Hellraiser Judgment, Skull Island, and The Cloverfield Paradox

Yeah, I’m still alive. Work has been busier than it’s been in ages, my girlfriend and I are remodeling our kitchen (extensively), and I’m still working on Corpus Evil. I haven’t forgotten the blog, it’s just low on my list of priorities at the moment, which sucks because I’d rather be doing this than most things.

So I saw Hellraiser Judgment today. I only fell asleep once.

The prologue is a promising ten minutes of gore-filled debauchery. Maybe it’s because the bar was set so low by the other direct-to-video sequels (I believe there were, like, a thousand of them), but it felt relatively fresh for a franchise that was always better in its idea department than in execution. I even began to think I was in for a fun stupid movie as opposed to a plain ol’ stupid movie.

My first problem (of many) is the same problem I had with the earlier sequels: Pinhead gets a little too much dialogue. (Come to think of it, that was one of my problems with Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels, which I kind of suspect was ghostwritten by someone else.) I don’t care what makes Pinhead tick because I just don’t want that particular veil of mystery lifted. It’s the same reason I’ve never read the Hannibal prequel: some villains are much more interesting without a backstory and monologues. Pinhead has become so pedestrian as of late.

Thankfully there’s a new villain who retains his mystique and his name is The Auditor. Like a cross between Yul Brynner’s role in Westworld and the bad guy from Highway to Hell, he’s a formidable screen presence played by an actor who’s far better than any of the other leads. His face covered with scars and sunglasses as black as welding goggles, he bores intimidation directly into the soul of any mortal foolish enough to cross his path… okay, maybe I’m laying it on a little thick, but trust me: the first ten minutes of Judgment are a blast.

It’s the rest of the movie that stinks to high hell.

If a CSI spin-off is your idea of a good time, you might like Judgment. Hopeful and/or desperate fans of the franchise, on the other hand, are going to be especially disappointed. I’m still wondering why it needed to be a Hellraiser movie in the first place. Like the more recent sequels, it feels like Pinhead was shoved in there just to get tortured fans to shell out money to see it. Unlike the recent sequels, it feels like the supplemental stuff could have made for a decent movie had they been given room to breathe.

I saw Kong: Skull Island and The Cloverfield Paradox, too. Skull Island has gotta be one of the best dumb blockbusters ever made—and believe me: it’s really dumb, going so far as to incorporate Hollow Earth Theory, the proponents of which could even make Flat Earthers cringe. Thankfully, I’m a sucker for giant monster movies (Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake notwithstanding). My brain is telling me not to like this movie, but it’s downright irresistible, even as one helicopter pilot after another repeatedly flies into Kong’s arm reach instead of firing their heavy weaponry from a safe altitude and distance.

The Cloverfield Paradox, on the other hand, sucked almost as bad as Hellraiser Judgment. JJ should really lay off the parallel dimension stuff, which kind of explains key events of the first two films at the expense of failing to explain any of the key events in this film. I fell asleep during this one as well.

I’m getting old, y’all.

American Satan (2017)

DaBand

After watching A Ghost Story, I decided I needed something a little louder to cleanse the palette. (For the record, I enjoyed A Ghost Story, but I did fall asleep during the drawn-out pie-eating scene). I booted up my VOD service and saw American Satan near the top of the horror section. With no prior knowledge of the movie I started it.

I’m impressed. What I saw, during the first third of the slightly bloated runtime, was a movie that didn’t look or feel like the current trend of indie horror films. From a technical standpoint, the movie’s damn near flawless. Despite the abundance of clearance merch’ from Hot Topic, I surprisingly found myself engaged by the young characters’ plight to move to Hollywood and become big rockstars.

That’s because the characters are a lot less annoying than their regrettable fashion choices would suggest. Once you see Denise Richards turn up as the main character’s mother, you’d expect another “Gee, my parents just don’t understand” subplot, but the movie never goes there. There are a lot of places it avoids, places lesser horror movies go to time and time again, but this is a movie that’s focused on cutting through the bullshit and getting to the point. Much of it verges on cliche, but not nearly as much as you would expect from a movie in which the main characters sell their souls to the devil for rock stardom.

Malcolm McDevil

Forty minutes in, however, you start to see the cards up its sleeve: many of its plot points seem to have been recycled from Behind the Music and other rock n’ roll legends, stories involving floozies who sneak their party-hard daughters onto the tour bus and musicians appearing on live television, drugged out of their minds. The realization doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie, but it does disperse a little bit of the magic. As far as plots go, this one’s about as pleasantly aimless as a Scorsese movie, only dragging a little towards the end.

I could have used a little less of the conspiracy theory exposition. This stuff is certainly fun, but going to such lengths to “prove” that real-life rock stars have enjoyed flaunting their devilish affiliations slows down the otherwise smooth pace. Still, I enjoyed it a lot, more because of what it doesn’t do than what it does. It’s just a fresh, fun movie with as many recognizable faces as new ones.

The Raid 2 (2014) [Midnight Movie]

Some of my favorite sequels are the ones which take the characters we care about and throw them into entirely different ordeals. It’s the reason Die Hard with a Vengeance is my favorite sequel in that franchise, and why Die Hard 2 kind of sucks ass. In The Raid 2 there isn’t even a raid, but as far as sequels go, it’s probably best case scenario. Spoilers for the original film follow.

The sequel opens mere minutes after the ending of the original. Rama discovers the evidence collected in the original film is inefficient at best. If he wants to catch corrupt cops, he’s going to have to go undercover in an Indonesian prison. (There’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s hard to go into detail without ruining some of the surprises… of which there are many.)

At this point you think: Okay, I get where this is going. Whereas Rama had to fight his way through thirty floors of insanity in the first film, he’s going to have to fight his way out of prison. But the movie only bothers with a couple of fight scenes in this setting before jumping ahead to Rama’s release, by which point he’s befriended a key player in the crime syndicate he’s been tasked to infiltrate. It should be noted that Rama, who thought he would only serve a few months in the prison, was stuck there for three years, unable to make contact with his wife and newly born son.

As brief as Rama’s backstory is, it really heightens the urgency of the already brutal action. While the individual fight scenes are no less stunning than those in the original, the movie spends a lot more time in between, which allows us to get to know Rama more than we did before. It’s as if the filmmakers weren’t trying to top or repeat what we saw in the first film, at least not on a superficial level, which allows the story to unfold organically. I probably prefer the sheer kineticism and originality of the first film, but there will be those who prefer this one.

I’m ecstatic that Yayan Ruhian, who played the exceptional henchman in the first film, returns in an entirely new role. Now he’s a machete-wielding assassin who roams the streets under the guise of a vagrant. What’s interesting is you think they’re setting him up to be the kind of bad ass he was in the original film, but they spend a surprising amount of time developing him into a sympathetic hit man.

Even though the two movies look and feel completely different, it’s hard to say which one is better. Again, I think I preferred the original for balancing that extremely thin line between exciting and exhausting, but this one’s so good I can’t wait until The Raid 3 is announced.

The Raid: Redemption (Unrated Cut) (2012) [Midnight Movie]

Twenty policemen raid an Indonesian apartment block with the intention of extracting a sadistic drug dealer. The problem is the target owns the building; once he realizes the police have arrived, he cuts all communication with the outside world and traps the good guys inside. To make matters worse, he offers his scumbag tenants a deal: anyone who kills the cops gets to live rent-free in the building for life.

What follows is a dizzying gunfight which leaves both sides of the battle bloody and strapped for ammunition, at which point blades and martial arts become the standard. The sight of machete-wielding bad guys, roaming the halls for the badly beaten survivors, is a chilling visual. The head honcho is particularly ruthless, as evidenced by the fact he likes to chow down on noodles as he executes his rivals. Even so, he’s got at least two henchmen who are more interesting than the main villains in most films.

At the center of the chaos is Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie cop who’s soon to be a father. There’s more to him than that, even though you’d think the absurd amount of action would squeeze out the character stuff, but I won’t spoil it. In fact, The Raid pushes the action to the absolute limits; we’ve seen movies with more action, sure, but those movies usually become exhausting by the end. There’s a high level of noise at times, but it’s always punctuated by perfectly timed breaks.

Then there’s the tasteful use of CGI, most of which you won’t even notice, combined with A+ stunt work. I can’t imagine the stunt team on this movie walking away without actual broken bones. The punches never look pulled, the blows look like they land, and there’s a two-on-one fight scene which looks legitimately painful. I often find myself dazzled by early fights scenes and bored by the latter, but The Raid manages to top itself each time until the spectacularly satisfying ending.

There are few things I enjoy more than watching movies. The reason is sometimes I find one as thrilling as The Raid. I’m not exaggerating. I don’t think I could list ten movies more exciting than this one. It’s operating on a level that makes many action movies look embarrassing by comparison.

I’ll post my thoughts on the sequel next Friday.

White House of the Dead [Nonexistent Movies]

Day of the Dead hands on

This is the test run for a new feature I’m thinking about making a regular thing. I got the idea several weeks ago when I was thumbing through old Fangorias and noticed how inaccurate their “Terror Teletype” column could be. Sometimes the upcoming movie news was right on the money, sometimes it got the details wrong, and sometimes the movies mentioned there never entered production at all. The column mostly existed in the age before internet, so I assume the editors employed a mixture of credible sources and wild rumors. Yet some would-be movies, however unlikely, are too thought-provoking to forget. From John Carpenter’s Escape from Earth to Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, it’s just fun to wonder what could have been.

Case in point: an unmade sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, my favorite horror film of all time. Prefacing a 1979 interview with Romero, Roger Ebert wrote: “Romero calls ‘Dawn’ the second film in his Zombie Trilogy. In the third, zombies will control the White House.” The article was the first time I ever heard of such a possibility. Unfortunately, these are Ebert’s words and Romero himself never makes mention of the third entry in this interview. (I’m reminded of a long-standing—and mostly debunked—rumor regarding an unmade Re-Animator sequel which places Herbert West in the White House.)

So where did Ebert get his information? Was Romero at one point developing a story which would have far exceeded the scope of Dawn? Lee Karr’s The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead refers to a 1978 television appearance (one year before the Ebert interview) in which Romero discusses tentative plans for the followup: “The zombies are a little more sympathetic. We see them organizing slightly now and if there’s ever a third film that’s what it will be about.” (In Day of the Dead, we see more of this sympathy and ability to organize in the zombie nicknamed Bub, but not to the degree which the filmmaker has suggested here or in the earliest draft of the script available to the public.) “Dario Argento, who we’re co-producing this film with, an Italian director, said that the third one has to be ‘Zombies in the White House’. And maybe that’s what it will be, I don’t know [smiles].”

MakingOfDayOfTheDead

It’s good to know Ebert didn’t pull the rumor out of his ass; Romero possibly told him off the record or perhaps the critic read this fun Rolling Stone article. (Somehow, I feel I should have known Argento had a hand in the sapling of an idea.) While it’s not 100% clear whether or not there existed an earlier draft involving Romero’s early plans (according to a questionable passage on Wikipedia, which doesn’t include references, the early draft on the internet is not the first draft of the script), I think it’s safe to say there probably wasn’t a “White House script” considering the scope of Dawn was noticeably reduced in Day. We might have seen such a movie if Romero hadn’t stuck to his guns when bigger studios offered him distribution (and bigger budgets) in exchange for R-ratings. But honestly: who the hell would want that? Sure, director’s cuts would have surfaced eventually, but would his films had had such a tremendous impact upon release had they been so safe and squeaky clean?

For me, the version of Day we got is a fine picture which manages to trump its predecessors’ special effects if nothing else, but it’s clear Romero’s ambitions have been held in check (or downright tortured) by the financial realities of filmmaking ever since. It’s also my opinion that each of his zombie films since Dawn have been a little less watchable than the last, but I actually enjoyed Land of the Dead even if I’ll (probably) never watch it again.

Day of the Dead in the White House could have been a blast, though, and perhaps a little more meaningful than the version we got.

Day of the Dead title card