Archive for the ‘3 stars’ Category

I have an enormously, wretchedly conflicted relationship with the Conjuring franchise.

On one hand, I love everything about the first movie.  Ghost stories are my favorite of basically any kind of narrative ever, and I adored just about every detail of The Conjuring – from the glorious Lili Taylor and her sympathetic family, to the amazing bond of love and faith between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, to the completely believable performances from everyone involved, to the sheer creepiness at every turn.  I have watched The Conjuring a dozen times and I never get tired of it.

On the other hand, all this love for the first movie doesn’t play well with my utter blood-in-the-eyes rage at the fact that Ed and Lorraine Warren are (or were, in Ed’s case) real people who made their living selling vulnerable, frightened, superstitious people a crock of particularly evil bullshit.  It’s really almost exactly like watching a movie that casts an amazing actor in the role of Donald Trump and takes enough storytelling liberties to turn him into a deeply sympathetic and lovable character, possibly saving kittens from trees and single-handedly preventing 9/11.  As much as you might adore the character onscreen, you can’t get around the fact that it’s supposed to be Donald fucking Trump, and the cognitive dissonance is not pleasant.

So it was with trepidation that I queued up The Conjuring 2.  Would it, like The Conjuring, be awesome enough to make me forget I was watching a whitewashing of the Donald and Melania Trump of the paranormal world?  Could my heart-deep love for Farmiga and Wilson in anything they do keep my “BUT ACTUALLY NO” rage in check for 134 minutes?

Well, the answer is yes and no.

The whole thing with the Amityville Horror tie-in just pissed me off, as Amityville Horror related things are wont to do.  Because: you know who else were real people?  The DeFeos.  And an unfathomably horrible thing happened to them, and they still have living family who lost loved ones, and those children who were gunned down in their beds by their own brother deserve better than to be a punchline or a plot device.  You want to talk about the Lutzes and their campaign to bilk the mortgage company out of an astronomical loan?  Open season.  Have at it.  But for fuck’s sake have the decency to leave real-life murdered children, real little corpses buried in real graves, out of it.

Eventually, though, the Amityville nonsense went away, and I was reminded of how in love I am with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga and the amazing relationship between their characters.  Basically, Patrick Wilson did an Elvis impersonation and sang “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and Vera Farmiga stared at him all melty-eyed, and that was it for my resistance.

Oh, wait.  There was a plot here.  And to be honest, it wasn’t that awesome a plot.  There was a nun whose scariness seemed limited to glaring at people, and a Crooked Man whose scariness was limited to, I guess, snarling at people, and a hapless old dude, and a foreboding-looking tree trunk of the Poltergeist variety.  There’s also the whole story of the Enfield Poltergeist, which is mostly just an unconvincing frame for Vera Farmiga vanquishing a demon.  The plot was okay, I guess, but not a patch on the first movie.  Also, if I were Vera Farmiga, I would have beaten the living fuck out of a husband who chose the life of a random kid who was probably faking it over our daughter’s right to grow up with her father.  All in all, it was fine, but not a patch on The Conjuring.

So what’s the verdict?  Three stars.  It just barely kept me from projectile-vomiting rage blood all over my TV at the sheer assholery of the real-life Warrens.  A tiny bit less well-crafted, cast with actors the smallest bit less talented and believable, and this would have been an utter exploitative cluster-fuck of a movie.  James Wan seems to have a gift for crafting movies that avoid catastrophe by the narrowest of margins, and this was one, but I hope the next movie in the franchise serves him better than this one.

PS:  I am totally single, Patrick Wilson.  Just saying.



Continuing Philadelphia’s grand tradition of outdoor movie fests, Awesomefest presented a double feature of Fright Night and Child’s play.  This was the first time I’ve seen either on the big screen since back in the day when you could take a family of four to the movies without having to take out a second mortgage, and it was a lot of fun.

So how have these two ’80s classics aged?  Well, surprisingly differently.  Fright Night is as flawless now as it was the day it was released, even allowing for the inevitable goofiness the 80s left behind on everything they touched.  (The dance scene in the club, oy.)  Child’s Play, not so much.

The problem is that once you get past the conceit of a killer doll – and let’s face it, after 25 years of the Chucky franchise, we’re all pretty over it – you’d better be able to fall back on the performances to make the movie worth watching.  And the performances in Child’s Play are just bad.  Oh, they are bad.  Chris Sarandon, who knocked the ball out of the park as the smirky and charismatic vampire in Fright Night three years earlier, here can’t get off a convincing line reading to save his life; he sounds (and acts) like he’d rather be doing drain cleaner commercials.  Catherine Hicks seems like she’s doing an okay job at first, but fails so singularly to differentiate her character in Child’s Play from her character in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that I left the movie convinced that in a couple of years her son was going to die in a tragic accident, leaving her determined to make a new life for herself in California where she will pursue her lifelong interest in marine biology.

As for Alex Vincent, the child actor on whose shoulders and reactions half this movie is carried… well, he was like six years old.  The lesson here is: do not put your movie on the shoulders of a six-year-old.  They can’t actually act and it’s only going to be painful to watch them try.

Not, in fairness, that Fright Night gets away scot-free on the bad acting front.  Amanda Bearse, who did a perfectly good job on Married With Children, here can’t seem to figure out how to recite her lines in a way that won’t make her sound like she’s doing a cold read off cue cards, while Stephen Geoffreys, despite a number of inspired moments, works the Evil Ed schtick far too hard.  (Granted, his try-hardness is half the point of his character, but it’s so unrelentingly cringe-inducing that it distracts from the rest of the film.)  But Fright Night has so many other advantages in the casting department that it almost doesn’t matter: Roddy McDowall of blessed memory, who never met a scene he couldn’t steal; William Ragsdale, who should have had a much bigger career than he’s had, and whose only flaw here is that he doesn’t seem to actually like his girlfriend very much; and even Sarandon gives off sparks every time he’s on-camera.  The energy of the cast draws you in and charms you, where Child’s Play‘s unrelenting lack of energy, charm, or humor just made me tired.

Actually, in retrospect, I’m sort of surprised at how little humor I found in Child’s Play, since snarky black humor courtesy of Chucky is supposed to be the hallmark of the franchise.  It has its moments, and I wasn’t expecting it to actually be horror comedy a la Shaun of the Dead; but an awful lot of the humor seemed to depend on the situational absurdity of a doll doing things like screaming obscenities and stabbing people.  This is a lot like trying to build comedy from children screaming obscenities and stabbing people.  Sure, those things can be funny; but things aren’t inherently funny just because children do them, and they’re not inherently funny just because dolls do them either.  You have to work a little harder for it than that.

So what’s the verdict?  Fright Night gets four stars, and only misses five because it exists in the same universe as The Lost Boys.  Child’s Play gets three stars.  The internet appears confused as to whether or not a Child’s Play reboot is in the works; usually I take a dim view of reboots, but that’s one I’d like to see.  I think there was a lot of creativity in the movie that was hamstrung by a lackluster script and acting so bad that even Brad Dourif couldn’t bring up the average, and I’d like to see someone else give it another try.

The Echo (2008)

Posted: September 17, 2012 in 3 stars, Reviews, The Echo
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Well, damn.  Thank you, The Echo.

I’ve been on a real losing streak with regard to my choice of movies lately.  The Echo broke that streak nicely and provided me with an actually enjoyable viewing experience.  Behold:

1.  It looked like an honest to god movie, filmed with legitimate movie-filming equipment by people who had a production budget containing more than four digits.  (Unlike The Pact and Absentia.)

2.  The actors behaved like people receiving a paycheck to convince me that they are real human beings to whom strange and frightening things are happening.  (The Pact and Absentia again.)

3.  The movie made sense, and the action and pacing were tight, with no scenes that looked like they wandered in from a completely different movie.  (The Yellow Wallpaper.)

4.  I liked the characters.  Yes, even the guy who just got out of jail for manslaughter.  Not even once in this movie did I petition God to kill off one of the protagonists.  (Wicked Little Things.)

5.  The ending suited the movie and did not appear to be inserted in there at random.  (The Pact, The Yellow Wallpaper.)

Okay, so all this sounds like it’s damning with faint praise.  But I think even if I’d seen it after, say, Stir of Echoes, I’d still have enjoyed this movie.

East Village denizen Bobby (Jesse Bradford), newly released from prison on an involuntary manslaughter charge, comes home to the apartment where his mother died while he was in the joint.  He tries to reconnect with his friends, who largely want nothing to do with him now, and his adorable ex-girlfriend Alyssa (Amelia Warner), who sort of wants nothing to do with him but is willing to be convinced.  As he’s dealing with cleaning out his mother’s things and working through his grief, he starts hearing all sorts of unpleasant things – scratching, whispers, the guy next door beating his family.

Things just get weirder from there.  The things he hears and sees get worse.  He finds out some unpleasant things about the state of his mother’s mental health.  The family next door gets more and more disturbing.  Alyssa starts hearing things too.  Of course, it turns out that what’s going on is GHOSTS, and you know how pissy ghosts get if you don’t figure out what they want and give it to them.

The Echo is cut from the same cloth as Red Sands and Forget Me Not – it’s a low-budget, unmarketed, unassuming movie that you don’t have high expectations of until you watch it and it turns out against all expectations to be really good.  Bradford and the script between them did an amazing job of getting me invested in Bobby; the scenes where he’s wandering around sort of lost in his mother’s apartment, trying to figure out what to do with her things, are genuinely sad.  The creepiness factor starts early, ramps up slowly but inexorably, and carries through right until the end.  There’s just enough injection of social issues to give it bite but not enough to make it preachy, which is a balance almost no one ever manages to strike.

The tagline says it’s from the executive producers of The Ring and The Grudge.  I don’t know what executive producers do so I don’t know how significant that really is, but the movie does carry that faint vibe of a good American remake of a good foreign movie, so you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s a remake or adaptation or something of a 2004 Filipino movie of the same name.  I haven’t seen the original, but that’s fine with me – the remake was satisfying enough.

So what’s the verdict?  Three stars.  Not only is it worth a watch, I may add it to my DVD library.

You know what’s awesome?  Scratching the surface of an almost-direct-to-video movie on Netflix and finding, against all odds, that you’ve unearthed a clever, involving, genuinely creepy film.

Sandy (Carly Schroeder) and her friends have this game they play.  In graveyards.  At night.  (You are excused for thinking this sounds like a bad idea already.)  One person is the ghost and goes around tagging other people, who then become ghosts themselves and chase everyone else around until eventually the last person left “alive” is the winner.  One night they’re out playing, and suddenly Random Creepy Chick pops out from behind a tombstone.

RANDOM CREEPY CHICK:  Hey, can I play?  We’ll all just pretend I’m not clearly crazier than a shithouse rat.

SANDY AND FRIENDS:  Er… sure, I guess.

RANDOM CREEPY CHICK:  Sandy!  Don’t you remember me?

SANDY:  Hell no, I think I would have remembered crazy-eye of that impressive degree.

RANDOM CREEPY CHICK:  Ooh!  You’re going to regret that.

And lo and behold, Sandy does.  Not right away; but pretty soon her friends start getting slaughtered one by one.  And here’s the clever part: as soon as they die, they’re basically written out of the universe as if they had never existed.  No one remembers them.  The lives of the survivors are rearranged around the absence, so subtly at first that it legitimately took me a while to figure out what was going on.  And sure enough, the more people die, the more ghosts there are to chase the living around, until eventually there’s only one left.

Now, the “Person X disappears and no one remembers they existed except Person Y” trope is not new, to be sure.  It’s just that it’s done so well here, and you’re allowed to figure out for yourself what’s going on instead of having huge amounts of expository dialogue beating you over the head all the way through.  It doesn’t hurt that the acting is above par and the characters – mirabile dictu – are, despite being teenagers, actually ones I was sorry to see go.  Usually herds of movie teenagers are so unpleasant that it gives me a sort of grim satisfaction to watch them get picked off one by one, but not here.

So what’s the verdict?  I think I need a wider rating scale.  Call this one three and a half stars.  It’s not quite a four-star movie, but it’s head and shoulders above the three-star pack.  It’s creative, respectful of its audience, and genuinely scary in places.  Highly recommended.

In every found-footage movie I’ve ever seen, there comes a point when the scriptwriters, “cleverly” anticipating audience objections, have one of the characters demand something to the effect of “Why are you still filming, you freak?”  There has not been a single instance in found-footage-movie history where someone has produced a satisfactory answer to that question.  I would like to suggest that maybe in future films we should just skip that exchange and stipulate that someone will always be That Freak Who Keeps Filming.

I actually wasn’t going to watch Grave Encounters, mostly because of the whole found-footage thing.  I am so done with found footage, Hollywood.  Unless your name is actually Jaume Balagueró, please stop using it.  The odds that you will actually do anything original or clever with it are vanishingly small.

However, both Unkle Lancifer from Kindertrauma and Andre from The Horror Digest reported that Grave Encounters was great fun, and I have a huge weakness for abandoned mental hospitals, so I queued it up on Netflix.

Right out of the starting gate, Grave charmed me with a hilariously spot-on parody of risible network reality-show intros.  The basic plot of the film is that a team of “ghost hunters” – who don’t seem to actually believe in ghosts, but do any of them? – are filming a ghost-hunting reality show in the abandoned Collingwood (ha) mental hospital, the history of which seems to borrow pretty liberally from the “Asylum” episode of Supernatural.  There’s some truly amusing setup in which they interview various people about ghostly goings-on (the gardener steadfastly denies having seen anything weird until he gets a cash payment, and then there are ghosts all over the place).  Then they’re locked into the hospital for the night, which turns out to be a bad move.

The first hints of weird happenings are both relatively subtle and great fun – things move when people’s backs are turned, doors slam unexpectedly, and so forth.  Then the haunting stuff started in earnest, and I was reminded of the second reason I don’t like found-footage movies: they mostly involve running and screaming (the characters) and motion sickness (me).

What I saw of it after that was pretty good.  There were places where the special effects fell down a bit – the ghost photos had more of gravy than of grave about them, and one guy apparently dies when he’s thrown down a hallway at a speed and distance that wouldn’t have seriously injured me, let alone a man half again my size.   But the actual ghosts are fun and creepy, the group’s descent into the freakout zone is well paced, and the show’s host (Sean Rogerson) shows a reserve of spine and determination entirely unexpected from someone who does reality shows for a living.  I think I would really have enjoyed it if the camera work hadn’t made me as sick as a dog.

So what’s the verdict?  Honestly?  It depends on how prone you are to motion sickness.  There were some good scares, some clever shots, a funny send-up of the reality-show industry, and fewer unlikeable characters than one might expect.  On the other hand, it almost made me lose my lunch.  If you get motion sick, I can’t entirely recommend it; at the least, you’ll need to start pacing yourself with the amount of time you actually spend looking at the movie fairly early on.  I’m giving the movie three stars on its own merits, because if you can overlook the nausea it induces it’s a pretty fun movie.  If you’re easily nauseated, though, knock off a star and weigh costs versus benefits carefully.  Or at least take Dramamine first.

“The Baby’s Room,” one of six films on Spain’s Films to Keep You Awake compilation, is an entertaining and worthwhile (if not entirely satisfying) film from director Álex de la Iglesia.  I mention the director off the bat because the only other movie of his I’ve seen is the incoherent and tedious The Oxford Murders, so now I consider myself compensated for having sat through the latter movie.

In all honesty, the storyline in “The Baby’s Room” is not a model of coherence either.  I’m still not quite sure how exactly everything happened that happened.  (Ghosts?  Demonic possession?  Quantum physics? What?)  Fortunately, though, it’s an entertaining enough journey that I didn’t feel like I enjoyed the movie less for not having had a cast-iron grip on every single plot detail.

Sports writer Juan, his wife Sonia, and their new baby – walking away with a hands-down victory in the Most Adorable Family in the Horror Canon competition – move into a very large, very old house that should be expensive but wasn’t because (a) it needs renovating, and (b) no one lives there for very long.  I keep trying to find a house like this myself but have thus far been unsuccessful, so I guess people in horror movies are better at house-hunting on Craigslist than I am.

Soon, though, things start falling apart.  Juan and Sonia hear voices from the baby’s room over the monitor, but there’s no one there.  Juan buys a video baby monitor, sees a man actually sitting by the crib, and justly freaks out.  He becomes more and more obsessed with burglars, then with the idea that the house might be haunted, until Sonia gives up and packs the baby off to her mother’s.  This leaves Juan at the house with a wall full of baby video monitors – through which, in a wonderfully creepy set piece, he watches a man murder his wife and baby, in real time, while in the world outside the video camera Juan is alone in the house.

(While all this is going on, by the way, Juan is also having to cope with the demands of his day job.  This is a rather wondrous departure from American horror movies, where hauntings seem to be largely a problem afflicting the independently wealthy.)

Half the fun of The Baby’s Room is trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.  Is Juan seeing an old murder enacted by ghosts?  Is it a recording of the murder stored somehow in the house’s very walls?  Is it a portal to a parallel universe where Juan is actually seeing some sort of mirror-Juan with more than a few screws loose?  Is Juan just cracking up and having hallucinations?  You only actually find out the answer to one of those questions, in a Twilight Zone-ish ending that feels more satisfying than it objectively should; but if you resign yourself to going “Enh, sometimes things are ineffable,” it’s a fun ride anyway.

So what’s the verdict?  Three stars.  I think half the reason I enjoyed this as much as I did is that Juan and Sonia are so engaging.  I’d probably have been a lot less forgiving of the film’s few weaknesses if it was framed around the typical, vaguely off-putting WASP couple beloved of most horror-movie directors, living a life of suspect affluence rudely interrupted by ghosts.  (Disclosure: I watched part of 1999’s In Dreams yesterday before Annette Bening and Aidan Quinn so got on my last nerve that I had to turn it off.)  I can deal with the occasional movie where even the people we’re supposed to sympathize with are pretty unpleasant, but not a steady diet of them; so the charming and unpretentious family in “The Baby’s Room” were a welcome breath of fresh air as well as just being enjoyable to watch.

Anyway, rants about unsympathetic main characters aside, “The Baby’s Room” is definitely worth the watch.  I may have to check out the other five movies in the release.

Right to Die (2007)

Posted: February 18, 2012 in 3 stars, Reviews, Right to Die
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And the 2007 Ed Gein Award for Least Competent Body Disposal in a Work of Film goes to… Dr. Cliff Addison!

Pity poor Cliff (Martin Donovan).  (Or don’t.  He’s a real dick.)  His wife Abbey (Julia Benson) gets hideously burned in a car accident that happened while he was driving.  He’s very sad about that, but he’s also going to be ten million dollars richer once the lawsuit against the car company goes through – unless his mother-in-law scores it with her media campaign to stop the Do Not Resuscitate order Cliff requested out of what, in fairness, certainly seemed to be a genuine desire to do right by his rather shallow wife.

Of course, that’s before he figures out that every time Abbey’s heart stops she slips the leash and starts killing people.  That realization’s a real game-changer.

“Right to Die” delivers the gory hilarity that “The Washingtonians” aimed for and missed.  Any show that gives me the glorious visual of severed body parts falling off the top of a SmartCar like plywood bits out of a broken IKEA crate pretty much wins that game; not to mention the sheer satisfaction of watching thoroughly unpleasant people die in creative ways.

Actually, I’m only assuming Abbey was an unpleasant person before the events of the movie.  I don’t even care.  I love her.  I want to have a standing Sunday brunch with her and watch her drown the barista in a terrible steamed-milk incident if he accidentally gives her soy instead of 2%.

So what’s the verdict?  Three stars.  Three and a half, let’s say.  I almost gave it four just for the sheer hilarity of the last ten or fifteen minutes.  If you like horror comedy, you’ll want to watch this one.

The Strain (2009)

Posted: November 25, 2010 in 3 stars, Reviews, The Strain
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Reading The Strain is weirdly like reading an alternate-universe version of Blade II, sort of like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is an AU of Card Captor Sakura.  So many of the same elements are there that in a way it’s impossible for the book to surprise if you’ve seen the movie:  vampirism as virus; the physical description of the vampires; the stingers on the tongues; the way they congregate underground like rats; even the UV hand grenades and the World Health Organization have cameos.  So it’s fortunate for the book, and for us, that Blade II was, hands-down, the best movie of the series.

The Strain is the first in a trilogy, the basic plot of which is this: a European vampire, one of seven “original” vampires in the vaguely Anne Rice-ean sense, comes to America on a 777, brought over by Douchebag Rich Guy;  Douchebag Rich Guy, of course, wants to live forever and has apparently never seen any of the 1023980983 horror movies on the theme of “Sucking up to powerful supernatural creatures because you want to live forever is only going to end in tears, honest to god.”  The plane lands on the runway at JFK and promptly goes dark, triggering some of the best and most tightly suspenseful scenes in the book as all sorts of government security agencies respond to what initially appears to be some sort of terrorist attack.  It’s like a 20th-century, high-tech re-envisioning of the landing of the Demeter at Whitby.

Enter the main characters: Ephraim Goodweather, CDC; his colorless girlfriend and co-worker Nora, who may be given things to do in subsequent books but is deadweight in this one; his son Zack; and Abraham (no, really; yeah, I know) Setrakian, Holocaust survivor and vampire hunter.  Ephraim is hard to convince on the whole vampire front, but it doesn’t take more than a handful of reanimated corpses trying to eat him and his loved ones before he comes around.

The book has two authors – Guillermo del Toro, director of the aforementioned Blade II, and Chuck Hogan – and it shows.  Del Toro as a filmmaker has a wonderful eye for the visual composition of a scene, a thing rarer among filmmakers than one might expect; Del Toro as a writer has a distinctly cinematic style.  I have no way of knowing who wrote what prose, but the quality is variable.  The first scenes, as mentioned, are stunning – tight-wound and brilliantly visual, superbly blocked and paced.  Unfortunately, the writing falls down in the last few chapters; it becomes clunky and weirdly mannered, as if it were written by someone who has read a lot of skilled writing and a lot of really atrocious writing without really understanding the former or having enough skill himself to avoid picking up bad habits from the latter.  The Strain would have been good for four stars if it had gone on as it started.

And if it had had a better villain, honestly.  The Big Bad here is a shadowy archetype, nowhere near as effective or charismatic as B2‘s Nomak.  He’s more reminiscent of the villain in The Keep, less a personality than a vague embodiment of OMGEVOL. It’s a shame, because of the humans, even the minor characters are immediately engaging and fully fleshed out.

So what’s the verdict? Three stars.  If whoever wrote the first scenes writes the rest of the books, that rating might go up; either way, though, I’m interested enough to continue the series.

My take on this movie was colored a little by my conviction that taking pictures of random people is creepy as shit and should earn you a restraining order, not a place in a photography exhibit.  So figuring out who to get behind in The Midnight Meat Train required some extended negotiations that went something like this:

Leon, the main character: “Oh hai, chick who’s about to be sexually assaulted.  I’m going to stand here taking pictures of you while you’re being threatened with a knife, instead of screaming for a cop or something.  Because I am Edgy.”

Me:  “Wow.  I hope you die in a fire.”

Mahogany (and ouch, if that isn’t the most undignified name for a serial killer since Early Grayce):  *smashes eyeballs*

Me:  “Ew.”

Creepy Conductor Guy:  “Mahogany, that was sloppy.  I AM DISAPPOINT.”

Me:  “Jeez, how mean.  Okay, maybe I’m on Team Freakish Butcher Dude.”

Maya, The Girlfriend:  “I’m doing my best, here, but Leon’s kind of a creep.”

Me:  “Okay, maybe I’ll be on Team Girlfriend -”

Maya:  “Oh wait, I’m going to be That Stupid Horror Movie Chick and get my friend killed.”

Me: “- or maybe not.”

Brooke Shields: “Hey, I’ve aged amazingly well, haven’t I?”

Me:  “And you’re well-dressed!  Team Brooke!”

Still and all, I always enjoy Clive Barker movies, and I enjoyed this one.  Leon (Bradley Cooper) is an aspiring photographer whose avowed mission is to capture the Heart Of The City on film, which he explains to gallery owner Brooke Shields using language of such excruciating triteness  that you have to figure Barker is making fun of someone, or a whole class of someones.  Brooke rightfully sends him away with a flea in his ear, so back Leon goes into the subway to take edgier pictures or die trying.  Soon he realizes that an awful lot of his subjects are going missing, and that the same beefy guy shows up in an awful lot of those pictures – Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), the mute butcher who actually is going around slaughtering people on trains in the night.  Cue Leon’s obsession with the whole thing, a lot of pictures on actual film, and things ending badly for many, many people.

The Midnight Meat Train is probably the most overtly Lovecraftian movie of Barker’s that I’ve seen, which doesn’t thrill me because I don’t love Lovecraft, but it makes for a neat twist ending.  The performances are good, the visuals are nicely bleak, and Mahogany – who could easily have gotten shoehorned into a Generic Guy Killing People – wound up being someone I’d really have liked to know more about.  And Creepy Conductor Dude is creepy, holy shit.

So what’s the verdict? Three stars.  It can’t compete with Hellraiser or Candyman, but it’s solidly in there with Nightbreed.  I might have had trouble figuring out who to root for, but the movie kept me involved and entertained.  I have to say, though, I never understood the hate for CGI blood until now.  Yeah, Hollywood, no.  Please bring back the ketchup or whatever it was you were using before.

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There’s not much to I Sell the Dead, but it’s an entertaining movie, funny in that very strange British way and moderately awesome.

Dominic Monaghan, who once told me my daughter was cute and therefore can do no wrong in my eyes, plays resurrectionist Arthur Blake, whose partner, Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), is guillotined at the beginning of the movie.  Arthur, awaiting the headsman’s block himself, is visited in his cell by Father Duffy, who has come to write down Arthur’s dying words of penitence.

(Duffy is played by Ron Perlman, who according to his imdb page is set to play Elvis in 2011’s Bubba Nosferatu.  I disapprove of this.  Bubba Ho-Tep is flawless and requires no sequel, but if it did have one, Elvis should only be played by Bruce Campbell.  No offense to Perlman, who did an effective turn as Reinhardt in Blade 2; it’s just one of those things.)

At any rate, Arthur and Willie are fairly run-of-the-mill as resurrectionists go, stealing cadavers for a creepy physician who threatens to turn them over to the police if they don’t keep him in a fresh supply.  Downtrodden, they dig up graves, raid wakes, and generally scrape by until – in one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie – they dig up a suicide at the crossroads and take the stake out of her heart.  That proves to be a bad idea, though the enterprising Willie quickly finds the silver lining and sets the zombie on the creepy doctor.

It turns out, conveniently enough, that selling the undead is more lucrative than selling the dead – but Arthur and Willie’s new career pits them against the House of Murphy, a group of homicidal whackjobs determined to control the undead trade in England.  Soon the two of them are trapped between the House of Murphy and Arthur’s grasping whackjob of a girlfriend, and the poor guys, all they want is to sell some zombies and buy a round at the pub.

So what’s the verdict? Three stars.  Fair warning, this isn’t the fastest-moving film in the world, but there are more than enough hilarious moments if you meet it at its own pace and the ending is all sorts of awesome.

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