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January 11th, 2017

THE WICKED WITHIN (2015) **

William Friedkin is a visionary director. When he made The Exorcist in 1973, it was a major accomplishment in horror filmmaking. Despite his visionary status, I don’t think he could’ve foreseen that people would still be copying it four decades later. While The Wicked Within is far from the worst Exorcist rip-off I’ve sat through, it never ever comes close to creating genuine chills, mostly because it lacks the piss and vinegar that makes possession horror movies work.

Sienna Guillory attends a party to help her grieving sister get over the death of her young daughter. Before long, Sienna begins acting weird and showing the classic signs of demon possession. The family hires a psychic, and then an exorcist to help her, but neither of them is a match for the demon hiding inside of Sienna. Once the demon has everyone’s attention, it revels in revealing shocking secrets from their past to tear the family unit apart.

The Wicked Within, with a few edits, could easily play on The Lifetime Channel. It is a low key and undercooked possession flick that is more concerned with family drama than outright terror. The film also suffers from a really cheap look. The budget was obviously low and the lack of location work (most of the film is set inside a house) helps to highlight that fact.

The film steals wholesale from The Exorcist. Now I know my motto is usually, “If you have to steal from somebody, steal from the best”, but director Jay Alaimo delivers the shocks in pedestrian fashion. Although there is a masturbation scene here, it does not involve a crucifix, which takes the sacrilege right out of it. Like Linda Blair, Guillory also pukes a lot. Alas, there is no pea soup to be found.

The similarities don’t end there. Sienna also talks in a raspy voice, says foulmouthed things to her family members, and throws people across the room. When it comes time for her head to spin around (courtesy of some weak CGI), Sienna even comments on how derivative it all is.

It doesn’t stop there. The flick steals from other genres too. Since there’s a psychic hanging around, that means we also have to sit through a dull séance scene. We are also subject to an invisible rape scene as well, but it’s no match for the one in The Entity.

Sienna Guillory’s performance is the only “wicked” thing about the film. She really goes for it, contorting her body, ranting, raving, drooling, and cursing like a sailor. She easily steals the movie, which is quite a feat when you consider she spends most of her time duct-taped to a chair.

Sonja Kinski (daughter of Nastassja) delivers a strong performance as a sensitive family member who figures into the (OK) twist ending. Eric Roberts (who looks like he shot his scenes in a single day) also turns up as a psychiatrist who hears the story in flashbacks. Patrick Muldoon has a blind-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo too.

It’s the grandmother who gets the best line of the movie when she calls the psychic: “A carny weirdo!”

AKA: Possessed.

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978) * ½

I’ve never been much for The Beatles. I have always been a Stones fan myself. Maybe that’s why this comedy, about a bunch of girls trying to sneak into The Beatles’ hotel room before they make their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show fell flat for me. (They should’ve made a movie about a bunch of groupies headed to Altamont.)

I wanted to like the film and gave it more than its fair share of chances. It just got more and more annoying as it went on. Everything about it was just shrill and irritating.

First off, it’s hard to root for your characters when they are so thoroughly unlikeable. They lie, cheat, steal, blackmail, and trespass just to get a glimpse of The Fab Four. What make makes the whole thing more obnoxious is that, in the end, they are eventually rewarded for their efforts of stalking the ever-loving shit out of the band and actually get to see The Beatles.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who co-wrote the film with his buddy Bob Gale. The plot is paper thin, their comedic timing is sloppy, and the narrative is aimless. Zemeckis’ work with actors isn’t very good either. I mean, what can you say about a movie when Eddie Deezen plays the most likeable character? Thankfully, they got a lot better with their next picture, Used Cars.

Seven years after this movie, Zemeckis and Gale made Back to the Future, and the rest was history. However, the only kick I got out of watching I Wanna Hold Your Hand was because of its similarities with Back to the Future. Both films take place in the past, have endings that involve a guy climbing a tower in a lightning storm, and feature a character who says, “Get your damn hands off her!” Like Back to the Future, it was also produced by Steven Spielberg, who must have had a psychic vision to predict Zemeckis would’ve been a great filmmaker based on the evidence presented here.

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Even though I have a soft spot in my heart for teen comedies from Crown International Pictures, this one was rough going almost from the start. Nearly all the male characters are unlikeable creeps and have weird, hard-to-place accents. Some of them speak with English accents, others sound vaguely Canadian, and a few appear to be pronouncing their dialogue phonetically. (A quick check to IMDB confirms it was a Canadian production after all.)

A nerd bets his friend he can deflower prettiest girl in school. He actually (Spoiler Warning for anyone who’s never seen a teen sex comedy) falls in love with her and doesn’t think he can go through with the bet. He also has odd James Bond-inspired fantasies where he's running around dressed in a tux and trying to shoot the guy he made the bet with. Isn’t it always grand to have a hero with delusions of murder?

The whole thing feels like it takes place on another planet (or in this case, Canada) where the rules of comedy function differently. Like the scene where our hero meets his girlfriend’s mother and pretends to be The Elephant Man by hiding his face behind a flower arrangement (and later, a welder’s mask). Is pretending to be hideously deformed an acceptable way to ingratiate yourself to your girlfriend’s parents in Canada?

The movie ends when the nerd challenges his buddy to a game of chicken, which happens to be without a doubt the worst game of chicken ever captured on film. It looks like both cars are only going about ten miles an hour when they’re driving toward each other. What’s worse is that neither of them crash! Then again, if they did, there wouldn’t be much damage since they were both about forty miles-per-hour below the speed limit.

Stacy Christensen, who plays our hero’s object of lust, is the only bright spot here. She also happens to be the sole likeable character in the movie. Everyone else deserves their subsequent plunge into obscurity.

AKA: The Virgin Queen.

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CRY WOLF (2005) **

Produced by Doug (Swingers) Liman, this horror flick is kinda like Cruel Intentions meets a slasher movie with a little bit of The Usual Suspects thrown in there for good measure. None of it quite works I’m afraid, although it certainly has its moments.

A circle of snobby friends grow weary of playing lying games at a fancy prep school. They decide to take things to the next level when a student is found murdered near the campus. They perpetuate a serial killer hoax by sending a mass email throughout the school. On Halloween night, a real killer wearing an orange ski mask begins picking off the friends one by one.

It’s easy to spot the twist ending. (Obviously, spoilers are imminent.) The kill scenes are filmed in a grungy snuff movie style that is far removed from the sleek look that Jeff Wadlow (who would go on to direct Kick-Ass 2) gives the rest of the film. We quickly realize that it’s just what our hero sees in his head when he’s heard his friends have been killed. Eventually, the whole thing is revealed to be nothing more than an elaborate prank that winds up backfiring when someone really dies. (This is the second horror movie I’ve seen this week with the same twist, the other being Graduation Day.)

One thing I appreciated about the movie was the time it was made. It was in that weird in-between era where instant messaging could be a major plot point. Of course, no one uses that now, but what is cool about the film is that it also features what I believe to be the first scene in which a girl is stalked by someone while she takes a selfie. When she sends it to her boyfriend, he sees there’s a killer behind her and rushes to try to save her. So because of that, the flick simultaneously feels dated and a bit ahead of its time.

The rest, I’m afraid, is pretty routine. The twist ending means that there are actually precious few murders, which is disappointing. It also explains the weak PG-13 rating.

The cast is a mixed bag. The leading man is a dullard, but Lindy Booth, who plays the sexy redheaded ringleader of the group, is quite good. However, I was appalled at just how wasted Gary Cole was. Here is a guy who is always fun to watch and what does he get to do? Appear oh so briefly and talk in a silly British accent! Still, any movie in which Jon Bon Jovi (fresh off the success of Vampires: Los Muertos) plays a lecherous professor has to be worth a watch, don’t you think?

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