But first, let's dive into the last round of viewings for the month.
Set in the late 1980s, war-torn Iran, a family's life gets shaken as Iraj is called to war, leaving his wife Shideh and their daughter Dorsa at home, while the terrors of the war gets closer to home. However, that's not the only terror they must face, as something possibly more evil begins to creep in.
Working within the one-location setting (although we do get a few other locations briefly), Under The Shadow focuses heavily on atmosphere and tension through isolation. For the most part, it achieves this reasonably well by hitting familiar beats of the haunted house genre, even though this is not a haunted film. Writer/director Babak Anvari utilizes the empty apartment and parental-paranoia to not just craft suspense, but to draw you to Shideh played by Narges Rashidi, who turns in a solid performance.
I greatly enjoyed that this is heavily-rooted in Iranian culture. At the same time, I do believe there was a slight disconnect, or more so that I didn't fully grasp certain moments/aspects. This never felt like an issue, though. I wouldn't say I enjoyed myself any less because I'm not familiar with the culture. Certain elements, including the antagonist, didn't connect as fully as I think they would with an Iranian audience. That said, the film is still effective as being a creepy, self-contained tale regardless of where you live.
Even clocking in at a sleek 84 minutes, things did get slightly stale and redundant. We get glimpses of the neighbors in the apartment building, before they all leave due to a missile threat, which offer a welcomed deviation from the rest of the film. Much of the story revolves around Shideh and Dorsa questioning each other and their home, which is fine, but did become stagnant after a while.
Nonetheless, Under The Shadow is a finely tuned and crafted character-driven piece full of mood. It's simple and effective, and sometimes, that's all you really need.
LUMBERJACK MAN (2015) - First Time Viewing
Sometime in the 1800s, a greedy white dude murdered a lumberjack named Easterday who wouldn't sell his family recipe for the most delicious pancakes in the world. After drowning the lumberjack in a vat of syrup, the recipe is found and JT (the greedy dude) makes a fortune turning it into boxed pancake mix. Since that time, every 30 years, Easterday comes back as some sort of demon lumberjack, killing anyone in the forest. Now, it just so happens to be that there's a church camp on the grounds.
Now, I have never been to church camp before, but if it's anything like in Lumberjack Man, it is not anything like I imagined. There's endless amounts of nude girls, drugs, alcohol, sex… Oh, wait. It's just all the stereotypical elements of a slasher film put into a setting that makes no sense.
I'm all for dumb fun when it comes to slasher flicks. Lumberjack Man wants to be that, and it tries really, really hard, but it misses by a long shot. The first 10 minutes or so caught my attention. Not saying there was anything remarkable, but there was a hint of promise. Sadly, the film quickly reeked of an extreme frat boy/bro-style humor and mentality, becoming lackluster and childish throughout. A few jokes landed for me, and they worked quite well, but it's ultimately a one-joke show, and that joke is drenched in Axe body spray.
Looking past the wannabe comedy, the slasher aspect of the film kind of works, and it also kind of fails miserably. The legend, silly as hell, but sure, it's serviceable. The killer, the lumberjack man himself, looks decent and fits the part. The kills wanted to be fun and celebratory, and a couple were. However, some get lazy and the rest (majority) are plagued by CGI gore. Call me old fashioned and/or jaded, but when it comes to a slasher film, CGI gore just has no place. For a sub-genre that is renowned for over-the-top kills and practical effects, it's a complete disservice to go the digital route.
It's a shame, too, because this was a really well-put together film. They clearly had a healthy budget, as the production side of things is rather prime. Perhaps if they would have skipped the incredibly irrelevant food fight that lasted at least two minutes (for example) plus other menial and trivial scenes, they could have put that money towards practical effects. Not to mention, that would have cut down on the excessive runtime, as well. There is no reason a mindless slasher film should top 90 minutes, let alone be 115 minutes!
Lumberjack Man strives to make a name for itself, but becomes a sloppy, messy plate of flapjacks with a side of Michael Madsen. Who, like usual, is quite laughable as Dr. Peter Shirtcliff, the quintessential Dr. Loomis character. I'm sure there's an audience for this, it's just not me. Not at this point in my life, at least. Skip this order and go for the waffles instead.
Shout to to Ben from the Green Bay Film Festival for his pledges and support, who also picked this one out for me!
PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING (1990) - First Time Viewing
As promised, the fourth and final installment in the Psycho franchise. Well, unless you count Bates Motel. Speaking of that show, which I have yet to see, I know it takes place before the events of the original film. Much like Psycho IV! Well, kind of.
Surprisingly enough, Norman has moved out of Fairvale, leaving behind his mother's house and the motel. He's living a new life in a nice home and wife, a psychiatrist he met when he was locked away. While preparing his birthday dinner while the misses is at work, Norman calls into a late-night radio show talking about matricide. The film plays out seeing Norman talk about his adolescence and first murders, leading up to his mother's, and we bounce back and forth between flashbacks and the present phone call.
Once the premise was established, I was intrigued and anxious to see how things would play out. Admittedly, I have very little interest in knowing the events that lead up to Psycho, the main reason I haven't watched Bates Motel. I like the story as is, and don't need every question answered. However, any curiosity and interest I had was immediately squandered once Henry Thomas (E.T.'s Elliott) awkwardly fumbles around as young Norman Bates. Talk about miscasting. Or maybe it's me. Clearly, director Mick Garris and the producers felt he was a good pick (or they were forced into it), but Thomas did not work. Perkins was Perkins, he was fine. I do like CCH Pounder and was pumped she fulfilled the role of radio DJ Fran Ambrose. And, even more surprisingly, was seeing John Landis play the radio producer. The role was kind of a throwaway, it was just fun seeing him on screen. Olivia Hussey rounds out the main cast as Norma Bates, Norman's mommy dearest. And she does decent with what she's given.
Ultimately, I just couldn't help but feel that this entry was unnecessary. Did we really learn essential information about Norman that connects the pieces together? No, not whatsoever. From the first film, we knew Norman had a unhealthy relationship with his mom. In the end, this doesn't tell us anything we didn't know. Nothing really came as a surprise because you knew things were going to go sour, and what does unfold wasn't suspenseful enough to make it worthwhile.
My issue with prequels like this is that often times it's better not to know. What do we know? Norman eventually cracked, killed his mother, and is now mentally unstable to say the least. That's all I need to know! Leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the backstory is typically more successful than telling us some lethargic, weak backstory, which is exactly what Psycho IV is. But, hey! At least I completed the series!
HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)
Since Halloween is on the horizon, it only made sense to dive into some festive flicks. I opted not to go with my standard Samhain favorites (Trick r Treat, Murder Party, Night of the Demons, Halloween 1 and 2), rather something a little different. Now, full concession: I'm alright with the Halloween franchise, but I don't love it (that includes the first one). Yeah, I know, I know, I just committed horror blasphemy, but it's the truth. Especially that middle section and back half of the series (aside from H20), ooof. It's never done it for me. That said, there's no better time to revisit titles than now, especially ones that are set around All Hallow's Eve.
Ten years after the terror of Haddenfield (and not acknowledging Season of the Witch), Michael returns (hence the title) home with the intent of killing off the rest of his bloodline, in the form of his seven-year-old niece, Jamie. Of course, the town is still haunted by what happened in 1978, yet trying to get their lives and town back to normal.
You could say I was somewhat reluctant to pop this back in the DVD player, but hot damn, am I glad I did! I found so much to appreciate this time around, it makes me wonder what was my problem for all these years.
Much of the film pays attention to the way the town reacts as the tragic news spreads. We see the local PD try to keep things under control and protect the family, all the while some gun-totting locals decide to form a lunch mob and settle the score themselves. There's constant talk about the affects Myers left on the community, even ten years later, which won me over. This quality is reminiscent to reason why I enjoy Halloween 2 more than the first (again with the horror blasphemy). Yes, this story is about Jamie and her older sister Rachel, but we shift around throughout the town and other characters, highlighting the panic and worry consuming Haddonfield. Plus, the ending set up the series to go in interesting and unexpected direction.
While rich with atmosphere and anxiety, sadly, Michael himself looks rather frumpy. I'm amazed at how a look so simple - an all white Shatner mask and jumpsuit - can also look so cheap and uninspired. If this is how Michael looked in a fan film, I'd be satisfied. As an actual entry in the series, it's inexcusable.
Sure, Michael looks lame, but there's more than enough to latch onto with Return. I kept waiting for the film to take a gigantic shit at some point, because I don't ever remember really caring for it. It never did, though. Thankfully. Apparently, it was I who took a shit for all these years.
Hmm. Not sure that last part really made sense. I hope you get the point. Halloween 4, I like you now! It wasn't you, it was me all this time. I'm sorry!
HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)
Made sense to me to go from one right into the next. After all, the tide turned with the previous title, so let's see how I feel about the follow up.
Set (and released) one year after Michael's return, part 5 does an excellent job completely shitting all over the success and new breath 4 interjected into the series. At the end of its predecessor, young Jamie repeatedly stabs her foster mom, mimicking her uncle's own evil ways from 1963. However, instead of sending her to mental hospital or, I don't know, building ANYTHING off of that, Jamie's hanging out in a children's hospital and has become mute. Her older sister and her friends come in to visit her all the time, acting like she didn't almost murder her mom. However, good ole Dr. Loomis knows trouble is afoot and Michael will be back to finish what he started. Not only does he know, but now Jamie and Michael have some sort of telekinetic connection, where she can see what he does. And she knows shit is about to go south.
While I found so much to enjoy with The Return, The Revenge is just the opposite. There is hardly anything to gnaw onto except for Dr. Loomis. Holy shitfuck, is he absolutely CRAZY in this entry. Loomis is a complete nut job who spends the whole time screaming, hollering, and shaking Jamie. Who, mind you, would be eight in this film. He is clearly unfit to be working with children, but damn, if it isn't hilarious once you notice it.
I shouldn't discredit Danielle Harris, reprising her role as Jamie. While the film is shit, her role calls for a lot. It's a very physical role, as she spends half of it mute, emoting solely with her facial expressions. But she's chased by Michael and a car, thrown around, and beaten up and down on the regular. And, she pulls it all off. It would be considered a demanding role for any actor, but especially a child actor. Job well done, Danielle. Sorry everything else around you wasn't to the same caliber.
Oh, I forgot to mention The Thorn! Knowing the next film, I know where things go and who the ominous, unexplained man in black we only see his feet is, but how did the filmmakers and studio ever think it was a good idea to vaguely establish a storyline, character, and idea that wouldn't be explained for another SEVEN years in The Curse of Michael Myers?! I don't remember the first time seeing Revenge, but I would have to imagine theater-goers were confused as hell coming out of this film. Maybe I'm biased because I am not a fan of The Thorn direction, but it was laughable how minimally they introduced it.
I want to seek revenge on The Revenge of Michael Myers because it has so little to offer. I mean, yes, a severely unhinged Dr. Loomis is wildly entertaining, but that can only take you so far. How far, you ask? Not far enough, that's for damn sure.
HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)
Clearly, I've hit the point of the month where I'm keen on torturing myself. Might as well keep the streak alive and revisit another entry I've never liked, Resurrection!
What a god damn mistake that was. I can get over how early '00s this film is. The dialogue, the characters, the casting (I'm looking at you, Busta Rhymes), the motive, the reality-show storyline, all that shit. I get it. I mean, I don't, but I do. It's all the product of the time period it was made in. I can't hold it at fault too much because of that all (even though most of it is nauseating).
However, try as I might, I cannot excuse the incomprehensible and atrocious damage this moronic film did to the series. Remember, I'm not a massive Halloween fanboy, either! Let's look at some of this careless decisions:
-Undoing and altering the ending of H20, which, if you ask me, offers fantastic closure to the Laurie Strode storyline. The final showdown between brother and sister is both emotional and haunting, a successful conclusion twenty years in the making. Now, through some bullshit switch-a-roo with a paramedic, Michael's been on the loose. I'm going to choose not to waste my breathe (er, finger tips) on tackling the explanation to "Why didn't the paramedic say something?" Great, you twisted a solid ending into a huge joke.
-Speaking of Laurie Strode, she had to be properly killed off in this shitshow?! Keep in mind, "properly" is not the way I would describe it. Somehow she's set booby traps on the roof of the mental hospital she's locked up in? Okay. Then you play off the pathetic paramedic switch which is what leads to her death? Laurie and Jamie Lee Curtis are too well respected to go out like this in a film like this. They deserve more.
-There goes the neighborhood. Or, at least, the Myers house. Good job, you burned down the iconic house. It is no more because of you, Resurrection. Maybe it should have been ruined sooner, who knows. But now, it is. By the hands of this damn film. Ugh.
-Okay, this is speculation, but maybe the reason we received a redux from Rob Zombie five years later is because Resurrection left no room to play! In fact, I'm willing to bet this was a strong factor. "Well, Busta Rhymes and crew really fucked things up, how do we move forward from here?" "Fuck it, let's just start all over."
I'm no fool (that's obviously up for debate), I realize I'm groaning about the seventh entry to a played-out horror franchise. When you get to part seven in any series, should one expect anything resembling substance or quality? Probably not. Is it too much to ask not to have it be so destructive, though?
To think that director Rick Rosenthal was also reasonable for my favorite offering, Halloween 2. [shakes head in disapproval]
LIGHTS OUT (2016) - First Time Viewing
Here's an idea. Take a super effective, creepy short that's less than three minutes long, now try to make is an 81 minute film. No, better yet, don't.
Hats off to director David F. Sandberg who went from making lo-fi short films to making a $5 million version of a short that probably cost $5. You did it, dude. You caught the eye of Hollywood and got to make a film released in 3,000 theaters around the US, plus many more around the world. Now, you're onto Annabelle 2, then who knows what's next. Again, you did it and I do not blame you.
Sadly, there was just so much working against you. Primarily Eric Heisserer's script. The fresh take on being afraid of the dark featured in the short was churned into a generic, hollow ghost story. The unwarranted backstory became the focus, and its light fizzled out way too quick. Eh, see what I did there? Lights Out, a light pun. Yeah, trust me, that was more successful than the film itself. The ending was the only thing that actually caught me off guard and, dare I say, took a gamble. And it left me surprised.
Sure, 81 minutes isn't a big investment, but I'll save you the trouble. Or at least 78 minutes. Just watch this short.
Total Films Watched: 31 (of 31)First Time Viewings: 24