I Think I’m Back (God Help Me)

It’s been said that life happens while you’re making other plans. I’ve been having life happen when I was just trying to live.

Hi. I’m going to try to come back to the world of old men complaining about movies and other stuff that’s not all that connected to real life, because real life is rawther sucky right now.

I don’t know how many times I’ve started this post over the last (mumble mumble) months or has it been fucking years? Been dealing with the usual: depression and anxiety and the political situation in the States has not been helpful at all. After a whole lot of things blocking me from even thinking about writing were recently resolved, and the workload during this week has been light, well, here I am.

Not been a fantastic year for a lot of us. Here’s my personal 2022 Hellscape: (if I don’t think better of this oversharing and delete this)

  • 2020 finally caught up with me. I lost half my income during the lockdown, and it never came back. Then there were some very bad decisions made on my part (none of which involved crypto – I’m stupid, not totally brain-dead) and I spent most of the year declaring bankruptcy. I don’t have to tell you not to do this, right? Unless it’s absolutely necessary? It’s a lot of work. That was over as of early this month, and I am now guaranteed to be a pauper for the next five years. But at least my family and I have a roof over our heads.
  • In the final stages of that process, I took my wife to the Emergency Room with a massive days-long headache and double vision. It turned out to be a Cranial Nerve Palsy, which tends to go away by itself, but it takes weeks, even months. We got her a batch of differently colored eyepatches in the meantime, so I am now married to either a cute pirate or Elle Driver.
  • Almost immediately after that, my adult son, who was dealing with severe anxiety and depression (gosh, that sounds familiar somehow), on advice of his psychiatrist, was committed to a psych hospital for 11 days. He fucking hated it, but even he has to admit that he came out much improved.
  • So that was my last month, how was yours?
  • Oh, yeah, I’m now a card-carrying Senior Citizen. Or will be once the gummint sends me my Medicare card.

This is from SHARKULA. You shall hear of it again.

Sorry for burdening you with that, but I do feel better having vented to someone besides my family. The next five years will be, um, interesting to say the least, but if nothing else I still have approximately three billion movies in my possession that I still have to watch.

Therein lies another niggling problem, also with its roots in 2020. I have some buddies I game with online every night, which is something that kept me somewhat sane and centered during COVID and Trump, and that tradition continues. Night time was, of course, my usual movie-watching time, and as my day job requires being conscious during daylight hours, my aging body has required bedtimes earlier than my usual 2AM. This has cut down my movie-watching time drastically.

Another problem that can traced to 2020 – and I’m not the only person experiencing this – was violent damage being done to my attention span. For a while I could only watch stuff an hour long or less. I finally overcame that by watching Chinese action/fantasy movies, which had nothing to with current politics or airborne virii, which helped ease me back. Caught an unfortunate taste for “Prestige TV”, which isn’t a bad problem to have, really.

I had really meant to do Hubrisween this year, but as you know, life banged at the front door. Had a good lineup, too. If I get bored tomorrow – a distinct possibility, since we’re not traveling at all – I’ll share it with you. In the meantime:

  • I don’t have to tell you to watch Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, right? That’s because my readers are smart, right? Falls beautifully into the less-than-an-hour attention span trap, and it is a genuine pleasure to see horror not only done right, but done well. I still haven’t watched the last episode, because selfishly, I don’t want it to end.
  • Black Adam is a totally serviceable superhero movie. Enjoyable to see Zack Snyder’s “superheroes totally kill lol” philosophy administered to a proper character, now give me back my non-murderous Superman and Batman. The plot gets super-annoying at times (The Justice Society admitting it’s “a bad plan” from the start and then doing nothing to change that plan), but it was good to see Hawkman and Dr. Fate. I definitely want to see more of Cyclone and even Atomsmasher, and c’mon, make a Superman movie where he smiles occasionally.
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once was just as weird and marvelous as everyone said it was, and that is all I should say, in case you haven’t seen it yet.
  • Is the V/H/S franchise adhering to the even-movie-great odd-movie-sucks template? Because V/H/S 99 is a terrible letdown after 9494‘s stories were as long as they needed to be, while 99‘s are stretched unreasonably and unpleasantly long.

There. I hope that was worth the wait. Hopefully, I’ll be back later. If you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving. If you’re not, have a good Thursday.

Because, honestly, who doesn’t need more SHARKULA?

The Grumpy Old Man and The Eternals (2021)

Since I have been practicing for my late-stage career as a Grumpy Old Man since basically the inception of the Internet, I will start this by going Full Andy Rooney (a dated reference that should cement my Grumpy Old Man status) by bitching about fast food.

I know I should not be eating fast food, but as retirement is a laughable fantasy, I work all freaking hours of the day, as needed, and thus do not have time to source and cook every meal at home. And thus I have run into the scurrilous habit of the industry for Limited Time Offerings, those burgers and burritos that are extremely delicious and probably a little harder to put together so that one day, as you drive up and give your order, wanting nothing more than a Hatch Green Chili Burger to take home and enjoy, you are told that you are shit out of luck, here is the new taste treat we have decided you will enjoy for the next couple of months.

I bring this up mainly because this seems to be what happened with The Eternals.

Now, before we get into the meat (lol) of that statement, I feel I should address the elephant in the room (hi, elephant!) Yes I have noticed that over the time Marvel movies have increasingly become the pariah of social media. I get it, you’re tired of superhero movies. Totally understand. I was tired of slasher movies, zombie movies, and vampire movies, but they still kept making them. Attempting to defend Marvel movies apparently puts me in the ranks of anti-cinema barbarians.

After a quarter of a century on the Internet, I have honed a strategy for dealing with this sort of thing, and here it is, as succinctly as possible: fuck off.

That shouldn’t be necessary, unless this is the very first of my posts you’re reading, in which case welcome, and I was saying fuck off to that other guy. Have you seen the sort of movies I watch? Marvel movies are comfort food, pure and simple, like the Hatch Green Chili Burger and the Grilled Cheese Burrito. They helped me get through the Trump years. In the years to come, they’re likely to be relegated to ranks of movies like the garish musicals of the Depression years, one-dimensional stories with lavish production numbers, quaint and visually exciting.

The reason you’re tired of superhero movies is not their fault; it’s the fault of the suits who would only commit significant money where the numbers said profits would be – and we know where that was. Especially with COVID throwing theatre attendance in the garbage.

Now, as for The Eternals: what we were expecting was the usual Marvel formula of here is an extraordinary person, here is how they got that way, and here is the big rock we are throwing at them, with embellishments as necessary.

The Eternals, however, gives us eight characters, and almost dares us to figure them out and sort them as we go; I’m a big fan of movies that realize the audience doesn’t have to be spoon-fed, but I was adrift for waaaaay too long, figuring out the dynamics of the group and what was actually going on. So much so that when the scene occurred that marked a definite turning point of the Eternals’ mission that I was rather bored and didn’t catch it. That required a YouTube video.

Any undertaking to capture a story that evolved over hundreds of pages and many years, I think we can agree, is a fool’s errand. Two attempts to put Dark Phoenix onscreen testifies to that. I had read Jack Kirby’s original run back in the day, and thought I had a good basis to handle whatever Marvel Studios was going to throw at me – what I was not expecting was some lifting from Neil Gaiman’s version (okay, I was cool with that), and certainly not a whole underpinning from the Earth-X mini-series, which presented a dystopian alternate Earth, and seems like it’s going to upset the cosmology presented in earlier movies.

Not that cosmology-upsetting doesn’t happen in comics all the time.

I also kind of resent that rushing toward the denouement of the movie, everything seems to have returned to normal, prior to the Celestial Arishem’s final appearance. Worldwide earthquakes and a freaking alien giant rising from the Indian Ocean didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Then again, the consequences of the five-year absence of half of mankind was not explored until movies after Endgame and the Marvel TV shows.

This is the sort of thing that happened to me with The Suicide Squad; I didn’t much care for it the first time, but upon re-watching it – and prepared to meet the movie on its own terms – I loved it. The Eternals has earned a re-watch from me, but I really wish that urge had originated within me instead of some YouTube videos pointing out that there may be treasures hidden inside.

Z: Zombeer (2008)

We’re finally here at the tail-end of my half-a-Hubrisween observance, and what a hectic trip it’s been. You’re almost always going to be in zombie territory in an A-to-Z horror movie marathon, and because yours truly always like to game the system, here we are with a zombie holocaust movie that runs a trim 12 minutes.

Herman (Rogier Schippers) is the head brew master for Mokum Blond beer. He loves beer. Which is why he is drunk on the job every day. He is finally transferred to the night shift, so he won’t embarrass the company during tours. Of course, his first night he drunkenly falls into a tank and drowns, and the Mackenzie brothers will tell you that sucks. This also turns him into a zombie, because of course it does.

The day shift samples the beer and finds it a bit off, but they have to ship it out anyway, because it’s the Queen’s birthday (we’re in the Netherlands), and not shipping it out would be like closing Amity Beach on the Fourth of July. The first tour group to come through is a bunch of Japanese tourists, and they drink their free samples of the beer as Herman climbs out of the tank for some bitey vengeance on his boss and the day shift goes berserk.

Which is pretty much the end. Credits roll, with a Japanese newscast, featuring an interview with the only guy in the tour group to not drink the beer because he was too busy videoing everything. The newscast then shows his footage, starting with him trying to stop people from drinking the beer (to put it in more identifiable domestic terms, this would be like telling hordes of drunken sombrero-wearing gringos to stop drink margaritas on Cinco de Mayo), to the ensuing carnage, and that where you’re going to get your prime zombie fix. This stuff is well-staged and executed, and totally worth your while. Even the interview is nightmarish, with background screams and sirens and the world ending in general.

So congratulations to Berend de Voogd and Rob van der Velden, for not only having awesome names, but proving that an effective zombie movie can be done in 12 minutes.

Now can I finally watch Dune?

Y: You’re Surprised? (2021)

Don’t be. I’m out shooting Halloweeny stuff for the local news. Scary stuff, eh kids?

Shaddap, it’s a classic.

X: X-Tra Nothing (2021)

Are you surprised? TRICK!!!!!!

There was an outside chance (way outside, like over in the next block) that I was going to be able to do an X movie, but as is its normal habit, Life got in the way. I am girding my loins for two days of shoots involving children, and I’d rather face zombies and werewolves. Still need to find a way to have dinner on the table, but I have a cunning plan.

Why yes, it does involve a crockpot. Good catch.

If I had knuckled under and doomed my family to starvation, I probably would have done Xiangxi Legend, a recent Chinese movie about the dangers of tomb raiding. There have been a number of these over the last year or thereabouts, so there was undoubtedly a robust tomb raiding industry in that country. The trailer for Xiangxi Legend informs us that there are different schools of tomb raiding, just like there are for kung fu, which only supports my supposition.

I mean, that doesn’t look terribly Halloween-y, but just look at that poster! I swear to you the posters for Chinese action, horror and fantasy flicks have had a marvelous renaissance of late, by which I mean posters that make me want to see these flicks urgently. Which is just what I need: more movies to watch (did the sarcasm font load?).

Seeking out movies like this with English subtitles remains the same challenge as it ever was, but we all need a little sport in our lives, no?

Please don’t answer that.

W: The WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

This one has been on my list for a long while, jumping up and down from behind my boxes of discs and going “Yoo hoo! Yoo Hoo!” so I’m glad I finally sat down and watched it – there are quite a few others waiting to take its place.

It’s ostensibly a videotape from October 31, 1987 capturing that night’s evening news and the titular special immediately following, complete with commercials for local businesses. Local TV personality Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) is going to enter the Webber House, shut up since some axe murders twenty years before. Accompanying him will be husband and wife paranormal investigators the Bergers (Brian St. August and Helenmary Bell) and a Catholic priest (Robert Long II). They intend to hold a “Call-In Seance” in the basement.

With any sort of genre awareness you’re immediately going to leap to comparisons with Ghostwatch, but let me stop you right there. That was done with the full powers of the BBC behind it, and played perfectly straight. This is a movie done by a bunch of guys who decided to make a movie with very little money – which doesn’t mean that it’s a slapdash enterprise, at all.

I’m not sure what it took to find older video cameras so the footage would have the right look, but there is a ton of work evident in the movie just in the ads and graphics. The IMDb states the filmmakers got a lot of stock footage for cheap – maybe a local station cleaning out old tapes or something, because that B-roll of carpet warehouses, petting zoos and video arcades is real period stuff. As for the graphics, I’m almost willing to bet that an ancient Video Toaster was resurrected – I recognize at least one transition from that venerable platform.

They work really hard to capture the moment in 1987 – there are at least two of those damned 1-900 phone call spots, the Satanic Panic is in full swing with a local band of fundamentalist crazies based on the Westboro Baptist Church waging a war on Halloween (their organization is called H.A.R.V.E.S.T., which is never explained, and I’m curious).

And as I said, Ghostwatch was serious, whereas The WNUF Halloween Special is largely not – from the oh-god-shoot-me-now japes of the newscasters to the ads, which never quite play as satire, but it’s there. I particularly like the anti-drug ad sponsored by “Parents Against Partying” and the spots for dreadful syndicated action and sci-fi shows that were the mainstay of independent UHF stations before they all got bought by conglomerates.

Like Ghostwatch, there a flock of looky-loos in various costumes outside the Webber house that Stewart interviews, but as they are Americans, they are all idiots.

There’s another level of self-referential humor in there, too. The IMDb states that:

The commercial for “High Pike Farms”, which is located on “Mundra Drive” is a nod to HACK O’ LANTERN, which starred Hy Pike and was directed by Jag Mundra

The police officer who gives a lengthy lecture on how to not fall into the trap of eating candy bars containing needles “laced with the AIDS virus” (this segment is sped over by whoever’s watching the videotape, thankfully) is named Officer Bookwalter, which seems a nod to low-budget guru J.R. Bookwalter. There are more in the movie, but I’m not chasing all of them down. When I start wondering if “Frank Stewart” is a nod to Fred Mustard Stewart, who wrote The Mephisto Waltz, I also wondering if I am too genre-aware.

Naaaaaaah, probably not.

So I find myself curiously torn by The WNUF Halloween Special. On the one hand, it looks like a fairly lackluster found-footage film. But on the other hand (and it is a large, imposing hand) there is so much work obvious in its making, a deliberate intention to grab the cheesiness of the concept and totally commit to it, that I am truly impressed.

V: Very Likely Not (2021)

Back during one of these Hubrisween marathons, I recall Chad Plambeck, currently of Confirmed, Alan_01, decided in a moment of madness to do the reviews in practically real time, watching a movie, then writing the review for the next day. Given Chad’s passion for screencapping, this must have been like grinding in a video game for magic socks or something. I’m surprised he survived.

I see the Police budget passed.

So here I am, in practically the same boat. Managed it pretty well in R through U, but my work week is usually pretty front-loaded, with Wednesday being the Day of Deadlines. At least there are no City government meetings for me to mark time through this week. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss a solid chunk of the ass-end of the alphabet. Sorry.

Today was going to be Verotika, “Glenn Danzig’s directorial debut, is a horror anthology that compiles stories from Danzig’s line of comic books of the same name. Stories which focus on horror content that’s often sexual and violent in nature, usually featuring scantily-clad female protagonists.” I’m actually not sorry for passing that over, because hey, I already did Catacomba this month, and I’ve already double-dipped on boat horror and Internet horror.

I would, however, really like to watch my W choice. Hopefully I can find enough Vaseline to fit it in today.

U: Unfriended (2015)

Well, it looks like this is also my season for Internet horror movies.

A group of high school friends get together for their regular Skype party (is this a thing? Or was? Haha, I’m old) and someone using the default avatar is along for the ride. Unable to hang up or otherwise get rid of the interloper, a little research reveals it is using the account of one of the group who had committed suicide a year before, on that very night – Laura Banks (Heather Sossaman).

Laura shot herself after a particularly humiliating video was posted, followed by a torrent of cyberbullying. Our main Skyper, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is starting to receive text messages from Laura. And as the evening progresses, our participants find that not only can they not get rid of her, but she can post equally humiliating stuff to their Facebook accounts and Instagrams, even control their peripherals and their lights. Laura is seeking blame for her suicide, and moreover retribution. And she seems to know a lot about our doomed band of Skypers.

“A vengeful ghost story played out in real time, and only on a computer screen” seems like a thought exercise or a dare between filmmakers, but it has to be confessed that Unfriended manages it beautifully. This the sort of movie I would have expected to get made during the Pandemic (and probably would have done pretty well if released during the first lockdown), and I was surprised to find the date was 2015. Honestly, the fact that Chatroulette shows up as a plot device would have tipped me off eventually, but the movie is so full of familiar icons, bloops and beeps that it mostly assumes a timeless quality – at least until there’s some sort of major UI overhaul or other technical revolution.

Maybe it’s best if you watch it as I did, on a computer screen. I was occasionally disoriented, wondering why my mouse cursor was going nuts, but it wasn’t mine, it was Blaire’s. And I have to give props to anybody who can demonstrate thought processes by using mouse movements. The steps she takes and the tabbing back and forth between windows proceeds logically, and I think anyone could follow this with only rudimentary knowledge of the Web and social media. I think that is another plus to assign to director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves – widening the appeal of a concept that screams niche into something that non-Webheads could appreciate.

Also, I had never even thought about suicide by blender, so thanks for putting that in my head, movie.

T: Terrified (2017)

Former police forensic investigator Jano (Norberto Gonzalo) is roused from his sleep by a phone call from his old colleague Funes (Maximiliano Ghione); there is an incident in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, and Funes absolutely needs his help. What Jano finds upon his arrival is two rattled policemen (three, if you include Funes), a catatonic mother, and what appears to be her five year-old son risen from the grave.

And that’s only the most recent weird shit going on in this particular neighborhood. Jano notices a woman taking pictures of a house across the street, and recognizes her as Dr. Albreck (Elvira Onetto), a paranormal researcher of some note. The occupant of that house had sent her pictures of some vaguely human thing crawling out from under his bed. That occupant has gone missing, about the time his neighbor’s wife was murdered, the husband claiming by forces unknown.

Eventually, Jano, Albreck and her associate, Dr. Rosentok (George L. Lewis) will spend the night in each of these houses in an attempt to discover what is going on. Yep, one person per house, with Funes reluctantly tagging along. Albreck and Rosentok are particularly excited, because this may prove some particularly wild theories. As one might assume, oh boy, do they ever.

Terrified will jump back and forth in its earlier segments to lay out the timeline of this weirdness and the connection of these events. I always like storylines with serious paranormal investigation going on, and man does Dr. Albreck have some lovely supernature detection equipment, all brass and wood and beautiful. I’m jealous.

Is Terrified actually terrifying, though? There are the required jump scares, certainly, but mainly I would have to say it is mainly creepy as fuck, which is sort of the same thing, right? A constant state of dread and unease is certainly the basis, if not one of the definitions, of terror. This is another crawling chaos story, as things from outside make their ways into our world, and the most explanation you’re going to get is “These beings like blood.”

It’s not often Argentinian horror movies cross my path, and the experience is even better when it’s a good one. Thanks to Shudder for bringing it over!

S: Sea Fever (2019)

This seems to be my season to watch movies with common themes. So why not another movie with people trapped aboard a ship at sea with… something?

Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) (why yes, this is an Irish movie, could ye not kin?) is a stand-offish grad student whose program sends her off in a fishing trawler to catalog their catch and look for any anomalies. She is almost forcibly pulled off her work at a lab which is finding parasites in water they should not be in, which is why your foreshadowing sense was tingling.

The husband and wife (Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) owner/operators of the Niamh Cinn Oir (told you – Irish) are in deep financial trouble, as witness the state of the boat. They need a massive catch, and they need it bad. Which is why Scott disobeys Coast Guard orders and steers into an Exclusionary Zone, supposedly closed off because of whales. Turns out that massive shoal they see on sonar isn’t lots of fish, it’s something preying on the whales – and it thinks the Niamh Cinn Oir is a whale, trapping it in place with glowing tendrils and pumping some sort of slime through the hull.

That slime is full of parasites that can enter the bloodstream through any open cut – and if you’ve seen any episodes of Deadliest Catch you’ll know that injuries abound on these trips, and the end result is messy. Worse news is the parasite is also in the water supply.

Sea Fever owes a lot to Alien, with its female protagonist being the only one sensible enough to see what’s at stake versus a lot of desperate working class types. They even have a callback to the trip to the alien ship where earlier victims of the parasite are found (a commercial fishing vessel floating in the Exclusionary Zone).

Sea Fever, though, is not the cover-your-eyes horror trip that Alien was; it is more a slow-burn exercise. That might have made it suffer due to a viewing immediately after [REC]4, but I was never tempted to fast forward or go elsewhere for my S entry – I wanted to see what happened next. It is well-cast and acted, and sometimes you just need that sort of variance in your entertainment diet.

The poor movie also came out about the same time as Underwater, aka the beginning of the Pandemic, so sadly it was born under a bad sign. Or, as one of the many fisherman superstitions in the movie inform us, it’s bad luck to have a redhead on board. Being something of a ginger fan, I don’t see the sense in that, so I’ll give Sea Fever the recommendation it deserves.