tales-of-halloween-stillNot since “Trick ‘R Treat”, which is nearly 10 years old as of this writing, has a horror anthology film about the most spooky of holidays come into the public eye, so it is understandable the amount of hype this movie received. The film, a compilation of 10 grim tales set in one unlucky town on Halloween night, promises to deliver thrills, chills and even some nervous laughs right from the beginning. The opening credits are beautifully done, setting the tone with their cartoonish pop ups and continuous feed of compelling story titles and enticing directorial nods. The film then opens formally with Adrienne Barbeau’s wonderfully creepy voice over the radio, an excellent nod to “The Fog” for those of us who appreciate the classics. But with all the industry buzz, all the spooky credits, even Miss Barbeau’s sultry vocals, does “Tales of Halloween” come through on it’s promise of ‘Tricks, Treats and Terror’? Well, boys and ghouls, let’s turn down the lights, grab a glass of of warm cider and some candy corn and see how we fare at the end of the night.

“Tales of Halloween” is a series of ten loosely related stories woven into a single runtime. Each story is written and directed by a different person, which makes judging the movie as a whole a bit difficult. The key to that sentence is the combination of “written and directed”. This is not a hack job project where they bought a bunch of scripts and had a bunch of folks go to town on them; each story is fully owned and authored by the director. That much is easy to see as you watch the film. The directing style always fits the story, for better or worse. And, just to be clear, there are plenty of examples of both. While it would be overkill to separately discuss each story, I will try to touch on them all here and then cite examples to compose an overall critique.

The movie opens with its strongest tale, ‘Sweet Tooth’. It is a classic Halloween tale at its best: a caution to children not to eat too much candy. It embraces every modern and commercial aspect of the holiday, but also keeps its horror edge sharp. This is the kind of story of murder and monsters that your parents heard about Halloween growing up, not something you ever worried about. Which is exactly what we need more of these days. The second story, ‘The Night Billy Raised Hell’, sticks with that classic Halloween vibe and adds in pranks gone wrong and devilish revenge to the mix. Barry Bostwick playing the grumpy old neighbor is just icing on the cake for me here. Darren Bousman does a spectacular job here creating a visual treat for us through lots of goofy camera play and quick action. It all made sense for me when I realized he was the guy responsible for the surprisingly fun “Repo! The Genetic Opera” and “The Devil’s Carnival”. The last of the classic Halloween stories is ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’, a ghost story about a girl driving home alone on All Hallow’s Eve. This one is tense and spooky, and really the only true ‘scary’ movie of the bunch.

Beyond those first three more traditional tales, there is a set of solid horror stories that deserve some recognition. The best of the bunch is “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”. It is well filmed, well acted, and the story has a delightfully twisted ending. I couldn’t help feeling throughout that I had heard the story before, but even now I still can’t place where it would have come from. Horror fans will appreciate the cameo at the end. Next on the list is “Friday the 31st”, which is just kooky and odd enough to be really enjoyable when you get to it. The timing of this one was is what seals it as a good addition to the film; had it been the first or last story, you would have a much lower impression of the film as a whole. It combines deformed murderers, possession, aliens and claymation all in about eight minutes of screen time. “This Means War”, not to be confused with the rom-com feature from a few years back, is another fun short that steps away from the flow of the rest of the film. It is a story of old school versus new school (well, something like new school), and kind of a way-too-metaphoric essay on the state of Halloween today. I’m not really sure what the writer was really going for, but if it was an “at face value” show of Halloween decorations and mayhem, I’ll take it. Rounding out the better set is “Bad Seed”, the final story of the anthology. While it is not the strongest, it is another story that benefits from its placement. The main characters are police officers, and the story almost serves to close out or put a wrapper around some of the other bits. The dialogue and action dances on the cheesy side, which again is perfectly okay in a movie like this. The story deals with a murderous jack-o-lantern and the officers trying to stop it. It had a serious “Halloween 3” vibe by the end, and all cheesiness withholding was pretty fun.

The last three are really not much to write home about. “Trick” tries to flip the Halloween child killer theme on its head, but doesn’t allow enough character build up to make the surprise finale much of a surprise. The gore factor was certainly there, but I’d prefer a more complete story in my Halloween anthology. “The Weak and the Wicked”, again, suffers from a lack of character development. I really enjoyed the bad-ass chick, but other than that everything about the plot seemed rushed. It also really missed the mark when it came to creature effects, I hate to say it. Finally we come to “Ding Dong”. With a little polish, this story of a childless young couple on Halloween could have been good, but I think the writer, Lucky McKee, just didn’t have enough time to develop the story he wanted. There is also the issue here of what is real and what is metaphor. I don’t think enough clues were given either direction for the audience to make an educated conclusion as to whether the dream-like sequences with the witch are supposed to be interpreted as reality or not. Lucky McKee, mind you, was the only name on the director list I actually recognized before watching the movie, so I expected more.

One of the biggest shortcomings of this film was its inevitable comparison (by general theme and structure as well as by critics) to “Trick ‘R Treat”. The two really are in a different ballpark. It’s like when people say the Alabama football team could beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, it’s fun to talk about, but in no way do they actually match up. The same goes here. “Trick ‘R Treat” has the cast and production value of an honest studio movie. “Tales of Halloween” just doesn’t. It’s not Busch League, but when you throw together a collection of ten unrelated shorts and try to stand up to a cohesive, multi-story movie that intertwines itself and has a singular style, you will fall short. “Tales of Halloween” is certainly not a bad movie, and as described above it is quite fun and shines at times, but is not the kind of movie that is going to find itself ingrained in the fabric of the holiday for years to come. I would love it if AMC or SciFi picked up the concept and did one of these every year, but that is more of the feel this movie has.

So, we’ve come to the end. The cider is gone, the bag of candy corn is empty and our belly’s are starting to feel the effects of consuming all those Halloween treats. Are we mad about it? No. Was it a good Halloween night? Definitely. Did we want more? Well, that’s the part that’s hard to say. Halloween only comes once a year, and a true blue Halloween movie comes less often than that. So while it may not be perfect, I’ll still tip my hat to a good effort and a fun time. I’ll definitely try something new next year, but this year certainly was good in its own way.

Story: 6

Visuals: 6

Fun Factor: 6

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burying-the-ex-5As a big fan of “Holliston”, I like to check out what else its creators, Adam Green and Joe Dante, are up to. After reviewing “Digging up the Marrow”, Green’s newest soiree, a couple months ago, I finally got around to renting Dante’s newest feature, “Burying the Ex”. The movie came out in June to very little fanfare. Critics and random web crawlers felt that it was a flop, just a dumb wannabe horror comedy lacking in fun, gore and scares. Even with the subpar reviews nagging at the back of my mind, I hoped that even though this movie wasn’t for everyone, I would still find it enjoyable. Fortunately, that was exactly the case. I’ll admit, this isn’t for everyone. It is very much a romantic comedy, just with some zombies and a hell of a lot of genre allusions. So, basically exactly what I figured it would be.

“Burying the Ex” is not your typical zombie movie. It is not your typical horror movie. And it is not your typical romantic comedy. However, if you are the kind of person that could possibly be interested in the intersection of those three, then this movie is highly recommended. The flick opens with Max, played by an excellent Anton Yelchin, dealing with his overbearing girlfriend Evelyn, played by the talented in oh-so-many ways Ashley Green. Max loves his girlfriend, but she has plenty of marks against her. When she is unexpectedly killed just before he plans to break up with her, Max turns into a wreck. Eventually he meets a new girl Olivia, played by Alexandra Daddario, who is everything he could ever ask for in a girl. Unfortunately, that is about the time that Evelyn comes back to life. See, she and Max made a vow to be together forever earlier in the movie, but because they said it unknowingly over a creepy devil-genie idol at the shop Max works at, it bound her even in death. Hey, there’s always gotta be a reason for zombies to show up. Now Evelyn wants her man back, Max wants his dead girlfriend to stay dead, and Olivia just wants to hang out with the new guy she likes. Sound like a fun love triangle?

What really makes this movie great is the set of characters that we see develop over the run time and the relationships between them. First we’ve got Max, who is the guy every horror movie fan can relate to. He’s kinda dorky, he works at a horror emporium (where is he required to tell his customers to ‘go to hell’ as they leave), but he’s really a good dude. And he has a super hot girlfriend. Evelyn, said girlfriend, is the kind of girl you could understand having a love/hate relationship with. On the one hand, she’s got the looks and sex drive to make anyone jealous; but on the other, she is a professional blogger, she is totally against artificial additives to foods, and she is a go-green Nazi. But… she’s really hot. Then we’ve got Olivia. She works at an ice cream shop with novelty genre and pop culture themed flavors. She’s totally obsessed with horror movies. She knows what “Fruit Brute” is. And she’s played by Alexandra Daddario. Do you suddenly see Max’s dilemma here? He’s got Evelyn, the safe choice, the known quantity, who has her faults but also her good aspects. But he’s also got the fun, attractive, new Olivia, who is so very like him and so seemingly perfect.

Okay, you see what I did there? I got really into the whole romantic comedy side of this movie and totally neglected the reason I’m reviewing it as a horror movie. I told you there were zombies, right? And you are still reading? Good. There is plenty of gore to go around. The zombie make up itself is pretty spectacular, nothing CGI or over the top here. Evelyn just looks like a dead person, none of the wild and unrealistic makeup some people like to put zombies in. When the violence comes, Dante does get pretty creative and we can smile at a lot of the gore we see.

Overall ‘Burying the Ex’ is a good flick, but it does have its disclaimers. It is not for the casual fan, you’ll need a pretty solid appreciation for the genre to enjoy it. It’s not for the gorehound, this one is just not bloody enough. And it’s definitely not going to induce nightmares, so if you’re looking for a good scare you should turn and run. What ‘Burying the Ex’ is is a cute romantic comedy for the horror fan. I know I’ll probably take some flak for that comment, but it’s the truth. It’s fun, it’s well written, it has just the right amount of gore and violence, and it’s just tailored enough to keep mainstream audiences out of sight. Take from that what you will.

Story: 7

Visuals: 6

Fun Factor: 8

Zombeavers

Posted: September 11, 2015 in New Releases, Reviews
Tags: , , ,

rubinAndFriends

I finally made it around to checking out “Zombeavers”, one of the newer horror flicks I’ve been looking forward to. There was a lot of hype around the release, and for good reason. A slough of great fake movie posters, a spectacular title and some pretty entertaining trailers could charm many a fan boy. Viewers know coming in that it won’t be a traditional “scary” movie, but it should be good for a few laughs and have enough gore to make a case for its genre. In the end I was pleasantly surprised, but generally not impressed.

The biggest draw for me to “Zombeavers” was some of the initial reports and interviews I read. It was billed as “not taking itself too seriously, but not being a clichéd parody”, or something to that effect. I had big expectations, and I was thinking something the likes of “Piranha” and its blend of interesting characters, overly ridiculous plot and plentiful laughs. I’d say the movie here checks one of those boxes, then tries to get away with checking a second but forgets what it is doing momentarily and gets caught. As far as the plot being ridiculous, sure. Easy check. BIG check. Zombie mutated beavers? Sure thing. And that’s just the beginning of the ridiculousness. The next box, the laughs, they’re there too, don’t get me wrong. You’ll find yourself laughing just as much as at the intentional jokes as the sheer oddness of some of the situations and lines. Either way works, don’t think that’s a knock on the writers. They knew what they were doing in that department. Where they falter is on that last box, the ‘interesting characters’ part. The plot does actually have some dramatic and good intentioned twists and turns, the relationships are a bit more complex than the standard for horror movies, but something just misses. I’ll blame it a bit on the actors (more on that later), but primarily I think the characters aren’t very likeable. It’s not that they weren’t believable, there just wasn’t anyone I was rooting for. So overall, missed potential in the story department, but still pretty entertaining.

Visually, the movie had it’s ups and downs. Lighting, camera angles, cinematography stuff like that is sub par. I wasn’t expecting anything impressive, but there is little stimulation from that front. The credits were fun, I’ll give them that. Very old school and had me grinning. And the opening scene was much of the same. I was having flashbacks to “Return of the Living Dead”, which is a good thing. But then we got into the meat of the film and the smile faded. To make up for it, director Jordan Rubin throws in a heavy dose of grossnes, gore and nudity very early on. The effects, while not on “The Thing” level, were all real karo syrup and slime kind of stuff. I hope that was a stylistic choice and not a monetary one. Whichever the case, they looked great and fit the mood of the film. As for the other visual goodies, I’ll tell you that Cortney Palm is quite the looker.

***SPOILER ALERT***

I always like to take at least one thing away from a movie. It may be something as simple as a character’s name or an interesting camera shot, but there is always something that shines. “Zombeavers” has an interesting element that I had not seen before, and one that I really want to commend Rubin and his partner Al Kaplan on. I’ll explain here: What is the biggest cliché in horror movies? That if you have sex, you will die. And how can we simply summarize this movie? Six horny college kids spending a weekend in a cabin are attacked by undead beavers. Now the interesting part here is that despite the seemingly standard plotline, the people that have sex first do not die first! In fact, the sluttiest girl of the three, the one who is topless for probably a full five minutes of screen time, is the one that survives! Not the nerdy, uptight one. Not the sad, emotional one. The slutty one! Eat that, “Cabin in the Woods”! Maybe I’m the only one that will appreciate that, but honestly, very original stuff. Rubin, if I ever see you at a bar, the first round is on me.

I’m omitting things like sound, set design, costuming, etc. Honestly… it was an indy horror movie. The emphasis here is on having some fun, seeing some zombie beavers eating some college kids, and seeing some nice boobs. We got that surprise middle finger to the decency conventions of horror, but really, this wasn’t a thinker. A friend once asked me in high school if I would hook up with our substitute teacher “after 8 beers, and she came on to you”. That about sums up “Zombeavers”. Most people won’t give it a chance, at least not without a little prompting, but in the end they won’t be mad about it. Despite all the criticism I dished out, I did enjoy the movie. I’d check out another Jordan Rubin movie, if he ever decides to take on the big screen again.

*Extra note: Rubin actually has a pretty impressive track record outside of the movies. He is a writer for various talk and comedy shows, with credits including “The Man Show”, “Crank Yankers”, the MTV Movie Awards and even 2011’s Academy Awards.

Story: 6

Visuals: 5

Fun Factor: 6

OriginalVance-590x786

One review I read called “Digging up the Marrow” something to the effect of “Adam Green’s love letter to horror fans”. I don’t know if that was paraphrasing or just plagiarism, but the phrase really does do a good job of both hooking a potential viewer and explaining the movie. I’ve always stated that I like movies about movies, and this one is a movie about making a documentary. It’s shot as a documentary, but it makes no claims of truth; we know we’re watching a scripted, acted movie. What is endearing and interesting about “Digging up the Marrow” is that everything except the main plot is reality. It’s a weird gimmick and admittedly one that will likely appeal much more to fan’s of Adam Green’s work, but I’m one of those guys and this review will be biased. Deal with it.

The movie is set in real life Southern California in the present day (2014), where horror director Adam Green (played by himself) and his production company are working on several movie titles as well as the next season of their horror-sitcom, “Holliston”. Before the action starts, Green receives a letter from a man that claims that monsters really exist and he has proof. The movie you’re watching, now, is the documentary that Green films to bring these monsters to the public. It starts innocently enough, with a highly skeptical but highly hopeful Green meeting with a slightly unstable looking William Dekker (Wise). The investigation progresses and the crew goes deeper down the rabbit hole because Green really wants to find monsters. As he (and other casual interviews during the opening) explains, it is every horror fan’s dream that these monsters, the stuff of their dreams, really do exist. Wouldn’t that be a great world? It’s what these guys make movies about and what we spend our hard earned dollars to watch. And so the film continues, with Green slowly taking over Wise’s role as the believer trying to get the truth out. The role switch is interesting and leads to some very entertaining and exciting moments. What really keeps you interested is how much you agree with what Green does. Usually in a horror movie the main character makes some dumb, cliché move, but Green knows all the cliché’s and he’s not following them. He makes some questionable decisions that you want to yell at him for, but then you put yourself in his shoes and… you’d do the same damn thing. That’s what makes “Digging up the Marrow” fun, putting yourself in Green’s position and thinking how you’d act.

A lot of the movie’s charm comes from it’s stabs at the horror culture and it’s denizens. We get a boat load of cameos, everyone from Kane Hodder (what Green movie would be complete without him) to Mick Garris. There are references galore to “Holliston” and “Hatchet”, and who doesn’t love the “Shinpads” posters? Okay, I’m getting a bit fan boy on you. But the whole movie feels like you’re at a horror convention. Lots of real people just like you who are just huge fans and want nothing more than to see some monsters and have a good time. There are plenty of jokes at the culture as well, but the film is just as quick to remind us of it’s good intentions.

“Who did your special effects?” is an entertaining theme from the movie. Of course it’s an ensemble crew, but special attention needs to be given to Alex Pardee, the twisted and beautiful mind behind “Digging up the Marrow”’s ‘monsters’. A very talented artist, Pardee’s work can be marveled at through a simple Google search. The guy isn’t really into gore and his creatures aren’t necessarily the most visually scary, but they are downright creative and awesome to look at. Whether the backstories given in the movie by Dekker are Pardee’s own or the work of Green’s imagination, they bring even more credibility to what you are watching. The art design in this movie is just so damn cool.

So visually, yea, this is pretty fun. Picture quality is good for what it is, a documentary. Same goes for sound. I’m not sure how much of this was really shot on low budget equipment and with on-location sound setups, but the movie was supposed to feel like a documentary and it really shines in that department. In this section I usually throw in a bit about any attractive women in the movie so I’ll give a shout out to Adam’s (ex)wife Rileah Vanderbilt, but that’s really, really not what this movie is about. We’re 100% focused on seeing monsters in the shadows, and we’re fine with that.

To close, “Digging up the Marrow” was a very entertaining way to spend a Friday with a few beers. The movie was not really reviewed well so I didn’t have many preconceptions, just an interesting story and a writer-director I knew I liked. While Green is no Don Coscarelli or Wes Craven, he certainly has his place within the modern pantheon of horror. It’s yet to be seen if he even wants to do something full blown “horror”, but for the time being I’ll keep watching “Holliston” and entertaining myself with his other flicks.

Story: 7

Visuals: 7

Fun Factor: 8

the-babadook1

Even though rumors about “The Babadook” have been swirling since before the show was released and have only grown more fervent since, I had never heard anything regarding plot, characters, goriness, whatever, just that it was really damn scary. That’s just how I like to go into a movie: Nearly clueless about what I’m about to experience, just that it will definitely be worth my time. I can tell you now like they told me, this uber creepy purebred horror flick out of Australia really delivers the goods. If you’re up for it, I’d really suggest following my lead and watching it alone, late at night with all the lights out. It’s a little gimmicky but it really sets the mood, and I bet you don’t remember the last time you went down to the basement and turned out all the lights to watch a horror movie. Be a kid, be terrified, and by God don’t read any books that mysteriously show up on top of your dresser. Because if it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook!

I’m just gonna go straight for the jugular here. “The Babadook” is damn scary any way you slice it. The direction is spectacular; Jennifer Kent did everything right, whether it was getting the actors to do their thing, getting the lighting and settings right, moving the camera to just that right spot, or knowing the perfect times to show that goddamn Babadook, visually this movie is awesome. Now here’s the problem: the story is really not that compelling. If this movie falters anywhere, it’s their. Now, I will fully admit as I often do, that maybe I just didn’t get the whole thing. Maybe I missed some last piece of the puzzle, but honestly I think the way the story tried to wrap up in the final act almost stabbed the movie in the back. The premise as the movie went just built and built. Every moment was more tense than the next. Even when we got some relief, some player would go and f it up again, spiraling us back into darkness and fear. And that was great. But then, the end came around and just felt disjointed. I’m perfectly fine with leaving some questions unanswered, but that was not the idea here. No, it seemed like every question would be answered, only with a bit of disregard as to whether the audience understood the answer. This is meant purely as constructive criticism here. Sure, I didn’t like the end, but I’m not saying it was wrong. I’m just saying I think that a lot of what made the monster so scary was that you didn’t know what it was, or where it came from, or how to stop it.

Okay, back to business as usual here. The basic plot of “The Babadook” centers on Sam and his mother, a young family that was robbed of their father and husband because of an accident when Sam was born. That bit comes back throughout the movie and is an important piece of background information. Well, Sam is a bit strange to begin with, but he gets a little weirder when he starts seeing things and building weapons to protect his mother from a monster. We finally find out what the kid is talking about when he asks his mother to read him a bedtime story, and in good horror movie cliché fashion, little Sammy wants to read the world’s most terrifying children’s book. Everything in the book suddenly begins to haunt the young family, driven by the titular Babadook. Is he a man, a monster, or just a figment of everyone’s imagination? We don’t really know, but we do know he’s here to stay.

There are quite a few solid actors in the movie, but obviously our two main protagonists stand out in our mind. Sam, played by first timer Noah Wiseman, is absolutely perfect as the creepy kid with a monster in his closet that no one will acknowledge. He goes through some seriously terrifying stuff, and plays it like a champ. The seizure scene is no joke, and all times where he sees things just off camera had my hair standing on end and my knuckles white. Terrific stuff from a young kid, but I worry if the filming was in any way scarring. Alongside Noah, Essie Davis plays the exhausted but loving mother Amelia. She does her job well and plays a very believable haunted single mother. While I didn’t dig some of the “going crazy” scenes, it’s probably because Ms. Davis played them so convincingly. Fun fact, and it took IMDB to point this out to me, but Ms. Davis is also the unrivaled ‘Ms. Fisher’ of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, a staple of PBS at my house.

“The Babadook” is in no way a “fun” movie, but it is a must see for any genre fan. I’ll let my issues with the story slide when I give two big thumbs up for the constant feeling of dread and anxiety you are under for the full ninety minute run time. I think it narrowly missed out on that upper echelon of truly scary movies inhabited by the likes of “The Exorcist”, but Ms. Kent made a dazzling attempt. I’d say with a lot of certainty that this was the scariest movie I’ve seen in the last five years, and I won’t go back further only because I don’t feel like doing my research. It will be hard to sleep. You will have nightmares. And you will love every minute of it, or curse me for suggesting it. I was getting goosebumps just writing about it, that’s how genuinely creepy it was. Now I’ll leave you with the sound that will haunt those who know, and entice the uninitiated:

Ba… ba… dook! Dook! DOOOK!

Story: 6

Visuals: 9

Fun Factor: 7

new-official-trailer-housebound

“Housebound” was a fun flick out of New Zealand that my brother and friend had suggested to me. I’ve been a little slow on my horror movie viewing lately, its sad to admit, and I was in need of a pick me up. I was looking for something fresh, original, and out of the blue. Because neither of the guys had given me any real background on “Housebound” I decided to see if it fit the bill. A little over an hour and a half later of laughing, tensing up and trying to understand what the players were saying, I can happily say that yes, “Housebound” was exactly the movie I was looking for.

“Housebound” chronicles young and not quite housebroken Kylie, who after being caught committing a quite entertaining crime, is put on house arrest with her mother. Very unhappy, she mopes, makes her mother’s life hell and generally acts like a jerk until things around the house start turning weird. After getting after her mother about supposedly bogus claims of the house being haunted, Kylie starts to see and hear things that make her think the old lady may just be right. She dives into the disturbing history of the house and finds out all too well not everything that goes bump in the night is a ghost.

Where this movie really excelled was its plot and pacing. The plot itself is not overly original, but follows in the tradition of the classic ghost story, which I respect. Person moves into house, things start to get a little creepy, main character starts doing her research and finds that something very evil and very sinister happened in the house, and then we must resolve everything somehow. “Housebound” pleasantly deviates from the norm in the final act, one that is full of action and surprises. I don’t want to call them plot twists, because that term has a negative connotation in my mind, but we are certainly surprised a few times.

The acting in the movie is nothing to rave about, but it is solid. Morgana O’Reilly plays a great lead and is incredibly believable as the misguided and troubled girl. She’s not really a youth, and I think that’s part of what the movie is playing on, that even when you’re an adult, “going home” is a journey to a whole different world. Kylie’s mother Miriam, played by Rima Te Wiata, was my favorite in the film. She’s a class act and plays her part wonderfully. Glen-Paul Waru, who plays parole officer and ghost hunter Amos, is just plain fun. I’m not sure if he’s got the chops to be the star, but he definitely does a great job with his role. All around the cast is solid, which is great to see when half the players don’t even have pictures on IMDB.

Writer/director Gerard Johnstone definitely put a lot of work into creating a solid, fun, very original movie in “Housebound”. After a long absence from the horror scene, I was very happy to see that there is still a lot of original work going on. I feel a little bad watching movies on Netflix, but I really hope the people who made this movie made a couple bucks. Somebody should at least give Mr. Johnstone a nice advance on his next project. If he could make this nearly polished gem for just $350,000, think of what he could do with a million? But then again, maybe that homegrown attitude and the smell of elbow grease are really what makes “Housebound” so endearing. Anyway, check it out for yourself, it should still be up on Netflix now.

Story: 8

Visuals: 6

Fun Factor: 8

the_monster_squad_poe_ghostal

This doesn’t really have a lot to do with the movie, but it’s worth giving Poe Ghostal a shout out for an awesome pic

Viva la 80’s! It seems like everywhere I turn lately there is a great cheeseball horror movie from the mid-80’s. What a great decade for fun. This week I checked out The Monster Squad for what I thought would be the first time. Turns out I’ve seen it before, but I can’t say I was angry about the revisit. The Monster Squad isn’t your typical goofy 80’s horror movie though; it’s actually a reasonably well scripted story with enough allusion to make a grown man squeal. Well maybe that was just me, but when you lump every Universal Monster together in a kid-driven modern version of House of Frankenstein, you really can’t go wrong.

The basic plot centers around Sean and his group of monster-obsessed friends, dubbed The Monster Squad. They mostly sit around in their tree house and talk about how cool monsters are, but when Sean obtains Van Helsing’s secret journal from a yard sale all hell breaks loose. Dracula has returned, and with him the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein and the “Gill Man”. Drac sets to work trying to find an amulet that will destroy the world while the boys concoct an equally daring plan to retrieve the amulet and send Drac and his friends back to limbo where they belong. With the help of a hilarious set of misfits including little sister Pheobe, “Fat Kid”, Eugene and “Scary German Guy”, Sean takes the battle to Dracula’s home court.

The most entertaining part of The Monster Squad is their portrayal of the classic Universal Monsters. The writers really took the time to develop these “villains” into characters, just as each monster’s original creator did. Also, with the exception of Dracula, they stayed true to their original characters. Dracula, because they needed a main bad guy, was a super evil count bent on conquering the world. I guess that could work, but Dracula is more of a romantic in my eyes. Dr. Frankenstein would have fit better in that role, stereotype-wise. Frankenstein’s monster (and in true fanboy fashion the boys make sure to mention that time and time again), on the other hand, is the same lovable, lumbering, not-so-bright giant that you loved back in 1931. Wolfman is again a tragic hero, a good guy in man form but a veritable killing machine as a wolf. Gill Man, my favorite, is just about as scary as he is in his marquee film Creature from the Black Lagoon. Which is to say, he looks scary but really doesn’t do anything. And then there’s the Mummy, who takes on the more “mainstream” role of the mummy, the bandaged bad guy who seems scary but eventually is unraveled and destroyed. All in all, each monster puts a smile onto the faces of fans.

The titular “Monster Squad” is made up of Sean and his friends, an odd assortment of kids who hang out in a tree house and talk about monsters. The clubhouse set itself is awesome, action figures everywhere and walls swathed in horror movie posters. We’re not sure exactly who is in the club and what their real motives are (I’m talking about you, Rudy), but they band together when it counts. The driving force is that they all are obsessed with monsters, and know just about everything there is to know about them. Except, of course, what the two ways to kill a werewolf are. One is obviously a silver bullet, but the second seems to be a real brain teaser… you’ll see. The characters of the good guys are just as interesting as the villains, which is another testament to Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s prowess in character development and dynamics. Sean is the kid that all of us used to be, “Fat Kid” has a name that speaks for itself, and Eugene is such a goof you can’t help but love him. Really the center point of the movie, the fictional characters that make up the Monster Squad make it very easy to relate to the movie, making it infinitely more enjoyable.

For all it’s pluses, The Monster Squad does have it’s downsides. Why else would it only have seven stars on IMDB? First off, the directing is lackluster. Not that it really detracts from the film, but it’s really nothing special. The visual effects and sound, really the whole of the production, is not really worth a whole paragraph. Shots and angles are basic, we get the usual lightning effects but nothing too cool, and the score is forgettable, not in the good way. The plot itself is also fairly weak. That’s not to say that the story is lacking, but it terms of a motivating force for the action of the film, I found myself a bit bored. The characters really make up for the plot, and that is what you remember after the credits roll. You’ll see I’m still giving this a good “STORY” score, but only because I’ve just explained myself. There’s much more to STORY than just a plotline.

In conclusion, The Monster Squad is a fantastic movie for what it is. People that aren’t fans of horror probably won’t like it and will find it stupid. People who are casual fans will enjoy it, but not as thoroughly as the more hardcore aficionados. And then there’s the guys that are still very in touch with their inner child: You will be like me, rolling on the ground laughing most of the film. I’ve often made the comment that I love movies about movies; well, this one isn’t about movies, but it’s about horror fans, and what better than a movie about yourself? I told the people I was watching this with, “This movie was made for eleven and twelve year olds. This is the movie you snuck into if you were under thirteen in 1987”. If you can’t relate, you probably have no business watching this. But then again, if you can’t relate, you probably will never stumble across this gem from the days where horror was fun.

Story: 8

Visuals: 6

Fun Factor: 9