THE SAME DAY OVER AND OVER: HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019) & RUSSIAN DOLL (2019)

Movie Reviews by LL Soares

I admit it, sometimes I make bad decisions.

Like going to see HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019).

Because this was coming out last Friday, I figured I’d repost my review of the first movie here last week. And that particular review wasn’t exactly glowing, and ended with the fact that, while I really liked actress Jessica Rothe in the lead role, and I wanted to see her again, I didn’t want to see her in another HAPPY DEATH DAY movie.

Then I went and plunked down my money, and got a ticket to HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U.

Bad move.

The first movie, HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) was about a college girl named Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) who keeps waking up in the same bed over and over in the dorm room of cute guy Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). It’s her birthday, and at the end of the day she keeps getting murdered by some psycho in a baby mask. Strangely, the baby face is also the mascot of the college basketball team. Each time she dies, she wakes up in the same bed, and the day starts all over again. As she realizes that the day is going to hit “reset” every time, she starts doing more and more outrageous things, knowing there won’t be repercussions (like walking around the campus naked). She also tries to figure out who’s killing her.  When she solves that mystery, the loop she’s trapped in is also broken, and she goes back to living her normal life. And that’s the first movie in a nutshell.

Of course, it’s pretty much the same plot as GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), that classic starring Bill Murray as a guy who keeps waking up and reliving the same day, except DEATH DAY includes a slasher element.

HAPPY DEATH DAY was repetitive (obviously), derivative, and not really all that clever (although it seemed to think it was). The only reason to see it at all was for Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree. She’s very likeable, and made for a great lead actor. But the script by Scott Lobdell wasn’t all that great. And the plot left a lot to be desired. The slasher (big baby face!) wasn’t all that riveting, and the big reveal, where we find out who the killer is, was mediocre at best.

It’s the perfect example of a completely forgettable film, memorable only because its star made such a big impression, despite lackluster material to work with.

Which brings us to the inevitable sequel. This was another successful Blumhouse series, which means it cost very little money, and, since the first one was kind of a hit, it went on to make a nice profit. So of course they’d go back to the same well. Again and again and again…

By the way, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U was written and directed by Christopher Landon, who directed—but didn’t write—the first film. In the first movie, the repetition resulted in a slowly growing sense of boredom. The new movie, which some people might consider ambitious, is just a different kind of boring.

See, this time, they actually try to figure out why poor Tree was living the same day over and over again, and it almost stops being a slasher film (although the killer does pop up when it’s convenient to the story, and the reveal of who it is this time is even lamer than the first movie’s resolution), and instead becomes a sci-fi flick. The thing is, boring is still boring, no matter what genre it is.

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U begins from a different perspective. This time our hero appears to be Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), the roommate of Carter Davis, both from the first film. Ryan spends the night sleeping in his car because his roommate is with a girl (our girl Tree). Turns out he’s working on some kind of weird machine with two other kids in the physics lab, Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea Morgan (Sarah Yarkin), that opens doorways into other dimensions, or something like that. If that’s not what it’s meant to do, then it doesn’t matter much, because that’s what it ends up doing, creating the time loops our characters get caught in.

Of course, as Ryan goes about his morning (including having the Dean, played by Steve Zissis, barge in and threaten to shut down their project), he eventually ends up in a dark lab and gets stabbed to death by our old friend in the baby mask (something that is never explained later, and I guess doesn’t matter, except to further the plot). Ryan dies and wakes up in his car again, where he was sleeping all night because his roommate Carter has a girl in their room, and the loop begins again. But this isn’t Ryan’s story, because once we find Tree again, and she realizes that Ryan is reliving the same day and that his loop has now glommed onto her, making her relive the day again, too, she is incredibly eager to stop it all before it turns into a loop without end.

Ryan’s in luck, since this means that a) he has help in trying to resolve the whole time loop thing and 2) the story transfers from him reliving the same day over and over to Tree being the star of the show and the one with the most to lose. In fact, the script seems to forget eventually that Ryan is reliving the same day, too, and it just focuses on Tree. I guess director/writer Landon got tired of Ryan.

At first, Tree keeps dying because of Baby Face. Then because she’s killing herself to start the same day over again (a humorous montage of outrageous suicides that mirrors a similar high point in the first film), and then it becomes the story of how she remembers everything when the day restarts, but no one else does (eventually, as I mentioned, not even Ryan) and she has to explain everything to them all over again day after day, and, as they try to come up with the equation that will fix their crazy machine and put time back where it belongs, they forget it all the next day, so Tree has to memorize extremely long algorithms, so they know what they’ve tried, and what failed. Which doesn’t sound very plausible at all.

And what started out as an interesting twist (moving from the slasher constantly killing Tree to Tree and her friends trying to get out of the time loop), turns into yet another repetitious snoozefest. The differences here being that, in this dimension (or time pocket, or whatever), Carter isn’t in love with Tree, he’s in love with her frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews), the mean girl who runs their sorority (of course, as time goes on, Carter sees that Tree is the one he belongs with), and Tree’s dead mother is actually alive in this dimension (she meets her visiting parents for lunch each (same) day at a restaurant– in the first movie it was just her widowed dad), and she has to decide whether it’s better to live in a world with her newly regained mom, but she isn’t together with Carter, or go back to the “real” world where she is with Carter, but her mom is dead. This sounds like a dramatic dilemma, but the truth is, we’ve seen all this before, and it seems more tired than profound. And the fact that we have to see it played out multiple times (without anything interesting getting added to the mix) just becomes irritating.

So there’s more in play here than just getting killed over and over and trying to solve the mystery. There’s dead people returned to life and crazy atom-smasher machines and angry deans and nerds who have to be reminded over and over what they did to fix the machine, and what they still haven’t tried, and frankly, as the movie goes on (and it’s only an hour and 40 minutes, but it seems longer), I just lost more and more interest in it, and when everything finally gets resolved, it felt predictable and kind of a big letdown (except I didn’t invest enough in it for it to be too disappointing).

Once again, the best thing in the movie is Jessica Rothe as Tree, except this time she has to give away some of her screen time to the other characters, who get fleshed out a little bit more than they did in the first movie, but not enough to really care about. And the sci-fi tropes that at first seem fresh become just as tiresome as the slasher tropes of the first film. And frankly, I just wanted to break the loop I was watching and just get up and leave. But I stayed till the end, because even though seeing this movie was a bad decision, I had to see it through, so I could warn you, the reader, not to get caught in the same loop I did.

But I can guarantee that I won’t get tricked a third time, and if there is a HAPPY DEATH DAY 3: IT’S THE SAME DAY AGAIN! (and, as we all know, trilogies are inevitable), I won’t be in the audience, no matter how they try to make it seem fresh. So next time, you’re on your own.

I give HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U a rating of one knife. Only because I like Jessica Rothe. But I don’t care about her character Tree anymore, or these movies, and I really just want her to move on already. Please! Get out of the loop of this damn series and show us what else you can do!!

*****

Which is all in direct contrast with a new 10-part series that just debuted on Netflix called RUSSIAN DOLL, starring the great character actress Natasha Lyonne as a New Yorker named Nadia Vulvokov, who keeps dying and waking up in the same bathroom at her own birthday party, and it sounds like almost the same plot of HAPPY DEATH DAY, and yet it’s very different, and not boring at all.

I’ve been a big fan of Lyonne since movies like SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (1998) and BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER (1999) in the tail end of the 90s. But most of you will probably know her best from ORANGE IN THE NEW BLACK (2013 – 2018), where she plays Nicky Nichols, and more recent movies like ANTIBIRTH (2016). But the thing is, there’s just something incredibly cool about her and her persona, and RUSSIAN DOLL revels in that persona, it dives head first into that persona, and that’s a very good thing indeed.

Lyonne’s Nadia begins in the bathroom at the home of her friends Maxine (Greta Lee) and Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson). It’s a big bathroom, and it has a weird door with a glowing chasm in it, some artwork of Lizzy’s that’s really spooky looking. This sounds like a simple thing, but it’s a strong image. Also, Harry Nilsson’s song “Gotta Get Up” begins each time Nadia finds herself in that bathroom, and it’s a catchy tune (as most of Nilsson’s work is). Nadia leaves the bathroom and goes out to the living room, where her birthday party is in full swing. The first time she leaves with sleazy professor Mike Kershaw (Jeremy Bobb), but things change up pretty quickly. By the second time Nadia’s ex, John Reyes (Yul Vazquez) is showing up at her party, leading to different situations. The cool thing about RUSSIAN DOLL right from the start is that the character are interesting, and you care about Nadia right away, and you want to know more about the people in her life. These also include Elizabeth Ashley as a psychiatrist named Ruth Brenner, who pretty much raised Nadia when she was a kid, due to the negligence of her real mother, who was suffering with mental problems, and Farran (Ritesh Rajan), Nadia’s friend who also runs a neighborhood market she frequents. There’s also a homeless man who lives in a park across from Maxine’s building named Horse (Brendan Sexton III), who is also suffering from mental issues and who eventually plays a part in the storyline as well.

Unlike HAPPY DEATH DAY, RUSSIAN DOLL changes things up fairly quickly, as Nadia realizes what’s going on, and first thinks she is losing her mind (well, insanity runs in her family), but when she realizes she’s sane, she goes about doing whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this loop thing. Things get even more interesting when she finds out that she’s not the only one, and that a guy named Alan Zaveri (Charlie Barnett) is also experiencing the same phenomenon, and she first has to earn his trust, and then the two of them go about trying to solve the mystery and get out of the time loop together. RUSSIAN DOLL benefits from a smarter script, better actors, more developed characters, and more interesting twists than HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U. It also doesn’t hurt that RUSSIAN DOLL has more time to explore what’s going on and what’s causing it, and showing us how the characters change and develop, since it’s a 10-chapter series (each episode is 30 minutes long, so it’s an easy show to binge-watch). But the big question is, could I sit through five hours of HAPPY DEATH DAY and the answer is a strong No. Meanwhile, I loved RUSSIAN DOLL and look forward to more, if it gets renewed for Season 2.

RUSSIAN DOLL was created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler, with Headland and Jamie Babbit directing the episodes (and Lyonne directs one episode). The show has a strong creative team and everything works, from the acting to the scripts to the soundtrack. In these kinds of complex plots, there are bound to be flaws, and I’m sure there are a few lapses of logic in RUSSIAN DOLL, but frankly it’s so good that I didn’t notice. I was too busy enjoying it.

The bottom line is that HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U revels in its gimmick, and eventually wears out its welcome. RUSSIAN DOLL transcends its gimmick, giving us a more satisfying experience that leaves us wanting more. I give RUSSIAN DOLL a score of four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U ~~ one knife

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LL Soares gives RUSSIAN DOLL ~~ 4 knives.

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Two Film Debuts: SCHLOCK (1973) and DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988)

Reviews by LL Soares

I recently checked out two new Blu-rays featuring the film debuts of directors John Landis and Jim Van Bebber. Landis is best known for directing such bonafide movie classics as ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), and while he worked on other directors’ films previously, including as an assistant director, SCHLOCK (1973) was his first feature as a director.  Van Bebber, probably best known for the controversial feature THE MANSON FAMILY (1997), made his feature debut with the low-budget gang drama DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988). Both SCHLOCK and DEADBEAT are available now on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video in Collector’s Special Editions.

SCHLOCK is a horror comedy about a missing link who pops up out of a cave one day and goes on a killing spree. The movie is very silly for most of its run time, calling to mind such films as Landis’ THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) and John De Bello’s ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978), which was obviously influenced by it. There’s a conceited reporter, inept cops (led by Detective Sgt. Wino, played by Saul Kahan), and even a blind girl who thinks apeman Schlock is a dog and pets him and throws a stick for him to fetch (a very funny scene). There’s lots of limbs torn off bodies, but very little blood. Most of the humor is way over the top and broad, but there are some subtler scenes that work better, including one where Schlock accompanies a blind singer on the piano, that ends in a way you don’t expect. The plot is almost non-existent, and a lot of the humor is so corny that is elicits more groans than laughs, but it is what it is, the first movie by a very talented guy who would go on to make much better films. And, along with the groaners, there are a few big (and genuine) laughs to be had.

The most important thing about the film, aside from Landis’ debut, is that it’s also the film debut of makeup maestro Rick Baker, who gives us an apeman who looks pretty authentic. Back then, if you saw a gorilla in a movie, it was most obviously a guy in a clumsy suit, and it was really hard to suspend disbelief. The makeup in SCHLOCK is very impressive in comparison, and it was no surprise that Baker would go on to greatness (including doing the transformation scenes for Landis’ horror classic, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON eight years later). The man inside the SCHLOCK suit is none other than Landis himself, by the way, and the character of SCHLOCK is the whole reason to see this one.

SCHLOCK was another one of those movies that I remember seeing stills of in the magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND as a kid, but I never saw the movie. Thank you to Arrow Video for reissuing this film in a great new special Blu-ray edition!

***

Jim Van Bebber’s DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988) is one of those movies I’d always heard about, but didn’t have a chance to see. It’s also been released in a new Special Edition from Arrow Video, and is a street gang movie, probably inspired by THE WARRIORS (1979), but made on a miniscule budget. One of the good things about the videotape boom in the 80s was that distributors always needed new content, so it gave more indie filmmakers a chance to make movies. DEADBEAT is raw, but has some things to recommend it.

It’s the story of two gangs in Dayton, Ohio, the Ravens and Spiders, who hate each other and get in street rumbles a lot, with members trying to kill each other. Goose (director Jim Van Bebber himself) is the leader of the Ravens and the closest thing this movie has to a hero. He’s not afraid of violence, but has a moral code, and loves his girlfriend Christie (Megan Murphy) a lot. Christie is a mystical hippie chick who keeps trying to get him to quit the gang, but he doesn’t listen. Eventually, she threatens to leave him if he doesn’t give up his violent ways, and he decides to choose her over the Ravens.

The Spiders are led by Danny (Paul Harper) a mean-ass thug who wants to be the king of the streets.

The Ravens are pretty much the top gang until Goose just walks away from it all. He cuts his ties with them and tries to make one last drug deal to have money so he and Christie can start a new life. While he’s gone, Danny sends two of his thugs to Goose’s apartment to eliminate him. Instead, they find Christie alone, and violent thug Bonecrusher (Marc Pitman) kills her. Goose gets back home and finds Christie dead. He is mortified and disposes of her body in a trash compactor (!).

Almost insane with grief and unable to turn to the Ravens, Goose hits rock bottom, breaking into the apartment of his father, a Vietnam veteran and drug addict who lives in squalor and almost kills Goose when he finds him.

Eventually, Goose goes back to the gang, but things have changed. Now Keith (Ric Walker), Goose’s former second-in-command, is running the Ravens, and has made a truce with the Spiders. Both gangs, now working together, are planning a big score, but Danny and the Spiders have some treachery planned, and a goal to wipe out the Ravens once and for all.

Despite the low budget and rawness of the film, my favorite thing about it is the performance of Van Bebber as Goose. I thought he was charismatic and sympathetic in the role, and easily the best character. I’m really surprised he hasn’t had a bigger career as an actor, and while he made a few movies after this as a director, I wish he’d made more.

If you’re a fan of gang movies and don’t have a problem with low-budgets, you should check this one out.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

Dylan Dog Double Feature: CEMETERY MAN (1994) and DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010)

Review by LL Soares

This time, I wanted to compare two films based on characters created by Tiziano Sclavi. One, CEMETERY MAN (1994, aka DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) stars Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, and is based on an early story about the character who would become known as Dylan Dog, and DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010), starring one-time Superman Brandon Routh in the title role. For a long time, I’d heard that both movies were based on the Italian “Dylan Dog” comic books, about a paranormal detective, but I haven’t read the source material. They are, however, very different films.

I remember seeing CEMETERY MAN (1994) back in the 90s on VHS, and having mixed reactions about it. It was very atmospheric and had a lot going on for it, but it also had the common problem of Italian horror movies, that some of the script didn’t make a lot of sense or was confusing.

I wanted to see it again and give it a second chance. This involved buying it on Amazon used, since the DVD, released from Anchor Bay in 2006, seems to be out of print, and is only available from third party sellers. It was on my “Keep An Eye On It” list for a long time before I was finally able to find a copy that wasn’t overpriced. For anyone reading this who has influence with distributors, this would be a terrific movie to reissue in a special edition, since it’s been neglected for so long. I’m not sure if the problems have been in legal rights, or just overall neglect, but this movie should at least be in print and on Blu-ray.

In the 90s, Rupert Everett seemed to be becoming a big name star. Before CEMETERY MAN, Everett was probably best known for appearing in the TV mini-series THE FAR PAVILIONS (1984) and in movies like THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS (1990, based on the novel by Ian McEwan) and the comedy INSIDE MONKEY ZETTERLAND (1992). After CEMETERY MAN, he was in movies like THE MADNESS OF KING GOERGE (1994), the Julia Roberts rom-com MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997) and the thriller B. MONKEY (1998), starring Asia Argento. I don’t know if he ever really became a star (or, rather, how well known he is) but he has appeared in a lot of things since.

In CEMETERY MAN, he plays the man in charge of upkeep for an old cemetery in Italy, named Francesco Dellamorte—supposedly an alias that Dylan Dog occasionally used in comics, although here he is not a detective.  I’m guessing that this story takes place before he becomes the detective character made famous in the comic books.

Anyway, back to the cemetery. It has a problem—the recently deceased keep coming back to life.

Francesco lives in a little crypt-like building in the middle of the graveyard, with his mentally-challenged assistant, Gnaghi (Francois Jadji-Lazaro), who talks mostly in grunts, living in the basement below. When bodies rise again, Francesco simply kills them a second time with whatever’s handy, usually a gun which he uses to shoot the zombies in the head, or a shovel if it happens to be nearby. It’s all very matter-of-fact, because it happens all the time and Francesco is used to it. He doesn’t see much chance for change, because he has complained to the local government and they don’t believe him. He doesn’t simply quit, because he needs the job, and I guess killing zombies doesn’t seem too difficult.

Two recent corpses change the cemetery man and his assistant in a major way.

First, there is the very striking Italian actress and model Anna Falchi, who’s character is simply called “She” in the credits. Her husband, a rich older man who she greatly loved, has just died. Francesco is attracted to her right away, when he sees her at the funeral, but she shows no interest in his advances. She says her husband was a wonderful lover and no one would be able to compare to him (that’s a pretty graphic thing to tell a stranger, but okay). Francesco is determined to win her over, and eventually does by showing her an ossuary on the grounds (it’s like a crypt full of skeletons and decaying corpses that are just allowed to rot all together in the same room). When he shows it to her, she is immediately aroused. But when they make love later, on top of her husband’s grave, the deceased husband rises from the earth, and has to be put back down. Before that can happen, he bites “She” and she dies soon afterwards. This devastates Francesco. It is even worse when he has to kill her a second time, after her funeral.

Second, there’s the daughter of the mayor, Valentina Scanarotti (Fabiana Formica), a young girl who catches Gnaghi’s eye. In fact, he’s so overwhelmed by her that the first time they meet, he vomits on her (what a way to get someone’s attention!). When she dies in a motorcycle accident and is decapitated, Gnaghi brings her reanimated head to his cellar room to keep him company. They even plan to marry! But, of course, things go sadly wrong.

The zombies here are a mix of flesh-eaters and more sentient types (one guy, Claudio, is buried with his motorcycle and is able to continue riding it after he reanimated). But all have to be put back in the earth where they belong.

One of the aspects that were confusing here includes a sequence where Francesco, who has loved a girl who rose from the dead, decides that he must kill the living after meeting the Grim Reaper one night. He proceeds to murder a group of bikers who have been mocking him. He is not arrested for the crime, and it’s not really clear why he gets this hatred of the living.

Despite its more puzzling aspects, I liked CEMETERY MAN a lot. It holds up well, and I’m glad I watched it again. Rupert Everett is very good in the lead, the cast is good, and Anna Falchi is suitably striking. The direction, by Michele Soavi, who also gave us THE CHURCH (1989), is effective and atmospheric, and the moments of gallows humor interspersed throughout work rather well. Most of the comic relief is thanks to poor Gnaghi. The script is by Gianni Romoli (who also wrote 20 CIGARETTES, 2010), based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi. Definitely worth checking out.

****

In comparison, we have DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT from 2010, which resurrects the Dylan Dog character, this time living in America (Louisiana to be precise). He’s a detective from the get-go here, and one who specializes in supernatural cases. Brandon Routh, who comes off playing Superman in the underrated SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), plays him as a kind of nerdy eccentric. He gets involved in a murder case that involves werewolves, a sect of gangster-like vampires, and zombies. In this story, some people just happen to come back from the dead, and his assistant this time, Marcus (Sam Huntington) finds himself reanimated, but he’s not a flesh-eating creature, he’s the comic relief in this one. In fact, there’s a whole underground network of zombies here that deal in body parts: when one of your limbs or organs rot away, you can buy new ones in an underground market.

The other characters include the woman who hires Dylan for the case, Elizabeth (Anita Briem), who has secrets of her own; Vargas (Taye Diggs), a local vampire who wants to be the kingpin of this town; and Wolfgang (Kurt Angle), who wants to lead the werewolves after his father, Gabriel (Peter Stormare) is eliminated.

DYLAN DOG might have been Brandon Routh’s chance at leading another comic book franchise after the Superman job didn’t work out, but it’s a pretty weak film. It’s full of clichés and stupid jokes, and the storyline, involving everyone trying to get ahold of an ancient artifact, is pretty lame. Routh tries to be both mysterious and funny, but he just comes off as bland. In fact, the whole enterprise is rather bland, and there’s nothing much to recommend this movie. It’s just forgettable. Even more so, when compared to the much more ambitious CEMETERY MAN.

DYLAND DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT was directed by Kevin Munroe, who also directed the Teenage Mutant Ninja movie called TMNT (2007) and the animated film RATCHET & CLANK (2016). It’s written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (they both also wrote the Jason Momoa version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 2011), based on Tiziano Sclavi’s comic book series (there’s even a vampire in the movie called Sclavi).

So, CEMETERY MAN is worth looking for, and really deserves a deluxe reissue on Blu-ray. And DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT isn’t worth your time, and probably deserves to be forgotten.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

CAM (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Madeline Brewer, previously in the TV shows ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013), HEMLOCK GROVE (2014 2015), and more recently on Hulu’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE, plays Alice, a young woman who undresses in front of a camera for money (i.e., a camgirl). While many camgirls go so far as to perform sex acts onscreen, Alice has rules. She won’t do anything in public, she won’t get completely naked, and there’s a line to what she will (and won’t) do for her adoring audience, many of whom are regulars who tune in just to see her. Welcome to the world of CAM (2018).

Despite all the things she won’t do, Alice seems to be doing okay at it, making enough money to pay the bills. But she can’t break the Top 40 of most popular camgirls. She does get a boost when she tries something new and fakes an onscreen suicide (with lots of fake blood), but soon finds that her efforts are being thwarted by other camgirls who are actively trying to lower her score.

Meanwhile, when she’s not on camera, Alice is trying to live a normal life, including spending time with her hairdresser mother, Lynne (Melora Walters) and her teenage brother, Jordan (Devin Druid). Jordan’s friends have found out what she does for a living and endlessly tease Jordan about it, but Alice is hesitant to tell her mother about her job.

Soon, she’s not going to have a choice in the matter.

One day she looks online and sees that her camera account is active, and that she’s onscreen, doing things a bit wilder than normal. The problem is, she’s not doing it. Someone who looks exactly like her has hacked her account and is stealing her internet “fame.” The movie never really explains who this doppelganger is, or where she came from, but she makes Alice’s life increasingly nightmarish, stealing her livelihood and ruining a reputation she’s taken so long to establish.

This other Alice, using her onscreen name of Lola, doesn’t follow the same rules, and as a result, her score is going higher. But the real Alice can’t benefit. Her password won’t work, and the Help desk at the site that runs her feed is helpless to fix things. Alice even calls in the police, but they have no idea what to do, and one of the cops even hits on her.

We also get to see the people who are part of her “Lola” world, including fellow camgirls like her friends Baby (Imani Hakin) and Fox (Flora Diaz), and a rival named PrincessX (Samantha Robinson from THE LOVE WITCH, 2016); customers like Barney (Michael Dempsey), who enjoys the power and attention he gets by showering chosen camgirls with attention and money, and who would be an average schlub otherwise; and Tinker (Patch Darragh), a weird guy (who sweats a lot!) who tunes in regularly and appears to be a stalker, having followed Alice to her hometown.

CAM is the feature debut of filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber, who previously made some short films, and the screenplay is by Goldhaber and fellow newbie Isa Mazzei. It is currently streaming on Netflix and is a fun little flick, mostly due to its charismatic star (Brewer), who really deserves more lead roles.

I give CAM, three knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives CAM ~ three knives.

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Have you gotten HARD yet?

The new edition of my third novel, HARD, is available now from Crossroads Press in both an ebook/Kindle version, and a paperback hard copy version. Either way, if you haven’t read it yet, why not pop on over and check it out?

It’s not horror, but it does have porn stars, torturers, a serial killer, peeping toms, murder, and a whole lot more. Kind of a neo-noir novel with lots of sex and violence. 

Check it out on Kindle here!

Check out the paperback edition here!

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THE PREDATOR (2018)

Review by LL Soares

I went in really wanting to like THE PREDATOR, the latest film in a franchise that began in 1987, but I was ultimately disappointed. The buzz beforehand was this would be the movie to reboot those dreadlock-wearing aliens who love to hunt humans and rip out their spines, and while some of it works, overall, I just wasn’t jazzed.

As mentioned, the first movie in the series, simply called PREDATOR, was an excuse for action star Arnold Schwarzenegger to go toe-to-toe with one of the predatory monsters of the title in the middle of jungle. Invisible for most of the film (these creatures love their cloaking devices), we didn’t get to really see the monster until the end when its invisibility device breaks, and Arnold has his final showdown. I didn’t think it was an amazing movie, but the monster was very cool, and it’s one of the better Schwarzenegger actioners of the time.

Clearly something about these creatures captured the movie-going public’s imagination, because those nasty Predators have been popping up in a lot of movies since, including sequels, and an “Alien vs. Predator” spinoff that was never all that good, despite combining two of the coolest aliens of the 80s.

The last time we saw these title baddies was in the 2010 “reboot” PREDATORS, which somehow continues to be overlooked, even though it was the best entry in the series. And yes, I’m including THE PREDATOR in that group. PREDATORS featured a bunch of human killers, including Adrien Brody, Danny Trejo, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins and Topher Grace, who find themselves transported to an alien planet where the Predators hunt them down. It was a cool concept of bring humans to them instead of their coming to Earth, and it was dark, and well-written, and very cool. And yet no one seems to mention it when they talk about the franchise, which just boggles my mind.

In the new movie, your typical clandestine government agency led by a ruthless dude named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, currently on the show THIS IS US, and who was terrific as Christopher Darden in the first season of AMERICAN CRIME STORY, 2015-2016, about the O.J. Simpson trial), has been aware of the Predators since the late 80s and have been keeping an eye on their comings and goings. Each time they’ve shown up on Earth, they’ve upgrade themselves to be more formidable (as we all know, this is what Predators do). A scientist named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn of IRON MAN 2, 2010 and MAGIC MIKE, 2012), who happens to be an expert in evolution, is “recruited” to join them after a crashed Predator ship is spotted in Mexico. There’s a big debate over why they’re called Predators (as Dr. Bracket points out, predators kill for survival, while these aliens kill for sport; shouldn’t they then be called Hunters? She’ll bring this up again in the movie.)

As for that crashed ship, it showed up just when our hero, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, who was previously the villainous Pierce in LOGAN, 2017, as well as being in GONE GIRL, 2014), a mercenary working for another clandestine agency, is lining up a shot to take out some kidnappers who are part of a drug cartel. The ship messes everything up, and Quinn makes sure to grab some tech (mainly a helmet and an arm gauntlet/weapon) and mail them back home for safe keeping. The package shows up at his house, where his genius level son (who also suffers from autism), Rory (played by Jacob Tremblay of ROOM, 2015, and THE BOOK OF HENRY, 2017), opens the box and can’t resist playing on what’s inside. Since he’s a genius, he figures out to get them to work, thus alerting other Predators who are in pursuit of the crashed ship, and leading them right to Earth.

Meanwhile, Traeger’s men are doing their best to frame up Quinn for any casualties at the crash site, in their effort to cover it all up, since that’s what these government agencies do. Quinn is sent off to military prison, on a bus full of other wackos who seem to be both talented killers and, for the most part, total psychos. Nicknamed “The Loonies” by Quinn, they include leader Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes, from the movie MOONLIGHT, 2016), wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key of KEY AND PEELE and KEANU, 2016), Tourette’s sufferer Baxley (Thomas Jane of THE PUNISHER, 2004, and THE MIST, 2007), religious Nettles (Augusto Aguilera, of the upcoming series TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG, 2018) who keeps mentioning “The End Times,” and demolition guy Lynch (Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES).

It also turns out that Traeger has the body of the Predator who was recovered from the crash in his lab, which is why Dr. Bracket was drafted to help. But when that Predator wakes up from its heavy sedation and escapes, Dr. Bracket is yet another intended casualty to be eliminated for knowing too much. The doctor is rescued from mission-mandated death from Quinn and his Loonies, who are then on the run from the government, after they themselves escape from that prison bus. They high-tail it back to Quinn’s house, where his tough military wife, Emily (Yvonne Stahovski, of the shows CHUCK, 2007 -2012, DEXTER from 2012-2013, and, currently, THE HANDMAID’S TALE), lives with that genius kid, Rory.

Traeger and his guys are hot on the train of that escaped Predator, who is hunting for Rory, but who’s also being hunted by another, much bigger Predator, who even has Predator Dogs! This would be a cool new twist, if Predator Dogs didn’t already exist. They first popped up in that underrated movie PREDATORS from 2010, which I say again is still the best entry in the franchise.

THE PREDATOR is directed by Shane Black, who also directed some good movies (KISS KISS BANG BANG, 2005 and the underrated THE NICE GUYS, 2016) and some bad ones (IRON MAN 3, 2013), and he does a slick job with this one, although way too often it seems more like a generic action movie, with lots of car crashes and explosions, and people leaping from high-up stuff, than a cool sci-fi flick. The script by Black and Fred Dekker (based on characters created by Jim and John Thomas) is uneven at best, and thinks it is way cooler than it actually is.

Let’s see. The pluses here are Boyd Holbrook as our hero, Quinn. He is more than capable as the action star this time around, and could clearly have a future as a leading man in these kinds of things. The dude has the charisma necessary to be a star. The Loonies can be fun at times, and Olivia Munn is good as the scientist in peril.  Sterling K. Brown is really good as the bad guy here, but he’s not given a lot of depth, and could have used a little more humanizing. The Predators, as usual, are cool as hell, and the main reason these movies exist, even if the human storylines have too many ups and downs.

The negatives include those “downs” I just mentioned, the times when the script seems too much like a by-the-numbers action movie (too often), and some big lapses of logic, including a bunch of guys surfing on top of a giant alien spacecraft that’s trying to zoom away. Not only do they somehow stay on top of it, but they also find a way to bring it down (this is not really a spoiler, is it? Unless you’ve never seen an action movie before), and it’s just hokey as hell. There are a few moments like this, and none of them make the movie better.

And, of course, the ending blatantly sets thing up for a sequel. Which will probably happen.

Yet another big budget movie that got a lot of buzz before its release and then turned out to be mediocre at best, I give THE PREDATOR two and a half knives. Not horrible, but you’d be much better off seeking out 2010’s PREDATORS instead.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives THE PREDATOR – two and a half knives.

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HELL FEST (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Since I’m a fan of 80s slasher films, I’m always curious to check out any new films in the genre, even if they’re almost always disappointing. Bad slasher films have been the norm over the past 18 years, and it hasn’t done much to help the genre at all. The latest example is HELL FEST (2018), directed by Gregory Plotkin, who also gave us PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015).

One of this movie’s pluses is the location. It takes place over one night at a Halloween-themed festival, made up of scary mazes where people in costume jump out at you. The killer is a guy in a zombie mask and a hoodie, whose face we never see, who kills a girl and strings her up from the ceiling in the opening scene. Jump two years ahead to our current story, where a bunch of kids show up at the titular HELL FEST for some scares. The kids feature a few more sympathetic members, especially Amy Forsyth (also currently in the movie BEAUTIFUL BOY, and on such shows as RISE, 2018, and CHANNEL ZERO, 2017) as Natalie, who is pretty much the lead here. Sweet, shy, and very likable, Natalie is having a rough time with classes in college when she comes back home for a little R&R, namely hanging out with her BFF Brooke (Reign Edwards, of the TV shows MACGYVER, 2017-2018, and SNOWFALL, 2017-2018).

Natalie is a little bummed to see that Brooke now lives with roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, who was terrific as “Bullet” on the third season of the AMC series THE KILLING IN 2013, but isn’t given much to work with here), a punky girl who they both went to school with, and who Natalie is sure doesn’t like her (Taylor frequently calls Natalie the nickname “Grade School”). But any discomfort is sidetracked by the fact that Gavin, a boy Natalie likes, has gotten them all tickets to the annual HELL FEST of the title. While Natalie clearly isn’t a big fan of being scared, the idea of spending some time with Gavin (Roby Attal), who actually asked about her while she was gone, clearly makes the visit home a little better. Like Natalie, Gavin is awkward but sweet, and they clearly seem to be hitting it off once everyone gathers at the festival to be scared. Also along for the ride are Taylor’s boyfriend, Asher (Matt Mercurio), and Brooke’s boyfriend, Quinn (Christian James), who are also friends of Gavin, and regularly tease him for being so nerdy. Asher and Quinn, however, are easily the least interesting of our college-aged protagonists.

Our killer from that first scene/flashback, who then wore a devil mask, comes to the same festival Natalie and her friends are at, this time with a rather generic zombie mask, and the hood of his hoodie pulled up. He fixates on Natalie pretty early on after killing another girl in front of her (the kids think it’s part of the show, but Natalie thinks something is wrong, since it seems to “real”), and starts following her around the park.

The park and horror mazes themselves are interesting enough, providing lots of spooky tableaus where we wonder if the threats are real or not. Lots of jump scares where costumed creeps pop out of hidden doors, and of course, our homicidal bad guy mixed in for good measure. Who will die and when? Well, our killer takes his sweet time being a creepy stalker before he actually commences with the slaughter. In the meantime, at least we get a  cameo by Tony “Candyman” Todd as a master of ceremonies during an on-stage guillotine bit, but his appearance is “cut” much too short. 

Natalie is creeped out to keep seeing the zombie-mask guy always nearby and watching her, but everyone else laughs it off. They only take her worries less seriously when they reach a part of the maze/park where numerous people are dressed exactly like the killer (thus making it hard to figure out which one is really dangerous). When he finally gets tired of watching and starts killing, however, the murders come pretty close together.

Aside from park where it’s set (which actually gets to be fun at times) and some of the acting (specifically Forsyth and Edwards, who are likable and sympathetic throughout), there’s not much new here to reinvigorate the genre. Slasher movies gotta slash, and this one is no exception. As I mentioned, I found the killer’s mask particularly bland in this one, and there’s not much to distinguish him from lots of similar killers in lots of other movies. Although a semi-clever ending clearly sets things up for a sequel that may or may not ever happen (I don’t think this did very well at the box office).

HELL FEST is directed well enough by Plotkin, with a scrift by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper, based on a story by William Penick and Christopher Sey (that’s a lot of people involved for a script that’s so forgettable). But in the end, it’s a pretty mediocre movie, and an unremarkable slasher entry.

I give it two knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HELL FEST – two knives.

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