October 15th, 2014

LET IT BE (1970) ***

Pardon the interruption to the usual seasonal programming. I know this is definitely not a horror flick (if you don’t count the close-ups of Yoko), but I hope you dig it just the same. I’ve been slacking when it comes to writing a horror review a day, but in my defense, it’s been a busy week. I look forward to getting things caught up very soon.

Let It Be is a documentary of The Beatles working in the studio as they record the titular album. If you’re looking for something a little bit more in-depth, you might be disappointed. There is relatively no drama between The Fab Four, although the band looks kinda tired and/or miserable in some scenes. However, if you’re a Beatles fan and always wanted to be a fly on the wall while Paul, John, George, and Ringo noodled around in the studio, then you’ll probably love it.

The first hour or so has its moments, but it doesn’t really flow. The best parts are when The Beatles just let loose and play rock n’ roll covers. They definitely look like they’re having more fun singing those songs than their own material. The last segment chronicling The Beatles playing their famous impromptu rooftop concert is worth the price of admission. I’ve seen snippets of this over the years, so to see it in its entirety is pretty cool.

This review is coming from a die-hard Rolling Stones fan. I appreciate The Beatles and their lasting impact on pop culture, but I always have been and will always be a Stones man at heart. And if a Stones fan gives it Three Stars, a Beatles fan will almost definitely give it Four.

THE EQUALIZER (2014) *** ½

Denzel Washington takes out the trash like only Denzel Washington can in this highly enjoyable updating of the old TV show starring Edward Woodward. Denzel stars as Robert McCall, a quiet man that works at a Home Depot knockoff. Of course, he used to do some dirty deeds for the government back in the day, so he’s not above beating the crap out of people when they absolutely deserve it. When some Russian gangsters rough up his hooker friend (Chloe Grace Moretz), McCall tears them to pieces. A Russian badass (Marton Csokas) is called in to get rid of McCall, but naturally he’s ready for him. And by “ready for him”, I mean he’s got a whole bunch of power tools from Home Depot that he’s just itching to use on some Russian scumbags.

The Equalizer is one of Denzel’s best. I think Book of Eli will always be number one for me, but this is a respectable second place. It was directed by Antoine Fuqua, and it’s much better than their first pairing, the overrated Training Day. This flick finds Denzel squarely in Charles Bronson mode, and the role of McCall fits him like a glove.

The film features a staggering amount of ass kicking. Denzel puts a hurting on so many people throughout the running time, your mind will boggle just keeping track of it all. In one nifty barroom brawl, he puts out a guy’s eye using a shot glass, and brutalizes another by using corkscrews as brass knuckles.

The finale set in the Home Depot is a doozy. Denzel does a little brain surgery on one dude with a power drill and dishes out some nasty payback with the help of his trusty nail gun. Although Fuqua allows this sequence to go on a little long, it’s packed with some great kills. The rest of the movie is like that too: It’s really much longer than it needed to be, but I’ll be damned if there isn’t some badass stuff here.

Another debit is that Moretz’s character, who is probably the most interesting in the whole film, pretty much disappears after the first act. It’s a shame too because she and Denzel have an interesting dynamic that’s sorely missed during the rest of the movie. That’s okay though, because Denzel is so busy putting people in a hurt locker that the flick barely stops to notice.

I liked Fuqua’s restraint in some of the scenes. Sometimes he’s just content to show the aftermath of McCall’s rampage. Instead of showing him bludgeoning a guy to death with a sledgehammer, they just cut to him wiping the blood off and putting it back on the shelf. I know these Death Wish kinds of movies don’t really need “restraint”, but it’s extremely well done.

There’s also a really clever scene involving Bill Pullman. I don’t want to spoil it, because it’s a really subversive scene that confounds the audience’s expectations. It’s little touches like this that makes The Equalizer stand out from the pack.

The screenplay by Richard (The Expendables 2) Wenk features lots of great badass dialogue too. My favorite line came after Denzel beat the crap out of some Russians. One of his coworkers notices his bloody knuckles and asks him what happened to his hand, and he replies, “I hit it on something stupid!”

MONGREL (1982) ** ½

Jerry (Terry Evans) is a college student who moves into a boardinghouse full of weird, obnoxious, and downright crazy tenants. What do you expect when Aldo Ray is the landlord? The place also has a vicious guard dog that freaks everyone out. When the dog attacks someone, the oafish Woody (Mitch Pileggi) shoots it. Soon after, the tenants of the building all start dying from dog bites.

I’m not going to divulge any more than that because there are a couple of cool plot twists that make Mongrel an interesting, if unsuccessful horror flick. The film is less of a Killer Dog Movie and more of a Prank Gone Wrong Film. If you can make peace with that, you should enjoy it.

Getting to that big shocker (no pun intended) of a plot twist is a bit of a chore though. The film often resembles a John Waters version of a Tennessee Williams play as its loaded with several sweaty, trashy, and “colorful” characters. None of these folks are remotely likeable, and to make matters worse, they all have stupid names like “Toad” and “Turquoise”.

The film was directed by Robert A. Burns, who did the art direction for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Like that film, Mongrel benefits greatly from the authentically scuzzy atmosphere. No matter how dingy and gross the boardinghouse was, any place that has a Deep Throat pinball machine is automatically okay by me.

Mongrel is an offbeat, uneven, but semi-rewarding horror flick that is bound to disappoint anyone who wants to see a Killer Dog Movie. However, there are more than one or two surprises throughout the film that made me enjoy it to a point. I also admired Burns’ knack for paying off everything he sets up. (Like the bit with the lamp with the faulty wiring.) Sure, it’s extremely slow moving in the early going, and I almost nodded off a few times, but it has a couple moments of genuine weirdness that makes it almost recommended.

ZOMBIE DEAREST (2009) **

After his wife catches him trying to cheat on her, Gus (writer/director David Kemker), a failed comedy writer, tries to win her back by fixing up her old family cabin. While digging up the septic mound, he uncovers a zombie. At first Gus is freaked out, but when he realizes the zombie is pretty harmless, he makes him do all of his work. Gus’ wife is OK with this arrangement for a while, until the zombie eventually bites him.

Zombie Dearest is like the hundredth low budget zombie comedy I’ve sat through. It’s not a bad one either because it never really goes for cheap laughs. The relationship between Gus and his wife seems fairly genuine and the performances by the two leads aren’t bad. The fact I went in with extremely low expectations surely helped.

Even with low expectations, Zombie Dearest isn’t exactly “good”. It’s watchable for the most part, but it never captivates you either. The horror elements are really low key and the humor isn’t laugh out loud funny or anything. The scenes of Kemker performing stand-up for the zombie aren’t very funny (although I’m sure that was probably done on purpose) and a lot of the other comedic stuff falls flat too. Ultimately the zombie carnage is woefully low as you have to wait until the last reel for it to really kick into gear. Things really take a turn for the worse though when the film dovetails into a Monkey’s Paw variation at the end too.

Tomorrow’s Bargain Bin Horror Movie: Hide and Creep.

HIDE AND CREEP (2004) ** ½

A lowly video store clerk (Chuck Hartsell, who also co-directed) gets a rash of calls from customers asking about zombie movies. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out why as the town is quickly overrun by zombies. Pretty soon, everyone in the town is fighting for their lives.

Hide and Creep is better than your average low budget zombie comedy, but not by a lot. I mean, we’ve all seen zombie movies with zombie strippers, right? But have we seen one where the zombie strippers put on a Girl on Girl floorshow? Didn’t think so.

The opening scenes with the video store clerk are very funny, mostly because I had some of the same exact conversations with customers when I worked at a video store. (I also dug the part where he killed a zombie with a VCR.) There’s also a great scene where he goes to order a Coke and all the restaurant has is Pepsi, and he unleashes a tirade on the poor waitress. Hartsell is quite funny in these scenes and it’s a shame he hasn’t starred in many films over the years.

Some of the self-aware dialogue is pretty good, but the humor becomes increasingly spotty as the film goes on. The flick also suffers from having way too many characters. (The gun nut hunters take up way too much screen time.) Although Hartsell is pretty funny, many of the other cast members just can’t deliver a joke the way he can. While it’s uneven and sloppy, Hide and Creep still has enough laughs to land it in the “Nice Try” file.

Tomorrow’s Bargain Bin Horror Movie: Last of the Living.

LAST OF THE LIVING (2009) * ½

The opening moments of Last of the Living accurately ape the early scenes of 28 Days Later with a guy wandering around desolate city streets. The filmmakers also capture the grainy handheld camerawork from that flick nicely too. Sadly, this winds up being nothing more than a dream sequence. Once the “real” movie begins, it’s all downhill from there.

After the opening credits, the film switches inspiration and becomes sort of a Shaun of the Dead Meets I Am Legend scenario. Three losers go around the zombie-ridden city smashing heads and looking for supplies. On one of their supply runs, they bump into a hot scientist chick who just might have found a cure for the zombie plague.

I don’t mind when a zombie movie wears its inspiration on its sleeve. The opening scene in particular is very well done. However, by the time the trio of idiots start running around a deserted shopping mall, it becomes apparent that mimicking other (better) zombie movies is the film’s lone trick.

There are a couple of good zombie kills. Zombies die from power saws, car batteries, etc. but most of the deaths are interchangeable. I mean you can only see a zombie brained with a baseball bat son many times before it gets monotonous. The scenes that don’t feature zombies are pretty insufferable though, and the three leads don’t have any chemistry or charisma at all.

Tomorrow’s Bargain Bin Horror Movie: Hurt.