Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Saturday, January 29, 2011


"After unsuccessful attempts to revive our ailing economy, the US is forced to cut funding to rural, low-population areas of the nation leaving millions to fend for themselves. Amid ongoing territorial disputes, Nicholas Grim is forced to witness the brutal murder of his parents by Armed Militant Forces in Texas. Now an adult, Grim vows to avenge his family and uncover their killers motives..."


The logline above comes from the Grim production website, but you can pretty much put that out of your mind.   There's some silly, overblown philosophizing about the conspiracy of Government cheese and bleeding heart Liberals, and stuff like that, but the crippled economy and all that shit has less to do with this movie than good wholesome blood spraying bullet wounds.

Grim is a throwback to the Grindhouse revenge exploitation flicks, and the bigger budgeted actioners from the Cannon Group films that filled the videostore shelves in the early 80s (you know, the one's that start off with the famous "A Golan-Globus Production").  There's also a taste of Jim Van Bebber's Deadbeat at Dawn -- however, director/writer Adrian Santiago is not quite the skilled storyteller as Van Bebber. I don't think that Grim will reach cult status, like some of the movies it inspires to be, but it certainly an entertaining enough distraction for a Saturday night.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

PEEPHOLE REVIEW: Chain Letter (2010)

Recipe for a bad horror movie:

- 200 gallons of blood
- 2 reams of tired horror plot lines from J Horror and Saw
- a dozen cracked cast member (make sure they're smoking hot and young)
- add in endless amounts of horror cliches
- top it all off with bad acting and toss into the garbage

Quite possibly the worst movie I've seen in years... probably because it's made up of every bad moment from every bad horror movie made in the last 10 years.  I could only imagine that the script was made up of pages ripped out of the steel fasteners of other scripts.
Even around death, we're soooo hot

The plot is held together (loosely) by a silly notion that someone is texting and emailing a chain letter to a handful of teen models.  If the kids don't forward the message to a bunch of other hotties, then they'll die.  The goofy thing is, some of the kids die right after deleting the message, some die several scenes later, some don't.  The rules of horror movie fun don't matter here.  In fact, they've been spilled on the floor, like the gallons of blood, thrown all about, as if to say This what horror is, right?
Trust me, it would be better than watching this movie
Side note:  Can someone please rescue Brad Dourif from this horror genre prison sentance.  The man is too talented.  Thank you.

Bad Ronald Review: Let Me In (2010)

Writer/Director Matt Reeves doesn't want you to think of Let Me In as a replacement of the brilliant 2008 Swedish import Let the Right One In.  Instead, he wants you to think of it as the American companion piece, that would sit along side the original.  In other words, the original movie gave you a brilliantly understated horror story with deeply etched characters and nuanced performances, but Reeves version drops all that to give you all the blood and CGI mayhem that you didn't get -- or even need.

The basics are all there... The bleak Swedish snowscapes are traded in for a wintry New Mexico, but the lonely, bullied boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), remains.  He befriends a mysterious new neighbor, Abby (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz), who moves from town to town with the man who appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins).  The new neighbors have a dark secret, and it has a lot to do with the bizarre killings that have plagued the small community. In great contrast, though, to the original, there is the inclusion of a police detective (Elias Koteas), who is searching for clues to the brutal murders.

With remakes, there are sure to be changes made to the original.  But, at the pen of Matt Reeves, the emotional underbelly of the original story (written for the screen by John Ajvide Lindqvist, from his 2004 novel) has been ripped away.  It starts with Owen's mother.  She may be just another complicated part of the boy's bigger picture, but in the original story, they had a relationship.  Tenuous and tried, but still very strong.  In Reeves version, she's downsized to the equivalent of a Charlie Brown cartoon parent, minus the mwahh mwahh dialogue.  The boy's father is even more edited.  He only ranks the cliched "Don't have time now, kid -- but we'll get together soon" phone call. The trip the boy makes out to his father's place, in the original, was a much needed respite for the boy, as well as the audience.  And the eventual betrayal he gets from his dad didn't come from simple rejection.  Instead, we got a glimpse of where the boy's weaknesses may stem from.
I see a better movie over there

Reeves worst offense, though, is the removal of storyline that involved Jocke and Virginia.  The characters still remain in his script, but only as victims to Abby's violence.  In the original story, they were much more than simple victims -- they were the true heart behind the story.  The boy and the girl were the main relationship, and the ones that the audience came to care for.  But, it was Jocke's losses and his search for vengeance that really pulled at the audience's emotions.  Jocke was the one who reached out to the girl's guardian, inviting him to join him and his friends.  The attempt only exposed the strange man's painful alienation.  His life had become so much about serving the little girl that he could no longer have friends.  Jocke also lost the most in this story.  He lost a dear friend to the heinous murders, and then witnesses the brutal attack on his girlfriend Virginia. Unbeknownst to anyone, the attack was slowly turning the woman into a vampire, herself.  Her detached behavior, and her eventual death from exposure to sunlight, left Jocke confused and bitter.  He never gave the woman the respect she deserved in life, so he swore to seek revenge for her death.  His search leads him to the girl's hiding place, and this is where the moral dilemma arises.  The audience has invested so much in the little girl's plight, and in the relationship she has forged with the boy.  But, the heartache and anger that Jocke feels are truly genuine.  We know the girl deserves to die for ll the pain, not just of Jocke, but of every person who fell into the wake of the murders she and her guardian have perpetrated.  It's a genuinely riveting scene.  And the man's suffering is felt as we watch him die, unable to requite his love.
Okay, now explain, in explicit datail, exactly what you want the audience to know

All of this emotion is stricken from the script, and replaced by the well worn chestnut of a police detective, hot on the trail of the killers.  There's no attachment between the character and the audience -- he's just the guy who is trying to catch up to the girl and her guardian -- so, when the detective finds her hiding place, he becomes yet another victim.  Reeves makes a huge misstep when he attempts to draw emotion out of the detective's death, having him reach up towards the boy for help, and into the camera lens towards the audience.  The moment means nothing, because, after all, when did we ever invest anything into his character?  He was just a cop doing his job.  He had no emotional investment.  The only moment I connected with, in the movie, was when the boy feigns reaching for the man's hand, and instead closes the door.  I chuckled.  And I'm sure that isn't the response Reeves had hoped for.
Don't let me in

It's these flat emotional gimmicks that kill the story.  Just as he did in Cloverfield, Reeves tries to control the audiences emotions by dictating what they should feel at any given moment. The subtly in many key scenes from the original are replaced by expository dialogue, as if he saying "Hey, remember this scene?  This is what they didn't say, that I thought maybe you guys were too simple to pick up on."  When the girl asks the boy to verbally invite her in, the boy teasingly doesn't abide. She eventually steps in, and soon she starts to quiver and blood pours from her head and body.  The boy, horrified, learns that the vampire lore is indeed true, and shrieks out his invitation.  The audience understands, from the girl's willingness to put herself through such pains, that she would go to any lengths for this boy. In Reeves world, however, there has to be a conversation about all this, that spills out every drop of sentiment, sapping the real emotion from the moment.

It may seem unfair to compare Let Me In to the original film, or the novel.  But with the remake coming barely two years after the original, the filmmakers are clearly trying to capitalize on the popularity of Let the Right One In by pumping out an "Americanized" version.  And if you listen to Reeves and his producers,however, in the DVD's extra featurette, they'd have you believe that their film bears no connection to the original.  Not once do they mention it.  Reeves does talk about Lindqvist and his novel, and of how he has a special connection with the author, and the producers boast of how Reeves always carried the book around, all as if it was the novel that drew them all into this project. It doesn't matter that Reeves had swooned in past interviews that he'd fallen in love with the story after seeing the original movie, and that he at first thwarted the remake, because he felt the movie had already been make perfectly. 
Out in the cold?  Yeah, me too.

One of the other absurd declarations Reeves makes is that he wanted to push the envelope even more than Lindqvist did in his film adaptation.  He looked to the character of The Father, played by Richard Jenkins.  First off, it was far too easy to cast Jenkins.  It's one of those casting coups that, no doubt, got the production office all giddy.  The task, however, doesn't end with the casting.  Jenkins is brilliant at his job, but he's left to try and draw the emotions out of a character who has really no screen time to develop.  As I mentioned before, the opportunities to interact with anyone besides the girl and his victims, is missing.  And the promise that there would be some real shocking moments with The Father, that pushes beyond the pedophilac undertones of the original movie were left flat (probably die to the squeamishness of the studio suits).  There's actually so few moments between the girl and the man, and nothing between them amounts to much.  Reeves button pushing even takes a big step backwards when it comes to that ultimate shock moment -- the revelation of Abby's secret and questionable sex.  In the original, the boy catches a very brief glimpse of the girl's disfigured  privates.  This seems to shed some light on her constant reminders to the boy that she is "not a girl." In Reeves telling, there is no revelation.  The declarations of upping the ante on shock had petered out.  It appears that Reeves was too consumed with his chances to create big budget action scenes that he forgot to work out some real shockers.

Beside all of this, Let Me In begs comparison to the original, because, as Reeves said, the story was told perfectly already.  And, also as Reeves said, Let Me In is simply a companion piece to Let the Right One In.  It would never stand alone as a singular film, for it relies too heavily on what the audience has already gleaned from the original.  Reeves took no chances with his retelling, and despite his declarations that he would amp up the suspense, he had simply poured on the effects.  Some effects were a treat for the eyes, but he missed the point of the original -- that subtly and nuances built the suspense much better.  It's as if he fell in love with the movie, and then forgotten what it was that made it all work.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

PEEPHOLE REVIEW: Dear Mr. Gacy (2010)

Dear Mr. Gacy: I think I'm smarter than you... can I come visit you, alone, in prison? You won't try anything nasty on me, will you?
The story of Jason Moss has always been an interesting one to me. Like me, he's held a curious interest in the mind of the serial killer, and wondered what it was that made them different from us.  Only, Moss took a harrowing (and highly risky) step towards that understanding.

In prison, on death row, John Wayne Gacy (played by William Forsythe) starts to receive some letters from a college student, Jason Moss (Jesse Moss) .  What separated Moss' letters from the 100s of others was Moss' willingness to open up about details of his unpleasant home life:  his confusion of his own sexuality, his fear of a violent father, and his own violent thoughts.  Moss, of course, designed these fictitious details specifically because he studied the backgrounds of Gacy's victims, and he knew Gacy would be attracted to his story.  The stack of pretty boy photos of himself were also intended to entice the infamous killer.
You so pretty
The letters worked, and Gacy and Moss become fast pen pals, and confidants.  But, Moss soon finds himself being marked as the victim he didn't plan on being.  It was his intent to try and persuade a confession out of the serial killer who had still feigned innocence.  However, Moss is overwhelmed by Gacy's constant phone calls and intimidating powers, so much so that he begins to obey Gacy's every demand.  Demands that put himself and even his family at risk.  To try and take power back, Moss agrees to meet with Gacy, at the prison, in a final attempt to draw out a confession.  Thinking he has the perfect plan to turn the tables on the killer, Moss quickly finds he could become Gacy's final victim, when he finds himself alone, with no supervision, in Gacy's prison cell.

The story of Jason Moss is an interesting one, indeed.  And Gacy, such a volatile personality, who can still flex his killer fists from the confines of a prison cell.  Unfortunately, the power of this story is not fully realized by director Svetozar Ristovski and writer Kellie Madison.  Forsythe is better than he's been in a long time, as the clown faced serial killer, but the performances by the remaining cast, especially the pivotal lead Jesse Moss, are all fairly lackluster.  Madison's script stays the course, laying out Moss' story piece by piece -- but we never really see Moss push further, digging deeper into his own dark side.  I've never read the book by Moss, that the script is based on, but I would imagine, by this adaptation, that maybe Moss didn't dare dig too deep either -- or rather, he didn't dare confess how deep his thoughts really went.  The result is a story that merely skims the surface of the deep dark mind of a boy who likes serial killers.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

BAD RONALD REVIEW: Vampire Circus (1972)

Step right up. See the naked Cheetah Lady.  Witness blood, sex and murder.  Sink your teeth into thrills, chills and loads of Hammer Horror action!!
Vampire Circus came about as Hammer Studios was making a change to try and update their image in the film world. It marked a changing of the guard for the producers, as well as the crew of filmmakers.  Gone were the regular faces, like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and in were the new, younger cast members, who would aim to attract the young generation of movie goers.

I first saw Vampire Circus on the afternoon monster movie when I was about 13 or 14.  I had no idea that Hammer was in the throes of renovations, all I knew is that this was a hammer Horror movie, and I wanted in on it.   I'd been digging Hammer ever since I could remember, so I was ready for some good ol' Hammer style mayhem.  But, what I got was a shock to the system.  What I was witnessing on my trusty TV set was not my usual Hammer Horror -- no Cushing!  no Lee!  no Freddie Francis!!  Instead, I saw a new breed of groovy looking kids in the place of my old reliable stalwarts
What's up Tiger Lady

Don't get me wrong.  I was digging what I was seeing, with this new style Hammer.  I was just freaked out.  After all, I was just a kid, and change don't come so tender when you're struggling towards finding your way around the scene.  I was very used to the strong, silent, mysterious and suave vampires that Hammer used to lay down.  But this new guy, Count Mitterhaus (played by Robert Tayman) was like some twisted, mod art dealer type, looking to score woman (and girls, the slimeball!).  I wasn't really scared by him... I was more sorta creeped out, like in a weird-guy-staring-at-you-by-the-comicbook-rack-at-the-drug-store kinda way.
"Woman and children first!"
My mood started lifting once they got into the circus side of the film, especially with the cool nod to The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao funhouse mirror room.  But, then they throw in some super sweet female victims and a tantalizing cheetah lady who seemed to have lost her clothes.  The topper for me, though, was the shape-changing Emil (Anthony Higgins), who leaped through the air and morphed from panther to human.  Cool trick in and of itself -- but the real catch was that he had every female body, at that show, in the palm of his hands.  Now THAT was the kinda vampire I was used to seeing in a Hammer Horror flick.
Wake up, girlfriend! You're missing our act.

The version I saw as a kid was obviously the tamed down TV syndicated version, minus the full dosage of blood and skin.  So the treat in revisiting the Circus, some 25 years later, in this awesome DVD/Blu-ray combo pack from Synapse, was to get to see the whole thing in the raw.  What was unexpected was finding all the subtext that my young mind was unable to register on that first viewing.  I hadn't seen more than a handful of foreign films at that time, so the European style influences, specifically the Fellini-esque circus fantasy stuff, was over my teenage head. 
C'mon.  We won't bite!
What I thought would be just a nostalgic look back at a classic old Hammer Horror turned out to be, really, a good night at the movies.  If I just went by my memory, I'd have ranked Vampire Circus as one of the mediocre Hammer films.  After this viewing, though, I'm marking it up there with one of the tops.  Watching it with a more experienced eye helped open up much of the viewing experience -- the European influences, the subtle (as well as overt) sensuality, the subversive undertones (after Count Mitterhaus makes a feast of an innocent child, he then turns to her willing  mommy and says "One lust feeds another.").  Synapse Films also piles on some great DVD extras.  They've taken notice of the cult following, and have given fans more than their money's worth, with a nice doc on the making of this film, as well as the changes at the Hammer house, a short doc on the Hammer Horror mag, and a look at the comicbook made of Vampire Circus, and a great look at the history of the horror genres fascination with the circus.
Well then, that's it. I'm going out to buy my own copy!