Thursday, May 24, 2018

Deader, Pooler

Year: 2018
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Hollywood is really hoping the world's refractory period for superhero movies is a short one, because Deadpool 2 arrives just three weeks after the massive, universe-shattering blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War, which came just two months after the box office juggernaut Black Panther. But even the shadow of Avengers can't quite obscure Deadpool 2, which is the followup to a film that was a massive hit exactly because it was a nasty-minded R-rated comedy sandwiched into the superheroic genre elements that have become so pervasive in movie theaters over the past decade.

Unfortunately, that means that Deadpool 2 isn't a superhero sequel but a comedy sequel, and those are quite a bit harder to pull off. All of Marvel's sequels have done better than their previous entries, because sequels don't have to worry about setting up their characters and conflicts, and just get to relax into a new adventure. Comedy sequels have to appease the audience by repeating their favorite jokes, only without the necessary element of surprise. Let's see how that went, shall we?

So far so consistent.

Warning: this plot synopsis and subsequent review contain SPOILERS for the first act of Deadpool 2; one major plot point that I couldn't care less about, and one minor reveal that I found way more interesting. But this really isn't a movie where the plot matters one whit, so I'm not bothered about it.

Deadpool 2 sees the return of its indestructible red-clad merc Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) just as his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) gets blown away by gangsters after a hit gone wrong. His mourning process (they were going to have a family, which is not a terrible idea for these people apparently) involves him couch-surfing at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters as a trainee member of the X-Men alongside returning D-list members Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who now has a girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna) in one of those Hollywood stabs at LGBT diversity where gay people don't kiss or touch or talk, but just kind of stand next to each other.

His first mission involves defusing a situation involving a young mutant with anger issues and the ability to shoot flames out of his hand, the self-proclaimed Firefist (Julian Dennison of the terrific Hunt for the Wilderpeople). Deadpool's irreverent humor drives the kid away, just in time for the time-traveling terminator Cable (Josh Brolin) to arrive from the future with an eye on destroying the kid to prevent crimes he commits as an adult. Does Deadpool learn to overcome his grief and become the father he was always meant to be? Well, you'll just have to see, won't you?

Father, X-Man, friend to all gays... What can't this man do?

We would do well to sit down with the question that is all-important to comedy sequels: Is this schtick still funny? Obviously comedy is in the funny bone of the beholder, but my answer is a qualified yes. I've always loved meta humor in general, and the way it combines with pretty incisive analysis of superhero clichés continues to be satisfying (some times more than others - the movie really drops the ball with its obligatory Thanos joke). And there's plenty of new bits on hand here, including a delightful gross-out recurring gag with a pen, that are just solid examples of comedy writing, comic book movie or not. Sure, some jokes thud to the floor (there's a recurring bit about dubstep that I'm not certain is or was ever funny in any universe), but this is one of those modern movies that throw so much at the wall that most of sticks and you can ignore the rest.

Unfortunately, "the rest" includes most of the jokes that are picked up from the previous film. The biggest one of these being T.J. Miller's comic relief presence. It doesn't help that in the time between the previous movie and now, it has been revealed that the man himself is pretty much an unmitigated asshole, but his jokes have always felt like the blooper reel of a Judd Apatow movie, and they suck out all the air from the film every time he makes an appearance. And although the opening credits sequence is still quite fun, they're almost too shy to repeat the joke from the original movie and cut them short just as they're getting started.

All in all, however, I'm gonna put the humor in the plus column. The scales are tipped especially when you add the weight of new recruits Zazie Beetz and Julian Dennison, who own every scene they are in. Wilderpeople proved that Dennison has the chops and I'm glad he's gotten a bigger platform for his unique brand of Kiwi bluster, but as someone who doesn't watch Atlanta, Beetz is a new encounter for me, and it has been excessively pleasant. Her colossal confidence and screen presence will superglue your eyes to the screen, and her action sequences, which involve the superpower of "luck" creating a series of Rube Goldberg Final Destination deaths around her as she struts by, are truly something to behold.

She's basically what would happen if we put 70's Pam Grier in a superhero movie, and that's the highest praise I can give to any human being.

And though Domino's action is clearly the best, Deadpool 2 doesn't disgrace director David Leitch's history with John Wick and Atomic Blonde at any point. Deadpool's indestructibility allows him to soar through the tropes of action cinema just as easily as superhero movies, circumventing traditional fight setpieces in his own idiosyncratic fashion. Probably the best example (and the one shown in the trailers) is the part where it seems like he's deflecting all the bullets Cable shoots at him by hitting them aside with his katanas, only to reveal that most of them have hit their mark because it's, like, super hard to hit a bullet with a sword. By lowering the personal stakes as to his health and well-being, Deadpool 2 has opened the floodgates to a cartoony sense of fun that keeps these scenes buoyant and propulsive throughout.

So, the comedy and action are present, which is really all you need. Unfortunately, Deadpool has two hours to fill and what it chooses to sandwich in between the fun parts is more than a bit irksome. There's repeated use of a ridiculous heaven-esque dreamscape that delivers foreshadowing and character insight on a silver platter without actually having to earn it, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the movie's more dramatic sequences. Ryan Reynolds sells Deadpool's emotional arc, because he really is a solid actor, but the drama here is much too maudlin and self-serious to pair well with the fratty comedy the rest of the movie delivers. There's no foundation for this type of scene in the Deadpool universe, and we get a lot of them here to crumble around us.

Also, sweet baby Jesus, there are so many random soundtrack needle drops in this movie. In the climactic third act sequence it feels like we get a dozen ironic pop songs jammed into our ears, to the point that I'm legitimately surprised we didn't get a joke comparing that scene to Suicide Squad. Some of these juxtapositions of bubblegum pop and action work quite well, but the movie is too flooded with them for the few great moments to actually have any potency.

Neither of these flaws are film-ruining, but they certainly drag this sequel to a lower level than its predecessor, in spite of quite a few things that are working even better than before. I can't wait to see the story continue with the exciting new characters it has added, it's satisfying to see what a Deadpool movie can do with an actual budget, and I had fun. That's really all I need, but there's just those niggling problems that refuse to go away.

TL;DR: Deadpool 2 is a satisfying, fun hunk of diminishing returns.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1359
Reviews In This Series
Deadpool (Miller, 2016)
Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Census Flashback: Skewing Younger

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which explores younger versions of characters you know and love, I'll be reviewing a movie that transposes last week's pick of The Phantom of the Opera into a teenage milieu. It's Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge!

Year: 1989
Director: Richard Friedman
Cast: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Kari Whitman
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The Phantom of the Opera musical was already about three years into its medium-defining run in 1989, so it makes sense that Hollywood would want to cash in on that ASAP. But that still doesn't excuse the fact that, even though the slasher subgenre was wheezing its death rattle, it used that precious last breath to cough out two rip-offs of that very same story. Last week we took a look at the chintzy and misguided Robert England period piece, but this week is an entirely different animal. Now Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge is certainly chintzy and misguided, but there's still some spark that the po-faced straight adaptation lacks.

An actually handsome romantic lead doesn't hurt, either.

Phantom of the Mall positions itself as a mystery, but let's not pretend the plot is anything but straightforward and get the exposition out of the way that the movie wastes 40 minutes not telling you. The Midwood Mall - the brainchild of venal businessman Harv Posner (Jonathan Goldsmith, of two episodes of every 80's show you've ever heard of) and local mayor Karen Wilton (Morgan Fairchild, making her second Census Bloodbath appearance after the dreadful The Seduction) - has just opened up, bringing this small town into a world of economic opportunity. Well, for everyone except Eric Matthews (Derek Rydall), a presumed-dead teen whose family perished in a fire that just so happened to clear the plot of land the mall was built on. With a load of scars on his face, hate in his heart, and a Bowflex in his lair to give him that obligatory slasher villain murderstrength, Eric lurks in the underbelly of the mall vowing revenge on those who built it and taking down anyone who threatens his bereaved girlfriend Melody Austin (Kari Whitman of Masterblaster, a credit I'm sure she'd sooner have us forget).

Conveniently, Melody and her friends - the fashionplate Suzie (Kimber Sissons) and the goofball slacker Buzz (Pauly Shore) - have gotten jobs at the aforementioned mall where Eric is doing his phantoming. Oddly for a teen mall slasher, most of the victims are anonymous adult maintenance workers, but also on the potential platter of Meat are Harv's deadbeat greaser son Justin (Tom Fridley, who unforgettably played Cort in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI), security guard Acardi (horror icon Ken Foree), and intrepid teen newspaper photographer Peter Baldwin (Rob Estes, a series regular on three seasons of Melrose Place, so my crush on him arrives 20 years later than the rest of the world), who has developed a bit of interest in Melody's horrible backstory, and a lot of interest in Melody's beautiful face.

Their love doesn't please Eric much, but really what does?

1989 slasher films don't tend to have a lot to offer in the field of gore, scares, creativity, acting, filmmaking, or reasons to exist, but there's one thing that they all have in common: an abundant supply of 80's cheese. The ridiculous fads and fashions that cropped up around the beginning of the decade had had many years to ferment, becoming as pungent and flavorful as possible in the process, and Phantom of the Mall has a delightful surplus of that excess. It also doesn't hurt that it's set in a mall, the ur-location of 80's cinema.

Everything in sight is a beautiful time capsule, from the music to the technology to the cast (see: Morgan Fairchild) to the outfits (see: Morgan Fairchild's oversized peach blazer that threatens to drown her in fabric). Although the slasher movie had long since run out of steam and couldn't deliver something you hadn't seen before, this was the perfect background onto which a film could regurgitate a decade of well-worn tropes and character archetypes.

Plus, even hough they lack creativity and even at times a coherent pool of victims, the kills - the counterpoint upon which any slasher must balance - are achieved with a crazed live-wire energy that more than makes up for the less than pristine gore. Most of these murders have a hilariously complex Rube Goldberg quality that calls to mind the best of the Final Destination franchise (one singular kill sequence involves a skateboard, a lasso, and an escalator), and their bizarre, unpredictable nature is captivating. Plus, lots of these moments are satisfyingly on-theme with their use of common mall objects and locations, and the ones that aren't are at least f**king bananas, like Eric planting a venomous cobra inside a toilet.

You know, like are found at your average mall pet store.

Basically, the entire theme of this movie is succeeding in spite of the limitations of being exactly what a late 80's slasher always was going to be. Those kills really are something, and they do tend to draw from a well of contemporary urban legend fears (the toilet snake, people! Not to mention the fact that Stranger Danger lurks around every corner here, with predatory men stalking the mall parking lot like it's a prison yard) that elevates them just slightly from typical slasher fare.

And when the movie really digs in, it goes nuts, splashing every dollar of its presumably modest budget right into your face. The third act pulls out all the stops in an orgy of 80's genre tropes, pulling from the best of the worst of horror, action, and soap operas of the time. There's a splashy car chase, a fight between the Phantom and one of the mall's many sex predators that involves at least a dozen spin-kicks, and a Dynasty-esque reveal involving Morgan Fairchild diva-ing it up in a sparkly dress. And there's literally a scene of someone jumping away from an explosion!

He's flying directly into the 80's slasher Hall of Fame.

As a campy, trashy experience, Phantom of the Mall is an especially epic good time. The ensemble of familiar character actor faces provides a reasonably reliable performance quality (Kari Whitman is probably the least recognizable of them, and for good reason, considering that she's by far the blandest presence in the film), the stupidity of translating Phantom into this milieu is wholeheartedly embraced, and the tropes it leans heavily on are some of my favorites. It's certainly no masterpiece, but for once a slasher movie has lived up to its epically ludicrous title, and that's not something to scoff at.

Killer: Eric Matthews (Derek Rydall)
Final Girl: Melody Austin (Kari Whitman)
Best Kill: There are a lot of fun elaborate kills here, but what could possibly beat a cobra rising from a toilet to bite a dude on the dick?
Sign of the Times: The arsonist the teens are hunting down looks exactly like George Michael, stubble, earring, and all.
Scariest Moment: Melody's sex dream about Eric turns into a hideous nightmare of fire and blood.
Weirdest Moment: Suzie finds an eyeball in her frozen yogurt.
Champion Dialogue: "He can ask me probing questions anytime."
Body Count: 9
  1. Stanley is stabbed in the gut.
  2. AC Repairman has his face shoved in a fan.
  3. Devlin is crushed by a cart into a fuse box, electrocuting him until his eyeball pops out.
  4. Piano Player is bit in the dick by a toilet cobra.
  5. Justin has his neck snapped in an escalator.
  6. Christopher is decapitated by a trash compactor.
  7. Mayor Wilton is thrown out a window and impaled on a shard of glass.
  8. Harv Posner is burned by a flamethrower and thrown onto propane tanks, which explode.
  9. Eric perishes at the hands of his own bomb.
TL;DR: Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge is a surprisingly delightful late entry in the slasher genre.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1362

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Census Flashback: Double Dipping Devilry

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Deadpool 2, which sees Josh Brolin returning to the world of Marvel as the villain Cable mere weeks after his universe-threatening appearance as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, I'll be exploring an 80's slasher where the lead villain also played double duty. In 1989 Robert England continued his landmark role as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, but he also played another infamous villain in that same year's The Phantom of the Opera, which we'll be discussing today.

Year: 1989
Director: Dwight H. Little
Cast: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I don't know what it is about classic French literature and pop culture, but two of the most adapted novels in the world are Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. Both books have received the movie treatment more than a dozen times apiece, not to mention TV specials, comics (seriously), and modernizations, as well as one extravagantly popular Broadway musical apiece. 

Phantom is pretty explicitly a horror novel (though certain people choose to highlight the romance over the monstrous element), so it's not shocking that the genre got its grubby little hands on it, as early as 1925. But what's even less shocking is that 80's horror got a swipe in at the property, because if there was one thing genre filmmakers of the time loved more than a new concept for a slasher movie, it was a well-known property already in the public domain. And why not get Robert Englund, for whom playing a man with a hecked-up face was his bread and butter, and who could at least get some literary cred from playing the role? Toss in the director of the exceedingly solid Halloween 4, the special effects guru behind Chucky, the Crypt Keeper, and Freddy himself, plus 80's shlock mega-producer Menahem Golan, and it's a match made in heaven.

Or hell, if you will.

So, the plot should seem pretty familiar, give or take a couple little embellishments. We start off in the 80's for no clear reason other than to gently ease its viewers into a period piece slasher film, following Christine Day (Jill Schoelen, the queen of late 80's/early 90's B-horror, who at this time was fresh off The Stepfather and Cutting Class) as she scours a rare bookstore for material to use during her opera audition. She stumbles across a battered copy of Don Juan Triumphant, and during her audition is hit on the head with a sandbag (?), which sends her back in time (?) to nineteenth century London, when the piece was first written by Erik Destler (Robert Englund, who was by that point a worldwide cultural phenomenon - that very year he was appearing in Freddy drag on MTV left and right).

Christine doesn't seem to realize that she has been transported back into the past, so this whole thing is pretty pointless. I guess they're going for a Mummy-esque reincarnated love thing, but let's call a spade a spade and not pretend it makes a lick of sense. She is a young soprano understudy for the diva La Carlotta (Stephanie Lawrence), but she receives voice lessons from a mysterious angelic figure known as the Phantom, who murders the piss out of anybody who gets in her way. Anyway, it turns out the Phantom is Erik (duh), who has sold his soul to the devil (?), as portrayed by a little person (?), which has made his face all burned and scarred (??). Cue a lot of bad opera and mediocre slashing.

And makeup that's even frightening when it's supposed to seem normal.

Yup, this is one of those cases where the slasher stars seem to have aligned, but alack, those stars got crossed somewhere along the line and it was not meant to be. Phantom of the Opera wants to be a legitimate adaptation of its literary source material and the trashy B-slasher it was always meant to be, but it can't have its cake and stab it too. The slasher elements undercut any ability to take it seriously, and the serious elements make the slasher a bit of a tedious slog.

At every opportunity, Phantom cuts itself short. You can tell it wants to have the quippy punnery of a Freddy Krueger adventure, but then it would tip its hand too far in the "stupid slasher" direction, so it contents itself with some light, playful japing that glances right off the scene and immediately out of one's memory. And it very clearly desires to be an icky, gross-out horror flick, at which it only intermittently succeeds.

Thanks to Kevin Yagher, the moments where the gore comes to the forefront are spectacular. Especially any time we see the Phantom either assembling or dismantling the false skin he wears to get around in the world, it's stomach-churningly gooey grue that lights up the screen. This sensibility is also applied to a certain number of the deaths, especially in the early going, but for some unfathomable reason the bulk of the murders are rendered as run-of-the-mill gut stabbings that completely lack flair and barely shed a drop of blood.

It's telling that this is about the most dynamic screenshot I can find.

That lack of flair isn't isolated to the murder scenes, unfortunately. Although Halloween 4 did sometimes have the tendency to look a bit like a TV movie, at least it had atmosphere. Here, the lighting scheme wouldn't be out of place at a community center bar mitzvah. See, a huge production is made out of candlelit rooms, and the fact that the Phantom lurks in the shadows to hide his twisted visage. But whenever he blows out a candle to hide his face, the room is still so blasted with light that it looks like he's on the set of King of Queens. If anything, the room seemed darker before the candle blew out. The lighting is so conspicuously inappropriate that it drags you cornea-first out of the movie, undermining the character to a ruthlessly extreme degree.

This is a real shame, because Robert Englund clearly cared about this character. The apathy that defines his Dream Child performance is completely absent here, and he's trying his darnedest to assemble something resembling pathos from the role. It all falls apart like a sand castle too close to the tide, but it's not his fault. There is hardly an inch of plot to hang this performance on within the repetitive (yet somehow infrequent) slashings and endless scenes of Jill Schoelen lip syncing to a deeply milquetoast opera track with English lyrics that feel like they were ripped from a seventh grader's songwriting journal.

I dearly wish The Phantom of the Opera had been much better than it was. Period piece horror films aren't exactly a dime a dozen, and when one gets a chunk of change significant enough to make that a reality, I always hope for the best. Unfortunately for the slasher genre in 1989, "the best" was never really an option. It's Robert Englund's best film of the year by a country mile, but that's praise so faint it can't even muster up the energy to damn anything.

Killer: Erik Destler (Robert Englund)
Final Girl: Christine Day (Jill Schoelen)
Best Kill: Most of the kills are pretty bog-standard, but during the Phantom's first kill, blood covers his face as it contorts with orgasmic delight, which is pretty intense. Also eventually the body is hung up in a closet, sans skin, which is likewise rather intense.
Sign of the Times: When she returns to present day, Christine discovers the completed version of Don Juan Triumphant on a floppy disk.
Scariest Moment: When Christine first discovers the pages of the opera and sings them aloud, the notes on the page turn into drops of blood.
Weirdest Moment: Christine's best friend in the framing sequence is played by Molly Shannon in her first film role.
Champion Dialogue: "Better submerged in bathwater than mediocrity."
Body Count: 10
  1. Joseph is gutted with a knife while being winched up into the air.
  2. Ruffian #1 is stabbed in the gut.
  3. Ruffian #2 is decapitated with a knife.
  4. Lead Ruffian is stabbed in the gut.
  5. Harrison has his head crushed with a towel.
  6. La Carlotta is beheaded offscreen, and her head is boiled into a soup.
  7. Rat Catcher is impaled on a spike.
  8. Morris has his throat slit offscreen.
  9. Davis has his heart pulled out of his chest.
  10. Richard is stabbed with a candle holder and burned alive.
TL;DR: The Phantom of the Opera is an admirable effort, but grafting a slasher onto classic literature rendered both of those things not particularly interesting.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1493

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reviewing Jane: If I Loved You Less, I Might Be Able To Talk About It More

In which we review (almost) every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen, as I read through her extended bibliography for the first time. This review is a massive expansion of a frankly terrible mini-review I wrote back in November 2013.

Year: 1995
Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Jane Austen's work as a whole is almost perfectly designed to be translated into a high school setting. The rigid class strata, overwhelming obsession with pairing off into romantic couples, and razor-sharp sarcasm of her novels is if anything more suited to the modern teen movie than the period piece. It's such an obvious thing to do that it took a genius to recognize it, and that genius was none other than Amy Heckerling, one of the only commercially successful female filmmakers to come out of the 80's (her debut Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a massively profitable, zeitgeist-defining hit).

When approached to write a high school movie, Heckerling reflected back on the novel Emma, which she remembered enjoying at that age. And thus, by combining a centuries-old plot structure with modern teen fashion and lingo, Clueless was born, jamming yet another massively profitable, zeitgeist-defining hit into that C.V. just for good measure.

It was a movie so iconic, it convinced Stacey Dash she could go ahead and keep on pretending that the world loves her and her every thought.

So, here we go. A decade before Mean Girls, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) rules the campus with her matching plaid ensembles and boxy cell phone. Along with her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash), she matchmakes her way into better grades by keeping her depressed debate teacher happy, and she's more than willing to use her talents to mold crude new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) into the perfect popular princess.

Together they navigate a tangled web of love involving the popular boy Elton (Jeremy Sisto), the loser stoner Travis (Breckin Meyer), the ostentatiously retro Christian (Justin Walker), Dionne's lusty boyfriend Murray (Donald Faison), and Cher's preachy, college-aged stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd). If Cher hadn't meddled, it would probably be a lot less complicated, but also a lot less fun!

And thanks to her, the rest of the world who HADN'T seen Halloween 6 got to meet Paul Rudd.

The ways that Emma's plot corresponds to the beats of Clueless are frankly remarkable. Sure, it's all slathered with a heaping helping of dated hairstyles, slang, pop tunes, and brown lipstick that only increase the film's hilarity as time goes by, but there are certain scenes that are practically verbatim (especially the scene where Cher is insulted she wasn't invited to a party she didn't particularly want to go to, or where Tai decides to burn her last remembrances of Elton).

This is why it absolutely works as a comedy, because that's the exact element it isolates from Jane Austen's romance of manners and manors. I have constantly been frustrated by the way that the straight Austen adaptations rub out her idiosyncratic sarcasm as if it were a dirty thing to be ignored in the face of literary merit. But Clueless is the exact opposite, removing everything but the humorous character dynamics much to its benefit.

Of course, it does also naturally inherit one of Emma's flaws: Tai (just like her character analogue Harriet Smith) holds a major role, but shrinks into the background come the third act and is given a tossed-off conclusion without really completing an arc of any kind. But that's a small price to pay for one of the purest adaptations of Austen's tone we've ever gotten.

Somehow, I think she would approve.

Clueless is hilarious at all times, but it's perhaps most hilarious if you've ever lived in Los Angeles. Regional humor always gets me, but Amy Heckerling manages to toe a very delicate line between referencing very specific places and feelings, yet still making it universal. The iconic learner's permit freeway scene and the followup line "Getting off the freeway makes you realize how important life is," are freaking hysterical if you grew up terrified of navigating the labyrinthine L.A. freeway system, but yet they also strike at a truth that will resonate with anyone who's lived through high school. The way teenage emotions are so vivid and bold that they can make mountains out of the tiniest, most mundane molehills is effortlessly encapsulated in this funny, relatable, endearingly earnest line.

Heckerling may have been the one to strike gold here, but Alicia Silverstone is an all-important piece of this puzzle. One of the toughest things about reading Emma is watching the main character make so many mistakes. She's a supremely flawed heroine: venal, self-impressed, and wearingly meddlesome. That is what makes her interesting as a protagonist, but you don't always want to spend time with her. Silverstone finds the perfect balance here, knowing full well that Cher is an airheaded twit but humanizing her just enough that you can see her potential to be an actual good person and are always willing to follow her into the depths of her comically terrible decisions.

The rest of the ensemble is generally strong too, of course (only Stacey Dash is a major miss; her one approach to line reading is "shrill and catty"), but Silverstone is obviously the Queen Bee. Clueless just wouldn't work without her, and Clueless works tremendously well. In the terrifyingly vast landscape of 90's teen movies, this is one that truly deserves its status on the A-list, and that's not nostalgia speaking. I was one year old when this movie came out, so the fact that it still strikes a chord speaks to its generous and loving approach to the teen human condition.

TL;DR: Clueless is a delectable teen comedy only made better by its literary source material.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 984
Other Films Based on Emma
Clueless (Heckerling, 1995)
Emma (McGrath, 1996)

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Census Flashback: Party Till You Drop

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Life of the Party, which is about Melissa McCarthy returning to college and wreaking havoc on the frat scene, this week I'll be visiting the hallowed halls of the psychosexual campus slasher Rush Week.

Year: 1988
Director: Bob Bralver
Cast: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Just when you think you've seen every college-set slasher that the subgenre has to offer, the indefatigable 80's horror morass regurgitates yet another one. 1988's Rush Week has all the hallmarks of a slasher I shouldn't care about very much. Too non-paranormal to keep up with the post-Elm Street trend that made the late 80's so weird, too generic to justify the lack of gore that resulted from the MPAA's severe crackdown on the genre after it dominated theaters for the better part of a decade. Fortunately, Rush Week actually wasn't a slog, which is oh so unusual at this point in the project. Let's dive in, right after some good, wholesome plot synopsis!

Part of a balanced breakfast.

So, it's Rush Week at Tambers College, and as is oh so likely to happen when a bunch of nubile fraternity and sorority students cavort together, a cloaked, axe-wielding murderer is cutting a trail of carnage across the proceedings. The only person who seems to notice that people are mysteriously disappearing is Toni Daniels (Pamela Ludwig), a new journalism student who has been working with the college paper. 

Even though everyone in her life suspiciously warns her away from investigating these murders, including her carefree hippie professor Cosmo Kincald (Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band. Yeah, I don't know why either), the weirdly-obsessed-with-moral-purification-and-the-sanctity-of-death Dean Grail (Roy Thinnes), and her dreamy new love interest Jeff Jacobs (Dean Hamilton), a frat president who's clearly hiding a dark secret about his past. And that's just the tip of the suspect iceberg. I won't go too far into that, but I do want to mention some slasher royalty we have among us. As Julie Ann McGuffin, the killer's first victim, we have Halloween 4's Kathleen Kinmont, and as a totally useless pervy frat guy literally credited as "Peeper" we have Friday the 13th: A New Beginning's unforgettable Dominick Brascia.

Anyway, the killer is clearly trying to wipe out the moral corruption of the Greek system, as exemplified by Jeff's fraternity's increasingly wicked prank war with a rival frat. Naturally, this is accomplished by killing the women involved with said fraternity, because it ain't a slasher movie without a healthy dose of misogyny.

And Dean Hamilton isn't objectified nearly as much as I want him to be.

I've already mentioned what I could tell before even viewing one second of Rush Week. This isn't a gooey, gory romp through the best kills the slasher has to offer. No, it's almost pathetic in how boring and rote its murder sequences are: Killer raises the axe. Girl cowers in just such a way that you think her top might slip off. Killer swings the axe. Cut to next scene. This is repeated no fewer than three times with nary a drop of blood to be found, and by the time the final two kills show up with their run-of-the-mill but at least drippy special effects, the momentum has long been lost.

Usually, gore is the only reason to watch these movies, because it's not like the filmmaking or plots tend to be anything to write home about. But Rush Week does succeed in a lot of little ways that don't quite make it great, but at least worth watching in spite of that very major drawback. For one thing, it's actually a pretty solid whodunit. The red herrings are probably a bit obvious in how hyperbolically creepy they are (and one late-in-the-game plot twist makes so little sense, it might actually count as surrealism), but focusing the plot on a plucky young reporter rather than a generic campus cop or something really does help keep you invested.

It's just plain fun to follow Toni Daniels through the various obstacles and clues she faces along the way to discovering who the killer is, and the fact that the people who are backing up her research are all women (including several sources, a biology student who can test blood, and a computer whiz) makes up for at least an ounce of how skeevy the rest of the movie tends to be. Plus, Pamela Ludwig is actually kind of good. Legitimately great even, in at least one scene. In the moment before her first kiss with Jeff, you can see her face awash in a whirl of different emotions; distrust, desire, nervousness, calculation, and eventually surrender. It's one of the only slasher romantic scenes that's actually hot, and it's all because of the microscopic, expertly handled facial cues we get to watch as she sorts out her feelings.

OK, maybe it doesn't work in a freeze frame, but she's terrific, I promise.

So we have a semi-talented lead, and she's given semi-amusing dialogue. A personal favorite of mine is "Is it alright if I call you Toni?" "You can call me anything you like." "Can I call you tomorrow?" It's not Billy Wilder, set-the-Earth-on-fire work, but it's just something a little more than you can usually expect to get from one of these films. There are people who were actually trying when they were making this movie, and that does count for a lot.

There's also no denying that the killer here is actually pretty scary. To start, his weapon is consistent from start to finish (this almost never happens), which is great because it's a massively imposing medieval axe that cuts a striking silhouette. But the costume itself is actually kind of alarming. At first all you see is a cloaked figure, getting only the barest glimpses of a face in the shadows. But the more you see of the killer, the more you realize that his face won't tell you anything, because it's a mask that's just lifelike enough to be convincing in shadow, but nevertheless completely uncanny and menacing when it's revealed. Check it:

Again, maybe screenshots don't do this movie justice. Or maybe I'm just in this project waaaaay too deep.

Well, whatever. It's an entertaining thrill ride for the most part, and I'm not gonna spit on that. There are still those little reminders that this is a crummy slasher movie, both on the filmmaking level (take the foley work, which goes completely out of control anytime it has to render footsteps - they never match the characters' walks, to the point that you think somebody might actually be following them), and the way it treats the female characters who aren't Toni.

I can have fun with gratuitous nudity as much as the next guy (a girl meditating topless in a college classroom is certainly a first), but some of the material here is just gross, especially with the character of Alma. She's literally just a prostitute who the frat hires to satisfy their pledges (a truly unusual slasher character, from the beginning), who they play their cruelest, most vicious prank on for absolutely no reason, and who does not deserve the bloody comeuppance she is handed. I'm actually glad the kills aren't prolonged, gory, or numerous, because the way they play out time and time again is by far the least appealing aspect of a movie that's actually quite charming quite a bit of the time.

Rush Week is good for what it is, even though what it is isn't a very good thing at all. But in the terms of what I've had to sit through for Census Bloodbath, it's a slam dunk. That's probably a sad thing, but I've made this bed and I've got to lie in it.

Killer: [Dean Grail (Roy Thinnes)]
Final Girl: Toni Daniels (Pamela Ludwig)
Sign of the Times: A major plot point revolves around the fact that Toni got a message on her computer, and only very few people have the technical skill to figure out how to do that.
Best Kill: Dean Grail is decapitated by axe in what is more or less the only gore moment in the movie, so it's not much of a contest.
Scariest Moment: Arnold the Creeper is pursuing Toni through the halls of the science building and immediately runs afoul of the real killer, who bursts through a doorway and murders the hell out of him.
Weirdest Moment: An accordion player prances around the preppy frat's party.
Champion Dialogue: "You can't row a boat with a limp rope."
Body Count: 5
  1. Julie is axed to death.
  2. Alma is axed to death.
  3. Rebecca is axed to death.
  4. Arnold is axed in the gut.
  5. Dean Grail is decapitated with an axe.
TL;DR: Rush Week lacks the gore it needs to be an exemplary late-80's slasher, but the plot and characters are strong enough that it's nevertheless enjoyable.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1529

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Reviewing Jane: I Love You, Most Arf-ently

In which we review (almost) every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen, as I read through her extended bibliography for the first time.

Year: 2016
Director: David Winning
Cast: Cindy Busby, Ryan Paevey, Elizabeth McLaughlin
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: TV-G

After almost two centuries of comfortable, quiet general admiration of her work, the world spontaneously decided to go absolutely nuts over Jane Austen in the mid-1990's. Not that I mean to discount her massive importance in the literary sphere, but it was honestly a little inexplicable and random how it happened. However, now that it's here, it certainly doesn't show signs of stopping anytime soon. As recently as two years ago, there were no fewer than four of said adaptations within a matter of months!

Of course, the Hallmark Channel had to get in on this enduring trend, so they got their grubby little hands on one of the many many many Jane Austen reinterpretations (see: fanfiction) that have been published in the intervening decades, and thus Unleashing Mr. Darcy was born.

Don't get too excited. That title is just a dog show pun, he's not gonna become like the Incredible Hulk or anything.

The plot of this movie should be pretty familiar at this point, but as with any modernization of a classic novel, it's always interesting to see how characters get chopped and screwed, remixed, and decontextualized, much like the same year's Before the Fall. Of course, given how the back of the DVD credits the illustrious "Jane Austin" for its source material, maybe the changes happened just because they didn't actually read Pride and Prejudice that closely (more evidence to the fact: There is a character named Mr. Bingley, but he shows up as a featured extra for one scene, and the guy who falls for the older sister is in fact somebody completely different).

Nevertheless, have a plot this movie does, as brutally simplistic as it might be. High school history teacher/dog show contestant Elizabeth Scott (Cindy Busby) has been suspended from her job after Grant Markham (Ken Tremblett), who is - and I quote - "a lobbyist for Wall Street," attempted to bribe her to give his lacrosse jock son a bette grade. His wife is on the Board, so Elizabeth certainly has a right to distrust rich people, wouldn't you think?

Enter Donovan Darcy (Ryan Paevey), a dog show judge whose brusque and businesslike treatment of Elizabeth's dog Bliss. He's unbearably sexy (though only shirtless in one scene, because Hallmark likes to waste my time), but she finds his behavior and wealth distasteful. Unfortunately they are thrown together quite a lot when she take a job as a dog handler for her friend Gabrielle (Elizabeth McLaughlin). Thus begins a "romance" where Donovan acts out a hilariously transparent female fantasy - at one point he literally pays her to play with puppies - and Lizzy snipes at him constantly. Seriously, she is so mean for zero reason.

The biggest obstacle to their burgeoning love - other than how horrifically brutal she treats him - is his aunt Violet (Frances Fisher), who dearly wants to force him to marry his best friend's sister Felicity (Courtney Richter).

Their relationship makes no sense, but you can't just go around trying to get cousins to marry each other anymore, so I DO get why they changed this particular part.

I always think watching a Hallmark movie will be a hilarious good time, but then I remember that I'm confusing it with Lifetime. The soapy drama and sublimated sexual fervor of the latter makes for some highly stimulating trash. Hallmark, unfortunately, is only committed to toothless, run-of-the-mill trash, which just isn't the same.

There are a few spurts of campy fun - mostly whenever Frances Fisher is onscreen, turning up to devour the scenery and crank the drama up to 11 in her cream-colored turtleneck - but Unleashing Mr. Darcy is mostly a repetitive slog that fails to recreate anything remotely recognizable as human behavior. Seriously, I can't get over how brutal this Lizzy is to this Darcy. The proportions are all off: She's more Lizzy Borden than Lizzy Bennett. His offenses are too slight to deserve a movie's worth of disdain, and her constant mockery of him completely ignores every action he's ever performed.

She's attempting to push back against a wholly imaginary straw-man character she has created in her head, to the point that the movie feels less like a romance and more like a psychosexual horror film about a paranoid schizophrenic.

Actually, that's not a bad idea... Fetch my script-writing pen!

And obviously, with the exception of Frances Fisher, the acting just isn't up to snuff. Cindy Busby fails to find a character in the ball of simpering aggression that is Lizzy Scott, and all the women around her seem to have been directed to talk... As slowly... As possible. Paevey is perfectly fine, as the Darcy role pretty much requires any actor to glower sexily and be completely impenetrable. As far as that goes, he does the job, although nearly every line out of his mouth comes at a machine gun pace, as if he's making up for the time we lost with everybody else. And as for the dogs? They're cute I guess. I'm not a dog person, and clearly neither is anybody else in the movie given their stiff, reluctant handling of the poor creatures. It's OK though, because the movie forgets it was ever about dogs about 35 minutes in.

The gentle thrum of mediocrity that is Unleashing Mr. Darcy might not provide the dramatic heights I was hoping for, but at least there are a few satisfying filmmaking lows. Between the classroom set that is clearly a Hallmark Channel office conference room tot he fact that roomfuls of white people feel compelled to clap every time Lizzy and Darcy kiss. This isn't the worst way to while away the time riffing with some friends, though there's obviously much better material to do this with. But if you have the same Venn diagram of Jane Austen fandom and bad movie love as I do, you might as well see if it captures your interest. It's short as hell, at least.

TL;DR: Unleashing Mr. Darcy is a tragically mediocre feature, but that's only right given that it's a Hallmark TV movie.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1063
Other Films Based on Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice (Leonard, 1940)
Pride & Prejudice (Wright, 2005)
Unleashing Mr. Darcy (Winning, 2016)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Steers, 2016)
Before the Fall (Geisler, 2016)

Monday, May 7, 2018

And I Pity Any Girl Who Isn't Me Today

Year: 2018
Director: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Cast: Amy Schumer, Rory Scovel, Michelle Williams
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Maybe I just shouldn't watch trailers anymore. I had to be dragged to see Blockers, a movie I really liked but which seemed at first glance like a reductive, sex-negative trawl through a slurry of wasted time and anal insertion jokes. And now we have I Feel Pretty, which seemed like a grotesque gauntlet of Amy Schumer body-shaming. It's not not that, but it's likewise much better than it has any right to be. Go figure, I guess.

There's still no way in hell anybody is getting me to watch Super Troupers 2 though.

So, in I Feel Pretty, Renee (Amy Schumer) works for the beauty company Lily LeClaire. Specifically, the web department. She doesn't even get to have her office in the company's glorious high rise, most likely because she's not a wafer-thin model who would break her diet by drinking a full bottle of water. When CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) begrudgingly agrees to develop a diffusion line for lower-end stores like Target or Kohl's, she realizes she needs a consultant who's a "regular" girl.

Meanwhile, Renee hasn't had the confidence to apply for an open receptionist position in the main office. Until... she hits her head during a spin class and suddenly sees herself as unspeakably hot. With her newfound confidence, she gets the job, she gets herself a guy (Rory Scovel), and she learns that the true beauty is the friends she made along the way or whatever.

Look, I enjoyed it, but it's not sticking around in my brain any longer than it needs to.

Now I'm just warning you right here, this is gonna be a real short review. In the rich tradition of modern comedy movies, I Feel Pretty is almost totally devoid of any filmmaking beyond setting up a camera, blasting the set with lights, and rolling as soon as the stars can be coerced from their trailers. At the very least we're not buried beneath a pile of endless improvisational riffing, but as far as having actual "movie" qualities to discuss, I Feel Pretty is just as shallow as its fashionplate characters.

And while I Feel Pretty is funny, what more can you really say than that? There are jokes. More of them made me laugh than didn't. A lot of this is thanks to the cast. Amy Schumer can be abrasive, but she does always deliver, and Rory Scovel is an excellent foil for her in one of his first major film roles (he's been kicking around TV and the comedy scene for some time now, and he deserves every scrap of rom-com love interest he can get his hands on). Michelle Williams tries to steal the show and nails her character's tics and cartoonish squeak of a voice, but she is in almost exactly the same role as Tilda Swinton in that other Schumer feature Trainwreck, and nobody can do Tilda like Tilda.

Plus, it's cheating if you share a scene with Naomi Campbell, because an unplugged toaster would look charismatic and Oscar-worthy next to her.

It's a good thing the laughs keep coming too, because the concept here gets extremely wonky at times. It's never entirely clear what exactly is going on in Renee's head, let alone how exactly everyone else in her life has managed to tiptoe around her delusions. At times, it even forgets about the central conceit entirely, merely opting to run Renee through a truncated version of Anne Hathaway's arc in Devil Wears Prada.

But honestly, the further it can get from that gimmick and the more character-centric comedy it can squeeze in, the better. This is a solid enough romantic comedy that it could stand up on its own without the weird metaphysical/psychosexual(?) plot it tangles itself up in. If this was Trainwreck Part 2 it would be just as funny, so maybe it didn't need to happen this way. Nevertheless, it did, and it's totally fine. We'll just have to leave it at that, I suppose.

TL;DR: I Feel Pretty is a surprisingly decent, if conceptually inconsistent movie.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 705

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Census Flashback: Blue Collar Criminals

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Overboard, a gender-swapped remake of the Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn vehicle about a handyman who lies to a rich woman after she gets amnesia, this week I’ll be seeing what other hijinks blue collar workers can get up to in the 1988 French-Canadian not-so classic The Carpenter.

Year: 1988
Director: David Wellington
Cast: Wings Hauser, Lynne Adams, Pierre Lenoir
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Among the slasher fan community, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the Canadians were damn good at making slasher films. Many established classics like Happy Birthday to Me and My Bloody Valentine came from the Great White North, but I'm here to tell you what I've learned from my many adventures through the subgenre, which is that we might want to localize even further because French Canadian slashers are where it's at.

The two Québécois slashers I have stumbled across have left a lasting impression, immediately rising above the muck of the hundreds of garden variety slashers. First was Visiting Hours, an uncharacteristically character-based hospital slasher that interacted directly with the idea of violence and misogyny and horror in a manner simultaneously horrifying and thoughtful. Now we have The Carpenter, which I cannot wait to talk to you about, so let's get started with that sweet sweet plot!

It's not often you get to use the phrase "a Wings Hauser vehicle."

The Carpenter finds its lead Alice Jarrett (Lynne Adams) in the middle of a nervous breakdown, busily slicing up all her husband's suits with a pair of fabric scissors. She is hospitalized and when she's released, she finds out that her husband Martin Jarrette [sic - this is literally how the credits spell it, incomprehensibly] (Pierre Lenoir) has bought a brand new fixer-upper house in the country. She loves it at first, but begins to feel trapped when she realizes that Martin won't let her do anything, from picking out wallpaper to making her own decisions regarding her medication.

There is a team of construction workers remodeling the house during the day, but she discovers one sleepless night that there's an extra carpenter (Wings Hauser) who works late hours, all through the night. He doesn't seem to be working for the other crew, and whenever anyone threatens Alice's well-being, he has an annoying tendency to murder them with construction tools. Nevertheless, she begins to fall in love with him, being the one man who can actually see her worth. Thus begins a twisted tale of romance, revenge, and people being drilled in the f**king throat.

It's the Gone with the Wind of the 1980's.

As I hope you can see from the synopsis, The Carpenter is very much about the women's sphere becoming a sort of prison, and the quasi-feminist subtext of the plot is front and center throughout the film's entire run time. I'm not kidding when I say it reminded me a great deal of Rosemary's Baby, although I think it goes without saying that the general filmmaking quality can't touch that film. But who gives a crap about filmmaking quality? This is Census Bloodbath we're talking about!

The Carpenter doesn't cast as much doubt on Alice for potentially hallucinating the Carpenter as I thought it might, which would mirror the way society dismisses women's genuine concerns as "hysteria." But it's still unmistakably about a woman who's trapped between two forms of equally toxic masculinity: one who is keeping her trapped in this house, and one who more or less literally is the house (it later becomes clear that the Carpenter is the ghost of the man who originally built the house, and was a bit of an obsessive about doing all the work himself).

This came out the same year as Cheerleader Camp, so let's just say I'm surprised to find any subtext at all, let alone such a rich vein.

But in addition to its political subtext, which you know I'm an easy lay for, The Carpenter has more uncanny, eerie imagery per pound than the rest of the films in the year put together. The film has a perfectly dreamlike quality that hadn't been captured in North American filmmaking since the first Nightmare on Elm Street four years earlier. Take the opening scene. After a slow motion shot of a buzz saw descending onto a piece of wood which is treated with the cinematic reverence of the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we're treated to an absolutely silent scene of Alice's ennui as represented by a truly alarming number of dissolves between different angles on her face. When she finally takes the scissors to her husband's suits, it's a welcome relief to being trapped with her depression for what feels like an eternity, and the rapid cuts of fabric being slashed in different directions is physically satisfying with an intensity that just shouldn't be there.

It's like The Carpenter has harnessed its own filmmaking incompetence to plunge the viewers into a reality entirely unrecognizable as their own. Seriously, that many fades would probably get you a D in a film school project, but in here it just works. The film is full of elements like this that gently suggest a world gone horribly wrong around the fringes of the story we're watching. For example, not more than ten minutes later, when Alice is being released from the hospital, she and her husband check out while in the background an old woman covered in blood is being gently daubed with a washcloth. It's quietly menacing in a way that's truly hypnotic.

This uncanny element sinks deep into the fabric of the film, even infecting the minor characters, from a neurotic paint shop owner to a one-scene sheriff with a manic laugh (played by Ron Lea, who had a small part in Happy Birthday to Me). By the time the Carpenter indulges in a terribly cartoony gimmick in his second scene (as Alice talks to him, every time it cuts back to his side of the conversation he's working on something else, whether it's sawing a 2x4, splitting a brick, or even painting a birdhouse - he's like f**king Bugs Bunny) it makes perfect sense and just serves to underscore the bizarre atmosphere with which the film is already deeply permeated.

After 70 minutes of this, if you're in a receptive mood, once you get to the point where Alice sits in front of a paint can shaker slowly weeping as red paint is splattered across her face, you will be utterly transfixed and horrified.

Basically I'm saying The Carpenter is what would happen if Suspiria was remade by Canadians.

Is all of this good? Even now I'm not sure. But it sure is weird, and that's good enough for me. I don't want to give the impression that this is a masterpiece work of art. Take the soundscape, which is very frequently patchy and cuts out roughly in the transitions between scenes. But it also uses the repetitive noises of carpentry to layer over almost every scene and highlight just how off-kilter and insane Alice's perception is starting to be. Is it mediocre? Is it genius? I say it's both.

The only part where The Carpenter slightly fails in my eyes is as an actual slasher, which is a bit of a disappointment. The pacing is a bit mellow, which works for the uncanny atmosphere which is so fascinating, but the kills are few and far between, accompanied by very low rent post-Freddy quips. They're not groaner puns like so many Freddy rip-offs, but they barely make any impression at all because of it. And the gore is undeniably weak, looking like a Monty Python sketch in its best moments. So if you're coming to The Carpenter for a satisfying hack-n-slash adventure, you're not going to be satisfied.

This is one of those movies where I'm not sure I can recommend it. Maybe it was only meant for me and the exact mood I was in the day I watched it. But I dearly, desperately want someone else to see what I saw. It's a film I haven't stopped thinking about in the days since I watched it, and those just don't come around quite as often as I'd like these days.

Killer: The Carpenter (Wings Hauser)
Final Girl: Alice Jarrett (Lynne Adams)
Best Kill: The Black Knight-esque death Roland is doled out, which sees him lose both arms in quick succession.
Sign of the Times: There's an extended scene of Laura Bell slowly easing herself into pants that could easily fit three of her side by side.
Scariest Moment: When Alice walks into the paint shop to apply for a job, the manager is using two brushes as drumsticks as she approaches and keeps pounding as he stares off into space.
Weirdest Moment: In what may or may not be a dream sequence (the way things shake out, I'm going with "not"), the Carpenter unzips his pants and we hear the sound of a drill buzzing.
Champion Dialogue: "Mister! That is a lady you're smacking around!"
Body Count: 5
  1. Roland has his arms cut off with a buzz saw.
  2. Barns has his face sanded off.
  3. Landis is drilled in the throat.
  4. Laura Bell is shot with a nail gun.
  5. Martin Jarrett has his head squished with a vise.
TL;DR: The Carpenter is a completely uncanny mess that had me transfixed from start to finish.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1604