May 28, 2021

TEOS THEATER: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) — FULL CBS BROADCAST, 1979

To lazily borrow some of this earlier Dawn of the Dead television promo post, pandemic lockdown and all the extra stuck-at-home time it afforded pushed me into embarking on an ambitious video project. File this one under fan edit: George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead as it may have looked if it premiered on network television in the late '70s, specifically December of 1979, modeled on the 1981 broadcasts of Halloween on NBC and The Exorcist on CBS

As the world continues to regress into a filthy toilet that refuses to flush, instead doing the same laps around the same bowl over and over, I've been immersing myself in way-back-when pop culture more and more as a means of comfort and escape, which led me to collecting recordings of network broadcasts of movies from the '70s and '80s with their original commercials intact. You can get lots of these on The Internet Archive, some more on Youtube, and if you really do your due diligence, from other collectors. In doing this, I've been able to collect some of my favorite movies in broadcast form, all with their original commercials, which is the most entertaining part. I can't tell you why older commercials are so hilarious and charming. Is it the corny approach to marketing, the awful skits, the dated fashions, or even the commercials that, by today's standards, are actually kind of politically incorrect? Whatever it is, there's something self-owning about a commercial trying to confidently sell you a product you've never heard of because it no longer exists, but at the same time, there's something oddly comforting about it, too — it's a return to simpler times, or at least a return to the times in which our bubbling cauldron of sins and hate lived under the surface of the world and wasn't so in-your-face throughout every 24-hour news cycle.

After accumulating all my must-have titles of these old broadcast recordings, including original airings of Dark Night of the Scarecrow and the Bob Wilkins Creature Features presentation of The Fog, one title eluded me, however: 1978's Dawn of the Dead, Romero's tale of four people taking refuge inside the abandoned Monroeville shopping mall from the zombie-ridden world that surrounds them — not because this broadcast was difficult to track down, but because it never existed; the movie's initially-issued X-rating almost ensured it would never be aired even on cable television, let alone a network station. With that, I decided to, as faithfully as I could, recreate what it may have looked like had CBS made the very reckless decision to present it for broadcast. Of course, I had to decide in which form to present the movie — meaning, would I include it as-is, squibs and all? Or should I really pursue making it look like a genuine broadcast for network television and cut out all the violence and bloodletting? After much back and forth, I decided it was necessary to go the censoring route. I know, I know — neuter Tom Savini's majestic gore gags? Who on earth would do that to such a genre masterpiece, and one especially known for its special effects? It all sprang from this amusing realization that Dawn of the Dead is the last movie a network would ever consider for broadcast — at least during that late-'70s era. Though it plays tame these days when compared to stuff like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, and every show by Kurt Sutter for FX, the idea of cutting out all the gore from Dawn of the Dead for a hypothetical television broadcast became hilarious to me because it's such an antithetical title to show to a mass audience, especially when being presented by one of the anchor networks in all of television. (I was partially inspired to do this after watching ABC's 1979 Taxi Driver broadcast because so much of its content and dialogue had to be cut out that the remainder of the movie comes off as somewhat incoherent.)

Without further masturbation, my entire "CBS broadcast" of Dawn of the Dead is below, "recorded" by a Pittsburgh VCR in December of 1979, containing a VHS rip of the movie (edited for content), "original" 1979/1980 commercials (which naturally include TV spots for landmark horror films released that year), and CBS promos, all presented in purposely dubbed-over-many-times garbage quality. Nearly every commercial that's not a TV spot is a nod to something in Dawn of the Dead, so keep your eyes eagled. Whether you check it out just to catch a flick you've seen so many times before in a different form, or because you "get" the elaborate joke that it is (my edits are purposely clumsy, and don't miss my twist on the end credits), I hope you enjoy this standard-definition grindhouse experience. If you watch, drop a comment below and let me know what you think: you'll undoubtedly be nicer than people on Youtube.

May 26, 2021

AT CLOSE RANGE (1986)

The breakdown of the family unit is one of the more disturbing themes at play in cinema, only because it's inherent in us to desire a close relationship to those with whom we share a history, bloodline, and hereditary traits. To be born among people with whom we'll eventually have a falling out, or worse, is one of those fears that's always simmering beneath the surface. Because if we can't rely on our family, on whom can we rely? That's a really scary concept to posit, and unfortunately, it's something that happens more often than it should. It's starting to become more commonplace to pick up a newspaper and see a headline about a father killing his son, or a son killing his father, or a father and son going out and killing people together, as if it's part of a sick and twisted bond they share. Based on a true story, At Close Range, which one might describe as a southern gothic crime noir (the film takes place in Tennessee, but the actual events occurred in Pennsylvania), due to its appropriate amount of shadows, smoky rooms, and darkness, asks if a person's character can be stronger than their lineage - if a person can overcome his inherited physical and hereditary traits and prove he's much more than a genetic duplication of the family tree that preceded him.

Sean Penn and Christopher Walken as Brad Jr. and Sr., respectively, play an uncanny son and father, down to their piercing eyes and their hard features (screaming sandy blonde hair notwithstanding). Even when the film begins, and before they are reunited after years of estrangement, the film suggests  Brad Jr. is already proving  the apple may not fall far from the tree, engaging in the kind of reckless behavior that supersedes teen hijinks and instead suggests  he's a kid with very little to lose. But once father and son are reunited, and the former begins taking the latter under his wing, involving him in the more nefarious parts of his crime-filled life, the bond that initially forms between them takes a pretty devastating turn halfway through. Brad Jr. realizes  the bond between father and son can be easily overcome by the desire for self-preservation. Meaning, there's nothing Brad Sr. won't do if it means keeping himself out of prison.

Like De Niro, the modern-day Walken is barely an indication of how good he used to be, and how effortlessly he could play unhinged and disturbing characters. His Brad Sr. is clearly the villain, but only from an audience perspective. We know he's bad because of our omniscient view of everything ongoing. But Brad Jr. is blinded by his familial ties to his father, while also being somewhat blinded by wanting more for himself - his own fair slice of the American Dream - besides working overtime every week in a supermarket or a garage. Brad Sr. doesn't exude villainy; he doesn't come across as an obvious antagonist. He smiles at his son and buys him a car and invites him into his line of work - one which has the potential to pay off big time. Walken has the uncanny ability of pulling off likable villains because as an actor he's naturally likable.

Penn, too, delivers an excellent performance, and this during the early part of his career. Though he teeters a bit too close to going over the top in some of the more dramatic scenes (including the final confrontation between father and son), At Close Range was an indication he was going to be an actor to watch. It's also cool, since this is a film about the family unit, to see him share the screen with his real-life brother, Chris Penn (most famous for having played Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, and who died in 2006 of a drug overdose), who plays his on-screen brother. Obviously the knowledge that they're brothers, but also their clear resemblances to each other (along with the fact that the boys' real-life mother, Eileen Ryan, plays their on-screen grandmother), lends a sincerity to a film emphasizing the impact of a family in turmoil.

At Close Range is a tough film to watch - entirely all to do with the effectiveness of the conflict and the realism of the performances. Director James Foley, whose films (and television episodes) are well-known for their rapid fire and cutting dialogue (his most well-known is certainly Glengarry Glen Ross, which your annoying co-workers who have never touched hands with sales probably quote every day), dials back the character exchange and relies more on mood and that earlier mentioned inherent fear of the destruction of the family unit. Take all that, add a remarkable supporting cast (David Strathairn! Crispin Glover! Tracey Walter!), and you end up with a film that's now thirty-five years old, but whose themes of betrayal and the familial bond will be forever ageless.

James Foley has the dubious honor of being one of the most underrated filmmakers working today. Insiders, thankfully, know this, as he consistently gets some pretty high-profile gigs (Netflix's House of Cards for one), but considering he has the skills behind the camera and has mastered the spoken word like Quentin Tarantino but without all the flamboyance, it's kind of a shame  he's not a household name. One day that could all change, but for now, as his back catalog drips slowly to Blu-ray, here's hoping his work becomes even more appreciated by newer generations.

May 24, 2021

12 STRONG (2018)

  

I don’t want to sound insensitive or dismissive, but can we please have a moratorium on 9/11? Can we all just agree that it happened, it was terrible, and our country’s been stuck in neutral ever since? As typical, following 9/11, Hollywood didn’t waste much time in finding ways to capitalize on the worst attack on our country in the history of ever, and soon a wide-ranging collection of genre-hopping films all came together and assembled the most depressing shared cinematic universe yet. Some of these actually managed to be pretty good, like Paul Greengrass’ harrowing United 93 and Kathryn Bigelow’s duo of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. And lest we not forget about Oliver Stone’s atypically maudlin and non-controversial World Trade Center, about which we actually all did forget. For every one title you remember, two or three are existing in the foggiest banks of your memory — probably where they belong. 9/11 has become so prominent in storytelling that it should have its own sub-genre label.

At the risk of again sounding insensitive, we’re coming dangerously close to 9/11 becoming a cliché. 12 Strong proves that — an absolutely lifeless, generic, bland, and unimpassioned telling of military forces engaging against the Taliban months following the attack. We’re back in the desert, kids, populated by American soldiers with nicknames who are tough and stoic and who have wives and who love their wives and America. They are led by Captain Mitch Nelson, with a performance by Chris Hemsworth that is absolutely out-of-the-box soldier as purchased via Amazon Third Party, slightly used but in otherwise good shape (contains none of the original packaging). And he’s as boring to watch as he’s ever been, which is impressive, considering how boring he generally is. You see, Mitch Nelson said to commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Bowers, an initially surprising appearance of Rob Riggle (until I tell you that the dude is a bonafide marine in real life), that 9/11 was an awful thing and he's the one who has to do something about it, namely lead his squad and make the Taliban pay. Then he decides to not die while in Afghanistan because he promised his wife he wouldn’t die. A flag waves. He means it. America/freedom.

Even if we want to scrape away the tragic and sad circumstances that surround 12 Strong and look at it either as a wartime drama or an action film, sorry — still boring. The sequences that find the soldiers directly engaging with the enemy lack suspense. Whether our soldiers die or not feels like no consequence, because beyond their mini opening prologues where each of them says goodbye to their wives, little is done to promote them as actual people. If you know half their names by film’s end, I’d be both impressed and convinced you were lying. (Why are you in this, Michael Shannon?)

Critiquing films based on true stories, especially when those stories involve such massive tragedies experienced by real people, is a slippery slope. To pass judgment on a dramatization of such tragedy and the actors who brought those characters to life feels as if judgment is being passed on the tragedy itself, as well as those real people. The soldiers as depicted in 12 Strong really did those things. They were real, and brave, and selfless. And they deserved a far better film about their actions.

May 21, 2021

THE GOOD, THE BLAND, & THE UGLY — THREE STEPHEN KING ADAPTATIONS

Have you guys heard of Stephen King? He's the one who wrote that book about the evil car that shits out a monster bat.

Just joshin'. Of course you know who Stephen King is. The man isn't just the most prolific and well-known author of all time, but so many adaptations have been made of his work that by now he warrants having his own streaming service. Like the books themselves, some of these adaptations are brilliant and some are lousy. The three titles below represent every stop on the quality spectrum, with one of them netting an Academy Award and the other netting something like 37 sequels, all equally terrible. Though studios continue pumping out movies and television series based on his works on a yearly basis, it makes sense that the most infamous adaptations are based on his most infamous stories, like the ones below, all of which were written more than thirty years ago.

THE GOOD

Misery is probably in the top five of all-time best Stephen King flicks. Directed by Rob Reiner, who found similar acclaim with his adaptation of King’s “The Body” as Stand By Me, it’s an absolute classic and an astounding example of what the genre can do with an original concept and horror centered around adults. King’s novel, written from the point of view of an author known very much for one style of writing and the fears of how his fan base will react should he ever venture into new territory, was obviously a personal work, but Reiner took great care of that concept and transplanted it into an adaptation that honors that fear while guiding it into a remarkable finish with little hints of gallows humor.

Kathy Bates won the Oscar for her portrayal of the deranged Annie Wilkes, and rightfully so, because she’s astounding to watch. Every line of hers is quotable, and impeccably and specifically delivered; her ability to propel from sweet and aloof to manically unhinged is an absolute marvel. James Caan, too, excels with the material, managing to overcome being confined to a bed for 90% of his performance, and even after having seen Misery a dozen times, his final fight scene with the murderous Annie Wilkes is still nerve racking.

The special effects by KNB, though seldom used, stand the test of time, and between the staging of the gags and Reiner's direction, there's no way you don't feel the phantom pain of seeing Paul Sheldon's ankle take that cracking shot with Annie's sledgehammer. It's probably one of the least intricate special effect in all of horror cinema but it's up there as the most effective.

Bates would go on to star in another King adaptation, Dolores Claiborne—one every bit as good as Misery (and my all-time favorite King-penned movie) but not nearly as celebrated—and while her take on another murderous madam was just as powerful, it was still no Annie Wilkes.

THE BLAND


When Kino announced their 2015 Blu-ray release for Needful Things, collectors everywhere immediately demanded it include the long sought-after 187-minute cut that has never been available on any physical format, but was often broadcast on television during the late 90s. If you've read even a handful of King's most celebrated novels, at least one of them was probably well over a thousand pages. King has been called many things, and certainly indulgent among them, but when these certain intimidating novels include The Stand (miniseries review here) and IT (reviews of the two-volume adaptation here and here), then more power to him. Needful Things is one of those brick-girth but excellent books, weighing in at 700 pages, so you can imagine a two hour edit doesn't exactly cover the multiple subplots that were originally included in the novel, or the subsequent extended cut. Sadly, despite Kino's best intentions, that longer cut could not be secured. (In keeping with unnecessarily complicated American copyright law, rights to the elongated television version reside entirely with another studio—likely Warner Bros., who own a lion's share of King's film and television adaptations, and who are infamous for not licensing their material to any secondary distributors.)

Having said that, and when taken at face value only for what it is as opposed to what inspired it, Needful Things is an entertaining, well-acted and surprisingly trashy good time with a varied but impressive cast that the finished product ultimately doesn't deserve. Max von Sydow is having more fun hamming it up than anyone else in the cast, except maybe for the tremendous J.T. Walsh, whose first appearance has him literally chomping on an unlit cigar. Von Sydow's charming, yellow-teethed Leland Gaunt is flamboyantly and shamelessly evil, and the dialogue that slithers out of his mouth borders on revealing a more...let's call it satanic identity. Ed Harris is also on hand providing one of his better performance (in a long career of excellent ones), playing the role of Sheriff Alan Pangborn, one of the many reoccurring characters in what King has called his "Castle Rock" series. (Michael Rooker of The Walking Dead and Scott Glenn of The Silence of the Lambs played the character in George Romero's adaptation, The Dark Half, and the first season of Hulu's Castle Rock, respectively.) Though there are multiple subplots involving certain townspeople's interactions and transactions within Gaunt's Needful Things store, Pangborn is the connective tissue that unites their ensuing conflicts and provides a backbone for the story. His last-act monologue about greed and hate rivals Bill Pullman's rousing speech from Independence Day in terms of how utter cheese can still manage to sound cinematically satisfying.

It's not often that a great cast can come together to overcome a weak presentation, but that's exactly what occurs with Needful Things. Strong performances without a single weak one to sully the bunch, along with a strong searing score by Patrick Doyle, elevate a presentation harmed but not deadened by its shortened running time.

Needful Things ranks somewhere in the middle of the Stephen King adaptation pantheon. It's no Stand by Me or The Shining, but it's certainly no Dreamcatcher. Two hours of screen time harvested from seven hundred pages of material still manages to provide a reasonable amount of entertainment, despite many more characters, their motivations, and their subplots being left on the cutting room floor. Here's hoping that the white whale of the extended cut one day makes it to video, or even better, the novel is revisited for a second pass by a premium cable channel and turned into a limited series. 

THE UGLY


Did you know there are eleven Children of the Corns?

ELEVEN!

The latest was 2020's Children of the Corn, a prequel written and directed by Equilibrium's Kurt Wimmer, which was both shot in Australia and released in select theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And people WENT TO SEE IT

Children of the Corn ELEVEN

During a PANDEMIC.

For a good stretch of time, Dimension Films held the rights to the series and were responsible for seven direct-to-video sequels until the Weinstein scandal bankrupted their genre-based distribution arm and Lionsgate absorbed their library. Before that happened, they'd spent years trying to do a "proper" remake, but for some reason could never crack the definitive take on a story about murderous kids worshipping a corn god. (A remake was made for television, directed by the producer of the original, which by all accounts is one of the worst in the series, and who by all accounts was a real son of a bitch on set.)

The general understanding of long-running horror franchises is this: once there are enough sequels or remakes weighing down the series, the original is then looked at and proclaimed to be “the only good one” or “the best” by default. This is true with Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is arguably true with Hellraiser. This is not at all true with Children of the Corn, because in spite of all the sequels that hit video store shelves over the years and plumbed the depths of stupidity, the original is still basically very stupid. The aforementioned logline — murderous kids worshipping a corn god — still applies, and if you're one of those people who disses the sequels while praising the original, you're really not doing yourself any favors as they're all equally pedestrian. (Having said that, I've always admittedly been taken with Children of the Corn 7: Revelation, which is more of a moody and abstract experimental piece than a proper Children of the Corn sequel, and as you watch, you can sense it's one of those situations where Dimension Films purchased an original script and crammed some corn into it, which was along the same lines of their philosophy with the Hellraiser franchise while they still owned it — cramming in Pinhead, that is, not corn.) And as you watch full scenes of Linda Hamilton singing and dancing in a hotel room, or R.G. Armstrong wandering around his desolate garage for an eternity looking for creepy kids, you will know beyond a doubt that this feature-length film is based only on a short story. A very short story.

Even aesthetically, Children of the Corn is not an attractive film to look at, existing in that mid-'80s landscape where everything is blown out and soft, such as the opening diner massacre or when Armstrong makes his appearance as — you guessed it — an irascible old man. The movie doesn't contain any kind of directorial flair from Fritz Kiersch at all, and it probably won't surprise you to hear his body of work is rather limited, with Children of the Corn being the title to carry the most recognition. 

The most notable thing about Children of the Corn is its inclusion of a lot of familiar faces who would then go on to immediately appear in much more notable genre films: Linda Hamilton in The Terminator, Robby Kiger in The Monster Squad, John Philbin in The Return of the Living Dead, even Courtney Gains in The ‘Burbs. (This DTV series would also attract a lot of famous actors before they were famous. Chief among them are Charlize Theron in Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest, Naomi Watts in Children of the Corn 4: The Gathering, and Eva Mendez in Children of the Corn 5: Fields of Terror. The series would, also, and sadly, attract actors after they were famous, like Nancy Allen and Stacy Keach in Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return, Michael Ironside in Children of the Corn 7: Revelations, Billy Drago in Children of the Corn 8: Genesis, and Clu Gulagher in Children of the Corn 9: Runaway. They must love corn!)

Despite my detailed slandering, I'll still acknowledge that Children of the Corn must have its fans, due to its longevity and it's very long sequel roster, so if you're one of them, don’t be a cornball—embrace your corn love. You’ll feel corny if you don’t. Don’t forget the popcorn, okay? (Corn.)

May 19, 2021

ATOMIC BLONDE (2016)

When the trailer for John Wick was released, no one expected much. It didn’t particularly sell that film in the way it deserved to be sold, focusing more on the dog and goofy carnage rather than the exceptional choreography and the clever world building. I was in from the start because Keanu—I’ll watch him in anything (I even somehow sat through Knock Knock)—but I wasn’t expecting the well made, sincere, and very fun film that John Wick was.

Its two directors, former stunt men Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, soon split off in diverging paths: Stahelski committed to John Wick: Chapter 2 and Leitch to Atomic Blonde. If there was ever any doubt that one director was the secret weapon of John Wick's success, John Wick: Chapter 2 was step one in dispelling that notion. Atomic Blonde is step two.

Atomic Blonde has been meticulously designed and Leitch proves he can absolutely hold his own as a director working solo. Despite how it was marketed, it’s not the female response to John Wick, instead taking its page from paranoid spy thrillers of the ‘70s but reinvented with the neon-loving flamboyance of Nicolas Winding Refn. David Leitch directing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind instead of George Clooney offers a pretty broad but helpful means of warning the audience what kind of film they’ll be getting. Don’t get me wrong, Atomic Blonde does have a handful of extremely impressive action scenes on display—one in particular is presented in the form of a minutes-long unbroken take and rivals anything seen in either John Wick flick—but the film is more interested in cloak-and-dagger espionage, double- and triple-crosses, political Cold War unrest, and hewing at least a little closer to reality by presenting Lorraine Broughton as a bad-ass but entirely human and fallible character. Even after rolling down a hundred concrete steps, John Wick can get up and have a drink. Broughton doesn’t bounce back so quick—her body, which Theron isn’t shy about showing off, is her personal roadmap of pain.

And speaking of Broughton, between the obvious Mad Max: Fury Road and now Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron is having a grand old time kicking everyone’s asses. On top of looking good while she’s doing it, she excels at it. She looks well suited to this kind of material, and even when she engages in the most painful of action set pieces, it’s evident she’s having the most fun out of everyone. Atomic Blonde tries to strike a similar tone to the Craig era of the Bond franchise by injecting a cheeky sense of fun into an otherwise serious story, but where Bond’s generally light tone was more conducive to that kind of balancing act, Atomic Blonde can be very dark at times, and also violent, even grisly, so when the film opens with a John Wick-ish chase scene set to an iteration of Blue Monday, but later on a minor character is violently beaten in the face with a skateboard, Atomic Blonde can seem very tonally confused. Despite that, it’s extremely well made, and all the actors commit, obviously including Theron. It’s still undecided if Atomic Blonde, based on the graphic novel Atomic Blonde: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, will birth a second franchise for her, but it’s certainly worthy of one.

May 17, 2021

CUB (2015)

If you've ever wondered how Friday the 13th: Part 2 would have looked had they maintained Jason as the new killer of the series, but preserved the age (and even look) as he'd appeared in the maybe/maybe not dream sequence of the original's ending, Cub might just be what you envision right down to the makeshift mas). It is, after all, about a group of young people who venture into the whispered-about woods, trade tall tales of "the werewolf" (called Kai) who is said to stalk the grounds where they have chosen to camp, and kill whomever dares trespass into his home. Basic skeleton aside, and much respect to the beloved Friday the 13th franchise, Cub takes a concept used dozens of times before and somehow manages to sidestep all preconceived notions and present a story that's well realized, well executed, and even well acted.

Experienced first-hand through the eyes of Sam (Maurice Luijten), a boy with an ambiguous backstory that remains mostly unexplained, but on which enough light is shed that the audience knows something went pretty bad in his life, Cub is boy-who-cried wolf in design, in that his questionable history makes him an unreliable narrator. Simply put, after the scout leaders tell tales of Kai the Werewolf, and Sam subsequently claims to have seen that same monster, no one believes him, including scout leaders Kris (Titus De Voogdt) and Peter (Stef Aearts). Because of this, Sam takes it upon himself to investigate the mysterious Kai and determine just who - or what - this figure is he sees darting in between trees and pillaging items of use from the sleeping scouts during the night. What soon occurs is an untrustworthy bond and a surprising revelation of sorts that puts Sam instantly in danger - along with everyone else in camp.

One of Cub's best aspects is, no bullshit, its emphasis on real characters, which isn't to say that everyone is provided with overwhelming backstories; instead, it's more that each character is provided with and exudes enough depth that it's easy to determine the kinds of relationships they share on screen and, at times, makes it difficult for the audience to know how they should care about each character. The best example of this is the character of Kris (aka Baloo): a more typical film would have chosen to make his character flat-out unlikeable from beginning to end, but Cub plays it differently; sometimes the film eagerly paints him as a prick, but other times, in quieter moments, the audience gets a glimpse of what he's actually like and they begin to warm up to him. Sam puts him off - it has to do with that ambiguous backstory that's never explained - and it's this slight fear and hesitation of him that makes Kris so conflicted. Though Cub plays as a Friday the 13th homage, with a bit of Haute Tension thrown in, but not in the way you immediately suspect, it avoids the typical broad strokes character archetypes on which that series and others of its kind have relied for years (the guiltiest being the abhorrent remake).

As might be expected, Cub makes excellent use of its wilderness environment. Ambience of the great outdoors is in full use - buzzing insects, creaking trees, the snapping campfire. Likewise, quiet is used to great effect, especially when it comes to Kai's rattling, mantis-like breathing, which soon becomes an ominous and reoccurring presence. The best component of all is the retro synth-based musical score by Steve Moore, who once again channels John Carpenter as he did for another superb horror offering, The Guest.

Where Cub may lack in its originality, it makes up for with its assured direction, its across-the-board solid ensemble of actors, its unrelenting violence, and most important, its glee at wallowing in gray eras - both in its storied ambiguities and its look at its characters. Additionally, it almost feels unfair to hit Cub with the dreaded "unoriginal" smackdown, considering it was designed to homage this kind of film from the beginning. Though the official summary erroneously name-drops Lord of the Rings as an influence (it's possible/likely its writer had instead meant Lord of the Flies), and even with its clear Friday the 13th inspirations, it's obvious that Cub's director, Jonas Govaerts, is a horror fan through and through. (One character's ringtone being the main title from Suspiria by Goblin certainly cements this.) When a horror fan makes a film for horror fans, that love and passion for the genre always shines through even the most unoriginal story. Cub's ballsy ending, its willingness to provide you with unpredictable characters, and its unrestrained use of blood and grue makes it a thrilling addition to the horrors of the great outdoors.

Cub is a brutal, vicious, at times funny, ballsy, and unpredictable little slice of horror that proves, if nothing else, it's still possible to set a film at a camp in the woods with a masked killer and wring genuine scares, all while wearing its influences on its sleeve and forging its own identity. 


May 14, 2021

BAYWATCH (2017)

The trend of existing television properties being re-explored for transition to the big screen (and vice versa) continues with no signs of slowing down. Some have been successful (21 Jump Street) and some have not (CHiPs), and, to no one’s surprise, the “some” that haven’t been successful are leading the pack. With so many of these rebooted properties hailing from bygone eras, mostly the ‘80s and ‘90s, what’s getting lost in translation, and what set off those properties so much, is the nostalgia factor. 21 Jump Street was not a good show, even if you loved it as a teen and had the biggest crush on Richard Grieco. To replicate what you loved about it would've been impossible, so producer Jonah Hill and its writers/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did the next best thing: reinvigorated the concept of adults infiltrating a local high school to root out crime, but all the while recognizing it was a ludicrous concept, even having their own characters call out this concept and recognizing the meta-ness throughout. It was satire, spoof, and a straight up reboot all at once, and it was massively successful. But the creative trio didn’t stop there: after already doing the impossible, they did the more impossible: made a sequel that’s just as good, smart, and hilarious.

Baywatch is desperate to exist on this same plane. It thinks that by replicating the slow-motion beach run with its cast gorgeously and handsomely displayed in their red bathing suits that reveal or contour to their perfect bodies, but this time having someone fall down, it will be just as clever and meta – the beach run, which is old, but then someone falls, which is new. Baywatch: The Movie is like the old thing, but it’s also this new thing, which is stupid on purpose. I mean, falling down is funny, right?

Baywatch hails from the Farrelly Brothers school of comedy philosophy: crude is funny – the cruder, the better. No one looks back on the Baywatch series and considers it any kind of high-art entertainment. Even using the word “art” in the same sentence as “Baywatch” feels really slimy. But at least it had an identity – good or bad as that is. (The less said about Baywatch Nights, a quasi-Baywatch meets The X-Files, the better.) Baywatch: The Movie doesn’t have an identity. With a script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who’d previously explored pre-existing properties to – no bullshit – better results with Freddy vs. Jason, Baywatch is bits and pieces and cameos from the original series (including an appearance from Pamela Anderson, who is given not a single line of dialogue) attempting to exist in a broad Animal House-like atmosphere. Among the incessant f-bombs and high school locker room dialogue are too-long scenes of painful back-and-forth diatribes or gutter-dwelling moments like the one where a character’s erection gets caught in a beach chair, to which the film dedicates a maddening amount of time and which couldn’t be unfunnier if tried. This approach doesn’t just not work but it feels desperate and forced, almost knowing that it doesn’t have enough substance from which to mine real, smart comedy. (The only other way to have re-explored Baywatch, and which perhaps would have been the better approach, would have been as a straight-faced comedy.)

Personally, I love The Rock. He’s an extremely likable, charismatic, and decent seeming guy. But he’s yet to wrangle himself a film that’s worthy of his talents as a performer. Sure, he’s found success with the Cars Go Fast series, and that’s great considering they prove to be billion dollar endeavors, but the guy who was pre-sold to us all as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger (their passing-by scene in The Rundown where Arnold winks and tells him “good luck” wasn’t just a random joke but a spiritual passing of the torch) has yet to forge the same kind of path. (Dude even starred in the Rampage movie…I mean, come on.) In Baywatch, he’s wasted, forced to curb his appeal as a comedic actor and play the straight man against his wild and crazy lifeguard staff, which includes Zac Efron whom we can at least praise for being in something way, way better than the despicable anti-comedy Dirty Grandpa.

Ultimately, Baywatch doesn’t even have enough faith in the show’s original concept to set the action at the beach and have a conflict revolve around the beach, instead relying on a tired drug-distribution business that lifeguards, ordinarily, would have nothing to do with. It’s very by-the-numbers, derivative of previous comedies better able to rely on raunchy dialogue while still having heart, but worst of all, simply not funny. Literally the only thing it has going for it is several scenes of Alexandra Daddario in a bathing suit. I know it's 2021 and I'm not supposed to say things like that anymore but a truth is a truth.

Did the Baywatch legacy deserve better? Probably not. But audiences at least deserved a better time out at the multiplex. Though he’s gone back to this well several times already, picture a Will Ferrell-led Baywatch film which sees him and his doughy body stepping into the Mitch Buchannon role – him and his loyal band of miscreants – while borrowing absurd plots from the show’s original run (killer crocodile, anyone?) and playing it all entirely straight. That right there, though perhaps overdone, sounds more appealing than dick jokes and fall-downs.