Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS ORIGINS (2018)

Over the past few years we historically-challenged Americans have suddenly rediscovered Krampus, an old-world mythological anti-Santa who punishes the kids who didn't make Santa's Nice list. He does this with a whip and a sack to throw the kids in, so that they may be carted off to be drowned, eaten or simply delivered to hell. But who cares? This movie doesn't.

Brought to you by Uncork'd Entertainment, the company that brought you all those other poverty row videos with cool painted covers that you forgot all about five minutes after you watched them, KRAMPUS ORIGINS is the third in their string of Krampus movies from writer-director Robert Conway. Starting with the abysmally dull KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING (2015), and the not-good-but-vastly-improved KRAMPUS: UNLEASHED (2016), it took two years to finally follow that up with an origins story that amazingly cannot be bothered to tell an origins story.

The year is 1918 and the optimistically named War to End All Wars is reaching its final days. December 2nd, to be exact. Sadly the time is not mentioned. A half squad of doughboys have infiltrated what appears to be somebody's unfinished basement, and after killing a couple of krauts (who say things like "copy that"), they find a some wing-nut reciting out of a book and waving around an amulet. Sensibly, they kill him and take his stuff, only to find out that the book is in some sort of weird language that is definitely not German. Remember that. Definitely not German. The squad leader Patrick McNamara (Owen Conway, son of Robert) stashes the book in his pack to be promptly forgotten about.

Flash forward a couple of weeks to Arizona (for no apparent reason) where Mrs. Josephine McNamara (Katie Peabody) is arriving to work for a Catholic orphanage as a history teacher. The orphanage is home to our favorite clerical archetypes; drunk priest, strict nun, well-meaning-but-not-too-bright nun, way-too-forward-for-1918 black handyman, a cleaning woman who is into herbal magic and the unfortunate kids who have to put up with these idiots. Amazingly, although the orphanage is catholic, there are no crucifixes, Marys or Jesusi hanging on the walls, just the one cross in the chapel. The plot (such as it is) wobbles to a start when a young teenage girl, Adelia (Anna Harr) gets in dutch with Sister Rafus (Maria Olsen) after being caught with a book of alchemy given to her by the cleaning woman Lena (Shannyn Hall). This, as any fool can plainly see (I can plainly see that!), is foreshadowing events to come. Later. Much, much later.

Meanwhile we get scenes of Father Timothy (Michael Harrelson) and the handyman Jimmy (Miloh England) getting amicably drunk, two obnoxious boys peeking in on Josephine while she's getting slightly undressed, the same obnoxious boys bullying the somewhat stuttering boy Bram (Luke Waxman), and so on. In one riveting scene we find Josephine being woken up early by a nun so that she can attend morning mass. As if that wasn't captivating enough, we transition to that very same mass. Seriously, maybe this is interesting to someone, but I've been to enough masses, I really don't need to watch the local community playhouse version. Isn't this supposed to be a movie about Krampus? Or at the very least, a horror movie?

One thing that I believe has ruined low-budget horror movies is the fact that every kid on the block fancies himself a horror movie fan and the ones that do end up making horror films often make stuff that is either a blatant rip-off of other movies, an intentionally campy look-how-dumb-we-are movie, or a we-just-don't-give-a-shit movie. Or all three. I have a working theory that people who aren't fanboy types make the best horror movies. This theory may be a little out of date, as this movie goes way too far in the opposite direction, and like Conway's other KRAMPUS films, spends the bulk of its running time focusing on interpersonal drama. This time around it's even more obvious that Conway really, really doesn't want to write a horror movie.

While teaching class, Josephine is informed of her husband's death in battle, his personal effects are left on her desk. Naturally one of the kids, Ida (Grace Lopez), discovers the strange book and, being the sharpest knife in a drawer full of spoons, realizes that it is a spellbook and translates the bizarre language using a separate book that is conveniently located in the orphanage library. After translating the page that summons Krampus, the poop hits the proverbial fan and bodies start piling up and... oh, wait, no, that doesn't happen. We get a couple of kids looking sorta scared in Kramp-o-Vision (a watery, red video effect) and, in one of my most hated modern horror movie cliches, Ida is dragged backwards from the ground-level camera, clawing at the floor. This is finally going to kick things into gear, right?

Aaaaand, we are right back to the drama. And when I say "drama" what I mean is people reading books. I'm not kidding, I've never seen so many people read books in a movie before. It beats the hell out of kids looking at cell phones, but it really just made me want to stop the movie and go read a book. Guy N. Smith would never try to dupe me into reading a listless drama with a cover promising monstrous horrors. Can I get an "amen" my brothers and sisters?

After a gripping scene of Lena making a special tea for Josephine and joining Father Timothy to express condolences, we get some scenes of everybody in the freaking house saying "where is Ida?" Yes, we get it. Ida is missing. We fucking saw that! Suddenly a new kid shows up. Nicholas (Chandler Mantione) is a quiet, brooding type who doesn't like to answer questions and gives Lena the stinkeye, causing her to collapse into unconsciousness. In an attempt to find a remedy for her malaise, Adelia steals back the previously confiscated alchemy book. To hell with Lena, does it have a remedy for acute boredom? Meanwhile (again), Jimmy is sent off to look for Ida, bullies pick on Nicholas (with apparently bad results that we never see), the girls continue to try to help Lena and some more book reading takes place. Oh, and we have a lengthy dream sequence in which Josephine is visited by Jack who tells her that evil is coming, save the kids, the amulet will protect you, blah, blah, blah.

I'll give them credit for taking the story seriously, having it reasonably well shot for a budget-starved VOD filler flick, and for taking the effort to rent reasonably accurate period costumes (The Asylum sits in shame). On the other hand, it is literally one solid hour into the movie before the screenplay becomes anything other than a paper-thin drama about an orphanage. And not even a passable drama at that. Perhaps if there were some character intricacies and some engaging subplots, it would be acceptable to wait until the last 15 minutes for something horror, but even then, it better be a seriously kick-ass 15 minutes.

This all finally leads up to Krampus' appearance. Or rather not so much Krampus, as what appears to be the younger brother of Jay Woelfel's DEMONICUS (2001). Now, let the carnage begin! Err, no. Well, unless you consider Josephine discovering the nuns, priest and Jimmy dead with light abrasions to the head and neck carnage. Josephine also witnesses Nicholas (badly) morphing into what for the sake of argument we will call "Krampus", but then, instead of being scared shitless by the sudden appearance of a demonic figure with a +2 Staff of Flaming Graphicalness, engages him in a lengthy existential discussion of his motivation. The reason the conversation is lengthy is because Krampus taaaaaallkkkssssss veeeeeeerrrryy slooooooooowllyyyyyy. Listening to him wheeze out a single line is like listening to a 45 recording of an asthmatic 13 year old trying to sound like a badass being played at 33 rpm.

In addition to phlegming up, he also uses his staff to blast cheap CGI fire bolts at the kids. Josephine suddenly recognizes the language in the demonic book as "old German" and easily translates it in her head because... she's a history teacher. Sure, whatever, at this point I am not going to argue. This leads to Krampus' cheap CGI banishment and the return of all of the kids that he previously zapped (off camera). The end? Nope! This brings the running time to a mere 75 minutes, so we need an extra five minutes of epilogue in which Josephine says some nice stuff over the graves of the orphanage staff members and a leisurely bit with the returned bullies who decide to be like really nice and stuff, apologizing for beating up on the now non-stuttering Bram. When asked what happened to his stutter, Bram replies "I don't know". Seriously, that's it. People are buying new cars with that level of writing. Add in about another 5 minutes of credits and boom! We have a feature! I feel so used.

First off, I should say that I was actually kind of pulling for this one when it started out. I mean, of course, after the typo in the opening exposition text. Conway handed over the directorial reigns to second time director Joseph Mbah, which may have been a solid plan for success, except that Conway still wrote the script. If there is one problem with Uncork'd's Krampus movies, it's the gawdawful writing. For low-rent digital photography, this outing is well shot and competently acted, and like I said before, they actually make an effort to make it look at least somewhat period accurate. Most low-renters, like Jason Hull's KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL (2013), wouldn't even entertain that notion during the spitball session that took place over a couple fifths of Jack at 2am. Maybe that's the reason Hull can't even manage to keep his movie in focus. On the other hand, the fact that nothing remotely horror-ish happens until the very end of the movie is disappointing at best, but the fact that it's not even going to give us some sort of Krampus rampage is totally and completely unforgivable. I'm not even going to get into the fact that the Krampus depicted in the movie bears no resemblance to the Krampus on the box art. That is the least of this movie's sins.

Even so, there is definitely some areas of opportunity here. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Nicholas wasn't allowed to take over the second half of the movie (he comes in at the 40 minute mark) and create a little bit of OMEN-lite suspense and havoc. It wouldn't require much extra effort or expenditure, except a few decent prosthetic effects. They could have still had their incredibly dull "Krampus talks for a while and is promptly banished" ending, if they must, but at least something would be driving the movie forward. I also can't figure out why they felt this movie needed to be something that would barely qualify for a PG-13 rating, particularly since the previous outing, KRAMPUS: UNLEASHED, threw down some surprisingly good gore effects in the middle of its tedious tale of family drama. Perhaps Conway wanted to make a Krampus movie that he could watch with his mother. That's my best guess.

It appears, yet again, I have failed to make Santa's Nice list as Krampus continues to punish me with yuletide cinematic trips to hell. Maybe the next one will be better? Don't laugh! It could happen! What? It's MOTHER KRAMPUS 2? Oh for fuck sake...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween Havoc: CAMP DEATH III IN 2D! (2018)

Happy Halloween everyone! We hope you have enjoyed our month long overview of horror’s oddest flicks. What’s that? We didn’t do any reviews this month? Well, close your eyes and imagine the big plans we had. They were great, right? Sadly, discretion is the worst part of procrastination (I’ll explain that later). That said, we do have one Halloween treat for you today.

While it is not a set policy here at Video Junkie, we tend to shy away from solicited reviews. That basically boils down to 99% of the features sent our way look pretty rough and, like the true cowards we are, we prefer our takedowns to be less personal. So when an email arrived asking us to look at CAMP DEATH III IN 2D!, we kind of didn’t know if it should be tackled or not. But then something magical happened - I clicked on the trailer link and actually enjoyed what I saw. It was a horror spoof, so I knew it was going to be tricky. It was also super low budget, so it was going to be doubly tricky. Regardless, I looked the the Bible verse tattooed on my arm ("Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee...") and hit the “reply” button. Soon I was speaking with the film’s creator, Matt Frame, and he was kind enough to send a screener link.

The film opens with a black and white flashback at Camp Crystal Meph as we see camp counselor Alice (Cynthia Chalmers) being attacked by masked killer Johann Van Damme (Terry Mullett, who is sadly bald). Letting audiences know where it stands right away, the film re-enacts the famous bit from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) where Amy Steel’s Ginny distracts Jason by pretending to be his mother. The difference here being that Alice distracts him with a puppet pretending to be his mother that promises a treat of “fuckin’ fudge.” One puppet decapitation later and we are sailing into a blitz of opening credits with newspaper headlines mentioning 431 murders at the camp over the last six summers and the fact that Alice (and her puppet) have disappeared from a mental asylum.

We pick up several years later with Mel Boogjumper (Darren Andrichuk) reopening the camp. After failing as a Jewish summer camp, he has opted to adopt the plan by his nephew Todd (Dave Peniuk) to offer a camp for the “institutionally insane and woefully retarded.” Helping out will be Todd’s love interest Rachel (Angela Galanopoulos) and wheelchair-bound Barry (Chris Allen). Oh, and there is the grouchy cook Ethel (Leslie Schwetz) and creepy groundskeeper Crapsey (Shawn Bordoff). Soon the bus arrives and we are introduced to the ten special campers including lascivious Aussie Amy (Emma Docker); neck brace wearing Verta (Katherine Alpen); gruff Jesus (Jason Asuncion); shy Angela (Andrea Bang); potato loving Aids (Niall King); and tough lesbian Rod (Leonie Armstrong). Before you can “ch-ch-ch-ah-ah-ah,” the counselors and campers are soon being attacked by Johann and dying in the most madcap ways imaginable.

Shot in British Columbia, Canada over a period of a year between 2014 and 2015 under the title CAMP DEATH III: THE FINAL SUMMER, this hilarious spoof managed to defy all of the odds. Horror spoofs are hard to do. Low budget horror efforts are even harder. And low budget comedy is very, very hard. So the fact that the dedicated cast and crew managed to get this out there is pretty astounding. The fact that they got any laughs out of me is a downright miracle. Oh wait, I’m easy. It was obviously a combined creative effort as most of the cast gets a “story by…” credit at the end. One of the most amazing things to me is everyone in the cast gets the wacky tone correct. In a low budget effort, that is pretty incredible. Standouts for me include Alpen as the crazed Verta (the character played like Joan Cusak’s SIXTEEN CANDLES character on meth), Asuncion as the thug-with-a-song-in-his-heart (he gets his own musical number!) and Schwetz as the hilariously dour cook. Also, Andrichuk deserves special mention as the foul mouthed Uncle Mel. With his film long battle against a puppet squirrel and endearing “Fuck your world!” catchphrase, he comes off like a combo of Bill Murray’s Carl from CADDYSHACK (1980) and Ricky from TRAILER PARK BOYS. I particularly liked when the hilarious police officer Bert Gaybert (Kyle Fines) shows up and tells about how Uncle Mel once got in a fight with the lake and then tried to sue the lake.

The praise (or blame, depending on what you thought of the film) can be laid at the feet of director Matt Frame. Destined to be a director by his last name, Frame did nearly everything on the project from directing to editing to cinematography to visual effects. Honestly, I’m surprised he gave up the coveted “potato prop master” position to Alpen. To show his dedication while crowdsourcing the project, Frame walked for 24 hours straight...with a coconut chained to him! He's like Terry Fox but with an extra leg and a coconut. Frame ended up walking 67.9 miles and probably still blames the coconut for not letting him hit that 68 mile mark. This sort of dedication lends itself to the film’s screenplay and you can tell Frame spent a good amount of time studying the classics like the first three FRIDAY THE 13TH films, the SLEEPAWAY CAMP series, and even THE BURNING (1981). Hell, he even works in a spoof of the greatest stranded-in-the-woods slasher, RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).

Working with a meager budget of $35,000 CAD (converted is around $578 American dollars, I believe), the production manages to look polished, even working in some nice aerial shots. Everything is shot and edited in an over-the-top, cartoon-y fashion. Perhaps I’m dating myself, but the style reminded me of the Jackalope segments that used to be on AMERICA’S FUNNIEST PEOPLE. Yes, I’m old. It is definitely aiming for that live-action cartoon vibe. If the film has any flaw, it may be that it is too over-the-top. With the jokes flying fast and furious, there is little down time between jokes in its 82 minutes and, honestly, I was exhausted by the time I reached the LOONEY TUNES-style climax (where characters literally launch off the planet). However, in this day and age of lazy filmmaking, accusing someone of being too ambitious and delivering too much is pretty much a complement. CAMP DEATH III IN 2D! won’t please everyone, but I’ve got to say I was amused and impressed. The film’s trailer (see below) is actually the perfect litmus test to see if you will enjoy it. In fact, it openly says if you didn’t laugh once to not watch and declares: “This film is about as subtle as a rock to the face.” Finally, some real truth in advertising!


Monday, July 2, 2018

Redbox Reject: MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL (2018)

I honestly had no intention of diving back into the murky Redbox waters so quickly. After the last endurance test, I needed the mandatory six months to recharge. However, those sly bastards at Redbox hit my email with an offer I couldn’t refuse - get your next rental for only 50 cents! Why you sumbitches. To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!”

So then it was a tough night of decisions. You see, one simply doesn’t show up to the Redbox not knowing what they want. Do I go for BAD APPLES? Or am I in a THE 13TH FRIDAY mood? Is CANNIBAL FARM tickling my fancy? Eventually I decided to get my Charles Band on and went with the UK import MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL. Wilson, you’re an idiot.

The tiny terrors horror subgenre has been a constant staple since Redbox’s early days where they actually had a deal with Band. Now if you can get anything tiny into a horror movie, you are practically guaranteed a spot in the kiosk. UK director Andrew Jones has perfected the formula with his ROBERT series, which is apparently 5 films deep now. No doubt the success of THE CONJURING spinoff ANNABELLE has also contributed to the growing “cursed doll” market. And much like those films, MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL claims to be based off a true story. The purported story involves early 20th century doll housed in a museum in Canada. The previous owner donated it after hearing crying in the night that could not be located and it freaked them out. Now it is behind a glass case and causing all sorts of calamity at the museum, such as moving pens and missing lunches. You guys sure this isn’t just normal workplace routines? “My pen is missing, must be the haunted doll!”

MANDY opens with a tiny prologue which sets the events in England in 1910. A young girl is locked in a parish during a snowy winter and dies after ten days with the title doll in her arms. Cut to the present day where a young couple is making out before the girl tells her boyfriend about the “best bullshit job in the world.” Wait, she reviews Redbox movies for our blog? Oh, sorry, she was talking about a weird babysitting job she had where she never saw the child. Just as she finishes up her story, there is someone at the front door. When she opens the door, she finds a package that contains a old doll with a cracked face. As horror tropes dictate, she immediately says, “Have you heard about the legend of Mandy the Doll” and explains the story to her beau. Naturally, this is Mandy in the, porcelain and she comes alive to kill the couple in rather non-exciting fashion.

Our story proper begins with Amber Ross (Phoebe Torrance) being released from prison. She is met by her sister Carly (Amy Burrows) and Carly’s boyfriend Neil (Manny Jai Montana). Minutes into her new freedom, Amber is told by Carly that they have set up one big job that will set them all up on the road to financial freedom. Carly guilt trips her sister by saying they had paid off all her underworld debts and Neil even sold his gun. Woah, woah, wooooooah! Hold on a sec here. Now I allow haunted dolls that kill people, but a British person owning a gun? I can only suspend my disbelief so far. Anyway, the job involves - you guessed it - babysitting for Mrs. O’Brien (Penelope Read). The plan is to clean out the old lady’s house of all her valuables. Arriving at the house, Amber is told that Mrs. O’Brien’s daughter Mandy is asleep upstairs and not to disturb her. She lays out the rules of not going into the attic, not leaving the house, and always monitoring Mandy by baby monitors. “She’s a special girl,” she says before leaving.

Naturally, from the moment Amber is alone things start to get freaky. She hears Mandy speaking to her and goes into the room, only to find the doll in the bed. Thinking Mandy has been kidnapped, she called Mrs. O’Brien who then describes her “child” and Amber realizes the lady is crazy and wanted her to babysit her doll. Carly and Neil then show up to ransack the house and wait for their fence, Diana. Yes, this is the kind of movie where logic dictates the fence show up at a crime scene in order to evaluate items. *slaps forehead* Of course, this is really to facilitate another victim for the malicious Mandy, who starts attacking everyone and then arranges for a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE-like meal where everyone is strapped to chairs around a table to help Mandy celebrate her birthday.

Having previously endured THE ELF (2017) and THE TERRIBLE TWO (2018), it is probably not shocking that MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL is another Redbox dud. I guess it goes to show that low budget chores aren’t limited to our shores. Hey, that rhymed (I gotta amuse myself somehow). It is actually kind of amazing this was made 4,400 miles away from where the likes of THE ELF and THE TERRIBLE TWO were shot because they are remarkably similar. The same bland video cinematography, the same generic score droning on, long scenes of people making dumb choices, and nearly identical running times. Redbox must has a stipulation that films must at least be at least 77 minutes as every one of these three clocks in at roughly that time. All that said, there are some small gasps of decency in the movie. The three young leads are actually decent actors, although Torrance does vacillate wildly between good and bad at times. Read is also believable as Mandy’s crazed keeper and she gives her all in the finale where she smacks folks with a hammer. Director Jamie Weston should also get some credit for trying to make it look like a real film. Despite the bland video work, he has a good eye for shot composition (perhaps best evidenced in the opening in the church) and attempts some moody lighting.

Of course, any positives have to be immediately wiped out scenes such as the fence coming to the house and calling Carly and Amber. They ask where she is and she says she is downstairs. Amazingly, the girls never decide to go down ten steps to meet her and get the hell out. Yes, it is one of those kind of horror films where someone is feet from the front door, but opt to hide in a room instead. And, honestly, not much effort was put into making Mandy look formidable. I mean, it is literally people just holding the doll in the frame and wiggling it. I also need to admonish Weston for his audio commentary. This is the first Redbox horror I’ve seen with that special feature, so I wanted to check out what one of these new wave of filmmakers had to say. Apparently not much! Weston will comment on something and then not speak for minutes on end. I want to say he was enamored by his own work, but I’ve just seen MANDY and know that is virtually impossible. I gave up after 20 minutes where he had said maybe four things. The film ends with a coda where Mandy has moved on to a new family in the country, promising (threatening?) more sequels. When the mother sees the doll, she says, “The best place for this is in the bin.” Hey, I agree with that sentiment. And it seems most Redbox users do too:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lifetime Lessons: The STALKED BY MY DOCTOR films (2015-19)

For the uninitiated, the Lifetime channel here in the U.S. advertises under the slogan "television for women" and unleashes weekly original thrillers featuring "women in peril" situations. Over the last few years I've grown more familiar with them and seen several of the films on there. Most follow a set pattern, but can be fun in the execution. So when I found out writer-director Doug Campbell created a trilogy about an obsessed doctor played by Eric Roberts, I knew I had to check them out.

STALKED BY MY DOCTOR (2015) opens with brilliant cardiologist Dr. Albert Beck (Roberts) being stood up on a date and being told "don't write on my wall, I'm blocking you." You see Dr. Beck may have the brains to be the top heart doc in the world (he's on the President's Fitness Council), but he is a bit possessive and unhinged, often asking women to marry him on the first date. His obsession reaches new heights when Sophie Green (Brianna Joy Chomer) arrives in the ER after a car wreck caused by her boyfriend texting while driving. Beck is immediately smitten and his love only intensifies when Sophie gives him a card thanking him for saving her life. Her parents notice his odd behavior right away, but the doc always smoothly explains the situation. Soon he is showing up at shopping malls, sneaking into her house, and trying to break up her relationship.

The original proved popular enough that Dr. Beck returned nine months later in STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: THE RETURN (2016). Hiding out in Mexico under a fake name, Beck's romantic obsessions are awoken again when he saves high school senior Amy Watkins (Claire Blackwelder) from drowning. Knowing the danger he put himself in last time, Beck goes full Nabakov and woos Amy's mom (Hilary Greer) in an effort to get closer to the daughter. Naturally, Beck lets his inner creep slip out and Amy brings her concerns to her widowed mother, but she thinks Amy is just jealous of her new relationship. What she doesn't know is that her falling for Beck means falling off a ledge.

The third part arrived in June 2018 and brings everything full circle. Dr. Beck managed to get off scot-free during trial for his actions in the first film (he charmed a female juror). Two years removed from the ordeal, Sophie (Chomer, returning now with dark hair) is pissed the justice system has failed her and decides to get her own revenge. She enrolls in the college where Beck is now a teacher and begins a campaign to get him ousted. Beck, however, has found a new ally in Melissa (Anna Marie Dobbins), a 20-year-old student who admits to him she has daddy issues. Naturally, such issues lead to a relationship and Melissa helping Beck to silence his former object of affection.

As I mentioned before, these films are all about execution and Campbell, who wrote and directed all three films, handles it all great. This wasn't his first stalking rodeo as he had previously done STALKED AT 17 (2012) and STALKED BY MY NEIGHBOR (2015). Those (and earlier Lifetime work) prepared him for this lightning in a bottle situation in what has become akin to SyFy's SHARKNADO film success (not in terms of campy quality, but in terms of a ratings winner that fans have embraced). One of the great flourishes of the series is how Dr. Beck's hallucinations are played out on screen. This is perhaps best showcased in part two when a film noir on television starts talking to him and in part three when he has a song and dance number with Melissa (yes, really!). There is also some intentional comedy worked into all three films, showing Campbell recognizes the tropes of the genre and is having fun with them (at one point in part two Beck is seen eating pancakes that spell out Amy's name). These tiny directorial flourishes and twisty plots keep the films entertaining. This all works because of Roberts, who seems to be having a ball playing the role. The original STALKED was one of nearly 40 (!!!) films he had released in 2015. As Vanity Fair said, he is Hollywood's busiest actor but he isn't phoning it in like say Bruce Willis is at this point in his career. Beck gets funnier as the films unfold and Roberts pulls off that complicated balancing act since he is still a psycho (he never goes full Freddy Krueger). Part three even has double Beck as Roberts plays both the deranged doctor and his conscience onscreen. The door is left open for a part four and I fully welcome it. In fact, Lifetime should start world building like Marvel and Star Wars, culminating in giant "event movie" where all the crazed characters come together (hey, a boy can dream!).

All in all, an amazingly entertaining trilogy of Lifetime at its finest. I probably wouldn't recommend watching them unless you have at least a dozen Lifetime films under your belt. However, if you do watch them I say marathon them like I did as you are basically getting a six hour movie about the ever lovelorn life of Dr. Beck.

UPDATE! (in Robert Stack voice): Lifetime is the gift that keeps on giving and delivered a fourth entry in the series in July 2019 with the gloriously titled STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: A SLEEPWALKER'S NIGHTMARE. Dr. Beck is still on the run, hiding in plain sight as a waiter at a roadside diner. An opportunity to revive his Hippocratic oath falls into his lap when he notices a rude customer is a sleep disorder doc. One kidnapping later and Beck is now on his way to Arizona to assume the doctor's new position at a sleep institute. This is bad news for Michelle (Emilie Ullerup), who has come to the clinic for help with her sexsomnia (she legit sleepwalks and makes out with strangers). Even better, she has a young niece, Katie (Angeline Appel), that our stalk doc soon latches onto. Yes, Dr. Beck still just wants love.

With the fourth entry of the series, the producers introduce new blood behind the camera as series creator Doug Campbell hands the reins over to director Jeff Hare. The only thing I'd seen on Hare's filmography was the enjoyable killer bee flick KILLER BUZZ (2001) and he acquits himself well here. Roberts is his usual amazing self and having a ball as Beck and Beck's Hawaiian-shirted conscience. There is also a fun new character in Nicky Bismar (Michael Perl), a guy stalking Beck who will surely create even more chaos down the line. Cult horror fans will also get a kick out of seeing Felissa Rose as one of Beck's new colleagues who starts to suspect something is wrong. You can guess what happens to her. Perhaps the biggest genius move of this film is the writers brought in a character from another Lifetime flick. Yes, Michelle and her sleepwalking plight was originally featured in the also deliciously titled SLEEPWALKING IN SUBURBIA (2017). I love that there is the possibility for a Lifetime Universe (see my review for part 3 above where I dreamed it could happen). Bring on part 5 and even more crossovers!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Redbox Reject: THE TERRIBLE TWO (2018)

I was recently talking with a friend about the wild world of Redbox horror movies. Occasionally I will check out their listings online and you will always find at least 4 or 5 cheapo horror flicks you’ve never heard of showing up on there. The latest crop I saw included films with titles like MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL, THE LOST TREE, BAD APPLES, and THE TERRIBLE TWO. All uniformly featuring Photoshopped art (see pic on left), they arrive by the dozens every year to only disappear from sight soon after. So I started to wonder - are these any good? Is anyone out there chronicling them all? Is there a hidden gem out there somewhere? I had previously reviewed one with THE ELF (2017) back in the holidays and it was terrible, but maybe six months of Redbox sobriety would give me something better this time. With a bit of naive enthusiasm and $1.75, I decided to find out by renting THE TERRIBLE TWO by writer-director Billy Lewis. Wilson, you’re an idiot.

The film opens with an ominous narration a la John Larroquette on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). The narrator tells of an insane story that happened in January 2016 to the Poe family at 106 Chelsea in Greenfield, North Carolina. It was something so horrific that it attracted media attention worldwide. Jeez, must have missed a mortgage payment. We then cut to seven years earlier with Albert Poe (Reid Doyle) and his pregnant wife Rose (Cari Moskow) looking at the said abode with realtor Fred (Donny Boaz). We also get the first sign of lackluster direction when Rose sees a room perfect for their child and says it is going to make her cry. Fred then whispers under his breath, “One day it will.” Really, Lewis, really? You’re gonna red flag the bad guy this early on? Yikes. Anyway, the duo love the place, but think it is too good to be true. When asked about the previous owners, Fred just says, “I think the house became too much for them to handle.” Man, five minutes in and we’ve already got more red flags than China.

Cut to the present where Albert and Rose are living in a parents’ nightmare. You see, they are now coming up on the one year anniversary of the deaths of their two twin daughters, Addie and Jade. Albert is handling it better than Rose, who spends all day in bed and avoids working. Of course, the strange goings on aren’t helping her mental state. What is happening? Well, a toy cart rolls towards her, a picture falls off the wall and someone writes “why” in a fogged up mirror. That last bit leads to THE TERRIBLE TWO’s biggest feature - looooong scenes where Albert and Rose discuss things with bad dialogue. For your reading pleasure, I present the riveting “why would you write why” dramatic moment:

Albert (pointing to “why” in the mirror): This, Rose.
Rose: What?
Albert: This. Why would you write the word “why” in the mirror while I’m in the shower? Especially on this day.
Rose: I didn’t do that, Albert.
Albert: Well, if you didn’t do it then who else did?
Rose: I don’t know. I’ve been asleep in the bed the whole time you were in the shower.
Albert: Well, what the heck, Rose?
Rose: I don’t know what to tell you.
Albert: I don’t have time for this. I’ve got to get ready for work.
Rose: Alright.

This bit also showcases the penchant of writer-director Lewis to always have the lead  characters mentioning the other character’s name. Seriously, if you did a drinking game where you took a shot every time you heard Albert or Rose, you’d be in the hospital with alcohol poisoning by the thirty minute mark.

Alone in the house and hearing the voices of her dead children, Rose is obviously cracking up. When she heads into the attic to find birthday party decorations for her ghost kids, she sees an old typewriter (“I don’t remember having this.”) and finds a typed manuscript by a guy named Jack Wilson. More lazy direction here as she just spots it halfway under a drain pan. Really, Lewis, really? You couldn’t be bothered to have a tiny scene where she finds it hidden in a better place? Yikes. Anyway, things trudge along as Dr. Connor (Devin McGee) shows up to talk to Rose about her problems. Yay, more talking! He mentions he is also an ordained minister and the house is spooking him out. This actually leads to a small bit that had me howling as the doc asks Rose to explain what strange things have been happening.

Rose: Pictures have been falling off the wall. My little girls’ toy cart keeps moving around. And yesterday in the attic I found this manuscript about demons. It’s called Chasing Legion. I’ve never seen it before, so it must have belonged to the previous owner.
Dr. Connor (literally pulling up his sleeve and looking at his watch): You know, I just remembered I have another appointment I have to get to.

Filled with more questions than answers (much like the viewer), Rose decides to Google “Jack Wilson and Greenfield NC” to find out more about this manuscript. Much to her horror she finds an article in the Greenfield Times dated January 22, 1990 that says “well known author” Jack Wilson lived in the very house she is sitting in and was under suspicion for the disappearance of two Girl Scouts (remember that name and date for later; also note they did a "if you're still reading this..." gag in that framegrab). Naturally, Rose is freaked out and tells Albert in another classic dialogue scene. Ladies and gents, I now present the equally riveting “don’t believe what you read on the internet” dramatic moment:

Rose: There’s something I need to tell you, Albert.
Albert: Anything.
Rose: I found an old manuscript in the attic yesterday that I’ve been reading.
Albert: And?
Rose: And it’s not finished so I’ve been doing some research and I’m not liking what I am finding.
Albert: What are you talking about, Rose?
Rose: A man who has a connection to this house was apparently tormented by a group of demons named Legion. It is the same group of demons in the New Testament that Jesus drove out the man [sic] that lived in the cave for all those years.
Albert: I didn’t read the Bible, but go on.
Rose: I know. The only way that he could rid himself of these demons was to kill someone.
Albert: Where are you getting your information?
Rose: From the internet. I was doing some research. And from the book as well. Like I said.
Albert: There you go. Baby, please don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Rose: That is your response to what I just told you?
Albert: Yes, Rose. Look, this sounds like some religious taboo crap that some demonic cult made up just to justify their agenda.
Rose: Read the manuscript then.
Albert: I’m not reading anything.
Rose: Will you at least pray with me tonight then? It will mean a lot to me.
Albert: Sure. If it will make you happy.

They get their prayer on that night, but within seconds they hear a loud thump and find a creepy old lady in their foyer. Cue another great line as Albert says, “Excuse me, how did you get in our house?” The old lady issues some generic warnings and then pulls a knife of them before splitting. A bit later we find out she is in cahoots with the realtor, which is not a shock since he was portrayed as the bad guy in the movie’s first scene. He says something to the lady about staying out of it and to let the natural course of events take place.

Concerned for the couple, Dr. Connor returns to talk with Albert. He says he did some research on what Rose told him and found that Jack Wilson was the pseudonym for an author named Donovan Peebles. It turns out that when their girls died, it was the 25th anniversary of when Peebles killed two Girl Scouts on the porch of this very home in a ritual he thought would expel his demons. To prove this, he shows Albert a newspaper clipping from the Greenfield Times on January 20, 1990 showing Peebles was on the run after killing the two girls. Wait, wait, WAAAAAAIT! Just a few minutes earlier Rose found a Greenfield Times clipping dated January 22, 1990  that said Wilson/Peebles was under suspicion for the disappearances. But two days previous it was reported he was already on the run for the killings? Man, the Greenfield Times needs a new editor...and I need a life. Jesus, this is some sloppy stuff and I think I’ve put more effort into checking this plot line than the filmmakers. Anyway, let’s speed this up. During this conversation we find out that Albert actually killed his girls a year ago while possessed and then Rose flies into some demon voice possession in the girls’ bedroom while wielding a knife. Naturally after that happens they - what else? - sit at a table to talk about it. Things finally start coming together as the terrible two emerge at the 70 minute mark to stalk their parents in scary masks. I will say that this section does offer what will probably be one of the best lines I hear all year as Albert says, “I just found a death threat note in my sock drawer from the girls.” It all thuds to a typical conclusion where someone dies and Fred is soon offering the house to a new family. Moral of the story? Always do your due diligence when buying a house.

Before I go off on the filmmakers, I should state that I admire that they made the film in my neighboring state of North Carolina on a budget of  apparently $35,000. Making a movie is hard work and getting something on to the shelf, er, kiosk is something that should be applauded. The actors are actually decent as well and Lewis moves his camera, both of which are huge wins for an indie horror production. Pretty much everything else in THE TERRIBLE TWO should be condemned. It is, well, terrible. As outlined in the review, writer-director Billy Lewis spends waaaay too much time having characters discuss things over and over.  Now having a slow burn horror film drawing out the tension is fine, but there is nothing going on here. When we finally get into the Wilson/Peebles mystery, Lewis muddles it beyond comprehension. Of course, I shouldn’t expect much since Lewis shows his cards with the realtor being the villain within the very first scene. C’mon, man. So looks like I’m 0 for 2 when it comes to Redbox horrors. Moral of the story? Always do your due diligence when renting from Redbox. I am in agreement with most Redbox users who gave this one star (see pic below). I do have to admire that 5 star giver “Philliebutt” felt that a film about satanic rituals and dead children was family friendly though.