October Spooktacular repost: “Paranormal Activity 2” (and some other movie reviews)

October 19, 2012

Sorry. What I meant to say, was “Movies worth seeing on DVD or iTunes, if you want…but if you don’t, well, that’s cool, too.” It was harder to fit than in the subject line. Actually, these are some more capsule reviews, but I was at a loss for how to say “Yet even more capsule reviews…” Oh wait, I just did…well, the headline’s already written, so screw it, I guess.

Altitude: This movie plays out like a really long Twilight Zone episode. Really, really long Twilight Zone episode. Basically you have five people—a dependable (and hot) pilot, her wuss-bag basket case of a boyfriend, and three interchangeable douchebags– all flying a couple hundred miles to a concert in a small dual-prop airplane. Wackiness ensues. And by ”wackiness,” I mean “weird-ass shit.” First the plane runs into a massive storm, then its elevator gets stuck and it flies upwards for seemingly eternity, then most of the world seems to disappear around them, and then the tentacles show up. You gotta give Altitude credit for some (reasonably) interesting ideas and a general earnestness that belies its low-budget roots. The filmmakers tried to make an original movie on a shoe-string budget as opposed to just setting some nubile teenagers loose in the woods to be killed with rusty landscaping tools. The problem is, this group is slightly less fun to be cooped up with for 100 minutes than, say, a pack of rabid baboons. They’re mostly obnoxious and shrill and played by some really lousy actors. Add to that the sheer claustrophobia of spending the movie’s run time in a tiny airplane, and, well, basically if you’re not drunk by the 50 minute mark, you’ll desperately wish you were.

Night of the Demons: Now this one is just a flat-out disappointment. As I’ve written before, Night of the Demons is a beloved memory from my teenage years. It was a welcome infusion of totally gratuitous nudity into a Z-grade, negative-budget horror-flick that, by all rights, should have been your standard direct-to-video quickie that was instead (and inexplicably) shuffled into theaters whose owners had apparently lost a bet or owed a life-debt to the filmmakers or something. The gore was extremely fake, but so were the boobs, so everybody won in that game. The remake stays fairly true to the original—a group of nubile teenagers are trapped in a cursed mansion and one-by-one find themselves possessed by evil demons which kill them in not-terribly-imaginative ways—but now the teenagers are college students and mostly played by actors in their mid-to-late ‘30s. You know, it’s weird, but it’s not nearly so much fun watching hot chicks in their 30s getting naked and being killed by monsters as it is teenagers. Dunno why that is. Somebody should do a study. Anyway, the cast is a regular rogue’s gallery of also-rans. Monica Keena gets to spend her Hollywood purgatory talking about how her bush is “au natural;” Edward Furlong appears to have spent the years since Terminator 2 morphing into a giant toad; and Shannon Elizabeth…well, she’s still hot, but she doesn’t get naked. WTF? How can you waste a perfectly good Shannon Elizabeth that way? Doesn’t she pretty much exist to get naked on screen? That was my understanding anyway. The gore is amped up, and, it must be pointed out, more inventive (the fact that the demon gets transferred into one host through anal sex makes me wonder if this movie wasn’t actually underwritten by the Christian Coalition). Oh, and whatever Mensa member thought it’d be a neat homage to the original if we got a bookend scene of (the now-51 year-old) Linnea Quigley bending over in a leotard: thanks, I went blind for, like, fifteen minutes after that.

Paranormal Activity 2: A sequel to Paranormal Activity seems like a bad idea. After all, the original was a pretty self-contained story: boring couple moves into McMansion, demon gets sick of boring couple’s domestic boringness, demon screws with couple, demon gets bored with that and kills them. Not many more directions to take that, is there? Wisely, the filmmakers (different set this time) decide to tell pretty much the same story in prequel. After all, things that go bump in the night pretty much never stop being scary, right? The prequel does a nifty job of fitting itself into the events of the original movie by being the cause to PA’s effect. It also expands the cast a bit to relieve the claustrophobia, and—most importantly—gives us bearable characters this time. As opposed to the vapid Katie and Micah, we get Sprague Graydon as Kristi (Katie’s younger, hotter, sister) and her older husband Daniel (who acts like a mature, adult, husband-and-father as opposed to Micah’s ninny-ish man-child) along with Ali, his daughter from a previous marriage. Katie and Micah make cameo appearances to supply the necessary connector between the two films and to remind us how annoying they were. The movie serves up the same security-camera scares as the first one (and they are still effective), but also gives us a late-stage plot development that adds a brutal injection of irony. It’s an altogether successful exercise in what could have easily been a mercenary knock-off.

The Human Centipede: A German surgeon kidnaps two women and a man with the intention of surgically-grafting them to one another, mouth-to-butt, to create a tripartite entity. He does it, and the results are more boring than you’d expect.

Red Hill: An Australian police officer (Ryan Kwanten, aka the idiot brother on True Blood) takes an assignment in the rural mountain town of Red Hill. On his first day on the job he forgets his gun, has a renegade panther eating the local livestock, and must deal with an escaped Aboriginal convict heading to town for some payback. Red Hill has a solid cast, some great scenery and the natural beats of the best Westerns. Unfortunately, it’s also more predictable than a Catholic mass. Is the escaped convict a ruthless killing machine, or is he a wronged man pursuing a vendetta for an unspeakable crime? Are the local cops stand-up dudes, or are they hiding a dark secret? Will the new guy’s backstory about taking a bullet because he wasn’t able to pull the trigger on a suspect a year earlier play a part in the movie’s climax? Be warned: if you don’t know the answer to these questions, you may not be conscious.

Monsters: This one is causing quite a stir in genre circles, since it was made for, like a buck-twenty, and since writer/director Gareth Edwards created the creature effects on his laptop. As a movie it’s got a nice premise: six years earlier, a NASA probe crashed on the Mexican border, spreading alien spores. Now, the entire border region is a no-man’s land, infested by giant squid-like aliens, which the US military has been waging a largely-fruitless war against. The plot is a slice of verite, as a freelance photojournalist (Scoot McNairy…man, that dude got some bad advice about choosing a stage name) who agrees to escort the daughter (Whitney Able) of a media tycoon back north from Mexico. A screw-up involving tequila and Mexican hookers results in the two of them losing their passports, and a long, perilous journey through alien country. Monsters is both a dread-infused road movie, and a keen-eyed commentary about the way daily life molds itself around the violence of war (Edwards’ movie shows more insight about the wars currently being fought than any of Hollywood’s offerings). Monsters is being billed as a horror movie along the lines of Cloverfield, which it truly is not. I can hear the audience’s howls of protest already.

Okay, so those are some iTunes/DVD picks for you. If you really want. Or don’t. Like I said…

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