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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Head Count (2018)

Welcome back for another of my blind watch reviews. Every once in a while I like to randomly pick a flick from one of the many streaming services I subscribe to and watch it. I go out of my way to not know anything about what I’m about to watch. No trailer, reviews, or plot synopses allowed! It reminds me of browsing the shelves of my local Mom and Pop video store back in the day picking stuff solely based on the cast and whether it had a bad ass cover. Sometimes this works out and other times I’m miserable. Let’s see where Head Count falls.

We meet our main character, Evan, as he drops his college friends off at the airport. Seems like they are going on Spring Break while he is doomed to spend it with his older brother in the middle of nowhere. We watch as he drives into the desert to a small trailer where his brother, Peyton, is meditating. The pair go for a hike in the desert and meet up with a group of young people that have rented a house nearby and are partying. Evan hooks up with a girl, Zoe, and ditches his brother. After telling spooky stories around the fire weird stuff starts to happen. It seems that reading random stuff off the internet to scare your new friends isn’t such a great idea. You might accidentally summon a demon! Or at least that is what I think it is. It might just be a vengeful spirit or some other supernatural baddie. For the purposes of this review I’m just going to refer to it as a demon.

This isn’t what I was expecting at all when I sat down to watch Head Count. Early on it seemed as if we were going to get one of those “kids go off to an isolated location to party and get picked off one at a time” sort of flicks. That kind of happens but not how I thought it would. Be warned that some spoilers are coming. When Evan reads the text from the website, he accidentally summons a demon or evil spirit and starts off a series of events that don’t end well. The thing doesn’t take any direct action for most of the movie but is instead a shapeshifter that lurks in plain sight. So, you have a bunch of instances where someone is in more than one place at a time. What is really cool is that the audience can catch onto this if you are paying attention long before the characters do. This gets super creepy as the first few times are very subtle and you aren’t sure what you just saw.

Head Count is also written in such a way that it explains why the monster just didn’t kill them all right away. There is a ritual that forces the victims to come in sets of five. This is further reinforced in a couple other ways that if you are paying attention become obvious. The creature has to manipulate them so that they break into appropriately sized groups before it can get to the business of killing
This is creepy as hell... just saying.
them. I’m always complaining about movies that don’t take the time to make sure they have a fleshed-out script. Here we have an excellent example of what you should have done before picking up a camera. There are a satisfying set of rules by which the story has to play out. I like that.

The kills are fairly tame in that we don’t see a lot of blood. But there is a disturbing twist to them in the fact that the demon causes the victims to commit suicide. Seeing the character go slack jawed and dead eyed while looking for ways to kill themselves is… well I can’t think of a better word than disturbing. The individual actors do a wonderful job selling these scenes as well as being terrified once they realize they are about to watch their friends off themselves. This is one of those rare movies that had kills that bugged me, in a good way, without being over the top gory. Well done guys. 

Finding a movie like Head Count makes me want to keep picking stuff at random to watch. If you like this idea and want to try it yourself be warned that it normally doesn’t work out this well. That said I think you should check this one out, consider it highly recommended.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Carnosaur 2 (1995)

You know I haven’t had enough Roger Corman here at the site, so I figured that I’d review a movie that he produced while running New Horizon Pictures in the nineties. This is a sequel to the earlier movie that manages to “homage” both Jurassic Park as well as Aliens. I call this a two for one.

This movie wastes no time getting to the good stuff. We have a couple minutes establishing the facility as a government run uranium mine. Some kids get up to mischief and find a bunch of dynamite, this is important later, and then all hell breaks loose as some dinosaurs start munching on the staff. How did they get there? Well don’t worry because that will eventually be explained.

Then we are introduced to our main cast of experts sent in to repair and secure the facility that isn’t responding to radio calls. They arrive in time to find everyone dead with the exception of one teenage boy who our hero ends up bonding with. There is a company man who makes things complicated by telling them certain areas are off limits and trying to cover up what is happening. Eventually of course they run into the dinosaurs and do battle with them. Oh and because of the damage done during the fights they find out that the entire facility is going to explode. This is both good and bad as they need to get out of the place before it goes boom, but if they can trap the dinosaurs in when it does problem solved! Luckily, the kid knows where the dynamite is. I told you that would be important later.

Okay this might be the most blatant and amusing rip off movies to come out in the eighties or nineties. First off, the creatures are cloned dinosaurs that were recovered from the facility in the first movie. Cloned dinosaurs that hatch out of eggs… sound familiar? Very Jurassic Park, but that isn’t even the most fun. While featuring dinosaurs Carnosaur 2 clearly has taken inspiration from Aliens. We get the teenage survivor bonding with one of the rescuers, the team being dropped in to investigate, and the company man causing trouble.

I’m sure that we can all think of examples from other movies that use these very same plot devices but there are scenes lifted right out of the movie as well. You have a bit where the pilot to the helicopter, their way to leave the facility, taking off only to be killed by a dinosaur that hid behind her thus causing a crash. We even get a bit where a couple of characters are stuck and being closed in on from all directions by the dinosaurs that decide to blow themselves up rather than be taken. Hell, you even have an actor playing a character named Monk that is doing his best Bill Paxton impression! Clearly Carnosaur 2 isn’t the most original of movies.

Okay... does this not seem familiar to you?
Now with all that said I will say that the movie is a lot of fun in a turn your brain off sort of way. The action kicks off quickly and never slows down much. Sure, things are a bit cheesy at times but there is a fun vibe that kept me interested. The movie isn’t terribly long clocking in at a brisk eighty-three minutes which helps a lot with the pacing. The cast is solid and includes genre favorite Miguel Nunez as well as John Savage, Don Stroud, and Cliff De Young. You might not recognize all these names, but I promise you’ll remember them from other movies and television shows.

The creatures were created by John Beuchler with some of the props and even a few scenes being reused from the earlier film. I was very impressed with the creature design and the fact that they used puppets to bring the creatures to life. Some of the miniature work can be rough, but for a low budget nineties flick it is good enough. The kills are a bit tame with the best gags being an arm getting torn off and some guts being munched. It seems that they used most of the budget on the creature design and I’m okay with that.

Carnosaur 2 isn’t a good movie, but it is a fun one. I will always have a place in my collection for a goofy monster movie and that is what this flick is. If you are looking to kick back and watch something stupid, then I highly recommend it.

Ó Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Friday, May 22, 2020

Skullduggery (1970)

Sometimes in my attempts to track down cinematic oddities I stumble over a movie that from the plot synopsis can’t possibly exist. Skullduggery is one of those movies. It was described to me as a Bigfoot courtroom drama starring Burt Reynolds… That got my attention quickly and had me looking for a copy to watch right away. Let me clarify one thing right away. This is not a Bigfoot movie, but rather a missing link flick that does in fact end up as a courtroom drama after some *ahem* crossbreeding between the humans and the missing links. This is a weird one.

A couple of hustlers, one of them played by Reynolds, manages to get themselves attached to an expedition looking for fossils in the rain forest. The lady scientist, Dr. Greame, is played by Susan Clark (Webster’s Mom!). Temple, Reynolds’ character, and his partner are looking for a valuable deposit of phosphor and find it. What they don’t realize is that they have also found a tribe of creatures they end up calling the Tropi. This almost human missing link is the discovery of the century and Greame’s benefactor immediately sets up a facility to study them. He also goes into business with Temple to mine the valuable phosphor as well. It all seems to have worked out well for everyone.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a movie if that were the case. Initially Temple and his partner are pleased by how much money they are making with their endeavor. They even put the Tropi to work in the mines since they will work for canned ham. But then the evil rich guy decides to start breeding the Tropi treating them like livestock. The pair of hucksters have gotten quite attached to them and end up taking a pregnant female back with them to civilization to try and get some protection for their new friends. The logic behind this is that if a human and Tropi could mate then the Tropi would have to be human… See where this was headed? Yeah Temple’s partner Otto got a bit friendly with a Tropi. When the baby dies Temple insists he killed it and forces them to put him on trial for murder. See it can only be murder if the Tropi were human, which leads to the courtroom drama stuff.

This is a very weird movie. Not only is the content sort of odd and uncomfortable but the way it is presented is strange as well. If we are to skip past the bit where a guy might have had sex with an animal Skullduggery has this weird vibe where it can’t seem to decide if it is a comedy or drama. At times we get Reynold’s being silly with Tropi hijinks and even some stuff bordering on slapstick comedy. And then someone will straight out be killed with an arrow or in a terrible accident. Only for things to get silly again. This uneven tone never let me relax and settle in to enjoy the flick. Then again considering the abrupt and vague ending I’m not sure that the filmmakers intended for this movie to be fun.

There were a lot of sixties and seventies movies that had these bummer endings. They were supposed to provoke you to think deeper about what you just watched and maybe deliver a message along the way. I could see Skullduggery being a movie like that, but they shoot themselves in the foot with the misplaced attempts at comedy. The flip side to this is that if they wanted this to be a silly and fun movie, they focused way too much on the heavy stuff in the plot. The last thing we see is our lead Tropi getting smashed under a huge bookshelf while people laugh at her antics. They probably could have done comedy or drama, but not both.

Burt in jail... making a point!
The cast is solid and in addition to Burt Reynolds and Susan Clark we also get some other familiar faces. Wilfrid Hyde-White shows up in a small part as a casually racist scientist that discounts the Tropi as well as anyone not white. Roger C. Carmel of Harry Mudd fame is good as Otto, Temple’s partner and unfortunate father to the half Tropi half Human child. We even get a pre-Blacula William Marshall as the prosecutor. There was a lot of talent in front of the camera, so it is too bad that things turned out so poorly.

Before I wind things up, I do need to talk about the special effects work. We see a lot of the Tropi on screen and while simple the makeup is decent. It allows the actors underneath to give a decent performance which is good since there are many different Tropi onscreen. Letting the actors cast as the creatures do a good job selling it with their movements and body language is key to making the movie work. All in all, it was good work.

This is at best an oddity that only the most diehard of cinematic nerd need spend their time on. There is an obvious reason that Skullduggery isn’t better known by the public and that is because it isn’t a very good movie. Not horrible either, just a misfire that is at the end of the day utterly forgettable. I sadly can’t recommend it.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Splatter Farm (1987)

Recently I’ve been feeling more than a little bit nostalgic. That combined with cleaning out an old storage locker had me digging thru some boxes of DVDs to see if they were worthy of keeping or if it was time to rehome them. One of those discs was the Camp Motion Pictures release of Splatter Farm. I still remember the old VHS box from the video store days and just seeing it put a smile on my face. Realizing that I hadn’t watched it since I first got this DVD maybe fifteen years ago, I thought it was about time to dive back in.

Our directors, twin brothers John and Mark Polonia, portray twin brothers Joseph and Alan. The pair are headed to their Aunt Lacey’s farm for their summer vacation because she is a lonely old woman. Really that seems to be the only reason for the trip. Also at the farm is handyman Jeremy, who we first meet as he is cutting up and eating bodies in the barn. Like people bodies so that is weird. Things get even weirder as we watch the brothers wander around after arriving. They find more body parts, one of the brothers is drugged and bedded by his Aunt (she was lonely…), and poop play happens. The Polonia brothers hold nothing back in this one my friends. We get some resolution and the story ends, though rather bleakly.  

I like the Polonia Brothers, just Mark now as John passed away very young, but was surprised by this movie. Again, I had seen Splatter Farm before but had forgotten about the content. While their later films are a bit more in the silly creature feature low budget vein this one plays like an exploitation movie. This flick revels in going places that normally you would never see. Perhaps this is a result of filmmakers who were in their late teens when shooting it? I’ve already mentioned the incestuous Aunt Lacey and the poop gag, but there is more. They have a subplot with the crazy handyman Jeremy actually being the son of Aunt Lacey by her brother! Yep we get even more incest… There is a bit of necrophilia as well when Jeremy decides to get “frisky” with the decapitated head of one of his victims. Are you getting the vibe that Splatter Farm is laying down?

The movie was shot on VHS with a consumer grade camera so there are some quality issues. There are some strange visual issues with halos around the characters and odd streaks of light that fans of shot on video will recognize. This is a quirk of the technology that gives these movies a unique visual look. The technology also doesn’t do well with interiors or night shots unless you really know how to light a scene specifically for video. Being inexperienced filmmakers, this movie ends up being very dark and hard to follow at times, though they are smart and limit those scenes by shooting mostly in the day. I was impressed with how they framed scenes and set up their shots. For as young as they were, they had a good eye.

For no budget the special effects work in Splatter Farm is decent. There aren’t a lot of kills, but we do get an axe to the head, a gunshot, and some dismemberment/disemboweling. The work is a bit on the cheesy side and is clearly latex, but for an eighties low budget production this is acceptable and even expected. There is a sense of joy in the effects work that I think you can only get with filmmakers that are having fun and pushing past the limitations imposed on them by budget and experience. I dig that. 

Things are about to get weird!
If I were to sum up the Polonia Brothers career to this point it would be “just go for it”. The story is twisted, the gore is plentiful, and while rough the acting is still fun in a low budget we don’t know what the heck we are doing sort of way. This is much different from what the other movies they would later make and continue to make. They never dipped back into this level of exploitation weirdness, but that is okay. I’m not sure if that would be sustainable and even something that an older more mature filmmaker would want to do.

I really like Splatter Farm. This might not be the best place to jump into the Polonia Brothers catalog since it is so different from the rest. But if you are interested in the weirdness of shot on video eighties flicks then here is a good place to start. Either way I think you should eventually get around to watching this one. I highly recommend it.

Ó Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Monday, May 18, 2020

Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)

This hobby of collecting and watching movies can be a strange one. Every once in a while, now more infrequently than say ten or fifteen years ago, you hear of a hidden gem. A movie that never got a proper DVD release or perhaps has had some lost footage restored after it was rediscovered in someone’s basement. An excellent example of this is the original My Bloody Valentine that had its lost gore added back in years after release.

Not too long ago rumors of this movie started circulating. Not only did it seem like an oddball WTF concept starring Terri “Weekend at Bernie’s” Kiser as a mad scientist but it also had early featured roles for Denise Richards and Paul Walker. The names alone should have caused this to have hit shelves a long time ago, but it didn’t happen. Add in that there was additional gore available to be reinserted into the movie and that it was done by fan favorite John Carl Buechler makes it mind boggling that someone hadn’t taken the time to give Tammy and the T-Rex a proper release. That has been rectified now thanks to the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome we fans finally get our hands on it. What were we missing? Let’s take a look and see.

Tammy is a pretty cheerleader who was set up with a bully named Billy at some point in the past. He is a possessive and violent leader of a gang who doesn’t take kindly to good guy football hero Michael asking Tammy out. We get a fight that ends with a bit of dick grabbing (really… not kidding) that itself escalates to the gang beating on and then leaving Michael in an animal park to get attacked by a lion. He ends up in a coma… then isn’t… then is knocked out by Dr. Wachenstein’s assistant so they can transfer his brain into a robotic T-Rex. He wakes up, breaks out and goes on a revenge spree for a few minutes. Billy and his gang get what is coming to them and then we have an extended chase sequence as Wachenstein tries to recover his creation. Stuff happens and then we get to the end.

Robotic Dinosaur Romance
Tammy and the T-Rex is one of those movies that has a lot of moving parts that alone seem pretty good, but when added together just don’t work. They assembled an excellent young cast but waste them by not giving them anything to do. Richards is reduced to playing an airhead that does nothing other than profess her love for Michael and screech at Billy to leave her alone. The movie also wastes Terri Kiser by not giving him much screen time and when they do there isn’t much to his character.  Match this up with a story that is trying to be funny but fails to stick the landing on any of the jokes and you end up with a mediocre effort that while not terrible feels very uninspired.

Who is up for some brain surgery?
Another of the selling points was the gore and special effects. First you should be aware that the T-Rex is basically one of those animatronic creations that occasionally tours the country bringing dinosaurs “back to life” for the kiddos to enjoy. You can even hear the hydraulics running in some scenes. They pair this up with a crew member wearing rubber gloves who manipulates things like a pay phone. Yes, the dinosaur makes a phone call to Tammy. This is a very silly effect that pairs up well with the cartoonish violence. We get heads ripped off, another person smashed flat, brain surgery complete with manipulation of the person’s “appendages”, and that sort of mayhem. None of it is particularly gruesome or realistic and is all played for laughs. I’ve never seen Tammy and the T-Rex before but can’t imagine what “explicit” gore was removed and how that would change the movie or it’s rating all that much.

In the end I just don’t get it. This isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t very good either. Gore or no gore this is a harmless and dumb attempt at comedy starring a couple young and soon to be famous faces. Best viewed as an oddity rather than a cult classic there isn’t much meat on the bone with Tammy and the T-Rex. I can see why this one was ignored for so long. If people weren’t so desperate for that next big thing, I don’t think we would have this much hype surrounding its release. This is a rental at best as I can’t see anyone needing to watch this multiple times.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Friday, May 15, 2020

Dog Soldiers (2002)

I remember many years ago browsing the shelves of my local video store. That is right kiddies there used to be a place where you went to borrow actual physical copies of movies for a small fee! I saw the cover to this DVD and thought it was worth a watch. Sure, it was a low budget British made werewolf flick from a director, Neil Marshall, that I had never heard of. But there wasn’t anything else that I was interested in, so I figured why not. 

The movie kicks off with a man being chased in the woods. Very quickly you find out that he is in training to become part of a special forces team. His last test is to shoot the dog that allowed the other soldiers to track him. He refuses and the asshole in charge, Captain Ryan, shoots the dog and fails him. Later we find that Cooper, the man that failed, is back with his regular unit on yet another training exercise. They end up running into some weird shit as they find a bunch of bodies or at least bits of them. The only survivor of that group is Ryan, who is torn up and clearly scared. Werewolves show up and the shit hits the fan!

The rest of the movie is the group stuck in a siege as they have barricaded themselves in a farmhouse and do everything they can to defend themselves from the creatures trying to claw their way in. Lots of blood is spilled and there are a couple of twists along the way. I will point out that while the twists are good the ending is predictable. But I can honestly say that it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of Dog Soldiers at all. The story is solid and wastes no time to getting to the good stuff. The action is ramped up right away and never lets up. There is always something interesting and exciting happening from start to finish. The characters are developed a bit with some dialogue but are more importantly defined by their actions. I have a prime example of that later on in the review. Admittedly that they fall into predictable categories for anyone that has watched a horror flick with an ensemble cast before. When done correctly, as it is in Dog Soldiers, I have zero issues with that.

I love the creature design!
Many of you who read my stuff know that I hate it when movies do bad things to dogs, so I clearly wasn’t happy in the first few minutes. But I have to say that it is such a shocking and twisted bit that in that one act they establish exactly who Ryan is, which is used later in the story. I can’t think of a better way to cement him as heartless asshole then to have him kill a dog so I get that choice and the movie does redeem itself later on so I’m willing to cut them some slack. Heck there is even a “hero” dog that ends up with the main characters. And yes, that one does make it to the end.

Seriously how cool is this?
I believe that I’ve mentioned this in my past reviews of werewolf movies, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it. Your success in filming a story featuring lycanthropes is going to rely on how well you are able to execute the special effects work. They do a fantastic job in Dog Soldiers with what I don’t think was a huge budget. The special effects work is all practical and looks spectacular. Early on they keep them in the distance or mostly covered by the night and trees but fear not when they attack the house things are out in the open and fun. There are several creatures on screen with each having a slightly different look, which I noticed and appreciated. Different people shifted into the monsters so they shouldn’t all look the same. I was somewhat surprised by the lack of gory kills, but we do get some guts shoved back in and super-glued into place. That was pretty good and sort of funny. But most of the really brutal stuff is implied by blood sprays and piles of gooey bits lying around after the fact. Still if they decided to blow the budget on creature makeup rather than the kills I’m good with it.

This is a great movie that I recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. If you have, I’d still say it is worth a re-watch. I hadn’t seen it in a few years and was pleasantly surprised how well it has aged. I have zero issue saying that Dog Soldiers is one of the best horror flicks of the last twenty years.

Ó Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Belko Experiment (2016)

I’m a big fan of the movie Mayhem so when I heard that there was another workplace Battle Royale style flick out there, I was very interested. Though this one predates the latter by a year, so I was a bit concerned why I hadn’t heard of it before. This was reinforced when I heard some of my friends say that Mayhem is the movie that they wanted this one to be. I found the Blu-Ray on sale and picked it up, but it sat in my to watch pile for a couple of years. In an effort to get that stack smaller I thought it was time to check it out.

The movie is set in Bogotá Columbia in an office building housing the Belko company. They find jobs for Americans in foreign countries or something like that. The viewer quickly finds out that this is a cover for setting up a situation where the trap a bunch of normal people in a situation where they have to kill one another off to survive. Not only are they stuck in a locked down building but the tracking devices that were implanted in the workers in case they are kidnapped, a thing that can happen in foreign countries, also serve as an explosive incentive to participate. Don’t comply with the orders and you go “pop”. It only takes a couple of people dying for the “alpha” males to team up and begin deciding who dies and who lives. This leads to them herding everyone into the lobby and asking questions about ages and who has kids. Things quickly get bloody.

I liked this movie. It comes off as pretty brutal as we get executions and bursts of violence that aren’t couched in humor. This isn’t the kind of movie where you are going to get one-liners to lessen the disturbing stuff on screen. The filmmakers take the time to give us characters that we can relate to and in many cases really like and root for. Be warned though you shouldn’t get attached as many if not most are done away with in horrible ways. The plot device of the bombs in their heads is also used to create some tension as more than once we are treated to them staring at one another wondering whose head is going to explode because they didn’t follow some order that was given. This gives depth to the proceedings and helps carry what could have been slow stretches of the story.

The violence is interesting with both improvised weapons as well as a batch of handguns being used by the office drones to thin their numbers. Some of the highlights are an axe to the face, firebombs, and death by elevator. Though my personal favorite is a wrench to the face that leaves a dent but doesn’t kill the character right away. His confusion as to what just happened is disturbing and I think an accurate portrayal of such injuries.

The cast is excellent and features familiar faces like Tony Goldwyn, Jon C. McGinley, Gregg Henry, and the always awesome Michael Rooker. McGinley is fantastically twisted as the creepy (even before the murders) co-worker who makes some unwelcome advances towards a co-worker. Rooker is equally memorable in the much smaller role of the wrench to the face victim. The movie is written but not directed by James Gunn so seeing alums of Slither, Henry and Rooker, in this one was a welcome surprise.

If I have a complaint about The Belko Experiment, it is the ending. We get some nonsense about the company studying human behavior as the excuse for murdering over eighty people. We also get a reveal that other experiments are happening and there are a lot more victims. This reveal felt like a letdown, especially after seeing most of our favorite characters kill each other. I’d almost rather they not have explained anything at all and left it vague.

I can see why people liked Mayhem better. It has a much more satisfying ending and the kills and violence are more stylized and less disturbing which makes it more fun to watch. Hell, I like that movie better than this one. But that doesn’t mean The Belko Experiment isn’t work a look. It is a solid bit of modern horror that happens in a frighteningly familiar setting with realistic violence that can be uncomfortable. I’d recommend giving it a watch.

Ó Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Monday, May 11, 2020

Sweetheart (2019)

One of the co-hosts for the podcast I co-host, Bloodbaths and Boomsticks, was talking about this movie and described it as “What if Tom Hanks in Cast Away was instead a woman that had to deal with a half man half shark monster every night?” Well that caught my attention. When I noticed this pop up on Netflix, I thought I needed to give it a chance.

The movie kicks off with our main character, Jenn, washing up on a beach. She has been shipwrecked with the only other survivor being a guy named Brad. He is badly hurt and dies not too long after being found. Jenn does a bit of exploring and finds that she is trapped on a small island by walking the beach all the way around. Then she goes inland and finds the creepy remains of a campsite that has been long abandoned. Eventually she realizes that something large and scary is crawling out of the ocean at night.  Some sort of shark monster that can walk on land. The rest of the movie is her and the shark doing battle with one another. Oh, and there are some other survivors that also show up to give a bit of character background on Jenn and that I think maybe had a story of their own that got cut somewhere. More on that later.

This is a very simple movie that leans heavy on its execution and abbreviated run time, clocking in at only eighty-two minutes, to engage the audience and keep us entertained. I’d say they succeeded because I enjoyed the heck out of Sweetheart. The first half of the movie we watch the Jenn character exploring the island and generally being spooked by the environment. Even before we see the creature they go a long way towards establishing a creepy atmosphere as well as tossing in a couple of jump scares that work very well. There isn’t much dialogue after Brad dies on the beach in the first couple of minutes which means that actress Kiersey Clemons has to carry the story with just her nonverbal acting skills. I really liked her performance and am looking forward to seeing her in other things.

In the second half of the movie another pair of survivors show up on a life raft including Jenn’s boyfriend Lucas. The dialogue between them hints at some relationship issues and that Jenn wasn’t the most reliable and trustworthy person. Perhaps they felt this was necessary to establish an action that she takes later in the movie. I won’t go into too much detail other than to say she makes sure to collect evidence to prove the monster exists.

I also think that there was some other plot thread that was perhaps removed from the final cut of the movie. Lucas and the woman on the raft, Mia, keep skulking about like they have some secret they are keeping from Jenn. There is also a bloodstain on Lucas’ pocketknife and a lot of blood on the raft. Jenn even asks them about mutual friend that may or may not have been on the raft with them. None of this is ever dealt with and is dropped at some point with the demise of Lucas and Mia. What is strange is that the filmmakers could have easily not included the mentions to this as none of the scenes that hint at it are important. That was sort of annoying.

I really do love this creature!
Being a monster movie, I have to talk creature effects. I’m not entirely sure if this is a practical suit or if it is CGI or perhaps a combination of both. That alone should tell you how much I enjoyed the design and execution of the special effects in Sweetheart. They keep us guessing for a long time only allowing glimpses of the monster in the shadows. The first big reveal uses a flare back lighting the thing while it strolls up out of the ocean and only in profile. When it is eventually seen on camera it looks fantastic and gives me everything I want in a shark monster. Yeah, I have preconceived expectations… so what? There isn’t a ton of gore, but we do get a couple nasty looking wounds and a waterlogged half body. As a whole this is a perfectly acceptable amount of gore and creature.

Looking around I don’t see that Sweetheart ever got a theatrical release. It seems to have played some festivals and then went straight to Netflix. Since this is a Blumhouse production I am surprised by that. I would have loved to seen something like this in the theaters. This is a solid flick that I recommend horror fans check out.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Mansion (2017)

I do a weekly podcast with some friends and one of the running jokes is that I don’t like French made horror flicks. I’ve watched a ton of them from some of the earlier Jean Rollin flicks to the newer stuff that came out in the last ten years. I’m just not a fan of them and the sensibility that those filmmakers bring to filmmaking. You are likely wondering why then I chose to watch a French horror comedy like The Mansion with what I just wrote. Well honestly, I didn’t know what it was when I picked it off of Netflix. Once I start something though, I normally stick with it. That doesn’t always work out well for me, but here it did.

Things kick off with a typical setup. We see what looks to be a bunch of college friends headed out to an isolated mansion for a weekend of partying to celebrate the new year. You have all the greatest hits here including the nerdy guy, the couple, the former couple complete with the guy who won’t’ admit it is over, the outsider, and of course the stoner. With such a group what could possibly happen? The correct answer to that is a hell of a lot!

After some drinking and backstory, we have a girl wander off into the woods tripping on shrooms while someone kills the little dog that was with them. Okay that pissed me off, especially when they play it for laughs. I’m a dog person and hate to see a movie do shit like this. Murder the hell out of the annoying college kids, but leave the pets alone… Back to the story after the dog they realize that the girl is missing which leads them to splitting up and that is where the bodies start to drop. The rest of the movie is the ever-shrinking cast of characters trying to sort out who is killing them and why. It all ends with what I think is a satisfying twist.

Our Cast of Characters
There were so many reasons for me to dislike The Mansion. It is French, a horror comedy (which is normally never works), and they kill a dog right away. Somehow, I ended up liking the movie. The story is solid and paced nicely. It takes a while to get to the killing, but that time is spent developing the characters and setting up some jokes that pay off nicely as the movie progresses. The Mansion works both as a horror movie and a comedy providing good scares and kills while also being funny at times. The cast is excellent in their roles and the performances aren’t distracting while still managing to fit the absurd and over the top situations they asked to portray.

As I’ve already mentioned the ending to the movie is very satisfying. First the reveal of who the killer is, and their motives was out of left field but kind of made sense. In hindsight you can see how they were manipulating the situation and orchestrating things. Then we have the survivors, which weren’t the characters I expected. That meant I was shocked when certain people were picked off, which was a nice change of pace for a jaded horror nerd like myself. This is an excellent story that keeps the audience guessing.

The Killer looks cool
This is a body count movie so I suppose we should talk about kills. Understand that The Mansion is being played for laughs so while we get some creepy and occasional scary bits the gore is more implied than explicit. That said we do get a guy losing his legs in a bear trap, a throat getting cut, death by rolling pin, a pitchfork thru the chest, and someone gets set on fire. My favorite kill is offscreen and we only see the end result. That kind of makes sense since it appears that a guy is killed and hung by his equipment… Probably would have been tough to show that onscreen. There is also a running gag about a guy getting bit by a cobra and how his face continues to swell up that is some good practical effects makeup.

I don’t think that I would have given this movie a chance had I know it was before starting it. That would have been a damn shame because the Mansion is a lot of fun. This is why I will occasionally decide to randomly pick a couple of movies off of a streaming service and give them a chance. I also have the rule that if I start it, I finish it. I highly recommend this one and also suggest that you hit up your favorite streaming service and pick a random flick to check out.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer