Review: Ash vs. Evil Dead - "D.U.I."

By: Heather Seebach

Picking up just moments after the shocking conclusion of episode 3, "D.U.I." wastes little time on tears and slips right back into disgusting, hilarious territory. Ash's beloved Delta 88 is still possessed and wreaking havoc on Elk Grove. While Ash searches for his metallic baby, Ruby is hunting down her own kids for fear they may find the Necronomicon first. Meanwhile, Pablo takes an unwanted joyride and goes face-to-face (literally) with the Book of the Dead. 

This episode fortunately gives Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi a lot more screen-time together. When Ash's own vehicle breaks bad, he needs some wheels and that's where Chet (Raimi) comes into it. Campbell and Raimi go way back, and Xena: Princess Warrior fans are no doubt anxiously awaiting a three-way reunion between those guys and Lucy Lawless on this show. For now, it is a treat just watching the boys together again, especially with Ted's signature Raimi hamming. 

Kelly joins Ruby in her quest, which is kind of boring and redundant if I'm being honest. The ladies kick deadite ass but there is nothing new here, save for a creepy jump-scare or two. I was more interested in Pablo's latest brutal premonition, which gives us our first little glimpse at Baal, the putative villain of this season. So far, we have only heard vague mentions of the name, and I am still hoping his eventual introduction is not a let-down.

Oblivious to the goings-on with Baal and his minions, Ash tracks the Classic to an abandoned Demolition Derby where he engages in a bullfight of sorts with the demonic car. There is a bit of cartoon-y CGI but hey, at least the gore isn't so digitized this season, yes? In truth, nothing about this episode takes itself seriously, from the gruesome opener to shtick-y banter between Ash and Chet. "D.U.I." is absolutely caked in blood and violence but the stakes do not feel especially high, not yet anyway. That is where I am hoping Baal will come into it -  the proverbial shit on the fan. 

Evil Dead fanatics should keep their eyes peeled this episode for little Easter eggs, like the many references to the local brew with an amusing name, or a familiar sticker on the rear window of the Classic...

"D.U.I." airs Sunday, October 23rd at 8:00 PM ET/PT on Starz

Happy 35th Birthday to THE EVIL DEAD!

This very day, 35 years ago, the Michigan Mafia premiered their debut feature, Book of the Dead at the Redford Theater in Detroit. This little horror movie would, of course, later be known as The Evil Dead, one of the most revered and infamous films of all time.

That night at the Redford, the cast was in attendance along with crew members and friends such as Josh Becker, Ted Raimi, Tom Sullivan, and even Ethan Coen, who actually delivered the final reel to the screening. His brother Joel was an assistant editor on the film. Of course the three main amigos were there too - director/writer Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell (all featured above) - arriving in a limousine decked out in their tuxedos. According to Becker, the limo would drive around the block and individually drop each of the three men off to make it appear as if they each had a limo. If that isn't so perfectly Raimi-esque, I don't know what is.

Campbell had suggested the Redford Theater because he grew up watching films there. Sam wanted the premiere to be as theatrical as possible, using custom tickets and wind tracks set in the theater. He ordered big searchlights and ambulances to be waiting outside the theater to build hype. Raimi was inspired by filmmaker William Castle who was best known for his theatrical gimmicks with films like The Tingler and Macabre. The Redford also had the largest pipe organ in the Midwest so of course they used it open the film with Bach's haunting Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Sam Raimi and Josh Becker

According to "The Evil Dead Companion" by Bill Warren, the movie shown that night is the movie we see today with two exceptions:

1) The title (obviously)

2) Sam had composed the film for a 1:1.66 aspect ratio, which the Redford Theater was able to accommodate, and it has never been shown that way again since.

The 1100-seat Redford Theater ended up being packed with a thousand guests, far exceeding the expectations of the filmmakers. They deliberately filled the balcony with hundreds of high school kids who provided exactly the uproarious reactions they wanted. The screening was by all accounts a big success, after which Raimi & co. went on to "tour" the film to build hype and secure distribution. The rest, of course, is horror history.

Sam Raimi and Ethan Coen

Fun Fact: It Follows (2014) had a particularly effective scene in a movie theater where the protagonist goes on a date. That scene was filmed in the Redford Theater!

Review: Ash vs. Evil Dead - "Last Call"

By: Heather Seebach

The Evil Dead franchise has only a few consistent staples that appear in every incarnation. Among them are Bruce Campbell, the Necronomicon, and Sam Raimi's 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, better known as The Classic. This episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead pays special attention to the yellow machine after it was stolen by some hoodlum teenagers in the last episode. As a fan of all things Raimi, I was particularly tickled watching The Classic have its day, including a loving montage that recalls all the good times it and Ash have shared over the years. The montage is especially amusing if you know that Campbell, in fact, once vowed in his book to "have an army of mechanics dispatched to destroy [the car]." Their relationship is a complicated one, needless to say. 

In "Last Call", however, Bruce has nothing but love for the old Delta 88 which, along with the Necronomicon, is now in the hands of some thieving kids. In order to get his baby back, Ash has a plan: throw a party and lure the thieves with the promise of drugs and fun! With the help of his old pal Chet (played by another Evil Dead staple, Ted Raimi), he mixes up his famous drink "Pink Fuck" - a Ketamine-laced liqueur concoction - to lure every drunk, horny teenager in Elk Grove. The plan goes awry, however, when Ash's dad Brock crashes the party.

Meanwhile, said teenagers learn they shouldn't smoke weed and drive the hard way when The Classic meets "the Force" for the first time in Evil Dead history - think Christine with shades of Death Proof. The episode is full of over-the-top gore scenes but three in particular drive it home (pun intended): 

1) One of the teenagers is dispatched in a delightfully nasty way.
2) We see what a swirly looks like in the Evil Dead universe.
3) A shocking moment that just might make you exclaim "Jesus!" (as I did)

 Viewers who dislike the "sex and drugs" element of the show may be turned off by this episode but hopefully the combination of The Classic and Ted Raimi will sate those old-school fans. I am particularly hoping for more of Bruce and Ted hamming it up together, as we only get a brief glimpse in this episode. On the plus side, we get more of Bruce and Lee Majors together, including a mechanical bull challenge and other forms of father-son bonding. There is even some surprisingly heartfelt conversation between the two. 

"Last Call" is a bit of a come-down after the insanity of last week's episode (that morgue scene!) but it's a fun, interesting time all the same. I look forward to this season finding its villain but it seems Ash has a lot of internal demons to defeat first.  

Ash vs. Evil Dead airs Sunday nights at 8pm ET/PT on STARZ

Josh's Essential Halloween Viewing

By: Josh Bravo 

If you’re reading this, you probably love Halloween as much as I do. It’s just the best - pumpkins everywhere; horror movies on basic cable; cool air (depending on where you live); autumnal colors (also depending on where you live); Spirit Halloween stores popping up; the costume and decoration section at big box stores; mini Snickers; those orange Oreos; haunted houses; fog machines; haunted trails; skeletons; Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" being overplayed; Halloween-themed TV episodes; bobbing for apples; people discovering The Misfits; costume parties; blah, blah, blah. I could go on forever. I really think the best part of October is that everyone suddenly relates to all of us horror fanatics for 31 days. Everyone is in the mood to watching something scary. Where are these people the rest of the year? Who knows! 

But let’s get to the bottom line of this article: every October I have a sustaining desire to watch movies ABOUT Halloween. I’m not even exclusively talking about something scary. I’ll take something family-friendly or funny or weird or whatever it might be. If it’s about Halloween, I’m in. And I’m not talking about having one scene set during Halloween. I’m saying, if you can replace Halloween and set it around any other day or holiday, I’m out. Halloween has to have a crucial part of the plot. 

So, with all that said, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best and some of my favorite Halloween movies, TV episodes and specials. Right off the bat, I’m not including the usual suspects: John Carpenter’s Halloween, Hocus Pocus, Trick R Treat, It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and Halloweentown. These are Halloween staples and just way too obvious to include. I want to shine a light on the more obscure ones; the ones that I believe should be on the Halloween display in every movie section. I feel like these capture the spirit, flavor, and charm of Halloween perfectly. Oh, and I promise I won’t include a complex, wordy book report on each one that so many “lists” include nowadays.

1. The Midnight Hour (1985) 

The Midnight Hour is too good to be a TV movie. It's a much darker Hocus Pocus. I mean, people straight up die in this movie! And that ending would put test audiences into a frenzy. Did I mention it’s similar to Hocus Pocus? A group of kids on Halloween inadvertently resurrecting a witch? Check. Trying to break the curse before midnight? Check. The undead roaming around the town? Check. Someone from the past coming back to a put a stop to the curse? Double check.

 2. The Real Ghostbusters - The Halloween Door (1989) 

This arguably might be better than Ghostbusters II. This Halloween special (which was aired during prime-time) shows what would happen if you erase Halloween from existence - which is, you know, demon-monsters rising up and destroying New York. It also has a great Halloween song sung by the Ghostbusters. But the best part of this special is the design of the main demon. It’s so downright creepy that he might as well be the Devil. Did you hear what I just said? Yes, it could basically be boiled down to the Ghostbusters vs the Devil on Halloween night.

 3. Night of the Demons (1988) 

 I have a soft spot for teen horror flicks from the 80s. You just always know what you’re going to get: a group of way-too-old-to-be-in high-school teenagers; that one girl that you want to see naked will get naked; tons of over-the-top kills; one person will survive until the sequel; and the whole thing will be set to music from a Casio keyboard. Night of the Demons doesn’t do anything new but it’s the Halloween version of all of that. Oh, and it’s the best Linnea Quigley movie ever.

4. Tales from the Darkside - Halloween Candy/Trick or Treat (1985/1983) 

Out of all the anthology horror television shows, this is the one that was the most unsettling, especially that intro! I’m taking the two Halloween episodes and making them one big episode for this entry. On one side, you have the episode “Halloween Candy” directed by Tom Savini, who knows a thing or two about scary shit. If you’ve seen Trick R Treat (and you probably have), it plays out almost identical to the final segment. It's a true Halloween and curmudgeonly old man tale if there ever was one. Speaking of a curmudgeonly old man, “Trick or Treat” - which was written by George Romero - will seriously have you yell out, "Holy shit!" It has probably the scariest witch I have ever seen and what I can only imagine is Satan (hey, it’s his second appearance on this list) handing down punishment for taking the “trick” in trick or treat too far. Basically, if you’re an old man, don’t hate on Halloween - it is never going to end well for you!

5. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985) 

Some of the best cartoons are the ones that find that middle ground of not too childish and not overly adult either. You know, it starts out pretty normal and funny and cute but as it gets going it begins to get spookier and spookier, until it has you at that point where a telephone ring would make you jump. That's this one. And it has a Halloween song by Lou Rawls that you will have to immediately add to your Halloween party mix after hearing it.

6. Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977) 

 The Addams Family in color! And real color, not that colorized BS. This special televised reunion was meant to be a reboot for a new series, which ended up never happening. How appropriate for the family of weird to get such a weird Halloween special. This one is shot on videotape instead of film - which gives it a cheap middle school production feel - and is filmed in a real house as opposed to a studio. Plus, there is a new opening theme song and a laugh track that can’t decide whether to join in or sit out. All of that aside, having the Addams Family prepare for Halloween by putting up a Halloween scarecrow and singing Halloween songs is too good to leave off. Also, there is a flute gag with Gomez that is just perfect.

 7. WNUF Halloween Special (2013) 

Why don’t local news stations do Halloween specials anymore? Do they even dress up for Halloween on the air anymore? If they don’t, they should. But I digress. The fictional film, WNUF Halloween Special not only captures Halloween in a nutshell but it perfectly captures the VHS era. Recording your favorite movie or TV show on a cassette tape; fast forwarding through the commercials; and sometimes not hitting record fast enough and missing the first few seconds - WNUF has all of that plus fake commercials to go alongside the broadcast. It’s a genuinely refreshing take on the found-footage genre and even takes it up a few notches.

8. The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t (1979) 

He is never going to be mentioned alongside Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, or Klaus Kinski but goddamn is Judd Hirsch really funny as Dracula. Okay, funny is different for everyone, so I will be more specific: This one is pretty slapstick-y. It even has a Scooby-Doo style chase in it. My biggest takeaway from this movie: wishing the real world loved monsters like the kids in this movie do.

 9. The Halloween Tree (1993) 

 This is a legitimate love letter to Halloween that is written and narrated by Ray Bradbury. You don’t get much better than that. It inches toward PBS educational territory, as we learn about the historical significance of the holiday, but then the plot goes deep and dark with a child about to stare death in the face. It features a ton of Halloween imagery and some damn fine animation, courtesy of Hannah Barbara. When it comes to animated Halloween tales, this one is unrivaled.

10. Goosebumps - The Haunted Mask Part I and II (1995) 

I am going to combine episodes again: making ’The Haunted Mask Part I' and 'The Haunted Mask Part II' into one big episode really makes it much scarier. It tells the tale of a mask that simply won’t come off, which is terrifying. Not only will it not come off, but it slowly begins turning you into someone or something else entirely. And remember, these are prepubescent kids that are in danger here - a theme that you see a lot during Halloween.

 11. Fun Size (2012) 

This is a theatrical release that should have been a TV movie. A really fun film that has all the imagery of a hectic Halloween night. You’re not going to find anything macabre here but you’ll get Adventures in Babysitting on Halloween. Plus, it’s one of those movies that gets a little too raunchy for its own good - you know, for a family film.

 12. Under Wraps (1997) 

This spot would easily go to Halloweentown but that one has gotten pretty popular over the years, and as I said in the intro, I'm omitting the more popular choices. You can find the entire Halloweentown series on DVD in almost any store but Under Wraps is the one that seems to get kicked to the curb. In this Disney Channel Original, a group of kids help a mummy that needs to get back to his coffin before midnight on Halloween. It also features a Halloween-obsessed kid that I’m sure everyone can relate to.

13. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) 

Remember when I talked about kids in danger? Well, killing kids is literally the plot of this movie. I mean, how brilliant is it to take the two biggest factors of Halloween (kids and costumes) and turn them into a method of murder for the antagonist? I swear, this movie would be a classic if it didn't have "Halloween" in the title. That fact is ironic because Season of the Witch is way more about Halloween than Carpenter's Halloween is about Halloween. This is the movie that should be the October equivalent of A Christmas Story. It would be such a metal parallel device to have everyone singing that "Silver Shamrock" tune in real life. You would get sick of it just like Tom Atkins got sick of it in the movie! 

There you have it! Thirteen films and specials that should give you those Halloween feels when you need them the most. Sit down and watch them in the dark; project them onto a wall during your annual Halloween party; have them playing in the background while you’re carving your pumpkin; or any time you just want to get into the Halloween spirit. These all deserve to be seen, especially in October. 

The Sound of Vengeance: The Music of 'The Crow'

By: Tristan Collett

From the tribal, middle eastern-inspired opening bars of Graeme Revell’s score, hovering over a tapestry of burning buildings, it is clear that the soundscape of The Crow is as integral to the character of the film as its visuals. However, along with this orchestration, the nocturnal urban setting is perfectly complimented by a carefully chosen rock soundtrack.

When I went to see the film adaptation of James O’Barr’s graphic novel in 1994, it felt like the first time alternative rock culture was represented on a decent-budget movie. To blend with the comic book dark fantasy, The Crow took cues from the 80s goth music scene, reviving its influence. It may even be to blame for late 90s metal going on to embrace such a morbid, theatrical visual style. The dark rock soundtrack was, of course, fitting, seeing as the source material’s character was influenced by cultural icons such as Iggy Pop and Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy.

Music is everywhere throughout this movie, whether incidental in the background (such as ‘Big Empty’ by Stone Temple Pilots and ‘Snakedriver’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain); more deliberately present to set the mood for the scene (in the menacing ‘Golgotha Tenement Blues’ by Machines of Loving Grace, for example); or even actually helping drive the narrative. The soundtrack feels almost like another character in the movie.

The Crow provides a great example of how well music can be used in a film. Certain moments feel like set pieces designed around the music and are all the more impressive for it, gelling image and soundtrack perfectly. When the recently resurrected Eric Draven remembers his lost lifetime, he channels his rage, transforming into the avenger. ‘Burn’ by The Cure, an original song written for the film, gives songwriter Robert Smith licence to his interpretation of our protagonist. Everything about this tune is hauntingly beautiful, depicting Eric’s character transition perfectly - consumed by grief, lost love and anger: “Every night I burn, Scream the animal scream, Every night I burn, Dream the crow black dream”.

As he realises his mission, Eric chases the crow across the rooftops to his first revenge kill. For this sequence, the truly inspired choice of Nine Inch Nails’ cover of original goth-rockers Joy Division’s ‘Dead Souls’ is used. This choice is validated by O’Barr having credited Joy Division as having particular influence on him throughout his writing the book. A song this slow shouldn’t work, but the relentless trudge of the rhythm section mixed with the drive of the faster power guitars allow Eric to keep pace. The lyrical mantra “they keep calling me” replaces the need for an expository monologue. Director Alex Proyas knows when to let the film breathe with the music.

The introduction to the main antagonist’s club hangout is accompanied by the raw energy of a live performance. As T-Bird and Skank walk into The Pit, shoegaze band Medicine are playing ‘Time Baby III’. The fact that you can feel it has been recorded live gives a gritty realism to the world, subconsciously pulling the viewer even deeper into the story.

As the film reaches its final act, ‘After The Flesh’ by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult brings us back into the villain Top Dollar’s lair, building the tension for the imminent conflict. A frenetic live performance from the band on the lower floor level stage is intercut with preparation for the violence of the Devil’s Night arson attacks. This board meeting is interrupted by the titular supernatural crow and indestructible Eric, erupting into a systematic slaughter of the mob in order to reach the next target, Skank. The techno-infused rock accentuates the chaos, heightening its impact. As one of the henchmen is catapulted down into the club level, crashing into the stage, the music stops and the tone changes. Purposefully, this emphasises that this is no time for a rock video to glamorize the violent, vengeful proceedings.

For the closing credits, ‘It Can’t Rain All The Time’ provides a softer bookend to the story, borrowing from one of Draven’s fictional songs within the film itself. Although more commercial-sounding than any of the other music in the film, the bittersweet lyrics sung by Jane Siberry and the acoustic instrumentation give the much-needed break the audience needs from the melancholia of the previous 90 minutes.

The soundtrack to The Crow worked against the odds. Although prolific use of alternative rock in a movie’s soundtrack is commonplace nowadays, back in 1994 it was a risk. The song choices did not come from as much of a commercial standpoint as most examples of its day, free reign seemingly having been given to Alex Proyas when directing. When watching the film, it feels that Proyas successfully created a mutual trust between himself and the intended counter-culture audience, which remains over 20 years on.

The Incredible "Off The Wall" Sculptures of Brad Hill

Today, Los Angeles' own pop-culture art gallery Gallery1988 featured these unique and adorable little sculptures based on some of the best genre films! Created by Brad Hill, these figures are one-of-a-kind. So as you can probably imagine, they are not cheap - and most are already sold out - but you can still feast your eyes by checking out Hill's "Off The Wall" gallery right here on Gallery1988! Below are some of my favorites...


An American Werewolf in London

Donnie Darko

Mad Max: Fury Road


Pet Semetary


The Thing

Review: 'Ash vs. Evil Dead: Season 2'

By: Heather Seebach

Last year, the Michigan Mafia - that is, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell - made all my deadite dreams come true when the long-awaited sequel in the Evil Dead franchise appeared in the form of a Starz television series (my review). After en epic first season full of guts, gore, and grooviness, here we are with another round! What follows is my review of the first TWO episodes of season 2: "Home" and "The Morgue."

Full disclosure: I am an Evil Dead fanatic. That means, yes, I am predisposed to love virtually anything related to the original films, but it also means I am a harsh critic when new material attempts to honor those films. This world is sacred to me. While the story in Ash vs. Evil Dead season one occasionally stagnated, I enjoyed the hell out of it overall. Ash was truly back, complete with one-liners and the same disgruntled attitude. Joining him were two fantastic supporting characters - Kelly and Pablo - who were more than just token sidekicks. So too was that Raimi sense of humor represented, even when Sam himself was not behind the camera.

So how does season 2 fare so far? Well, now that the introductions are out of the way, the series gets to gleefully jump right into the gory madness! Within the first ten minutes, every lead character's face is covered with gallons of disgusting fluid (blood or otherwise). In "Home", we catch up with Ash, Pablo, and Kelly living it up in Jacksonville, Florida when the deadite menace rears its ugly head again. The gang is forced to seek out Ruby (Lucy Lawless) in Ash's hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan. Here we meet Ash's father, Brock, played by the perfectly-cast Lee Majors. We only get a few moments with Brock Williams in the first two episodes but I already love him. He is everything you would expect Ash's father to be - exactly like him, and yet the bane of his son's existence. I cannot wait to see them (presumably) team up later in the season!

In Elk Grove, Evil Dead fans should keep their eyes peeled for fun blink-and-miss-it Easter eggs (Hint: check out the name of the local record shop). One fantastic element of Ash going home is that the story finally addresses what happened to Ash between the cabin and now, specifically how the world around Ash responded to their neighbor/son/etc. hacking up his girlfriend with a chainsaw. That is a side of it we had not seen before, so I am thrilled it is included here.

Once back in Michigan, naturally a lot of mayhem and carnage ensues. There are plenty of geek-out moments for fans, including Ash fashioning a clever new version of the boomstick; a brilliant (albeit short-lived) variation on the old Ash vs. himself gag; and so many Three Stooges gags that you would swear Sam himself must be there behind the camera. Director Rick Jacobson in fact helmed this episode but he was clearly paying a lot of homage to Raimi. There are also MANY references to the original films; so many in fact it does become a bit much. Some scenes feel a little too familiar (like one moment with Kelly that borrows from both Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness). Still, the fact that the show can now legally reference Army of Darkness is pretty great! They waste no time at all dropping references to it, and I look forward to how they use it going forward.

In "The Morgue", things are stepped up a notch - or ten. Some fans may find this episode goes too far. Personally, my mouth was agape but I was enjoying the ever-living hell out of it! The Evil Dead franchise has always been associated with b-cinema and horror-comedy, thanks especially to the second film. Still, there is an invisible line it never quite crossed - a territory where films like Re-Animator and Dead Alive fit more comfortably. And that territory is where "The Morgue" ventures with reckless abandon! It is a bit shocking but hard not to enjoy, and I promise everyone will be talking about it afterwards. This is the episode where Ash vs. Evil Dead proves it has no fear! The episode is crazy fun in other ways too, including its quirky sense of humor. Keep an ear out for the very literal record scratch gag - Raimi would be proud.

The Ruby subplot is still developing, but so far I love her creepy "kids" from the first season, now all grown up. The whole story continues to expand in interesting ways, and I am sure there are a lot of twists still coming in the next eight episodes. There is no sign of the big villain or Ted Raimi yet (unfortunately), but they are coming. It also looks like the series is relying even more heavily on prosthetics and practical blood than it did last season. So far there is significantly less CGI which is great! Furthermore, the first two episodes alone have already produced two of my all-time favorite Ash one-liners: "What the Harryhausen?!" and "Alright, you naked assholes!"

This Evil Dead fantatic is loving what she sees so far. The series continues to be gleefully over-the-top in gore and humor without restrictions (thank you, Starz). I expect we have a bonkers ride ahead of us, screwheads, so buckle up!

Ash vs. Evil Dead season 2 premieres Sunday, October 2nd at 8PM ET/PT on Starz!

'Don't Breathe' and the Controversial "Turkey" Scene (SPOILERS)

By: Heather Seebach

**Warning: The following contains major spoilers about Don't Breathe**

**Warning #2: The following is a discussion about rape on film**

Fede Alvarez's thriller Don't Breathe dominated the box office this past week and garnered largely positive reviews from critics and filmgoers alike. There was, however, a moderate backlash against one particular sequence in the film. It was the very same sequence that, right when it happened, I knew people would either love or hate it. Personally, I love it and will explain why as I address some of the complaints against it. The sequence in question, of course, is when Rocky (Jane Levy) is captured, tied up, and threatened with forced insemination by way of a turkey baster. 

As any horror fan knows, rape is hardly off-limits when it comes to the genre. It has been used in ways that range from tactful to downright trashy. In my eyes, rape is a particularly heinous form of assault. Things like torture, castration, animal abuse etc. are similarly brutal tactics that are used in horror films to elicit fear and disgust. To make a good film, of course, any of these elements must be used within the context of the story and must serve a purpose. It is when rape, torture, etc. become excessive and sexualized that their use becomes trashy and cheap. Basically, anything that is done just for the sake of shock is lazy horror writing. Some people love easy, shock horror and that's okay - to each their own - but I am speaking to what I consider good screenwriting in the horror genre.

 Having said that, I will now dive into Don't Breathe. Let's get something clear: the act with which The Blind Man is threatening Rocky absolutely IS rape. That is never in question. There is a moment when he says, "I never forced myself upon her. I'm not a rapist" in regards to his other kidnapped victim. Some critics have misinterpreted that line as justifying his actions, suggesting the writers do not consider this rape. That is absolutely not the case here. The Blind Man is a delusional psychopath who BELIEVES what he is doing is morally acceptable. That line of dialogue is there to show the audience just how crazy this man is - it is NOT suggesting he is not a rapist. What he did to the previous victim - and what he threatened to do to Rocky - absolutely IS rape. This is the moment in the film when the writers want us to NOT sympathize with this guy.

Another common complaint against the sequence argues that it is a cheap use of rape for shock's sake. To that, I disagree completely. For one thing, Rocky escapes and is not raped. The THREAT of rape is enough to instill horror in the audience, but the filmmakers did not see the need to follow through on showing any actual rape (to Rocky or the other woman). Furthermore, I love how they un-sexualized the act by removing the penis from the equation. Again, it is still rape, no argument there, but the very aspect that typically serves to exploit rape scenes - the sex - is removed. We the audience are still horrified, possibly even moreso, at the thought of being violated with this man's semen and a kitchen object. I think that is an interesting, unique take on a rape threat. If anything, it emphasizes the reason rape is so horrifying: loss of choice. The very idea of being forced to carry a psychopath's child is terrifying and I doubt many filmgoers (men especially) consider that particular element when it comes to rape scenes. 

Another argument I have heard is that the sequence does not fit the tone of the film, hence why those critics feel it is used just for shock's sake. I agree that it represents a tonal shift in the narrative, but I actually loved that! Here is a mainstream film that, while tightly made, was following all the usual beats of a home invasion thriller until, suddenly, it wasn't. Suddenly, it ventured into nutty territory and it is great! And how incredibly rewarding was that moment when Rocky shoved the turkey baster full of semen into her attacker's mouth?! I did not see the whole sequence as a "shocking twist" and I am not sure why others do. Perhaps the marketing is to blame for that. I just saw it as peeling back another mysterious layer on this blind man as the intruders ventured deeper into his home. The Blind Man goes from poor disabled veteran to dangerous, sick monster. The narrative was designed to make the audience question their sympathies and I find that interesting.

Don't Breath took heat for threatening the protagonist with rape, while films with long, gratuitous rape scenes get the seal of approval from horror fans. Why is that?  Are the graphic rape scenes in I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left made "okay" because they are followed by revenge? What about Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead? Raimi himself admitted he used poor judgement when he included the tree rape scene, as he was young and immature. There is that unnecessary shot of Ellen Sandweiss' naked breast. Neither Sam nor the viewer can deny that the scene was going for shock and exploitation, and yet, it is revered by horror fans everywhere, including the same people who loathe Don't Breathe's attempted-rape scene. Why is that? One answer I heard is, "Well, the tree rape is just SO ridiculous." And a man who keeps his spunk in a basement and injects it with a turkey baster isn't ridiculous? I think the tree and the turkey baster are actually alike in that way, and I wonder how much that was intentional on Alvarez's part (considering his existing relationship with Raimi).

Clearly, there seems to be a double-standard when it comes to what is "acceptable" rape in cinema. Tone, again, seems to play a role. When Straw Dogs and Deliverance did it, it was fitting, right? When the other end of the spectrum, say, ridiculously exploitative movies like Death Wish 3 or A Serbian Film did it, genre fans tolerated or even defended the use of rape. Whether the tone is serious or outrageous, rape seems to be "accepted" but not in-between, like with Don't Breathe.

I think we all can agree on this: rape is NEVER okay. It's all horrifying, and that is why horror films love to use it. The most responsible things a good filmmaker can do are, A) Not sexualize the act; and B) Use it fittingly in the narrative. Is the attempted rape a crucial plot point in Don't Breathe? Not really; however, I believe the film strongly benefits from its inclusion. By turning that strange corner, this mainstream horror dipped its proverbial toe into exploitation territory without becoming cheap and trashy, and thereby opened up an interesting, unpredictable avenue. The Blind Man's threat against Rocky elicited such gasps of horror from the crowd both times I saw this film. And it only took the implication of a horrific act to inspire that response. Hell, when he put the scissors up to her pants, I winced. I rarely ever wince. I consider that a win for horror.

I enjoyed the hell out of Don't Breathe all-around. It has fantastic cinematography and music; the tension is palpable; and all the crowd-pleasing moments really pay off. It has some flaws, for sure, but this verbal beating it has taken over this so-called "rape dungeon" sequence is unfair. I completely understand if someone has an aversion to sexual assault (or the implication thereof) on film, or feels such scenes could trigger traumatic memories, but I also do not feel that any movie should be censored for that reason. It is up to each individual to decide what to watch or not to watch. As these types of scenes go, the one in Don't Breathe is restrained, tactful, and unique. It livens up an otherwise paint-by-numbers plotline and forces its audience to think about the horrors of sexual assault in a non-traditional way.

Review: 'Lights Out'

By: Heather Seebach

It is no wonder the horror genre is taken less seriously than most, as Hollywood churns out one half-assed horror film after another. Most are remakes or uninspired sequels, and they are plagued by tired jump scares and CGI ghosts with gaping maws. The genre has become so monotonous that the films making a sincere effort often go unseen amidst the garbage. 

The best hope for a movie like that is to slap a household name on it - in this case, that name is James Wan. I am a fan of Wan's work but he is not the reason I saw Lights Out. What attracted me to this one was knowing the short film of the same name upon which it is based, and the fact that the director of said short, David F. Sandberg, was brought on-board to direct the feature adaptation. If nothing else, I love when newcomers are given a chance to break into the industry and potentially breathe new life into the horror genre.

 With his feature directorial debut, Sandberg does not break the mold (yet) but what Lights Out does deliver is a satisfying spookfest with a surprisingly solid story. The film follows a brother and sister (Gabriel Bateman, Teresa Palmer) who discover that their mother's mental illness may in fact be something far more sinister, as a creepy entity stalks the family. Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer expand quite a lot upon the short film, which had very little story. They turned a one-off concept into a full-fledged tale rather than the lazy after-thought it could have been. They also refrain from recycling everything that made the short so memorable, which is admirable.

The scares are simple and follow the old "less is more" adage, employing shadows, sound effects, and just a bit of makeup fx. It makes clever use of lights, as the menace of the film is restricted to the darkness. The shadowy creature, known simply as "Diana", is equal parts animalistic and manipulative, making her a formidable villain. Even someone as bored of paranormal films as me found myself double-taking at shadows while writing this review.

While the scares will satisfy filmgoers looking to jump and scream, the more memorable aspect of Lights Out is its screenplay that ties the supernatural into real-life issues like mental illness and domestic abuse. As the rattled mother battling grief and depression, Maria Bello is fantastic and provides some of the film's more genuinely scary moments in ways you might not expect. The relationship between mother and daughter (Palmer) also feels sincere, right down to how alike they look - damn, that's some good casting! Seriously, though, the family dynamic is believable and it is rare to find a paranormal horror film that bothers so much with expanding its characters. They are not simply fodder for a pissed-off poltergeist, but rather human beings with real-world problems bigger than the creepy dead lady in the house. 

Do not be fooled by generic trailers: Lights Out has more to offer than your average spookfest. Much like Wan's horror efforts, it is a film that respects its characters and is not overly reliant on cheap, piano-note scares. Sandberg has already been tapped to helm the Annabelle sequel, which concerns me, as there is this trend of latching up-and-comers onto crap sequels (e.g., See No Evil 2, Sinister 2) but I still hope it will be a springboard to seeing what else he can do.

Review: 'Suicide Squad' (spoilers)

By: Heather Seebach

**Warning: The following contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk**

While the entire internet seems to have devolved into a playground of proverbial toddlers pissing their diapers crying over DC vs Marvel, I genuinely welcome it all. More comic book movies is fine by me! It cannot be denied, however, that DC's output has been less than encouraging, and they seem to be in this massive (and foolish) rush to catch up to the MCU. I was really rooting for Suicide Squad to be the first DC entry I could truly enjoy. I thought, "FINALLY, a DC film with a little humor, a splash of color, and some eccentricities!" Unfortunately, those qualities are barely noticeable in a film that is a sloppy, half-assed mess.

Before I start digging into my complaints, I will say up-front that I really enjoyed the cast. They are by far the strongest element of Suicide Squad. With the exception of Leto's Joker (and I will get more into that later), each character was executed suitably by their actors, even the ones you might not expect (*cough* Jai Courtney *cough*). While Deadshot's 1950s attitude toward women is a bit annoying (albeit presumably deliberate), Will Smith plays the role well. The most entertaining to watch, of course, was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. While some aspects of her character are botched (more on that later), Robbie is ideal for the role and I hope she reprises it in a better film someday. Perhaps a Mad Love adaptation?! Some of the characters are underused - or misused - but overall, the cast did a good job and seemed to have fun making this. I would still be happy to watch them play their roles again in a better sequel.

Now, onto the other 80% of the movie - the mess. What follows is intended for folks who have already seen the film, as I do not feel like I can go into detail about my specific disappointments without using some spoilers. You have been warned!


Let us begin with the biggest fundamental flaw of Suicide Squad: the entire plot. After the metahuman fears that arose in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides the world needs a team who can stand up to potential threats, like if the "next Superman" is not so friendly. So her idea is to assemble a team of superhumans who can face such a threat. Seems reasonable enough, right? Of course, unlike the Marvel world, they don't yet have this abundance of superheroes to call upon (not yet - Bats is working on it), so Waller turns to supervillains. Sure, they are unpredictable and dangerous psychopaths, but all the same, I've always loved this concept. The problem is, the Suicide Squad of this film consists of exactly two metahumans (one is arguable, as he's basically just half-crocodile), and the rest are a marksman, a thief, a violent nutjob, and a guy who "can climb anything." How exactly are these people supposed to stop a villain on par with Superman?!

I hope sarcasm and hotpants can stop Superman!

This is where the story makes no sense and it irritates me because this film could have - and should have - been about the Squad being used on covert missions - say, taking out terrorists, drug cartels, warlords, etc. Situations where they were equipped to fight but it could be discrete and their deaths would be easy to sweep under the rug. THAT is the basic idea behind the Suicide Squad, but in the grand attempt to rush the DC Cinematic Universe, the filmmakers shoehorned this movie into the universe of BvS, Justice League, etc., losing logic and plot along the way. So right from the start, we are expected to believe that the United States government risks putting psychopaths and murderers on the street to stop a foe they are not remotely capable of defeating. If they are going to employ 90% humans, why not just get soldiers to do the job? It all reminds me of the plot of Armageddon, where the government decided it would be easier and more efficient to train oil drillers to become astronauts than it would be train NASA astronauts to use an oil drill. At least that ridiculous movie was fun.

That leads me to my next fundamental problem with Suicide Squad: it is not nearly as fun as it looks. The trailers looked so fun, as trailers often do, because quick cutting and quirky music choices make that look easy. In the actual film, however, those principles do not apply. Let me be clear about this: I have no problem with the music CHOICES. Yes, they are random and widely used in other media but I love the choices all the same. My problem is how the film uses them constantly, usually in lieu of a score or ambient noise. It becomes very distracting, especially over dialogue scenes. It felt like watching a movie while the radio is on, switching from one song to the next the whole time. So too is the editing atrocious, jumping around unnecessarily with useless, redundant flashbacks. As most of us know, this film was notoriously hacked up and re-shot, so who knows, maybe there is a better cut out there. Maybe some of those lost scenes even the keel, but I can only judge the final product I saw on-screen, the one we all saw, which was a goddamn mess.

Next up: the characters. As I already said, most of them were just fine. Some (like Diablo) got more backstory than I expected. The only one of the Squad who truly irked me was Captain Rick Flagg, who I renamed Captain Obvious for his obnoxious tendency to narrate scenes. In one scene, we see Kitana talking to her soul-trapping sword, saying something like, "Husband, I will avenge you"  and then Flagg literally explains, "Her husband's soul is in there...she talks to it." Seriously, Rick?

Anyway, I am not particularly invested in any of the characters except Harley and Joker so I will focus on those two - the strengths and weaknesses therein. First off: that Joker. My reaction to the initial reveal was much like everyone's else's: UGH! Still, I waited and I kept an open mind. After all, the look of Heath Ledger's Joker was unexpected, too, but he won me over in The Dark Knight. Having seen Jared Leto's version now, I can safely say, it is shit. The look is still atrocious, misguided, and distracting. Ghetto-thug Joker is a unique take, sure, but that does not mean I have to like it. He does not get a free pass for simply "doing his own thing." The man having "DAMAGED" tattooed on his forehead is more than a little obvious. And that grill gives Leto a distracting lisp. For fuck's sake, couldn't they at least ADR his voice without it? The ONLY Joker moment I enjoyed was when we showed up on the helicopter in a tuxedo with a machine gun, laughing. In that very brief shining moment, he felt like actual Joker. The rest of the movie he just sauntered around like a ghetto gangster, going, "WHERE'S HARRRLEYYY?!" and doing fuck-all else. Again, maybe those deleted scenes flesh out his character better, but I can only speak to the final product on-screen. The Joker I saw was boring and did very little of interest. To all the people saying this is the "true comic book Joker", exactly what and how much are you smoking? I saw hardly anything of the Clown Prince of Crime I know (and yes I have read many Batman comics and graphic novels). He never felt manic or unpredictable, just another dull gang banger. 

"Docthor Quinthzel, I neeth a mathine gun."

Furthermore, his relationship with Harley Quinn did not measure up, either. First of all: screenwriters, pick an origin story and stick with it. Don't give me 15 non-linear flashbacks borrowing from Batman: The Animated Series, Mad Love, The New 52, etc. PICK ONE! With the frantic cutting, the filmmakers seemed more concerned with cramming as many tiny Harley/Joker moments into a montage as they could, rather than flesh out the actual relationship. Sure, that Alex Ross shot was a cool little geek moment, but it got lost in a mess of other snippets. The thing about Harley's various origin stories is, they are drastically different, particularly when it comes to Harley making the choice. You can't throw them all in a blender together because they look cool. My personal favorite was always Dr. Quinzel falling in love with him and simply going mad from that - no chemicals or other bullshit needed. In Suicide Squad, the timeline of their relationship is all over. She seemingly falls for him, but then he electro-shocks her? She calls him "Mr. J" on the table (way too early, if you ask me) so she has already become Harley Quinn at that point. Then he asks her to jump into chemicals? Why was the chemicals scene even in there?? It was absolutely pointless and changed her in no way. Plus, Joker then jumps in after her and swoops her into his arms all romantically? Ewww!

He was WAY too fucking sweet to her in this movie. Like it or not, their relationship always has been based on pure domestic abuse but those are the characters - take it or leave it. Do not insult my intelligence by Nicolas Sparksing the shit out of Joker and Harley! When Harley first showed up in the Animated Series, I adored her because she is a strong, intelligent woman who makes terrible, self-harming decisions and I loved that she was so HUMAN. Feminism does not mean always showing women at their peak, it's about showing them honestly, emotional blemishes and all. So she fell in love with a man who physically and emotional abused the shit out of her. It's a situation many women know all too well. It's harsh but it defines the Joker-Harley relationship and to remove it just cheats fans of the characters. Were the filmmakers afraid to show him being cruel to her? Seems odd, considering Suicide Squad otherwise has a weird pre-occupation with beating women, namely Deadshot's references to punching Quinn or telling Flagg to "get up there and sort your woman" (paraphrasing from memory). Getting back to my point: Joker and Harley's relationship in this seemed way too, er, romantic. His entire role in this film is to show up and save Harley. Or he is just plain pimping her out to another thug which was just bizarre and unnecessary. That was seemingly just an excuse to have Margot Robbie dancing seductively, as far as I can tell.

True love means jumping into a vat of food coloring.

The only moment that felt like they might have gotten it right was when Joker runs the car into the river and leaves Harley for dead. It's unclear, however, and I wish they took a moment to show him deliberately, callously abandoning her. Based on his reaction in the next flashback, it seemed like he was genuinely concerned for her. Did he think she was dead? Or did he leave her because he's a prick (as he should be)? I would have liked more of that scene. They could have easily done it in the helicopter scene, too, by having him push her, or deliberately let go of her hand to try and save himself. But that did not happen - it was more like two star-crossed lovers forcefully separated. Eww. Joker is a self-centered psychopath who enjoys Harley as property but commonly abandons or pushes her in harm's way when it pleases him. I saw hardly any of that in Suicide Squad.

 Okay, enough about those two. Onto my final complaint: the villain. Before I saw the film, I was excited about the inclusion of Enchantress, as those more supernatural characters are often left on the cutting room flood (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy *cough*). Plus, she would have been one more member of the Squad with legit superpowers. So you can imagine my disappointment when she turned out to be just a lame ass villain. Why was the subplot of her brother even in this movie? It was completely pointless! The entire Enchantress storyline was convoluted as hell, too. They use her heart to control her but when they stabbed the heart she could simply jump into some other body, but they still needed the heart at the end to kill her...but not kill the scientist she possessed, no. And did you know you can blow up a big magic vortex with regular explosives? Speaking of bombs, when they had that big bomb in the sewer, why not put THAT under the actual villain instead of just taking out her useless brother? Why not both? It is, you know, a bomb. And let's not forget how the entire ending was more like Ghostbusters than the actual Ghostbusters reboot.

More like "Kali Meh", amiright?

In summary, I so wanted to enjoy this movie. I was really rooting for it. For that reason, it is all the more infuriating to me that they fumbled the ball so badly. A nonsensical plot, heinous editing, and the lack of any genuine action sequences made for a dull experience overall. I liked the cast enough that I would give a sequel a shot, preferably if the film is put in better hands - but I am not holding my breath.

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