31 Days to Scare ~ Eyes of a Stranger

The Facts:

Synopsis: A reporter suspects a creepy neighbor, who lives in the high-rise building across from hers, is a serial killer terrorizing the Miami area.

Stars: Lauren Tewes, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John DiSanti, Peter DuPre, Gwen Lewis, Kitty Lunn

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: This is a movie with a serious case of bad taste. It’s true that many similar early ‘80s slasher films had elements that called into question the morality of the filmmakers but Eyes of Stranger is a particularly good case study in just how far the limits of sleaze can be pushed. While it is better made than its modest budget would suggest and has one or two genuine ‘jump’ moments, the heart of the movie is so lurid and black that I’d question anyone that would recommend it without a major ‘buyer beware’ warning before doing so.

Eyes of a Stranger went into production just as the original Friday the 13th became a huge hit. Made by the same production company and featuring gore effects created by Tom Savini (often called the Father of Jason for the work he did on Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), it was after the cameras were already rolling that more sex and blood were added, much to the dismay of several people involved. You can easily spot what’s been goosed up, mostly all of the elements that pander to the young audiences that were clamoring for more guts and gore.

A serial killer is on the prowl in Miami and an ambitious news reporter (Lauren Tewes, famous for her voyages on TV’s Love Boat) grows more fascinated with the case. We know she’s ambitious because she regularly interrupts the news anchor live on air to editorialize the lack of attention being paid by the police force. Living with her blind, deaf, and mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight, in her first major role) in a fancy tower apartment, she’s guilt-ridden over an event from her childhood that resulted in her sister’s current condition. It’s this guilt that screenwriter Ron Kurz (Friday the 13th Part 2) uses to provide rationale for the reporter to be so gung-ho in tracking down the killer. It’s not a bad set-up, if I’m being honest, but it’s in the execution (pardon the pun) that the film becomes pretty icky.

Director Ken Wiederhorn doesn’t shy away from the scuzzier elements of the killer (John DiSanti) who likes to terrorize his victims with threating phone calls before he rapes and murders them. Decapitations, throat slashing, stabbings, it’s all part of his oeuvre yet there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why he’s doing what he’s doing. A mindless maniac disguised as a schlubby loner, he strikes out with women so therefore he strikes back at them.

Several of these stalk-and-stabs are well staged and Savini’s effects are nearly too realistic, there were a few moments I got a good jolt or had to look away from the flowing blood. Still, by the time DiSanti is ripping Leigh’s shirt off and exposing her breats while he tries to kill her I just felt like I needed a Silkwood shower to wash off the thick layer of grime the movie leaves on you. While it’s nice (and rare for the time) to have two female leads in a film like this and not to have at least one of the lead protagonists be a total dimwit, Tewes and Leigh don’t have any real sisterly bond going. It’s clear which of the wo would have a lasting career.

I’ve seen a lot of these films over the years and it’s not hard to spot right away how effective they’ll be. I could see that Eyes of a Stranger was going to be a better-than-average entry in terms of production values but wasn’t expect to find it so garish at the same time. It’s one of the few films from this era that I could see possibly getting a remake, should the right writer/director come along that can smooth out some of the rougher patches and expand more on the scary sequences that leave a lasting impression.

Movie Review ~ Wonderstruck

The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.

Stars: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Cory Michael Smith, Tom Noonan, James Urbaniak

Director: Todd Haynes

Rated: PG

Running Length: 117 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: We’re all about honesty at The MN Movie Man so I’ll admit that I was a little sleepy when I caught an early preview of Wonderstuck a few weeks back. Seen on a double screening day, I struggled greatly not only keeping up with its ping-pong-y plot but just staying awake for the new film from well-liked director Todd Haynes. Based on Brian Selznick’s thick tome that’s a hybrid of novel and picture book (much like his previous hit Hugo which found its own way to screens a few years back), Selznick also wrote the screenplay and one wonders what Haynes would have done (or could have done) had he run the whole show.

Taking place in two time periods that eventually collide in unexpected ways, Wonderstuck spends a good hour just to get moving and another half hour after that to provoke the kind of wonderment I think the filmmakers were going for. For those first sixty minutes I was largely at sea with the two tales. One features a motherless boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley, Pete’s Dragon) in the ‘70s who loses his hearing in a freak accident before running away to find his unknown father. The other trails deaf-mute Rose (the exceptional Millicent Simmonds) as she embarks on a quest to track down her favorite Hollywood actress (Julianne Moore, Still Alice) making a return to the New York stage following the advent of talkies in the late ‘20s.

Ben’s story is displayed in the vibrant, pulsating with color world of the ‘70s while Rose’s is presented in somber black and white silence. No matter how good or bad his movies are, the one thing you can absolutely say about a Todd Haynes film is that the production design will be flawless and that’s certainly the case here. Production designer Mark Friedberg (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) recreates two totally different eras of NYC with a master’s touch. I totally marveled at the depth of detail evoked by each period…if this isn’t an Oscar front-runner already, it surely will be as more people in the know see it.

How the stories eventually come together is a mystery that isn’t as easy to solve as you may first realize. The disparate time periods would suggest a different solution than Selznick arrives at but by the time we get to our destination the film has overstayed its welcome every so slightly and explained more than it showed how it all came to be.  It does help that the performances across the board are delivered with a strong sense of conviction.  Fegley’s frustration at his loss of hearing, the loss of his mother (Michelle Williams, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later), and the needle in NY haystack he’s out to find is crushingly felt as is Simmonds wish for independence despite the limitations others perceive her as having.  Moore, as usual, makes a strong showing in dual roles that are polar opposites of each other.

To its credit, the final fifteen minutes are exceptionally moving and send you out of theater better than when you arrived…but at the same time I wish the film had found another fifteen minutes to excise. It wants to be a family art-house prestige picture but can’t get out of its own way to find a stronger rhythm that will hold the attention of young and old alike. That’s all well and good for the previous films that Haynes has directed like Carol or Far From Heaven, these films had the benefit of playing to an adult audience looking for a sophistication. If Wonderstruck is able to find that family audience, I think that’s wonderful and I hope it happens. However, parents should take this one in first to determine if their kids are up for something challenging.

Movie Review ~ Only the Brave

The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

Stars: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Andie MacDowell, Ben Hardy

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: It’s a good idea to go into Only the Brave without having seeing the trailer or knowing much about the true story that serves as the basis for the film. I say that because that’s how I found my way to the movie and I’m not sure I would have been as rapt as I was if I knew how it all turned out. Instead of being too informed as to what I was seeing, I was able to sit back and let this tale of heroism unfold without any pre-conceived notions. In a time when most movies arrive with spoiler-heavy fanfare, I took the viewing of Only the Brave as a rare opportunity to really experience the movie I was watching.

My grandfather was a firefighter for the city of Minneapolis so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for any movie/tv show that featured these courageous men and women running toward the flames as others were running away. Based on Sean Flynn’s 2013 article in GQ magazine, Only the Brave chronicles the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots founded in 2008 in Prescott, Arizona. The first half of the movie shows how this scrappy and at times unconventional crew established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Led by hothead Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice, never better) and mentored by town fire chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges, Iron Man, who finds time to sing as well!), the merry band of firemen had egos as big as their heart and formed a bond of brotherhood that couldn’t be broken.

Entering into the established crew is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now) a troubled kid just out of prison trying to get on the straight and narrow now that he has a new daughter to take care of. Struggling to find his place, Marsh takes him under his wing and soon he’s cutting his own path as a valued member of the group. He even makes nice with a former adversary (Taylor Kitcsch, John Carter) and the two men form a bromance that is a cornerstone of the picture.  Another strong bond on display is between Marsh and his equally headstrong wife (Jennifer Connelly, Winter’s Tale, in an award-worthy performance). The married couple bicker and reconcile often throughout the film, both wanting to better themselves but not understanding how to bring their partner along in stride. Brolin and Connelly have some of the year’s best chemistry, accurately portraying a complex relationship with unexpected layers that keep getting peeled away throughout the movie.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) and screenwriters Ken Nolan (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) pay great homage to the town and crew that are featured in their picture. As they go from town to town saving homes and landmark trees from wildfires that put them in harm’s way, a camaraderie develops not only between the men onscreen but with the audience watching their adventures. Stock up on your napkins before the movie starts because this one has moments that might make even the hardest tough guy shed a few manly tears.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Snowman

The Facts:

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, James D’Arcy, J.K. Simmons

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Whoa…it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie this bad from the get-go. Yes, The Snowman is unquestionably as terrible as you’ve heard it is and it’s likely going to wind up the worst movie released theatrically in 2017. That the film is even getting a wide release is a bit of a miracle and one has to give major chutzpah props to Universal Studios for daring to send out this not even half-baked lame thriller. What’s especially depressing is that so many talented (and Oscar-winning!) people were involved with this both in front of and behind the camera. Collectively, someone should be made to give back one of their Oscars and I’ll leave it to the group to decide who is going to part with their little gold man. A movie this incompetently made demands a sacrifice.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s international bestseller but evidentially substantially changed by the three screenwriters attributed to the script, The Snowman starts on the wrong foot and never recovers. Not that it attempts to, jumping right into introducing boozy Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) in Oslo as he stumbles back to the police force after a drunken bender. There’s little in the way of character introduction of any kind, the movie just happens to find recognizable faces along the way and incorporates them into the story when convenient.

There’s Rebecca Ferguson (Life) as, I think, a visiting detective with a secret agenda that still takes on local cases, such as the one with the missing woman that unites her with Harry. This investigation leads them to a possible serial killer who, Ferguson hilariously concludes, is triggered “by the falling snow”. Possible suspects include a suspicious husband of the missing woman (James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas), a creepy doctor (David Denick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and wealthy land developer played by J.K. Simmons (Patriots Day). Simmons is just one of the cast sporting a disastrous British accent, though the entire action takes place in Norway. Are these all just a specific band of ex-pats with a killer in their midst? Nah, all the signs and newspapers are in English…even the police station features no Norwegian signage.

I’ve always said I couldn’t get enough of Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace) but she’s playing twins here and it turns out…one Sevigny is more than enough. Then there’s the mysterious case of the nearly unrecognizable Val Kilmer seen only in flashback as a detective in neighboring Bergen. Looking shockingly sickly (the actor recently survived a throat tumor) and clearly dubbed, his performance is off the rails and just another piece of a puzzle that is just not meant to fit together. I can’t even go there with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) as Fassbender’s old girlfriend, especially after witnessing a clothed sex scene between the two that’s as awkwardly uncomfortable to watch as seeing a lab rat trying to mate with a St. Bernard.

Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has popped up in interviews saying that 15% of the script wound up not being filmed and that does not surprise me in the least. It at least explains how Oscar-winner and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker (Cape Fear) managed to piece together a movie that makes almost entirely no sense. There are no scene transitions or establishing shots so it is impossible to determine where the characters are in relation to not only the plot but each other. There’s one sequence cut so poorly that you think two actors are in the same room but are in fact miles away from each other. Ferguson’s hair changes color several times, about as many times as Fassbender’s hair gets longer then shorter from one moment to the next. While Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Into the Woods) captures some of the gloomier Norwegian vistas with a bit of flair, the visuals are weighed down heavily by the sterile production design from Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald (Oscar nominees themselves for The Imitation Game) that heavily favors latte colored IKEA furnishings.

A competent creative team has crafted a truly incompetent film here, even the finale is botched with the suggestion of a sequel so laughably inserted that your heart aches for the Universal Studios executive that must have pleaded for it to be incorporated just in case.  I’m usually not a fan of audiences talking during a movie but as the film progressed the chatter became louder and louder as everyone began to question what in the actual hell was going on. This is terrible filmmaking, an embarrassment for every single person above and below the line.  While it’s bound to be mentioned in the same breath as other Scandinavian-set thrillers, it not even fit to be included in the belch that follows that breath.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Spiral Staircase (1946)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A serial killer stalks a mute servant girl in a remote mansion.

Stars: Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Gordon Oliver, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood, Rhys Williams

Director: Robert Siodmak

Rated: Approved

Running Length: 83 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Back in the 1940’s when The Spiral Staircase was first released, horror movies were a much different fare. Without the rising amount of blood, guts, and gore that came to define the genre in the late ‘60s up through today’s offerings, earlier films relied on the suggestion of danger and moody atmosphere to gnaw at the nerves of their audience. A prime example of how to get underneath the skin of moviegoers, The Spiral Staircase is spooky as all get-out and quite a find for horror fans looking to class up their act.

Based on the 1933 novel Some Must Watch, The Spiral Staircase centers on a mute girl (the gorgeous Dorothy McGuire, Swiss Family Robinson) working at an elegant manse far from town targeted by a killer preying on disabled women. On a stormy night, she’s stranded in the house with her mistress (the grand dame of theater Ethel Barrymore) and a host of suspicious characters, one of whom may be the killer that’s out to get her. It’s great fun trying to pick out who may fall prey and who is doing the hunting throughout the house as the night wears on.

McGuire is lovely in the leading role, able to convey more with her eyes than any dialogue ever could. Recognizable forever as the Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester (Mary Poppins) is a hoot as the curious cook and you can see why later in her career the actress blossomed into a valued character actress that knows how to get the job done with flair. Barrymore steals the show out from under everyone, though, in her Oscar-nominated role as a cranky biddy that has a fondness for McGuire and pretty much no one else. She senses danger is afoot and tries to get McGuire to safety but by the time anyone figures out what’s happening it may be too late for them all.

What makes this such a memorable watch is how slyly it develops, never providing random misdirects or red herrings but letting the action flow from scene to scene in a naturalistic fashion. We’re not privy to any information not also available to our stalked star, nor are we kept in the dark as the killer’s motives gradually become clearer. While it has a too-quick finale (not uncommon for this era of filmmaking), the previous 87 minutes are quite entertaining, even a known watch-checker like myself didn’t notice the time passing at a rapid pace. Though made over 70 years ago, The Spiral Staircase keeps its shape in a superior fashion. While I haven’t seen any of the subsequent remakes over the years, a quick glance at the reviews tells me that you’re to avoid those at all costs and stick with the original.

31 Days to Scare ~ Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Five strangers get lost in a crypt and, after meeting the mysterious Crypt Keeper, receive visions of how they will die.

Stars: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Ralph Richardson

Director: Freddie Francis

Rated: GP (the old-school PG)

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: As evidenced before in this blog, I love anthology horror!  Brief tales of horror and madness serve as short bursts of fun that are pretty perfect for the short attention spans of most modern audiences.  Films like Cat’s Eye, Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, and After Midnight are nice examples of big screen releases that put recognizable stars in various states of terror.  The good thing is that if a segment doesn’t speak to you, you only have to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the next one to start up.

Many people will hear Tales from the Crypt and instantly think of the popular HBO series that ran from 1989 to 1996.  That series, like the movie featured in today’s post, were based on the popular comic of the same name that was published from 1950-1955 (tales from The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror eventually made their way into the HBO series as well).  I actually thought I had seen 1972’s Tales from The Crypt long ago when I was trying to feast my eyes upon every anthology offering out there.  When I recently reviewed the And All Through the House episode of the HBO show, I discovered it had already been filmed before for this movie…so I took steps to get my hands on this pronto.

I’m sure glad I caught this one because Tales from the Crypt is a highly entertaining film, with nice production values, solid performances, and strong direction from Freddie Francis (Nightmare, and the cinematographer for numerous Hollywood films like the remake Cape Fear).  There’s great atmosphere and even its outlandish ‘70s styles don’t distract from the horror at hand.  For a B-movie, it looks great and holds up quite nicely some forty years after its original release.

On a tour of a local cemetery, four men and one woman get separated from the group and find themselves locked in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson, looking far less ghastly than the withered puppet that hosted the HBO show).  None of the five individuals know quite why they’re there but the Crypt Keeper helps them see how they’ll wind up six feet under.

The first tale is the aforementioned And All Through The House starring the gorgeous Joan Collins.  She’s a materialistic wife that kills her husband on Christmas Eve, just as a maniac in a Santa suit comes a-callin’.  There’s a wonderful jump scare here which sent me out of my seat with a jolt with its unexpected arrival.  It’s a 12-minute wonderful nugget of tension, and it surprised me how much this one put me on the edge of my seat seeing that it takes place in bright light with holiday songs playing constantly in the background.

The subsequent tales are a bit longer and have varying degrees of interest.  There’s the tale of the cheating husband who leaves his wife but comes back a bit on the dead side, a couple that wishes for riches and pays the price for their greed, a young man that brings about the downfall of a harmless but dotty neighbor, and a cruel doctor at an institute for the blind that gets a taste of his own medicine.   All are fine to pass the time but none have the instant impact of the Christmas-set first sequence.

From the shag carpeting to the flared jeans and oversized belts, the production values on this are perfect time capsules of the era and it’s a little funny to see blood that looks like Pepto-Bismol used to show death’s aftermath.  If you’re willing to check your modern tendency to be jaded at the door, you’ll really get into the swing of this one.  If the tales feel a bit on the familiar side, it’s likely they served as inspiration for countless imitations over the years.

Well-made and scary, this nightmare omnibus is one to remember if you’re looking for something from the past that holds up quite well.  Very much worth seeking out, it’s available as a double feature with The Vault of Horror – more anthology fun for all!

31 Days to Scare ~ Night School

The Facts:

Synopsis: Who’s been decapitating the innocent girls at a local night school? The police are baffled.

Stars: Rachel Ward, Leonard Mann, Drew Snyder, Joseph R. Sicari, Nicholas Cairis, Karen MacDonald

Director: Kenneth Hughes

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  Some movies are forgotten for a reason.  I’d never seen Night School until recently and any hopes of discovering a new diamond in the rough were squelched early on. Though released in the first wave of slice and dice slasher films that appeared after the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Night School just doesn’t make the grade when compared to other flicks of that era.  Moreover, fans who have hailed it for being one of the first female-centric slasher films seem to be willing to ignore that the violence (and general attitude) towards its female characters is terribly lurid.

First-time (and thankfully last-time) screenwriter Ruth Avergon’s script revolves around a leather clad killer chopping the heads off women attending, you guessed it, night school in Boston’s inner-city.  While the stalk and kill scenes have a certain style to them, it’s the tripe that takes place between the kills that drags this movie down to the depths.  Avergon’s characters are one dimensional and attempts to flesh them out fail miserably in the hands of actors without the chops to get the job done.  In her first role, Rachel Ward (The Thorn Birds) walks and talks likes she’s a bit drunk while straight-laced detective Leonard Mann emotes as if his life depends on it.  As a bed-hopping professor, Drew Snyder revels in the fact he’s been cast as catnip to women when his performance is more like garlic to a vampire.  The identity of the killer is easy to spot pretty early on and the red herring finale is pretty flimsy.

88 minutes feels like an eternity when you have pacing problems and that blame falls to director Kenneth Hughes.  I guess it’s hard to expect the director of the spoof version of Casino Royale and the family film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to have much alacrity with the horror genre.  This was not only Hughes one foray into horror but his last film ever…maybe the large drubbing this film received upon its release in 1981 played a part in that?

Horror fans can see that Night School wants to emulate the Giallo style of filmmaking popularized in Europe in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  While it goes through a Giallo checklist in rote fashion, it misses the boat on pairing that style with atmosphere as well.  There’s no shock here, no sense of danger.  All it is is a deranged killer preying on female victims that don’t do much but throw up their hands in defense and cry when being attacked.  It’s an overall icky film and one you can easily avoid.  Released in 1981 along with lasting classics like The Howling, Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London, Halloween II, and Happy Birthday to Me, this one is bottom-feeding material.

31 Days to Scare ~ Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The Facts:

Synopsis: After being mortally wounded and taken to the morgue, murderer Jason Voorhees spontaneously revives and embarks on a killing spree as he makes his way back to his home at Camp Crystal Lake.

Stars: Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Lawrence Monoson, E. Erich Anderson,  Judi Aronson, Joan Freeman, Barbara Howard, Clyde Hayes, Camilla More, Carey More, Ted White, Lisa Freeman, Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton

Director: Joseph Zito

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s laughable now to think that upon its release in April of 1984 this was actually intended to be the swan song for masked maniac Jason Voorhees. I mean, the old guy still had six sequels, a spin-off with Freddy Krueger, and a remake yet to go before hanging up his machete…for now, at least. Remember, this was an era when multiple sequels were all but unheard of so for the Friday the 13th series to survive up until the fourth chapter was a bit of a miracle. Remarkably, instead of immediately seeing years into the future and the possible profits to be made, the producers made the conscious decision to close up shop and give the audience the finale they were owed.

After Friday the 13th became such an unexpected hit and spawned a quickie sequel followed by an otherwise lame-o 3D threequel, there didn’t seem to be much more to do with the story of a deformed killer offing nubile teens that are unlucky enough to enter his woods. So to tie up the loose ends, Joseph Zito was brought in as a new director and original make-up maestro Tom Savini was enlisted to make the film’s kills and their aftermath extra ooey and gooey. Zito had already directed the similarly themed The Prowler (check that one out, it’s a cult favorite) so he knew his way around the stalk and slash genre. Often called the father of Jason, Savini brought his superlative A-game to the screen, making some realistic effects jump off the screen with bloody delight.

Picking up right after the events of Friday the 13th Part 3, The Final Chapter takes its time in setting its star loose. First he’s brought to the morgue where he doesn’t stay on the slab for long and then he cuts his way back to his beloved Crystal Lake. Standing in his way is a house full of partying teens (including a young Crispin Glover and former Double Mint twins Camilla and Carey More) and a mother with two children, once of which will play a part in several of the sequels. It’s never explained why he targets this group, there’s no reference to the Camp Crystal Lake Jason called home nor do any of the characters have any relation to previous installments.

At 91 minutes, there’s not much time for character development and what little there is revolves around which guy is hornier and which girl is easiest. It has a relatively reserved pacing in the first act that gives way to multiple vignettes where victims find themselves alone and horrifically killed by the hockey-masked hellion. Though the movie was significantly cut to avoid an X rating, Savini leaves little to the imagination, culminating in a finale that ups the ante for gross out gore. Fans of the series that had been waiting for Jason to get his due must have gotten a total thrill out of seeing him hacked and whacked.

Previous entries of the franchise came off as retreads of the original or copies of other famous horror films but The Final Chapter felt like it strove to be better than the rest. With its effort to, ahem, flesh out its characters and take its time getting to the good stuff, there’s a reason why this one is held in high regard by fans. The success of this one at the box office meant there was an much reviled fifth installment greenlit and released barely a year after The Final Chapter but the series would get back into a fun groove with Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI before careening downward fast again. Anytime I’m doing a Friday the 13th marathon I’ll watch the first four and, depending on my mood, throw on the sixth one for fun. Also a positive thing about The Final Chapter is that if you’ve never seen any previous film you could watch this without being too lost.

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day


31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  This movie stinks!

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  This is a new classic!

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’ll probably get put into some movie critic jail (with a suspended sentence) for giving a marginal thumbs up to Happy Death Day…but this is one of the far more harmless offerings in the increasingly profitable low-impact horror genre.  It’s aimed squarely at the sleepover crowd, teen-ish tweens that like their scares bloodless and more than a tad bitchy.  In that respect, the movie delivers in spades but hardcore horror fans looking for the rebirth of the masked-killer slasher film are bound to leave the theater ready to slice and dice the filmmakers.

With a premise so much stolen from Groundhog Day that a character actually references it late into proceedings, there’s a certain goodwill charm to Happy Death Day that kept me from rolling my eyes so hard I fell out of my seat.  Tree (Jessica Rothe, La La Land, who possesses a great scream but poor line readings) is a bratty college co-ed who wakes up from a night of partying in the dorm room of an underclassman (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring) so clueless he boasts of folding her clothes and is disappointed she doesn’t remember his name.  As she takes the walk of shame back to her sorority house she wanders through the quad barely noticing car alarms going off, a lip-locked couple getting soaked by sprinklers, or a tired pledge fainting from a frat hazing.  She also bumps into a random admirer and runs into her queen bee sorority frenemy (a hilarious Rachel Matthews) before crash landing on her bed, much to the wonderment of her timid roomie (Ruby Modine) ready to present Tree with her birthday cupcake

As Tree’s day goes on, we come to see she’s having an affair with her married teacher and avoiding her dad who wants to take her out for her birthday.  None of that really matters, though, because later that evening when she’s on her way to another frat party she’s chased down and killed by someone wearing a mask depicting the school mascot.  And then she wakes up in the same dorm room to live it all over again and subsequently dies at the hands of the baby-faced killer.  And then she wakes up again…and again…and again…each time resulting in her death.  Pretty soon she’s making use of her multiple lives and crossing possible suspects off her list, a sequence set to music that gives the film an unusually welcome comic diversion. Every time she comes back, though, the effects of her ‘deaths’ start to show so it’s a race against seemingly endless time to find out who wants her dead and why.  The mystery isn’t quite as simple to solve as you may think; there are enough red herrings to feed a small village and the final solution (or is it solutions?) goes down easy.

Though it tries to join the ranks of college-set slasher films like Happy Birthday to Me and The House on Sorority Row, the problem I had with the movie is likely the exact reason it may do some decent business this upcoming Friday the 13th weekend, it’s just not scary enough is totally risk averse.  While competently made by director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) from a fitfully interesting script by Scott Lobdell (X-Men: Days of Future Past), I got the impression it was intended to be bloodier (there’s almost no blood at all in the film) but was toned down to cash in on a particular target audience.  Originally titled Half to Death (what?), I wouldn’t be shocked to see an uncut version of Happy Death Day pop up on BluRay but at the end of the day this feels like a watered down Long Island Ice Tea…there’s a faint taste of booze but not enough to have much effect.

 

31 Days to Scare ~ The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The Facts:

Synopsis: A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harboring dark secrets.

Stars: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Olwen Catherine Kelly, Michael McElhatton, Jane Perry

Director: André Øvredal

Rated: R

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Based on the recommendation of a trusted source, I fired up The Autopsy of Jane Doe a while back on a cold evening when I had the apartment to myself. I turned off all the lights and settled in to see if the good buzz from my friend was real. 86 minutes later the lights had been turned on (and stayed on for the better part of the night) and my nerves were downright rattled. A rare jewel in a sometimes-tarnished crown of low-budget horror films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe has some smarts behind it, not to mention a fair share of goosebump-inducing passages.

Proving once again why you should just close up shop when the day is done, a father-son set of coroners answer a late-night call from the police to start an autopsy of a young woman found buried in a neighboring town. Though she’s been hidden in the dirt for an indeterminate amount of time, her alabaster skin doesn’t show any decay nor is there any sign of immediate trauma. As the two men work into the night in their shadowy underground funeral home, they begin to believe not only that there’s spooky forces at play surrounding Jane Doe…but that the body might not be dead enough for burial just yet.

As the family members plunged into a frightful night of terror, Brian Cox (Pixels) and Emile Hirsch (Lone Survivor) play well off each other, mostly because they treat the material with the right amount of growing warines. The father is more trusting of history and science while the son is willing to suspend his disbelief and consider that what’s happening to this body can’t be explained away by documented medical cases. Writers Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing’s plot will keep you guessing and their script is aided by André Øvredal’s measured direction. Special mention must be made to the actress playing Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) who has to do a helluva lot lying full naked on a cold metal slab.

The final 1/3 of the movie is loads of fun with many developments happening in quick succession. You’ll never get too far ahead of the characters, thereby enjoying each twist as it develops in front of you. There’s a fair amount of autopsy gore but the other violence is handled with just the right quantity of blood and guts. I hesitate to call the film classy because then we get into a different type of horror film that this one just doesn’t have any aspiration to be. It knows what it is and is highly effective in its mission to freak you out. Watch it alone if you must but try and rope a friend in to share the love.