31 Days of Halloween, Day 4 – The kids are NOT alright. It’s KILLER KID WEEK!

•October 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Countdown to Halloween:
Killer Kid Week 

Today’s selection:

The Children (aka The Children of Ravensback) (1980)
I caught this disturbing obscurity for the first time while watching USA Network’s Saturday Nightmares show as a kid in the 80s and it … well, it made an impression. A school bus drives through an orange cloud of radioactive gas and emerges on the other side with a cargo of mutant, zombie-like kids. Save their gray pallor and black fingernails, you’d never know there was anything wrong with them…until you move in for a hug.

That’s when their emo-nails dig into your back and fry you like a bucket of Popeye’s chicken. If their gift was slightly more practical than the ability to burn up parents with fingernails, I’d say theses kids are about two clicks away from X-Men territory. Once people FINALLY start asking, “Hey, where’s my kid?” -the toothy grinning little monsters start popping up for surprise reunions with worried parents. We’re treated to this scenario more than once and it always strikes me as pretty eff’d up. They don’t appear to have a motive outside of barbecuing loved ones, and what’s worse, guns don’t stop the little buggers.

When a few characters start catching on, it becomes a race against time to stop them before they wipe out an entire small New England town. Thank goodness for the happy accident of discovering that the only way to stop them is by choppin’ off their little gothed-out, Hot-Topic mitts. So if you ever wanted to see a bunch of little kids get their hands forcibly lopped off at the wrists — by the good guys — your ship has come in and … what’s WRONG with you?

This regional low-budget wonder was directed by the same man who would go on to direct the significantly nastier Luther the Geek. The script, acting and generally dreary look of the film drag it down, but it’s got surprisingly effective (if not particularly realistic) effects, and should effects ever be required to be anything BUT effective? Am I being too literal? Sometimes there’s something creepier about really low-budget effects and, for my money, the smoking corpses of barbecued parents does the job.  Also to it its credit, The Children takes no prisoners all the way through to the “twist” ending, one that reasserts (once again) that you never want to see a pregnant woman in a horror movie. As far as twist endings go, they pitch it nice, slow and steady so that if you don’t see it coming, you’re watching a different movie.

Not only do I  not hate The Children, despite it’s innumerable faults, I like it; partially because it had the stuff to rock my world out of alignment as a preadolecent.  (The Children and the “robot lady” scene from Superman III both earn special spots on the list of things that ruined many a night’s sleep for this impressionable youth. “They’re killing THEIR PARENTS!…who are being punished for MISSING THEM!” This sensitive little boy couldn’t deal with it.) That said, it’s one sicko movie that is obviously doing something right. You’ll either laugh or walk away feeling kinda’ gross about the whole experience, but I’m pretty sure it will be awhile before you forget The Children. A similarly-themed horror movie with the same title came out in 2008 — and was reviewed two days ago — but is unrelated. After being impossible to find for a long time, The Children now pops up in many cheapo 25-movie public-domain DVD box sets. Consequently it’s usually taken from terrible prints making an ugly-looking movie, look even uglier.
**1/2 (out of four)

31 Days of Halloween, Day 3 – The kids are NOT alright. It’s KILLER KID WEEK!

•October 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Countdown to Halloween:
Killer Kid Week 

Today’s selection:

The Orphan (2009)
Purple ribbons, pigtails, and reverse-matricide — that’s what this crazy little brat is made of. Her name is Esther and she’s here to break the rules — time-out corner be damned! Parents Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga adopt an adorably (at first) intense Russian immigrant girl. A decision made spiky by the latent relationship it may have to the heartbreaking stillbirth of their third child. (A shocking, explicitly blood-soaked prologue gives us the back story and tells us up front; all bets are off where this movie’s boundaries are concerned.) Ultimately, Mom and Dad’s motivations for adopting become irrelevant because, as the ads made clear, “there is something wrong with Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman. A true force of nature, incidentally.).” And if you weren’t sure up until the big bathroom stall freak out scene, it’ll do the job.

She’s barely had time to unpack her accent but wastes no time getting to the wrongness… pushing mouthy brats off of jungle gyms (!), clubbing nuns (!!), shoving her new deaf sister into traffic (!!!) and (ulp!) seducing daddy (!!!!). No really. When Esther starts showing her true colors and a method to her madness begins to emerge, no one believes her adoptive mommy who everyone knows, used to be a scorching alcoholic, making her responsible for one child’s deafness AND the above-mentioned still-birth. (Seriously, expectant moms? Stay away.) Those kinds of things are just no damn good for your parental credibility. But it should also be noted that Dad takes a disturbingly long time to finally catch up with the script — which also raises some unfortunate questions.

Where the “killer kids” formula is concerned, The Orphan benefits from lots of queasy thrills and a real corker of a twist ending; a distant second to the surprising  final few minutes of Sleepaway Camp. There are some canyon-sized plot holes and a drawn out cat-and-mouse climax that undermines its outrageously audacious, unbelievable but still incredibly satisfying twist.  The Orphan holds its own in the pantheon of terrible tyke movies like The Omen and The Bad Seed, while leaving movies like Children of the Corn and The Good Son in the dust. It’s trashy, shameless and self-consciously twisted. I also liked that despite the wall-to-wall wrongness, there is a sense of humor (black as pitch, mind you) at work here. The downside is a marginally erratic tone — but who cares? I think The Orphan is awesome and I want to believe that it will age into a classic of the genre for its moxie and audacity alone. It goes places no killer-kid movie has gone before and if loving that about it is wrong … Do I even have to say it?
*** (out of four)

"I said, DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, Esther!"

Ghosts of Halloweens Past – ’09, ’10

•October 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment


This is my third year of kicking my woefully neglected blog into gear for the entire month of October. That means there’s a nice backlog of megaupload shares including past mixes, and some fairly rare stuff, just there for the takin’. When I checked recently most of the links still worked. So if you’re at all interested, step in the Wayback, Sherman. We’re visiting Halloweens 2009 and 2010.

HERE’s a handy glance of ALL the Halloween shares from the last two years in one list of links — if you don’t feel like browsing the archives to find the free stuff. If you want to know more about a link, look up its post.  Consider yourself encouraged to report bad links in the comments. Some stuff can be re-upped.

October 2010 archives start here…

October 2009 Archives Start At the Bottom of THIS page…

31 Days of Halloween, Day 2 – The kids are NOT alright. KILLER KID WEEK Kick-Off

•October 2, 2011 • 2 Comments


Let’s make the Blog Lagoon’s first week of the
Countdown to Halloween:
Killer Kid Week 

Today’s selection:

The Children (2008)
The Children has no relationship to the 1980 movie of the same name but they would make a great double feature anyway. Both are packed with diabolical tots. But if you see only one killer kids movie this year, make it 2008’s.

Two families, with an impressive polarity of dysfunction to divide them, spend Christmas together in the hosting family’s waaay out-of-the-way, woods-hidden home. The kids are playing and getting along, the adults are throwing back wine in the kitchen, but before they know it: snowbound. Two couples. Several kids. Lots of noise.

Right off the bat we get one curly-haired cherub blowing chunks on arrival. Mom naturally mistakes this for carsickness, but her son’s behavior eludes to something else … if you’re the viewer anyway. None of the adults seem to notice the slow-burn change in their progeny. ( –which seems to send the message that you’d never guess your kid is plagued by some viral strain of single-minded-killing-machine-itis, because kids are already that obnoxious.)

All the kids are coming down with a mutant rabies flu (or something) that’s making them cough up wads of goo and go maim-crazy. Meanwhile their parents are too busy smiling condescendingly at one another and making passive-aggressive innuendo to notice anything but all the cheap-shot parental one-upsmanship happening between the grown-ups.

One by one sweet little rosy-cheeked faces go blank and icy — but the viewer sees something bubbling beneath. The parents remain clueless for awhile. (You know they’re all out to lunch when they fail to notice pasty complexions and eyes with luggage on the mugs of their precious angels.) The sexy teen daughter of the visiting family is noticing though, and from the first scratched face all the way to the final homicide, again and again her furrowed brow proves warranted.

What makes The Children work so well (in addition to being really great-looking …

)… is that these families are familiar. They’re your asshole neighbor or that bitchy PTA mom who won’t shut up about her little prodigy.  And since no one wants to believe that their child is capable of such violent acting out, parental insecurity bubbles to the surface. The home-schooling, outwardly-happy “perfect” mother shows the cracks in that fascade while her sister, the less-confident mother who wears dysfunction on her sleeve, proves to be made of more than she thought.

The other element that makes The Children one of the best of its sub-genre is that it does not pull the punches many killer-kid movies are prone to. Violence against children in movies is pretty taboo, but you wouldn’t know it from watching The Children. I had to think hard to remember the last time I saw a tyke get plowed over by a motor vehicle. (Pet Sematary, 22 years ago, in case you were wondering.) Additionally it’s well-acted and suspenseful, relying heavily on our fear of children’s unpredictability. (Did that kid have too many Cokes with his Sponge-Bob or is he about to go on a killing spree? So hard to tell.) It also benefits from its snowy remote location. And can we get some big ups with a side of lifelong therapy for the young actors who probably wrecked their respective childhoods by even appearing in this movie? I mean, it’s not hard to stare blankly …

… but these kids are really good at it:

I’m not sure whether you’d enjoy The Children more if you’re a parent or if you’re viewing as one who chooses pets over babies. But consider: whether it’s at a Target check-out or standing in line at Cedar Point, everyone has felt capable of killing some loud, mean, brat-faced nose-picker at least once in their lives. Even parents. Especially the ones that think their children are perfect little snowflakes.

*** (out of four)

31 Days of Halloween, Day 1 – Swingin’ at the Seance

•October 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Here’s the best Halloween mix you’re gonna get your bloody little claws on all month…

I’ve cleared the cobwebs from the doorway, pushed the corpses to the corner and flipped on the flickering lights over the haunted dungeon warehouse that is the Lagoon for another October full of spooky shares, reviews and other horror-bull stuff. Welcome to the Halloween season, everybloody. Download this CD-length file of creep-themed shit-kickin’ Transylvania twists. It’s the most danceable of the Blog Lagoon Halloween mixes (of which there’s a veritable catalog now!), if I do say so myself. What are you waiting for?

You’ve got 30 more days to worship this collection of rare, obscure hot boppin’ Hallow-hits from beyond. Act now and you’ll get 32 tracks of cross-n-bone-a-fide party-making monstrosities…with no further obligation on your part! And remember, this is only the first of two 2011 Halloween mixes. Check back every day for more brain-melting, gut-munching madness. Get out the candles, Ouija boards, ball gags and candy corn. This seance is swingin’ so if the coffin is rockin’, don’t come knockin’!

DOWNLOAD ALL 32 TRACKS, CD COVER INSERT AND TRACK LIST HERE

Soon:

  • Killer Kids
  • Satanic Sounds
  • Unlikely Horror Movies
  • …and morbidly magnificent surprises gore-lore!

Sorority Row (2009)

•May 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

SORORITY ROW (2009)
I’m mostly glad I took a chance on Sorority Row and the bitches of Theta Pi and I’m mostly sorry that I didn’t step away before the last 8 minutes or so. Sorority Row is pretty standard as slasher flicks go, but way above average where REMAKES of slasher flicks (in this case, 1983’s House on Sorority Row) are concerned. (I’ve heard the same about My Bloody Valentine 3D from the same year which I’ll be more likely to see now that I’m primed for more early-80s nostalgi-horror.)

After kicking the party off with a practically sublime “prank-gone-wrong” opening that could teach I Know What You Did Last Summer a thing or two, a surprisingly tight, and mostly plausible, story begins to unspool.

For a movie that centers around the feminine dark side of the college Greek system, you have to give high-fives to a script featuring sorority brats with distinct personalities and motivations, particularly in a genre that rarely makes an effort to distinguish one curvy pile of knife-bait from another. (“Let’s just name them Bitches Numbers 1-6 and be done with it!”) SR actually gives its girls different degrees of bitchiness…aaaand a blubbery, lantern-jawed Rumer Willis who seems to be doing a variation on the same role she played in House Bunny (which–believe me or don’t–is funny).

"Bruce Willis' jaw," isn't exactly "Bette Davis' eyes," is it?

When a “tricked-out” tire-iron-wielding killer (in a black-hooded robe — lame!) starts to systematically ‘off anyone associated with the above-mentioned prank, what develops is a surprisingly clever whodunnit, complete with irony-enhanced zingers, darkly-comic kills, and a well-utilized Carrie Fisher (!) as the Theta-Pi house mother who gets the movie’s best line. (Shotgun-armed Princess Leia to Hooded Killer: “Please don’t think I’m afraid of you. I run a house with fifty crazy bitches!”)

"The emperial senate will not stand for this."

Rare is the slasher movie with what one might recognize as “production design,” but SR has some beautifully shot scenes and an interesting color palate for a low-rung genre movie. There are some downright aesthetically-pleasing scenes for your eyeballs to soak up in addition to the nicely executed…executions…that don’t skimp on blood or creativity.

SR offers a better mystery than most slasher flicks but it comes unraveled with a wholly dissatisfying reveal in the last reel. Up until then, however, the movie is a good, smartly-written, time with additional high marks for gore and gratuitous nudity.

What really sets SR apart from horror flicks slashed from the same bloody cloth is across-the-board solid performances (…that Audrina Partridge deserves an Oscar for her portrayal of a corpse) and characters that are as interesting as any sorority-girls-in-a-slasher-movie you’re likely to see this side of Black Christmas (1974).
**1/2 – two and a half stars out of four

Scream 4 (2011) Reviewed or “I Scre4m, You Scre4m, We All Scre4m for Scream 4”

•April 30, 2011 • 2 Comments

Quentin Tarantino guest-directs this "characters-look-into-the-trunk-of-a-car" scene from Scream 4.

 SCREAM 4 (aka SCRE4M) (2011)
It took me awhile to decide if I even cared about another Scream sequel. After all, I thought both previous sequels were unimaginative bummers that looked remarkably like the kind of product being shat out to cash in on Scream‘s success. (Pause for a moment and try to remember who even ended up being  Ghostface in 2 and 3. I had to look it up.) Scream begat I Know What You Did Last Summer and things got progressively worse from there — which seemed unimaginable at the time. After all, do you look back on the days of Urban Legend, Valentine, Halloween H20, Fear Dot Com and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer fondly?

It’s a rhetorical question.

Watching the Scream franchise lurch along purposelessly was like watching a badly-wigged, mortally wounded Drew Barrymore trying to yell for help as she crawls across the lawn on her hands and knees. It systematically cut loose everything that made the original cool; most notably its wit, sense of suspense and scares. You may not remember, children, but Scream was scary. If you’re old enough to have seen it in the theater when it was released in 1996, you may remember walking out into the parking lot slowly realizing that you’d seen the first effective mainstream horror movie  in years. No one had really counted on that at the time. Especially not from Wes “People Under the Stairs” Craven. My interest in Scream prior to seeing it had more to do with the Drew Barrymore obsession I was cultivating than anything else. (This was during her “Ima’-get-nekkid-in-Playboy-and-flash-David-Letterman!” phase, which made me think: maybe she’ll get naked.) I hadn’t expected the surprisingly dark opening, the clever script, or the twist ending. Unfortunately kids who grew up on Scream as slumber party entertainment can’t view it in its original context and probably regard it as a horror relic. (God help the thirtysomethings among us.) But children…you must understand…mainstream horror was pretty much dead during the first half of the 90s and Scream was something significantly different and infinitely more entertaining than anything landing the cover of Fangoria back then. At a time when the last horror movie you could remember seeing in a theater was Leprechaun 3 or The Prophecy, Scream was a revelation.

Scream made big bucks and like any successful genre movie, it let loose an avalanche of copy-cat ripoffs. One might suggest that the post-modern horror rut of the 90s is actually Scream‘s fault. Some might even go so far as to say it’s Wes Craven’s fault. Never one to shy away from exploiting a success, he rushed Scream 2 and 3 through production in the same sell-out-now-while-you-still-can fashion that once guided him to shit out a sequel to his (marginally successful) The Hills Have Eyes. (You know, the one where the surviving dog from part one has his own flashbacks to the first movie? Solid stuff.)

Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell watch TV and look hot as they help justify my ticket purchase.

I knew it was inevitable that the Scream franchise would be revived and it makes sense that it was happening now. I was hoping, however, that if Wes Craven’s name was in the credits it would be following words like “Executive Producer” or “Based on Characters Created by Kevin Williamson and–.” Bringing fresh blood in to revitalize the material seemed like a good idea to me.

I thought the series had become head-spinningly self-referential; too “meta” for its own good. I expect many will have the same gripes about S4 but I make a distinction between it and the sequels it follows. For one, I think S4 distinguishes itself right out of the gate with a strong opening that sets a tone that’s pitch perfect. It ends up doing all the things I hoped it wouldn’t, but in a way that’s clever without being cute and violent without being bloodless. Not only is the five-minute prologue meta to the max, it’s also protracted, gory and genuinely surprising. It’s self-referential, but in a smoothly calculated way that I dug. Without spoiling the surprise, the opening almost seems designed to give Scream scribe, Kevin Williamson, the opportunity to show how he’s grown as a writer of teen dialogue as the things being said go from being Dawson’s-Creek cheeky to conceivably human in three easy steps. For me, that smooth calculated approach is what lifts S4 above the rubble of its predecessors.

After the satisfying opening, the plot kicks in and catches us up with the series’ surviving characters Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewy (David Arquette). Sidney, the “final girl” of the original trilogy returns to her hometown on the eve of the anniversary of the original “Woodsboro murders,” which have, over the years, become a true-crime book, a movie franchise and more of a celebrated local legend than a stubborn blood stain on town history. She’s there to to hock her new “survivor” autobiography…which you know is just asking for trouble. During her homecoming she’s guest to her aunt (a criminally underused Mary McDonnell) and niece (Emma Roberts), who inexplicably live in Woodsboro despite their family’s disturbing history there.

It’s through Roberts’ niece character, Jill, that we’re introduced to this installment’s buffet of teen flesh: creeper boyfriends, movie dorks, sexy popular girls, nice girls, mean girls, and Hayden Panettiere. (–who, I was surprised to find, can actually act– I never watched Heroes but I really liked her in this.) Marley Shelton is also along for the ride as Sheriff Dewey’s deputy, as are dunderhead cops, Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson. Naturally one of the above characters is (probably) this go-round’s Ghostface — and plot-wise, saying much more would probably be saying too much.

Scream 4 starts with a bang and picks up steam as it unspools, with more red herrings than a Hallmark Channel marathon of Murder, She Wrote. Sideway glances, back-story drama, jealousy, bitterness and suspicious behavior by multiple characters have us looking every which way for clues. After the inventive killer reveal at the end of the first Scream, 2 and 3 dropped the ball with forced “tah-dahs” that left us feeling cheated for anticipating something more surprising. Scream 4 eventually ties up its loose ends with a genuinely twisted resolution that hinges on taking the kind of chance prior installments shied from. As far as murder mysteries go, I liked this wrap-up better than the original’s over-acted, Matthew-Lillard-plagued capper. It takes some risks and they mostly pay off. It’s a strong ending by any standard and a really strong ending for the genre. I’ll even go out on a limb and say it’s the most satisfying ending to anything Craven has ever directed. (Feel free to challenge me on this.) And if Williamson can be given full credit for coming up with S4‘s third-act twists, well, kudos to him too. (What’s the last interesting thing he’s done anyway? *runs to IMDB to check* …turns out Scream is the last interesting thing he’s done.)

Ghostface serenades Emma Roberts with R Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet."

Per usual, there are too many pop references that will have the movie feeling dated before it hits DVD, but that just sort of goes with the Scream territory. For better or worse it’s what Scream does, and at least this time references to other horror movies seem to serve a more legit purpose, unlike the context-free riffs in 2 and 3 which made those two feel like self parodies rather than sequels– like Scary Movie joints with the jokes removed. (And God help the screenwriter who can’t illicit more laughs than the Wayans-brothers’ anti-comedies that make up that inexplicably profitable series.)

That said, we do come to the Scream franchise expecting a few laughs, and by my count S4 has fewer gags than the previous three combined. But at the end of the day, I’m so totally okay with that because Scream humor only ever worked about a quarter of the time anyway. There are some solid laugh lines in S4 but nothing that reeks of “horror comedy” which most movies never get right…save exceptions like Shawn of the Dead, which gets a nice little nod in S4‘s final reel. (Incidentally, my favorite visual gag goes by so fast I barely caught it: *minor spoiler ahoy* In a high school hallway scene watch for a memorial bust of Henry Winkler; who played the ill-fated Woodsboro high school principal in the first movie.)

Where scares are concerned, admittedly, there’s nothing here that’s going to make you sleep with the lights on. But shocks and suspense are provided in generous helpings. Additionally, gorehounds should be pleased with a nice-sized body count and murders far more graphic than in previous entries. (I mean, ENTRAILS! Who doesn’t love entrails?!) Even the requisite “jump” scenes aren’t so gratuitous as to become grating.

Another check in the plus column that I had no reason to expect? Legitimate character development. Campbell’s Sidney is still kind of weepy and flat for a “final girl” but that’s not necessarily Campbell’s fault. I think she’s doing the best she can with the what she’s given and even though she’s still a little bland, it’s clear that Sidney has grown up since we last saw her…and it’s not just the big-girl bangs. Instead, it’s Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers who walks away with S4 as its most interesting character. What started out as a shrill, TV-news glory hound has become a character of considerable depth and cunning. I found it far easier to root for Gale than any of the other knife bait on hand.

Craven’s handling of S4′s teen actors seems more confident than ever too. Panettiere’s line readings alone are enough to make you forget she’s being directed by the same man who guided Heather Langenkamp through her “FRED KRUGER, MOM! FRED KRUGER!” dialogue. (Or remember Rose McGowan’s “Bam! Bitch goes down!” bit from Scream? There’s nothing nearly that annoying to be found here.)

Despite some self-conscious, killer’s-POV, video-camera gimmickry — the only element that smacks of the previous sequels– the dialogue is less forced, less hokey and closer to the way real people talk than you typically get from this franchise. Maybe it’s a sign that the Craven-Williamson partnership is worth resurrecting after all. (Something that would have sounded absolutely bonkers after a screening of Cursed.) –but then, during my little jaunt over to IMDB, I see that Scream 5 has been announced for 2013 and that Scream 4 has already been pitched as the start of a new trilogy…and I get that familiar, sinking, The-Hills-Have-Eyes-Part-II feeling.

*** – 3 stars out of 4

"--but if you'd let me explain -- we're selling knives door to door to fund the senior class trip to Orlando!"