The Disaster Artist


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at James Franco’s The Disaster Artist!


The Disaster Artist is a strange movie about some strange people making one of the world’s strangest movies–Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-fascinating 2003 feature film, The Room.


A MOVIE ABOUT A MOVIE

At time’s the movie is uncomfortable. Other times it’s laugh-out-loud funny. But, most impressively, The Disaster Artist is consistently a sincere look at two men whose friendship allowed them both to live out their dream of being actors and making a movie that people love.

Based on the book of the same name, The Disaster Artist not only sees James Franco in the director seat but also features him as the perpetually mysterious actor/writer/director Tommy Wiseau. His brother Dave Franco, meanwhile, features as Greg Sestero, the writer of the aforementioned book and Wiseau’s best friend and co-star in The Room.

And while it might be easy to find yourself entertained by just the sheer amount of comedic talent present in the movie–a roster of notable actors that could easily rival that of 2013’s This is the End. While that alone might sell a lot of tickets, the movie’s greatest strength isn’t in the comedy but in the care Franco takes to present a sincere tale about friendship.

A MOVIE ABOUT PEOPLE

Despite being based on true events, Wiseau’s very real, very odd personality can easily be mistaken as a farce. He could have easily been presented as this over-the-top eccentric. And it would have worked just as well. The movie in fact, may have made for a more hilarious, slapstick experience in line with the sort of projects one usually associates with talent like Franco and Seth Rogen.

But this isn’t a movie aimed at having a laugh at Wiseau’s expense. The intentional grounding of everything results in a movie that, while comedic, is equally dramatic and touching.

Franco never makes light of Wiseau’s eccentric personality. At times, the intent is clearly to get audience’s to laugh at Wiseau–such as Wiseau’s super-melodramatic approach to acting. But at the same time, even scenes like this, are an insight into the man’s personality. He never does anything half-assed, or what he at least perceives as such. And, as a result, there are time where you will–by design–feel guilty for having laughed at all.

And as we see throughout the film–through the general playing out of scenes, but primarily through Franco’s eerily on-point portrayal of Wiseau–Wiseau’s behavior is not coming from a place of comedic arrogance and hubris. It’s that of a man who is strange, yes, but fiercely dedicated to his passions.

He loves his new friend Greg, to the point that he invites Greg to live with him the moment Greg earnestly displays his passion for acting. Tommy moves them both to Los Angeles so that they can both live out their dreams. And, ultimately, he doesn’t hesitate to foot the massive bill–rumored to be in excess of $6 million–to produce The Room–a labor of love intended to catapult both their careers.

A MOVIE ABOUT BROTHERS

Logical questions that should arise from watching the movie, such as who Tommy really is and how he can afford such things, are touched upon in the movie just as they were in real life–it simply doesn’t matter.

The mystery of who Tommy Wiseau is or might be isn’t the story here. Instead, it’s about a deep friendship between two very different men. Tommy is a man who is unintentionally abusive and cold when all he ever wants to do is make those around him happy. Greg, meanwhile, is a young man whisked away from home at the young age of 19 who does all he can to mitigate the damage Tommy unintentionally causes around him.

The Disaster Artist, on the surface, is a great comedy about the making of a bad drama. But beyond that, it’s a touching drama about two brothers struggling to live out their dream. One doesn’t need to have seen Wiseau’s The Room to fully appreciate The Disaster Artist, but it certainly helps. And as a companion piece to The Room, it highlights precisely why that movie transcends it’s own numerous shortcomings–shortcomings that would have been a death sentence to any other film and those involved with it.

Funny, heartwarming, introspective, weird, and inspiring. All words that easily describe nearly every frame of this movie as well as the two men at the center of it all.

The Disaster Artist–even more so than the cult favorite movie that inspired it–is a definite CHILL.

Justice League (2017)


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ surprisingly fun Justice League!


An ancient evil from beyond the stars has come to Earth to reclaim an ancient cube with the power to reshape and destroy worlds. And the only thing standing in the way of the death and destruction of everything, is a Caped Crusader, a Goddess, an Atlantean, the Fastest Man Alive, and a Cyborg…in Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ Justice League.


Originally helmed by Zack Synder and completed by Joss Whedon, Justice League brings together some of the greatest pop culture icons in modern American history for a movie that is, unfortunately, not very good. On a technical level, on a structural level, on just about every basic, fundamental filmmaking level, Justice League is, at best, subpar.

Visually speaking, the movie is all over the place. The color palette doesn’t match the production in any way, and is likely the result of Whedon’s drastic reshoots and alterations to the work already completed by Synder.

The saturation and brightness levels were clearly adjusted in post-production to move away from Snyder’s usual desatured, dark visuals. And in and of itself, these changes are likely going to be a welcomed change for many. Mature dramatics is one thing to want in a superhero movie. But drab, lifeless worlds and characters with no sense of enjoyment to any of it is a whole other thing.

However, these adjustments make every set, prop, costume, and clearly green-screen backdrops stand out in the worst way possible. The movie never looks like a cohesive, believable production. Ever. It’s always obvious that what we are seeing was done in a studio and on a computer.

In fact, this is only made worse by CGI reminiscent of the work seen in movies from the early 2000s. At times the movie actually dives right to “Scorpion King” levels of bad, as in the CGI monstrosity featured in Universal’s The Mummy 2, which infamously featured a monster that was the fusion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and a giant scorpion.

And to further compound this visual mess, the compositing work is somehow worse than the CGI itself. The effects never blend seamlessly with physical reality. This ranges from issues like shots of the island of Themyscira looking like it was ripped right out of a decade-old video game to the movie’s CGI baddies–the bug-like Parademons and the big, bad Steppenwolf–interacting less believably with the movie’s flesh-and-blood cast than the toons featured in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In a world where giant alien robots from the planet Cybertron and a humanoid raccoon and tree can believably stand-by-side with living, breathing people, there is no excuse for this level of bad CGI from a major studio and a massive budget.

MINOR LEAGUE

Of course, none of this even begins to touch upon the issues with everything else.

The plot of Justice League is little more a single thread that rationalizes everything on screen. There’s not much actually happening. Nor does what little we get actually ever mean anything. There’s no story. No heart. No character arcs. No emotional depth or dramatic weight anywhere for anything, even when certain scenes actually demand it.

And given how much material this movie lifts from actual stories featured in the pages of the comics, where such moments and images and stories are actually pulled off with some respective degree of emotional relevance, it’s shocking how hollow everything in Justice League really is.

One of the most glaring example–but certainly not the biggest offender–is when the team finally do overcome Steppenwolf and his army. This moment is a given. This is a Hollywood blockbuster after all. We expect the heroes to win. But in a good movie, that moment would come across as the single greatest thing we’ve ever witnessed…even if only for that singular instant in history.

We feel it when The Nazis die a ghastly death at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc. We feel it when The Avengers defeat Loki and his own alien army–specifically when Hulk finally gives Loki the beating he deserves.

But we don’t feel that here. There’s a big fight, and that final giant action set piece really is fun if not exceptionally creative or well-presented. But then it just kind of ends. Not unceremoniously. It’s certainly shown in such a way where the movie wants you to feel the same thing you might feel when the Luke blows up the Death Star. But that’s not what it will make you feel.

Instead, it’s just a sign that the movie is about to wrap things up.

Part of this has to do with the way everything is presented visually. It’s just not that exciting to watch. Fun, yes. Entertaining, yes. We get a good sense of everything that’s happening. We get the idea of what’s being given to us. This is a big fight where colorful and stupidly powered cartoon characters are fighting other stupidly powerful cartoon characters. Batman does this. Superman does that. And Wonder Woman is mixed in there too. And then it just sort of ends.

But this isn’t a cartoon. It shouldn’t have to meet the dramatic depth requirements of an old Saturday morning cartoon. It needs to be able to resonate with a general audience. It needs to make use of its massive budget and all the Hollywood magic that it can buy.

And in that same vein, the characters in the very big Hollywood blockbuster shouldn’t speak as if they’ve been pulled out of an old cartoon. Unless it’s one of the movie’s many wonderful small character moments–such as the bizarre, alpha-male bromance between Aquaman and Bruce Wayne of all things–the majority of the dialog is utterly insipid and heavily reliant on exposition.

This exposition, however, is required to explain the simple yet somehow purposely convoluted plot thread. Unlike the one glowing cube in The Avengers, this movie has three glowing cubes. And an unbelievable amount of time is spent on just trying to rationalize the existence of three cubes instead of one.

This means that rather than getting this emotionally powerful moment where Victor Stone confronts his father about his fears of being this inhuman fusion of flesh and alien technology. Rather than getting this, we get the two talking vaguely at each other about the stupid glowing cube. This scene between father and physically and mentally scarred son is instead just about a box. Hide the box. Steal the box. Take the box back.

Because these three Mother Boxes are the central focus of the movie rather than the actual, very straightforward danger that they represent, the movie has to constantly reinforce their existence at all times. This isn’t just a movie about the end of the world. No, it’s a movie about why these three boxes are so important.

A LITTLE FLAT

Now, that all having been said.

It still doesn’t yet begin to cover why the action is about as exciting as the various cartoons featuring these same characters. It doesn’t feel like a comic panel brought to three dimensions. Instead, it feels like it’s being replicated in yet another 2D plane. Again, it’s actually fun to watch. That’s very true. But it never feels like there’s any depth to it. There’s nothing there that you haven’t seen before in some fashion. It’s all paint-by-numbers, generic, uninteresting action by and large. All made worse by bad framing, questionable editing, and lackluster choreography. And that ever-present bad CGI and green screen.

A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN

Now all of that having been said. In spite of all that I’ve previously stated. In spite of all of that, Justice League is shockingly easy to watch. It’s much more often than not–again, almost shockingly so–fun to watch.

The movie was clearly a salvage job. And as bad as the movie is, it clearly could have been much worse. And the clumsy, quick pace doesn’t allow the bad and boring moments to linger. The movie–forced as it may have been–benefits from the hatchet job that resulted in a final cut that’s well-under two hours. The fun stuff is constantly coming at you, making you almost forget entirely about the rest.

More so, the movie is elevated by the performances of its cast. Nobody drops the balls. Everyone is at the top of their game, even when they’re reciting dialog that sounds as if it were written by a middle-school student. As bad as the stuff that comes out of their mouth might sound to the human ear, every actor brings out the best in their respective Leaguer. They live up to the iconic imagery of their characters. And they deserve all the credit in the world for even attempting to make up for the terrible presentation of it all.

A MOVIE OUT OF TIME

Had this exact movie been released 10 or 15 years ago, it would have easily been an impressive, respectable feat.

Unfortunately, Justice League is incredibly late to the party. And it shows. The bar has been raised time and again–not just in superhero movies, but in blockbusters in general. And the movie we get doesn’t hold up in any notable way in 2017.

Making a Justice League movie should not be hard after such things have been done elsewhere better and with none of the issues Warner Bros. has continued to have. It shouldn’t be hard when DC Comics itself has managed to do it very well in animation, especially with projects like Justice League: The New Frontier (a much watch if you’ve been curious how DC should be handling their properties in live-action).

Justice League has more in common with the Transformers film franchise (especially the sequels) than it does anything from Marvel. The look, the immaturity (poorly) masquerading as something mature, the suspect storytelling, the generally bad dialog and character work.

But despite being very stupid, despite being bad on a basic fundamental filmmaking level…Justice League is still fun and entertaining. Not good, but not terrible either.
You certainly won’t feel like you wasted your time by watching it. And, after the shortfalls we’ve seen with Warner and DC’s previous movies, I guess this is a good thing. Justice League, like Wonder Woman–another deeply flawed but watchable movie–is a step in the right direction.

Let’s just hope a competent filmmaker is leading things when the next step is taken.

Surprisingly and happily, I suggest you CHILL with Justice League.

Thor: Ragnarok


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the most colorful, campiest Marvel movie to date, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok!


When they discover their long-lost sister is also the Goddess of Death, Thor and Loki will have to work together to save the Nine Realms from total destruction in Thor: Ragnarok.

RISK AND REWARD

Director Taika Waititi presents us with what is arguably Marvel’s most ambitious production yet.

And it’s rather fitting, really. Thor’s first cinematic outing was also the riskiest of Marvel’s first phase of movies. That movie took audiences away from the relatively grounded world of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and even Captain America. It exposed audiences to Marvel’s larger, stranger concepts of magic, super-science, gods, and the greater cosmic landscape.

Now, those first two entries in the Thor series of films may not have been the most successful for Marvel Studios. Nor were they the best received, especially Thor: The Dark World.

Both movies were criticized by many for a variety of reasons. The first was too focused on an expected but not entirely welcomed romantic subplot and lacked the sort of scope fans were expecting, with little of the mystical realm of Asgard being shown. And in the case of The Dark World, the movie was plagued by an incredibly underwhelming villain and under-cooked story.

RISK AND REWARD

That said, both movies have their fair share of fans. And even if The Dark World is largely considered to be the closest thing Marvel Studios has made to a cinematic misfire, it’s still a watchable and enjoyable movie. It simply pales in comparison to its abundant sister films.

More so, both films were and still are some of Marvel’s most ambitious, riskiest movies. Even long after fans have been exposed to the colorful cast and many worlds seen in Gunn’s pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Because while many fans might be turned off by Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and the love story between her and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, it remained a welcome change of pace to the usual mix of overtly macho stories presented in Marvel’s other movies. They were the closest thing the studio had made to a traditional Rom-Com.

And Thor: Ragnarok is no different in that regard. But rather than being a romantic-comedy that also happens to feature colorful superheroes and villains, Ragnarok is the closest thing Marvel has made to a traditional buddy comedy.

No matter what is happening on screen, the movie is constantly cracking jokes. Whether it’s a callback to previous movies, some shenanigans between Thor and Loki, or Jeff Goldblum stealing the show with his scene-chewing as Grandmaster, the not-so benevolent ruler of a planet inhabited by the castoffs of the universe and gamemaster of the gladitorial-like Contest of Champions.

And while Thor: Ragnarok obviously lifts some visual cues from James Gunn’s work on Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie also maintains its own personal style. Of course, that style is very close to those seen in movies like Flash Gordon and Heavy Metal, with this emphasis on camp, humor, and the strangest, coolest art and music design seen and heard in a major Hollywood blockbuster.

WHAT IN THE HELA?

That said, failing to be wholly original might be the only thing Thor: Ragnarok fails at.
Because compared to its sister films, Waititi infuses the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some much needed structure, character work, and fun.

There is no romantic subplot. There is no moment where the jokes and action fail to shine. The main villain, Hela, is not only developed just enough but also brought to life by Cate Blanchett’s insane desire to be the MCU’s most dangerous and alluring foe to date. She even manages to give Goldblum a run for his money when it comes to chewing the scenery–and I do mean that in the best way possible.

And Karl Urban’s sympathetic not-quite a villain, Scourge–Hela’s hand-picked lackey looking for a chance to prove his worth to somebody, anybody–is proof that even smaller roles are better fleshed out than anything seen in the previous two movies.

RAGNAROK & ROLL

More so, it also opens up Marvel’s approach to movies in a way it has yet to do.

The humor isn’t new. Nor is the color palette. But Thor: Ragnarok does show that Marvel is now opening itself up to the idea that these movies don’t need some major crossover event to bring in other notable characters, even if only for a few brief scenes.

More than ever, you don’t need to have seen either The Incredible Hulk or Doctor Strange to understand who they are or why they appear in this movie. Knowing they exist at all certainly helps, but it’s not necessary to enjoy their scenes or contributions to the rest of the movie.

Now, could Thor: Ragnarok have done without Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange? Yes, and easily so. But his appearance also doesn’t feel forced. Instead, it’s a nice way to show that these characters do know each other, that they and their worlds do collide–that such a thing can happen at any time for any reason. And, more importantly, this can be done without derailing the film.

A major complaint by even the biggest fans of Marvel’s movies (and their comics) has often been the logical issue of this world of interconnected superheroes who never show up to help or even fight their friends outside of The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War.

Sure, characters like Tony Stark have appeared in movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming. But he also served a major, recurring role within the context of that film. He was important to the development of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker.

But in Thor: Ragnarok, Dr. Strange pops up to help drive the plot forward, and then just as quickly takes his leave. He’s treated like any other ancillary role might be in any other movie. But because we do know the character–because the character has had his own movie at some point–what might have been an unimportant, forgettable role is instead greatly improved. And on the same note, fans no longer have to wonder why these characters fail to cross paths more frequently.

IF HE BE WORTHY…

Now, the movie isn’t without its faults. The most glaring of which is how its apocalyptic scenario is undercut by the movie’s emphasis on humor over dramatics.

There are, of course, some deadly serious moments to be found in the movie, but they feel less impactful–even if intentionally so–than they could have been. “Ragnarok” should conjure up images of death and destruction on a cosmic scale, and the movie does give us as much. But it will likely ring a bit hollow for some.

The movie, in a way, does make light of things like dictators, violent fights to the death, and, yes, the end of the world itself. All these things are present in this film. But they’re presented in a comedic light. Again, Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy first and anything else a distant second.

For some, this might prove to be a disconnect that is difficult or even impossible to overcome. It might taint any fun that might be had with the movie.

But for those looking to escape the world for two hours and go on a colorful, hilarious ride across the cosmos that also features some great visuals and action scenes, Thor: Ragnarok is more than worthy of your time.

I definitely suggest you CHILL with Thor: Ragnarok.

Blood Harvest


*31 Nights of Horror (#13) | 2017*

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of the Video Store With No Name, aka The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at the uncomfortably bad slasher movie featuring Tiny Tim, Blood Harvest (aka Nightmare).

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


Itonia Salchek stars as Jill, a young woman returning to her small, rural hometown only to discover her family missing, their house in ruins, and their once sleepy little town at the mercy of a serial killer in Blood Harvest.


Blood Harvest, from Bill Rebane, is a movie most notable for featuring Tiny Tim as Mervo the Clown. There is nothing else worth noting about Blood Harvest. Not really. It is so frustratingly benign. It’s bad for sure. But there is nothing to be mad about, even after having wasted 90 minutes of my life with it.

This is a movie that doesn’t hide how bad it is. The director doesn’t care to direct. The actors never act. Tiny Tim is the only sign of human life on camera.

Even the most uncomfortable to watch rape scene–a very matter-of-fact, entirely nonjudgmental rape scene with no attempt to artsy-it-up or sexualize it. None if seemed to register any sort of emotion. The actors simply looked bored. It’s uncomfortable in how uncomfortable it isn’t.

I just don’t care. The movie starts showcasing how much it just doesn’t care. It signals you to turn it off and ask for a refund.

To speak ill of the movie outright would be as if to proclaim a school play as some no-budget, unprofessional tripe. It’s acute, harmless little thing that’s meant to be enjoyed as a testament to how anyone can get a film made, no matter how talentless everyone involved in the production truly were. You watch it in support of those involved, but you’re not going to ruin their evening by criticizing. It’s their night, not yours.

I suspect there’s some small minority of horror fans out there, perhaps even some deranged completionist who wants to watch this movie from beginning to end. And in that case, please, by all means please do.

But for anyone looking for anything more than background noise–or that lone wolf hardcore Tiny Tim fan–Blood Harvest is a NO CHILL.

The Beyond


*31 Nights of Horror (#12) | 2017*

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of the Video Store With No Name, aka The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at Italian horror classic, The Beyond (the second entry in the unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy)!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


Catriona MacColl is Liza, a young woman who has recently inherited an old hotel in the heart of New Orleans. But as she attempts to restore the hotel and carry on its legacy, a frightening series of events soon reveals that the hotel was built atop the gates of Hell. And the gate, of course, is now wide open in The Beyond.


MIDDLE-CHILD

The Beyond, from iconic horror director Lucio Fulci, is the second movie in the unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy. And, as might be expected, it suffers greatly from middle-child syndrome.

City of the Living Dead dealt with the dead rising from the grave, starting as a small-scale series of events and turning into a large-scale uprising. The House by the Cemetery is, at its core, an intimate tale of a family living in a haunted house.

The Beyond, meanwhile, is a series of loosely connected stories. Each story follows one of several group of characters who all have some connection to a hotel that rests above a literal gate of hell.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE

Unfortunately, none of the many different roads the movie follows feels grand nor intimate. They all just sort of drift about in the middle.

We never spend enough time with the woman who owns the hotel nor the family of the man who initially dies at it. Nor do we get to see the sheer scale of the chaos surrounding any of this. And as result, aside from some key special effects shots, nothing about The Beyond is all that interesting. The story and the characters are just sort of there. There’s never enough tension or drama. Things just sort of happen but hardly ever build to anything.

And the strange thing is that everything that plays out is fascinating in concept. I just never felt like I cared about any of it. 87 minutes is just not enough time to show us everything that plays out in the movie and make us care.

A two hour movie might have been able to pull that off, it might have been able to flesh out everything just enough to give some sort of meaning to it all. Or it might have been squandered on simply following even more characters and even more half-hearted stories.

But all we have is this 87-minute movie that overwhelms and underwhelms in almost equal measure.

YEAH, BUT…

This is one of those rare instances where I want to somehow defend my loving of the movie strictly for the concept alone. The actual movie itself isn’t very good because it feels half
there. But what’s there is still an enjoyable if not necessarily fun watch.

And as a result The Beyond is certainly worth CHILLING with. Just don’t be so sure you’ll feel that way immediately after having done so.

Contamination


*31 Nights of Horror (#11) | 2017*

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of the Video Store With No Name, aka The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at Italian sci-fi horror flick, Contamination!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a transport ship carrying otherworldly cargo arrives in New York–its crew somehow mysteriously dead–it’ll take a government agent and a local police officer to get to the heart of this deadly mystery in Contamination.


Contamination, from writer-director Luigi Cozzi, is a fairly odd bit of sci-fi horror. The movie itself is fairly innocuous. In fact, it’s largely forgettable.

It’s a sci-fi movie that isn’t all that interested in delivering a science-fiction narrative. It’s a horror movie that isn’t all that interested in delivering on scares or even a general sense of dread or uneasiness. And unlike many other Italian horror films of the era, it’s not very stylish outside a few key shots.

Though like many Italian horror movies, Contamination doesn’t have so much a story as it does a paper-thin plot that rationalizes a series of loosely connected scenes that play out in a longer, slower fashion than necessary.

MYSTERI-WHAT?

That said, Cozzi’s slow-burn mystery that actually unfolds in its entirety is a much welcome change of pace from the non-mysteries that plague Italian horror films.

The mystery of the alien cargo–which is incredibly ridiculous in presentation, danger, and purpose–is at the heart of the movie. The movie opens with it, the main characters focus on it, and it keeps the movie trotting slowly but steadily forward until the main characters–and us, the audience–get the answers we’ve been searching and waiting for.

Now, stating that a movie has a respectable purpose and direction seems like faint praise–and in most cases, it would be. But in the style and genre that Contamination belongs to, such things are a rarity. And, as a result, such a clear, well-developed framework is much appreciated.

The movie does, unfortunately, steer into territory worn-out even by 1980, reducing even its few redeeming factors to token alterations to a tired formula.

There’s the one man, one woman pair of leads forced to solve a mysterious threat that sort of unfolds and solves itself. The rare use of special effects is highlighted with odd, questionable stylistic choices, such as extended slow-motion shots. And, of course, the barely there story abruptly concludes with little sense of closure.

But if Contamination‘s real issues can be boiled down to just one glaring fault, it’d be that the movie is simply not that interesting. The premise it sets up–this deadly alien threat that literally just appears seemingly out of nowhere and casually makes its way into one of the most densely populated cities in the world–is incredibly interesting. There’s a lot of dread and paranoia to cultivate. There’s plenty of mileage to get out of this–either in the small scale or the large.

But Cozzi didn’t seem to have much left in the tank after he got through with the premise and inciting incident. Because no one in this movie seems concerned or scared, even in the face of death. There’s no tension. There’s no real emotion to find in the movie whatsoever.

Bad acting, bad dialog, and suspect direction are a prolific aspect of Italian horror. It often provides a lot of the charm in such movies. But, in the case of Contamination, it’s simply flat across the board. It’s as if no one, Cozzi included, cared about the final results.

It really feels as if everyone involved with the movie were satisfied with phoning in a day’s work–all day, every day. And it’s a shame, because there’s a good core to be found at the heart of Contamination. But unless you’re running low on options, you’d be fine skipping this one.

Contamination is a NO CHILL

Night of the Creeps


31 Nights of Horror (#10) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at 80s teen comedy turned retro monster movie, Night of the Creeps!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When slug-like alien parasites are accidentally unleashed on small-town America, it’ll be up to some plucky college kids and a heroic cop to save the world in Night of the Creeps.

NEW RETRO

Night of the Creeps is brought to us by writer-director Fred Dekker–who many might know better for his work on yet another cult-classic, The Monster Squad.

And much like The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps takes classic horror staples like aliens and zombies and sets them loose in small-town America with a more light-hearted twist. The movie never takes itself too seriously. This is very much an 80s version of matinee sci-fi b-films from the 1950s. In fact, the movie initially opens in the 1950s before quickly jumping ahead thirty years. The college kids are very much the sort of bright, stereotypical go-getters found in those earlier movies. The police officer is an unfaltering hero of the people. And the monsters are never, ever intended to seriously disturb so much as they’re intend to illicit a cheap, but fun scare. The slug-like creatures are very unsettling and will be sure to cause many to squirm in their seats as they wriggle about, in and out of their victims.

Simply put, Night of the Creeps is likely what we would have got if John Hughes had written and directed a horror movie. It’s Weird Science meets Them!

MAYBE TOO DIFFERENT

But, despite being a well-written, well-directed, and well-acted bit of comedy and horror, the movie’s light-hearted tone and material is likely to leave some fans rather disappointed.

Because if you want something much more scary than it is funny, Night of the Creeps is not the movie for you. There’s some certainly great effects on display and some creatively violent moments to be found. But it is not looking to give anyone nightmares so much as it is eager to offer you a fun time.

Horror is an incredibly flexible approach to material more so than it is an easily defined genre. There are key elements and twists that can be added to any story to turn even a teen comedy into a horror movie.

And it’s this variety found in horror stories that provide us–and especially those who might not normally like horror movies– such fun experiences as Night of the Creeps. Because for every scare the movie sacrifices, it more than makes up for it in jokes, gags, and simply playing about with a classic style and staple of American cinema.

And it never passes up an opportunity to do either. Because while many similar movies might do different, Night of the Creeps paces itself like few others. It’s never too long before there’s another joke or monster popping about on screen. The characters constantly have something to stay and do. There’s no wasted time or effort.

FLAWED DELIGHT

This isn’t to say the movie is somehow flawless, because it’s not. As fun as the movie is, it’s not nearly as memorable as many other comedic horror films of that era. Its jokes are about as cutting or as clever as its scares are intense. The overall experience is fairly mild, fairly safe.

But for a movie that’s very much taking up the legacy of horror movies that were intended to be fairly mild, fairly safe, isn’t that sort of the point? And in that case, doesn’t that make it a great continuation of that legacy?

Now, whether you answer yes or no to these questions will determine the mileage you’ll get from Night of the Creeps.

But in either case: if you are looking for a good time with a bit of a morbid twist, be sure to CHILL with Night of the Creeps.

House


31 Nights of Horror (#9) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at underappreciated 80s comedy horror flick, House!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


Haunted by the disappearance of his son and his memories of Vietnam, a struggling writer moves into his childhood home following the untimely death of his aunt. But as he attempts to use this as an opportunity to work on his latest novel, this would-be Stephen King will also have to face some very real personal demons in House.

FUNNY UH-OH?

House, from director Steve Miner, is–despite the rather bleak and grim subject matter–actually more comedy than it is horror.

Not too much time ever goes by without some visual gag or joke being thrown at an unsuspecting audience. But, at the same time, not too many minutes pass without some eerie
ghoul looking to give William Katt’s Roger (or the audience) a good scare.

Quite frankly, given the the subject matter on display, it’s likely that House benefits by leaning on comedy more than anything else. If Miner had taken a more straightforward approach to the script, the final result might have been unbearably depressing.

Because despite the movie’s more often than not lighthearted tone, House covers things like suicide, child abduction, divorce, and even war-induced PTSD. It never makes light of any of this, fortunately. Instead, Miner chooses to use both comedy and horror as a way to present
such serious material in a more digestible manner.

Just when it seems the movie is going to get too serious– with Katt’s soldier-turned-horror novelist left to stew in his isolation, depression, and seemingly endless amount of guilt–Miner inserts some much needed levity. Sometimes this comes in the form of TV’s George Wendt popping over for an awkward bit of neighborly snooping. Other times it comes in the form of some incredible monster designs.

SCREAMING OR LAUGHING?

And it’s because the movie is a comedy that the monsters and other bits of horror manage to work so well. In a more straight-faced horror movie, the special effects in House–as well done as they might be–might not have worked. Their use is minimal. And the budget was clearly tight.

But, most of all, it would have been lost on an audience watching a Vietnam vet slowly fall apart as everything good in his life is taken away from him. The very real, grounded horror story playing out on screen would have totally overshadowed what amounts to some creepy looking foam rubber.

Overall, Miner manages a beautiful balancing act. The comedy makes the very real horror digestible and allows the fictional stuff flourish. The real horror adds some much needed gravitas to a genre that is often far allowed to be shallow. And the fun horror stuff helps visualize the internal struggle going on in our lead character.

Half the time you’ll likely be laughing. The rest of the time you’ll be fidgeting uncomfortably in your seat. But the entire time you’ll be cheering on our beaten-but-not-broken hero.

And, in the end, you’ll be glad you chose to CHILL with House.

C.H.U.D.


31 Nights of Horror (#8) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at 80s cult-classic monster movie, C.H.U.D.!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a strange series of disappearances and attacks being plaguing a small corner of New York City, it’ll take the unlikely team of a photographer, a lone police officer, and the manager of a local homeless shelter to get to the bottom of this mystery in C.H.U.D.

W.H.A.T.?

C.H.U.D., from director Douglas Cheek, is a relatively well-known cult hit from 1984. But for many whose local video store didn’t have the best collection of horror on VHS–or perhaps you simply didn’t grow up in a time when video stores were still a thing–it might be likely that C.H.U.D., which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, is flying low on your radar. If it manages even so much a blip, that is.

And if I were to guess as to why C.H.U.D. has remained a notable if under-watched bit of 80s horror, it might be because the movie itself is fairly uninterested in standing out too much.

A MIXED BAG OF CRAZY

For example, the movie is neither outright scary nor outright comical. The violence and gore and combined screen time of the titular monsters is fairly limited. Despite being an R-rated movie, C.H.U.D. is fairly light on swears, violence, or much of anything else.

But what the movie does excel at is giving us a fairly basic but compelling story and mystery along with relatable, interesting characters.

The late John Heard is perfect in the role of the well-meaning yet somewhat pretentious photographer, George–a man who has no qualms with taking a commercial gig to pay the bills… but who also won’t stop complaining about the vapid cynicism of commercial marketing while he does it.

Daniel Stern shines in his somewhat mellow, subdued take on the sincerely selfless manager of a local homeless shelter, AJ Shepherd, who is more commonly known by his nickname “The Reverend.”

For many, Stern is more likely to conjure up images of his roles as Marv from the Home Alone movies or any of his other more animated performances. But while The Reverend is an integral part of the film, his personality is very humble and reserved. And with such a role–and in such a movie–subtlety and nuance can easily be mistaken for, quite simply and quite often, flat.

Fortunately, Stern uses this as a chance to highlight his ability to get a lot of mileage out of even the most low-key role.

And veteran actor Christopher Curry rounds out our leads in the role of Captain Bosch, a police officer who suspects his wife is among the missing. Curry nails the balancing act of, frightened, desperate husband and professional stoicism. His Bosch is a man doing all he can to maintain his composure in light of a horrifying situation. And never does he comes across as a loose canon waging a one-man war, which is far too often the go-to take on such roles.

BENEATH THE SURFACE

That said, these more nuanced, layered choices in what is, at it’s heart, a monster movie might be the movie’s own undoing.

Nothing about C.H.U.D. outside its promise of some freaky looking monsters screams “horror movie.” Despite us the audience knowing full well that monsters are clearly living under the streets of New York, the movie is more focused on having its characters slowly unravel the mystery of it all. And this emphasis on the human side of the equation means that there’s little time for monsters or scares. It’s a horror movie doing what so few horror movies ever risk attempting: it tells a real story.

But, again, this emphasis on story and characters comes at a cost. And that cost is the heavy reduction of what most people might expect or want from a horror movie. It’s not really scary. It’s not really violent. And the monsters are smartly kept to key scenes, which also means the amount of special effects is also minimized.

So if you’re looking for a more traditional or typical horror movie, CHUD is not going to be for you.

But if you are looking for a fun, enjoyable movie that also happens to be about dangers creatures lurking underground, then you definitely need to take the time to CHILL with C.H.U.D.

Demons


31 Nights of Horror (#7) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at classic giallo film, Demons!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a group of people are invited to a free screening of a mysterious new horror movie, they soon discover themselves in for the fright of their lives when everything that happens in the movie also happens to them in Demons.

DEM-ON, DEM-OFF

Directed by Lamberto Bava and written by horror icon Dario Argento, Demons is yet another Italian giallo film that presents a highly stylized audio-visual experience with very little substance.

Because while the premise of a movie-within-a-movie unleashing a private Hell on our main cast of characters sounds like a lot of fun, like an opportunity to do something different–something a little insightful regarding the movie-going experience, perhaps–there’s simply little done with that premise or these characters.

In fact, all that’s really done with the premise is using it to explain why zombie-like demons are suddenly unleashed on a literal captive audience. Once that finally gets going, that’s all we get for the next hour.

And it really does take some 25 minutes for the movie to get started. The first half-hour is mostly comprised of long, static shots of people in the subway, walking down hallways, and, eventually, gathering in a local movie theater. We meet our core group of would-be victims, yes, but we’re not given much of anything interesting to look out, hear, or experience. It’s framed nice. And the music is that classic, catchy, moody sound you’d expect from these sorts of movies.

But none of that makes up for the fact that there’s no real story to speak of–only this stretched out series of moments that eventually lead to a non-ending. The characters simply prattle on and scream at each other until the next one dies. And then, once the movie finally decides it’s all out of ideas, the credits roll.

ALL SIZZLE, NO STEAK

But while it would be easy to dismiss the movie entirely as one that’s “all sizzle and no steak”, it has to be made clear that the giallo-style is cranked up high. The sheer amount of “sizzle” almost entirely makes up for the distinct lack of “steak” present in Demons. Almost.

Little is done with the premise or the titular demons themselves, yes. But they do have a fascinating look that is brought to life by incredible make-up design. And a number of the violent, stylized death scenes they’re always present for make great use of some creative practical effects.

Even the unnatural acting and line-delivery of the human characters bring to life what could have otherwise been some of the worst dialog ever written.

Of course, all the fantastic and bizarre lighting and violence and monster make-up in the world doesn’t fully make-up for a lack of pacing, purpose, or anything remotely resembling good acting. But, when done right, as Bava does in Demons, it makes for one hell of a viewing experience.

Demons is a definite CHILL.

The Bees


31 Nights of Horror (#6) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at the campy and literal b-movie, The Bees!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


As Africanized killer bees spread across South America, American corporations are desperate to make the best of a bad situation by selling the bees’ honey and royal jelly for a premium price.

But when the bees get loose, spreading and mutating across the entire United States, humanity will have to unite if anyone wishes to come out of all this alive in The Bees.

BEE-LIEVE IT

Written and directed by Alfred Zacarias and starring prolific genre actor John Saxon, The Bees is one of the best bad movies you will ever see.

From its atrocious acting, nonsensical plot, painful attempts at action and stunts, and the least convincing special effects this side of an Ed Wood feature, nothing about The Bees should work. It certainly doesn’t do the movie any favors knowing that, in 2017–nearly 40-years after the release of the movie–the decades-long fear of the Killer Bee has, for the most part, proven to be largely unfounded.

And yet there’s something about The Bees that, despite its worst efforts, allows it to be so unwittingly entertaining. The sheer absurdity of every bad line or inept scene of what’s supposed to be terror or the numerous prolonged, hammy fits of conversation makes for a great movie to sit back, take in, and laugh at with a group of friends.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t necessarily a redeeming aspect of the film itself. The movie is bad from top to bottom. Even Saxon’s usually reliable, quality performance gets lost in the flood of stupid dialog, bad ideas, and poor execution.

TO BEE FAIR

Could a better overall movie have been made from the idea of a naturally dangerous but beneficial creature like the bee gaining the desire to attack and kill off humanity? Yes, very much so. And whether or not its sister movie, The Swarm, is that movie is entirely up for debate.

But I don’t think a more entertaining movie could ever come from it.

Because it’s in the stylized, passionate failing that is The Bees that provides such a fun experience. A good story with passable acting would have, perhaps, resulted in a much more dull, too-serious for its own good final product. The movie’s inherent message of “man destroying the environment for the sake of profit” certainly would have come across as far too preachy.

If nothing else, The Bees stands as a testament to the sheer amount of entertainment to be had so long as filmmakers have the necessary creativity and passion to overcome a lack of budget or inherent talent.

So should you and your friends find yourself in the need of a good laugh more than a good scare, The Bees is definitely the movie you should CHILL with and laugh at.

Zombie Holocaust


31 Nights of Horror (#5) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at giallo zombie flick, Zombie Holocaust!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


After several bodies are desecrated and several patients are killed in their beds, a group of doctors and journalists head for the East Indies to uncover the truth behind this recent string of cannibalistic behavior in Zombie Holocaust.

ANCIENT ZOMBIE SECRET

Zombie Holocaust, from director Marino Girolami, is somewhat of a mystery to me. Despite sharing so many traits found in other giallo-styled films, Zombie Holocaust seems to lack whatever “I don’t know what” that allows those other movies to succeed in raw entertainment in spite of their numerous issues.

The acting, the dialog, the story, and the pacing are, at best, subpar. And at worst, they’re abysmal. But this is fairly common in the genre. It’s very much a matter of style over substance. Saturated colors. Odd, comic book-like framing and lighting. Melodramatic, on-the-nose dialog and performances. And a singular, focused hook or gimmick.

And Zombie Holocaust does indeed capture the stylistic flair of the genre. Everything on screen pops in the style’s distinct manner. There’s an inherent pulp feel to everything, with characters looking and talking like they popped out of an old horror magazine or comic book. The film’s color pallet is largely desaturated until something of dramatic importance is on screen, at which point key colors are heavily saturated. The lighting will even go from natural or over-lit to hyperstylized, with swashes of greens and reds and dark, ominous shadows falling across shots.

The movie even features a fairly barebones, predictable hook. Cannibals appear in a major, modern city. A small group of people with a death wish make it their business to venture
into the wildness halfway around the world for answers regarding the cannibals. And, once on some isolated island, everything goes wrong for everyone involved, and they have to survive somehow.

It’s a simple, basic premise and structure. But it’s one that’s worked across dozens and dozens of films.

PALE IMITATION

So what is it exactly that leaves Zombie Holocaust feeling like a pale imitation?

Well, the only thing I didn’t feel with Zombie Holocaust that I feel with many other giallo films is this sense that, in spite of the film’s small budget, the director had the creativity to keep things interesting and popping off the screen often enough.

So much of the movie is waiting for something to happen–blood, violence, a cheap scare, or even some odd, gratuitous sex.

But even the gratuitous sexual content is so lifeless. There is more than one extended sequence where we see Alexandra Delli Colli’s Lori stripping or getting dressed or simply walking around naked. But none of it comes across as particularly titillating. There’s no sense of voyeurism to any of it. There’s nothing outright sexual about what we see, despite that clearly being the only reason it’s there.

And that sort of lacking is there when it comes to the effects and the scares. The titular zombies don’t really look all that interesting. At times, they even look like they’re wearing a cheap mask purchased at a corner drug store. The blood and violence are there, but none of it feels like its meant to entertain us. It’s simply there because it has to be there.

Perhaps it’s Girolami’s framing. Perhaps its the soundtrack, which never really seems to hit quite the right note. But whatever it is, there’s simply something that doesn’t feel authentic about Zombie Holocaust. And when there are so many other better representations of the giallo style–even if only barely–I can only suggest that you avoid this one without a second thought.

Zombie Holocaust, while not an entirely unwatchable film, is a firm NO CHILL.

Nightmare City


31 Nights of Horror (#4) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at giallo horror flick, Nightmare City!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a plane makes an emergency landing, it soon unleashes its cargo of blood-thirty, irradiated mutants upon the world in Nightmare City.

WE BUILT THIS CITY

Brought to us by director Umberto Lenzi, Nightmare City is yet another zombie-not-a-zombie movie. Its monsters, for the most part, look and act like any other George Romero-styled zombies. They feast on living people. They multiply by infecting those they injure but fail to kill. And these creatures can only be killed with a bullet to the brain.

Like Romero’s films, the creatures are never called zombies. But unlike those movies, the creatures in Nightmare City are not the living dead. They’re people altered through radiation. They can use complex tools and weapons. They can even operate vehicles.

And the reason I mention all this is because despite having such incredibly dangerous monsters, not much is really done with them.

The vast majority of the film is spent highlighting a location–an airport, a TV studio, a house–and then unleashing this army of mutants on unsuspecting victims. They bite, claw, stab, and shoot everyone in their path until no one is left alive. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But then why make the monsters so functionally human only to utilize them like any other stereotypical ghoul?

OH, **** YOU

And this really does highlight the issue plaguing Nightmare City. Despite such a great twist on a common idea readily abused by the giallo subgenre of horror, Lenzi and company didn’t bother to do anything with it. There’s nothing unique or creative done with any of the movie’s otherwise creative ideas.

The monsters are more than a mindless horde driven by their desire for human blood. The main character is a TV news reporter constantly at odds with his producer over ethics in journalism. And this character’s wife is a prominent doctor at a major hospital.

So why is the wife nothing more than a character in need of being saved? Why is nothing made of this conflict of a reporter trying to warn the public of a very real, very deadly threat in the face of a government cover-up? Why are these bloodthirsty, violent people capable of devising and executing a tactical strike against all of humanity still used like little more than bread-dead zombies?

The cheesy violence, music, and performances fans might expect of the giallo style is present. And there’s plenty of fun to be had with such things.

But between a refusal to do anything different with all the great ideas present in the material and an incredibly lazy and insulting ending, even the most dedicated horror fan would be better off watching any of the other more experimental movies available in the genre.

Unless you’ve already burned through the rest of back-catalog of horror movies, City of Nightmares is a NO CHILL.

Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman


31 Nights of Horror (#3) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, he looks at Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman, based on the Japanese urban legend!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When an earthquake suddenly shakes up a small Japanese suburb, the locals are not only given a brief fright but a sleeping evil is also stirred from its slumber, eager to once again haunt and kill whoever crosses its path in Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman.

CARVE? MORE LIKE, “HACK”

Brought to us by prolific horror director, Koji Shiraishi, Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman–also known by its Japanese title, Kuchisake-onna–is arguably one of the most frustratingly bad movies–horror or otherwise–to be released in the past decade.

The barely-there acting, sloppy framing and cutting, pacing so slow even snails would take great offense in a direct comparison, nonsensical logic and rules, and a distinct lack of scares and violence and blood and gore. There is simply nothing done right in this movie.

In fact, the only thing more confusing and frustrating than watching Carved is to learn that, upon its initial release, the movie was actively praised by a number of outlets, including Variety magazine.

Now, there’s certainly something interesting to be derived from its premise, one rooted in the titular Kuchisake-onna, which is a fairly modern urban legend about a malicious spirit that plays a violent and often deadly game with its victims. But Shiraishi does everything he possibly can to forcibly declaw and defang the entire premise.

MOSTLY HARMLESS; UTTERLY POINTLESS

The movie not only looks like it was shot and edited for TV, but the acting and action is so bad that, at one point, there is a long, oddly framed shot of the Kuchisake-onna kicking a girl like a sack of potatoes.

And it’s not some swift, hard-hitting soccer kick to a frightened, hurt individual. Instead, it’s a small, lazy poke with a foot followed by a cartoonish thud and a wholly unconvincing grunt of what is supposed to be pain. And this shot just lingers and repeats for a good 30-60 seconds before the actress just stops and slowly moves on to her next mark.

Everything in this movie is downplayed to the point that you might mistake what you’re watching for an extended, sequential series of outtakes or rehearsals. The actors deliver their dialog with all the emotion of a corpse, as if they’re reading their lines for the very first time. The lighting is flat and as lifeless as the performances. And none of this even begins to touch upon how contrived the plot is. For as basic as it is–a wicked woman dies only for her evil spirit to be woken in the present day to continue her unmotivated killings–Shiraishi just strings together a number of loosely connected scenes and characters. There is no attempt to make us care about even the most innocent of victims. No effort put into scaring us. No concept of how logic works into the supernatural aspect of the monster–she simply does something new every now and again and we’re given heavy-handed exposition explaining everything.

The strangest thing of it all is how Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman is every bit as dull and harmless of a movie as the number of comics and various internet stories based on the urban legend are legitimately spooky and unsettling. And I would highly suggest you seek out such comics and stories–readily and legitimately available online for free–than to spend even ten minutes with this movie.

Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman is a firm NO CHILL.

Body Melt


31 Nights of Horror (#2) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, he comes across Australian comedic horror flick, Body Melt!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a concerned employee of a shady pharmaceutical company attempts to reveal that an entire Australian suburb has been used as guinea pigs, he’s not only swiftly and violently silenced but the residents of Pebbles Court soon discover that their free dietary supplement pills have some seriously gruesome side-effects in Body Melt.

MELTIN’

Body Melt, from director and co-writer Philip Brophy, is a delightfully crazed b-film that you would be forgiven for mistaking for one of Troma’s insane creations. The blood and body horror frequently comes by the barrel. The characters are colorful caricatures, with every actor’s performance cranked up to 10. And the movie floors it from the outset and doesn’t ease up on the gas until it crosses the finish line.

However, the path it takes to get there is quite literally all over the place.

Despite the film selling itself as something detailing the gruesome outcome of secret tests done on unsuspecting suburbanites, there’s very little time actually spent in the suburbs.

In fact, much of the movie takes place on either a remote farm in the Australian outback or a high-end spa that secretly doubles as the laboratory for the aforementioned and comically evil pharmaceutical company.

The movie also never spends too much time with a single character, with Brophy instead electing to jump from one to the next in fairly quick fashion, making the movie feel like a series of loosely connected vignettes.

And, to be fair, this works very much in favor of Body Melt. We get to know characters just enough before the movie goes about killing them off in creative, unsettling ways. No punches are pulled. No one is safe. And no stone is left unturned, as the movie hands out bits and pieces of backstory for the whole thing without ever bringing the movie to anything resembling a slow crawl.

It’s a high-energy, frantic experience. But it’s only one that masquerades as a mess rather than actually being one.

DISTURBIN’

Now, as fun as the movie is from start to finish, it must also be said that this one isn’t for the squeamish or the easily offended. There are a number of disturbing images–as colorful and wacky as they may be at times–that, among other unsettling things, occasionally involve children.

But for those who can embrace the no-holds barred nature of a comedic horror film that aims to entertain and push limits–and certainly more so than to simply shock and offend–then Body Melt is easily worth CHILLING with.

31


31 Nights of Horror (#1) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico stepped out of The Last Video Store on Earth in search of some late-night scares. But he still took the time to record his review of Rob Zombie’s 31 using his smartphone.

Needless to say, the footage he sent us is about as shaky as the movie’s premise.


When a van full of carnies find themselves stopped dead in their tracks one evening, they’re not only confused and upset but brutally assaulted, kidnapped, and ultimately forced to
compete in a deadly, twisted game of survival in 31.

A LACKING

Written and directed by Rob Zombie, 31 is easily his worst movie to date. In fact, as an admitted fan of Zombie’s work, including his controversial and divisive handling of the
Halloween franchise, I would say it’s his only outright bad movie.

The movie’s troubles are abundant as they are surprising. For a man who built his filmography on stylish, brutal, and highly disturbing visuals mixed with a strong in-your-face cast of colorful characters–including monstrous villains so memorable that he once dedicated an entire film that presented them as the unlikely heroes of the piece. For a filmmaker like that, it’s utterly shocking to discover 31 lacks almost everything that made Zombie’s work so interesting.

REHASHING

Starting with just the basic premise, 31 rehashes the setup of House of 1000 Corpses, with a van full of fairly bland, unsuspecting characters beset upon by a group of violent nut jobs in the middle of nowhere.

But unlike that movie, 31 doesn’t have the colorful Captain Spalding or his equally colorful family of misfits. Instead, we get an uncharacteristically lifeless performance from Malcolm MacDowell as some mysterious overseer of a vague game of survival. Our main cast is chained up, given numbers, and then sent through an uninspired death maze where they’re chased down by a series of homicidal maniacs with colorful names and outfits but wholly uninteresting personalities.

In fact, if it weren’t for character actor Richard Brake’s outstanding performance as the crazed “Doom-Head”, it’s likely the whole thing would be utterly forgettable.

Unfortunately, Brake’s appearance is fairly limited. He appears at the very beginning only to then be relegated mostly to the movie’s third and final act.

Why Zombie kept the closest thing he had to a memorable character and performance on the sidelines for most of the movie instead of focusing on this sadistic, captivating lunatic is beyond me. But it’s yet another sign that Zombie had little more than a sliver of an idea before he rushed this one into production.

TOOTIE-F***ING-FRUITY

There’s no story to speak of. The visuals are lacking his distinct flair. There’s not even much of anything that shows these characters as carnies–they’re just a group of weird misfits talking in a cramped a van for some 20 minutes before the movie actually gets going.

Overall, the movie is a great premise executed without anything that made Zombie’s previous works standout so well. Worse, 31 feels like someone’s bad impersonation of Rob Zombie.

And so, in the end, 31 is not only a disappointing dud, but a definite NO CHILL.

The Hippopotamus


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at The Hippopotamus, a snarky, witty comedy based on the novel by Stephen Fry!


When a drunken, disgraced writer suddenly reunites with his terminally ill goddaughter, she tasks him with investigating a series of unexplained miracles at her family’s country manor in The Hippopotamus.

BIT OF FRY

Directed by John Jencks and based on the novel by Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus is a strange little movie that is delightfully dark, twisted, and snarky in all the right ways.

In fact, if the movie has any glaring fault to find, it would likely be in how the movie perfectly translates Fry’s voice only to not feature him in any capacity.

Instead, we get Roger Allam in the lead role of Ted Wallace, the semi-successful, self-loathing poet turned theater critic. And while Allam does an amazing job as this aging, talented lech, it’s hard not to wonder what the role would have been like if Stephen Fry were cast in his place, speaking the words he wrote–words that still sound as if he’s speaking them.

Of course, this isn’t to deny the fantastic work by Allam or his supporting cast. Tommy Knight especially stands out as Ted’s quirky, mysterious godson, David–a young man seemingly gifted with the power of a healing touch.

Nor is this to say the movie’s lacking a few weak links, because it’s not. In fact, the movie has quite a few characters who exist to fulfill a single, specific role and little else. And the performances by the actors in these roles are never outstanding in any real way. The material simply isn’t there for the actors in such roles to shine.

Of course, if more of the roles were written and performedlike Ted or even Tim McInnerny’s flamboyant, desperate Oliver, the movie might be all the better for it. It certainly might be a bit more palatable for American audiences that are accustomed to entire casts of big, loud comedians.

That’s all possible. But it’s also likely that the movie would suffer from having too much of a good thing.

Dry wit and charm is wonderful and all. But if every character is presented in such a way, it starts to become noise. It becomes apparent that every character speaks like everyone else. More to the point, they all speak like the writer. All you need to do is look at works from writers and directors like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon to see how such a thing can become a problem, even if their work is popular.

SNARK AND HEART

That said, well-performed utility roles do keep the movie focused and played straight while allowing Ted–and his narrations–to be the primary source of comedy.

Because for all its colorful language, strange and charming characters, and biting critique of both England’s apparently self-absorbed upper-class and man’s desperate hope for miracles in the face of death, the movie never forgets to be funny.

But more importantly, it never forgets to tell an engaging story with relatable characters. It never reduces anything or anyone to a gag–something a lot of American comedies would do well to keep in mind.

And what I mean by this is that without the jokes, the movie would still play out as a good bit of drama. There’s a good mystery at play. And even the stuffiest of characters are still,
at their heart, people first and stereotypes second. The humor simply alters the experience, perhaps even enhancing it in many ways. Alternatively, the comedy never exists to simply cover up any issues the movie might have with its characters, plot, or dialog.

SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

That all said, The Hippopotamus isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely a prime example of the sort of smart, dry humor the British are known for. And as such, this might be a movie some of us in the states may have trouble with.

This one isn’t noisy. It isn’t overtly wacky in any real sense. And it certainly isn’t quirky in the style of Wes Anderson. Now, there are moments where the jokes go big, but even such things are restrained so as to keep it in line with the rest of the movie.

For those looking for something smart, witty, and wholly engaging, you would do right by yourself to CHILL with The Hippopotamus. But if you are up to the task of diving into something completely different from what you might be used to, this one is definitely worth adding to your queue and watching when you have the opportunity.

Death Note


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Death Note!


When a high school student discovers a strange notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name he writes in it, he’ll quickly discover that playing God isn’t everything he expected it to be in Death Note.

A SUCCESS OF SORTS

Death Note, from director Adam Wingard, is the latest live-action adaptation of the hit comic and animated TV from Japan. But for all the interesting and smart choices made in the adaptation process, there’s several more bad ones that make it into the final movie.

Now there are already plenty of arguments being made on every blog, vlog, podcast, and Twitter account for how the movie fails to directly convert the source material to screen. But like with every adaptation, especially of such dense, lengthy material, a direct translation would never work as a feature film. It’s not just impractical but madness to even attempt to do so. Instead, it’s about taking what truly mattered in the original and trying to make it work in a new format, style, and run time.

And in that regard, the movie does succeed. Mostly.

FAMILIARITY

Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner, a troubled but bright high school student who comes to hold the titular Death Note, meets the spirit of death who normally owns it, and then uses it to wage a one-man war on whoever he perceives as well-deserving of divine justice.

And along the way he meets, falls for, and partners with a lovely girl named Mia who shares his view on the world. And the two inevitably play a game of cat-and-mouse with the mysterious, super-genius detective known as L whose sole goal in life is to bring Light to justice.

The details of how this plays out–of the characters and their setting–are changed. That much is clear simply by watching the movie’s trailer. This is an American adaptation set in America with American actors.

But the overall movie does play out in a similar manner as the comic and TV series. If you’ve seen one, you know what to generally expect in the other.

FIXER-UPPER

In fact, the movie’s greatest success is in streamlining and simplifying the conflict for the better.

The Light seen in the comic and TV series is wholly unrelatable as a character. He’s a handsome, charming super-genius from a fairly well-off, prominent family. And he has no arc, as he’s already knee-deep in his own God complex. He’s a despicable, blood-thirsty narcissist with little regard for human life who only gets worse as the series drags on.

The Light in Wingard’s movie, however, is a more believable, troubled young man from a middle-class household. His use of the Death Note is more in line with what a bullied, angry but mostly good person would do. He sees himself as a hero righting the injustices of evil men.

That said, this Light isn’t perfect either. Because like the superheroes he idolizes, this Light suffers the lesson of what happens to those who don’t use their great power responsibly. Internal and external forces drive him to darker, more aggressive places. Especially as L grows closer to discovering his true identity.

And, thankfully, this war of morals and ethics between Light and L is not stretched on hour after hour to the point of losing any dramatic weight or purpose.

And it should also be made clear that the performances from both Lakeith Stanfield as L and Willem Dafoe’s vocal performance as Ryuk, the spirit of death constantly lurking in the shadows, are delightful. The rest of the cast fail to keep up, but are otherwise serviceable.

99 PROBLEMS

That all having been said, Wingard’s adaptation suffers from two glaring issues: pacing and staying true to the constantly shifting tone of the original–this serious but simultaneously not at all serious thriller.

Like the original, this movie approaches heavy, serious material with a number of wholly dead-serious scenes only for such things to be frequently ruined by some desire to be cool and stylish.

Now levity and humor are fine, and even necessary at times. But there’s a balance that has to be maintained. A decision has to be made where the movie is either a serious one with moments of levity…or a more stylish, fun movie with key moments of dramatic weight. Very rarely can you ride that fine line and succeed.

Death Note–both Wingard’s movie and the original series– suffers for thinking it can ride that line. I know there are fans of the original series, and there’s plenty there to enjoy. I’m not denying that or arguing against it. However, I stand by the idea that the series is enjoyed more by the ideas presented in it rather than the actual quality of the final product.

In fact, I would say this movie only magnifies the existing issues in the source material. The movie’s pacing is so quick and it’s material is so dense that there’s no time for anything to sink in. But at the same time, the characters are all about as “deep” as they’ve ever been presented. The drama is about as well-built. The tension is about as thick. That’s to say, of course, none of this is very good at all.

The point here is that in all iterations, the focus is always on showcasing certain scenes, certain beats or interactions. To relay some basic idea. But there’s little effort put into making any of it mean anything.

The movie–clocking in at about an hour and forty minutes–is far too eager to rush through its material to even consider slowing down long enough for anything to register. At the same time, the original comic and TV series both stretch the material painfully thin. The events in them are so drawn out– and in this very soap opera-like manner–that such things are diluted to the point of losing any impact.

TRUE-ISH

The movie is not very good. That much is clear. But it’s a fairly true-enough adaptation that’s also fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way. And it’s likely fans of the franchise are going to be the only ones worked up by it in either direction.

Most other people–who will greatly outnumber fans of the property–are either going to be mildly pleased by it or generally nonplussed by what is ultimately a benign, forgettable movie.

Could it have been done better? Yes. Would it have come at the cost of more cuts and changes? Yes. But this is true of the original as much as this adaptation.

And with all that in mind: despite its faults and the unfair demands and expectations of the franchise’s fans, those looking for a quick, stylish jaunt into the bizarre would do just fine electing to CHILL with Death Note.

The Little Prince


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the animated adaptation of the classic children’s story, The Little Prince.


Based on the book of the same, The Little Prince tells the story of a young girl burdened by her inattentive but well-meaning mother with a cold, mechanical view of the world. Her life is little more than extended study sessions and dreams of being a student at a prestigious prep school. No time for playing, imagination, or even friends.

But with the help of the eccentric old man who lives next door, she’ll soon discover that life has much, much more to offer than nice schools and a job in a big office building.

AN UNFORTUNATE TRUTH

The cold, unfortunate truth is that The Little Prince is more than a bad movie–it’s a pretentious, arrogant piece of filmmaking that dares to presume that the story it tells is superior in every way to the material it falsely claims to be adapting.

A much-beloved children’s book, The Little Prince is the story of an aviator who crashes in the Sahara only to meet and befriend a young boy who claims to have come from the stars. And as the aviator works on repairing his plane, the boy–the titular Little Prince–shares stories of all the strange and colorful places, things, and people he’s met. These stories are somber, simple but effective bits of storytelling musing on life and human nature.

The movie, directed by Mark Osborne, is instead a simple story about a girl who learns to embrace her own innocence and creativity.

Not that the story does anything but fall flat time and again. It takes forever for the movie to get moving. It never really goes anywhere. And it even abandons its own themes several times throughout, adopting a new one in each act. By the end, it fails to conclude the story it kicked off some 90-minutes earlier.

Oh, and it also has some elements of the book lazily thrown into it.

UNOFFICIAL SEQUEL

Worse, the movie strip-mines the original book of its characters, stories, and themes to craft what is essentially an unofficial sequel. And all with the belief that it is somehow making something better.

For a quick point of reference, recall Disney’s wonderful adaptation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.

1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh adapts several notable stories from Milne’s work as a series of loosely connected shorts. And from beginning to end, the movie stays true to the spirit of the stories and characters while also adding in purely Disney elements.

What Osborne and company did with The Little Prince would be the same as Disney shoe-horning in a couple of these Winnie the Pooh shorts into an unrelated movie about a lonely little girl with inattentive parents.

It doesn’t just break the flow of the movie, it’s wholly disrespectful of a cherished work of children’s literature. In the end, The Little Prince is less an adaptation and more of a supporting player in a visually lovely but morally and spiritually bankrupt movie.

WHAT’S IN A TITLE

I have never seen a movie with such disdain for its own source material as The Little Prince. Even The Lawnmower Man had the decency to steal only the title of Stephen King’s short story.

Yes, the animation is lovely. Yes, the cast is filled by talented, recognizable stars–including Jeff Bridges as the Aviator. There are indeed well-done aspects of the movie. However, the central story and characters are boring and poorly executed. The various emotional beats of the little girl’s friendship with the now-elderly Aviator is unearned. The conflict is hollow. On the one hand, it’s an excuse to present the story plainly, as this book within a movie. But on the other hand, it’s also eager to flat-out ignore what made the book–and it’s name–so beloved in the first place.

This isn’t a movie for the fans. It isn’t a movie for children. It isn’t even for the parents who are likely watching it with their children. This movie is, in every way, a movie for no one. And because of that, it’s also a NO CHILL.

The Midnight After


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the strange Hong Kong comedy-horror flick, The Midnight After.


On a night just like tonight, a colorful group of strangers come together on a long bus ride home. But when they come out the other side of a long tunnel, they’ll find that the world has become a much stranger, deadlier place…in The Midnight After.

THE SIZZLE

The Midnight After, from director Fruit Chan, is a comedy-horror experience straight from Hong Kong and proud of it. But, more importantly, it’s also an experience unlike anything else you’ve seen.

The movie happily dances that dangerous tightrope between full-blown horror movie and comedy. The story is engaging. The concept, terrifying. And the imagery is a morbid delight.

More so, the strange grabbag of stereotypes that we watch suffer are easy to love, laugh at, and be scared for. The overacting and scene-chewing is intentional and feels at home in a movie where the conflict is so sudden and over-the-top. Everything is turned up to 10, and the movie is all the better for doing so.

THE STEAK

That said, The Midnight After is a clear example of how the journey can also be the destination.

Given the movie’s origins as a web-novel published in pieces on an internet forum, it’s not surprising to see it struggle with basic things like pacing and structure. There’s little in the way of a plot. Scenes just sort of carry on at their own leisure. And characters bicker constantly for the sake of bickering.

But somehow it all works. The characters and their interactions with one another is the focus here. The strange circumstances and the way they’re tortured–or the way they torture each other–is an excuse for the character stuff to happen. The characters are what bring the comedy. They’re the reason why we’ll care whenever something frightening happens on screen.

And even if you aren’t familiar with the language or culture–which may be likely given it’s Hong Kong setting and production–the performances still come across as golden. None of the characters feel under-served or without purpose. They have clear desires and goals. And the fact that you’ll be rooting for a good chunk of them to survive despite some of the things they say and do? That’s a fun, fresh change of pace for these sorts of movies.

AND THE…

The language barrier is sure to prove an issue for some. And Chan’s predilection for depicting small-scale Hong Kong life and culture could prove to be too much culture shock for even those who are fine with reading subtitles. But should you find it in you to give a The Midnight After a fair shot, you will thank yourself afterward.

Fun, creative, and without a dull moment, The Midnight After is definitely a BIG CHILL.