READY OR NOT (2019)



Review by LL Soares

The story of READY OR NOT is simple enough. A woman marries into a family of rich eccentrics, and on her wedding night is forced to play a game of hide and seek. She hides, and the rest of the them try to find her and kill her before the sun comes up. If she survives, they believe that they will die.

You know, some people just shouldn’t get married.

Grace (the terrific Samara Weaving), is at the Le Domas estate on her wedding day. She was a foster kid growing up and has always wanted to be part of a real family. And she’s madly in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien, also in “BAD TIMES AT EL ROYALE,” 2018), who is heir to the family fortune. The family made its money selling board games. Despite Grace being so excited to become a Le Domas, the family, right off the bat, is rather strange, especially Aunt Helene (Nicky Gaudagni), who, with her crazy hair and staring eyes, looks like a vampire, or the sister of Robert Blake’s character from LOST HIGHWAY (1997). Anyone that menacing-looking should be a tip-off that something’s really wrong here. The rest of the family just seems a little off in comparison.

Other family members include Alex’s mother, Becky (Andie MacDowell); his father, Tony (Henry Czerny, from the TV show REVENGE, 2011-2015, and the great HBO miniseries SHARP OBJECTS, 2018); ne’er-do-well younger brother, Daniel (Adam Brody) and his wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque, ORPHAN BLACK, 2013-2017); sister Emilie (Melanie Scorfano, star of the SyFy series WYNONNA EARP) and her husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun, probably best known as Donnie Hendrix on ORPHAN BLACK); and, of course, creepy Aunt Helene. There are also the servants, led by Stevens (John Ralston, DESIGNATED SURVIVOR), the butler, and various attractive young women in maid’s outfits.

The thing about the Le Domas family is, they take their games very seriously. So at midnight after the wedding, they all meet in a special room full of animal heads to play a game. It begins with a box that will choose what game they play – and of course poor Grace gets the one card everyone has dreaded. She’s off to hide, still in her wedding dress, as the family members grab an assortment of old-timey weapons like axes, muskets, and crossbows. And then the game begins.

Seriously, if marrying into the family results in a night like this, Alex really needed to give his wife-to-be an honest warning of what was in store for her. When asked why he didn’t tell her, Alex brushes it off as “Well, you wanted to get married,” which is pretty lame. Then again, there might be a reason why he was so hesitant to fill her in beforehand.

At first a victim, Grace eventually decides to fight back, and that’s when things get really interesting.

With lots of violence and gore (and language), this one gets an R-rating (hurray!). And despite the simple premise (which was almost completely revealed in the trailer, by the way – I hate that!), READY OR NOT was a lot more fun than I was expecting. As things started off, I thought this was going to be a predictable trudge, but, while it’s not exactly surprise-packed, there are some surprises, the biggest being that Samara Weaving completely owns this movie, and her character is the main reason to see it. She easily goes from sweet and trusting to hard-as-nails in a believable way that makes you cheer for her.

I’ve been a fan of Weaving’s for awhile now, so I’m not surprised. In fact, her having the lead role in this one was one of the main reasons I went to see it. Genre fans will no doubt recognize her from roles in the movies MAYHEM and THE BABYSITTER (both 2017), and the TV shows ASH VS. THE EVIL DEAD and SMILF. Other recognizable faces belong to Adam Brody (from shows like THE O.C., and movies like JENNIFER’S BODY, 2009, and LOVELACE, 2013), whose good here as a character who we’re never sure who’s side he’s on, and Andie MacDowell, who was big in the 80s and 90s in movies like GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984), where she played Jane, SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989), and, of course, GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), and who plays the matriarch of the Le Domas clan as maybe the one person who really regrets what she’s doing. Nicky Guadagni, as creepy Aunt Helene who left such an impression on me, seems pretty over-the-top at first, but she grew on me as perhaps the most ruthless of the clan. Guadagni was previously in the movies CUBE (1997) and SILENT HILL (2006).

READY OR NOT was directed by two-thirds of the producer/director collective called Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the third member, who didn’t direct here, is Chad Villella). Together, the three of them made segments for the anthology films V/H/S (2012) and SOUTHBOUND (2015). Previously Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett also co-directed (without Villella) the horror movie DEVIL’S DUE (2014). READY OR NOT was written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not the guy who created AMERICAN HORROR STORY).

I thought this was a fun flick, worth seeing in a theater. I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

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MIDSOMMAR (2019)

Review by LL Soares

(Some Spoilers)

Any horror movie that takes place among a pagan cult is going to be compared to the gold standard, the original version of THE WICKER MAN (1973). But comparisons don’t mean that no one should attempt to put their own spin on this sub-genre. And I really enjoyed director Ari Aster’s take on this kind of tale.

As you probably know, Aster is also the guy who wrote and directed HEREDITARY, which was a hit horror movie last year, getting tons of praise from festivals, critics, and fans. After that movie, most people couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next. I, for one, wasn’t disappointed.

MIDSOMMAR begins in the U.S., where Christian (Jack Reynor, also in Ben Wheatley’s FREE FIRE, 2016, and currently starring the CBS ALL ACCESS series STRANGE ANGEL) is thinking about dumping his girlfriend, Dani (Florence Pugh, in the highly praised LADY MACBETH, 2016, the Liam Neeson thriller THE COMMUTER, 2018, and the TV miniseries THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, 2018), because being around her is getting stressful. Dani’s sister, who is mentally ill and regularly threatening suicide. Dani is an enabler, and gets sucked into her sister’s drama every time, and Christian is finding it exhausting. Sure, Christian comes off as kind of a jerk when he’s hanging out with his bros, who encourage him to move on, but he’s got to figure out just how committed he is to this relationship. Events however decide his fate for him, when Dani’s sister and parents really do end up dead, and Christian doesn’t have the heart to break up with her while she’s grieving.

This first part of the film is the weakest, and it may feel like it drags a bit, but it’s setting it all up for later. The relationship of Dani and Christian is central to this movie, and the ups and downs they’ve gone through definitely play a part in what happens later.

So, back to Christian’s friends. There’s Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who came from Sweden and wants his friends to go back with him for a special celebration. Josh (William Jackson Harper, Chidi from the great TV series THE GOOD PLACE), who is doing his thesis on pagan cultures and who is very excited to see one up close, and Mark (Will Poulter, also in WE’RE THE MILLERS, 2013, THE MAZE RUNNER, 2014, and in the Netflix interactive special, BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH, 2018), who’s sort of a jerk. The four of them plan to make the Sweden sojourn a “guy’s trip” and have no intention of inviting Dani to come along. However, at a party she finds out about their plans, and pretty much invites herself, figuring that a vacation in a foreign country might just be the best way to get away from it all and deal with her grief.

So, reluctantly, they bring her along.

Once the five of them get to Sweden, things get a lot more interesting, first in a field where they take magic mushrooms (a nice introduction to the weirdness to come), and then when they reach the remote village where Pelle is from, for their big, special pagan celebration.

Beyond this point, I really don’t want to go into much detail, because the movie is full of surprises. And no, it’s not just a ripoff of THE WICKER MAN. This one has a story all its own, with points it wants to make, and Aster has created a riveting, powerful film. The performances are great, especially Florence Pugh, who is amazing here, and Jack Reynor. The way the film is brightly lit – almost everything takes place in bright sunlight, and the villagers all wear bright white clothes – makes it the exact opposite of most horror films that lurk in the dark, but it’s still full of terrors. I also really liked the use of peasant artworks to fortell just about everything that’s about to happen (so keep an eye out for them!). The atmosphere is thick with dread for what’s to come, and just the overall mood and feel of the film is terrific.

A lot of weird things happen in MIDSOMMAR, and while some are predictable, I found myself eagerly awaiting each twist and turn. I was completely wrapped up in the storyline, and eagerly became invested in it, right up to the end, where a simple, final scene packs on hell of a wallop.

Director Ari Aster has made another modern classic of the genre. And if you’re like me, you’ll be completely enthralled with this one. I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives MIDSOMMAR ~ 4 1/2 knives!

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BRIGHTBURN (2019)

Review by LL Soares

The concept of this one is kind of brilliant. Why not take the origin story of Superman and turn it into a horror movie? What a great pitch idea! But BRIGHTBURN, the resulting film, is underwhelming in execution.

Directed by David Yarovesky (THE HIVE, 2014), with James Gunn of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY as a producer, and a script by Brian Gunn (brother of James) and Mark Gunn (cousin on James), BRIGHTBURN has its moments, but seems like a tiny story for something that should have been much more dynamic.

So we’re in a town called Brightburn, Kansas, where Kyle (David Denman, Roy from the American version of THE OFFICE, 2005-2012) and Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks, who was Effie Trinket in the HUNGER GAMES movies and was also in the PITCH PERFECT films, two of which she’s directed, and who sort of seems to be too big a star for this movie) are a loving couple who can’t have children (of course!). Enter a mysterious object that falls from the sky onto their Kansas farm, and which turns out to be some kind of space pod holding a seemingly human baby! It’s a boy, and the answer to their prayers! And the little tyke is so cute!

They raise the child as their own, and don’t tell anyone about it (but didn’t anyone else see the object fall from the sky?) He grows up to be Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, who was also young Scott Lang in AVENGERS: ENDGAME, 2019), a good kid who’s close to his mother. Until he hits puberty and suddenly his behavior isn’t so nice. The thing is, he’s not a normal kid and can do all kinds of things like break moving lawnmower blades with his hand, and fly, and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. All stuff that makes puberty all that more of a challenge.

When he breaks into the bedroom of a girl he likes from school named Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), she’s not happy to see him; she’s scared. And later, when he crushes her hand at a bad moment at school, things just get worse. Leading to Brandon doing sinister things to keep secrets, involving violence and murder. Including awful things happening to Brandon’s Uncle Noah (Matt Jones, “Badger” from BREAKING BAD, from 2008 -2013) and Caitlyn’s mom, who wants him to stay the hell away from her daughter.

It’s all kind of predictable and not very riveting, despite some quick and gory shocks (including eye trauma and a dislocated jaw, among others) that try, but really don’t’ do much to provide any sparks.

Mom Tori takes the longest to face reality (of course), and when she does, it leads to the big finale. The movie as a whole is a rather tepid affair, not really much of a thrill ride, although Jackson Dunn is suitably creepy as a kid who realizes he has incredible power and who decides “Why not use it to get what I want?”

Things don’t get really interesting until the end (and the end credits), which seem to be opening the door for a sequel that (based on box office receipts) probably won’t happen, which is too bad. I would have much rather have seen that movie instead!

And what does the title mean? Well, when the kid goes out doing mischief, he wears this weird costume with a cape and a burlap bag over his head, and he leaves a symbol at the scene of every crime that looks like two Bs. His name is Brandon Breyer. The town he lives in is Brightburn. They never actually name the creepy super-powered dude who’s doing all the bad stuff, but I’m thinking maybe he’s called Brightburn, too? Like that monster in Cloverfield was called CLOVERFIELD for some reason.

I give BRIGHTBURN, two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives BRIGHTBURN ~ 2 ½ knives!

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PREDATORS (2010)

This one is a blast from the past, when Michael Arruda and I did CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I really enjoyed this movie and figured I’d repost this. Enjoy. – LLS

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PREDATORS (2010)

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A forest.  Suddenly two screaming bodies fall from the sky and hit the ground hard.  Close-up reveals they are MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.)

MA (checking his body):  Thank God.  No broken bones.

LS:  Damn!  What kind of a free-fall ride is this?

MA:  Are you hurt bad?

LS:  Not at all.  Last time I suffered three broken ribs and my shin bone tore through my flesh.  This time, nothing.  How cheap is that?  I might ask for my money back!

MA:  You do that.  I’m going to begin our review of PREDATORS.

LS:  Nah.  Seeing you scream like a baby was worth the price of the ticket.

MA:  That was called “acting.”  I wasn’t really scared.

LS (laughs):  And I’ve got a head of hair like Bon Jovi.

MA:  And your point would be?

LS (suddenly wearing a huge rock star style wig) What the—-?

MA:  Today’s movie, PREDATORS, is not a remake or a “re-imagining” of the 1987 original movie PREDATOR, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s a brand new chapter in the franchise.

The story begins with a bunch of people with parachutes falling from the sky and landing in a strange, unknown forest. There’s Royce (Adrien Brody), a mercenary killer who quickly becomes the leader of the group; Isabelle (Alice Braga), a tough-minded military soldier; Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), an enforcer for a drug cartel; Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian soldier; Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a soldier from Sierra Leone; Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a member of the Japanese Yakuza; Stans (Walton Goggins), an extremely volatile Death Row convict; and Edwin (Topher Grace), a doctor, who seems incredibly out of place in this group.

LS: I especially liked Hanzo and Cuchillo, man. The movie I saw, the coming attractions included a trailer for the upcoming Robert Rodriguez (who also produced PREDATORS) film MACHETE, starring Danny Trejo —remember when that was a fake trailer for GRINDHOUSE (2007)? — well now it’s going to be a real movie! Not only do I love this guy as an actor, I hope MACHETE makes him a star. But he’s not in PREDATORS long enough.

MA: Yeah, Danny Trejo seems to be a Robert Rodriguez favorite.  I remember him way back in FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1996), that insane vampire flick which Rodriguez directed, starring George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino!  And he appeared in Rodriguez’s popular kids’ movie franchise, the SPY KIDS trilogy in the early 2000s, playing a character named— you got it, Uncle MACHETE.

LS: Gotta love Uncle Machete, man!

MA: I agree with you.  He’s not in PREDATORS enough.

LS:  The same for Walt Goggins. I love this guy. He was great as Shane in one of my favorite TV shows ever, THE SHIELD. But he was also good in Rob Zombie’s debut HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), as well as the brand new FX TV show JUSTIFIED. I’m always happy to see him, and this movie was no exception, although I have to admit, it was hard to see his character – who claims to be a murderer and a rapist – as anything more than comic relief.

But you’re right, the intro is great. The movie starts off really screwed up, with each character falling from the sky and then thinking they’re all enemies – it’s like an acid trip, man.

MA: They quickly deduce that they have been chosen because they are hunters, and they have been placed here in this forest, because they are in the middle of a game preserve, and THEY are the game.  When they reach a clearing and see a very strange-looking sky, they realize they are on an alien planet.

Royce believes that in order for them to survive, they need to know who is hunting them, and so he leads the group in search of the hunters.  Of course, they discover the hunters are the Predators from the PREDATOR franchise.  There are actually two types of Predators in this movie, the classic type from the original franchise, and a newer more powerful Predator, a race that seems to be running this particular planet, as they keep the classic Predators captive. The two kinds of Predators are mortal enemies.

LS: Another interesting point. We find out that while the original “classic” Predators can travel alone, these new, bigger Predators always hunt in packs of threes – a point that will be important as the movie unfolds.

MA: Royce and his merry band of soldiers later meet Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a half-crazed survivor from an earlier hunt— half-crazed because he’s been surviving alone on the planet for 10 “seasons” now!  Noland tells Royce that the Predators have a ship which they use to go to and from the planet, and Royce makes it his plan to commandeer the spaceship to get back to Earth.

LS: Fishburne is good, but he’s in this movie way too briefly. I wish he’d actually thrown his lot in with Brody’s gang and used his know-how to help them out. And for a guy who’s somehow been able to stay alive for 10 years on this planet, he sure makes some bonehead moves in this movie. It’s like, once he meets Adrien Brody and his gang, Fishburne turns stupid.

MA: The hunt is on, as the Predators set their sights on the humans, while Royce and company set their sights on the escape ship.

PREDATORS is a movie that I had zero expectations for.  I thought– do we really need ANOTHER Predator movie? – but, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and I ended up liking it a lot.

LS: Me, too. I was kind of bummed out I had to see this one. But man, what a surprise. Not only did I like it, I thought it was easily the best PREDATOR movie ever!

MA: You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, I would have to agree.  It is the best one in the series.

(An ALIEN jumps down from a tree branch, gesticulating angrily at them.)

MA:  I’m sorry.  Your two bouts with the Predators were OK, but they weren’t as good as this movie.

LS (to ALIEN): You gotta tell the folks making your movies to stop using all that CGI.  It’s making you look like a cartoon, and that’s not scary.

(ALIEN walks away with drooping shoulders.)

MA:  Although its brief pre-credit sequence showing Adrien Brody simply falling from the sky without anything else happening was silly and nondescript, after the credits, the movie quickly introduces its characters and gets its story moving without delay.  I was into this movie within the first 10 minutes.  It hooked me right away.

LS: Hey, I thought you liked the “falling from the sky” intro. I know I sure did. I was grooving to this movie from the minute it started. I loved that things weren’t explained right away, and we had to figure things out at the same pace as the characters did.

MA: Well, yeah, that part I liked.  The uncertainty of everything at the beginning, that feeling of “what the hell is going on?” really grabs you.

Things are helped, of course, by some fine acting.

Let’s start with Adrien Brody.  He’s one of the reasons I was a bit skeptical about this movie.  I thought, Adrien Brody as the lead of an action-horror movie? He’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I expected him to be sorely miscast.  I’ll say it right here.  I was completely wrong about him.  Not only was Brody excellent in this movie, not only was he believable as a tough, mercenary killer, he delivered one of the best acting performances I’ve seen in a genre film this year.  I think it’s because I didn’t really expect him to be able to pull this role off, but he comes off as utterly convincing.

LS: In the past, I didn’t care for Adrien Brody all that much. But he’s totally won me over. Imagine, it took him leaving art films and taking roles in genre flicks for him to really grow on me. But I loved his performance in SPLICE and I really dug him here, too.

Let’s face it, even though the monster was cool in the original PREDATOR, the people were rather cheesy. Schwarzenegger was okay – he still couldn’t act very well at that point, but he knew to keep his talking to a minimum – but the rest of the cast was pretty campy. I mean, Jesse Ventura? He’s a better  politician than he was an actor. Watching the 1987 original feels really dated. But this new movie kicks all kinds of ass.

MA: Brody in a genre film is starting to become a regular thing.  We saw him earlier this year in SPLICE, but he was also in KING KONG (2005), and he was even in— and I hate to even say the name of this movie— THE VILLAGE (2004).  While I liked him a lot in SPLICE, he’s even better here in PREDATORS.  I could get used to seeing Brody in horror movies.

LS: I actually thought he was pretty good in THE VILLAGE (which I think is really underrated – LLS), and excellent in SPLICE. He just keeps getting better and better.

MA: I also really enjoyed Alice Braga as Isabelle.  We saw Braga earlier this year in REPO MEN.  I think she delivered a better performance in REPO MEN, as that role was more complicated and challenging, but she’s damned good here, too.

LS: I liked REPO MEN, and Braga is very good here as well.

MA: The rest of the cast was also very good.  I especially liked Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo, and Oleg Taktarov as Nikolai, and while Walton Goggins was entertaining as the unpredictable psychopath Stans, I was somewhat disappointed with Topher Grace as Edwin, the doctor.  Grace played Venom in SPIDERMAN 3 (2007), and here in PREDATORS, his character is rather bland.  Plus, I knew there had to be some reason why a doctor was selected to be part of this group, and when that reason is revealed, I thought it was a letdown, which isn’t Grace’s fault, but given what he had to work with, he didn’t really do a whole lot to raise that character to a higher level.

LS: I don’t care for Grace, and I thought he ruined Venom for the movies (Venom is a so much cooler character in the comics). But the part where Hanzo faces off against a Predator, with just a samurai sword, was easily one of my favorite scenes.

MA: That was an EXC ELLENT scene!  As duels go, it was majestic.

Laurence Fishburne makes the most of his brief screen time as Noland, the half-crazed survivor.  He could have been in the movie longer, and I wouldn’t have minded.

LS: I like Fishburne a lot, and wished he’d had a bigger presence in the movie.

MA:  I liked the way he was always whispering, so as not to attract the Predator’s attention.  It was kind of creepy.

LS: And he kept talking to some imaginary friend. It reminded me of my relationship with you!

MA:  I imagine I resent that remark, friend!

WHISPERING VOICE FROM WOODS:  Over here.

MA:  Who said that?

VOICE:  You’re too loud.  They’ll hear you.

LS:  Show yourself, you wimp!  What’s the idea of hiding in the woods like a big baby?

MA:  Who are you?

VOICE:  The wind.

LS:  The wind?  What is this, THE HAPPENING?

MA (trembling):  N-no!  First, THE VILLAGE, now THE HAPPENING.  There are too many M. Night Shyamalan references.  Stop it!  STOP IT!

LS (shaking MA):  Get a grip on yourself, before I have to hit you upside the head with this machete!

MA:  Whoa!  Where did that come from?

LS:  From the Danny Trejo Fan Club.  Are you good to go now?

MA (taking a deep breath):  Yeah, I’m okay.  Thanks.

I thought the special effects ran hot and cold.  The vicious four-legged creatures that attack the group before the Predators enter the scene, were rather fake-looking and obvious CGI creations.  The Predators themselves were okay.  Sometimes they looked scary and real, and at other times they looked phony.  The best looking creature in this one was the classic Predator, the one who was being held prisoner by the newer, stronger Predators.  He was scary and horrific looking, and I wish he had been in the movie more.

LS: I thought the alien “dogs” were okay. As for the Predators, I’ve been a fan since day one. I thought the original PREDATOR (1987), was pretty goofy, but the monster kicked ass. And they’ve continued to be terrific visually, through all the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films, and especially here.

MA: Director Nimrod Antal did a good job here.  The action sequences are exciting, and the hunt scenes intense.  There were also a few gory touches that made this one as hard-hitting as it needed to be.

LS: He did a great job! He’s also directed a few other interesting films, like KONTROLL (2003) and VACANCY (2007).

MA: Writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch wrote a story that hooked me from the get-go.  Even though this was a PREDATOR movie, and everyone in the theater knew that the Predators would be the guys doing the hunting, the story was written in such a way that the first half of the movie, in which we don’t see a whole lot of the Predators, was still compelling and very interesting.  I think this was due largely to this being a brand new story.  It wasn’t a rehash of the original two movies, or the two recent films that pitted the Predators against the Aliens.

LS: Yeah, the script was super! The pacing is relentless throughout. I really enjoyed it.

MA: There were elements of surprise here.  Just where the hell is this forest anyway?  Why is there an ordinary doctor among the group of killers?  What are those strange four-legged creatures?  Why is one Predator being held captive by other, slightly different looking Predators?  There was enough happening early on to pique my interest and get me into this movie.

Once Laurence Fishburne’s character appears, I thought the movie leveled off somewhat in terms of surprises.  It becomes more of a standard action movie, as the hunt heats up.  While this is enjoyable and entertaining, the film does become more routine during its second half.

Still, it doesn’t fall to anything resembling “below average,” and this is because of the strong performance of Adrien Brody.  Brody drives the story along, and with the strength of his acting abilities, he carries this movie on his back, and he takes it all the way to a successful finish.

I also really enjoyed the music score by John Debney, the man who did the music for SIN CITY (2005).  It reminded me a lot of the score from the original 1987 PREDATOR movie, by Alan Silvestri.

To nitpick, I would have liked some better explanations for a few things.  For starters, just how is it that the classic Predator understands what Adrien Brody says to it so easily?  Do Predators understand English?

LS: Si, senor!

MA: Just how was it that these people were whisked off Earth and sent here?  And just where is HERE?

But these are minor quibbles in a movie as entertaining as this.  PREDATORS is the kind of movie where I don’t care if there are minor missing elements to the story, because the story as is works so well.

I thought PREDATORS was one of the more entertaining movies I’ve seen this summer.  It’s got great acting, especially from its lead Adrien Brody; it’s got lots of neat action sequences; and it is not boring in the least.  It’s well worth the price of admission. I give it 3 knives.

LS: I like the fact that not everything was explained, but just enough was to keep us glued to the screen. PREDATORS was a big surprise for me, and I really enjoyed it. I’d give it 3 and a half knives.

MA: So, there you have it.  Definitely give yourself a treat this summer.  Go out and see PREDATORS.

(PREDATOR appears behind them with a beer in each hand.  He hands them to LS and MA).

LS:  Gee, thanks!

MA (lifting bottle):  Here’s to a kick-ass movie, which should really reinvigorate this franchise.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s another PREDATORS movie in the works in the not too distant future.

LS:  Let’s not rush into more sequels, okay?

MA (to PREDATOR):  And what do you think about the prospect of starring in more Predator movies?  Are you GAME?  Oops!  Bad choice of words.

(PREDATOR aims his weapon at them.)

LS:  Game. You would have to remind him.

MA:  He just can’t help himself. He’s addicted to hunting.  Well, folks, we’ve got to duel our friend Mr. Predator here.  But we’ll be back next week with another review of another new movie.

LS (hands MA a paint ball gun):  Ready?  (MA nods).  Okay, Mr. Predator, the game is on!

(MA and LS take cover in the woods, while the PREDATOR roars.)

WHISPERING VOICE:  They went that-a-way.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by LL Soares and Michael Arruda

 

LUTHER THE GEEK (1989)

Movie Review by LL Soares

Another movie that I’d heard about for years, but hadn’t seen. LUTHER THE GEEK came out in 1989 and was directed by Carlton J. Albright. Albright also wrote the screenplay, using the name Whitey Styles. This is another one of those productions where the director only made one film. Although Albright also produced and wrote the screenplay for THE CHILDREN (1980) and produced DREAMS COME TRUE (1984). But that’s it for film credits. And this is the only where he’s the director.

LUTHER THE GEEK is yet another low-budget horror movie, but it’s got some effective scenes, and is worth checking out. The thing is, it could have been even better!

We start out with a flashback to when Luther was a kid. Little Luther (Carlton Williams, who is actually director Albright’s son) sneaks into a circus tent with a bunch of hillbilly men to see a real, live “geek.” This scene is basically just there to show us what a geek is (in case anyone didn’t understand the title). A guy in a cage is given a chicken and bites its head off and drinks its blood. Geeks did exist in carnivals in the America of yore, and were most often town drunks who agreed to play the geek in return for getting all the liquor they could drink. Anyway, little Luther is astounded by the display. At one point, though, a man knocks him to the ground and Luther hits his head, knocking out some teeth. He realizes, though, that he likes the taste of blood.

We next see a parole board discussing a candidate who is being considered for early release. Luther Watts was in prison for 20 years. The vote is close, but Luther is paroled for being a “model prisoner.” When we next see him, we learn two things. First, he replaced the teeth he lost as a kid with some metallic choppers, which he files down. Second, there is nothing normal-seeming about this guy, and there’s no reason why anyone would parole him. Did that board even meet this guy in person? To give you an idea what he’s like, Luther isn’t even called “Luther” in the credits. He’s called THE FREAK and is played by Edward Terry.

Anyway, right away, Luther gets into trouble at a supermarket, eating raw eggs and making a mess. The manager calls the police and escorts him out. On a bench beside a bus stop, he sits beside an old lady (Gail Buxton in an old lady wig), then proceeds to attack her, biting her neck viciously until she bleeds to death. Somehow, the creep gets away!

Eventually he makes his way to a lonely farmhouse, at first to chase the chickens around. There we meet Hilary (Joan Roth), a woman whose husband is either dead or away. She is terrorized by Luther, until they’re interrupted by Hilary’s college-age daughter, Beth (Stacy Haiduk) and her boyfriend Rob (Thomas Mills) who show up unexpectedly. Beth has a sexy shower scene before she and Rob join Hilary in being terrorized. At one point Luther steals Rob’s motorcycle, but can’t ride it, and cracks it up. Dumb-ass Rob chases him down to get his bike back, but learns to regret it.

There’s not much plot to this one. It’s basically a home invasion flick where a psycho breaks into a house and makes some people’s lives miserable. At one point a clueless police officer shows up (of course), played by Jerry Clarke, and let’s just say he doesn’t save the day.

At no point does Luther join a carnival and become a geek, though. He just terrorizes this poor family.

Despite the fact that they had very little to work with that makes sense, Roth and Haiduk aren’t too bad, with Roth being the best performer here, and cute Haiduk doing a decent job. Haiduk, in fact, is probably the most successful actor in this movie, since she has 70 credits on IMDB.com. LUTHER was only her second film, and she went on to get roles on the TV shows SUPERBOY (1988 – 1992, as Lana Lang), the underappreciated vampire series KINDRED: THE EMBRACED (1996), and MELROSE PLACE (in 1997).  More recently she played characters on HEROES, PRISON BREAK, and TRUE BLOOD, as well as the soap operas ALL MY CHILDREN, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and DAYS OF OUR LIVES!

But here’s where I get to the part about it having the potential to be better. Lead Edward Terry isn’t completely awful as Luther. He is intimidating, and sometimes creepy, but he’s pretty much a one-note character. And he doesn’t speak. All he does is cluck like a chicken. This actually works in the eerie final scene, but up until then, you wonder how this guy is able to move around in the real world at all with his weird clucking and completely psychotic behavior.

It would have been a lot more effective if he was able to act normal sometimes and trick people into trusting him. As a metal-toothed, clucking freakshow, no one is going to go near him if they can help it, and there is absolutely no way this guy would be given parole. He can’t assimilate into normal society at all; he doesn’t even try. He’s more like a cartoon caricature than a real human being.

If Terry had played him as a more articulate guy who vacillated between vulnerable/normal and a complete psycho, I think the movie could have been a lot more effective, and more of a cult classic. More personality and complexity would have made this a plum role! But I can’t blame Terry, because he’s just doing what the script calls for. Albright’s script is the culprit here, keeping the movie from ever being truly scary.

Sadly, Terry was only in this one (the part was actually written with him in mind to play it), and in THE CHILDREN (mentioned previously). But he was in the art department for the John Huston film THE DEAD (1987), strangely enough.

But with a more complex character (maybe he would only start clucking when he was really going off the deep end), or at least a smarter one, LUTHER THE GEEK could have transcended its low-budget limitations. As is, the creepy-ass ending works despite the rest of the weak script, rather than because of it.

That said, I did enjoy watching this one. It’s not a total dud (and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of total duds), but I found its flaws really frustrating. Oh, and for TROMA fans, this one was released on DVD (and I’m assuming on VHS back in the day) by Troma Studios. The special effects makeup, which actually isn’t bad, is by Mike Tristano, who refused to be credited for the film. There’s also an interesting synth score by Vern Carlson, who also did the music for GALAXINA (1980).

Maybe instead of remaking classic movies that were done right the first time, someone could remake LUTHER THE GEEK and get it right. That’s what remakes should be for – helping failed films with potential reach a higher level. Unfortunately, I don’t see LUTHER getting remade anytime soon.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

 

ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977)

Review by LL Soares

Having absolutely nothing to do with the notorious Son of Sam murders in New York in the 70s, Dave Adams’ ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977) is a bizarre little flick that might be worth seeing at least once (you won’t be tempted to watch it again). Adams was a stunt man on TRUCKER’S WOMAN (1975) and WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) before deciding to write and direct (and act as stunt coordinator) a movie of his own. ANOTHER SON OF SAM, filmed around Charlotte, North Carolina on a shoestring budget,  is the only film he ever made, and his career in films pretty much ended after that. Strangely, I’m not surprised.

The movie begins with a man and a woman riding around on a speedboat. The man is police lieutenant Claude Seltzer (Ross Dubuc) and his girlfriend is Dr. Daisy Ellis (Cynthia Stewart). We then switch to a nightclub and a performance by a lounge singer named Johnny Charro (singing a tearjerker called “I Never Said Goodbye”). We then (finally) get to the action, the story of Harvey, a patient at a mental hospital. We never actually see Harvey’s face (just his eyes and brow at certain times, and his lower body as he walks around in cheap pants that he probably got at K-Mart). When two orderlies take him to his room after shock treatment, Harvey goes nuts and kills them. He also brutally beats his doctor, who turns out to be Dr. Ellis from the speedboat. Harvey escapes, just as Lieutenant Seltzer arrives at the hospital to visit his lady. When he sees her being wheeled out on a gurney, this all becomes personal.

There’s a scene in a park, where the police (including Seltzer) think they’ve cornered the suspect, but he gets away. Harvey then ends up in a college dormitory, sneaked around in his beige chinos and terrorizing sorority girls who have stuck around during spring break. These include blonde Heather (Bonnie Schrier) and her brunette roommate, Tina (Pam Mullins). Just around the time we’re introduced to them, we hear about a theft of $500, and then Darlene Page (Kim Saunders) is sitting in the Dean’s office, saying she thinks Tina stole the money. But before anyone can speak to Tina, she’s murdered by Harvey and Heather finds her. There’s no explanation why Harvey has come to this particular building, or what he has against the girls there, but he skulks around, evading capture, as the police show up. The building is evacuated, but Harvey is holding Heather and Darlene as hostages.

The police are led by tough-talking, bespectacled Captain Thompson (Robert McCourt) and Sgt. Flowers (John Harper), and of course Lt. Seltzer’s there as well. The bunch of them are incredibly inept (one rookie goes looking around on his own and gets killed by Harvey), and decide they can’t handle it and call in the SWAT team, led by Lt. Nelson (Garland Atkins). We then get a lot of shots of a helicopter flying over head (the same shot over and over) and guys in SWAT gear show up. At one point, someone even sees Harvey looking out of a second-story window. But the SWAT team is as useless as the police (what a lame SWAT team!) and they end up tracking down Harvey’s mother (Ann Pierce) to get him to give up.

In some flashbacks we see after they show Harvey’s eyes, we’re given a little bit of his backstory, with Harvey’s mother talking to him as a kid, the implication of the scenes being that incest was involved. This is confirmed later when one of the cops saying that his mom seduced him and that’s how he ended up in the mental hospital. Mom arrives and goes about trying to trick Harvey into surrendering, which of course makes Harvey let his guard down enough for the cops to finish him off. His mother holds his hand as he dies.

ANOTHER SON OF SAM doesn’t have a lot going for it. The acting overall is pretty bad, the settings are drab, the script kind of goes nowhere. Nobody seems competent in their jobs. It’s basically a bad police procedural, and could have been an episode of ADAM-12 or the old SWAT TV show from the 70s, except neither show would have ever bought a script this bad.

To spice things up, cinematographer Harry M. Joyner and editor Adams do some odd camera tricks, like flashing to Harvey’s eyes to create a sense of menace, and whenever anything really bad supposedly happens, the screen freezes. I guess this was supposed to be for emphasis, but really it just makes the filmmaking look ever more amateurish. I found this gimmick to be really annoying as the movie went along.

And there is absolutely no connection to the real-life Son of Sam murders committed by serial killer David Berkowitz. Clearly, the title was just there to exploit the real life crimes and try to trick people in paying for a movie ticket.

There’s nothing really to recommend this one unless you’re a fan of Johnny Charro (called Johny Charro in the credits). Despite all this, I’m glad I saw it just because it’s an obscure little film, and I have a morbid fascination for movies that were directed by people who never made another movie, like Harold P. Warren’s MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966) and Carlton J. Albright’s LUTHER THE GEEK (1989). There’s just something intriguing about people who think they can make a movie, fail at it, and then go back to their lives without looking back. And, for some reason, a lot of these seem to be horror movies.

A lot of the cast never appeared anywhere else, either. Although it’s interesting that Pam Mullins, who played Tina, went on to become a successful makeup artist, even working on DOCTOR WHO during the Matt Smith years. I don’t know what became of Johnny Charro.

While I’m glad I saw ANOTHER SON OF SAM once, I can guarantee you I won’t be watching it again. It’s boring and pointless for the most part. You might find yourself fast forwarding through some of the slower scenes. Whether you decide to check it out yourself – well, that’s up to you.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

 

 

 

PET SEMATARY (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Am I the only one who thought the 1989 movie version of Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY, directed by Mary Lambert, wasn’t a bad film? I mean, when there’s a decent version of the story already adapted, why be in a rush to remake it? Remakes should be reserved for the numerous Stephen King books that were made into BAD movies, don’t cha think? Or maybe to put some R-rated scares in stories that previously adapted for sanitized TV miniseries on ABC?  In other words, PET SEMATARY wasn’t high on my list of King movies that had to be redone.

The thing is, the new PET SEMATARY isn’t a bad movie. It’s done well, with a good cast. It’s just that it doesn’t have much new to add (except maybe for an unexpected death that may catch King fans by surprise). So when I sat down to watch this version, I have to admit, it didn’t do much for me. I’d seen the story before, just as well done, and so this felt like a waste of an hour and 41 minutes. But that’s just me.

If you’re a horror movie fan, then you already know the story. A family moves from urban Boston to rural Maine to “get away from it all.” The dad’s a doctor who’s sick of working the all-night shifts at the hospital and wants to take it easier. So Louis (Jason Clarke, the underrated actor from “ZERO DARK THIRTY,” 2012, “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” 2014, and “MUDBOUND,” 2017) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Siemetz, from the shows “THE KILLING” and ‘THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE,” and the movie “ALIEN: COVENANT,” 2017) move with their kids, pre-teenager Ellie (Jete Laurence, “THE SNOWMAN,” 2017) and toddler Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) to a cabin in the woods. Turns out that there’s a cemetery behind their house in the woods. Kids in the neighborhood bury their dead pets there. Which is kind of creepy, since they turn it into an almost pagan ritual, wearing animal masks in an orderly procession and all.

Even scarier, their house is on the route that huge gas trucks take to get where they’re going. And they go by fast!

There’s also a scruffy neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow, of “RAISING CAIN,” 1992, “RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” 2011, and amazing in Season 4 of the series “DEXTER” in 2009), who lost his wife and who could be feeling sorry for himself, but he’s actually a nice guy and befriends first Ellie, then the family. When the family cat, Church, gets run over by a car, Jud tells Louis about a secret graveyard BEHIND the pet cemetery. A spooky, swampy piece of land where Native American tribes used to bury their kin, until they moved away, determining the area was cursed. You see, this second cemetery has supernatural properties. If you bury something there, it comes back to life. Although, not exactly how you remember them.

Jud doesn’t want his daughter to find out her beloved cat is dead, so he follows Jake to the spooky graveyard, buries the cat there, and soon afterwards, it comes back.

Except it’s mangy as hell and really needs a bath. And sometimes it has a really nasty temper now.  

So, after seeing what the graveyard can do, when someone in Louis’s family dies, he sure as hell isn’t going to let them stay dead!

And when a human being is buried in that awful place, that’s when things get really spooky.

As I said, the directors, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, who previously gave us the very good horror film, STARRY EYES (2014), do a good job adapting the material. The script is by Jeff Buhler (and Matt Greenberg). There’s not a lot here that’s particularly problematic. It’s a good, solid adaptation. Except that it was already adapted in 1989, as a decent movie, and the new movie just seemed like more of an attempt by the studio to cash in on the resurgence of popularity for Stephen King—thanks to the blockbuster version of IT (2017)—than a movie that really needed to be made. Or, rather, remade.

Everyone involved does a fine job. Nobody embarrasses themselves here. But in the end, it seemed a little pointless. I was going to give it 2 ½ knives because of that – but frankly, I don’t think that’s fair. Just know that if you haven’t seen this story before, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a good movie. But if you’ve already seen it, there aren’t a lot of reasons to see this new one.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares