will most certainly have at least one attempted murder by said plumbing product

Murder is best rewarded with ice cream and soda

When parents get divorced, daddies move to Oregon

Director Trademark
Apparently, Martin Kitrosser is really interested in the men who design toys, at least if they're to be played by a savage Mickey Rooney or a smooth William Katt

Because You're Wondering...
First, the fantastic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt made it impossible to drink Pinot Noir without breaking into song. Now I realize they've done the same with Daddy's Boy: The Musical. Damn you Tina Fey!

Daddy's Girl is exactly the kind of movie I look for when programming The Shortening, and thusly does it make a fine closing on another great year. Like many that have come before it, Daddy's Girl is fun, not good, ridiculous, not scary, and memorable for mostly the wrong reasons. 

It's a winner.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rosemary's Less Interesting Baby

When making a horror movie in found footage stye, ask yourself a question:


I don’t mean that as an accusatory “found footage SUCKS!” declaration. I’ve liked and loved many a film made in that style, be it the powerful Megan Is Missing or the surprisingly fun The Visit. The subgenre itself is not a problem. The reasoning behind it, however, often is. 

Quick Plot: Sam and Zach McCall are an attractive and madly in love young couple enjoying their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. On their last night there, they visit a shady palm reader who sees doom and death in Sam’s future. 

As all palm readers in horror movies do.

The McCalls hail a cab driven by a friendly and eager local who convinces them to hit one last nightclub before they go home. Naturally, said trip is a setup to get the couple wasted enough that a satanic cult can impregnate Sam with an evil spawn. 

Like I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know. Have you READ a travel book?

Back home, Sam and Zach are excited to welcome the new addition to their first. It doesn’t take long for the vegetarian mom-to-be to start craving raw meat, getting massive nose bleeds, and causing her priest to have a demonic stroke in the middle of communion.

Thankfully, Zach has been documenting the entire process because like most of the young men starring in horror movies made during the 21st century, Zach really likes to hold a camera, record hundreds of hours of footage, and never watch a single frame. When he finally sits down to show his friends what his camera has caught, the footage disappears.

So I ask you: why the hell was this made as a found footage film?

In general, found footage is a choice that’s typically used to put the main characters closer to the point of view of the audience. You can shake your camera all you want if your viewers are fully in place. Other films, such as Meadowoods, might use the gimmick just because it works better with capturing a certain aspect of its characters or story.

Then there’s Devil’s Due.

I’d like to cite an IMDB trivia tidbit that might explain some of my bafflement with this movie:

The decision was made by the filmmakers to move the movie away from the previous "found footage" tropes (such as the use of a framing device, a linear narrative and a non-recognizable cast) and into a story "told through cameras that exist in the world of the characters" much like Chronicle. This is demonstrated throughout, including the deliberate absence of a framing device, the use of an animated opening quote, a recognizable cast, a non-chronological narrative structure and a final music cue that is playing in the taxi becomes the end-credits song.

So. We’re going to make our movie in found footage style, but we’re not going to make it that way for any reason whatsoever. We’re going to ask our audience to watch a movie heavy with shaky cam antics because, well, we’re doing something different. We’re going to throw alternate viewpoints that couldn’t possibly come from any recording device during or big finale because, well, we’re not following the rules of found footage so we don’t have to explain ourselves in any way.


Look, I’m in no way saying a movie can’t do its own thing. If you want to follow a found footage format for your first hour and switch to a standard narrative, that’s just FINE, District 9. But what co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (they of one of the mediocre V/H/S segments) do is simply mind bogglingly stupid. Why hamper your filmmaking with restrictions that do nothing to enhance the experience for your audience? Devil’s Due was probably never going to be a great movie, but as a straight narrative film, it might have at least have been watchable. Instead, the decision to show it as a collage of security cameras and cell phone video just makes it, well, pretty crappy.

High Points
They don’t get much at all to work with, but  the lead actors (Allison Miller and Friday Night Lights' Zach Gilford) are quite natural and do their best

Low Points
Aside from the many aforementioned drawbacks of found footage filmmaking, perhaps the most annoying and ubiquitous is how every male holding a camera has to, at a key moment, default into a chorus of “what the f#ck”

Lessons Learned
No matter how much you’re getting tossed around a forest like a frisbee by a cow-eating satanist, never, ever never, I really do mean never, drop your videocamera

The friendlier the cab driver, the higher the probability that he’s a satanist

Satanic pregnancy due date predictions are shockingly accurate

Devil’s Due might be of interest to those fascinated by pregnancy horror or found footage experts curious to see a new method of misusing the format. At 90 minutes, it won’t kill your kill your will to live, but considering how many better movies there are out there, why bother?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Fellow Shorteners

The little people need to stick together. It's much easier to climb out of trouble when you can hop on someone else's shoulders. Particularly when said someone's shoulders are low enough to the ground for you to actually be able to hop on.

My point, of course, is that The Shortening is a team effort, and a glorious one when two of my favorite fellow bloggers tackle two of my favorite films. Deep down From the Depths of DVD Hell, Elwood Jones digs in to Stuart Gordon's 1987 classic Dolls. Head here for his thoughts, and stay tuned for next month's Mad, Bad, & Downright Strange Showcase podcast when I join in to say even more about Judy's adventures in doll-ville.

Further down south, the fabulous Chris Hewson of Not This Time, Nayland Smith attempts to TOP THAT with coverage of 1989's musical extravaganza Teen Witch. Set your broomstick GPS here to read his take on this piece of glory, co-starring Golden Lifts champion Zelda Rubinstein herself. 

Don't forget that if you have a Shortening post of your own, feel free to share it here in the comments section or email me at deadlydollshouse at gmail dot com (but you know, the right way). 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Stay. Please, Stay Forever

1978's The Visitor includes the following:

An evil child

Shelley Winters

Excessive usage of slow motion

Death by birding

and ladies and gentlemen, FIGURE SKATING MURDER

Naturally, it has instantly earned a place on my list as The Greatest Film of All Time.

Quick Plot: A super Jesus-y Franco Nero tells a school of bald children on loan from THX-world about Satine, an evil alien who escaped to earth to bring terrible things upon it. Nicer aliens followed suit by sending a hoard of attack birds after him (as you do). It did the job, but not before Satine fathered a few children.

Satine's descendants now number a mere two: Barbara Collins, a wealthy divorcee, and her 8-year-old daughter Katie. Jesus-y Nero doesn't quite go into all the basics, but it seems as though Barbara is a nice enough woman whose only genetic inheritance from her alien great great grandfather is the ability to bear more evil alien children. Katie, on the other hand, is one apple that stayed much closer to the tree.

What kind of kid is Katie? Oh, you know, the kind who greets her mother by flinging her vicious pet hawk at the woman and calmly explaining that she's going to kill her next babysitter. 

I. Love. This. Child.

So does Raymond, Barbara's wealthy boyfriend played by none other than Lance Henrickson. Raymond is eager to marry Barbara and broaden their family, primarily because he's secretly part  of an evil wealthy white man council determined to bring more little Satines into this world. 

Perhaps because her daughter is clearly a sociopath, Barbara isn't so willing to pop out more future gymnastics stars. Things get even more complicated when at Katie's birthday party, the kid is mysteriously gifted a handgun, which she tosses at her mother as it shoots her in the back. Because WHY NOT.

Even better, why not pair Barbara's diagnosis of paralysis with Katie's Olympic-level parallel bars routine? WHY NOT INDEED.

At this point, you have to be saying, "there's really nowhere for this movie to go but down." And the movie hears you and gets a little nervous so they release upon us the secret weapon of awesome that is none other than Shelley Winters. Shelley Effin Winters. As a sassy housekeeper. 

I know guys, I know. Right about now you're wondering how it's possible that I've been able to contain my almost paralyzing (pun intended) enthusiasm. How can I still speak (or write)? How am I remembering to breathe? Well I'll tell ya, I'm just about to lose all human senses because smack in the middle of The Visitor is nothing less than an extended slow motion hunt on an ice skating rink, with Katie double axeling her way through a gang of teenage bullies without breaking a sweat.

From there, what more do you need? John Huston playing Pong with a kid? Shelley Winters slapping said kid for sassin'? Birdings? A birding that involves a bird shooting out a pointy beak as if it were a retractable knife in a street fight? Lasers? More lasers? THERE ARE NEVER TOO MANY LASERS.


I sure am. 

High Points

Low Points
I suppose I could take fault with the oddness of Sam Peckinpah's scene as Barbara's do-gooder ex due to its awkwardness, but the IMDB trivia explanation that essentially sums it up as "Peckinpah was too drunk to learn his lines so the whole thing is dubbed over in post" satisfies that issue, right?

Lessons Learned
Capricorns are the WORST

Shockingly, women aren't thrilled when you announce your engagement to them before actually asking if they want to get married

Shelley Winters don't do windows

John Huston is definitely not a teenage girl

Long out of print, The Visitor is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, where you will now drop your computer/phone/baby immediately and head to watch. Guys, this movie is incredible. Figure skating incredible. Short'nin bread incredible. Bird attacks incredible. Get on it. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Chi Chi Chi Chi Chi Doll Doll Doll Doll Doll

Some memories last forever. For me, a grand example is watching the premiere of Friday the 13th: The Series at the ripe age of 5 in 1987, wherein an evil porcelain doll drives a young and adorable Sarah Polley to murder.

Actually, that's not quite right. It wasn't the act of watching the show, but the fact that the very next day, I went on what we now call a "playdate" (or in my day, "I'm going over my friend Shaina's house") and convinced myself that my new friend had the very same haunted doll sitting on her bookshelf, waiting to unleash its fury.

Since Friday the 13th: The Series wasn't the big water cooler show breakout of 1987's kindergarten class, my pal didn't quite understand my fear. And while I have, nearly 30 years later, no real way of proving that her family heirloom was possessed or harbored ill will towards humanity, the glory that is Amazon Prime certainly gives me a way to skip down memory lane and confirm that if nothing else, horror television anthologies sure do know their creepy dolls and glorious '80s fashion statements.

Quick Plot: A grumpy antique shop owner reluctantly lets a wealthy couple and their somewhat bratty daughter inside just before closing. Young Mary is drawn to the aforementioned horrifying doll, who immediately introduces herself as Vita and proceeds to slit the throat of a nearby mechanic. Mary is rushed out of the store with her folks, while the manager meets his own grizzly fate via ghostly objects and a mysteriously vast elevator shaft.

With that out of the way, let's meet the stars of Friday the 13th: The Series: John D. LeMay's Ryan, a goofy twentysomething, and Robey's Mickey, the uptight feeYONsay of a wealthy attorney. Turns out, Ryan and Mickey are the long-lost niece and nephew of the late shop owner, and being the only living relatives, have inherited the store and all its goodies inside. Also, Ryan kind of wants to get into Mickey's pants, even though they may be related. 

It's an ongoing question.

Anyway, after holding a clearance sale that lands Vita right back into the arms of Mary, Ryan and Mickey meet Jack, a former pal of their dead uncle and bearer of grand news: the antiques are evil, they can't be sold, if they're sold, people will die, you're kind of responsible now for people not dying, and hey let's rename the store "Curious Goods." 

Mickey brushes off her snooty feeYONsay to retrieve Vita, although she's too late to save Mary's not-actually-evil stepmother from a near-fatal stair fall that puts her in the hospital. Vita urges Mary to finish the job, which, as you would figure, involves Mary shoving Vita in her stepmother's face until the poor woman dies of a heart attack. 

Yes, this is how I entertained myself when I was five. Nearly 30 years later, I can happily say that there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all. 

High Points
Look, we can argue whether a doll that you have to point at things in order to cause evil is scary all you want, but at the end of day, it is. It. Is.

Low Points
As much as I adore and pretty much worship Sarah Polley, we are agreed that Mary is kind of a spoiled brat, right?

Lessons Learned
You don't try to get out of a pact with the devil

When meeting your hot long-lost cousin for the first time, it's probably best not to wear an ancient tribal mask and greet her by jumping out from behind a counter. First impressions, dude.

Hell hath no fury like a li'l Canadian with an evil doll

Friday the 13th: The Series is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and can also occasionally be found on cable. While I can't speak for all of the episodes, "The Inheritance" comes out of the gate quite well as a premiere that manages to give you just enough doll creeps to keep things scary while balancing the exposition involved in setting up the show's main premise (long-lost cousins who may be hot for each other tracking down haunted antiques before they kill too many people). It's hard to complain about any horror show that opens on a killer doll, and even harder when the doll has a vague resemblance to Shannon Doherty.

You see it too, right?