You're Invited to watch "Murder Party"


3/25/2021

Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier’s breakthrough film was the 2013 crime thriller “Blue Ruin”.  Loved critics and audience this was not however his first film.  That came in 2007 with hilarious gore-filled and underappreciated “Murder Party”.


“Murder Party” is a short 79 minute feature that is low budget but high on creativity and craftsmanship.  It takes place in New York City in the early to mid 90s and involves a lonely guy, (Chris played by Chris Sharp), looking for something to do on Halloween night.  He rents a stack of VHS horror movies and on the walk home finds a fancy Halloween party invitation on the ground.  He picks it up, looks it over, and takes it with him.  At home, he gets ready to watch his videos but his cat Sir Lancelot refuses to move from his recliner.  He then takes a second look at the party invitation and decides to go.  He makes a DIY costume out of cardboard and duct tape and becomes who else Sir Lancelot.  He bakes a loaf of pumpkin raisin bread, prints out directions to the party, and leaves.  Chris is a regular mild-mannered guy who is extremely relatable to the movie's target audience (like me).  A dry humor flows from his character.  Together with the ridiculous situations and characters, he faces it makes for a fun and entertaining little movie.


He eventually finds the place, a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, and cautiously enters.  He startles a group of people in costumes who have gathered.  Feeling nothing but stares and awkward vibes he tries to make small talk only to have them pounce on him and tie him to a chair.  The group of 2 girls and 3 guys are all struggling artists looking to secure grant money from a guy named Alex.  Unfortunately, before he arrives one of the girls is accidentally killed and stuffed in a chest freezer.  Chris learns he has become the unwitting victim in a contest to find the most creative and artful way to kill somebody, with the winner receiving the grant money.  Alex arrives with Zycho, his drug dealer, and Zycho’s dog.  As the group argues about what food they should order, Chris manages to free himself and briefly escapes, only to be recaptured and tied up again. 


With the drugs free-flowing the group plays an extreme version of truth or dare.  Lather on when they find out that Alex is full of shit and has been lying about everything, things start to jump the rails.  The carnage begins and doesn’t let up, the group turns on each other and in the mayhem Chris is freed.  He is now on the run for his life and manages to run into a modern art opening.  The whole bizarre craziness of the modern art world is at the forefront of this movie and it never ceases to be hilarious.  With one exhibit, shall we say, being extremely modified by Chris and the guy chasing him.  This still fails to elicit a response from the melancholic art crowd.  After a stroke of luck, which has been hard to come by for Chris, he finally emerges victorious and heads home.  Still wearing his costume through the whole ordeal, but now caked in blood.  He rides the subway home and seems to fit right in with the crowd.  Arriving home he goes back to his recliner to see the cat still sitting there.  Once again asking Sir Lancelot to move and after being what he’s been through jumps down.  Chris plops down and flicks on the TV.  Roll Credits.  I love this movie.  With such a short run time and the number of characters involved Saulnier really makes the most out of every scene.  The performances from the cast are all strong and the gore effects are top-notch.  A lot of horror comedies will either try way too hard or go so far over the top it can be unwatchable.  “Murder Party” strikes a good balance between character, humor, and horror.  It is currently available to watch for free Amazon Prime.


Fear, Anxiety, and Paranoia "It Comes at Night"


3/22/2021

Rewatching “It Comes at Night” during the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on a new appreciation of the film.  Over the past decade or so apocalyptic survival films have seen a resurgence.  Whether it’s a virus, zombies, or aliens the fear and paranoia became all too real in 2020.  While not to the extent that the movies went to, it definitely feels like it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  The threat of a global virus is real and although zombies and aliens might seem out of the question, after living through 2020, would you really be surprised?


“It Comes at Night” was written and directed by Trey Edward Shults and takes place in a virus-ravaged world gone mad.  We open with an elderly man covered in sores and wheelbarrowed into the wood by people in gas masks.  The man is shot, burned, and buried.  He was a loved one and is now sorely missed.  This is the backwoods house of Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah, their teenaged son Travis, and Stanley the dog.  When someone becomes infected tough decisions can’t be made from emotion but out of the need for survival.  The family has strict quarantine measures and they must be followed.  In these types of stories, it all comes down to trust.  People are by nature social creatures and as we found out with Covid, being stuck indoors with only your immediate family can start to wear on you.  When the thin walls of society start to crumble trusting people can be as deadly as the virus itself.


When Paul catches a late-night intruder (Will, Played by Christopher Abbott) at gunpoint, he says he is just looking for a safe place for his family.  Without hesitation, Paul knocks him out and ties him to a tree.  The next morning he interrogates him.  The burden of trust goes both ways as you can never be truly certain if the other person is telling the truth.  We then come to another big theme in these types of movies and that is faith.  Not in a religious sense but faith in humanity.  Does Paul risk the lives of him and his family to help this man?  Eventually, he does.  Will, his wife Kim, and their infant son Andrew move into the house.  We then start to focus on Travis who continues to have bad dreams.  For people growing up and living in isolation, especially teenagers, it takes its toll on your mental health.  His feelings of loneliness and isolation are helped somewhat by talking to Kim.


No matter how much the families get to know each other, there will always be this underlying sense of doubt and skepticism.  Things are going along smoothly until Stanley the dog runs after something in the woods.  He doesn’t return until sometime overnight, mortally wounded he walks into an open front door.  The candy apple red front door that we keep returning to separates the outside world from the inside.  Who opened the door? Was Stanley sick?  Is the virus now inside?  So many questions.  The title of the film “It comes at Night” does not refer to a monster or something supernatural but the fear, anxiety, and paranoia each of the characters face.  The razor-thin thread of trust that exists between the two families disintegrates in a hurry as Will’s infant son Andrews begins to show signs of sickness.  Things reach a boiling point when Will gathers his family and tries to leave.  Everything goes so bad, so quick leading us to one of the most soul-crushing endings you’re likely to find anywhere.  This film fits right into the “Art House” horror genre and some people might be put off by it and are expecting something else.  Another movie that I would recommend as part of a double feature would be the 1984 British film “Threads” about the after-effects of a nuclear holocaust.  As people found out with the Coronavirus civil society can lose control at the drop of a hat.  Just look at the people hoarding toilet paper and canned goods.


Watch out for "Becky"!!

2/21/2021


Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, new movies in 2020 were few and far between.  With theaters being closed anything that was released came through streaming services or straight to disc.  The independent horror film “Becky” was picked up by Redbox for distribution.  This movie plays is like a modern-day Grindhouse feature that would feel at home in the 1970s.  Loaded with over-the-top violence and filled with larger-than-life characters.


Becky is played by the new horror queen Lulu Wilson, who also starred in “Ouiji: Origin of Evil” and “Annabelle: Creation”.  Becky is a 13-year-old angsty teen who has recently lost her mother to cancer.  Her father Jeff is played by Joel McHale, who plays against type but not nearly to the extent as our bad guy Dominik, played by Kevin James.  Dominik is a bearded Aryan brotherhood white supremacist with a big swastika tattooed on the back of his shaven head.  Dominik and his crew are prison inmates planning to escape during a prison transfer.  The filmmakers cleverly intercut scenes of Becky in Junior High with Dominick in prison.  Are they really that different? 


Jeff has planned for them and their dog Diego to stay the weekend at the family cabin.  Becky has this angry Avril Lavigne vibe going for her as refuses to make any attempt to connect with her father on the car trip there.  She even steals some gummy worms at the gas station.  Upon arriving at the cabin, Jeff drops a bomb in telling Becky that they will be joined by his new girlfriend and her little boy.  Infuriated Becky retreats to her little clubhouse like fort in the woods to sulk.  In the meantime, Dominick’s plan is a success and they carjack and murder a father and his two kids.  Apex is the name of Dom’s right-hand man. He is an absolute beast and looks to be chiseled out of granite.  He is played by Robert Maillet, an ex-Canadian wrestler, who is 6’10”.  Although he does play “good cop” in the relationship with Dom.


In no time the four men in total find and surround the cabin with Dominik knocking on the door and using the "my dog is lost" rouse to get into the house.  Why is all this happening you ask?  Because of the red herring plot device of a special key that it is the basement.  It’s another one of those plays on the “Pulp Fiction” briefcase.  Wouldn’t you know that Becky has the key and is not too keen on giving it up.  Jeff, his girlfriend Kayla, and her son are now hostages in their own house and just to show that they are serious Kayla is shot in the leg.  Hearing all the commotion and the gunshot Becky returns to the house and grabs her walkie talkie to communicate with Dom.  To lure Becky out he brings Jeff down to the fire pit and starts torturing him with a heated skewer.  Becky finally appears and Jeff is able to break free but is shot in the back.  When Dom grabs Becky she stabs him in the eye with the key.  Dom retreats to the cabin and we get this utterly nasty and gratuitous scene of him trying to sever his dangling eyeball.


Becky is now preparing for war and seriously you wouldn’t want to cross a 13-year-old girl anyway.  Back at the fort with her dog she makes some modified weapons and her first victim approaches and tries to lure her out.  This guy is no match and is viciously killed with a broken ruler through the neck.  Our blood-spattered Becky is just getting warmed up as she sets a trap for the next guy and lures him out to the dock.  After a slight tussle he falls into the water and similar to the film “I Spit on Your Grave” Becky gets into the boat fires up the motor with the propellor doing the rest.  Her biggest test now comes in the form of Apex, who towers over little Becky.  He punches out her dog and throws Becky around like a rag doll.  As he goes in for the kill, he remembers the two kids he killed earlier and can’t do it, so he quietly walks away (until the climax, of course).


Now Dominick is in Becky’s sights.  After a little cat and mouse game, they meet head to head at the fire pit.  Dom gives a bad guy speech to which Becky shoots him with a water gun filled with alcohol, momentarily setting him ablaze, but it’s put out before any real damage occurs.  Dom grabs her and punches her in the face a couple of times.  He then holds her down and points a real gun at her only to have Apex come to her rescue.  While fighting with Dom he is shot a couple of times.  Meanwhile, Becky gets atop an ATV with a mower attachment, yeah you can see where this is going.  With Dom on the ground, she drives smooth over him the mover chopping off his face and half his skull.  Apex is still alive but no longer a threat, never the less Becky picks up the gun and shoots him in the head.  


Earlier in the film, Kayla screams at Dominik “What was the point of all this?”  This is a damn good question. The film is bookended with Becky being questioned by investigators as to what went on.  She plays it cool, calm, and innocent. She still wears the key around her neck, but what it's for is never explained.  Is it supposed to be metaphorical or what?  With a keen, all-knowing look Becky tears away at a gummy worm.  “Becky” is a fun little midnight movie that is crazy gory and not to be taken all that seriously.  It has a number of comedic beats, but overall this is a movie about a teen girl who takes a page from Hit Girl in the movie “Kick-Ass” and just takes care of business.


"It Follows" A Film by David Robert Mitchell

2/11/2021

I reviewed writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s 2010 debut film “Myth of the American Sleepover” which was a well crafted and intimate coming of age story set in the midwest. With his follow-up feature “It Follows” Mitchell takes things a giant leap forward to the horrors and anxieties of young adulthood, most notably sexuality.


“It Follows” is a supernatural horror film grounded in real-life issues facing young people.  It takes its love of 80s style horror and gives it a fresh modern twist.  Horror icons like Jason and Michael Myers were unstoppable killing machines no matter how many times they were presumably killed.  If you were a teenager and having sex in the movie you were pretty much signing your death warrant.  The same can be with the concept of “It Follows”.


Like a lot of horror movies, we are given an opening scene with an unknown victim being gruesomely killed.  Then we open again and meet our hero.  This comes in the form of Jay (played by Maika Monroe) she is out on a movie date with a guy who seems a little paranoid that he is being followed.  After the movie, the action moves into the backseat of his car where they are having sex.  Afterward, he goes outside and gets something out of the truck, and comes back with a rag soaked in Chloroform.  With Jay unconscious, she is brought to an abandoned building and tied to a chair.  Terrified and confused, Jay listens to this guy tell her about this supernatural death cure that is spread through sex.  This creeping dread will always follow you.  This malevolent force can take the form of anybody with only the afflicted person able to see them.  It can change bodies at will and is always slowly and quietly following you.  If it catches up to you it will kill you, like we saw in the opening scene.  There is a metaphorical message implanted in this film about the pain, fear, and anxieties of the victims of sexual violence and the physical and psychological trauma it causes.


Although in denial Jay has to accept the fact that she must pass on this curse or die.  When she starts to see strange and ominous people beginning following her she gets prepared to fight.  With help from her friend, they finally track down the guy who gave it to her.  They go to this beach house and after some terrifying encounters battling the curse, Jay lands in the hospital and unable to run.  She agrees to have sex with this guy who is willing to take on the curse, however, this makes Jay’s long time friend/crush Paul jealous.  This other dude doesn’t last too long and is killed therefore the curse reverts back to Jay.  After their final elaborate plan to kill off the thing fails, Paul is back to offer his services to have sex with Jay and take on the curse.  The ending is ambiguous and left for interpretation.  


While the critical response to this film was huge I tend to believe that it is just a little overblown. Don’t get me wrong it's a good film but “Best of the Decade” I wouldn’t go that far.  The time period in which this takes place is a bit odd and indeterminate.  Horror movies, more now than ever, are either set in the 80s or are trying to find a creative way to explain away modern technology.  This film does try to subvert and transcend your average horror film and in doing so has joined a going a growing list of films defined as Art House horror.  The Blu-ray disc can be bought quite cheaply and also contains a commentary track by film critic Scott Weinberg.


Gemma Arterton in "The Disappearance of Alice Creed"

2/10/2021
*Major Spoilers Included*


Treading on familiar territory and set up “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” rises above to deliver a tightly wound and thought out thriller.  This was the directorial debut of British filmmaker J. Blakeson.  Released in 2009, the film was well-received by audiences and critics.


The bulk of the film relies on a minimalist approach focusing on its three actors and one room.  It is essentially a twisty crime/thriller of the kidnapped rich guys daughter variety.  We open with a rapidly edited collection of shots of a room getting prepared for their victim.  They look to be semi-professionals who have done this before, but the fact that they use a cliched white panel van to abduct their victim leads you to believe they might be a little over their heads.  Our ex-cons are the calm and collected old tough guy Vic (played by Eddie Marson) and the young and wired Danny (played by Martin Compston).  They seem like quite the odd couple but do get the job done.  They succeed in their plan to abduct the title character Alice Creed, the daughter of a wealthy man they plan to extort.  Alice is played by the fearless and ferocious Gemma Arterton, who gives it her all in her performance.  The masked guys bring Alice back to the prepared room and go about their job of stripping her nude and shooting a ransom video.  This is all done in a very cold and emotionless manner.  Alice is not sexualized or lusted over by the men, this is a job and all that matters is the money.  They tie her to the bed and hold her at gunpoint waiting for a response for their demand of 2 million dollars.


Now that we have our basic set up its now time to throw in the first of several twists.  Vic goes on an errand leaving Danny to watch over Alice.  We come to find out that not only does Danny know our victim, but she’s an ex-girlfriend.  Danny removes his mask and Alice is obviously more than a little upset.  In a misguided show of compassion, Danny unties her which leads Alice to take the gun away.  Danny then proposes that they flip the script on Vic and team up to take his share of the ransom, she just has to play along.  Vic returns and it knocking on the door.  Alice agrees to play it out and gets tied up again.  Vic is suspicious of something but then we find out that Danny has been pretending to be Vic’s lover and this is how he has gained his trust.  We begin to see that Danny has masterminded this whole plan and needed Vic to be the muscle in the operation.



As we approach the third act the plot twists start flying at you right and left.  Vic has some quality time alone with Alice who spills the beans about Danny’s big plans, which then pits the two guys against each other, but they keep it together with the money still their main focus.  We then move outside the room as the ransom exchange is put in motion.  Alice is brought to an abandoned industrial building and chained to a pipe.  Vic then gets GPS coordinates to where the money has been buried.  When the guys get there Danny finds an empty hole, otherwise, know as his grave.  Although he escapes death as Vic is only able to shoot him in the arm.  Vic retrieves the money and goes to Alice who is still chained up, Danny is also there waiting for him.  In the ensuing shoot out, Vic is killed and Danny wounded, he leaves with the money and leaves Alice the keys to free herself.  After unlocking her cuffs and hopelessly checking on Vic she leaves to find Danny slumped over dead in a running car.  Alice ends up driving away with her father's money.  Roll credits.  


“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is a good watch that keeps the intensity up to a certain level the whole time.  It uses its bare-bones approach to maximum effectiveness and the performances of all three actors are top-notch.  It feels more elevated than your typical overblown genre exercise.  This film was also remade into the 2014 Dutch film “Reckless”.  Writer/Director J. Blakeson went on to direct the 2016 film “The 5th Wave” starring Chloe Grace Moretz, which turned out to be a bust both commercially and critically.  While Gemma Arterton has made a career both in big-budget films as well as small independent ones.  I would recommend the 2010 film “Tamara Drewe” if you're looking for more.