All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
modernciné

Though troublesome in several ways – thematically, I mean – this unforeseen remake of the mostly unseen original kicks off with panache and fairly quickly vaults to a highly entertaining level before coming back to ground somewhat. But even as it slips gears a bit, it also manages to generate more tension than expected, deftly melding its comedic and horrific elements (mostly, anyway). Built on the framework of the earlier edition, it improves on the formula not only by dint of its professional production values, but also by revamping the script to make it less derivative. A worthy part of the McKee-Sivertson film family, definitely.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, man, I like most of McKee’s stuff, all right? Plus I had read good stuff about it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a little slick, and carries a bit of the ’90s meta horror vibe, and I suppose that may dissuade some of you.

highlight and low point

The witchcraft angle in this version is a lot more front-and-center than in the first take; one of the characters is an out-and-proud witch, and that works well for both the high-school setting and a nice moment of self-actualization later in the picture. It also adds not a little fun ‘n’ games to the mix. The interplay between the cheerleaders is also entertaining, although the sapphic teensploitation is dubious, to say the least. The film also eventually touches on the uncomfortable topic of acquaintance rape, after having portrayed male-on-female battery and indicting a willful cultural ignorance of its import. (Remember, folks, this is a horror comedy!) The closing credits play over a hodgepodge of tunes, as they did in the premier version.

rating from outer space: B

hmmm … or IS it

All Cheerleaders Die (2001)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
mckee, sivertson, shelli merrill, jeff rimmer, kevin sparks et al.

So, this is essentially a home movie, you know, shot on video during daylight hours, with a game but novice cast, beginner FX, and an interesting storyline that devolves into standard zombie fare. It’s also wildly ambitious and somewhat unconventional in structure, particularly for the type of amateur production it is, and for what it’s worth also flaunts an independent and presumably localized soundtrack. If I said I could tell from this beginning where co-director McKee’s career would head – or for that matter, that of his co-director – I’d be blatantly lying to you, because it only occasionally evinces any hint that its makers even had such a goal in mind, much less the abilities to achieve it. They must at least have had motivation and perseverance, though.

why did i watch this movie?

I have admired some of McKee’s other work, and as I pondered seeing the 2013 version of this film, discovered that it was possible to track down this artifact.

should you watch this movie?

It’s kinda interesting as a historical artifact, but that status doesn’t make the sophomoric moments any more palatable – nor the lack of production values.

highlight and low point

As hinted above, the setup is pretty interesting, especially as it takes time to take effect – a significant delay is involved, giving the filmmakers more time for character and story development. The scene that eventually triggers the mayhem is also quite unexpected, and amongst less successful thespians, Shelli Merrill stands out for her concerted efforts. The cheerleading, however, is atrocious and unconvincing. Other drawbacks have been covered, and although the “bloodthirsty undead” angle is pretty tired, I won’t fault that here.

rating from outer space: C−

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

directed by jeff burr
republic pictures/steve white entertainment

So, one of the actors in this picture was driving me nuts with his strained, nigh-unintelligible gibbering and his painfully restricted movements, and I just HAD to find out who he was … and it turned out to be Crispin Glover’s father, who purportedly is also an acting teacher. So I definitely learned something from this hokey, by-the-book bit of B-grade nonsense. Just about every cliché in the book is hauled out here – estranged daughter returns to small town! Her dad’s the mayor! She hooks up with the hot local guy! There’s trouble! And an ancient curse! Or something! – with the only novel touches being a few of the ways the, uh, demonic scarecrow kills or maims his victims. It’s entertaining, really, but man, is it ever generic. Which ceased to surprise me once I discovered that the director also was behind the camera for the equally uninspired Leatherface.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like a hell of an improvement over the previous strawman-themed picture I viewed. I thrilled to the prospect.

should you watch this movie?

It really isn’t the type of work one should watch on purpose, unless it involves nostalgia for the heartland fetish of decades long past. (Today’s politicized heartland fetish is different.)

highlight and low point

The evil possessed scarecrow is a kind of highlight, I guess, and the flashback scenes are endearingly slapdash. The ridiculous caricature of the extended family would have to be seen to be believed, and the backlot politics implicit in the details differentiating the women’s roles seemingly would’ve been intrigung. Overall, however, this one feels as though the script was churned out in little more time than it takes to watch the finished product.

rating from outer space: C−

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

directed by curtis harrington
landers-roberts-zeitman productions

Man, I do NOT remember there being any made-for-TV movies like this when I was a kid – though admittedly, in 1978 my parents most likely would not have let me stay up late enough even on Halloween night, when this aired. (They weren’t that restrictive on content, for the most part, although how they would have felt about a possessed dog is anybody’s guess.) For such an offbeat premise, unfortunately, the product can be a little underwhelming. True, I didn’t expect the main character to wind up going to Quito, Ecuador, to consult a shaman in order to defeat the Barghest his family’s unwittingly adopted, because why would anyone mix up their various mythologies that way. Ultimately, the picture is saved by suchlike casual idiocy, managing to be thoroughly entertaining despite its limitations.

why did i watch this movie?

The power of Zoltan compelled me.

should you watch this movie?

You know, I’ve often thought of the made-for-TV horror picture as kind of a lesser creation, figuring it couldn’t possibly compete with its large-screen brethren and sistren, but it turns out this isn’t always the case.


highlight and low point

“It’s a monstrous thing, a goblin dog,” the occult bookseller tells Richard Crenna’s Mike Barry – “A man … hounded by his dog,” as he described himself to her with an abashed chuckle – and boy, she ain’t kidding.

The climactic and climatic final battle between Mike and Lucky the hellhound is a marvel of multiple-exposure imagery, and the portrayals of Betty, Bonnie and Charlie Barry as they slip toward infernal fealty are quite amusing. Unfortunately, we aren’t treated to nearly enough Satanic goings-on, especially given the promising opening.


rating from outer space: c−

Haunted aka The Haunted (1977)

written and directed by michael de gaetano
northaire communications, inc.

Wow, I might owe an apology to a few of the other terrible movies I’ve lambasted, because compared to this abysmal folly, some of them look much better. While nothing could make films like Home Sweet Home and Monster look “good,” compared to this debacle, a relative respectability may be easier to obtain. It’s hard for me to precisely describe this fiasco, because the script is a disaster, the acting atrocious, the concept absurd, and the pacing and editing undisciplined and unstructured. You probably couldn’t write dialogue this poorly if you tried, and its recital is akin to unlettered folks reading cue cards with missing words and disorderly syntax. It’s astonishing. Unbelievably, the filmmaker claimed that budgetary constraints robbed his flick of its brilliant philosophical insights, but with what’s in evidence, that very idea strikes one as utterly asinine.

why did i watch this movie?

This intro doesn’t mention a “phone booth,” but the poster does. Details below!

should you watch this movie?

The fact that is even a possibility says too much about this modern world.

highlight and low point

A “phone booth” was a “box-like kiosk containing a public payphone.” A “public payphone” was – I am not making this up – a coin-operated telephone that stood alone in public spaces, so people could use them to make calls.

In this movie, a “phone booth” is erected in a cemetery for some damn fool reason, and it is claimed that this device allows Abanaki’s Indian spirit to inhabit a terrible English actress, but she never uses the structure until far too late for this to have occurred.

Any claim that reincarnation is involved in this picture is spurious at best.

rating from outer space: F

Hereditary (2018)

directed by ari aster
palmstar media

Another first-time feature director, Aster turns in an assured, forceful debut with this atmospheric creepshow. The pace is measured and the plot unfolds slowly, along the way doling out seemingly offhand tidbits that to this viewer were frankly hilarious at times. (It is hard to say whether any humor was intended.) The story keeps one’s attention, though for the first half or so that is often a byproduct of the fact that it is difficult to suss out precisely what is afoot. Once the second half gets going, it’s more compulsive. A set piece here or there dips into the tried-and-true, flirting with trite, but such engagement mainly serves to reinforce a vague feeling of nostalgia – although it is also true that on occasion a nagging sense of déjà vu may prevail. Never too viscerally frightening, what the proceedings suggest will linger long enough to give one a pretty good case of the heebie-jeebies … as long as certain plot points aren’t given too much thought, of course. Often redolent of a David Lynch film.

why did i watch this movie?

My brother asked me if I’d seen it, so I decided I oughta.

should you watch this movie?

While I’m not sure I agree with the raft of assessments that seem to behold this picture as an utterly terrifying modern horror classic, it’s definitely above-average.

highlight and low point

As has been observed in multiple locations, Toni Collette in the lead role is spectacularly mental, hinted at by affectations and mannerisms and illustrated by torrential revelatory outpourings. These welters of information give the film its dramatic propulsion. Gabriel Byrne, on the other hand, is a cipher as her husband, possibly to prefigure certain thematic elements but playing more as an underacted, nonessential role. The aha moment is underwhelming, having been somewhat telegraphed and bearing the tinge of the overly familiar.

rating from outer space: B

The Woods (2006)

directed by lucky mckee
United artists/cinerenta/furst films/cinegreen

I am not altogether certain that this flick accurately portrays some of the nuances of its setting, that being 1965 New England. For that matter, I do not know why this flick is set in 1965 – or what, really, was its intention. A meandering and not particularly interesting tale of presumably ancient witchcraft involving – you’ll never guess – the forest surrounding a peculiar school for girls, this film helmed by Lucky McKee plays out like just another teen-drama conflict, with Problems With Authority to boot. Following a main character named “Heather,” which is probably not a coincidence, and overplaying the mysterious and potentially threatening nature of certain faculty members, it never becomes too frightening and doesn’t provide nearly as much intrigue as was probably intended. Part of the problem may be that there’s a whole lotta nothin’ where the story’s supposed to be. Several clumsy subplots and possible false flags don’t help, and neither does the CGI. A completely unremarkable movie that even manages to waste a rare underplayed appearance by Bruce Campbell.

why did i watch this movie?

The other McKee pictures I’ve watched were good, and reviews of this one were largely positive. (Personally, I didn’t think it sounded all that interesting, however.)

should you watch this movie?

If you feel like watching something and don’t much care what it is, it’ll fit the bill, as it doesn’t seem to care much, either.

highlight and low point

Too hackneyed and constructed by half-measures to supply any memorable peaks, this movie also boasts an anticlimax that is markedly weak.

rating from outer space: c−