31 (2016)

31 (2016)

Directed by: Rob Zombie. Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: September 16, 2016.

On Letterboxd, I’m participating in a scavenger hunt there for the month of May where you make a list of 31 films by answering prompts to watch in the month of May. The link to the original host’s scavenger hunt with the prompts can be found here. My list can be found here, too.

I started my scavenger hunt by reviewing Rob Zombie’s film 31 for Prompt Number 19 which was to “watch a film where characters play a game, but it’s more than just a game.” In Rob Zombie’s film, five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned compound where they’re forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.

I watched this film first so I could say I’ve now finished Zombie’s filmography. It’s almost happened by accident because he only has seven feature films, but for me, he’s a consistent filmmaker. That’s not a good thing – I’ve only liked one of his films and that was 2007’s Halloween. I didn’t like Halloween 2, I hate his Firefly trilogy (I tolerated The Devil’s Rejects the most), didn’t like Halloween 2 and just hate, hate, The Lords of Salem. Then there’s 31, which I hated as well.

The laziest thing about it might be the title itself, merely called 31 because it takes place on Halloween in 1976. Sure, he can’t call the film Halloween for obvious reasons, but at least try with the title. The game is also named 31 because it’s played annually on Halloween. The concept is why I wanted to watch this because I love battle royale kind-of films, and this felt like a horror battle royale. As a concept, the set-up is fine.

A trio of wealthy aristocrats, led by Malcolm McDowell, decked out in Victorian era costumes tell our heroes they’ll play a game called 31. They inform our heroes of their odds of survival, as if people are betting on the outcome but that’s barely addressed, where the women of the group are given 500 to 1 odds of survival and the men given 60 to 1 odds of survival, because that’s just how Rob Zombie sees the world.

For the most part I just didn’t care about how the main characters played the game because I didn’t like them. They’re a group of carnival workers traveling to their next city – I guess – but it’s not that well-developed and the five characters that survive to the game of 31 are generally boring or unlikable. I frankly found the only one of note to be Charly, played by Rob Zombie’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie. She can’t act, but she’s also never been given a strong character.

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Jane Carr, Malcolm McDowell and Judy Geeson in 31. (IMDb)

She gets some terrible dialogue, as does everyone else, and my biggest problem with Rob Zombie as a filmmaker is just the blatant sexism and how he sees women. I don’t like his view of the world or the worlds that he creates – Halloween was the most tolerable of all his films because it’s someone else’s character. Zombie’s characters don’t talk like real people and the way they interact with each other, even outside of the game, is gross because they’re horrible to each other. It’s expected in a Rob Zombie film and maybe I’m being too Canadian, but it’s just so off-putting.

As a concept, I think 31 is a good idea but Zombie’s style and dialogue kills it. I also like violence in film when there’s a purpose or it feels fun, and 31 is neither of those. In writing, I thought the staging of the film and pacing was solid as instead of a whole gang of clowns coming to overpower them, the five players face clowns in different stages. The first clown theatrically introduced to them is also the most annoying – it’s a clown called Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), a Spanish little person dressed as Adolf Hitler. The dialogue he gets makes him more excruciatingly annoying than threatening.

His sequence is also where the film looks at its most– the colour palette is so flat and dull this might as well have been in black and white. It’s so lifeless and that’s how I generally feel while watching a Zombie film, just dead inside. The big bad of the film, called Doom-Head and played well by Richard Brake, is the main boss who has a perfect murder record because he’s a Terminator-esque killing machine. He’s obviously a horrible human being, but his third act portion would be more fun if we actually cared about any of the players.

I tolerated this film for 20 minutes when a pair of chainsaw-wielding clowns came out to play. Their scenes are somewhat fun and well-shot, despite the still consistently off-putting dialogue. It’s also a little fun when E.G. Daily shows up as we see a wild side of Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls. Unfortunately, in her moment to shine, it looks so ugly because a strobe-light sort-of effect above makes it so hard to see and makes it so irritating.

I honestly think Zombie’s horror writing in his action is solid, but it’s his visual style that consistently compromises it. His films are also ruined by someone opening their mouth because they so often just spout vitriol at one another. It’s maddening to watch this happen time after time, and I’m truly ecstatic to be done with his filmography because it was an ordeal.

Score: 25/100

Halloweentown (1998)

Halloweentown (1998)
Halloweentown Poster
IMDb

Halloweentown. Directed by: Duwayne Dunham. Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown, Judith Hoag. Runtime: 1h 24 min. Released: October 17, 1998.

Truly, Halloweentown is the classic Disney Channel Original Movie. It was the fourth to premiere on the network as a DCOM, but it feels like the one that started it all. I’d watch it every Halloween when I was a kid. Watching it now, I don’t know why I stopped that tradition.

The story’s simple. On her 13th Halloween, Marnie Cromwell (Kimberly J. Brown) learns from her grandmother Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds) that she’s a witch. Well, Aggie wants to tell her she’s a witch but Marnie’s mom, Gwen (Judith Hoag), wants her to live a normal human life.

Marnie really finds out she’s a witch by eavesdropping. In teen rebellion, Marnie and her brother Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) stow away on a flying bus when Aggie goes home to the titular Halloweentown. Their little sister Sophie (Emily Roeske) also tags along, unbeknownst to them. There, they help their grandmother against a dark force that’s threatening Halloweentown.

First of all, the settings are great. I hadn’t seen this film for… a while. The last time I watched this was at least before 2012. Anyway, the sets in this are great and revisiting Halloweentown is such a cool thing. The way they dress up the real town of St. Helens, Oregon, really makes it become Halloweentown. It’s believable they’re in another world where everyday is Halloween.

The monsters here also look pretty good. I know none of them are real, but it’s about convincing the audience, mostly kids, watching that they could be real. There are a couple costumes that look bizarre, like half-human, half-dog people in an aerobics class. There’s also a brief glimpse at a Cyclops character. It’s literally just a person with a papier-mâché head on with an eye painted on it. It’s great for the laugh, and all the Halloweentown characters look really good besides them. One notable one is a skeleton, Benny the Cab Driver. He’s just animatronic, but he looks good and he’s still funny.

The Mayor, Kalabar (Robin Thomas), is one of the more interesting human characters. He’s also trying to make sense of what dark force is threatening Halloweentown. Citizens become evil, like how monsters were perceived in the “Dark Times,” and then they disappear altogether. When we find out what’s doing this, it’s a shadowy figure who looks like a mix between a goblin and a scarecrow looking-thing.

By the way, the made-up history of why Halloweentown was made and why these monsters were essentially exiled to another world is interesting and well-written by Paul Bernbaum, Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson. Aggie explains that in the Dark Times, humans and monsters lived together but hated each other, as the humans tried to destroy the monsters and the monsters tried to make the humans’ lives miserable in response. Thus, they made Halloweentown. Aggie also explains that Halloween became a thing because the humans copied their traditions, and as she puts it, “Mortal see, mortal do.” Watching as a kid, that made-up history is so believable and really cool. Now, I’m an adult (well, arguable) and that history’s still cool to me, and the themes of classism is really interesting. The way that history works into the main conflict is also very smooth.

Halloweentown article
IMDB

Speaking so much of Aggie, Debbie Reynolds is great as the character. She’s a legendary actress, but I really know her best as Agatha Cromwell. And revisiting this now, it’s nice to see that pretty much all of the acting is surprisingly good for a TV movie, and it’s so nice to see that the actors are actually passionate about this, especially Reynolds. Kimberly J. Brown is always great as Marnie, too. She’s the most excited one of the kids learning that she’s a witch because she’s always been interested in the occult and now it makes sense why. As much as this is just a Halloween story, it’s a coming-of-age story for Marnie.

Dylan and Sophie are good characters, too. It’s Marnie’s show, but Sophie’s there for the cuteness factor and Dylan has a few good moments, too. The story line is well-structured and moves at a quick pace. I usually have problems with these Disney Channel Original Movie endings, but this feels more eventful than most of them. The budgets just don’t allow for a big climactic battle with big effects.

Most of the effects look pretty good, actually, like Aggie floating down from the bus looking like a Halloween Mary Poppins, and the magic in general looks fine. Flying buses, on the other hand, don’t look as good but that’s expected for a TV movie. The make-up for the monsters look good. As for any horror here, there’s more of a focus on the comedy but the main villain looks pretty creepy. Also what’s happening to the characters when they disappear is eerie.

Amazingly, I don’t have a lot wrong with this and I’m trying not to be biased with all my nostalgic love for this film. There are some cheesy moments, and I think a character named Luke (Phillip Van Dyke) is the cheesiest thing about this. Also the main sub-plot of Marnie’s mom, Gwen really wanting her kids to be humans is murky. She’s caught between two worlds because she married a human, so the kids are half-human, half-witch/warlock, so in that way it’s a bit interesting. But the motivation for shoving it down their throats that they have to be human isn’t clear.

I think it just lends to a message of kids being able to make their own choices. Marnie puts it well. “If you want to give up your roots, that’s fine. I don’t and it’s not right for you to try and make me.”

Other than that, I honestly think it’s the best TV movie I’ve seen. The production value is great, the actors don’t phone it in, and everyone looks like they’re giving it their all. I just loved this as a kid and I think it’s really cool to know that I love this nearly as much watching as a 24-year-old. It’s time for me to start watching this every Halloween again.

Score: 80/100

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)
Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire
IMDb

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. Released: October 13, 2000. Directed by: Steve Boyum. Starring: Matt O’Leary, Laura Vandervoot, Caroline Rhea. Runtime: 1h 25 min.

I’ve watched two Disney Channel Original Movies lately (the other being Under Wraps) and they both open with a movie-within-a-movie. For this one, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, it sets the tone for the film but it’s not a movie-within-a-movie you’d actually want to watch.

The real plot concerns the Hansen family. Children Adam (Matt O’Leary) and Chelsea (Laura Vandervoot) want to go out on Saturday night but they’re grounded. To escape their punishment, they set their mom Lynette (Caroline Rhea) up with a random guy named Wolfspane, which is really the first red flag.

They go to a supermarket to get their mom to meet “Wolfspane” and find a Pierce Brosnan look-a-like named Dimitri (Charles Shaughnessy), who is actually Wolfspane but doesn’t want to tell the kids that.

He invites her out on Saturday night, so Adam will be able to go to see the Headless Horsemen perform at the Harvest Festival and Chelsea will be able to go to her date. Problems arise when the youngest sibling, Taylor (Myles Jeffrey), notices that Dimitri is a vampire.

The first funny thing about this film is how dated it is when it’s watched in 2019. The kids don’t look online to find a date for their mom or even look on Tinder for vampires and their victims. They look in the classifieds of their local newspaper.

I know match.com was a thing in 2000, so it’s just a little funny to me. They look in the classifieds, find a guy named Wolfspane and don’t think it’s shady at all. “They’re all pre-checked by the newspaper,” Adam tells Chelsea. I think them all being screened by the newspaper is B.S. when a guy named Wolfspane slips through. He just sounds like a vampire. He likes long walks under the moonlight, hates Italian food (the garlic) and hates turtleneck sweaters (worse access to your neck).

The characters aren’t bad. Adam’s a vampire movie junkie, and the films he watches give him knowledge he uses throughout, like about how to get someone out of a vampire’s trance. Half of his tips make the film rather predictable. The brother-sister dynamic with him and Chelsea is fine, but some dramatic moments are cheesy. Caroline Rhea is good as Lynette, who’s scared to put herself out there after a divorce. Her eventually finding herself again and what she used to like to do is nice characterization for a TV movie.

Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire article
Charles Shaughnessy and Matt O’Leary in Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. (IMDb)

The worst character is the vampire, Dimitri. He’s simply boring and uninteresting. He’s a smooth talker and seemingly charming, but he’s dull. Without the vampire trance and British accent, most people will see right through it. He’s not scary, either.

There are some cheesy effects and editing when the film attempts something close to horror. It could spook kids, but no one else. There’s an effect where he walks up the side of a building, which doesn’t look bad. His transformation into a vampire bat is actually pretty good. However, they use like all the budget on the transformation so when he actually flaps away it looks really bad.

The concept of the kids having to save their mom from a vampire – a mess they got her in the first place – is fine. They don’t have to save her alone, either. They’re helped by a vampire hunter named Malachi Van Helsing (David Carradine). He has a history with Dimitri, so it’s funny that neither notice each other at the supermarket, even after Malachi walks every aisle.

The film wants to save the standoff for the end. I’ve found with these Disney Channel Original Movies the endings aren’t very exciting. This one stands out as one of the less exciting finales, as they just use a lot of slow-motion to make it look like something more is going on. I think this is one of the lesser DCOM’s anyway, but it’s still not bad. Admittedly, the fact that much of the story structure follows Adam’s fake vampire movies is kind-of clever, and those endings didn’t seem very good, either.

Score: 50/100

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy vs. JasonRelease Date: August 15, 2003

Director: Ronny Yu

Stars: Robert Englund, Monica Keena, Jason Ritter

Runtime: 97 min

Mostly everyone loves a good slasher with a great villain. There’s that great Michael Myers in his HALLOWEEN franchise, and my personal favourite, Ghostface, of SCREAM fame. I haven’t seen any of the FRIDAY THE 13th movies (except for the remake), and I’ve only seen the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The thought of putting Freddy Krueger, the Christmas sweater wearin’ killer who kills people in their dreams (when you die in your dreams, you die for real…), and Jason Voorhees, the hulking, machete-wielding killer, in the same movie is thoroughly awesome.

Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees set out to terrorize the teenage population. Freddy needs Jason to remind the teenagers (who are really in their early 20s) that Freddy still exists, in order to fuel his power once again. But when Jason Voorhees starts having too much fun killing off teens – Freddy needs to stop him. A true battle royale ensues.

None of the writers are A-listers, so there’s really not a great story at hand; and it’s hard to find good writing for a horror slasher movie. They’re essentially all the same, and this one really isn’t so different, once one dissects it. It is a clever premise, mashing up these two successful franchises. Even if you don’t like either of the franchises, this is still an incredibly fun movie. The body count is high, so that’ll keep the target audience happy. The first pair of tits is also three minutes in, so that is sure to keep male audiences hooked.

The movie is simply 97 minutes of pure horror fun, and that’s really all anyone can ask for. Now, the movie isn’t as amazing as the extraordinary premise might suggest it would be – it’s good for what it is: A fun horror movie. The acting is admittedly horrible (save perhaps Christopher Marquette and the always extraordinary and witty Robert Englund), but what do you expect from a horror movie? Jason Ritter is often good, but not this time around. Monica Keena has huge boobs, but her acting is some of the worst you’ll ever see. But the teenage target audiences won’t be focusing on her acting.

The movie is kind-of an insanely fun and it features a Destiny’s Child member being thrown into a tree, so, suffice to say, the kills are thoroughly awesome. There’s also some great fight choreography. I’d love to see another one of these movies done slightly better. It’s not particularly scary, so it’s mostly just an effectively fun actioner with already-dead horror icons fighting to a further death, I guess one could say. The acting is poor and the story needs work, but horror fans aren’t there to see a great story or good acting (even though that would help my enjoyment), they’re there to see a battle royale between Freddy and Jason, and the battle is well worth the wait.

63/100

Scream (1996)

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Release Date: December 20, 1996. Director: Wes Craven. Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette. Runtime: 1hr, 51 min. Tagline: Someone’s Taken Their Love Of Scary Movies One Step Too Far!

Did you knowOriginally titled “Scary Movie” which was later used for a parody of the Scream and other pop culture horror films like it: Scary Movie (According to IMDb). [No wonder those two titles are sometimes confused by people!]

Scream is a fresh spin on the horror genre, and it oozes with sheer brilliance. It follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), an average teen whose mother was killed last year, living in the town of Woodsboro. To add stress to the dreadful upcoming anniversary, a killer called Ghostface surfaces and begins to kill local teens one by one. As the body count begins to rise, Sidney and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one.

That premise is really one of the most original and best to ever hit the horror genre. The real treat about Scream is that it’s both a great satire and a great horror movie. It embraces the horror genre while simultaneously mocking it, in such a refreshing way. It also turns psychotic killings into something hilarious, and satirical  Assuming one can find the humour in stabbings, and it is satirical because it’s all really ironic, such as the time where Tatum says “You’re starting to sound like a Wes Carpenter flick or something,” or when Jamie Kennedy is watching Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, shouting “Come on, Jamie… Behind you!” at a time where he should look behind him. In this way, it feels like a self-aware film, even when the characters themselves are not aware they are in a movie. The characters discuss the “Rules” of horror films, while they themselves are trying to survive what is actually a horror movie.

The movie warns that, in most cases, if you have sex, drink or do drugs, among other things, you’re pretty much screwed. The movie dissects the genre and gets silly, scary and all-around intense. The concept is incredibly scary, because if one gets a prank call and the prank caller becomes increasingly violent, and the victim doesn’t have a good knowledge of horror movies, they’re basically screwed. Even when the scenes are incredibly long (the 42-minute party scene near the end, the crew made t-shirts that read “I SURVIVED SCENE 118”, and the Drew Barrymore scene at the very beginning lasts 12 minutes), it’s never boring. There are so many aspects of this film that could make this one of someone’s favourite horror flicks.

The primary characters are easy to care about (but when most are killed off, it really isn’t the end of the world) and it’s always suspenseful because the killer could be literally anyone. It could be you, the one reading this right now. Probably not. Ghostface is also hilarious because he’s so clever and witty and just downright psychopathic. He’s having so much fun, that, it’s really hard not to laugh along with this film.

Everyone is also incredibly well typecast and embrace their stereotypes. Sidney’s the virgin, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) is the number one suspect in the film, Tatum (Rose McGowan) is really just the slut, Stu (Matthew Lillard) is Tatum’s boyfriend, and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) is the horror movie (and general movie) buff, who’s kinda secretly head-over-heels for Sidney. And what cinephile cannot love a movie with a funny movie buff in it? We can’t forget Dewey (David Arquette), the Deputy of the town, and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), the selfish news reporter trying to keep the apparently innocent man, Cotton Weary, who was incarcerated for the murder of Sidney’s mother, off death row. We also grow to love her for her backbone and fine badassery. Is that a word?

This movie is practically just the perfect treat to watch on a Friday night with a few friends and a bucket of poppin’ corn. It’s hilarious, edgy, intense, mysterious, scary, it always keeps its viewer guessing, and it’s overall brilliant. It also has an amazing premise that it executes extremely well, and that’s easy to admire. Scream is one of those movies that one can watch over and over because of its iconic characters, its pure entertainment value, and its tremendous amount of originality. And there’s lots of blood and horror references. It also always should inspire a Scream-athon (I think I’ll watch them all in the summer, when I have them all on Blu-Ray) because the sequels are fairly entertaining. This is truly a bit of a wet dream for horror fans. Only one thing is left to be said: What’s your favourite scary movie?

100/100