Yellowbrickroad (2010)

written and directed by andy mitton & jesse holland
points north

It is inevitable that this picture will make viewers think of The Blair Witch Project, even those like me who haven’t seen the precursory feature. Truth be told, this production brought to mind a passel of other films as well, although largely as vague hints or impressions, mainly evoked by the hallucinatory effects of people losing their grips on reality as they head into the hills. (One such flick that I’ve reviewed here would be Cold Ground.) Philosophical implications abound – especially the metaphysical – and the fact that everyone winds up alone in his or her struggle for life, though perhaps not so profound, reveals itself gradually enough to be quietly impressive. The ending, not so much … but points are awarded for the overall lack of any explanation of the events. Sometimes a mystery just is, and as forest service representative “Cy” points out, one needn’t go seeking answers for every question. (“These questions … never needed to be fuckin’ asked” is how he more colorfully puts it.)


why did i watch this movie?

It was recommended to me in an online forum.


should you watch this movie?

That isn’t the worst idea, though you may not be convinced for a little while. But for such a deceptively simple story, there’s a lot to ponder.


highlight and low point

When we meet a new character – a potentially suspicious one, at that – and discover that her name is “Liv.” I’m laughing right now thinking about it. The sound FX, and occasional lack thereof, often can be quite stunning. This feature also maintains a bit of a mockumentary feel without resorting to the “found footage” canard. The “Wizard of Oz” link is debatable; other moments of referentialism suggest themselves.

rating from outer space: B+

Scare Package (2019)

directed by emily hagins, aaron b. koontz, chris mcinroy, noah segan, courtney & Hillary andujar, anthony cousins, baron vaughn
paper street pictures

So this is a kind of anthology, a parodic meta horror potpourri, almost certainly bearing a superfluous section or two but still wildly entertaining. If you love horror movies (and lampooning them) even a little bit as much as these folks do, it’s a fair enough diversion. Personally, I thought the “One Time in the Woods” segment was going to cause me brain damage, plumbing the depths of inspired idiocy on a dadaistic level I’ve rarely experienced since meeting Snake ‘N’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret 20 years ago. I was nearly in hysterics. “The NIght He Came Back Again! Part IV – The Final Kill,” meanwhile, is almost as good, absurdly reducing its depiction of a July 4th-themed holiday slasher to the barest essence. Sure, it’s more than occasionally too obvious, and The Cabin in the Woods exists, but Joe Bob Briggs playing himself at a critical moment suggests a certain acknowledgement. An unsubtle picture that must unfortunately wait to meet its true fate until people can gather en masse at frightfests again.

why did i watch this movie?

The trailer juiced the passé concept.

should you watch this movie?

If you think I specialize in missing the point, the reviewer at rogerebert.com prattles on about how this flick “has no good answers” to whatever postulation he’s imagined, dismissing “this sort of pandering humor” while unapologetically using the term “janky.”

highlight and low point

Undead Roger Ebert there misquotes Briggs’s observation that the character Rad Chad is “the personification of what the internet did to film criticism” while decrying this film’s burlesque. It’s a send-up, pal. Amazon Women on the Moon didn’t resolve the B-movie, either.


rating from outer space: B

We Summon the Darkness (2019)

directed by marc meyers
fyzz pictures/common enemy/nightshade entertainment

I’m not sure it makes any sense that this film is set in “1988,” at least not for contemporary viewers who don’t remember the era. The “Satanic Panic” that gripped media and for a time engulfed the practitioners and fans of heavy metal isn’t really represented here, and hardly any attention is paid to the actual sights and sounds of the moment, either. So what you have is a story that primes the audience for what it hopes is an unexpected reveal, and after that it becomes just another survival saga. The setup: three chicks head to a metal concert (where a band pretends they’re performing “Black Funeral” by Mercyful Fate), meet three dudes, and proceed to a big house for an afterparty. But someone’s been ritually slaughtering people, oh no. Elements of humor suggest themselves but don’t really go anywhere, and if you cannot predict several of the events in this flick … Hey! Welcome to the world of horror cinema!

why did i watch this movie?

I hadn’t been too interested, but positive acclaim persisted.


should you watch this movie?

The female trio consists of Texas Chainsaw 3D‘s Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson from God Bless America (not that I recognized her), and Amy Forsyth from Hell Fest, which yet awaits its own compelling campaign to stoke enough
interest in me.

highlight and low point

Once the maleficent plan starts to leak and burn oil, it should probably be a lot funnier than it is. Once the grand scheme is revealed, you will likely not be surprised to hear, it contains some serious gaps in logic. A key moment from the conclusion also beggars belief. This is not a retro ’80s picture; it’s just (nominally) set then.

rating from outer space: C

Sadistic Intentions (2019)

written & directed by eric pennycoff
midnight treehouse/feast & bourbon films/alexander groupe/79th & Broadway entertainment

Plot twists, or maybe thematic twists, are pretty much this film’s modus operandi, and for the most part, they’re not all that predictable – and even the ones that are receive a little tweak. At about three-quarters of the way through this fable, I thought that what may have been intended to be some sort of dark comedy was about to veer into a disturbing realm that few films ever broach. Such a move would have been disheartening, nay, dispiriting, and it was with a palpable sense of dread that I waited to see if the director had chosen that path. Nope. He didn’t entirely cop out, either, however, so that was refreshing. But – this could have become a really remarkable examination of how things can spiral out of control and seemingly ordinary people can become trapped by circumstances and wind up making absolutely terrible, life-shattering decisions. In one sense, it still is, only the profound lack of empathy at its core finishes much differently. The actual ending is disconcertingly funny in its own special way.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, the trailer was intriguing, though I wavered for quite a while because I had envisioned something more ironic and postmodern.

should you watch this movie?

A guy invites over his bandmate and a prospective drug buyer; they don’t know each other. And where is he, anyway?

highlight and low point

Right, there’s only three people in this picture, and two of them are tremendous. The third, however, basically channels Crispin Glover, which is fairly distracting. This T-shirt, however, was jaw-dropping:

I haven’t been so envious in a long time. Oh, yeah – this movie involves death metal, mostly as a framing device.

rating from outer space: B+

Bit (2019)

written and directed by brad michael elmore
provocator/thirty 06 productions

So, the general premise here – young person seeking definition finds group of vampire peers – may not sound very fresh and exciting, but … the hook is that the young person is transgender, and the vampires are militant feminist lesbians. Hey, you got your polemics in my genre picture! (Men in particular take it on the chin here.) And I almost skipped over it just because that description sounds like a bit of a forced narrative. As I’m a cis male, though, maybe my perspective is skewed. But I AM gonna grumble that it’s set in L.A.. How come no young person can find fulfillment in a coming-of-age tale of self-discovery set in, like, Dubuque? Or Des Moines, perfect example. Ultimately, there’s no real empowerment message here, and in fact I’d wager there’s an anti-defamation group or two out there just stewing, alongside the fundamentalists. Hell, in one reading, the transgender arc can be spun as negative . Either way, the conversation happened, ya dig. This picture did remind me of The Lost Boys, though, which could be a troubling sign since I’ve never even seen it.


why did i watch this movie?

A spot of banter in the trailer.


should you watch this movie?

No fooling, if you like to debate coded messages, you could have a fun time with this one.


highlight and low point

Despite the clunky and perhaps cliché setup, and pointedly misandrist diatribes notwithstanding, the LGBTQIA+ bent didn’t strike me as a contrivance … because it isn’t presented as such. That the embodiment of the central metaphor is allowed to have personality flaws instead of bearing the standard of wishcasting idealism is instructive. Which doesn’t preclude the potential for friendly fire from obstinate axegrinders, unfortunately.

Rating from outer space: B

Beloved Beast (2018)

written & directed by jonathan holbrook
chronicle factory

An independently produced horror picture with a complex if not exactly visionary storyline, this film suffers a bit from some copycat conceptualization, but more from abysmal pacing. It’s not that it’s nearly three (3!) hours long – 2:53:15 – but that the delivery of the dialogue is too deliberate by half. There’s no rhythm or carry to the conversations; everyone seems to be a half-beat off and a second too slow. This abets some scenes, as a hazy, dark undercurrent runs through much of the operation, but otherwise it can be a bit off-putting. Also, the cinematography often looks cut-rate, too digital, too sharp. And if you wanted, I guess you could quibble with some of the performers’ chops. But! It’s an impressive accomplishment nonetheless: A little girl is orphaned by drunk driving, goes to live with her aunt who couldn’t possibly care less, befriends an escaped mental patient with a proclivity for massacring every living person he encounters. Oh, and there’s a fairy-tale conceit and a nasty crime ring involved, plus a weather-worn and sardonic sense of naturalism. Don’t let my faint praise be too damning.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t recall; it’s been waiting on the list for nigh on a year.

should you watch this movie?

Not if you have an attention deficit.


highlight and low point

The filmmakers – cast, crew and production staff intermingle – delve ever deeper into the more awful side of the oxymoronic term “humankind” without seeming to revel in it for the sake of spectacle. That being said, what should be an unrelentingly bleak experience never quite plunges that low, prodding to the fore some potentially unsettling ruminations on one’s conceptions of compassion and moral judgment. Contains a few passably witty allusions.

rating from outer space: B−

Come to Daddy (2019)

directed by ant timpson
nowhere/new zealand film commission/scythia/firefly films/blinder films

What seemingly begins as a relationship experiment – with hints vaguely reminiscent of the discomfort underpinning Creep – abandons that tack fairly quickly as it heads into somewhat more traditional territory. In this story of a man uncertainly meeting up with his long-lost father, it shouldn’t take one too long to spot the first plot twist as it approaches, and since the second one is closely allied, its revelation should follow appropriately at its heels. Afterward, the oddball is mingled with the ordinary, but the whole affair remains captivating throughout, never quite succumbing to becoming predictable. Near the end, there’s a chance for it to toss in a devastating conclusion, but this production is content with an enigmatic and cinematic finish. Once the effect wears off, as usual, if you give any of the happenings a second’s thought the whole construct collapses … so, as usual, you shouldn’t do that. This feature’s a font of black humor, indeed, so dark and quirky you may well miss some of it.

why did i watch this movie?

Intriguing trailer and strong buzz.

 
should you watch this movie?

It works for a lot of different reasons, and probes emotions and their attachments on many different levels.

highlight and low point

I don’t recall having seen Elijah Wood act before, though The Faculty is on his CV, so I must’ve, and Timpson was a producer of but otherwise uninvolved in 2015’s rhapsodic Deathgasm, so I didn’t have any preconceived notions about either of them. The direction was splendid and Wood’s performance is almost as profound, after taking a bit to establish itself. Some of the supporting cast tends toward excessively broad caricature at times, or is perhaps a bit too self-consciously outré.

rating from outer space: a−

Mercy Black (2019)

written and directed by owen egerton
divide/conquer

Oh, for crying out loud … here we go again with this bushwah. I try really hard not to sound like a broken record in these pages, which is sometimes a chore, but I may have no choice this time. What we have here is a spook film with a checklist, making sure it gives audiences exactly what they’ve already gotten so many times before – albeit one that for a brief, barely glimpsed moment has a fleeting chance to offer something different, to head somewhere that might be more than routine. But it doesn’t do that; at right about that same moment, it dives into the usual trough. Then it throws the ol’ SHOCKING reveal at you before copping out completely. Refusing to commit to any of its conceits, this Netflix offering exemplifies the perhaps apocryphal adage “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Dissatisfying at best.

why did i watch this movie?

Uh, yeah … I must have been asleep at the switch, because the description that accompanies this flick really doesn’t sound all that stimulating.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a blatant recasting of the 2014 “Slender Man” stabbing from Wisconsin, and it really isn’t worth your time.


highlight and low point

Maybe the most polite way I could put it is to posit that at no point in this parade of platitudinous pusillanimity do events rise above or plummet beneath a plateau. (That is, it may be tired and unimaginative throughout, but hey, at least it’s consistent.) Everything that could be worthwhile about this experience lies solely within your ability to imagine it, which, mirabile dictu, happens to align with one of this picture’s insufficiently addressed themes. It is also directed clumsily.

rating from outer space: D

Soul to Keep (2018)

directed by david allensworth and moniÈre
shady tree films/cineque pictures

“Not bad,” I thought to myself as this one finished. I mean, it wasn’t great, not by any means, don’t get me wrong – but it overcame a few significant faults to pass the time well enough. The repeatedly used FX was pretty lousy and didn’t play well, and the production felt like a low-budget friends-and-family affair, but the slowly developing storyline held some promise. Okay, sure, it involves a group of young people that find an EVIL BOOK in a MYSTERIOUS BASEMENT (festooned with blood!) on an OLD FARM, and so naturally decide to try to summon a demon – that might provoke an eyeroll, as may the telegraphed minor twist at the very end. Ah, but what to make of all those relationships, anyway? (Psst – that’s a clue.)

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember. Perhaps invoking the heady name of Beelzebub did the trick.

should you watch this movie?

How hypercritical are you? I’ve seen a lot of hot takes about this picture from people I can only presume don’t realize how hard it is to make one of these features.

highlight and low point

This picture probably coulda used clearer direction and a less derivative conclusion, yes, but again, I kinda grade on a curve ’round these parts, and a flick like this – made well beyond the fringes of the famous names and fancy catering of the celluloid industry – benefits greatly from that position. Things could be better, as a few problems insist: some of the acting isn’t up to snuff and eventually one gets the feeling the screenplay tried to stuff in a few too many twists ‘n’ turns. The mostly obnoxious college-age kids seem to be accurately portrayed, though.

rating from outer space: c−

Texas Chainsaw 3D aka Texas Chainsaw (2013)

directed by john luessenhop
millennium films/main line pictures

I’ll say this much: before you figure out where this picture is heading – which is about when you might want to stop watching – it’s a fairly worthy successor to the debut, even if its opening completely rips off that of The Devil’s Rejects. Not unlike every other film bearing any relationship to the title “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – checkered as that past is – it also leaves way too many questions unanswered, questions which needn’t ever have been raised in the first place. Oh! And as it lurches through its climax, it also borrows an extended scene (and attendant manner of grisly demise) from Slaughterhouse. For all that – and I’m including the ludicrous backstory and character development of the newest family member – it’s a gripping watch … at least until our poor heroine gets “helped out” by the police, anyway. After that, it’s just more of the same hot garbage churned out in the name of the TCM franchise by those who won’t leave bad enough alone.

why did i watch this movie?

A clip from it posted somewhere led me to the trailer, which twisted my arm.


should you watch this movie?

Hooper and Henkel’s 1974 success was a serendipitous feat, and nobody seems willing or able to countenance that fact – including them. (They’re two of approximately 137 “executive producers” here.) It’s less perfunctory than the 2003
reboot, for whatever that’s worth.

highlight and low point

This film does not skimp on sickening gore, presented for the most part with exquisite care, so if that happens to be your bag, one indelible scene in particular is calling your name. The resolution of the storyline is a mess, the loopholes and oversights mount alarmingly, and the scattered signifiers of the original seem desperate.

rating from outer space: c−