Thursday, September 12, 2019

Where Have I Been?

If you're somebody who only follows my blog and not my Twitter, you may have noticed how much the content has dried up in recent months. I've been writing and podcasting in a lot of other spaces, so I haven't had as much time to devote here. Rest assured that October is going to be as jam-packed as usual, but if you're missing me why not check out this recent run I did on Alternate Ending, picking through the highlights of the krimi genre (German proto-slasher films from the 60's)? Links are below!

Room 13 (1964)
Gorilla Gang (1968)

Cheers, and see you soon!
Word Count: 119

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Reviewing Jane: The More I See Of The World, The More I Am Dissatisfied With It

In which we review every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen.

Year: 2018
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Cast: Cindy Busby, Ryan Paevey, Frances Fisher 
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

So far in the line of duty, I've only encountered one franchise built off a riff on Jane Austen, which would be the Bridget Jones movies. The first film (adapted from the novel by Helen Fielding) was based on Pride and Prejudice and the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason was based on Persuasion. That's interesting in and of itself, but then 2018 rolls around and the Hallmark Channel goes completely wild as usual.

2016's Unleashing Mr. Darcy, a modernized retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in the dog show circuit, was deeply mediocre. Which means it's an above-average movie for Hallmark and of course earned itself a sequel. The wages of sin come in the form of Marrying Mr. Darcy, from the director of the 2010 remake of I Spit on Your Grave

Appropriately, this movie spits on the grave of Jane Austen.

Let me lay out two scenes for you. 1) Elizabeth (Cindy Busby) feels that her fabulously wealthy CEO fiancé Darcy (Ryan Paevey) is pulling away from her because he keeps working extra hours at work. What she doesn't know is that he's working extra hard because he's planning for them to have a monthlong honeymoon. You know, the kind of surprise that's appropriate to spring on a woman with a job. 2) During wedding planning with Darcy's mother-surrogate Aunt Violet (Frances Fisher, tempted back by the smell of that Hallmark money), Elizabeth feels like her desire for a simple wedding is being crushed by the upmarket society the Darcy family keeps.

You got those two scenes down? Good, because they're the only two scenes in the movie, repeated back and forth, back and forth ad nauseam until the movie runs down the clock enough to give us the promised wedding.

Did I mention that this movie was the centerpiece of Hallmark's annual June Weddings movie marathon? I bet you didn't think you'd be learning so much on a horror blog.

The fascinating thing about Marrying Mr. Darcy is that it attempts to create a sequel beyond the ending of Pride and Prejudice, which is usually the stuff of fan novels rather than actual cinema (I'm stretching the definition of "cinema" to the breaking point, but this is a feature film so I say it counts). The fact that it's not even a good sequel to Unleashing Mr. Darcy does not inspire confidence. It literally mentions the dog show element in exactly one line (conveniently, about how Elizabeth doesn't want to do dog shows anymore), and the dogs who were pretty much central characters in the film have been relegated to cute transitions. When the screenwriters can't figure out how to end a scene, they just have a character coo over a puppy until the audience forgets there's a plot going on and they can switch to a new scene without anybody noticing.

Naturally, it also removes the element that made it Austen-y at all. The bare minimum that most Pride and Prejudice adaptations (including Unleashing etc.) achieve is featuring a couple that has friction before eventually falling in love. But now that Elizabeth has already sanded the edges off of Darcy and has achieved her happy ending, the character is a totally featureless block of wood. He's a perfect Tuxedo Ken doll for the audience to project whatever man they want onto. Not only is his sublime, unwavering love and support for Elizabeth irritating, it actually makes the movie actively worse.

While Darcy's actions are causing problems for Elizabeth, they're actions that are so clearly morally "good" that it's hard to care. And in every scene they have together they constantly profess their love and mutual respect and immediately apologize for the way they've been acting, pushing the tension the film has built right back to zero. I was literally more interested in the romance between Elizabeth's sister and some dude who I've surely forgotten from the first movie, and they collectively have about three-quarters of a scene in this, in which they do absolutely nothing.

The back-breaking lengths this movie goes to avoid conflict are truly staggering.

So Marrying Mr. Darcy is a failure as a narrative, and being what it is, it's also a failure as an aesthetic object. From the lighting (even the outdoor scenes are lit like they're inside a Macy's) to the production design (Darcy's New York apartment has a roaring fireplace in mid-June) to the acting (at best, they're a fast asleep Frances Fisher, at worst they're cold automatons petting doggies without a hint of affection), every element fails to achieve even the basic competency one expects from a TV movie.

The wedding cake the happy couple eventually chooses is "vanilla buttercream with white ganache drizzle," the revolting blandness of which reflects how insipid and unchallenging this entire affair is. I get that that's exactly what Hallmark is going for with their movies, so I guess they get top marks for that. If you want an endless parade of women sitting on cushy chaise longues with champagne flutes clutched in their talons, boring handsome men who are full of empty flattery and refuse to take their shirts off, and a misunderstanding-based plot that wouldn't pass muster in a sitcom, then this is the movie for you. And I get being in the mood for that. But this is not what I'm looking for from a movie, not now, not ever.

TL;DR: Marrying Mr. Darcy is a tedious, atrocious slog.
Rating: 2/10
Word Counter: 947
Other Films Based on Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice (Leonard, 1940)
Bridget Jones's Diary (Maguire, 2001)
Bride & Prejudice (Chadha, 2004)
Pride and Prejudice (Wright, 2005)
Unleashing Mr. Darcy (Winning, 2016)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Steers, 2016)
Before the Fall (Geisler, 2016)
Marrying Mr. Darcy (Monroe, 2018)
Christmas at Pemberley Manor (Theys, 2018)
Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (McBrearty, 2018)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Census Bloodbath: Ice To Skate You

Year: 1983
Director: Jonathan Stryker
Cast: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson 
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It's the accepted party line in the slasher fandom that Canadian slashers are as a whole superior to their American counterparts, and I'm inclined to agree with that assessment. However, for every Visiting Hours or My Bloody Valentine, there's a Prom Night or Humongous (come to think of it, maybe I'm just not a Paul Lynch fan). But Paul Lynch had nothing to do with Curtains, a movie that was created by a Who's Who of Canadian slashmakers, including composer Paul Zaza, producer Peter R. Simpson, and Funeral Home and Happy Birthday to Me actress Lesleh Donaldson. So I guess there's a hole in that theory, because Curtains is an absolute mess.

And not just because they left doll heads all littered about.

Curtains is a uniquely unfocused film due to its notorious troubled production, a three-year exercise in frustrating rewrites and additional photography that led the director to remove his name from the project entirely. At first it's about actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar), who is preparing for a role in her director boyfriend Jonathan Stryker's (John Vernon) upcoming movie about an insane woman. She's method (AKA irritating) so she wants to be checked into a mental institution, which Stryker helps her accomplish before completely abandoning her and refusing to check her out. That's one way to ghost somebody you're dating.

Cut to years later and he's prepping for the very same film once more, gathering six young actresses from all over into his secluded cabin for a weekend of hardcore auditioning. They wonder what his scheme could possibly be, because they're all so very different. What right do a skinny white lady with short hair and a skinny white lady with long hair have to audition for the same part?

Anyway, there's clearly no possible way this could go wrong. Of course, Samantha breaks out of the institution at the exact same time that the girls he's gathered start dying off one by one? Is this the work of a jealous, aged actress? Is one of the young and hungry actresses a little too hungry? Or is Stryker just the psychosexual maniac the whole premise of this film would show him to be?

But seriously, I have no answers about the dolls. Don't even ask.

The reason Curtains enjoys any sort of cult status must be the ice skating scene. For one thing, it's the only scene I seem to be able to find screen grabs of online. For the other, it's the only scene that is actually creepy or remarkable, and it's a heck of a lot of both. The killer, bestowed in their trademark "hag" mask, skates after one of the girls bearing a curved scythe, and the film's music and cinematography lurch into pure psychedelia. In or out of context, it's an off-kilter and exciting moment, but it's a diamond in a whole lot of rough.

Unfortunately, not a single one of the other kills in the film are an ounce as outrĂ© or exciting. The bulk of the deaths in the back half are relegated offscreen, and the ones we do get to see are bloodless and uneventful. I definitely think there's something there in the killer's getup, thematically evoking the fear and horror of women aging out of Hollywood, but other than Samantha Sherwood being a delightful vamp, the film doesn't seem particularly interested in pulling at that thread. 

Also, I'm sure the months and months it was knocking around in the back of some producer's trunk probably helped with its uncanny, withered look.

Really, pretty much every element of Curtains is lacking in one way or another, especially the plot, which is meandering nonsense. I know it took three years to make, but it shouldn't feel like it takes three years to watch. There is no apparent structure to the film, which makes it difficult to set up the series of red herrings and twists that a whodunit like this desperately needs. 

Even if it doesn't have that, the whodunit at least needs to have who's that "it" is done to. OK, that line might not have worked, but I'm saying the characters are entirely interchangeable. It's even more ironic that the girls are so perplexed by how deeply different they are because I literally had to look up a plot synopsis to figure out who died when. I usually have a Meet the Meat segment in my plot synopsis where I run through all the characters and their one personality trait, but I don't think this collected group of six girls has two interesting traits to rub together. The only one of them who's had a career worth mentioning anyway is Sandee Currie, who played Mitchy in Terror Train. Here she's a character called Tara, who... does something, I guess.

Curtains isn't necessarily a bad film, but it's just so thoroughly unremarkable that every detail slides right out of your brain by the time the credits roll. It certainly joins the pile of exceptions to the Canadian slasher rule, though. I will always perk up when I see a movie in the schedule that hails from the Great White North, but if there are more cracks in the armor like this one, that enthusiasm may fade sooner than later.

Killer: [Patti (Lynne Griffin)]
Final Girl: Patti (Lynne Griffin)
Best Kill: C'mon.
Sign of the Times: A man suggests Pac-Man themed role-play.
Scariest Moment: The mask is pretty creepy.
Weirdest Moment: There are definitely parts where this movie wants us to think a sentient doll is the killer, at least for a couple seconds at a time.
Champion Dialogue: "All's fair in love and auditions."
Body Count: 8
  1. Mandy is stabbed to death.
  2. Christie has her throat slit with a scythe.
  3. Laurian is stabbed.
  4. Brooke is shot.
  5. Stryker falls out of a window.
  6. Matthew is stabbed in the back offscreen.
  7. Tara is killed offscreen.
  8. Samantha is stabbed in the gut.
TL;DR: Curtains is a messy, largely incoherent slasher that leans on one iconic kill to prop up its reputation.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1030