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.

Circle


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at minimalist sci-fi horror/thriller, Circle!


When fifty strangers wake to find themselves gathered and trapped in a small, dark room, there’s seemingly no way out but a swift, brutal death for everyone. But, as their numbers quickly begin to dwindle, they figure out the subtle rules at play that will determine which one of them will be the sole survivor in Circle.

BIG CAST, TIGHT CONCEPT

Circle, from the writing-directing pair of Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione, is a low-budget, high-concept movie that could have easily gone horrifically wrong in a number of ways…but somehow it never does.

The cast is massive–bloated, really. Fifty characters with no distinct lead is a tough sell. Not everyone has a name, and key characters stick around longer than others. But this is a numbers game where we don’t get to know much of anything about these characters except how they act and speak as individuals until the very moment they drop dead.

Such a thing could have resulted in bland, uninteresting characters with no depth to them. It could have resulted in performances that are over-the-top and more distracting that engaging. But the dialog is tight and character defining on its own. And the performances of its actors feel natural if still somewhat heightened.

Casting and directing the right people in just a few roles is a daunting task. But Hann and Miscione manage to deftly handle fifty individuals, and as one large group.

On top of this, the setting itself is static. We almost never leave the confines of this small, dimly lit room. But there’s enough visual effects and subtle design work to keep it from being too simple and bland. This was a set designed to keep your attention focused entirely on this massive group of talking heads, and it works. It’s just eerie and unnatural enough to keep you guessing as to where and what it is. But it’s a feeling you’ll keep in the back of your mind while you stay focused on the increasing tension between a group of people who know, at best, that everybody but one is going to die.

Because while there is this obvious, glaring mystery hanging over the movie’s collective head, Circle is entirely about the characters. While answers do come and the results are more than satisfactory, what truly matters is how these characters interact with one another.

From the moment everyone wakes to find themselves in the titular circle, they’re struggling with the absolute confusion and terror of being somewhere they don’t know or remember getting to. They’re forced to deal with their own mortality. They’re forced to somehow uncover and fight for a way to stay alive.

Realistically, this would likely be over in a matter of minutes as panicked action would kill off the majority of them. Maybe those fortunate few paralyzed by fear or somehow capable of watching for the mistakes of others before acting themselves might survive a bit longer. But a realistic portrayal wouldn’t exactly make for a watchable movie.

And Circle is more than watchable. It’s a bit insightful. A bit comical–in a fairly dark manner, of course. And it’s entirely gripping from start to finish, especially upon your first viewing. So many questions are left to linger. So many
serious questions are asked and forced to play out, some in unexpected ways.

ELEGANTLY SIMPLE

Circle is a movie that would have easily suffered under the direction of a number of other directors.

It could have lost its way by focusing more on the overarching mystery than its characters and themes. It could have been lost in loud, colorful performances from actors attempting to upstage one another in an effort to make the
most out of their brief, limited screen time. It all could have simply been a dull experience with no tension, suspense,
and genuine moments of heartache and anger.

But the fortunate truth is that Circle is that good. It’s original in its concept and execution. It’s gripping from start to finish. And it’ll leave you wanting more but without feeling as if you’ve somehow been left shortchanged.

Circle certainly isn’t for everyone. This is a movie where very little happens on screen. It’s almost as minimalist as the
concept could possibly be. And this lack of action or effects or much of anything else might turn off quite a few people.

But for those looking for something completely different, for a movie that gives it its all in presenting a series of strong character moments and difficult choices, then Circle is definitely the one you’ll want to CHILL with the first chance you get.

Dreamcatcher


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the entertaining but total misfire adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher!


An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Dreamcatcher tells the story of four childhood friends who were gifted strange abilities by a special needs child they saved so many years ago. Now grown men on their annual winter retreat to a cabin in the woods, the four finally learn the true purpose of their gifts when they come face-to-face with the alien menace known only as Mr. Grey.

SWING AND A MISS

Dreamcatcher, from director Lawrence Kasdan–the director of movies like Wyatt Earp and the writer of classics like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark–is, without question, a wonderfully cast film that also happens to be utter garbage.

King’s novel isn’t exactly a masterpiece that holds up well to any scrutiny. It was admittedly written while King was
recovering from an accident that nearly killed him, and the influence of drugs in his system is clear from beginning to end. But like the best of his works, the characters and relationships in his original story were present and almost makes up for the absurdity, meandering pace, and frustrating moments that plague the rest of the novel.

Unfortunately, while Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant are perfectly cast in their roles as four childhood friends, the movie doesn’t pay them enough attention. Instead, the movie focuses on the paper-thin plot of a not-so secret alien invasion headed by Mr. Grey. And as the four friends attempt to survive their battle with Mr. Grey, they’ll also have to contend with Morgan Freeman’s cartoonishly psychotic Col. Abraham Curtis, a man set on exterminating every last trace of aliens from the face of the Earth.

These were the least interesting and the least coherent parts of King’s novel. The plot is simultaneously over-the-top and generic. The motivations are unclear to the point of being contrived. And while it makes a beeline for the finish, the story constantly gets distracted with the far more interesting character moments shared between its four leads.

The movie, however, strips away so much of these quieter moments between friends so as to streamline King’s massive tome for a two-hour runtime. And while such a trim was needed–and even welcomed–it feels as if they cut all the wrong parts.

ATTACK THE HEART

This is very much supposed to be a sentimental story about four friends spending what turns out to be their final days with one another. Of four brothers unknowingly enlisted from childhood into a war of the worlds. We’re introduced to each character separately in a cold open that almost insists that you have read the book to get the point. Each man receives about three to five minutes to highlight their general personality, unique gift, and their current lot in life. We see that these four men do indeed know each other via quick phone calls that connect these otherwise unrelated scenes.

Now in the book, these are all extended scenes that dig into each man’s emotional state of mind and reinforces just how much they need each other. No matter how much they’ve aged or drifted on a day-to-day basis, with their lives and careers taking them to different parts of the country, their bond transcends everything.

So almost immediately, the heart of the movie’s conflict is hacked away entirely. These are now just four grown men who sorta miss their old friends…rather than four brothers missing a part of themselves.

SCI-WHY

Now, the few moments in which the main cast is gathered together feels like a family reunion. They quip and bicker and laugh together in a way that feels like these four men have known each other all their lives. That they would die for each other.

But just when the movie finally gets them all together, it also then rushes to get to what it believes is a fascinating plot about aliens invading and a military that won’t stop till their enemy is dead and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave. These four men caught in the middle of it all are second bananas to the chaos around them.

So much is cut, in fact, that the flashbacks to their childhood feels entirely out of place. These key scenes are not just
stripped of sentimentality but also dramatic weight. They’re pivotal to the plot just as much as they are to the characters. But it’s all compressed down to a few minutes of lazy exposition.

The end result is a heartless sci-fi thriller that is constantly distracted by characters we’re not given a chance to care about.

It’s as if two entirely unrelated scripts were mashed together. One was an alien invasion movie, the other a heartwarming bro-mance about friends gathering together after the near-death experience of one of their own. Either would have worked fine enough on their own, maybe. But together in equal measure? It’s just a waste of two stories.

These two drastically different halves ultimately play nice together in the novel–quality of writing not withstanding, of course. But that’s because novels have all the time needed to do so. A two-hour movie is something Dreamcatcher was never destined to be.

SHITWEASELS, DUDE

That all said, Dreamcatcher may be well-cast enough and absolutely crazy enough to keep you hooked from start to
finish. You might end up questioning your decision to do so after the fact, yes. But you won’t exactly feel as if you’ve wasted your time by doing so.

The quality of the CGI and the simple notion of anything called a Shit-Weasel may be as questionable as Morgan Freeman’s psychotic George C. Scott impersonation. But somehow that actually makes the choice to CHILL with Dreamatcher all the easier.

Vice


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the low-budget, high-concept sci-fi thriller, Vice!


Bruce Willis is Julian, the entrepreneurial genius behind a company that allows people to live out all of their fantasies in an artificial world free of consequences. But when one of his creations escapes from her Westworld-inspired prison, she will do whatever it takes to never go back–including putting Julian out of business once and for all–in Vice.

BASIC GENRE

Vice, from director Brian A Miller, is about as base-level genre work as you’ll ever find.

The concept is high and campy but handicapped by a clearly limited budget. The dialog and acting–including some delightful scene-chewing from Thomas Jane–is more often than not stilted at best and robotic at worst. And it looks as if the entire budget for the movie was little more than a hope and a prayer.

That said, it should be made clear that this all feels right at home in a movie so self-aware of–and eager to play up–its campy roots.

DUD HARD

However, if there is one true negative that faults this movie in a way its low budget, uninspired story, and hammy acting does not, it would be the wholly miscast Willis.

While Thomas Jane and company are clearly upping up the cheese factor present in the script, Bruce Willis instead takes himself far too seriously–and to the detriment of every single scene he’s in. He’s not charming. He’s not malicious. He’s simply there, phoning in a lifeless performance, and collecting a paycheck.

And it’s odd that a movie with characters who are artificial lifeforms who become self-aware–in a movie that is entertaining exclusively because it is so self-aware of its genre trappings–we get a major star like Willis who fails to realize how he personally dragged down the collective fun factor with his unaware performance. He’s more artificial than the inhabitants of Vice itself.

A movie like Vice depends upon the audience fully accepting that the movie isn’t attempting to be a stellar, gripping piece of cinema. That it’s looking to be familiar, low-budget, and, most importantly, fun.

Miller, Jane, and literally everyone else in this movie do all they can to make the material work when it probably shouldn’t. But Willis can’t be bothered to bring the charm that established him as one of Hollywood’s most iconic action stars.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Of course, this isn’t meant to imply that the movie is lacking any real shortcomings other than Willis. The story is uninspired and plays out in the least interesting way possible. And it lifts so much material from so many better movies that it could be a top contender for the USA Olympic weight-lifting team.

That said, it is still fun enough to suggest you CHILL with Vice. Just know that this isn’t staring the Bruce Willis of the 80s and 90s–the man we saw tackle terrorists, ghosts, and a giant asteroid. Instead, it’s the jaded, lazy performer who now appears to only take roles for the money rather than any attempt to entertain an audience.

Vice is a fun, light-weight bit of popcorn cinema. But every scene with Willis is a chore. And with him as the movie’s villain, his other role as a heavy weight chained to the ankle of the movie threatens to drag the whole thing down every few minutes. He doesn’t succeed entirely, thankfully. But it is something to keep in mind.