I remember getting excited about seeing “Day of the Triffids” (1962) for the first time. It was the early 2000’s, and the advent of DVD-by-mail services enabled me to hunt down all the various apocalyptic sci-fi movies I’d heard about as a kid — including a few that I’d only seen portions of, because I’d tuned in late. (The local video stores I’d grown up with had some of these films, but not all — and my interest in the sub-genre was truly exhaustive.)
“Day of the Triffids” was mildly disappointing. It was positively lethargic for an end-of-the-world monster tale, even if those monsters were slow-moving plants. (It’s a good bet that John Wyndham’s 1951 source novel did a better job with the story concept.)
I ordered this DVD through Blockbuster Video. Here’s a little movie industry trivia for you — Blockbuster briefly had a DVD-by-mail offer that was better than the one pioneered by Netflix. (You actually got more movies out of it, and you got them quicker.) But this was around the end of the prior decade; Netflix had already won the war for the home movie market, while Blockbuster was suffering its first location-closing death rattles. And the DVD-by-mail business model was itself becoming largely obsolete, anyway — the twin threats of Redbox kiosks and online movies saw to that.
“Doctor Sleep” (2019) was ABSOLUTELY ****ING FABULOUS. I had high hopes for this movie after seeing the trailer — yet it exceeded my expectations. I’d easily rate this a 10 out of 10.
This is a story-driven horror film just brimming with blackly creative ideas and weird world-building — I haven’t read Stephen King’s source material, but I feel certain this was a loving adaptation of the 2013 novel. It is also genuinely touching at times. (I was trying to explain to a dear friend recently about how King’s work can surprise the uninitiated — the monsters and devils typically occupy only a portion of his imaginary landscapes. The remainder is inhabited by good people who are bravely doing the right thing.)
All of the movie’s story elements are painted vibrantly by Mike Flanagan’s beautiful screenwriting and nightmarishly trippy directing. The film’s action and often incongruously bright visuals are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s visions in “The Shining” (1980), to which this film is truly a worthy successor. (Flanagan was the director and screenwriter for last year’s fantastic “The Haunting of Hill House.” The qualities that you loved about the Netflix show can also be found in “Doctor Sleep” — in some ways, they are very similar stories.)
Rebecca Ferguson is mesmerizing as the story’s antagonist, Kyliegh Curran is pitch perfect as the young anti-hero, and Ewan McGregor is predictably terrific.
The only quibbles I had were minor — there was one plot device (presumably from the novel) that didn’t translate well to the screen. It concerns how the bad guys replenish themselves … I’ll bet it worked well in King’s prose, but it seemed corny and cliche when visualized on film.
You could also argue that “Doctor Sleep’s” constant references to “The Shining” were pretty heavy-handed. But that didn’t bother me too much … I arrived at the conclusion that “The Shining” and “Doctor Sleep” were really two halves of an epic supernatural road trip. Your mileage may vary.
One final caveat — this film does portray violence against children. It isn’t extremely graphic, but it’s still especially disturbing. (It technically isn’t gratuitous, I suppose, because there is an in-universe reason why Ferguson’s tribe of villains targets the young.)
This is easily the best horror film that I’ve seen in years. Go see it.
Legit question for rural Australians — how do I kill the 30 to 50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3 to 5 mins while my small kids play?
If you’re anything like me, you’re endlessly regaled by all the viral jokes this past week referencing “30 to 50 feral hogs.” (And if you’re nothing like me, then you’re an intelligent adult and I congratulate you. But you can google the new trope, which I have paraphrased above, if you want to. It is the very height of preposterous predatory animal political humor.)
The jokes made me remember this little disappointment from the 1980’s — the Aussies’ own feral hog horror movie, 1984’s somewhat lethargic “Razorback.” If memory serves, I rented this sometime around 1986, I suppose. I got it on VHS from my nearest shopping center’s sole mom-and-pop video store, before Blockbuster Video’s invasion reached my area.
There are people out there who fondly remember “Razorback.” You can find some nice compliments about it over at Rotten Tomatoes. People enjoy its “atmosphere.” People like Gregory Harrison a lot.
I didn’t like it. Sure, it had a pretty neat electronic score that seemed trippy and cool to me as a young high school student. But that was its only redeeming quality. It started off with its depressing plot setup, which you can see in the first video below — the titular wild boar absconds with a baby boy. (The boar also thoughtfully burns the child’s house down as it departs, to underscore that fact that it is an asshole.)
The rest of the movie is boring, because it’s yet another one of those monster movies where you never get to see much of the monster — right up until the movie’s poorly lit climax, which takes place in a slaughterhouse, I think? Which is supposed to be ironic or something? Don’t quote me on this stuff; 1986 was a long time ago. For comparison, think of the legion zombie “thrillers” always available on Netflix where the zombies are always outside, and the movie just follows the indoors arguments among three very-much-alive people inside a windowless warehouse. I want to invoke the inevitable “wild bore movie” pun, but I’m holding back, because my friends tell me that they have enough of that sort of thing.
I used my own money to rent “Razorback,” probably earned from either my confusing stint at McDonald’s (they just didn’t get me there) or my summer job cleaning boats and lobster traps. (I lived on an island, people.) I remember being slightly disgruntled that I’d wasted my hard-earned cash.
Honestly, though, I was a credulous kid when it came to a movie’s marketing. When I read the back of the VHS boxes, I took things at face value. I also had my heart set on something called “The Alien’s Deadly Spawn” (1983), which I realize now was just a no-budget early mockbuster ripping off Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979). (It was always out. I finally caught snatches of it on Youtube this past spring, and it looks pretty unwatchable.)
Endemol Shine UK, Netflix.
The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014). While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start. I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.
Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic. The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic. With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.
The zombies are few in number. But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families. The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary. The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.
The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk. The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it. (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?) But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.
I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.” The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007). What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy. (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)
It’s a weird world.
Sorry, but for me “Velvet Buzzsaw” (2019) was a bust. I’d rate it a 3 out of 10 for being an interesting and ambitious Netflix horror film that nevertheless failed to hold my interest.
My interest was piqued along with everyone else when I first saw the trailer for this earlier this year. It looked amazing. It was a high-concept supernatural horror film with great visual effects and a cast that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and John Malkovich. (The cast also includes Toni Collette, who I’ve recently come to understand is a damned good actress.) It looked funny too.
But “Velvet Buzzaw” fatally suffers from the characters that it depicts. All of the above actors portray profoundly irritating characters, and not even their formidable talents make these characters any fun to watch. The movie takes place in the Miami Beach art world, and the major characters are artists, critics, or gallery owners and employees. (The plot device here is a collection of haunted paintings that kill their owners.) With the exception of Malkovich’s artist (“Piers”), these characters are so cloying, trite and pretentious that seeing them on screen is nearly nerve rattling. You don’t care much that they’re imperiled. You just want to see them die, so that the movie will be over.
This would have been a far better movie if screenwriter Dan Gilroy chose to depict its events mostly from Piers’ point of view. I suppose that would have been difficult; he isn’t central to the plot. But it would have been worth it.
There are some things to like. Malkovich and Russo re always fun to watch, a lot of the special effects are quite good, and the final demise in the film is actually very well rendered. (Given the mediocrity of the movie as a whole, I was surprised at how clever and unsettling this was.) A college buddy of mine with excellent taste in horror actually liked “Velvet Buzzsaw” quite a bit. So maybe this is just a matter of taste.
I can’t recommend this, though.