Trainwreck Cinema - Episode 6 - "Lady Terminator"

 

By: Heather Seebach

TRAINWRECK CINEMA LIVES!!!

Unfortunately, I had to re-locate my videos to DailyMotion but yes, I really did make a new Trainwreck Cinema for the first time in 7+ years, so pardon me as I shake off the dust. The resurrection focuses on a long-time favorite of mine, Lady Terminator. Enjoy!




Review: 'At Night Comes Wolves'


By: Heather Seebach

I went into At Night Comes Wolves knowing only two things about it:

1) It is advertised as an "anti-misogyny horror film"

2) The grammatically incorrect title really bothers me

Admittedly, the anti-misogyny promise lured me right in; unfortunately, it never quite sticks that particular landing. It is an ambitious but messy, meandering genre-bender about toxic marriage, doomsday cults, and love in the time of zombies (yes, you read that correctly). 

Leah (Gabi Alves) is a human doormat to her emotionally abusive husband, Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy). She is ever eager to please her man but nothing she does is good enough for him. When his insults become too much, Leah runs away and soon makes a new friend in Mary May (Sarah Serio). The latter introduces Leah to a prodigal chemist named Davey (Vladimir Noel) who brews up what may be psychedelics and/or poison in the woods. Sounds legit, right? Their little doomsday cult speaks of transcending to a new "phase" of mankind, and a promise to "never feel fear again." There is, however, the small detail of Daniel and his unsavory relationship with Leah's new friends. 

A relationship drama turned cult thriller? I assure you, Ari Aster did not direct this one. The film jumps around the timeline between past and future with completely unnecessary title cards such as "The Past: Origin No 1." As you might guess, there is an ongoing metaphor about wolves but it is too convoluted to take on any real meaning. There are also seemingly pointless subplots, like one involving a park ranger. Then there are the flash-forwards to a post-apocalyptic world where two lovers are dealing with loss after something known cryptically as "The Incident."

In short, the film is all over the map. You might say it feels like three different films tenuously strung together...and you would be right, as that is exactly what it is! Prior to At Night Comes Wolves, director TJ Marine made three short films: one about Leah and Daniel; one about a doomsday cult; and one about post-apocalyptic lovers (all with the exact same characters and respective actors). Had I known that fact going into this feature, I would have been annoyed by the sheer laziness of it. 

Visually, there are vibes of indie horror darlings Benson/Moorhead, or Jeremy Gardner, but the messy writing keeps Wolves from reaching those heights. There are some good, striking shots - I especially dig the post-apocalyptic scenes. The camerawork is very active, almost like a living character in and of itself; this is distracting and pretentious at times, but it also works at other times. I was intrigued by it. Still, my favorite part of the whole film is when a character utters the phrase, "You daft cunt." There is just something real satisfying about that. 

As for the "anti-misogyny horror film" billing, I would love to know how a woman's journey from serving one manipulative man to serving another manipulative man (this time with potions!) counts as a message against misogyny. Any such subtext is lost in the amalgam of genres this film haphazardly throws together. The topic of sexism is frequently broached with all the subtly of a brick, and yet the movie has nothing meaningful to say about it. It is a shame because the film has potential but trying to shoehorn three unrelated tales together into one feature was never a good idea.

out of 5 stars

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Gravitas Ventures will release AT NIGHT COMES WOLVES on digital platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Fandango Now and all major cable/satellite platforms on April 20.  


Review: 'Nobody'


By: Heather Seebach

Bob Odenkirk has had a vice-hold on my heart since the days of Mr. Show but this prolific funny-man blew us all away with his dramatic turn as shady lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and its spinoff, Better Call Saul. From there, Odenkirk became an in-demand supporting actor for Oscar bait such as The Post and Little Women. Not content to stop there, however, Odenkirk has now thrown his hat into the action realm as a full-fledged, John Wickian action hero in Ilya Naishuller's Nobody. The 58-year-old comedian-turned-thespian is not the obvious choice for a big-screen ass-kicker but the gamble pays off in this incredibly fun, over-the-top actioner. 

Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) is a family man living a very mundane life. His job sucks; his marriage has lost its spark; his son resents him; and generally nobody respects him. That all changes when a home invasion drudges up the man he used to be - specifically, a dangerous government hitman. This leads to an unintentional entanglement with the Russian mob who put a target on our hero's head.

Nobody is Naishuller's sophomore feature following another over-the-top action romp, Hardcore Henry, which itself was a spiritual follow-up to the viral Biting Elbows music video "Bad Motherfucker." Gone now is the POV gimmick that defined those efforts but his propensity for insane violence has not diminished one bit. The bloody set pieces are gleefully and unflinchingly brutal with no shortage of dark humor. The bus sequence in particular is delightfully clever and satisfying.

This time Naishuller joined forces with John Wick scribe Derek Kolstad, who has essentially written the same retired-assasin-takes-on-Russian-mob story yet again; however, the introduction of Odenkirk as the unlikely badass brings freshness to an otherwise dull narrative. Nobody watches these movies and relates to Keanu Reeves but most of us can related to a middle-aged, down-trodden man who is pushed too far. Furthermore, Hutch may have a "particular set of skills" but he is still human. He gets his ass kicked - HARD - and it enhances the believability of the action sequences. We see an out-of-practice killer getting his mojo back in real-time.


That is not to say the film is without its share of silliness, which is most welcome. It is a nonstop barrage of blood, bullets, bodies, and broken bones. It has the best use of a claymore mine since...well, ever. Supporting actors RZA and Christopher Lloyd bring even more giddy fun to the mayhem. The gore and the stunts are fantastic, as well. Odenkirk insisted on doing his own stunts, inspired by Jackie Chan in Police Story. You can tell he worked hard to pull this off convincingly and he nailed it.

The emotional family element of the script does not exactly stick the landing but honestly, it does not need to. Mansell's wife and kids are essentially story fodder and - let's be honest - nobody is watching this movie to get their heartstrings pulled. 

Nobody was my first film in a movie theater in over a year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was exactly what I needed and wanted: a balls-out good time full of carnage and humor. The quirkiness and the addition of Odenkirk place this one far ahead of any John Wick movie. See it in a theater if you are able - it's the perfect escape for anyone jonesing for some mindless violence. 


Review: 'Psycho Goreman'


By: Heather Seebach

Fans of Canadian filmmaking collective Astron-6 should already know the name Steven Kostanski but for the rest of you, this director last made waves about five years ago when he and collaborator Jeremy Gillespie made the Lovecraftian throwback, The Void. In addition to the impressive creature FX, I really appreciated that it was an earnest homage to 70s/80s cosmic horror. While it wore its influences heavily on its sleeve, it bypassed that winking meta snarkiness upon which so many modern throwbacks lean. 

In stark contrast to The Void, Kostanski's latest, Psycho Goreman is an all-out comedy but it succeeds where many splattery spoofs fail for one primary reason: it has heart; a sticky, bleeding heart ripped from some poor bastard's chest but heart nonetheless. The movie builds its gory insanity around the familiar E.T. storyline with two young siblings becoming unlikely guardians to a stray space alien. Only this time he is not interested in Reeces' Pieces and phoning home so much as devouring humans and destroying the universe. Known to the rest of the galaxy as the Archduke of Nightmares, this ancient evil was entombed on Earth by his enemies millions of years ago. 

Young Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her brother Luke (Owen Myre) unwittingly awaken the beast while digging in their backyard. They also uncover the key to his power: a glowing amulet known as the Gem of Praxidike. As long as Mimi holds it, the monster - now nicknamed Psycho Goreman (or PG, for short) - must obey the girl's every childish command. Meanwhile, the ancient beings who imprisoned PG descend upon this small suburban town to wage war for the fate of the galaxy. 


Much of Psycho Goreman's humor is derived from the characters' sheer obliviousness to the insanity happening around them. PG (played by Matthew Ninaber and Steven Vlahos) walks around town without much ado, despite the fact that he looks like Radu Molasar from Michael Mann's The Keep in shoulder pads. Mimi likewise shrugs off PG's constant threats to maim and dismember their weak human bodies. Intergalactic horror monsters appear? The kids are barely fazed. Someone gets turned into a giant brain? No biggie. Even when they dress PG up in clothing (like Dr. Alan Grant, no less, in a playful nod to Spielberg), it seems more for fun than out of any necessity to blend in. You just can't have an 80s homage without the obligatory dressing room montage, right? 

With this heightened state of bizarro reality, the movie is free to be as weird as it likes. Much like with The Void, the gore and creature effects deliver in spades. Forget CGI; this one relies on prosthetics, rubber suits, puppets, and even stop-motion animation. I was constantly impressed with the film's rogues' gallery of creatures, whose inspirations seemingly run the gamut from Japanese tokusatsu and Ray Harryhausen to Stuart Gordon and GWAR. If nothing else, fans of schlocky FX will delight in Psycho Goreman's monsters. My personal favorite is the strangely adorable councilmember, Tube-Man:

The film's "heart" comes from the family dynamic, and it is just as twisted and mangled as you might expect from a movie called Psycho Goreman. PG's arrival forces Luke to finally confront the fact that his sister is abusive and manipulative, and the siblings' relationship grows from the experience. All the while, they remain oblivious and selfish to the damage they have inflicted upon the universe in keeping PG as a pet. Meanwhile, their bickering parents - who I am convinced are the live-action embodiment of Beth and Jerry Smith from Rick & Morty - are equal parts clueless and neglectful. Nobody really learns anything which is hilarious and even twistedly endearing in an "us-vs-the-world" sort of way. 

Psycho Goreman does not achieve the perfectly balanced schlock and sincerity of a film like, say, Turbo Kid - it has neither the charming characters nor the production value - but it makes for an entertaining, over-the-top, and somewhat cynical comedy that fully embraces the nostalgia of an 80s Spielberg or Dante film where kids run the show, while simultaneously mocking the innocence of that subgenre. Furthermore, it does so without obnoxiously winking at its audience all the time. Finally, I want to mention the soundtrack, which is largely comprised of original hair metal (naturally), and PG even has his own rap song much like Freddy Krueger. Make sure to stay through the end credits so you can enjoy that little gem! 

out of 5

RLJE Films will release Psycho Goreman in theaters, On Demand, and digital on January 22nd, 2021. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of "IT: Chapter 2"


By: Heather Seebach

***Warning: The following contains major IT: Chapter 2 spoilers***

If you read my review of IT: Chapter 2, you already know that I have mixed feelings about the film. There are aspects of the film that really work, while others made me downright angry. To avoid spoilers, I had to be fairly vague about my gripes in that review, so I wanted to write about the specific things that worked for me, and the things that bugged me. Keep in mind, the complaints still come from a place of love. I love the first film so much and it set the bar really high. As a result, my relationship with Chapter 2 is like that of a mother whose child has let her down. I'm not angry, just...disappointed. Why can't you be more like your older brother?!

Anyway, silly metaphors aside, the film has some really good elements and some real crap ones. I feel they are all worth discussing and so I will dissect them as honestly as I can. So here be spoilers, ye have been warned for the last time....


The Good

The Adrian Mellon Scene: Pulled right from the pages of Stephen King's novel, this scene is just as brutal and disturbing as it is supposed to be. Triggering as it may be to some viewers, it is essential that the scene be included. The first film saw children disappearing and sadistic bullies, but the terror needed to grow up along with the Losers Club. Depicting a brutal hate crime brings a kind of adult realism to the horror, especially in today's sociopolitical climate. A lot of viewers found this scene uncomfortable to watch but did not bat an eye at Georgie's death - that speaks volumes about what disturbs people on a deeper level, and that is exactly why it needed to be in the film. As for Pennywise's appearance in this scene, I loved it. Firstly, the depiction of him biting Adrian was far improved over the Georgie bite in the first film. Secondly, the bloody meat dangling from his mouth was a nice touch. If I could have added one thing, it would be one of my favorite little moments from the novel: Adrian's boyfriend, Don, runs screaming for help and you hear a little voice taunting him from the water - help - followed by a giggle. If you need help, Don, help yourself to a balloon!


Adult Henry Bowers: I loved the portrayal of adult Henry Bowers, even if he was sadly underused. Teach Grant, much like the rest of the actors, was great casting. I loved the introduction to Bowers in the Juniper Hill mental institution: the red balloon; the Patrick Hockstetter zombie; the bloody escape. One of my favorite little moments in the whole film is that Dutch angle shot of Bowers hopping into the passenger seat of his Firebird with zombie Hockstetter at the wheel. Get in loser, we're going murderin'!



The Losers' Club Reunion: The reunion in the Chinese restaurant is the best (and unfortunately, the only) representation of the adult Losers' chemistry. This is the closest the adult characters ever came to matching the camaraderie of their young counterparts. My only complaint about this scene is some of Eddie's reactions to the teasing are over-the-top. He gets excessively angry in a way that seems inconsistent with his character in the rest of the film. It is a very deliberate choice - even the editing adds to the effect - but it is very awkward. Other than that, I loved them all together in this scene, and the Pennywise hijinks that follow are suitably creepy. That freakin insect baby!


Every Pennywise the Clown Scene: I am referring exclusively to the scenes with Pennywise in clown form here. Yes, I am biased - I cannot get enough of that clown - but I really do think his scenes were some of the highlights of Chapter 2. In addition to the aforementioned Adrian Mellon scene, I love the scene with the little girl under the bleachers. I love that the girl does not fall for his "I'm your friend" shit so he pivots to a pity tactic instead. And his lunging bite (see below) was awesome - it resembled a shark attack. Similarly, the Funhouse scene with him licking the glass and that demonic smile was great. Perhaps my favorite Pennywise moment of the whole film, though, is when Ben is being buried under the dirt and the clown is taunting him. "All those sit-ups but deep down still just a little, fat, fat, fatty loser. Always knew you would die ALONE!" There is something in his voice there that suggests he is just fed up with these Losers. No more playful taunting and dancing, now he is just blunt!



Return to Neibolt House: I loved the scene when Pennywise is carving "Home At Last" into Ben's torso, especially the moment when he puts the knife to his throat. Ben's helplessness there is so scary, plus seeing Pennywise slitting someone's throat is way more unsettling than his usual shtick. It feels more...human? Now that's scary. Meanwhile, in the other room, we get the Stanley spider-head. Upon first viewing, this obvious nod to The Thing took me out of the scene a little bit but I came around to loving it. It is a great creepy effect and Richie quoting Palmer ("You gotta be fucking kidding") made my horror fan heart happy. Later on, Richie and Eddie face the three doors again (Scary/Very Scary/Not Scary At All). Sure, it is redundant of the first film, but that is the point, I suppose. I liked the callback to Betty Ripsom's missing legs, and that Pomeranian monster was sick! It kind of reminded me of the rabbit trick monster from Twilight Zone: The Movie. I also really liked the sequence with Beverly in the bathroom stall, as monsters from her past try to push through the door. That was a nice throwback to the first chapter without simply re-doing the same thing.


The Bad

The Adult Losers' Introductions: The biggest problem here is the scenes are not long enough. Granted, the film is already too long but I would rather have seen other scenes be cut and get more character backstory. I know 7 characters and 27 years is a lot to squeeze in but a little more development would have helped me care about these characters more down the line. Bill is shown on a film set with his wife Audra (whose role was significantly reduced) and for what? Basically just to kick off that recurring Stephen King joke about crappy endings. The only thing we learn about Ben is that he runs some kind of company (which you may or may not ascertain is related to architecture). We see that Eddie basically married his mom. The fact that the same actress plays both his wife and mother, though, is hilarious and I love that. Ironically, Stanley gets more backstory than he had in the novel. The scene that bothers me most, however, is Beverly's. Here is a woman who has been in an abusive relationship for years, no doubt as a result of her abusive father. Within the span of five minutes, she kicks his ass and leaves him. Now, it is not the kicking his ass part that bothers me. In the novel, she beats his ass even worse, but it is clear that Mike's phone call awakens something in her. She remembers Derry, the clown, and how strong she really is. Her husband sees a fury in her that he has never seen before. Nothing will stop her fulfilling her promise. In the movie, however, she continues to cower and apologize until she has to defend herself, then leaves him like it's nothing. It's that easy, ladies! Then the worst part: she triumphantly removes her wedding ring. Really? That was a really lame and obvious way to say, oh hey, it's okay for her to kiss Bill and Ben now! Ugh.



Henry Bowers Washes Up: This is a minor complaint but I have to mention it. In the middle of the 2016 scenes, the film cuts to the sewers flooding and out washes the bodies of the missing children from 1989 and a teenage Henry Bowers. The editing there is highly confusing, as it jumps 27 years back without any sort of transition. For comparison, the next scene jumps back to 2016 with Bowers in Juniper Hill but there is a very clear transition with the balloon and the scene changing to a dim grey color. The scene that re-introduces young Bowers had no such transition or date stamp and every time I watch the movie, I find it really annoying.


"This Stick Kills Monsters...If You Believe It Does": Just stupid. And corny. Enough said.


Richie's Excessive Quipping: Naturally, Richie is full of one-liners, and most of them are fine. The ones that got annoying to me occurred in the middle of tense moments. I understand that the character, like many real people, makes jokes when scared or nervous, but in those moments, I got no indication that Richie was actually scared or nervous. The aforementioned Stanley spider scene is one such example, where Richie does not even seem fazed. On the contrary, an example where the quipping worked: after Richie kills Bowers, he makes that "overdue" joke, and then immediately vomits. That works great! Without the puking, the quip would have killed that scene for me, but the fact that he threw up shows that he is genuinely rattled. Too often his jokes were calm and casual amidst the chaos and those are the moments when the quipping fell flat.


The Death of Pennywise: They bullied him to death? Really? When they were planning to lure him through the cave's opening to make him physically small, I was down for that plan. Seemed reasonable, since he is limited to the physical form he inhabits, right? Eddie just told us that with his dying words, so clearly that is important, right? Nah, they threw that plan out the window and opted to yell at him instead. Wait, isn't that basically what they did in the first movie, only they simultaneously beat his ass in that one? That did not kill him then, but I guess it will work now if you just use words. Then he turns into a deflated scrotum for some reason. Am I the only one who felt sorry for Pennywise there? Retreating like a wounded animal, having his legs torn off, then grasping at his heart with those little baby hands? Were we supposed to feel sorry for him? Because I definitely did.




The Ugly

The De-Aging of the Kids: Okay, look, I know this one is not fair. The filmmakers cannot help the kids hitting puberty, but if we are talking about glaring ugly things in Chapter 2, I have to mention it. It is most noticeable in the clubhouse flashback. I thought Finn Wolfhard (Richie) was going to be the most difficult to de-age but man, Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben) looked like a cartoon at times. Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) was also problematic but moreso because the ADR was not syncing up with his motor-mouth. It is cringey to watch, but again, puberty is a bitch so I forgive this one


Mrs. Kersh Witch: This one I do not forgive. The sequence with Mrs. Kersh and Beverly in the apartment is so tense and wonderful...right up until the old lady changes form. She is supposed to be inspired by the witch from Hansel and Gretel but instead she looks like Gollum with saggy titties and Treasure Troll hair. The character design is just silly. I also see no reason why FX make-up was not exclusively used here, especially with the great Javier Botet playing the role. Much like the flute lady in Chapter 1, I am betting there was some quality makeup work behind this creature that was then ruined with digital cover-up. At least the flute lady had a cool character design. I hate this one. To imagine (and weep for) what could have been, compare the Kersh witch to the creature below from [REC], also played by Javier Botet:



Angel of the Morning: This moment is divisive among viewers. When Eddie is strangling the leper, it spews black fluid all over his face while Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" kicks in. While I usually like this random sort of humor (I loved the similar New Kids on the Block gag in the first film), this one did not work for me. Perhaps it's the fact that "Angel of the Morning" was so memorably used in Deadpool just a few years ago, or perhaps it's the way it comes absolutely out of nowhere. If the song had been previously mentioned in Eddie's life, or even been on the radio in the pharmacy, the gag would have been earned. Instead, it is just nonsensical and unfunny.


Rehashing Chapter 1's Jokes: Another way to be very unfunny is to constantly and aggressively quote the first film. The movie is only two years old for fuck's sake, you don't need to repeat all the quotes! At least when Pennywise does it (like when he mentioned gazebos) it makes sense because he stalks them and uses their words to taunt them. When Beverly says "beep beep, Richie", however, it makes absolutely no goddamn sense. That phrase was already awkwardly shoehorned into Chapter 1, but it is so much worse when Bev, who has never heard that in her life, says it. Then later, Eddie too gets in on the act with a "beep beep, motherfucker!" as he charges Pennywise. Ugh, just stop. Finally, the one that I absolutely loathe: when Bill recalls what Richie said 27 years ago at the Neibolt House and Richie proceeds to rattle off three different quotes. I don't want to die? Good thing we're not measuring dicks? Let's kill this fucking clown? First of all, they did not even remember Derry existed a few hours ago, but Richie can recite three different things he said 27 years ago in the midst of an evil clown battle? I know, perhaps I'm taking it too seriously, but aside from how unrealistic that is, I just cannot stand how this movie feels the need to pull from Chapter 1 so much. It is unnecessary, forced, unfunny, and cringey as hell.


Okay, that is enough bitching from me. What were your gripes and/or favorite moments?


Terror Tourism: The Gorehound's Playground (Fort Collins, Colorado)


By: Heather Seebach

My full-time job involves a lot of travelling. Every time I visit a new city, my first order of business is finding the best spots for a horror nerd like myself. Consequently, I have become pretty good at it! That is why I decided to start a recurring feature dedicated to those places: Terror Tourism! If you love horror, cult film, b-movies, etc. like me, and you find yourself in a new town, allow me to be your guide.

The first edition of this new feature is dedicated to a little shop with a lot of heart in Fort Collins, Colorado. I discovered The Gorehound's Playground on a work trip to Denver - it was totally worth the drive up North, so much so that I visited again on a subsequent trip to the Mile High City. Opened on Halloween of 2017, the Playground is primarily a retail store, selling movies, artwork, collectibles, and more, but it also functions as an event and community gathering space. They host filmmaker networking events, private parties, and occasionally, movie screenings. Check out these comfy couches in their screening room where I watched the hilariously awful Ninja Zombie:



On my first visit, I had a great chat with owner Jeff Abbott who clearly shares my passion for horror and cult cinema. He has a desire to bring new fans into this counterculture but also to give existing fans a place to shop, share, and socialize in Northern Colorado. I was impressed with their wide selection of both mainstream and obscure films, including releases from Arrow, Synapse, Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, and The Criterion Collection. They carry both used and new films, and rent them out, as well. I picked up a couple Blu-rays for my collection back home, including Turkey Shoot, Contamination, and Demon Wind, plus some magnets and this sweet t-shirt that is basically me: 


In addition to the many products they sell, The Gorehound's Playground also acts as a consignment shop where local artists can feature and sell their art, music, and merchandise. There is just a great sense of community here that I love. This is the sort of rare place that I want to throw all my money at and hope it never closes - and I don't even live in Colorado! I just love that it exists at all. If I did live there, it would certainly be my second home. 




If you want to support them but do not live nearby, you can visit their online store HERE. You don't need Amazon to find good films - support small businesses like this! If you live in the Fort Collins area, or plan to visit, head over to 1125 W Drake Rd, Unit B-6. Watch an obscure film, or take some with you - whatever you do, check out The Gorehound's Playground!

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Fort Collins Bonus: If you are in the area and have a grumbly tummy, grab a slice at Totally 80s Pizza, a 'za shop and museum dedicated to the greatest decade. With that theme, you know there must be a little something there for horror fans....



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....

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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?





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