brendan halpin


Everybody else in my house is sick, which means horror movies on the big TV for me! This week’s selections go from the sublime to the ridiculous, and if you think you can tell which is which just by the title, you’re absolutely right!

When Evil Lurks is an Argentinian horror movie about a sort of epidemic of demonic posession? Maybe? Of which the rules are totally unclear. Don’t kill anyone who’s possessed because then the demon will get out and go elsewhere, but also it sometimes does that anyway.

The movie follows two hapless brothers who inadvertently unleash a new outbreak of possession and then spend the rest of the movie trying to fix it. It’s a scenario that could be played for laughs, but it’s not—it’s played totally straight, and you get some shocking deaths, some great suspense where you don’t know who’s possessed and who’s not, and a final scene that continues to haunt me.

It’s an excellent movie, and if you like horror movies at all, you should see it.

Wish I could say the same for Frankenhooker. Don’t get me wrong—this one definitely has its moments, particularly at the end when it kind of flirts with feminism. (No, really!) And the entire sequence of the title character running amok in Manhattan is great.

But man, does it take a long time to get there. The first half of the movie is pretty excruciating—not really funny, not really scary. I feel like, even in the horror community, horror comedies don’t get as much respect as “serious” horror movies, but bad horror comedies like this show just how hard it is to do a horror comedy well.

Anyway, I feel like this is one of those movies that everybody has seen, and now so have I, so if you’ve got a lil’ obsessive streak in terms of keeping up with the horror canon, it’s an okay way to spend 90 minutes. Otherwise, avoid.

#Review #movies #horror #shudder

The Netflix show, not the anti-reproductive-freedom Sex Pistols song. (How did John Lydon end up a fascist? Real head-scratcher!)

Anyway, Bodies actually concerns one body that is found in four different time periods and investigated by four different detectives. The performances are top notch, the script is smart and convoluted and features a number of those WTF twists we expect in a time-travel show. (Yes, Futurama fans, a character in this show does in fact do the nasty in the pasty and thereby become their own ancestor, just like Fred Ward in Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann).

But what I’d really like to talk about is the moral courage this show displays. This is gonna involve some spoilers, so…


Oh, wow, this is a gloriously awful movie. Christopher Atkins (star of The Blue Lagoon, A Night in Heaven, and The Pirate Movie) and Michelle Johnson (of the execrable Blame it on Rio as well as Waxwork and Death Becomes Her) star as a TV reporter and her cameraman who investigate a series of bird attacks.

Said bird attacks mostly consist of people being in rooms with a bunch of pigeons flying around. The pigeons fly, the people cover their faces with their arms and scream, and then there’s a closeup of a real pigeon pecking a fake face or a fake pigeon pecking a real face.

There are long sequences with secondary characters trying to hide from murderous pigeons, and there are a few decent set pieces, and if you’ve seen Hitchcock’s The Birds, you know how this ends.

A lot of low-budget horror movies achieve cult status because they’re charmingly inept, but that’s not really the case here. I mean, writer/director Rene Cardona Jr. clearly didn’t know how to build suspense or write a coherent script (which is surprising in light of the fact that he directed 99 movies in his life and this was 25 years into his career), but the actors are competent across the board, and while the dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle, most of it isn’t laughably bad.

And while the gore isn’t spectacular, it’s serviceable, and it is fun to root for the killer pigeons. It was on Freevee and worth every cent I paid to watch it!

#review #movies #horror

So I read Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds over the weekend. It’s a horror novel about cursed records that open a portal to the land of the dead. I’m a music nerd with a soft spot for stories about forbidden texts (or, in this case, records) filled with dangerous arcane knowledge. So this should be right up my alley.

The first half works really well, as we meet some winning characters, unearth some complex family dynamics, and observe the the terrible effects when people are dumb enough to do that thing you’re yelling at them not to do.

So far so good, but, for my taste, this one lost its way in the second half. I think this is a problem a lot of horror novels have—horror just works so much better in the short form that a lot of horror novels turn into action/adventure novels in the second half. So as our heroes try to fix what they messed up, we get some suspense, although not a lot—this is another problem with horror at novel length. It’s annoying in the extreme if you kill every character after we spend 400 pages rooting for them (lookin’ at you, The Ruins!) But knowing the author is too kind to do that to readers (Leeds reveals a strong sentimental streak early in the book that convinced me he wasn’t going to do that) kills the suspense.

So, ultimately, we get a lot of meh, and the presence of some recently dead folks helps kill the suspense (being dead doesn’t seem all that bad) and adds some comic notes that don’t quite fit the vibe of the rest of the book.

This is Leeds’ first novel, and I was engaged enough to finish even though the second half didn’t do much for me. So I think he’s got big things ahead of him, but, for me, anyway, this one wasn’t it.

#Review #book #horror

Decided to check out Messiah of Evil on Shudder, even though it was made by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the duo who brought you the most racist Indiana Jones movie (no, not that one—Temple of Doom) and the execrable Howard the Duck movie that I, as a huge fan of Steve Gerber and the original HTD comics, am still angry about 37 years later. (Oh yeah, they were also involved in Best Defense, a horrible movie with Dudley Moore and “strategic guest star” Eddie Murphy in a glorified cameo. Saw it with my mom, and I’m pretty sure we’re the only people ever to see that movie.)

Anyway, the blurb called this a “forgotten classic” or something, and while that may be stretching it a little, it’s definitely worth watching despite its flaws. So let me start with the flaws. It just doesn’t really hang together as a story, and we never really get to know the protagonist (played by Marianna Hill) that well and anyway Michael Greer as Thom steals every scene he’s in. ( Apparently he did a couple of gay porn movies and basically ruined his non-porn acting career, which is a shame because he’s got a great screen presence, and the question of whether and how much we should trust him is the most engaging through line in the movie.)

The setting seems very creepy because we only see brightly-lit, mostly-deserted spaces at night. The island of fluorescent light in a sea of darkness turns out to be a creepy rather than reassuring image here.

And there are two sequences that are among the best I’ve seen in a horror movie. I’m not going to go into detail, but the supermarket scene and the movie theater scene are both absolutely top-notch. The movie theater especially is a masterpiece of slow burning dread.

The movie is surprisingly squeamish about gore for a movie about cannibals, but those two scenes alone make it worth your ninety minutes.

#review #movie #horror #shudder

Doing my best to stay spooky this month, so I’ve watched 2 horror movies in the last two days! Well, one and a half horror movies.

Let’s start with Spirit Halloween. I couldn’t resist the premise, which is that complications ensue when some kids get locked in a Spirit Halloween overnight. And then I saw Christopher Lloyd and Marla Gibbs both being creepy as hell! This could be good!

And yet, it wasn’t. The movie focuses on the kids, who are…let’s just say not as interesting as the old folks. And the whole thing was pretty devoid of either scares or laughs, and you’ve gotta have one or the other in a movie like this.

Ultimately I turned it off halfway through because, unlike so many horror movies, this one felt like it was made with no love. One of the reasons I love horror movies so much is that the folks who make them so often have a deep love for the genre, and the love shines through even when budget constraints or lack of skill get in the way of a really good movie.

Here, though, it’s all really professional to the point of feeling cynical. We’ve got some kids on bikes for that Stranger Things vibe (the main kid here even bears a strong resemblance to the main Stranger Things kid), we’ve got a brand-name tie in, (Which prevents any interesting exploration of the cause of the abandoned storefronts where Spirit Halloween makes its home) and we’ve got some kind of scare-free supernatural happenings with an incoherent explanation. Ultimately a waste of Christopher Lloyd, Marla Gibbs, Rachel Leigh Cook, and 45 minutes of my time.

But surely you can’t go wrong with a Hammer Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee! O, would that it were so! Dracula Has Risen From the Grave does have Lee and a couple of really great images (why are Dracula’s blooshot eyes so creepy? I don’t know! Also him whipping the hell out of the horses is genuinely disturbing), but overall it spends wayyyy to much time with the anodyne young lovers. I realized that apart from the tempera paint blood and the cleavage (only the barmaid gets to show any in this movie so it’s clearly before Hammer fully figured out their brand), what a Hammer Dracula movie needs to succeed is a worthy antagonist for Dracula. That’s where Peter Cushing comes in, except he doesn’t in this movie. So instead of Van Helsing’s steely obsessiveness, we’ve just got some horny young people, and a subplot about how fighting vampires can cure you of atheism.

I watched it all, but if you’re making your way through the Hammer Dracula movies, this one is VERY skippable. It’s on MAX along with Horror of Dracula and Dracula A.D. 1972, both of which are superior to this. (A.D. 1972 also features a great party scene where a San Francisco roots/psychedelic band is inexplicably playing at a posh party in England!)

#review #movie #horror

Watched two really good works of fantasy media within the last week. One was Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. This, as many others have said, was a fun, funny, rollicking adventure movie with a great “found family” theme and wonderful performances top to bottom. (Hugh Grant is an especially delicious craven villain) You do not have to know anything about D&D to have a fun time watching this movie, but if you do know something about D&D, it will only add to the fun. Unless you’re one of those killjoys who would point out that this two-hour movie would probably take months to run as a D&D campaign because of how incredibly much combat slows down the game. But I digress.

Fun adventure movies are few and far between. Pixar always wants you to cry, and Marvel somehow got a sense that they’re Important, and so the idea that you can have a good time at the movies watching a bunch of folks do something difficult and heroic seems to have gotten lost. I’m glad this movie found it.

On TV, I watched a really good fantasy show. Karen Pirie (on Britbox) doesn’t have magic or wizards or Owlbears, but it does feature a familiar fantasy trope: the incredibly competent cop who will stop at nothing to solve a case, even if it means taking on the entire power structure of the city.

If you can suspend your disbelief and remind yourself that this is only a fantasy, you’ll have a very good time with this well-acted, cleverly-plotted show. Lauren Lyle is especially winning in the title role, but there really isn’t a weak link in the cast. Of course it’s easier to turn in a good performance when you’re working from a good script, and Emer Kenny’s adaptation of Val McDermid’s novel (I was impressed enough by her 1979 to want to watch this because it was based on her writing) is really strong.

Fantasy media is fun, but it’s important to remember that if you see a guy in a robe on the street, he’s not going to be able to do any actual magic, and, similarly, you shouldn’t expect the folks in your town cosplaying dedicated, hyper-competent, deeply moral characters like Karen Pirie to actually be like that.

[Tangent: I watch a fair amount of British fantasy police shows, and everybody is DS this and DI that, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for a “DS Nuts” joke that nobody has thus far taken advantage of. I hope British TV will get on this ASAP.]

#review #tv #movie #fantasy

Recently watched the Netflix offerings Dear Child and The Woman in the Window. Both featured excellent performances and both, weirdly, left me feeling a little unsatisfied at the end.

Dear Child is a German six-episode series about a young woman and a young girl who escape from domestic captivity and how the mystery of who they are and what happened to them unravels. It’s well-acted top to bottom, with Nalia Schuberth turning in a fantastically creepy performance as the child, Hannah. I hope Germany treats its child stars better than we do, or else that she takes the money and leaves the profession for ten years.

The Woman in The Window is a Netflix movie starring Amy Adams as an incredibly wealthy (that house! In Manhattan, yet!) agoraphobic in yet another riff on Rear Window. Here, as in Dear Child, the performances are fantastic, especially Amy Adams, who does a really fantastic job bringing a complicated character to life. Julianne Moore and Bryan Tyree Henry (you may remember him as the highlight of Bullet Train) are great in supporting roles, and Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Anthony Mackie are all wasted in small roles where they’re not asked to do very much. This is especially true of Oldman, who yells three times, and Leigh, who has, I think, 2 lines. Just a weird flex to put such talented actors in roles where you don’t give them anything to show what they can do.

Both the show and the movie, though, fail to stick the landing. The twists in The Woman in the Window are pretty good, but the final twist was just kind of meh to me. I guess the big reveal felt pretty mundane compared to what came before. Masquerade was a terrible movie and No Way Out was a pretty good movie, and both of them had big reveals that made you go, “WHOA!”. That’s not the case here. My reaction was, “hm. Interesting.”

Also, fun fact: did you know that almost getting murdered can cure your agoraphobia? Apparently that’s the case! Why would a movie lie about such a thing!

Dear Child has a lot of very satisfying twists, but literally every punch in the series is telegraphed, so that when it lands, it doesn’t really land. Here’s an example that will spoil very little. One character puts a hand on another character’s hand when they’re sitting next to each other. The second character moves the first character’s hand away. Two episodes later there’s a big reveal that these two had an illicit affair. And, like, duh!

It’s like that with every twist in the show, but the most egregious (and here be veiled spoilers, so proceed carfully) is that there’s a character whose face isn’t shown at all through 5 episodes. So naturally I’m thinking, “oh, he’s a character we know from somewhere else!” Nope! Just a guy!

Anyway, both were entertaining and had five star potential and three and a half star execution.

#review #netflix #tv #movies

Who doesn’t love some gothic goodness? Spooky old houses! Repressed sexuality! Dread!

I recently watched The Haunted Palace with Vincent Price. It’s about how Vincent Price inherits a gigantic castle in Massachusetts(!) and gets possessed by the evil spirit of his ancestor who originally owned the joint!

It’s a fun time, if not as colorful as Masque of the Red Death. Kind of like a Hammer movie with less cleavage. For a fun bonus, it features a couple of guys who were on every TV show in the 1970s! (If you watch the movie, you’ll know them immediately, and look them up on IMDB trying to figure out where you know them from, then realize it could be literally any network TV program from 1970-80!). There’s a pretty big plot hole, but the end is great and it delivers the spooky atmosphere. Disappointing that Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth are mentioned but never make an appearance in the film. Whaddya got against elder gods, Roger Corman?

The Last One Left is a gothic novel by Riley Sager about a home health aide who comes to care for an old woman who may or may not have killed her parents and sister years earlier. It’s a pretty engaging read, but…well, there are many pleasures to be had from reading, and, in the mystery genre, I realize that what I really like is spending time with a cool protagonist while they try to unravel the mystery. I’m less interested in the solution.

Well, this book is all about the solution. The protagonist isn’t much of a character—just kind of an information-gathering machine. The solution is unexpected and brilliantly constructed, but…there are like five big plot twists in the last quarter of the book. After the first one, I was like, “Oh, cool!” by the fifth one I was like, “Really? Another one?” Ultimately the whole rest of the book is setting up the cleverness of the last quarter. If you like a clever solution and multiple plot twists, this is a good pick for you. If you’re like me…well, it’s still a very entertaining book. But be forewarned you may be rolling your eyes at the end.

#Review #movies #books #gothic #mystery

I really enjoyed this show, the rare comedy/mystery that works really well as both. The first two episodes are really funny, and the remaining ones are intermittently funny as the focus shifts from comedy to mystery.

It’s about a small town in Tasmania that is rapidly gentrifying thanks to an influx of lesbians from the mainland, one of whom is long-suffering cop Dulcie. This is a great performance from Kate Box (Good God, imagine how hard middle school was for this woman), who essentially plays the straight man (comedically speaking) to most of the rest of the cast of quirky characters, led by Madeleine Semi as foul-mouthed, horny mainland detective Eddie. It’s kind of like if Northern Exposure was about a serial killer instead of some will-they-or-won’t-they bullshit.

One of the things I really love about crime fiction and television is that it allows for exploration of social issues without didacticism (usually). Deadloch does this really well, highlighting the aforementioned gentrification as well as the mistreatment of the indigenous people and the paternalistic cruelty of wealthy white people who do philanthropy for them. And, of course, how women are mistreated by men in their personal and professional lives. The only stumble, in my opinion, is this: Dulcie sees one of her indigenous neighbors has sprayed ACAB on their garbage cans and just kind of gives it an exasperated eyeroll. For a show that clearly sets out to skewer a lot of injustices, it’s a weird blind spot. Why even bring it up only to dismiss it?

My slight political objections aside, I still give this a full-throated recommendation. It’s one of the best crime shows I’ve watched in years. I’m really hoping for a season 2, though I suspect this is a lightning in a bottle situation that won’t be repeated. Catch it on Prime.

#TV #Review #Cops #Crime