Movie Review ~ The Shed

The Facts

Synopsis: Stan and his best friend Dommer have put up with bullies their entire lives. All of that changes when Stan discovers he has a murderous vampire living in his shed.

Stars: Jay Jay Warren, Cody Kostro, Sofia Happonen, Timothy Bottoms, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Frank Whaley

Director: Frank Sabatella

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: We’re in a little bit of a mini Stephen King renaissance in entertainment right now.  The second chapter of the big screen adaptation of IT arrived a few months back after the first installment proved so hugely popular and just last week the excellent Doctor Sleep, a movie sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (both based on King’s novels of the same name), was released in theaters to much acclaim.  Then there’s the King-adjacent series Castle Rock on Hulu and an anthology series inspired by Creepshow that debuted on Shudder in October.  So it’s definitely good to be King right now…and it’s also inspiring some copycats.

As the old expression goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there’s plenty of fans-turned-filmmakers that have called upon King’s blend of fantasy and nostalgic realism in creating their own works.  I’m getting to the point where I don’t mind it too much if small bits and pieces of a particular style are picked up by another filmmaker along the way…but only if it builds upon it and makes it special.  If a writer or director is just going to recycle something King has already introduced in one of his novels or numerous short stories and then not let it have a life of its own, what’s the point of the endeavor?

That’s one of the main issues I had with The Shed, a new indie horror film getting a limited theatrical release this November but will be seen by most on their streaming service of choice.  It’s small-town setting and outsiders against evil premise have all the hallmarks of King’s most famous tomes and there are large stretches of writer/director Frank Sabatella’s screenplay that feel like they could have been stolen straight from King’s discard pile.  What doesn’t feel in line with the author is an abundance of cliché dialogue and obnoxious characters you can’t muster enough interest in to root for, not to mention a strange tendency to telegraph every jump scare five beats before it happens.

Orphaned and living with his alcoholic grandfather in a non-descript town, Stan (Jay Jay Warren) is going nowhere slowly, only pausing long enough to go to school where he fades into the background.  His friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) is in a similar boat, though he’s popular fodder for school bully Marble (Chris Petrovski) and his motley gang of troublemakers.   The bright light for Stan is longtime crush Roxy (Sofia Happonen) who obviously has feelings for him too but is in a complicated place with Marble at present.  Verbally abused by his drunk granddad, picked on at school, without the girl he loves, and with the local police officer (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, The Paper) just waiting for him to screw-up again, Stan doesn’t have much to be positive about.

Things get a bit more interesting for all parties when a vampire takes up residence in the small shed in the back of Stan’s house.  A prologue has shown us how the man (Frank Whaley, Hustlers) came to be in his sorry state and now he’s quarantined away from the sunlight in a tiny prison and getting hungrier by the hour.  Lucky for him that Sabatella’s script finds a myriad of ways to get fresh meat into the shed, from curiosity to deception to outright physically pushing some poor soul in.  All of these attacks come with a substantial amount of wind up…like a balloon being inflated larger and larger.  You know it’s going to pop eventually and you’re just waiting for it to reach the breaking point and explode.  The first few times it works in its own rough and tumble way but soon you’ll be hoping the vampire is full when a person enters the shed so we can be spared another loud music spike when it strikes from the shadows.

Running 98 minutes, the movie is a solid 15 too long and takes more time than needed to get to its finale.  That extra time is spent, unfortunately, on supposedly tender moments between Stan and Roxy and the actors just don’t have the chops or the chemistry to make these scenes work.  Warren reminds me of the late Anton Yelchin in looks only, lacking the actor’s ability to access relatable vulnerability.  He’s not much of a leading man, and Kostro isn’t much better as his foul-mouthed best friend who sees the vampire as an advantageous way to do away with his tormentors.  Sabatella’s dialogue is incredibly juvenile in its generous use of the F-bomb in every sentence without ever earning it.  It gets to be embarrassing after a while, with Warren, Kostro, and Petrovski sharing a scene that has them swearing so much it sounds like a bunch of fourth graders that just learned the word trying to see who can say it the most and the loudest.

It’s almost too bad the performances are so shoddy because the make-up and effects are quite well done.  I’ve seen worse vampire teeth in movies with ten times the budget The Shed had and there’s good use of practical effects that kept further costs down and helps the film from feeling as it if was overproduced.  I’m not sure how much of the vampire was actually performed by Whaley but I found myself more interested in what he was doing during the day than I was in what the humans were up to.  The effects team gets to have some fun near the end and the final twenty minutes or so have some impressive moments, even if some of the characters make some amazingly inept choices.

Overall, The Shed isn’t something I’d totally condemn but it’s not built on surefire solid ground.  The performances and dialogue are what kill this, especially the unrelenting profanity which really took me out of things.  I am absolutely no prude when it comes to swearing like a sailor and I’ve had my mouth washed out with soap on several occasions…but here it’s just putrid overkill.  If only some creativity had been spent on figuring out something different to do with the vampire in the shed, this would have been something King might have been able to take to Twitter in support of.  Instead, I can see this Shed getting boarded up fairly quickly.

Movie Review ~ Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer

The Facts

Synopsis: The sensational true story of The National Enquirer, the infamous tabloid with a prescient grasp of its readers’ darkest curiosities.

Director: Mark Landsman

Rated: NR

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Several times a week, I have something I do called “visiting my sites” and I have to confess they are indeed internet websites that specialize in celebrity/entertainment gossip.  Yes, I understand I’m actively feeding a gross beast that enables a bunch of pervy photographers and annoying average citizens to become pseudo-newsmakers but part of me just enjoys the mindless detox these precious moments give me.  I put little to-no-stock in what is being reported and truth be told I’m much more interested in the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing of Hollywood business than actual personalities but still, a juicy tidbit is a juicy tidbit nonetheless.

What I’ve never been that into, though, are the so-called ‘rag mags’ that proliferated in supermarkets throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, mostly because I was too young to care much about them at that time.  I was a casual consumer of these tawdry tabloids that spoke of the latest celebrity love child or whatever soap star was a critical overeater, not to mention the more far out paps that told of botched plastic surgeries or bat boys born in Borneo.  I never took them too seriously and it struck me odd that anyone would believe something so patently false and I definitely wouldn’t have thought in a million years there was any kind of serious journalism that was involved with these publications.

The granddaddy of all supermarket sensationalist reading, The National Enquirer, was often that last great impulse buy you succumbed to in the checkout lane and tossed in with your groceries.  The new documentary, Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer sheds light onto the inner workings of one of the all-time famous tabloids, and it’s an informative look at its creation, the people that helped sustain it during its rise, and what exacerbated its decline.  Though candid interviews with former staff, director Mark Landsman takes audiences on a step-by-step walk through the history of how a paper that started as a local publication for New York readers became a nationally distributed water-cooler discussion fodder that was read and talked about around the world.

What began in 1926 as The New York Evening Enquirer was bought by Generoso Pope Jr., the son of a famous Italian newspaper magnate in 1952 and originally run as a salacious gross out mag featuring pictures of murders, sex, and death. (A warning.  Though unrated, early in the film is a montage of pictures that are fairly grotesque and disturbing).  Though circulation kept rising, it was when Pope wanted to expand into the growing suburban grocery market that he realized he had to tone down his content and center his magazine more on celebrities to appeal to housewives.  Hiring a staff of ruthless journalists and giving them a healthy spending budget allowed this eager staff to go anywhere in the world to get a good story and pretty soon The National Enquirer gained a well-earned reputation for its lack of scruples.

Looking back on some of their work now, not many of the writers interviewed seem all that phased by the work they did because at the end of the day they were doing their job and often reporting the truth…as ugly as it may have been.  Where celebrities were concerned, they took the stance (as many do) that once you are a celebrity there are certain privacies you give up in exchange for a life of fame and fortune.  Landsman recounts Pope killing a story of Bob Hope’s extramarital affairs in exchange for one on one interviews with the entertainer in future magazines.  There’s also an unpleasant section where the editors were exposed as having actively assisted in protecting the likes of Bill Cosby and Arnold Schwarzenegger when stories of their womanizing were growing while the stars were at the height of their popularity.

Where the film starts to reach an interesting peak/point is when it begins to center on the rise of Donald Trump and how he formed a symbiotic relationship early on with The National Enquirer.  Often calling the magazine to give tips about his own life, the future President seemed to have some kind of special relationship with key executives and to watch evidence of this play out in clips is interesting to say the least.  It’s clear Trump recognized the power of this “fake news” paper and used it to his advantage, whether The National Enquirer was aware of it fully at the time or not.

Fast moving and edited with precision, Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer keeps things interesting by never staying in one place for too long.  I wasn’t aware of just how many stories the paper provided some key bit of information about that went on to assist in a future criminal or civil trial, nor did I know the extent of its reach into the 2016 presidential race.  Like its source subject, it’s not incredibly deep or complex but it’s involving nonetheless.