Once again I’m mixing it up. After giving you an “all-audience” crowd pleaser yesterday with A Quiet Place, I’m going back to a niche audience flick today. Oh, Mandy. Mandy is one of those movies that you’re either going to love or HATE. Vehemently. Not much middle ground here. I was lucky enough to see it at Sundance earlier this year, and man, I had a downright blast. There are a few things you should know about Mandy. First, it’s utter madness, so prepare yourself. Second, with all the bold colors and psychedelic visuals it feels like you’re actually on LSD, as well as watching the entire movie through an Instagram filter. And third, this movie might have the most ultimate Nicholas Cage scene of all time. As a Cage lover, I don’t say that lightly either. This is 100% MAXIMUM CAGE. For those of you who don’t quite know what you’re getting into, Mandy is set in the early 80’s and follows a simple lumberjack who wants nothing more than a peaceful life in the mountains with his girlfriend. Sadly, his girlfriend becomes the focus of a drug and sex-crazed cult leader and, well, shit gets bad. Next thing you know you’re following Cage on a a nightmare-fueled revenge trek straight into Hell as he attempts to track down and kill every person who did him wrong. But man, it’s not that simple. Besides the cult itself, there’s an army of weird LSD drug gangs that are almost half-demons and feel no pain. Formidable foes to say the least. But luckily Cage crafts the single coolest handmade axe of all time (in a fantastic 80’s throwback sequence) to help hand out the damage. There is so much insanity in this movie it’s hard to explain it all. And I haven’t even mentioned the cheddar goblin yet. Yes. The CHEDDAR GOBLIN. Oh man, I loved this movie. I will say it’s a bit long in the tooth and could easily have 20 minutes shaved off its run time. But good luck finding a more entertaining, bizarre and absolutely original revenge flick starring Nicholas Cage in tighty whiteys wielding a massive axe. Team Mandy all the way.
The last few days I’ve played with some fun niches, focusing my choices toward more specific horror audiences. Today I thought I’d go the complete opposite direction and give you a horror film that pretty much everyone can see. A Quiet Place was one of the biggest horror hits this year. Much like Get Out did last year, A Quiet Place found a way to break through, not only attracting the horror audience, but pretty much everyone. There are a lot of discussions about why this happened, but I’d like to provide my simple argument — simplicity. This is a perfect example of setting up the rules of a world, and then paying off the consequences as characters either follow them or not. Here, the rule is that if you make a sound, you get eaten by weird monsters. Simple. Easy. For those who didn’t see it, the film follows a family living in the country that has adapted to living in a new world where you have to be completely silent. And that’s about it. Outside of some clipped newspaper articles that broadly speak about some kind of invasion, they don’t inundate you with a ton of backstory. Because it doesn’t really matter. That’s not the story. The story is all about how this one small family deals with it. That’s why this movie works. Sometimes the greatest movies set up a large scope idea, but focus only on how one small group deals with it. 10 Cloverfield Lane uses this same kind of template. To me, the real interest here is watching all the clever methods of living in a new world without sound, from the red light warnings to the cotton boardgame pieces to walking on poured flour (or chalk, I may have to watch again) in order to muffle footsteps. This family is resilient regardless of any obstacles put in their way. And trust me, there are obstacles a plenty. I mean the mother is fully pregnant for God’s sake, so what do you think is going to happen? I had a blast with this movie. John Krasinski deserves a lot of credit for directing this simple yet effective, suspense-focused, thriller. He and wife Emily Blunt breathed actual life and stakes into our small family. Even though the idea is large, the small cast, limited locations, and overall helplessness of the idea is so simple that it all just fits perfectly. Don’t look for a huge amount of story, just enjoy for the simplicity of what it is. Everyone can watch this one and have a great time with it. I guarantee. And for those that have already seen it, all I have to say is… that NAIL. I hate that nail! Another example of setting up and paying off in a simple yet effective way. Overall, a really great experience.
Here we go with the 2nd half of my very specific “bizarre and slightly humorous, genetically enhanced, water creature movies of the late 70’s/early 80’s” pair. Yesterday was all about Joe Dante’s classic Piranha. Today, it’s all about Humanoids From the Deep. This is another Jaws-inspired flick that is essentially schlock-central with a side order of sick and wrong. But if you aren’t bothered by the bad taste of it all, I think you’ll find this 1980 Doug McClure vehicle thoroughly entertaining. Bad taste you say? You be the judge. The tagline on the poster says, “They’re not human. But they hunt human women. Not for killing. For Mating.” And that pretty much sums up this flick. The plot circles around a new cannery that’s opening in a small fisherman’s village and going to radically change life there. Well, life’s going to change a lot more than they think because the cannery has secretly been toying with genetically altering the salmon, and now long story short, they’ve created all sorts of horny little fish-man monsters that want to kill all the local men and rape all the local women. Look, look, look… I know in the current climate of #metoo and our long-necessary battle for gender equality this movie might come across as absolutely inappropriate. Well, guess what. IT IS. It’s inappropriate to levels that seem unfathomable right now. Here’s the weird thing though, what I actually enjoy about this movie is how unapologetically wrong it is. Horror movies of the 70’s/80s, especially Roger Corman horror movies of this era, don’t care about social norms. They just go for it. And that’s the fun here. It’s a movie from a completely different era that you just don’t see anymore. It’s got scantily clad women, creepy little fish-man creatures, lots of fun gore fx, and a 3rd act that just absolutely goes for it. In many ways it’s extremely similar to yesterday’s choice Piranha (especially the 3rd act), which is why I put them back to back. Do a double feature. Why not? Go for it. It’s not for everyone, but for those who enjoy filthy horror, go ahead and wallow in a different era for 90 minutes. It’ll help you realize just how far we’ve come.
Ok so I’m going to do one more pair of movies that share something in common. I started with the “female characters in the title” pair (Veronica and Stephanie). I then moved to the “slimy practical FX Hell movie” pair (The Void and Hellbound: Hellraiser II). Now I’m going to get right into the “bizarre and slightly humorous, genetically enhanced, water creature movies of the late 70’s/early 80’s” pair. And you thought the last pair was too niche. I like to find pairs that aren’t the norm, only strangely connected, and make people wonder why I even bother with any of this. So without further adieu, the first of this extremely specific pair is none other that Joe Dante’s amazing 1978 flick Piranha! We’re all aware of the juggernaut that was Jaws and the huge hit it was in 1975. Obviously it ignited a ton of water creature horror clones. Sure, Piranha is one of these, but check out the pedigree of artists involved here. Produced by Roger Corman, Written by John Sayles, Directed by Joe Dante, and to top it all off the piranhas themselves were created by Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett! Seriously, look at those people involved! If you are unaware of who any of them are, punch yourself and get off my lawn. These are masters, here. Piranha revolves around genetically altered piranhas that escape a government lab and are quickly moving down the river, taking out victims along the way, toward a makeshift amusement park and kid’s camp. What’s not to love there? Piranha works because all those involved know exactly what they’re making here. There’s a tongue-firmly-in-cheekiness to it all that is trademark Joe Dante. They actually made a pretty damn entertaining remake too (hasn’t quite made my list yet, but maybe in the future). Look, Piranha knows exactly what it is and owns it. It’s got a ton of piranha attacks. They attack everything from water-skiers to scuba divers to government officials to camp kids (yep, kids!) The piranhas don’t distinguish. They just want to eat. You should sit back and enjoy it as they do. It’s a hell of a fun time.
Continuing with my pair of movies that have something in common theme, today I give you the 2nd in the “slimy practical-FX Hell flick” category. Yesterday was The Void, the smaller of the two. Today I proudly present to you one of the biggest and ultimate Hell movies – Hellbound: Hellraiser II. The Hellraiser series is definitely not for everyone. It requires a twisted mind, and a strong stomach. Luckily I have both. Even though it’s not quite as fantastic as the original, I still love this disgusting movie. It just ups the ante in so many ways. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser introduced us to the world of Cenobites and the consequences of sinners and their actions. Hellbound doubles down and expands on it all. Where Hellraiser briefly brought us the Cenobites, Hellbound gives them a ton more screen time, including their backstories (albeit briefly). Where Hellraiser groundbreakingly showed us a main character without skin in an extremely graphic way, Hellbound brings us multiple skinned folks, even including a twisted love story with one! Where Hellraiser talked about Hell, Hellbound actually BRINGS us there. Bwahaha. This is definitely one of those sequels where you really need to see the original first in order to understand what’s going on. I mean, if you care about horror at all, you really should watch the pivotal horror masterpiece that is Hellraiser anyway. Hellbound continues the story right where we left off. After what happened in the first film, Kirsty is now locked in a mental hospital, because no one believes her story. No one that is, except the head doctor. He believes her because he’s been searching for this gateway to Hell for ages. He even has various “props” in his home. Well, long story short he opens the gateway, summons some demonfolk, and shit gets bad. I’ll have to leave it there. There’s so much to talk about with this movie, but since we’re pairing this up in the slimy, practical-FX Hell category, I’ll focus there. The effects in this film are… insane. Main characters are skinless. Like almost the whole movie. Think about that for a second. All practically done, no CGI, and all pretty damn stomach churning. Then in the 3rd act we actually get to Hell, witness the creation of a cenobite in some awesome 80’s stop-motion style. Plus, we get to fully witness Leviathan, which is pretty cool. Look, it’s gross, it’s revolting, story-wise it gets… kinda muddy, but who effing cares? It’s one of a kind. Hey, any movie that Roger Ebert claimed was one of his all time most-hated films ever, is A-OK with me.
Now for the next pair of movies that share something in common. The first pair had female character names in the title (Veronica and Stephanie). This second pair is all about slimy practical-FX Hell movies. I know it’s a pretty specific niche, but it’s also a niche I happen to love. First up, is a delightfully gooey little gorefest called The Void. Pay attention though, there are quite a few movies called The Void, two even came out in 2016 alone. This is the one filled with slimy tentacle creatures, a creepy hooded cult with triangles covering their faces, and pretty much nonstop practical gore FX. If that last sentence made you perk up a bit, then you are definitely the target audience for this film. The Void is a low-budget flick about a small group of people in a hospital that become trapped when a strange cluster of hooded figures surround their building. As if being trapped by this cult wasn’t bad enough, now a few of the people in the hospital start to turn super violent and well, weird tentacles things pop up, and shit gets bad. Of course the only answer is to go deep into the basement of the hospital, that just may be a portal to Hell (or some kind of outer space equivalent.) Look, don’t go into this one for the storyline. It’s fine, sure, but that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for the awesome practical FX work. This film obviously started with the idea of doing an 80’s throwback, practical FX showcase, and went from there. I remember first hearing about this movie from the Kickstarter they set up years ago. In it, the footage and drawings they showed all focused on the gory practical FX work, so I’m pretty sure that’s where there heart was. If you’re a fan of great gooey, trippy, Lovecraftian, practical FX work like The Thing, this is a fun romp. There are obviously some nods to HP Lovecraft here, which is always welcome to me. The first half is focused more on the upper floor of the hospital, where there’s some nice mystery, killings and gore. But the second half, when they have to enter the (almost literal) bowels of the hospital, is where this baby really shines. They did so much amazing gory goodness on an obviously limited budget, and it really should be checked out. It’s a real showcase of artists who truly love splatter and goo. Bless them.
Yesterday I said that for the next few days I was going to do some back-to-back films that shared something in common. The first pair have a female character as the title, which obviously means we’re mostly focusing on them. Yesterday was the more pure horror of the two with Veronica. Today, I’m going with the stranger and odder of the two, Stephanie. This movie was a complete surprise for me, which is exactly what it needs to be in order to work. Again, right up front I’ll give another warning — Do Not Read Any Reviews. If you want this flick to fully hit you, you have to go in cold. I guess that means you might want to stop reading here too, but I won’t give any spoilers, so it’s up to you. Stephanie is about a young girl that has been left all alone in her house following some kind of global event that has killed a majority of the population. We follow her day-to-day life all by herself, how she exists, and how she passes the time. That would be all fine and good, except, well, there’s something haunting the house she’s in. Not only is she all by herself, but she has to deal with this ominous presence too. And that’s pretty much all I’ll say. Since the majority of the time we’re only following one character, that actress better be good. And it’s a kid, so it’s an even trickier proposition. Lucky for us, that is exactly why this film works. This young actress is amazing. You’re encapsulated by her every move, and you truly care for her. I obviously have an affinity toward films that are extremely polarizing, because this is another one has divided audiences right down the middle. Some people hate this movie, but who cares. I dug it. I love movies that are a bit left of center, try something new, or make you feel uncomfortable. This one manages to do all three. It’s not a typical horror film. It’s not a typical story. But it’s a great little mystery with some real scares, and some twists and turns that will keep you guessing. Limited location, limited cast, limited budget, and still extremely interesting. Go ahead and give it a try. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.