Review: IT: Chapter 2

By: Heather Seebach

First, a little background information....

I was never a fan of the IT mini-series and could not give two shits about Pennywise. But two years ago, I fell head-over-heels in love with Andy Muschietti's IT. I saw it five times in the cinema and countless times since. My home is littered with Pennywise memorabilia. I scared small children on Halloween 2017 when I dressed up as Pennywise. I even visited Port Hope, Ontario (a.k.a. Derry, Maine) to recreate my favorite moments. I am not writing all this as a bizarre humble-brag or an admission of what a nerdy loser I am. No, I am telling you this to give you an idea of my head space going into IT: Chapter 2. Needless to say, my expectations and standards were through the roof. For me, the bar had been set very high by the first chapter. 

That intense love of the first film is what made my initial reaction to Chapter 2 all the more heartbreaking. While I generally try not to let expectations sway my feelings about a film, it was inevitable in this case. I wanted nothing short of a film as perfect as IT. Naturally, the primary emotion I felt after seeing Chapter 2 was disappointment. And clocking in at a hefty 3 hours in length, there was a lot to unpack and absorb. I quickly forgot the things I liked about it and get hung up on the stuff I did not like (mostly toward the film's end).  So I kept quiet about my thoughts - partly because of my own heartache and also to not dissuade anyone from seeing it - until I could watch it again. People obviously know I am a big fan so I deliberately dodged "What did you think?" as often as I reasonably could. I felt that I was not thinking without bias at that point.

Yesterday, I gave the film a second viewing (in IMAX, this time) and some of that bitterness definitely melted away. Granted, there are still a bunch of things I do not like - some I outright hate. It is not on par with its predecessor but, the second time around, I stopped needing it to be. I was able to relax a bit and enjoy what worked. And now, a week after my initial viewing, I feel I can give a proper review with the right head space....


Much like the 1990 IT mini-series, Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's novel breaks the story into roughly two sections: the Losers Club as children, and the Losers Club as adults. So this second chapter focuses on the grown-ups, now 27 years after the events of the first film. It does, however, also include some flashbacks to the children that fateful summer in Derry. Mike Hanlon, still living in the town almost three decades later, is forced to call the gang back into action because Pennywise has returned. Most of them have forgotten all about the clown, the murders, and the house on Neibolt Street since they moved away. Still, they know they have to return as per the blood promise they made as children in the summer of 1989.

The nature of IT: Chapter 2's story immediately puts it at a disadvantage compared to its predecessor. It has the ambitious task of introducing the adult versions of the Losers Club, recapping missing moments from the summer of '89, showing the origins of Pennywise, and explaining the ancient ritual needed to kill a cosmic entity. Needless to say, character development went right out the window. The first chapter was able to take its time, letting the audience get to know the kids and their respective traumas, while also getting a feel for the looming darkness over Derry itself. In Chapter 2, sure, these are still the same characters but they are completely different people since 27 years ago (literally and figuratively). Ideally, the film would have spent more time exploring their post-Derry lives just as the novel does, but of course time is a limiting factor. The final product is already a bloated 3 hours. There are definitely some other moments that could have been dropped to free space for backstory.

The other advantage that Chapter 1 had was an incredibly charming cast who truly felt like a bonded group. Perhaps the real-life bonding of the young actors played a role in that. When IT: Chapter 2 was announced, my first thought was, "I hope the kids are in it!" In this installment, the casting is amazing, especially the physically likenesses to the children. They are all good actors and most make a real effort to mirror the mannerisms of their young counterparts. There is a great scene early in the film where the Losers Club reunite at a Chinese restaurant and their chemistry is fantastic. Then the film almost immediately separates them again, which is disappointing. That same bond just is not there, being only loosely reinforced by the flashbacks to Chapter 1.

The adult cast did their best, but the writing of their characters was limited. Their roles can be summed up pretty succinctly: the love interest; the madman; the guilty one; the one with a crush; the scared one; and the funny one. James McAvoy is a brilliant actor but he is wasted as Bill. Jessica Chastain, another brilliant actor, feels mostly delegated to the tip of a Bill-Ben love triangle. Richie (Bill Hader) definitely gets the bulk of the good material, both humorous and emotional. His character arc is great, even if it's the only arc anyone gets. James Ransone is another stand-out, if only for how perfectly he captures the manic Eddie. Everyone else is just..there. Ironically, the Loser with the least screen time (name withheld for spoilers) gets some of the most emotional development.

The real MVPs of this chapter are the villains. Bill Skarsgard brings the creepiness yet again as Pennywise, this time with some added neediness (the poor dear just wants someone to play with him). The sequel also sees the return of bully Henry Bowers (now played by Teach Grant) and a zombie friend with whom he cruises the town. As the nutty Bowers, Grant is great; I only wish we got more of him. His character is woefully underused. As for Pennywise's many changing forms, some of the original monsters make return appearances. There is one new creature in the sequel that really does not work for me (hint: boobies) but a few that are great (including a huge reference to an 80s horror classic). Much like with the first film, there will inevitably be CGI complaints. They are somewhat more justified this time around, as there is more genuine CGI, but that is not to say there aren't some solid practical FX, too. In fact, the one glaring digital misstep in Chapter 1 (during the opening Georgie scene) is much improved this time around. They nailed the Pennywise bite for round two. The worst instance of digital FX in the film is unfortunately unavoidable: the de-aging of the young actors. Puberty is a bitch; what can you do?

Probably the thing that bothered me more than anything else in Chapter 2 was some of the dialogue choices, especially in the second half. The film begins to relentlessly reference its predecessor, which is as annoying as it is unnecessary. Richie's quips are effective most of the time but when he's constantly doing it (instead of seeming remotely scared) during a terrifying scene, it pulls the viewer right out of it. Also, remember how forced it seemed when Pennywise said "beep, beep, Richie" in the first film, without having established any context for it? Well, Chapter 2 manages to do that again, only much worse.

It is very easy to harp on the negatives but IT: Chapter 2 does a lot right, too. The infamous Adrian Mellon scene is just as brutal and horrifying as it was meant to be. It makes for uncomfortable viewing because it is supposed to. Watching Pennywise torment each of the Losers individually again was scary and fun, just as it was in the first film. There is a bit of redundancy (as the characters are reliving their childhood fears) but enough new material to keep it interesting.

One recurring joke in the film is that Bill, now a horror writer, is incapable of writing good endings. This is a playful dig at Stephen King who has been accused of the same. The ending of IT, in particular, has long divided fans, be it the novel or the miniseries. Chapter 2's ending will be no different in how it divides viewers. I liked the ending...until I didn't. That is all I will say about that.

Give the Chapter 2 trailers another look sometime and you will notice missing scenes. It is no secret that footage ended up on the cutting room floor, likely due to time constraints. The final product often feels disjointed and meandering, and one has to wonder how much of that is due to those cuts. For this reason, I eagerly welcome the proposed "supercut" Muschietti has teased. Six hours, seven hours, whatever, I am all in! King's 1153-page novel has always been too big for most adaptations. It definitely could not be captured in a 3-hour ABC miniseries, and even this 5.5-hour epic (albeit a marked improvement) still could not completely do it justice. Many of the cosmic elements were left out (some would argue that is for the best), but mostly I would like to see more character development and a more cohesive story overall. And Andy, if you're listening, please cut some of those cringey lines of dialogue and let's pretend it never happened, okay?

Review: The Curse of La Llorona

By: Heather Seebach

Last November, I visited Oaxaca, Mexico during Dia de los Muertos celebrations. During my time there, I heard one particular song over and over again: "La Llorona." It is based on a famous Latin American ghost story about "the weeping woman." The legend tells of a woman who, in a jealous rage, murdered her children to spite her cheating lover but then regretted what she had done and killed herself. She was then cursed to forever walk the Earth, crying out for her babies and taking living children to replace them. Basically, parents tell this story to scare their kids into obeying them. Do not wander off or La Llorona will get you!

The story of La Llorona has long been ingrained in Latino culture, appearing in movies and countless cover songs, while Americans are gradually catching onto the spooky tale. La Llorona has been featured on both Grimm and Supernatural, and she even had her own house at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights attraction. Now she is technically part of James Wan's Conjuring cinematic universe; however, that connection is pretty tenuous - more on that later.

The protagonist of The Curse of La Llorona is Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a social worker and struggling single mother raising two children in 1973 Los Angeles. She is called upon to visit the home of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), whose little boys have not been coming to school. Anna soon finds out why - Patricia has been keeping her sons locked in a closet to protect them from La Llorona. Naturally, Anna does not believe any of this nonsense and treats the child endangerment case by the books. She soon pays the price for her ignorance, however, when the weeping woman takes an interest in Anna's children, Chris and Samantha. The bogeywoman stalks the family relentlessly, forcing Anna to recruit the help of a local shaman, Rafael (Raymond Cruz) to try and rid them of the murderous ghost.

After the commercial success of the Insidious and Conjuring films, I can hardly blame Warner Bros. for pushing the fact that Wan is a producer on this. I do, however, think the decision to shoehorn La Llorona into the Conjuring universe was half-assed and unnecessary. Don't just throw a shot of Annabelle in there and tell us it's all connected! La Llorona is such an infamous and creepy story that she can easily stand on her own.

Director Michael Chaves, making his feature directorial debut, does a fine job of perfectly emulating Wan's style. He even takes influence from Sam Raimi, including one charging dolly shot that is right out of The Evil Dead. He pulls from Wan's bag of tricks on several occasions so do not be alarmed if you feel déjà vu. It would be easy to dismiss this as laziness (or at worst, plagiarism) but I feel it was a very deliberate creative choice to align La Llorona with Wan's other films. In that way, it is elevated - in other words, this one feels closer to The Conjuring than Annabelle on the franchise spectrum.

The scares themselves do not break any ground but they have flares of potential, including a handful of creative visual gags. Whether it is a mirror, curtains, or a child's umbrella, Chaves finds interesting ways for La Llorona to manifest without simply swinging the camera to find her there waiting. He also provides a couple unique set pieces, including one especially memorable swimming pool sequence. As for the titular ghost herself, she is simplistic but creepy in a tattered wedding dress, grey skin, and glowing eyes. She has an old-fashioned ghostly look that I will take any day over the digitally-enhanced, gaping-mouthed specters that haunt most modern ghost movies. I only wish we saw even more of her.

As La Llorona's potential victims, Cardellini and the kids (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) are equally charming and apt at being horrified. Cardellini in particular brings the over-the-top screams, which once again, aligns with Wan's classic style. As the mystic arts holy man, Raymond Cruz (best known as the psychotic Tuco from Breaking Bad) delivers some surprising comic relief, along with the obligatory priest character. Honestly, his scenes are my favorite because I love a good spiritual house clearing - now with a Latino twist!

Where this film falters most is the script. It could have used more about La Llorona herself than a quick 1600's flashback or two. The folktale itself is so powerful in its tragedy. I got goosebumps just reading about it in Mexico! This screenplay needed more emphasis on La Llorona's weeping and pain - after all, that is her whole thing. It also could have drawn parallels between the mourning ghost and the mourning protagonist who recently lost her police officer husband. That fact seems to serve no purpose in the film, but it absolutely could have. There was plenty of room here for some sympathy for La Llorona, without diminishing her scariness. What a missed opportunity.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is that it does not feature the song "La Llorona" at all. I was shocked, considering how prevalent it was in Mexico. Perhaps the threat of a Disney lawsuit was looming (the song was featured in Coco), or maybe the filmmakers decided to spare us from the earworm (it gets stuck in my head every time I hear the words La Llorona). Either way, it is a pity, as the beautiful, haunting song could have been used for great effect.

The Curse of La Llorona is a bit like that generic, off-brand cereal you still enjoy even if it will never be as good as actual Captain Crunch. Where it may be lacking in ingenuity and story, it does look and feel remarkably like a Conjuring movie - how fitting that Michael Chaves is slated to direct the third entry. It cannot hold a candle to most of Wan's directorial efforts (few can, let's be honest) but this one is many steps above flat-liners like Annabelle and The Nun. 

out of 5

Review: 'Upgrade'

By: Heather Seebach

Fourteen years ago, Leigh Whannell was chained to a filthy bathroom floor with Cary Elwes in Saw but it paid off with a well-earned spot in horror's hall of fame. Since he and frequent collaborator James Wan went their separate ways (hopefully not forever), Leigh has been occasionally taking up the mantle of director. His latest endeavor as both writer and director is Upgrade, an outrageously fun sci-fi thriller that embraces Whannell's blood-soaked roots while exploring a bleak vision of a near-future ruled by technology.

Logan Marshall-Green (aka: that guy you keep thinking is Tom Hardy but isn't) stars as Grey, a mechanic who still prefers the hands-on approach despite living in a world of self-driving cars, surveillance drones, and bionic implants. He lives a happy domestic life until a brutal attack by thugs leaves him paralyzed and his wife dead. Stricken with grief and hopelessness, Grey is at the end of his rope when a billionaire inventor offers him a second chance at a normal life in the form of a spinal implant called STEM. Once installed, the tiny AI device can speak directly to Grey and it gives him the ability to walk again. More importantly, it also gives him superhuman physical powers to use in avenging his wife's death.

Despite the depressing nature of the narrative, Whannell delivers it with gleeful abandon. Grey is an average Joe who is suddenly gifted the abilities of a brilliant, bad-ass killing machine. His horrified reactions to STEM are hilarious, as are the sassy retorts of the AI itself which occasionally sound a bit like Ron Howard's sarcastic Arrested Development narrator. The laughs quickly give way to shocked gasps, however, when Whannell reminds us who co-created the Saw franchise. The gore is not steady but when it comes, it takes no prisoners. Expect a chorus of "God DAMN!"s from your theater audience. The ultimate result is like a gory, funny version of Knight Rider.

For all its brutality, Upgrade also has a surprisingly amount of heart, as well. The scenes that follow Grey's attack are downright heart-breaking as he struggles with grief, loneliness, and the sad realities of life as a quadriplegic. Marshall-Green is equally good as both wounded widower and cybernetic avenger. The script juggles humor, violence, and sadness adeptly with plenty of twists along the way. Add to that some body horror, creative fixed-camera techniques, and some incredible sound effects. From the cybernetic noises to off-screen gore, the sound effects are seriously awesome.

After the most recent trailer for Venom (starring actual Tom Hardy), there were inevitable comparisons to this film, as that story also involves a man with chatty parasite that has given him superhuman abilities. I will of course hold all judgment on that movie until I see it but I am skeptical that it will come close to the creativity and - for lack of a better term - balls of this one. Upgrade hearkens back to the gritty sci-fi thrillers of my childhood. At a recent screening of the film in Washington D.C., Whannell said he was inspired by films like Robocop and The Terminator, and those influences definitely show. The only way to make Verhoeven more proud would be to throw some tits in there (just kidding - it's not the 1980s anymore).

Those 80s cyborg actioners were so awesome because of their knack for combining relevant science fiction and unflinching violence. Upgrade brings this idea into the modern world where autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming a reality, and where most households already have Siri or Alexa. Technology can be a blessing (like Alex Murphy given a second chance) or a curse (see: Skynet). The warnings about technology in Upgrade are hardly new, but the delivery certainly is. I especially recommend seeing this one in the cinema, as its wicked sense of humor and unbridled violence are best enjoyed with a crowd of horrified normies.

 out of 5

Upgrade hits theaters in the U.S. on June 1st!

Review: Ash vs. Evil Dead - S3E1 - "Family"

By: Heather Seebach 

 **The following contains spoilers about S3E1** 

 When we last saw our deadite-slaying protagonists, they had gone back in time to save Pablo, banished evil to the netherworld, and celebrated with a hero's welcome from Elk Grove in an alternate timeline. As season 3 begins, Ash is content that he finished evil off for good and now owns a hardware store/sex toy emporium in-town. His grand opening celebrations are cut short when some idiot reads aloud from the Necronomicon and unwittingly unleashes The Evil once again. 

 Kandarian demons are not Ash's only problem, however, when an old flame turns up and informs him that he has a daughter. He and Pablo race to save the girl from monsters run amok at Kenward High School. Meanwhile, Kelly has a new demon-slaying buddy named Dalton, and alternate-Ruby is up to no good when she gets her mitts on the Necronomicon. 

 Season three of Ash vs. Evil Dead has big boots to fill after a mostly-stellar second season. Despite a large hiccup of a finale, last season delivered outrageous laughs and brutal gore in ways that easily surpassed its predecessor. Unfortunately, creative differences during season two resulted in then-showrunner Craig DiGregorio leaving the show. He was replaced by veteran TV producer Mark Verheiden. The latter is a worthy replacement with many solid shows under his belt; however, the significantly darker tone of his work (e.g., Battlestar Galactica; Daredevil) is undeniable, so there has been some concern that too much unwanted moodiness might be infused into AvED this season. 

 So far, this season is still pretty light-hearted, easing right into the familiar ridiculousness of the previous episodes. Episode 1, entitled "Family", opens with a corny commercial for Ashy Slashy's Hardware Store Emporium where Ash stands in front of green screen backdrops promising to "slash prices" with his chainsaw arm. "What's better than a handful of my nuts? A long screw!" The sex puns, sounds effects, and low-budget touches (e.g., a boom mic nearly whacking Ash on the head) tell the audience right out the gate: this is the same silly show you know and love. 

 The episode doubles-down on that reminder when Ash faces off with a deadite in the Kenward High's band room. Slapstick violence abounds as the musical instruments punch and poke Ash like a Three Stooges routine. This is the episode's primary gore scene, too, delivering on decapitation (with bonus severed fingers) and a harp kill (which is cool but reminds me a bit too much of that cheap slice-and-slowly-fall-apart gag with which early-00's horror was so obsessed). 

 Ash and Pablo feel pretty much the same, and I am so relieved that Kelly turned up. The Jai Courtney-looking dude in a leather jacket (Dalton? I've already forgotten) seems shoe-horned in and I hope he dies quickly. "Family" is a pretty good opener for the new season. Where it lacks in anything particularly memorable, it has plenty of laughs and little references to the films. Ash walking into Kenward High and saying, "I met my first Linda here" made me laugh harder than I care to admit. It will take a lot to top last season but I look forward to watching them try!

Favorite Line

 "You can call me Dad. Unless you're a Deadite, then you can go fuck yourself."

Easter Eggs:

 - The colors of latex paint sold in Ashy Slashy's Hardware Store included "Sticky Grey" and "Yes No Pink"

 - There is a sign on the hardware store window advertising "Groovy T-Shirts" 

- This is not really an Easter egg, but I REALLY want that inflatable tube Ash 

 - During the antique program, there is a painting in which the man looks exactly like a young Bruce Campbell It's hard to make out who the other two people are, though they distinctly have men's faces. Rob Tapert and a baby Sam Raimi, perhaps? Any guesses?

The Fan Who Cried CGI: An Analysis of the Visual FX in 2017's "IT"

By: Heather Seebach

***Warning: The following contains spoilers about 2017's IT***

The modern era of horror films has brought with it a slew of irritating fans. I'm not referring to ALL of them but you know the ones - the keyboard warrior slinging insults in the YouTube comments section, or that hipster rolling his eyes at every genre movie made since 1990. Their catchphrases are "overrated" and "meh", and they are triggered by the word "remake."

Then there are those three letters that every would-be critic throws around but only a fraction of them do so correctly - CGI. Every horror fan born before the ought's bemoans the loss of elaborate practical horror FX, and who could blame them? Like many people, my childhood was made better by the jaw-dropping work of legends such as Rob Bottin , Rick Baker, and Stan Winston. 

As an adult, I am a makeup effects enthusiast and I get very excited about practical effects in any film. Naturally, CGI has become the enemy of any "old-school horror fan" but it is not always a fair criticism. I personally cannot stand computer-generated blood on film - it is cheap and inauthentic. I HATE IT. I also hate to see the digitization of creatures that could have otherwise been created practically.

Laziness and cheap shortcuts have indeed been a bane upon modern horror. The same is true of remakes but then again, not all remakes are shit. And likewise, not all CGI is bad. Countless films use CGI without you even knowing it, for things like rain and fire. And then there are films that use 90% practical FX and still get berated for having 10% digital effects. Worse yet is when a film uses practical effects and the viewer still mistakes it for CGI!

Those latter scenarios have become annoyingly prevalent lately with the release of Andy Muschietti's film, IT. For the most part, critics and fans alike love the movie. Still, one criticism keeps coming up again and again: "Too much CGI."

It is an interesting argument considering how little CGI is actually in the film. I have not seen a single person discuss - let alone compliment - its extensive practical effects. The biggest example of course is Pennywise's fantastic FX makeup. From that giant cranium to the less-obvious touches like his cheek prosthetics [source], it is a sight to behold. Then there is Beverly's bathroom nightmare which utilizes gallons of practical FX blood and in-camera tentacles of hair filmed seemingly in reverse. One of the film's best scares is Pennywise leaping out of the projector image like a jack-in-the-box -- very much a practical effect -- and, thanks to forced perspective, suddenly appearing gigantic. The list goes on and on.

On the flip side, the film does have some CGI and it is not all good, either. Before I get into what works, I will start with what does not work. The worst offenders for me were Stan's flute lady and the moment when Pennywise bites Georgie. Granted, neither took me out of the film. Could flute lady have been created practically? Perhaps. I could have done without the character altogether, to be honest. As for the Georgie attack, I really wish it had been a practical effect but I suspect it was a logistical choice. The director told GQ: "Georgie talking to Pennywise was really complicated for the technical challenge. Having a six-year-old kid under the rain, talking into a hole. We shot part of that on location, and part on a stage we built. It wasn’t easy. We had to have the rain all the time, so there’s a water issue and a sound issue, and the logistics around putting a camera inside the tiny space of the hole, where Pennywise was." [source] So it stands to reason that it might have been too difficult to implement a fully-functioning mouth prosthetic in a tiny space filling with water. But a girl can dream, right? 

Then there are the CGI moments that do work, like the Deadlights scene or Pennywise unfolding from the ice box. I cannot imagine either being done well without digital effects. I think CGI was for the most part used appropriately and to great effect. To quote producer Barbara Muschietti:“Neither my brother, nor I, nor the other producers, nor New Line are fans of CGI....CG is used as a support tool in every circumstance; never as an element standing on its own. In every film, in this day and age, there is some CG, but we will use it as little as possible.” [source] In another interview, she added: "To be candid again, the effects budget is actually tiny [laughs]. There’s always support. We use CG mostly for transitions. So when you have things that are impossible then you have to do a little CG bridge." [source]

Since when do we let one or two weak CGI moments ruin a horror film anyway? When people talk about how great Let The Right One In was, they don't say "But that cat scene was garbage, took me right out of the film!" IT is a well-crafted movie full of great characters and performances with a solid heartfelt story. It does great things for modern horror, but all some people can add is, "Ew, CGI." And sometimes it's not even CGI! People demand original horror and practical effects, but when you deliver exactly that, they do not even recognize it. For instance, some people have criticized the fake appearance of Pennywise's eyes, and yet Bill Skarsgård has said he can move his eyes independently of each other [source] which, along with glowing contact lenses, gives him that bizarre look.

A behind-the-scenes photo from the set. Wonky yellow eyes and all. 
So too has the leper, Eddie's nightmare vision, been criticized as being "all CGI" and yet actor Javier Botet had this to say about that claim:

Botet in make-up as the leper on-set
Botet is often mistaken for a digital effect, having brought to life such nightmares as Mama from the same-titled film, and Niña Medeiros in [REC]. In fact, in The Conjuring 2, his portrayal of The Crooked Man fooled even me. The final effect looked very cartoonish but it is not CGI. As director James Wan explained:

IT too suffered from viewers mistaking camera trickery for CGI. From Pennywise charging the camera to his now-infamous jig, that odd sensation is not CGI. Muschietti & co. have not yet revealed how exactly those moments were created but it appears to involve foreground and background being independently manipulated. Pennywise's face remains fixed while the background rocks, shakes, and jolts. Call it an editing trick or call it silly if you like but please do not call it CGI. Admittedly, those scenes did not initially win me over, though I appreciate the filmmakers trying something unique. Upon repeat viewings, those moments have become part of the piece as a whole and I appreciate them more and more. 

Every time I see someone criticize "CGI" that is not even CGI, I think of how insulting that is to Muschietti, Skarsgård, Botet, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (Chan-wook Park's go-to DP), and the entire effects team, which includes FX legend Tom Woodruff, Jr. Disliking a film or its effects is fair enough but too many people toss the term "CGI" around haphazardly these days. I am reminded of the complaints about Alien 3 having "crap CGI" when in fact it had almost none. Did those alien rod puppets on a blue screen look shitty? Yes but that does not change the fact it WAS NOT CGI. Needless to say, it is a pet peeve of mine as an FX enthusiast.

For clarification, I have no problem with anyone disliking the film or even its FX, specifically. I only take umbridge to the lazy assumption that everything you dont like is CGI, and the closed-minded notion that good horror can't use digital effects. It is especially bothersome when the target of such complaints is a film loaded with creative practical effects such as this one.

I suppose I mostly have grown weary of horror snobs, particularly ill-informed ones. From the moment this incarnation of IT was announced, it had folks against it simply for existing. All remakes suck, they say. Never mind that it is a re-adaptation of a novel where the first adaptation was not very good. GASP! That's right, the 1990 adaptation was dull and has aged even worse since then. Tim Curry is a brilliant actor who elevated that otherwise tedious mini-series. Still, there are half-committed snobs who will tell you no modern version could ever be as good. The same folks who insist that all CGI sucks, period, and that this looks absolutely flawless:


**Editors Note: I felt my use of the term 'millennial' in the intro was creating a combative tone against all fans born of the millenial generation which was not my intention. Being a millennial myself, I was referring only to the particular type of nay-saying fan that seems most common to my generation but I do not want to come across as trashing an entire group of fans so I have altered my wording. Thank you.**

Review: 'Rupture'

By: Heather Seebach

Rupture is a film that asks the question: Can the human body transcend suffering to become something greater? I'm thinking no, as I sat through this tedious nonsense and frankly, I don't feel any different. What begins as a promising kidnapping thriller unravels into an illogical sci-fi mess riddled with plot holes, cheap visuals, and all-around silliness.

Renee Morgan (Noomi Rapace) is a single mother raising a teenage boy in the suburbs of Kansas City. She is a tough woman capable of handling most things herself - from electric work to changing tires - but spiders are her greatest fear. One day, after dropping her son off with his dad, Renee is en route to go skydiving with a friend but she never makes it there. She is ambushed by strangers, tied up with tape, and thrown into a van for a long drive to somewhere mysterious. She is taken to a seemingly isolated facility where medical staff ask her questions, take blood samples, and say creepy shit like, "You have interesting skin." Renee immediately begins to plot her escape.

This is the part where I approach semi-spoiler territory but this is all taken from the official synopsis: Renee's captors intend to use her fear of spiders to induce a part of her genetic code to "rupture" and unlock "her true self." If that sounds a bit familiar, you are probably thinking of last year's Deadpool wherein scientists torture Wade Wilson to unlock his powers. Whoever thought that tiny section of plot could carry an entire film in Rupture was sorely mistaken.

Rapace, who is so above this movie it is not even funny, gives it her best shot but the material is just too weak here. Not helping matters is the fact that her character was written to be a Canadian living in Missouri with an inexplicable Scandinavian accent. I do not blame Noomi for this, as Renee could have easily been a Swedish immigrant, but somewhere in the script-writing process, someone: A) opted to bring up her birthplace for no obvious reason, and B) chose Canada. Really?

The only other recognizable faces are Peter Stormare (who also deserves better) and Michael Chiklis, both of whom play forgettable men of few words. Considering all the talent involved in this film - including director Steven Shainberg (Secretary) and writer Brian Nelson (Hard Candy) - it is baffling how bad it is. In fairness, it starts off creepy when Renee is kidnapped. I love the terrifying imagery of her being wrapped in black electrical tape and chained up inside a van, which fits right into the wheelhouse of the director/writer duo, but once the story shifts to the hospital, things just turn silly.

From here out, the story is riddled with plot holes and vague half-explanations. Too many missteps create a dull experience culminating in a completely unsatisfying ending.  Visually, the film tries too hard to be creepy and weird, instead coming across as laughable. Check out the ridiculous goggles and giant syringe in the following photo, and then remind yourself that this is a serious film:

At one point, Renee's hospital room is wallpaper'ed with the carpet pattern from The Shining. Why? Who the hell knows, probably because it's "cool." Some pretty terrible CGI - including the spiders that are so pivotal to the plot - make the film look even cheaper and sillier. The movie never really ventures into gore territory, nor does it offer up psychological chills. It sits somewhere in-between, resembling a PG-13 Hostel by way of Deadpool with a half-assed sci-fi angle thrown in. The notion that a person can be broken and then re-born as someone (or something) new has great sci-fi potential, but unfortunately this script bungles the idea and "ruptures" into a whole lot of nothing. 

Rupture is currently available exclusively on DirecTV and will hit theaters and On-Demand April 28th. 

Comic Book Review: 'Blood & Gourd' Issues 1 & 2

By: Heather Seebach

Most adult horror fans today grew up on fare like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt, which were themselves inspired by EC Comics of the 1950s, so it is only natural that the inspirations should come full-circle. Indie web comic Blood & Gourd seeks to follow in the footprints of those groundbreaking horror comics while revisiting the humor and monstrous creations that defined so much great horror of the 1980s. With only two issues so far, the comic series is already hitting that mark admirably. It's got gore, originality, humor, and the palpable passion of the horror fans who created it.

Said creators are Jenz K. Lund and D.H. Schultis, who started a crowdfunding campaign for their first issue of Blood & Gourd back in 2013. They set out to create the kind of comic they would want to read, and what developed was a tale about homicidal pumpkins. Issue #1, published in April 2015, takes place on Devil's Night on Henderson Farms in Olympia, WA. The hay rides and cider tastings are cut short when something awakens from the soil and the pumpkins begin their violent attack. The first issue is one giant bloodbath and it is wonderful. Full of humor, gorgeous illustrations, and gruesome kills, it leaves the reader immediately eager for more.

Vengeful vegetation is of course not a new concept: from the schlock classic Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to Jason Eisener's short Treevenge, it has been done. Fortunately, this comic series is much more than a one-note gore gimmick. While there are hints at the pumpkins getting revenge upon the human beings who have carved and gutted them all these years, Lund and Schultis have crafted a much more in-depth lore. Furthermore, the pumpkin menace takes on numerous, unique forms. It was clearly important to the writers to not simply rehash old monsters by way of the pumpkin, but rather to give the Halloween staple its own original mythology.

 Issue #2 (which found its footing on Kickstarter in 2015) delves deeper into the history behind the pumpkin menace, with undertones of H.P. Lovecraft. The follow-up also sees more emphasis on the survivors of the Henderson massacre, some of whom will presumably be continuing characters in the larger story. My favorite thus far is Kitty, the pumpkin-ass-kicking heroine. According to co-creator Lund: "It's really about making your heroes flesh and blood...and then stripping them of the flesh, and then draining them of the blood." [source] So maybe don't get too attached to anyone.

Lund has said he drew inspiration from 80s horror classics Night of the Creeps and The Return of the Living Dead, with a desire to bring the fun back to horror. To that end, Blood & Gourd certainly succeeds, from its sight gags to over-the-top deaths to the straight-up bizarre (e.g. a telepathic toy unicorn). There is also a dose of agro-corporate satire, the surface of which has only just been scratched in the first two issues. There is no doubt a lot of great material on the way from this comic series. It is a gorgeous, gory good time for fans of Halloween and/or splattery horror films. The Kickstarter for Issue #3 will be landing soon so do yourself a favor and follow B&G at these links:

Until then, you can read Issues #1 and #2 yourself here on Comixology!

Review: 'The Void'

 By: Heather Seebach

 Canadian filmmaking collective Astron-6 is best known for their throwback horror-comedies like Manborg and Father's Day but two of its members - Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski - have deviated from that schlock trend with their cosmic horror, The Void. This much-anticipated movie received nearly $83,000 in crowdfunding just to enhance its creature effects - and it shows! While the script is lacking and it wears its influences a bit too obviously at times, the film succeeds in being a creepy, satisfying re-visit to 1980s horror tropes with some visual flare all its own.

Police offer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) comes across a wounded stranger in the road and takes him to the nearest hospital. Due to a recent fire, the hospital is in the process of relocating and has only a small staff of nurses and one doctor. After the mysterious new patient arrives, so too does an even more mysterious assembly of figures in white hooded cloaks surrounding the hospital. Still, the knife-wielding creeps outside are not even as bad as what emerges from inside the building. Carter and the others face danger from all sides as a sinister secret unfolds. 

Without giving away too much, I will say that The Void is clearly inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, dealing with themes of death, insanity, and cosmic entities. Visually, the film borrows most heavily from Carpenter and Fulci, with a touch of Hellraiser. The creature effects were no doubt inspired by Rob Bottin's stellar work on The Thing (1982) but one must give credit where credit is due: The Void's monster FX are outstanding and unarguably its strongest attribute. Sometimes the film is just too poorly lit, or quickly cut, to enjoy the creatures in their full glory but when you see them, I dare you not to be impressed. For practical FX fans, there is plenty to get excited about here. Films with this level of practical creature FX are far too rare these days. In fact, James Gunn's Slither is the only recent example I can think of.

On the other hand, some of the film's influences are a bit too blunt. One moment in particular is lifted directly from Fulci's The Beyond. It was no doubt meant as homage but it is just too on-the-nose. The movie is also hurt by a weak script that has lapses in logic and is downright confusing at times. Characters are poorly developed and unsympathetic. One is so annoying that I wanted to turn into an cosmic creature and kill her myself! The best contributor of the cast is without a doubt screen veteran Kenneth Welsh, who is fantastically creepy. His voice alone sends shivers down the spine. 

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there is a limit on how much a horror film should flatter its predecessors. The Void toes that line precariously. It may wear its influences proudly but at least it does not shamelessly ape its predecessors - well, except for that Fulci scene. In addition to the satisfying creature FX, the film brings to the table some truly stunning cinematography and unique, nightmarish moments. Gillespie and Kostanski are talented art directors, but if the script had been handled by a more experienced screenwriter (preferably one well-versed in Lovecraft), this movie could have been something really amazing. Still, it hits the spot for anyone craving a slimy, stylish creature movie.

out of 5

Review: 'Raw'

By: Heather Seebach

In conversation, the word "raw" tends to precede one of two words: meat and sexuality. So it is an apt title for Julia Ducournau's coming-of-age cannibal film that explores the connection between the carnal and the carnivorous. This French-Belgian movie garnered quite a reputation after a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, during which numerous attendees passed out and required medical attention. While I did not lose consciousness at any time during the film - and cannot imagine why anyone would unless there were unrelated physiological influences - Raw is still a fantastic horror tale worth watching. 

Justine (Garance Marillier) is a first-year veterinary student away from her family at college for the first time. The freshmen are forced to undergo a series of hazing rituals, including the consumption of raw rabbit liver, which is a particular problem for Justine as she comes from a family of strict vegetarians. Peer pressure ultimately wins, and her eating of the meat unlocks something unexpected inside her. Justine starts to crave meat, which gradually evolves into a ravenous desire for human flesh. Her insatiable hunger - combined with the hedonistic tendencies of the college students around her - slowly transforms the once-shy girl into a lustful animal.

The timing of Justine's transformation is key, as it aligns with a period of sexual awakening for many young women: college. She is exposed for the first time to parties, alcohol, and unbridled sexuality. Her initial college experience is a familiar one to many girls: struggling with classes; wanting to fit in; falling for a boy; drinking too much, etc. When she arrives at the school, she is guided by her older, much wilder sister Alex (Ella Rumpf) with whom she has a complicated relationship  - one that most younger siblings will recognize. Their sisterhood - fucked up as it may occasionally be - is one of the film's most compelling elements, and the two young actresses are great.

 This is the debut feature film of writer/director Julia Ducournau, from whom we will hopefully be hearing a lot more after this movie. Needless to say, the world needs more women filmmakers, and horror in particular has often benefited from female minds. Much about Raw is expertly done, from the music to the Kubrickian use of camera and color. The film is intense, surprisingly funny, and has just the right about of mystery. Given all the Toronto hype, it was not nearly as gory as I expected, but between body horror and naturally uncomfortable scenarios, it finds plenty of other ways to make the audience wince.

The Justine-Alex relationship and the general theme of a monstrous sexual awakening will no doubt draw comparisons to the 2000 Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps, wherein lyncanthropy is linked to puberty. I was never a big fan of that film, and frankly I think Raw hits the nerve perfectly where Snaps could not. It is everything I wanted that movie to be. As a woman, vegetarian, introvert, and veterinary worker myself, much about this one spoke to me, but you need not be any of those things to appreciate the unnerving, bloody beauty of Raw.

out of 5

Review: 'The Belko Experiment'

By: Heather Seebach

When watching the trailer for The Belko Experiment, many people said, "That kinda looks like Battle Royale!" For those unfamiliar, BR is a 2000 Japanese film about high school students who are put on an island wearing explosive collars and forced to fight to the death. Are they similar? Superficially, sure. Of course, many genre nerds also used that complaint against The Hunger Games, when in fact, the blood sport genre precedes all these films and that comparison is pretty tenuous. Upon actually seeing The Belko Experiment, well, it is actually the closest thing yet to a remake of BR; however, that is not necessarily a negative attribute. While lacking the depth of the Japanese thriller, Belko definitely delivers on the violence and gore with some biting black humor.

Belko Industries is a company that facilitates the hiring of American workers in South America. The film takes place at a secluded location in Bogota, Colombia. Employees there are set up with their own company car, an apartment, and a tracking device implant in case they are kidnapped. Mike Milch (John Gallagher, Jr.) notices things are a little different this morning: all the local employees have gone home, and the regular guards have been replaced by heavily-armed soldiers. It makes a little more sense when the mysterious voice comes on the loudspeaker, demanding that 30 employees be killed within two hours, or twice as many will die. Some folks panic, others think it's a joke, but things get dead serious when the tracking device in someone's head explodes. Naturally, a few people entertain the idea of doing as commanded, while others focus on escape. Such is the experiment.

 Belko packs a large fantastic cast of actors, including alumni of screenwriter James Gunn's other films like Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, and Gregg Henry. Tony Goldwyn is great as the Belko boss Barry Norris who treats murder like a necessary evil. So too is John C. McGinley's unhinged, cleaver-wielding Wendell Dukes a scary menace. It is a far cry from when he was one of "the Bob's" in Office Space! On the opposite end of the spectrum from them is Mike, who sees no excuse to take innocent lives. Gallagher, Jr. has really shined in the genre lately after co-starring in two of last year's best horror films, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Hush

As for the BR comparisons, human nature is relatively consistent, so when 80 people are forced to kill each other or be killed - whether it's on a Japanese island or in a corporate office building - they are likely to behave similarly. Some will go mad with power; others will refuse to kill. Alliances will be formed, while some clever folks work on ways to beat the system. All these things occur in both Belko and BR, though the former is more shallow in its storytelling. Besides the basic concept that humans can turn savage in the face of death, the only depth for which Belko aims is that corporate office work sucks - and it does not even drive that home very well. The film leaps quickly into the carnage, which is great but it does not allow much time to nail the banality of office life. Most of the film feels like it could have easily taken place in any kind of secluded building anywhere. There are a few office supply kills, at least.

For gorehounds, there is plenty to sink your teeth into. The violence is unrelenting and brutal, ranging from disturbing executions to a slightly-humorous chorus of exploding heads. Cutting away is rarely an option, as almost every gory kill is on full display with glorious prosthetic fx. Director Greg McLean is best known for the Wolf Creek films and he brings that same savage brutality to this film's violence, while screenwriter James Gunn (Slither, Dawn of the Dead) provides the wit and cleverness. The soundtrack utilizes Spanish-language covers of Life FM-type songs to great effect. While it certainly has some dark humor, Belko definitely leans on the side of tense and disturbing, especially in today's socio-political climate where gun violence is almost status quo.

 McClean and Gunn are strong players in the horror genre, so their joining of forces for The Belko Experiment will have any horror fan salivating. The collaboration is unfortunately without much substance and its attempts at satire lack bite. As all the critics will say, it's like Battle Royale meets Office Space, but it does not measure up to the respective elements of either film. As your boss would say, "it brings nothing new to the table." Even the title of the film is a bit of a misstep as it spoils what could have been more mysterious. Despite that, the movie is more success than failure because it's damn entertaining. Likable characters played by a great cast and absurd levels of violence and gore keep the viewer  (at least the more sick-minded ones) jumping and gasping. It does everything a horror film is supposed to do, even if it's not exactly breaking the mold. Plus, you will almost certainly leave the theater wondering which of your co-workers would kill you first.

out of 5 R's

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