In Dreams

Welcome to the month of October. Our theme this month is looking back at the films of Wes Craven. I have always been a fan of his work. Wes was a film maker who wanted to explore things in his stories. Social problems, family conflict, politics…he came from a religious background, as I did. And we both found ourselves leaving that faith…but drawn to storytelling.

Wes Craven

I won’t be cover Nightmare On Elm Street, New Nightmare or People Under the Stairs as I already have written about them. I will be covering the rest of his horror and thriller releases right on up to Scream 4. I will also be including his TV movies and the remakes of his work.

Tomorrow we begin with the Last House on the Left.

The Gift of Serving Yourself (Klaus, 2019)

Klaus_PosterJesper has lived a life of luxury and privilege. His father has gotten him into the prestigious academy he runs for mail service. In a last and desperate move to teach his son responsibility, he assigns Jesper to a remote island in the arctic circle.  He has one year to amass 6,000 letters from the island…except he arrives to discover the are two feuding sides and nobody uses the mail service.

He discovers an old toymaker and stumbles upon a plan to get letters generated by getting kids to write letters to Klaus asking for toys.

As they make their deliveries, the town starts to see change and a friendship develops between the two men.  Adding to the mix is the local school teacher, Alva. At first she has given up hope and the school is functioning as the local fish store. And as the children begin to change, so do their parents.

Klaus is a beautifully animated film with a pretty timeless story. A unique take on the myth of Santa Clause, the vocal performances are terrific (J.K. Simmon’s has a perfect gruffness that manages to move from mysterious to friendly as Klaus).

This is a wonderful film that can be enjoyed with a family in the holiday season.

Lovecraftian Re-Lives (The Resurrected, 1991)

The_Resurrected_PosterThe wife of scientist Charles Dexter Ward has hired the private investigator John March ti find out what secret her husband has been hiding.  She knows he has been conducting mysterious experiments at an ancient home he has recently inherited.

What they discover is that his is exploring paths mankind should not dare…and the results are potentially blasphemous.

One of two films ever directed by Alien screen writer Dan O’Bannon, the Resurrected never gained the status of his other film, Return of the Living Dead. And, to a certain extent, I get it. Unlike Return of the Living Dead, this is based on a Lovecraft story.  It is also set in genre of a Detective Noir.

Lovecraft can be very tough to adapt, and the screenwriter Brent Friedman’s decision to make it a Detective Story allows the basic structure to stay in place, since the original story is a doctor investigating the disappearance of Ward.

The performances are good in the film, with the small cast being made up of familiar supporting players and headed up by Fright Night’s Chris Sarandon.

The visual effects are quite good, with some very good creature designs.

This was meant to be a theatrical release, but the studio that produced it went bankrupt, which led to a home video release. In addition, apparently, the studio made rather large edits against the wishes of O’Bannon.  But the released version is a good little supernatural detective yarn worth a watch.

Games People Play (Ready or Not, 2019)

Ready_or_Not_PosterGrace is engaged to Alex, a son in the Le Domas gaming, uh, Dominion. Alex is quickly revealed to b very unlike his family.  Kind and rather unhappy with his family’s status as ultra-rich. The family is quirky, save Alex’s mother who seems to understand Grace’s nervousness at marrying into the family.

The night after the wedding ceremony, Alex explains that there is one last ceremony. The family has a tradition in which the new member of the family selects a game that the family must play.  While most of the time it is something casual like checkers, on this night, Grace draws a card Alex dreaded… “Hide and Seek”. At first, Grace finds it all silly…until it is clear that losing the game means she dies.  If she survives the night, the family is certain something unknown and truly awful will befall the family.

Ready or Not is a film with its tongue firmly in cheek.  The family is rich and inept, having gone for years without actually having to have played Hide and Seek. One of the family members struggles to learn use of the crossbow. His coked up wife is so freaked out she cannot shoot straight. They argue over the value of tradition.

Grace, on the other hand, is trying to find her way out of a house full of hidden passages and no idea who she can trust. The help? Alex? Alex’s brother who seems to be struggling with his conscience? Alex’s nephews?

The humor is dark, but effective. Its targets being ultra rich fools obsessed with keeping their wealth, their actions often have comical results. The film is so stylish, and the character and set design so full of personality, it really enhances the film. The visual sense of Aunt Helene perfectly encapsulates this.  Her hair is strikingly short and spiky. She wears a permanent scowl and really stands out.  Nicky Guadagni is wonderfully dark in the film.

I also found Samara Weaving’s performance really good.  She often gets mocked as being indistinguishable from Margot Robbie, which I think is unfair to both actresses…for one thing? Weaving has spent most of her career getting drenched in buckets of blood.  But she is great as Grace.

Ready or Not was a surprise gem of a film this year, deserving of someday being a cult classic among thrillers.

Blood On Screen (Kolobos, 1999)

Kolobos_coverSo, in the early 90’s, MTV decided they needed to expand their programming. One of their first greatly successful experiments was an “unscripted show” that put a bunch of young people from all over the country into a single house that would film the events. The Real World became a phenomenon.

In the late 90’s, three young filmmakers were trying to make their first film…their original idea was a road movie which was then ruined by weather that would have made outdoor shooting really tough. The filmmakers came up with a horror movie idea that could be set in one location and mostly indoors.

The result the thriller Kolobos. Several reality show wannabes seeking fame show up at a home and goof around, but then things get serious. Not like on the Real World, where personalities clashed-not that clashes don’t happen- but rather the sudden terror that they are trapped in the house and it has a who lot of traps meant to kill them.

At the center of the film is Kyra, a withdrawn artist, who keeps seeing faceless killers. Has Kyra lost connection to reality? Is she the killer? Or is there someone else? Is the hulking scarred man real?

Long before Saw, Kolobus explored the potential of watching people suffer horribly for entertainment (and honestly, are less preachy about it, the filmmakers do clearly have fun coming up with crazy death traps).  The film has decent gore effects, and the acting is passable for the horror genre.

So, why does nobody talk about the film? One of the first to toy with the idea of reality-TV based horror? Well, it got released directly to DVD…right before this little movie called the Blair Witch. Blair Witch ushered in the era of found footage and steam rolled right over Kolobos.  Arrow films recently re-released the film on Blu-Ray (for the first time in HD, it had been out of print for some time otherwise).

I recommend the disc and the movie, it deserves wider recognition.  A lost indie horror film from the late nineties, you really should check this one out.

My Favoritest Flicks of 2018

The movies I dug in 2018.

  1. Annihilation: A phenomenal feast for the eyes and mind…this quiet and slow burn body horror film drew me in from the first frame. Truly great and imaginative Sci-Fi.annihilation
  2. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse: Great characters, great story and some of the most inventive looking animation I have had the joy of soaking in, this film lives up to the hype. People are telling you it is that good because it is that good. I have seen it twice in the theaters. This is usually something I reserve for films I felt strongly (positive or negatively) about, but seem to be out of line with the majority. This time? It was all to just enjoy it all over again.  Sony has raised the bar with animation and super-hero movies in a single movie.spider-verse
  3. Sorry to Bother You: Boots Riley’s darkly hilarious satire of race and class starts out seemingly setting a high bar with its creative visual approach, only to take a totally bizarre out of left field twist. Brilliant and unexpected.
  4. Hereditary: Another slow burn film, this time in horror. Unflinching at times, much of the film explores grief and loss in the face of ongoing tragedy and questions the very nature of evil. at times, it seems to be maybe a film where we are watching a family collapse and lose it’s grip on reality…until maybe it is not.
  5. BLACKkKLANSMAN: While not a perfect film, it is one that manages to look at a moment of history and see it reflected in today.  The film is pretty blatant in this, sometimes to the point of seeming a little to on the nose.  But it is a funny, dramatic and engaging film with great performances.blackkklansman
  6. Black Panther: Ryan Coogler gave us one of Marvel’s strongest films to date. It carried through some of T’Challa’s lessons learned in Civil War and gave him an interesting challenge. The film effectively blended the super-hero and super-spy genres, with a great cast of characters I look forward to revisiting.
  7. Crazy Rich Asians: Like Black Panther, this was a film in part hyped up due to it being rare. The first Hollywood film with a pre-dominantly Asian cast in about 25 years. And so there was a real push to prove the masses would see the movie, as well as Asian Americans. Luckily, the film brought more than a need to succeed to the table. Sure, it is a pretty generic plot…but the jokes land more than they fail. The cast is terrific and engaging (and this being a Hollywood film, largely very attractive) and the film is entertaining.  Crazy_Rich_Asians
  8. Mission Impossible: Fallout: It is not often that a Franchise gets better with age, but Mission Impossible has managed to become more interesting as they go…starting around the third film. The core group of characters all have chemistry and the new additions are solid.Mission_Impossible_fallout_bathroom
  9. Avengers: Infinity War: This one was kind of a tough call. It is clearly a film that ended in the middle of the story.  And there are some good arguments against the film…but I still liked this one. The film balanced its various storylines quite effectively, the character interactions were, at times, golden. It had a villain with a terrible but identifiable plan. We will see if Endgame alters my feelings at all.
  10. Won’t You Be My Neighbor: Mister Rogers was a formative and unique part of the PBS landscape for generations. A challenge to colder views on masculinity that told children that they matter simply for who they were, Fred Rogers spoke to kids as people. He knew they had questions and needed answers, and that shielding them from some of the darker parts of our world was insufficient.  I miss Fred Rogers. I wish we had more men like him.
  11. Bumblebee: How the hell did a Transformers movie crack my top ten? The movie had a heart, some great human characters and well executed special effects.  A smaller cast of Transformers allowed for Bumblebee to shine.Bumblebee Trailer screen grab Credit: Paramount Pictures


My runners up? Ocean’s 8 was a terrific entry in the heist franchise. Aquaman was a fun film, but was edged out by Bumblebee. Teen Titans Go was fun, but it was largely cotton candy…and just cannot compete with Spider-Man. I enjoyed Ralph Breaks the Internet…it was cute. Ant-Man and the Wasp was a nice pallet cleanser after Infinity War.  For the most part, I enjoyed Solo and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. And I enjoyed the Incredibles 2, which was a decent follow up to the original.

well, Onward to 2019!!!

The Family Line Part Two (Snow 2: Brain Freeze, 2008)

Snow_2_PosterNick and Sandy now live in their magic home together…she has big news, but everything keeps getting pushed aside, due to the stress of the impending holiday…after a fight, Nick decided to go somewhere to contemplate his feelings.

When he appears in a family’s shed and is startled, he is knocked unconscious. The end result is that Nick has lost his memory just days before Christmas. He ends up on the run with the help of a scheming little kid and the interference of Buck, who resents him to “stealing” Sandy.  Sandy is busy trying to reconnect with Nick and help restore his memory.

The film is kind of convoluted, it adds new elements like a magic book, with a keeper, an ancient order of believers who help keep Christmas alive in people’s hearts. Buck was an over the top villain in the first film, he is even more one dimensional here. There are a lot of plot points that seem to get lost, and the result is a less than engaging film.

I do like the leads, but the story just kind of leaves them even more lost than Nick’s memory.  I do not have much more to say than that…

The Family Line Part One (Snow, 2004)

Snow_PosterDays before Christmas, a poacher has captured one of Santa’s Reindeer and given it to a zoo.  Santa goes undercover to save his reindeer (and by Christmas).  Santa is part of a lineage that passes from father to son and it is Nick’s first year, so he is trying to not screw it all up.

Nick stays in the same boarding house as animal loving Zoo employee Sandy, who has been given his reindeer Buddy.  At the same time, the poacher, Buck, is pursuing Sandy in a major push to get into bed with her. She is repulsed by him in every way, from his personality to how he makes a living.

Tom Cavanaugh imbues the character of Nick Snowden with an off kilter, but friendly quietness. Ashley Williams brings a dedicated sweetness to Sandy. She is a true lover of animals. They are surrounded by quite a cast of goofy characters (Buck is played by the Last Exorcism’s Patrick Fabian who is perfectly sleazy), The horny elderly folks, a weak willed zoo employee and a little kid who sees no problem in blackmailing Santa Clause.

I appreciate that they put some thought into their own mythology. The Santa Legacy is given a unique spin of a wizard’s curse. The film is very light humor, it has its moments, but nothing is terribly hilarious. Again, I applaud some of the creativity in their building in the backstory, but overall this is pretty lackluster holiday fare.

What a Scrooge Part 12 (It’s Christmas, Carol, 2012)

Its_Christmas_Carol_PosterIf you thought that this was a movie where a miser named Carol (played by Carrie Fisher) is visited by three ghosts… You are a little off.

Carol is a powerful young publishing executive who treats her employees poorly and has favored her career above all other relationships. On Christmas Eve, Carol is visited by her former boss Eve (Fisher).  There is a little hitch…Eve has been dead for a few years.

Eve is Marley and the three ghosts all rolled into one. Times are tough in the Ghost Trade.  Eve shows Carol how she has lost all her great loves. Her love of life changing stories, the love of her life…even her own mother.

The story hits all the beats of a Christmas Carol, and Fisher is a lot of fun, giving the Ghosts a more direct and personal connection for the character of Carol.

It’s Christmas, Carol is not a remarkable take on the Dickens story. On the other hand? It is still kind of fun, and if you are missing Carrie Fisher? It is a fun watch.  Overall, this is a serviceable take on the tale, even if it is not particular memorable. I know that sounds harsh, but I did not hate the film.  I would even say that fans of a Christmas Carol will likely find it entertaining. And I thought the gag regarding the Ghost of Christams Future is quite good.

Groundh-er-Christmas Day (the Christmas Do-Over, 2006)

Christmas_Do-Over_PosterKevin is in a miserable place. His rock star dreams never panned out. His marriage collapsed, his former in-laws hate him and his son does not yet see what a lousy dad he has. He barely plans for a Christmas gift for his son and on Christmas Eve, he does anything he can to avoid participating.  When his son makes the wish that everyday could be Christmas, Kevin pays the price…

Kevin finds himself restarting Christmas Eve over and Over.  The film follows a very specific (and familiar template). First Kevin is confused and each day goes very badly for him. Then he starts to put the things he witnesses to use. He tries to scheme his way through things. This actually is played largely for comedy…especially how he works hard to undermine his wife Jill’s new boyfriend Todd. Honestly, this goes on so long it almost had me concerned he might get rewarded…but the film actually addresses it when one of Kevin’s attempts to escape the loop result in him realizing Kevin is actually a good guy who makes Jill happy.

The film is actually largely entertaining. Jay Mohr always makes for a good ass. Daphne Zuniga plays Jill, and is quite sympathetic. And a lot of the scenes of Kevin trying to scam the system are funny. And there are even some genuinely sweet moments as Kevin starts to see how badly he screwed things up.

The film has a small but good cast. The frustrated in-laws are played byTim Thomerson and Adrienne Barbeau. Ruta Lee is amusing as the heavy drinking Granny (let us ignore that she is only about ten years older than either Barbeau or Thomerson)…the one family member outside of his son who still likes Kevin.

The biggest pill of the film to swallow is, funny enough, not the concept. Instead, it is the ending. The ending is wrapped up in seconds, tosses characters aside for an unearned “Hero Gets what they Want” end. Instead of working within the framework of the lesson he learns, meaning he simply needs to accept the consequences and be the better man he learned to be? It gives us a less than five minute “Everything is fixed” ending. Very disappointing for an otherwise light and entertaining holiday movie.


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