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Fright Fest: Zombieland (2009)

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Zombieland: The Best Zombie Movie

Yep, you read that right—it is my assertion that Zombieland represents the best the genre has to offer. And yes, I will present proof of my claims. But first, the synopsis.

When we meet our intrepid main character, Columbus (survivors go by place names rather than their actual names), we’re post zombie apocalypse. Columbus devises a list of rules to remain un-undead, which becomes a running joke throughout the movie (i.e. Rule # 31: Check the back seat; and my favorite, Rule # 17: Don’t be a hero—which changes into “Be a hero” by the third act. But I digress.). He meets up with another survivor, Tallahassee, who is on a quest for Twinkies (priorities, man).  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Gremlins 2 (1990)

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This essay contains spoilers for, and assumes prior knowledge of, Gremlins and Gremlins 2. If you don’t want to be spoiled, go watch the films first. So, I’ve written about Gremlins < http://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/someday-you-may-be-ready > elsewhere. It’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written online, at least in terms of number of views, which is both gratifying and mystifying. And I feel like I should start by stating the obvious – it doesn’t need a sequel. There’s nothing significant left hanging in terms of plot or character resolution that needed another movie to explore. The movie is, in Aristotelian terms, a complete action. The most you can say in defense of any proposed sequel is that the first movie leaves the door open, what with Gizmo still being alive at the end, but that’s a long way from having a sequel be either needed or, necessarily, desirable.  Continue Reading


Creature Features in Review: Critters (1986)

Watch the skies! Keep your family close. A new terror is invading our world. They are…KRITES…no wait, sorry, CRITTERS…yeah, definitely that! If you’re a nerd, such as myself, then you are probably aware of such a movie called “Critters,” and the three other sequels that followed. Critters is not the first horror-comedy to grace this Creature Features series, but at the same time, it is something quite unique. When you think “monster movies” you kinda assume something like gigantic lizards that breath fire, or mutant genetically altered insects, or maybe even meteor shit that turns out to be some sort of alien slug that turns people into a mess of zombified conglomerated flesh. But when we get catch phrases like, “They bite,” and “When you got Critters, you need all the help you can get,” we sort of don’t know what to think. Is this movie serious? Or is it pure spoof comedy? Is it even horror? On one spectrum, you’ve got Roger Ebert giving this flick a thumbs up back in 1986 while on the other hand sporting a meager 43% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics have called Critters “Gremlins on acid,” (MovieHole) while others have said that “Critters [is] a franchise [that] has nothing on the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but it’s proven popular enough with Gen X-ers who forward ‘You know you’re a child of the ’80s if…’ emails to all their office mates” (Slate Magazine.) So what is it about Critters that appeals to some while turns away others?

Let’s take this one step at a time.

To get us started, here is a wonderful synopsis by our friends over at IMDb:

“A race of small, furry aliens make lunch out of the locals in a farming town.”

BRAVO!!!! Okay, well, my work here is done, folks. Furry aliens make lunch…oh, you can’t get any better than that people, that is pure gold. Well, as pure usual, they aren’t wrong. Here’s what I got while watching the movie for the…jeez…I don’t know, maybe twentieth time maybe? Somewhere around there. As our heroes over at IMDb pointed out, yes, furry aliens do make lunch, but as the New Line Cinema bold red screen appears, one Nightmare on Elm Street fans should recognize with a sense of glee, the screen opens on a giant space rock that so happens to also be a prison. We don’t really get to see much here, just a bunch of dialogue going on off screen. Supposedly, a violent criminal species known as Krites are being transported to the facility. Right away we’re told they “eat everything.” Just as my Magic 8-Ball predicted, the Krites escape the facility by stealing a space vessel and take off toward planet Earth. Here we get little (get it?) glimpses of the Krites, their claws and hear their language which has been thankfully translated for us via closed captioning.

The warden on this highly secured prison, who looks like the Caterpiller from Alice in Wonderland, hires “the bounty hunters” to track down these fiendish hungry villains and dispatch them. And it’s around here when the screen opens on a quaint small farm in a quiet small town. Nothing much to hate about this place. We’ve got our A typical American breed family. Pa and Ma and big sister and little mischevious bro Brown. A stark difference to the science fiction space opera going on in the beginning. Here we’ve got one of the most overused and iconic of horror and sci-fi backdrops, the American farming town. But given the opening, there’s already a feeling of helter skelter. What are we watching? Horror or sci-fi? Is this ET or “Gremlins on acid?” I have no idea, but I do know one thing, we’ve got  Dee Wallace, ET’s Henry Thomas’s mother in nearly the same dubious role as the harried Ma Brown of young Brad Brown (played by Scott Grimes who I believed was actually a younger Judd Nelson), our plucky kid hero who goes to battle against these Krites; Critter invaders.

Several scenes play out as we patiently wait for what we really came here to see. Aliens eating people and GORE. Spoiler: the latter you’re not going to get much of, sorry. My biggest concern watching this film was regarding young Brad. Now, yes, we all adore the stereotypical young boy who loves fireworks and plays with M-80s, whistlin’ bungholes, spleen splitters, whisker biscuits, honkey lighters, hoosker doos, hoosker don’ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, scooter stick, and whistlin’ kitty chasers. But good God man, this kid is packing more than your typical firecracker. This thing is a bomb. His father reprimands him, also looking a bit weary about his son’s interest in explosives. Later, we see Brad sent to his room where he has a workbench of destruction and assembles what looks a lot like a stick of dynamite. Seriously, where are this kid’s parents?

Two highlights soon follow. Billy Zane and Bill Zane’s death. More on that to follow. Zane must have been just starting out acting when Critters came along. He looks quite young and only has a few lines. I did like that they made the big sister and girlfriend of Zane’s (played by Canada’s sweetheart Nadine Van der Velde) as the promiscuous one. She’d practically dragging young Zane up into the loft where she has prepared a sort of love nest, complete with 80s jams. Earlier, when Pa learns of his daughter’s new New York city boyfriend, he quickly asks his wife if they’ve had the talk on “how things are.” Jeez, I can only imagine what that talk as about consider sister Brown’s later behavior. But hey, who am I to judge the phenomenal romance of teenage love?

As far as horror movies go. I do not think this is such. This wasn’t horrifying. Even the going into the basement scary scene wasn’t really scary. It’s hard to be scared with Gremlin sized furballs cracking jokes in some strange intergalactic language. That’s not to say Critters wasn’t good. Critters is actually a fun movie to watch. The characters are not deep or complex, but their motivations are easy to understand and thus we do not have to invest a lot of brain power with them. Just as with the plot, though seemingly complex with the beforementioned space opera, it’s actually an oversimplification of several movies that came out in the space of 1986. Critters is without a doubt “Gremlins on acid,” it’s also got a touch of The Terminator with the machine-like bounty hunters and the garb they wear. And director Stephen Herek (director of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is not shy poking fun at ET. There’s a great scene with one of the Krites talking with a stuffed ET doll, yelling “Who are you!” And then ripping the doll’s head off. Looking back at Herek’s resume, it’s easy to see that he is mostly a fan of light hearted-humored movies. He wants to have fun and that mood is clearly carried throughout the film.

One of my favorite scenes involves Dee Wallace versus one the Critters that attack the family while they are retreating back into their house from the porch. The family gets back inside, and out on the porch one Critter turns to the other and warns that they “have weapons.” His Critter buddy replies, “So what?” Dee Wallace sticks out the barrel of her shotgun through the door and blows the “so what” Critter into goo. his buddy turns to his dispatched friend and screams “Fuck!” in his own intergalactic language, shown to use again by that marvelous closed captioning. It’s little moments like this sprinkled throughout the movie that makes Critters fun and funny to watch.

Oh, I also forgot. This town, as the sheriff (played by the fantastic M. Emmet Walsh) was quick to say, is a circus, and just like any good or decent circus, it comes complete with its very own town drunk/alien conspiracy nut/minor-leaguye baseball washout by the name of Charlie (played by Don Keith Opper). Charlie is quick to predict the arrival of the aliens, either by the feelings in his fillings or by dumb luck, the latter more like, and fumbles his way throughout the entire movie, stepping up at the very end by lofting a molotov cocktail into the alien spacecraft, destroying it and the creatures inside, thus saving the day. What I liked more about the end was the utter “fuck you” given by the Krites as they attempt to flee, firing a laser on the American Dream, portrayed in this movie with the Brown’s farm house, blowing brick and wood and shingles to smithereens. It’s usually in moments like this when I begin to formulate any possible meanings or questions the movie and or director are trying to convey. Seeing the destruction of the “American Dream” begs the question of what’s most important to us, was the “Dream” a lie all along? Was keeping the family together the most important part and that even when you’ve done everything right you will not necessarily get to ride off into the sunset?

Well…as I was pondering these questions I had believed the movie was asking, the preverbal reset button was pushed and the house rebuilt itself via a device given to Brad as a “thank you” from the aliens. In seconds, the house is restored to its original glory. Watching this and then seeing the credits roll I was left somewhat dumb stuck. Did the director just punk me, as I image he punked countless over movie reviewers before me? Maybe.

Regardless, Critters is certainly a classic film, one that kids of the 80’s without a doubt share in email and threads on social media as one of those flicks that defined an era. The mood was lighthearted, and despite certain scenes with F-bombs being dropped, I’d say Critters is family friendly. Could they have upped the gore and blood and violence and made this sucker even more of a satire than what it turned out to be? I think I would have loved it even more! But the lack of blood and guts doesn’t deter me from enjoying some 1980s nostalgia.

My rating: 4/5

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmo, and his latest release, THE HOBBSBURG HORROR. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon) are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelor’s in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Slither (2006)

 

Again I find myself mesmerized by the complexity of the creature features subgenre. And as a first, thus far in our little series, we find ourselves in the midst of a horror-comedy within the creature feature mythology. The gory ridiculous atmosphere of Slither (2006) is no doubt the responsibility of its creator, directed no less than by Guardian of the Galaxy symphonist James Gunn. Now, as most already probably know but I’ll mention it here again, Gunn has an interesting repertoire of cinematic exploits. He was the director who took on the remake to Dawn of the Dead (1978), keeping certain elements whilst still maintaining itself as a stand alone movie ALL THE WHILE pleasing not just audiences, but fans of George A. Romero’s beloved classic. But Gunn is not without question…he did have a hand in those live-action Scooby-Doo movies and the not so cult-classic Tales from the Crapper. This weekend, apparently The Belko Experiment, in which Gunn wrote the screenplay, will finally be released to theaters, having started playing trailers off and on as far back as November of 2016, has already come under fire from critics. So where does that leave Slither? Well…I think I’ll leave that explanation on the shoulders of our esteemed guest contributor, Jonny Numb.

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By: Jonny Numb

 

Universal’s decision to let James Gunn direct Slither was an act of faith that spoke to the studio’s appreciation of how his Dawn of the Dead screenplay – coupled with Zack Snyder’s direction – led that film to box-office success.

The result – a 1950s-styled creature feature that combined practical FX with CGI – was a pastiche with a disparate cast (including cult favorites Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker, and rising star Elizabeth Banks) that had a mercilessly short theatrical run.

I get it because I wasn’t a fan of Slither when I first saw it on DVD. I can’t remember why it didn’t click for me – maybe because it leaned on “backwoods redneck” character types too much (and that specific type of humor); maybe because my taste in sci-fi is maddeningly specific; and maybe – just maybe – it was because I had yet to be exposed to the wonders of Captain Mal on Firefly.

In any event, I revisited the film last year (for the first time in a decade) and was surprised that my feelings toward it had improved. While problematic in places (mostly in the wobbly, tone-setting early going), Slither grows into a bizarre and sneakily subversive take on the sci-fi it’s paying loving homage to:

The Blob (either version). The Thing (Carpenter version). Invasion of the Body Snatchers (mostly the ‘50s version).

There are also subtle-to-obvious references to the works of David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, as well as Gunn’s former tenure as a screenwriter for Troma (including a Lloyd Kaufman cameo); and keep an eye on the Main Street storefronts during the opening credits for more sly Easter Eggs.

Grant Grant (Rooker) is a macho sleazeball in cheesy glasses who’s married to trophy wife (and elementary-school teacher) Starla (Banks). Spurned by his wife’s refusal to fulfill her duty as willing sex object one night, Grant meets up with local bar girl Brenda (Brenda James). In a bit of cosmic irony, they find themselves in the woods, and Grant has feelings of remorse before he can consummate any carnal desires. More ironic still, this leads Grant to the discovery of a translucent egg-sac with a symbolically vaginal opening, one from which something shoots out, infecting him with an extraterrestrial parasite. After the transformed, meat-craving Grant impregnates Brenda, she becomes the “mother” to the alien invasion.

Once the parasites explode (literally), Slither really kicks into gear. Gleefully grotesque practical effects – and some CGI that hasn’t aged as well – ensue.

To make a hard right turn: does anyone really talk about Kylie (Tania Saulnier), and how she’s probably the smartest, most resourceful character in the movie?

Only on my most recent viewing did it occur to me that we see her not once (in the high-school classroom), but twice (in the crowd at the town’s “Deer Cheer” event) before being properly introduced around the family dinner table (where she makes reference to the “Japanese” design of her painted fingernails (tentacles much?). Her character is at the center of a great setpiece midway through, during which she’s taking a bath with her earbuds in, and winds up fending off a parasite with a curling iron. Even more so than the scene’s well-taken stylistic nods to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Shivers, notice how Gunn allows Kylie to react as rationally as the situation will allow, without turning it into an excuse for T&A or a gory money shot. When the tub parasite nearly shoots down her throat, Kylie briefly taps into the aliens’ shared consciousness – and the glimpses of havoc on an unnamed planet far, far away certainly foreshadows Gunn’s eventual segue into the world of high-budget comic-book blockbusters.

Rather ingeniously, the DVD cover for Slither – that of Kylie in the tub, being descended upon by thousands of squirming parasites – represents the film more accurately than most video-art concepts (which tend toward hyperbole). It’s unsubtle without really giving anything away, and Gunn subverts expectations for the scene itself by guiding it to a surprising conclusion. The sequence of events that follows the tub encounter is brilliantly rendered, and reminded me of Barbara’s full-moon escape from the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead (yes, the 1990 remake).

There are other things, as well:

The comic relief of Mayor Jack MacReady (played by Brian De Palma regular Gregg Henry), who – in look and demeanor – bears an eerie resemblance to a certain boorish ex-reality-TV star. He’s paranoid, perpetually angry, casually misogynistic, and at one point asks if the town’s being “invaded by the Russkies.” Gunn’s smart handling ensures that we’re always laughing at this clown, and Henry is definitely in on the joke.

Meanwhile, Starla transitions from Grant’s doormat to a model of marriage to, eventually, a woman who wakes up to the fact that her husband’s internal ugliness has manifested on the outside in a way that’s rather poetic. Their final confrontation is a fine demonstration of Beauty no longer tolerating the Beast’s shit.

So maybe, finally, the film resembles Bride of the Monster (but in title only. Thank God).

One nagging question, though: even with the padlock on the basement door, how did the stench of all those dead pets not make its way through the vents in the Grant household?

Jonny Numb’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Jon Weidler, aka Jonny Numb, is no stranger here on Machine Mean. He has contributed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) AND Clean, Shaven for our Fright Fest month back in October. Mr. Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd). You can read his review of A&C Meet Mummyhere.

Tune into The Last Knock for the best of HORROR movie reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Krampus (2015) w/ Kurt Thingvold

 

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Nothing makes Christmas better than a warm cup of cocoa or the warmth of your loved one sitting next to you, as you snuggle close to watch your favorite Christmas shows. Except, when the cable goes out and nothing seems to be on, you find yourself heading down to the nearest Redbox—you can’t break tradition ( my wife loves tradition, god help me, if I break our holiday ritual). You see that all the movies are sold out—the only one remaining is “Krampus”. You select it and move back to the house, and you and the misses continue the night. I can’t stand the holidays. My father passed away five days after Christmas and to this day: December is my month of hell, so, when it comes down to it: I fake it for my wife’s sake. Now, Holiday movies are a different kind of beast for me.  I love them—they make you feel good and warm, (I can’t explain it and neither can my therapist) and you see people be happy and together—which, is always a good thing. Now, I love horror movies and holiday movies, More so, I was excited to get the opportunity to write this review. So, let’s make sure our stockings are hung tight on the fireplace with care, add a little bailey’s to our cocoa, and let’s look at “Krampus.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with European traditions, Krampus works for Santa Claus, abducts naughty children and stuffs them into a sack, and whips them with a switch, repeatedly. Now, that you know that I feel a little safer continuing with the review.

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Krampus is a holiday horror film directed by Michael Dougherty, who also directed, “Trick’r’Treat”, another great holiday movie, and will be directing the upcoming “Godzilla” Sequel. Which, if you’ve seen “Trick’r’Treat”, you can imagine what type of movie “Krampus” will be.  A bit of humor, and a bit of terror.

The story takes place on Dec.22.  A suburbanite family is preparing for their annual Christmas get together.  Tom and Sarah and their two children: Max and Beth. Sarah’s sister Linda and her husband, and their three children. Along with their German-speaking grandmother, Omni.  The family has a bit of a falling out, and max rips up his letter to Santa—which summons the Krampus, who appears when people have lost their Christmas spirit have lost their Christmas spirit (unlike, the Germanic folklore of Krampus beating naughty children with sticks).  The power is cut and all hell breaks loose, family member begins to disappear and toys start attacking the family.  Omni reveals that the family is being tormented by the Krampus, and tells of a time when she had lost her Christmas spirit and her hometown was dragged to hell.  Max finds Krampus loading his sleigh with his family members and begs and pleads with the demon to return his family, and that he will appreciate Christmas and never lose sight of it again.  Contemplating the plea—Krampus opens up a portal to hell, and max apologizes, considering his apology, drops the child into the pit.

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Max screams and wakes up, back into his bed—on Christmas Eve, with everything back to normal.  The camera pans out and you see the house in a snow globe, as Krampus watches the house to make sure, the Christmas spirit is never broken again.

The movie wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t good.  It was well worth the Redbox price. One thing I will praise this film for are the special effects. Weta workshop nailed the look and feel of what I think are demonic toys.  Krampus looked amazing as well. While I can’t praise a movie for special effects alone (learned my lesson after the Beowulf movie).  Also, the dysfunctional family plays out well. It feels like Gremlins—I like that.

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One thing that I feel is: The story is too generic, the twist ending, the grandma who knows what’s going on and the overall trope of the family.  It felt like any other holiday movie when it could have been something, so, different and magical.  Yet, it stayed too much into the Holiday trope of killer presents, and everything working out again and starting something anew.  It had a lot of hits and misses with me.

Overall, I had fun with the movie, and my wife…well…she thought it was “Okay”, and that’s the best response I can manage to get out of her.  I would have loved to have added this movie to my holiday library, I just feel, now is not the time.

kurtthingvold

Kurt Thingvold was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Fright Fest: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2015- )

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PREVIOUSLY, ON ASH VS EVIL DEAD… So last season, I wrote a review of Ash vs. Evil Dead for The Ginger Nuts of Horror, (mostly) singing its praises. My few criticisms of the first season were the Scully character (do we need one of these in every show with a slight whiff of paranormal? let’s just do without them from now on, please) who eventually evened out and became interesting (right before she was killed),and the sometimes jarring tonal shifts. (You can read said review here)

 

Spoilers ahead, though (duh) it’s a review. We should all be used to this by now.

The ending of last season polarized fans. Some thought it didn’t make sense for Ash to hand his quest to rid the world of Deadites over to Ruby, though perhaps those viewers hadn’t been watching the same series I was. It’s always been an inner struggle for Ash between being a hero and being a hard-partying slacker—the whole season hinged on that. That, in the end, he gives up the Necronomicon to spend the rest of his days drinking and womanizing in Jacksonville fits perfectly with Ash’s M.O. prior to meeting fellow “ghostbeaters” Kelly and Pablo. That he does it under the guise of “saving” his new friends gives the decision a bit of emotional weight. We feel that even though he’s regressed, he’s at least grown in that he no longer sees himself as a lone wolf.

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AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION

(Although not really. We’re only 5 episodes deep.)

Season Two starts out with the pedal to the metal. No setup required. We already know Ash is partying hard in Jacksonville, and we could already guess Kelly and Pablo would be growing bored and restless, tagging along, likely waiting for Ash to come to his senses. What we probably didn’t guess is that Ash is a popular attraction. Everyone seems to love him. At first, I thought Jacksonville might be some sort of parallel dimension, but I suppose everyone is just drunk enough to find him and his chainsaw entertaining. When Ruby realizes she can’t fight the demon Baal on her own—she finds a picture of Ash in the Necronomicon—she then reneges on her part of the bargain, drawing Ash back to Elk Grove, where he grew up. (I suppose they changed his hometown from Dearborn, Michigan to Elk Grove for the same reason they changed S-Mart to Value Stop, due to a rights issue.) Everyone in Elk Grove knows him as “Ashy Slashy,” the crazy man who violently murdered his friends and sister in a cabin in the woods. It’s his biggest shame and plays into his hero/guilt complex brilliantly.

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The gang meets Ash’s dad, Brock Williams, who Ash told them was dead. (Ash’s dad told people Ash was dead, turnabout being fair play.) He’s played brilliantly by Lee Majors, a hard-drinking, hard-partying perv just like Ash. He doesn’t believe Ash’s story about the Necronomicon, and Ash is tired of trying. Or at least, he pretends he is. Their rivalry alone makes the first four episodes worth watching if nothing else. Though there is a lot to love in Season Two.

Firstly, it ups the ante with wild scenes of gore and brutal deaths. You’ve probably seen the NSFW clip that’s been making the rounds, and if not I won’t spoil it here. (You can watch the clip here if you’re really interested: http://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3410013/nsfw-ash-vs-evil-dead-clip-everyones-talking. Or you can just watch the series, and you really should be watching it if you can.) It’s this kind of over-the-top stuff that makes the second season really shine. You can’t find anything else like it on TV, mostly because of a thing called Standards and Practices.

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Two, the jokes and interplay between characters are still on-point. There’s a scene where they’re discussing why Ruby is unable to find the Necronomicon and Ash “can’t fart without tripping over it”–it works so well because of the characters’ reactions, and Bruce Campbell’s gleefully stupid portrayal of Ash. I’ve watched it about a dozen times, and it makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time.

Third, Pablo and Kelly have their own storylines. Pablo, after having had his face torn off to adorn the cover of the Necronomicon, has now been seeing visions of possible futures. The book also calls to him, and he’s more susceptible to its allure. And Kelly is recruited by Ruby to find and kill her “spawn,” which she hopes will make it easier to send Baal back to Hell. Kelly is eager to prove herself, especially once Pablo reminds her of how much she doesn’t care that her life sucks.

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And lastly, Ash vs. Evil Dead burns through plotlines as quickly as Ash burns through beers. The second a new thread is introduced, the one leading up to it is burned (usually violently). Nothing grinds my gears more than a series that hinges on one minor plot point for an entire season, or half of one. It’s lazy writing and makes for damn boring TV.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season Two keeps the twists coming fast and ferociously. So far, it’s better than the first season in almost every way, and I can’t wait for more.

DuncanR

Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novel, SALVAGE, and the novellas EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications. You can read Duncan’s work on the altar of Amazon b(u)y following this link here.

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Fright Fest: The Final Girls (2015)

 

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We find comfort in the predictability of 80’s slasher flicks. We know as the blonde runs into the house, she’ll head toward the inescapable attic or head to a basement filled with body parts and chainsaws. Before global conspiracies or villains looking to end the human race, Jason, Leatherface, Mike Meyers, and even Freddy had one goal in mind, kill the group of people trespassing on their turf. While these movies remain classics, we the viewers have grown up and now mock the victims, fueled by the knowledge that if it were us, we would make it out alive. Or would we?

Cue Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes and the opening sequence of Final Girls. The film stars Max (Taissa Farmiga) a young woman who lost her mom (Malin Akerman), the star of the cult classic Camp Bloodbath, in a tragic car accident. Now years later, Max still struggling the death, attends the anniversary screening of her mom’s slasher flick. When a fire breaks out in the theater, Max and entourage escape through the projection screen and find themselves trapped inside the movie.

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Your expectations of this unheard of the film are low, lower when you realize director Todd Strauss-Sculson is most well known for “A very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas.” I’ll admit, my knowledge of the movie was nil, and at the time hadn’t even heard of the concept of “the final girl.” I figured while being forced to watch this movie I could check my email, tag photos in Facebook, and aimlessly shop on Amazon. Opening Scene – nothing else but this movie mattered. I put my phone down for the entire movie and those Halloween themed PJ pants I so desperately needed to be remained in my cart.

The opening reveals the trailer for Camp Bloodbath being viewed on our protagonist’s phone while she waits for her mom to return from an audition. As they drive away, the majestic and experimental camera angles instantly tell you that this is going to be a movie filled with visual eye candy as complex and entertaining as the movie within a movie plotline. As the car is t-boned by a mac truck, we are left pondering the plot, the tone, and even the genre of the movie.

Is sarcastic horror satire a movie category? Cabin in the Woods taught us that horror with an underlying sense of humor blended with complex multilayered plots can create a success. I would say the creators made the movie for me. It held my #1 horror slot, but Final Girls with its dripping sarcasm, it will forever own a place in my heart.

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Through a series of events, Max and her friends (the fanboy, the secret crush, the best friend, and the mean girl) find themselves inside the movie itself. Caught within the opening scene, they are baffled, and every 92 minutes, the opening scene begins again. The fanboy decides they must partake in the plot if they’re going to make it out alive. Instead of having the “magical black man” reveal the key plot points, Duncan the fanboy (Thomas Middleditch) explains they will only make it out when the movie ends. This means Billy, the crazy killer needs to die at the hand of the Final Girl, a character in the movie.

When Duncan dies, they try to flee the movie, but find themselves constantly returning, “It’s the movie, the movie won’t let us leave.”

As they sit in a circle with the camp counselors the expressions say everything. The counselors sing Kumbaya in a loving fashion why Max and friends stare horrified. The movie’s Final Girl, Paula, appears. They think by staying with her, they have a chance of making it to the final scene and surviving the movie. As the plot begins to change from their meddling, Paula meets a tragic death, changing the ending of the movie.

While Max attempts to keep Nancy, the character played by her mother from having sex and getting herself killed, the ominous trademark sound “Chuh Chuh huh huh” alerts them Billy is nearby and death is imminent.

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At the mention of Billy’s name, Nancy begins to tell the legend of how little Billy Murphy died. Oozing fluid descends from the ceiling and Max and company find themselves in a flashback. “Why am I color blind, am I having a stroke?” “No, it’s a flashback.” They roll their eyes as the narrator of the legend talks and even the font denoting the year is stepped over in a big of outlandish ridiculousness.

As they emerge from the flashback, covered in blood, the counselors freak out. Those attempting to run die in an outlandish manner. It’s then Max reveals what is happening and that the characters in the movie aren’t real. The levels of meta run deep as the characters contemplate their existence. We watch the characters try to understand their role in the movie. The dumb slutty counselor has her clothes duct taped on with great lines like, “Why does he hate my boobies?”

The mean-girl, Vicki (Nina Dobrev) decides they need to formulate a plan and they elect the new Final Girl, Max. Using their knowledge of the movie, and drawing from every horror movie they’ve ever seen, they make a stand.

Their modern sensibilities are heightened as they talk to the male whore, eye roll at the slutty blonde, and fall in love with the token black man. The over-the-top characters of the slasher flick may be lost in or seen as goofy on their own, but Max and friends are us, and we mock the film in unison.

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They have more depth than one would expect. Characters explore their roles in the world, trying to grow in a plot where they’re reduced to nothing more than basic tropes. Max is forced to confront her mother and gain closure during a montage of characters arming and setting booby traps plays out. Even mean girl Vicki makes amends with the cast explaining why she pushed them away knowing she’ll eventually die. “I’m the mean girl in an 80’s horror movie and we’re past the midpoint, I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

The deaths are amazingly funny. We assume, knowing we’re in a horror movie we would make it out alive. Our smarts and our strength would keep us alive until the closing credits. Of course, most of us wouldn’t have luck unless it was bad luck. The irony is tragic and even the best-laid plans go wrong and in this case, it all goes horribly wrong.

The final scene leaves only Nancy and Max alive. Max tries to keep her mom alive, hoping she’ll come back with them when the movie ends. But without the powers of the final girl, the movie won’t end. In a sexy dance scene luring in Billy, Max’s mom sacrifices herself never quite understanding their bond. With that death, Max awakens with the power of the final girl. In their attempt to change the outcome of the movie, they have fallen victim to fixed rules of 80’s horror.

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Now we fight to the death.

The movie maintains levity throughout the entire thing. Even in moments of seriousness and character development (and there are many) you can’t help but sit back and laugh at the hilarity of the situation. The dialogue is top notch, mixing the classic bad 80’s horror scripts with the snappy comebacks from this day. It only gets funnier as each era of characters mocks the other group’s differences.

The movie is smart, and visually, it’s quite a sight to see. I would say it’s a classic 80’s horror flick re-envisioned through the eyes of an artistic director who wasn’t told no to any of his vision. Even as the after credit (to Camp Bloodbath) scene appears and they find themselves in the opening of the sequel, it leaves us hanging, wanting an actual sequel. Will we get it? Probably not, but we can hope that something this witty and sarcastic comes along and forces us to re-examine our passion of 80’s horror.

jeremyflagg

Jeremy Flagg is a high school graphic design and marketing teacher, at a large suburban high school in Massachusetts. Working as a high school educator and observing the outlandish world of adolescence was the inspiration for his first young adult novel, “Suburban Zombie High.” His inspiration for writing stems from being a youth who struggled with reading in school. While he found school assigned novels incredibly difficult to digest, he devoured comics and later fantasy novels. Their influences can be seen in all of his work. Jeremy took the long route to becoming a writer. For a brief time, he majored in Creative Writing but exchanged one passion for another as he switched to  Art and Design. His passion for reading about superheroes, fantastical worlds, and panic-stricken situations would become the foundation of his writing career. Jeremy participated in his first NaNoWriMo in 2006. Now he is the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison to theMassachusetts Metrowest Region. Jeremy also belongs to a weekly writing group called the Metrowest Writers. You can check out Mr. Flagg’s impressive work on Amazon.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: Parents (1989)

 

parentspsoterIt’s my personal opinion that the phrase ‘cult classic’ is overused. It’s a phrase often applied to movies that are mainstream successes, purely because they happen to be a bit odd. For example, I find labeling anything David Lynch has been involved in from Twin Peak on as ‘cult’ just… well, wrong. I like David Lynch’s work, a lot, as it happens. But cult? Dude’s a mainstream success, albeit one who has managed to do that without compromising his artistic vision. Which is utterly awesome, and all respect and praise due.

But it’s not cult.

Cult, IMO, needs to be small. Obscure. Flawed. If everyone on your friend’s list has heard of it, it’s not cult. It’s just a cool thing you like.

And basically, I’m not a cult guy. My ear isn’t to the ground enough for that – I’m too busy failing to  skim off the cream of the mainstream offerings out there, in any popular culture genre, to have any realistic chance of finding some deserving second or third tier band or movie or TV show to enjoy. By the time I come across something, in other words, it’s generally by the above definition no longer cult – it’s broken out, reached a critical mass, if you can dig it. It may have been ‘cult’, but by the time I find it, chances are good it’s graduated simply to ‘classic’.

Except then, they’re Parents.

Parents released back in 1989. It was made for $3 million and grossed $870,500 box office. It got a brief US DVD release, and so far none at all in the UK. It stars Randy Quaid, in I think his best screen performance, and probably no-one else you’ve heard of. And by sheer fluke, I saw it on TV in the UK, as part of a horror movie season on one of the broadcast networks – BBC2 or C4.

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Now, Parents is undeniably a goofy movie. It’s set in the 50’s, in whitebread suburbia, and that’s an inherently goofy setting. Randy Quaid, is, well, Randy Quaid, and though he exhibits a level of restraint in this film that becomes actively creepy, there’s still an essentially goofy quality to, well, him.

The brilliance of Parents is how it recognizes a great but underexplored aesthetic truth – goofy is only a very thin sliver away from creepy.

I mean, think about it for a second and it immediately makes sense. Grotesque is what happens when you twist caricature up just another half inch. Turn the volume up to eleven on an old cartoon and the distorted sound will become harsh, grating. The tragedy is when I stub my toe, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.

That said, I’m struggling to think of a movie that gets and exploits this better than Parents.

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It start’s with Quaid, for me. That 50’s buzz cut, the serious glasses, and his early, misplaced humor with his son. It’s a brilliant performance, by turns utterly buttoned down, the kind of icy calm that makes you instinctively nervous, through to behavior so exaggerated past comedy it turns into creepy, without ever landing on ‘normal functioning human’. When we look back of the culture and advertising of the 50’s, there’s an inherent eerie, pod person aspect to it these days, especially when it comes to the rigid enforcement of gender norms, and totalitarian representation of the nuclear family as the irreducible final form of society, of humanity. Parents nails that vibe perfectly, creating a suburban environment where every smile looks like an upside down scream, where the perpetual sheen of sweat on Dennis Quaid’s forehead seems to give the lie to his preternaturally calm voice – and yes, where the increasing insistence of Michael’s parents that he eat up the unidentified meat they serve him for dinner takes on an almost screamingly sinister tone, even as the actual words and actions could as easily be those of exasperated parents as… well… as what, exactly?

It’s not clear, of course, and it remains unclear for most of the film’s 81 minutes running time. It’s the internet age, so you can look it up if you want, but I’m not going to spoil it here, and my firm advice is that you shouldn’t either, if by the end of this you decide to give the film a spin (spoilers: you should ). One of the reasons I think this movie deserves far more attention and love than it gets is precisely the way in which it spins out the central tension of what, exactly, the hell is going on in this family, well past the point where most movies would have come down on one side or the other.

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A lot of that ambiguity is possible because of the kid. Michael, played by Bryan Madorsky, is about as far from a Hollywood leading child actor as you could have found in ‘89 (though he wouldn’t have been out of place one of the gangs in Stranger Things). He’s a quiet, shy, pale, awkward kid, with a vivid imagination that leads to some fairly spectacular nightmares. These sequences are beautifully shot, and yeah, they are a lot less impressive post The Shining, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still effective. Steal from the best, and all that.

Beyond the very good, and occasionally actually brilliant direction, the kid turns in a superb performance. Mirroring the wider ambiguity of what the hell is (or is not) going on with his parents, Michael is straddling that line between quiet and withdrawn, imaginative and disturbed (as I write that last, I wonder if that even is a line, or just positive and negative spins on the same phenomenon). He’s certainly a misfit, which in the hyper-conformist atmosphere of the 50’s setting places the viewer in a constant state of anxiety for his wellbeing. This is further amplified by intentionally showing us a sequence where his parent’s behavior is understandable to the viewer but incomprehensible to him, further fueling his imagination and nightmares, and for the audience heightening our anxiety as to what the truth of his situation might be.

The other strength, for me, is the movie doesn’t cop out. It plays out the tension as long as it can – indeed far further than most movies would dare to – but ultimately, the ambiguity is utterly dissolved, leading to a final fifteen minutes of high-stress horror. Again, the cast performances in this sequence are brilliant, as are many of the directorial decisions – the film didn’t have a massive budget, but some very imaginative choices with camera positioning and movement really help elevate some of the closing scenes.

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In summary, Parents is a movie long overdue a critical reappraisal – it’s a smartly made, well acted, quirky horror movie, and one where most of the horror is based on psychological tension, generated by the potential gap between the kid’s perception of the world and reality. It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly not a gore fest, but if you’re a fan of 80’s horror in general, and this one passed you by, I think you could do a lot worse than treating yourself by hunting it down and checking it out.

If for no other reason than it unambiguously qualifies for the title ‘cult classic’. And it’s probably the only one I’ll ever be able to recommend. 🙂

PS – If you HAVE seen the movie, and want to hear me in conversation with a couple of other film enthusiasts pulling the movie apart in gleeful detail (including some quite dark suppositions about what the central themes might be metaphors for), check out They Must Be Destroyed On Sight! Podcast episode 70 http://tmbdos.podbean.com/e/tmbdos-episode-70-tommy-1975-parents-1989/ . In fact, check them out anyway. They’re brilliant.

 

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Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic Monster Mash Pinball Game. Mr. Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as the frontman (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as,GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can read Kit’s review of Bridehere.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOKimage below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Universal Monsters in Review: Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

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As we enter into the sophomore era of the Information Age, which began its infantilism back in the 1970s and slowly grew, finally exploding in the early 2000’s, ushering humanity into a new echelon, what is commonly referred to as the New Media Age, it has become incredibly easy to get lost in the heartbreak and horror the world has to offer. Be it a mass shooting at a nightclub. The murder of children. A flood destroying an entire town. And probably the worst, the constant flow of personal opinion and prejudiced. Its easy to get lost in all the chatter. In all the turmoil. These were my thoughts while I was screening Universal’s last of the slap-stick dynamite comedic duo, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. My own fears of where our country is going politically, why it seems no one is willing to meet on solid ground, and contemplating when the death moderates and compromise happened. To tell you the truth, I’m not a huuuge fan of the A&C act. Sure, I love the historic quality of vaudeville. I used to watch The Three Stooges religiously. And Charlie Chaplin…well, a legend, to be sure. But my mood wasn’t willing. It took some struggle to throw in the DVD instead of watching something else a little more nihilistic. I believed it would be boring. I’m glad to have been wrong. As soon was the film started, with that over-the-top circus performance, and Bud and Lou came on screen wearing those ridiculous safari hats, looking more like Dark Helmet, my disposition softened. My fears abated, at least for the time being. Sure, the movie played out way longer than needed. The plot, if there was one, could have been finished within 45 mins, and that’s being generous. Regardless, it was fun and lighthearted and perhaps that’s something we all need more of in our lives. Not to forget or ignore the tragedy, but to cope, to put things back in perspective. Anyhow, I shall delay no longer. We have a very special guest with us today, co-host of The Last Knock, Jon Weidler.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

By: Jon Weidler

[80 minutes. Unrated. Director: Charles Lamont]

Tom Servo: “Joel, what are ‘boobs’?”

Joel Robinson: “You know, like Jethro Bodine.”

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Pod People”)

My experience with the comedic oeuvre of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello is very limited; in fact, the closest I had ever gotten to experiencing their routines were the impersonations done by the comedians of the UK incarnation of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and descendants of the duo riffing on the “who’s on first” routine. I watched “The Three Stooges” as a child, and found humor in their brand of easily-accessible, over-the-top slapstick – Abbott and Costello simply eluded my radar. Even in the VHS era, when Universal was reissuing all of their classic monsters in fancy new packaging, Abbott & Costello seemed to have a lower profile than the more straightforward horror efforts (for what it’s worth, though, Amazon is still selling new VHS tapes of A & C’s various cinematic adventures).

In any case: my crash course in their brand of black-and-white comedy-horror begins with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.

The second-to-last collaboration of the duo, the film comes late in the Universal Monsters cycle, and it shows (for a bit of perspective, Hammer would debut their own stylish, serious-minded, and colorized incarnation of The Mummy 4 years later): the production values have a stripped-down quality that conveys studio disinterest, the screenplay alternates between our bumbling buffoons and stilted scenes of dull exposition, and the synthesis of the comedic and horrific elements is lackluster at best.

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I have conflicted feelings toward the ensembles of successful film series (comedy or otherwise). For a recent example, consider the first sequel to Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, wherein the guys who laid waste (and wasted) to Vegas brought their culture-wrecking shenanigans to Bangkok. As with so many sequels, the result was an uninspired, watered-down retread of a far more endearing original, its formula poised to rake in easy box office dollars and line the pockets of its stars. Where I sympathize is in the expectations that the reprisal of such roles (and character types) instills in the actors, becoming typecast as smug douchebags (Bradley Cooper), mentally deficient man-children (Zach Galifianakis), or passive punching bags (Ed Helms). The complicity of the actors in these Xeroxed efforts is a point I sympathize far less with, especially when they know they could be doing so much more with their talents.

The same can be said for Abbott and Costello: perhaps the most successful of the comedic duos/trios of the early twentieth century, they bested their peers (The Three Stooges; Laurel and Hardy) with a presence in both television and high-profile films (indeed, they were the only comedians given access to the financially lucrative Universal Monsters vault). Their shtick subsisted on a mix of physical humor and bouts of wordplay that ostensibly appealed to a broader audience, but by the 1950s, had run its course as cinema in general moved toward Cold War-inspired horrors. Traditional monsters with a more romantic, literary sensibility gave way to everything that could be doused in radiation – for the most part, bigger didn’t equal better, but provided an evolution of the “spectacle” that filmgoers were seeking at the time.

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And perhaps that is why the musty aroma of antiquity seems to permeate each frame of Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. I went into the film with an open mind – even a slight optimism – as the Mummy is one of my favorite monsters of all time (Christopher Lee’s rendition, especially, supplied considerable nightmare fuel for my childhood).

The film overall feels like one of those direct-to-DVD ventures wherein a top-billed “name” actor shows up for a few minutes before disappearing altogether. Despite a more pronounced presence, Abbott and Costello seem shoehorned into the plot. Our duo is wrongfully implicated in the death of Dr. Gustav Zoomer (Kurt Katch), who had recently excavated the Mummy of Klaris (Edwin Parker), who is subsequently stolen by a sect of followers to be resurrected and walk once more as their ruler…or something (extended scenes of ritual dance are involved). In the meantime, there are hijinks involving a priceless medallion belonging to Klaris, as Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) looks to pay our bumbling pair for said medallion, and Lou crashing into closets, through walls, and stumbling into secret passageways. Some of the gags elicit polite laughter, but none are genuinely hilarious because the setup is so labored.

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For example, there is a routine where Bud and Lou, upon having learned of the “death curse” of Klaris’s medallion, spend a couple minutes sneaking it to each other in a restaurant; while this sequence shines as an example of old-school comic timing, it culminates in a protracted punchline wherein Lou is left to chew on the medallion for a couple minutes, well past the point of it being funny. And while it’s interesting to see the origin of certain bits that have wormed themselves into more recent films – including a scene that precludes Macaulay Culkin’s use of a tough-talking gangster movie to intimidate the burglars in Home Alone – earlier doesn’t necessarily mean better in this case. The voice-over narration that begins the film uses a lame pun to get things rolling (“a boy’s best friend is his mummy”), and the late-occurring “pick and shovel” debate comes off as an uninspired gloss on “who’s on first?” Though, when Bud explains to Lou that “some mummies are men, some are women” to his partner’s exasperation and surprise, one can admire screenwriters Lee Loeb and John Grant for bringing LGBT awareness to light (though I’m guessing that was unintentional).

Much like our less-than-dynamic duo’s routine, the main plot also feels tired. Populated by a stiff supporting cast whose lines are uttered as though at gunpoint, the exposition-heavy dialog scenes are dull at best, and painful at worst. The main problem with the film is that it’s never creative enough to be truly interesting, and its pantsuit-wearing depiction of the Mummy as a growling, twitching – and sometimes running – beast is a far cry from the subtleties that Boris Karloff originally brought to the role.

4 out of 10 stars

jonW

Jon Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day, but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd).