More Dystopian Cinema

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has irrevocably altered the American political landscape. That can clearly be seen in two new low-budget horror films, Roger Corman’s “Death Race 2050” and Greg McLean’s “The Belko Experiment.” Although neither of these films is a cinematic masterpiece, they are both worth seeing because they perfectly show the fractured political landscape America is in right now.

“Death Race 2050” shows how we live in a very violent society presided over by a very strange man (Malcolm McDowell at his most outrisageous) who resembles Donald Trump. In the society portrayed in the film, nothing seems to matter except getting good kills. The film brings back the Frankenstein driver character from “Death Race 2000” as well as the dystopian future where nothing matters except hedonism and violence. The film attempts to make its low budget a virtue with deliberately cheesy special FX, but the concept of a deadly car chase is what works particularly well here. The point seems to be that our society is headed in a more nihilistic direction, and it is a point I do not disagree with. The film is new to DVD and Blu ray and is streaming on Netflix.

“The Belko Experiment,” which just opened in theaters., is written and produced by James Gunn, who gave us “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Slither.” The director gave us the “Wolf Creek” films. This film is about American employees at a corporation in Colombia who get locked into their workplace and forced into the ultimate corundum: kill or die. The film is about how the previously friendly employees at the corporation deal with the fact that to survive, they will apparently have to kill each other. This film is more disturbing than most horror films because:

1. The reasons for this deadly corporate psychological experiment are never explained.
2. The most likeable characters generally die first. I particularly felt bad for the black security guard who ends up getting killed for doing his job of holding onto the keys to the armory. Rarely have I seen a more likeable character bite the dust in a horror film.

This film will be criticized for being too cynical and having no apparent point, but in fact it shows the arbitrary divisions that are springing up between us in America right now, and how violence is being shown as a solution to our problems in some parts of our society. If you doubt this, look at the vitriol on both sides of the political aisle right now. This film shows us that we need to be careful before signing our rights away to a corporation (or, for that matter, the government) because the people in charge cannot be trusted.

These films will be regarded as exploitative trash by most people, but I found them to be well worth watching. They both show the consequences of a violence-obsessed society. I recommend them as good beer-drinking drive-in movies and as food for thought. Until next time… –CoolAC

Ring Around Blair Witch

Sometimes I just can’t stand today’s generation. Whether it’s the shit that passes for music or selfies or”Duck Dynasty,” sometimes I just want to enter a time machine and go back in time to 2002, or, if I’m really drunk, 1999. That desire brought me to watch and review “Rings,” which just came out, and “The Blair Witch,” which is new to Bluray and DVD. Both are the third installment in their respective series, and both received rather negative reviews. Are they really that bad?

I dunno. They both deliver about what you’d expect from their respective series. “Rings,” for example, has a college professor who passes the curse of the deadly videotape onto his students, in the hope of blunting the effect of the curse. Two of the infected decide to investigate further into the curse, which <SPOILER!> leads them to a blind murderer pedophile priest, played by Vincent D’Onfrio from “Full Metal Jacket.” Can they stop the curse? Will there be another sequel? Do we get to vote twice?

Look, I know this isn’t a good movie. But it does give you what you’d expect from a “Ring” movie. It’s creepy, it’s claustrophobic, it’s ridiculous, and it’s fun. Except for D’Onfrio, the acting sucks, but that doesn’t prevent it from being entertaining.

“The Blair Witch,” the sequel to the 1999 found footage classic and, theoretically at least, the botched first sequel, is another story altogether. In fact, I am willing to call it a good movie, and that’s because I do find it scary. It follows a group of student filmmakers who decide to go back into those Godforsaken woods in the hope of finding out what happened to Heather, the Final Girl from “The Blair Witch Project.” Since one of the characters is Heather’s brother, I have to congratulate the filmmakers for finding a good reason for why anyone would go back into those woods. Anyway, it starts slow, then turns into “The Twilight Zone,” then gets really scary in the last 20 minutes, Anyway, this is the best Found Footage movie since “District 9.” It should make people scream and jump a lot, and it has some interesting speculations on What is Really Going On. Plus <SPOILER!> everybody dies, so that’s always good entertainment, much better, I’m sure, than “Hidden Figures” or “La La Land.”

Basically, if you have refined, sophisticated taste, you’re probably not reading this. But if you want to watch a bunch of annoying people bite the dust in spectacularly gruesome fashion, you’re in luck. Now I’m just waiting for the upcoming 2-film remake of Stephen King’s “It” so I can party like it’s 1986! –CoolAC

Bye Bye Man : TeenieSlayer

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I went to check out this flick because the trailer made it look like a cool rip-off of the 90’s classic Candyman. Knew there was a chance that there would be a bunch of annoying teens at the theatre because this film is only PG-13. So while standing in line there were a bunch of 14 year olds buying tickets in big groups ahead of us, one after the next. The film was pretty basic, a boogieman of sorts exists, who shows up and kills you when you become aware of his existence. Well actually he gets you to kill yourself and anyone else who knows by causing hallucinations. The Bye Bye Man appears as a tall skinny mute albino demon looking type thing and he has a burley hell-dog that munches on you after you perish. That part is pretty effective, and the visuals are good.

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And a lot of people die in this film (for a PG-13).

The down side of this film are that there is no character development. The main character’s only personality is that he wears different punk rock t-shirts everyday. The Bye Bye Man is killing teen after teen, and for better or worse, the viewer is indifferent to their plight since they are just another pretty face. Another minus is that the crowd of pubescent teens are talking over this film about the various 9th grade parties going on later that night, complete with their puberty fantasies , while the movie is playing. I would recommend going to see this film after curfew so that you don’t have to deal with annoying teens. The lady from the Matrix has a small part as detective, which is well acted. The acting in the flashback scenes was a bit weak though.

Some might say that the film fails to give an explanation for the Bye Bye Man’s origin. I think its good that it avoids that cliché. The film is from a pretty acclaimed director. And its pretty good overall for a teeny bopper film. It could have been better had it been rated R and took more time with character development and took itself more seriously, because the villain is horrific.

Plan 9 From Underworld

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The “Underworld” series is really something. It has great action and special FX and terrible scripts. The new installment, “Underworld: Blood Wars,” finds the heroine played by Kate Beckinsale once again in the middle of the war between vampires and Lycans, or werewolves. Her character is really hot and apparently cannot be killed and is a Death Dealer. Charles Dance (from “The Golden Child” and “Alien 3”) is also in the movie as the heroine’s (I think)grandfather, and he hams it up in fine Christopher Lee fashion. He’s a great actor and has helped save many a genre film. However, most of the acting and literally the entire script is bad. All this business about Lycans and Death Dealers is beyond me to explain, but what’s good about this movie and the series is the action and set design. I did feel like I was in another world, albeit a world without character development.

To say this film is ridiculous is a grave understatement; there is so much sneering and so many double-crosses that the film becomes a parody of itself. Beckinsale doesn’t act; she just poses. Many of the actors appear to be posing for a Calvin Klein commercial, in fact. And yet despite all this, I LIKED this flick. It’s like a Hammer film crossed with Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” on crack. It aims for a sort of “Empire Strikes Back” kind of feeling, and it doesn’t totally fail. It earns its R rating with massive bloodshed and lots of sexual innuendo. And it doesn’t seem TOO much like a video game. The series also beat “Twilight” and “The Daybreakers” to the screen, so it was passably original. If the scripts had ever been any good, this could’ve been the greatest horror series ever. As it is, it is one of my leading guilty pleasure. You have to put your brain on hold, but if you do, “Underworld: Blood Wars” is good fun. I would compare it to the 90s sci-fi epic “Waterworld” in that regard.

Incarnate is Hokey Fun

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Sometimes when I’m bored, I don’t want to see an Oscar winner, or even a well-composed film. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for a lowest-common-denominator horror film. A sensitive close-encounter sci-fi film? Nope. A moving war epic about a pacifist? Try again. Aaron Eckhart in a wheelchair battling demons? Sounds great!

“Incarnate” is indeed about a wheelchair-bound man who works as an exorcist. The thing is, though, rather than using prayer and holy water, he enters the subconscious of the possessed and saves them by helping them escape the demons with their mind. The twist is that he doesn’t really care about the people he helps; instead, he wants to get back at the demon who killed his wife and daughter and left him in a wheelchair.

Are you following any of this? It doesn’t matter. “Incarnate” is a sublimely bad movie, rather than a run-of-the-mill bore. Aaron Eckhart is a great actor who will someday get the praise he deserves, but, for now, he’s turning films like this and “I, Frankenstein” into must-see bad movie classics. His nonchalance when confronting demons is classic. The fact that he is in a wheelchair because of a demon named Maggie is perfect. The 11-year old he is helping is a mean demon himself; this movie does have a (small) body count. In short, if you have refined tastes and require that the films you watch are of high quality, skip this film. But if you enjoy Aaron Eckhart and cheap but fun films about demonic possession, check this flick out. It’s bad but tons of fun! –CoolAC

“Mind’s Eye” is Mind-Blowing

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Wanting some new “Scanners” action and bummed out that David Cronenberg is making art-house films? Welcome to “The Mind’s Eye,” the best “Scanners” film that isn’t a “Scanners” film. The movie is a low-budget indie riff on “Scanners,” using a very similar plot, mostly unknown actors, a Tangerine Dream-like score, and a wonderful array of non-stop practical effects. Some will cry foul that it is too similar to “Scanners” but I think it’s groovy. It is so cheesy yet cool that I can’t find fault with it.

The high point, for me, is the cameo by Larry Fessenden, the director of such cult classics as “Habit” and “Wendigo.” He has been producing and directing fsome of the best indie horror films of the last 17 years, and in this movie and “You’re Next” he is proving himself a capable supporting actor. Films like “We are Still Here,” “Stakeland,” and this one have an ingenuity that is lacking in Hollywood films. Whereas a Hollywood film would just plaster on millions of dollars of bad CGI, this one gives us old-fashioned head explosions.

Hollywood, stop making fantasy crap and give us real films like this! I would much rather watch a film about mind control and government agencies done with spirit and on the cheap than one second of “X-Men Apocalypse.” Larry Fessenden is a way better actor than James McAvoy in my opinion. In short, “The Mind’s Eye” is a can’t miss for those of us who dig B-movies and “Scanners.” It puts the fun back in sci-fi horror. –CoolAC

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Lights Out Sucks

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There have been some good horror films this year, such as “Don’t Breathe.” On the other hand, there are the bad ones like “Lights Out.” “Lights Out” received some good reviews when it opened earlier this summer. The mind boggles as to why after seeing the film. If nothing else, the film proves that total darkness is not automatically scary. While films like “We Are Still Here” find ways to make a spirit in the dark scary, all “Lights Out” can give us is pointless jump scares and an extremely low body count. Another bad thing about the film is the idea that a mentally ill person could be a conduit for malevolent spirits. This is insulting to the many people suffering from mental illness, who need love and friendship, not fear. The idea that darkness equals death is likewise ridiculous. Most of us sleep in darkness and do just fine.

Audiences need to stop supporting horror films that aren’t scary. The success of “Don’t Breathe” shows that there is a real demand for a good horror film that works. But “Lights Out” should’ve gone straight to video. It resembles an even worse film from May, “The Darkness,” a really bad flick in which <SPOILER!> no one dies and an autistic boy is a conduit for demons.

“Don’t Breathe” works much better because it has a simple plot with real terror that is well executed. When the lights out, we fear for the characters because suspense has been established and the director has played fair with the audience. A smart, deranged blind man makes for a great villain,Similarly, “We Are Still Here,” a limited release horror film from last year, works because the spirits are unpredictable and have far-reaching powers. “The Shallows” uses a gigantic shark. By giving the audience a truly menacing antagonist, these films work.

Message to Hollywood: stop with the clichés and pay attention to what works. Stop using mentally ill people as conduits of demons and give us something scary and involving. And remember: darkness itself isn’t scary. Likable people in realistic jeopardy is. “Lights Out” indeed! -CoolAC