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Film Reviews

Flying Monkeys, or: We Are Very Much in Kansas

We’re back to high school again for another…er, classic of horror. Fun fact: this is the second film in a row on the Collab where the pizza delivery guy is murdered. Someone please give pizza delivery drivers a raise at least.

The Film:

Flying Monkeys

The Premise:

After a man unknowingly buys a smuggled monkey as a pet for his daughter, it unleashes a reign of terror in small town Kansas. Because it’s a demon. Obviously.

The Ramble:

Ah, smuggling exotic animals: one of the last truly recession-proof jobs. Unfortunately, the hazards of the job include animal bites, zero health benefits, and the occasional chance of being attacked by a monkey that becomes a human-hunting demon at night. You know.

After such a fate befalls two animal smugglers transporting their quarry to the States, their client is less than pleased. Left with only one new animal to sell, he’s determined to make the best of it…until the monkey manages to escape overnight and kill a host of other animals.

A man looks into a cage with a small black and white monkey. The monkey looks fearful as the man holds up his bitten finger angrily.

Meanwhile, in Gale, Kansas, workaholic father James has disappointed his daughter once again, missing her entire high school graduation ceremony. Using demented neglectful dad logic, James decides the clear winning strategy is to buy his daughter Joan a pet monkey. In his defense, Joan has aspirations of becoming a veterinarian, and the monkey is pretty fucking cute.

Naming the little Capuchin monkey Skippy, Joan immediately bonds with her new pet. Skippy turns out to be rather jealous but quite a good judge of character, as he’s not too pleased to meet sketchy boyfriend Jason. As it turns out, Jason is cheating with the sheriff’s daughter…but not for long. At night, Skippy becomes a Xigo, a terrifying winged monkey demon with a taste for human flesh, especially humans who have wronged Joan.

On the roof of a house, a large winged creature bares its fangs in a growl. It resembles a mixture of monkey, human, and gargoyle.

Somewhere in China, two descendants of a family sworn to destroy the Xigo explain all of this backstory and more–and it’s quite generic, honestly. Teaming up with a group of poachers, they are determined to find the only two remaining Xigo and kill them. However, only their ancient mystical weapons can destroy the demons. All other weapons–say, guns for example–will merely cause the Xigo to multiply. Because gun control is such a ubiquitous fucking problem in the States, even shitty B movies feel an obligation to have social commentary about this. And guess who the Xigo ringleader is? Of course it’s Skippy (not his official demon name, tragically).

A man and woman walk through a clearing in a forested area, looking determined and carrying weapons.

After the deaths of Jason and the sheriff’s daughter, Joan is despondent. Adding to her stress is that Skippy doesn’t seem interested in any kind of food whatsoever…as far as she knows. Secretly, Skippy is off murdering livestock and people left and right, and only multiplying as unsuspecting townsfolk aim the inevitable “get off my property” shotgun in his direction.

When the monkey mayhem becomes all too apparent, the local people seem doomed as their default reaction is to shoot each of these creatures on sight. Can the demon hunters save the day before the only residents of Gale are the winged monkey variety?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Largely because the monkey is so cute. (And their eyes look like my eyes.)

A small black and white monkey stands outside a window, looking in and pressing its hands against the glass.

There’s not much else to recommend this film, sadly. The plot, characters, dialogue, and visual effects are all poorly conceived. At this point, the word “monkey” was thrown around so many times that it doesn’t feel like a real word. What’s more is that the monkey actor is really carrying the film here, and when I think about animals as actors I often feel somewhat conflicted. Like child actors, I wonder if this is the life they would really want, given the choice.

Worse are all the references to China being the source of this demon monkey, which has some unfortunate parallels with Covid-19 (as well as SARS and other diseases). Along with some offhand remarks made to the characters of Asian descent, there are some really problematic and racist ideas at play here. I also don’t love the unnecessary shower scene we get from of one of Joan’s friends, and the jokes made about the demon monkey watching her. There are a lot of problematic approaches here is what I’m saying.

Less infuriating but still there are the extremely lazy references to The Wizard of Oz. These are so badly done that I actually wish we’d had zero references and then just been disappointed by the missed opportunities.

As an aside, I had a lot of questions about monkeys as the film went on, including whether Capuchin monkeys can be kept as pets. Apparently they can in 15 states, Kansas being one of them. Not that this is the kind of film that stands up to rigorous fact-checking anyway, but it does beg the question of why the dude from the beginning of the film had a whole monkey smuggling ring, and seemingly a backroom where all of the questionably legal animals were kept. Maybe we’re in the odd legal territory where it’s legal to own a monkey but not sell one in Kansas. I forget everything from Tiger King that could have had at least some informational value.

I will give a little bit of credit to the actors who had to repeatedly make the serious, dramatically urgent demand “Where’s the monkey?” But most of the time I was fairly bored.

Would my blog wife train this one to jump on her shoulder or promptly strike it down with an ancient mystical weapon? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Slumber Party Massacre, or: Drill, Baby, Drill

Though it’s not officially a horror month on the Collab…it’s the Blog Collab. It’s never not horror month. In a world that seems especially horrific currently, we don’t have answers on the Collab. We only have horror–horror from the ’80s, thank god.

The Film:

The Slumber Party Massacre

The Premise:

After a serial killer escapes from prison, he grabs a power drill as his weapon of choice to terrorize a group of high school girls at a slumber party.

The Ramble:

Though a mass murderer’s recent escape from a prison in Venice Beach, CA is headline news, no one seems too concerned. And though I’m not usually one to call for an increased police presence, this feels like a good opportunity to have a few more patrol officers out and about. But no–it’s relatively easy for the escaped killer to murder a phone repair woman in broad daylight with a power drill.

Oblivious to the danger, senior Trish and her friends are looking forward to a girls only slumber party as her parents will be away for the weekend. Though there are boys around who are all too keen to crash the party, the girls insist they won’t be welcome. Also decidedly not invited is new girl Valerie. As Valerie happens to be gorgeous, naturally athletic, and an agreeable person, Trish immediately dislikes her.

A group of teenagers walk together away from their school building.

Before you know it, one of the girls who is locked inside the school also gets murdered in broad daylight. This is possibly the saddest death as none of her friends seem to notice or even question why she’s not around for the slumber party? I could be misremembering–but, like many an early horror character death, she’s both gone and forgotten.

That evening, Valerie most definitely has more important things to do than sit around and obsess about her snub as the party goes on next door. She insists to her precocious little sister Courtney that she doesn’t care at all about the petty squabble with Trish’s girl gang. Nevertheless, Val is watching quite closely out the window…and she’s got a bad feeling that has nothing to do with the rivalry.

A young woman with feathered blonde hair looks suspiciously around a room.

Something doesn’t seem right to Trish either. Honestly, I’d be concerned too: the kindly neighbor who has agreed to check in on Trish makes himself feel right at home by just showing up in and around the house, incidentally holding a butcher knife. Meanwhile, the boys who are ostensibly among her friends have decided to creep on the evening’s activities by the open window as the girls undress. Quite a few people here really need a refresher on trespassing and consent, and probably the meaning of friendship while we’re at it.

When one of the girls (Diane maybe?) breaks the code of sisterhood and invites her boyfriend to meet her outside the house, there is a horror movie price to be paid quickly and violently. The party goes from bad to worse when the pizza delivery guy shows up dead on the doorstep, making the fatal error of turning the pizza box upside down. Relatably, this doesn’t prevent the girls from stress eating.

Three young women sit back to back on the floor in front of a fireplace. They are each holding a knife.

As the two boys who have joined the party decide to make a break for it to get help, Val considers whether she should finally listen to her gut and investigate the party next door. But will there even be any partygoers left by then?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

My biggest issue here is how surprisingly slow the first half of the film is, despite multiple onscreen power drill murders. It takes quite a while for the power drill killer to catch up with the slumber party crowd, and the effect doesn’t necessarily build suspense. If you’re going to murder people with power tools after escaping from prison, you should probably waste no time. Then again, one lesson we learn from this film is that police interest in investigating serial murders in 1980s Venice Beach is negligible.

When we do finally get into the swing of things, it’s quite satisfying. I can’t think of other horror films that feature a power drill as the murderer’s weapon of choice, and there are some creatively gruesome deaths as a result. Apparently the filmmakers didn’t catch on to the sly humor of screenwriter Rita Mae Brown, so there are some genuinely funny moments even if the tone is a bit off the mark at times.

Annoyingly, our characters are all pretty one-dimensional. Remembering names or any distinguishing characteristics is next to impossible. Even the power drill killer isn’t a particularly interesting person, opting for murdering teen girls…because? That’s just what crazy people do, according to the film’s logic. I was hoping for even a brief backstory that might help us unpack the killer’s motives, but we don’t get any such preparation from the filmmakers.

I wish the Val/Trish stories had been woven together more effectively too. I have to admire Val’s resourcefulness when she unwittingly stumbles across the active site of a serial killer at work. However, she is completely separate from most of the action of the film, and it all gets a bit clunky in terms of pacing. There are some fun elements of ’80s horror at work here, but they don’t necessarily align to become a classic.

On a side note, I love the extremely ’80s horror theme music.

Would my blog wife invite this one to the slumber party or lock it outside with a power drill killer on the loose? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Classic Horror Story, or: Nailed It

*Spoilers follow*

Something about this month feels right for horror. And here’s a degree of separation from last week’s film: ritual sacrifice in a pastoral setting, connected by Nicolas Cage. Last week’s film featured Italian-American Cage fighting animatronics possessed by Satanic serial killers; this week stars Italian actors terrorized by cult members that owe much of their existence to 2006’s modern classic Wicker Man.

Sorry–no bear costumes in this one.

The Film:

A Classic Horror Story

The Premise:

While traveling to southern Italy, a group of strangers is stranded in the woods where a cult engages in ritual human sacrifice.

The Ramble:

Take a ride share through the Italian countryside, they said. It’s a budget-friendly alternative to renting a car that offers more convenience than public transit, they said. And obviously traveling across a remote landscape with a handful of strangers and poor cell phone reception will never take a sinister turn.

A group of four people stands in a dark room, looking with dread at the scene before them.

For our crew of 5 on the road, it’s clear from the beginning that a fairly straightforward journey to southern Italy will not end as anticipated. All have different reasons for traveling, and some are more eager than others to spill the details. Young couple Sofia and Mark are off to attend a friend’s wedding, while reserved Elisa is visiting her parents (who have pressured her into having an abortion). Another elusive passenger, Dr. Riccardo, seems to have little patience for his fellow travelers. And driver Fabrizio is an aspiring filmmaker cheerfully recording the journey.

Impatient with the cautious driving of Fabrizio, cocky Mark decides to take the wheel of the RV. Late at night, he fails to notice a dead goat lying in the middle of the road. Fabrizio takes the wheel, swerving to avoid the animal, though this plants the vehicle firmly in the center of a tree trunk. Both Fabrizio and Mark blame each other for the accident, in which Mark is injured and requires medical care. Luckily, there’s a doctor in the house. Unluckily, no one is getting any cell reception whatsoever.

As the crew wanders in search of help, they find a creepy, isolated cabin in the woods. Of course they do. Uncovering more ominous signs like a sacrificial site complete with decapitated pig heads, taxidermy animals, and antique photographs of people wearing animal heads, it becomes increasingly clear that the group has stumbled upon a murder cult rivaling that of Lord Summerisle.

A figure wearing a grotesque mask with an oversized tongue holds up a jar. On either side of the figure are two people tied to wooden stakes.

Fabrizio, self-appointed nerd of the gang, explains the symbolism of the three brothers depicted: Osso, Mastrosso, and Carcagnosso. Legend has it these figures came from another world, promising starving people hope…but at the cost of sacrifice. In ritual sacrifice, victims would have their tongue, ears, and eyes cut before their deaths because, you know, the legend.

As everyone is getting properly freaked out, the 5 discover a young girl in a wooden structure, her tongue having been cut out. When they free the girl, one of the group is caught by several cult members and becomes the first to undergo the gruesome ritual. While the survivors attempt to escape, they merely find evidence that [in the voice of Six from Battlestar Galactica]: “All this has happened before. All this will happen again.”

Two young women and a girl lie on a wooden floor, bathed in the soft light of a lantern on the ground between them.

As the RV has disappeared, the group has little choice but to spend the night in the creepy cabin. While it seems they will have each other’s back as they stand guard, Elisa wakes in horror to discover several of the party in the beginning stages of the ritual sacrifice. Even more disturbing is the conspiracy that begins to unfold as Elisa connects the gory dots. Could it be that (gasp) not all is what it seems in the land of cult murder and taxidermy headwear?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there are a lot of gaps in logic here that you have to be comfortable with. This film opens up more questions than it’s willing to answer with its major twist, and this isn’t entirely rewarding. Like one of our leading characters, it has a certain smug satisfaction with the proceedings, which can be downright irksome.

Overall, though, I can’t deny that this is a lot of fun to watch. There are very clear references to Evil Dead, Midsommar, Wicker Man, and more than I can remember at this point. For the most part, the balance of comedy and gore works. I also very much enjoy the commentary on the cutthroat nature of the film industry; the events of the story occur largely because a failed director has powerful connections that allow him to live out his fantasy.

Some of it falls apart here, though, as there’s too much snide social commentary thrown in at the end. We’ve got your attention economy, corrupt government, mafia, and social media boxes all checked off. The messaging about abortion is confusing too; I wouldn’t say this is necessarily an anti-abortion film, but the tone is…odd. Elisa apparently doesn’t have a strong interest in the path her parents envision for her, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what exactly any of her interests are and how that relates to what she ultimately decides.

Credit where credit’s due: this film did more to promote an anti-bullying message than Melania ever did.

Would my blog wife chauffeur this one through the woods or cut off its ears without hesitation? Read her review to find out!

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Film Reviews

Willy’s Wonderland, or: Party Like It’s Your Birthday

I don’t remember the exact moment in cultural history when Chuck E. Cheese transformed from being the coveted location for all of the cool kids to host their big birthday celebrations to the stuff of anxiety-inducing nightmares. Possibly when I was no longer a child. And very likely when, upon reflection, so many socially accepted norms of the ’90s were revealed for the true horror they were.

Either way, this realization + the internet + the film career of Nicolas Cage can only yield one result: a movie where Nic Cage beats the shit out of a series of stand-ins for Chuck E. Cheese and his animatronic band. Don’t pretend you’re surprised.

The Film:

Willy’s Wonderland

The Premise:

After agreeing to clean an abandoned building in exchange for car repairs, an unnamed man realizes the animatronic characters stored inside aren’t as innocuous as they appear.

The Ramble:

Like Chuck E. Cheese, the once popular destination for children’s entertainment that was truly an exercise in the uncanny valley, Willy’s Wonderland has seen better days. The former hotspot for family friendly birthday fun and subpar pizza (I presume) now sits eerily empty, its once lively animatronic entertainers now merely stand in place, dead-eyed stares peering into the abyss.

Or at least that’s what the good folk of smalltown Hayesville would have you believe. When drifter Nicolas Cage (referred to only as the Janitor) is stranded after running over spikes set by the local sheriff, the owner of the defunct property offers a seemingly straightforward deal: serve as janitor for one night at Willy’s Wonderland in exchange for a repaired vehicle. Surely a quiet and only mildly unsettling evening of cleaning awaits.

A man in dark sunglasses faces a man in a cowboy hat outside of Willy's Wonderland, a rundown building that still features the business sign of a weasel waving in front of a rainbow.

However, teenage rebel Liv and her friends could tell you the much darker truth of the place: at night, the animatronics come to life, reanimated by the spirits of cannibalistic serial killers who founded Willy’s Wonderland with evil intent. The serial killers died in a Satanic suicide ritual, merging their spirits and thirst for blood with the animatronic bodies of Willy’s band. Liv and her friends are determined to burn down the cursed building but must save the unsuspecting janitor first.

A group of teenagers stands outside of the building for Willy's Wonderland, which features an illuminated sign with a weasel welcoming visitors.

As we know before the first well-choreographed and surprisingly tense fight between the Janitor and a human-sized animatronic puppet, the cleaner is not your everyday wanderer. I mean, he’s played by Nic Cage. The Janitor proves he’s more than capable of holding his own against the animatronic creatures, especially as he’s armed with a case of a Red Bull-like concoction known only as Punch. It’s not particularly clear why, but periodically the Janitor must recharge by chugging his beverage of choice and playing pinball.

In a dark room, a man looks up at a tall animatronic weasel that is in the spotlight.

When Liv and her friends arrive at Willy’s Wonderland to warn the Janitor, he ignores their advice. In fact, he says absolutely nothing, which is one of this film’s techniques (okay, gimmicks). As the Janitor learns more about the nature of Willy’s Wonderland and its relationship with the town, Liv’s friends become victims of the animatronic serial killers, and the sheriff finally intervenes. But is it to help end Willy’s reign of terror…or to pursue an ulterior motive?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Does this film feature close-ups of unsettlingly creepy animatronic characters in violent combat with Nicolas Cage, who frequently makes grunts of fury and pain but has no lines of spoken dialogue? Of course. Of course it does. And for that alone, this is an entertaining watch. I’m quite fond of the extended pinball playing/dance break scene featured as well.

However, the plot of this film and its logic doesn’t get much beyond a filmmaker deciding that they wanted to see Nicolas Cage fight Chuck E. Cheese. And to make that the entire point of this movie.

I find this film left me with more questions than answers primarily because no one could be bothered to think things through and come up with plausible explanations. At several points throughout the film, I was expecting some greater understanding of the Janitor and his fighting abilities. He is almost superpowered by the energy drink he constantly consumes…is there supposed to be something literally magical about it? Is it just for laughs? Is this some kind of lazy Popeye reference?

The core issue is that the logic of the small town basically appeasing Willy the animatronic serial killer is so implausible. I kind of follow the way he’s transformed into a vengeful god in the minds of the local residents, but I would have liked this to have been expanded further to make more sense. It feels like the shift from trying to destroy Willy’s Wonderland to offering human sacrifice on a regular basis is abrupt and a little extreme. The townspeople here kind of give the vibe of happily killing outsiders either way.

Unsurprisingly, the scenes with Nicolas Cage in extended fight sequences are so fun to watch. However, the poorly written local characters and teens get a lot of screen time that feels like a waste. Liv weirdly has almost no reaction to her friends being systematically murdered beyond looking a little upset. And there are quite a few moments where we are meant to believe there’s some kind of understanding or connection between Liv and the Janitor. I was expecting they’d have a real life connection and would have settled for even the predictable dude who left town years ago without knowing he had a daughter trope. But we never get any explanation for the connection between these characters, nor do we ever know much about them individually.

Also, this is a minor issue, but a massive building like Willy’s Wonderland having only one entrance/exit feels like a major fire code violation.

Would my blog wife join this one’s merry animatronic band of murderers or douse it thoroughly with gasoline? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Fear Street Part Three: 1666, or: No Goode Deed

*Spoilers follow*

Sometimes it just seems foretold in a Satanic ritual book that you’re going to enjoy a film. Here, we’ve got witches, Puritan period costume, and human sacrifices that happen to stand in for a strong social commentary. On paper, these are exactly the elements that make the Blog Collab tick. When they combine with dramatic neons and a well thought-out murder scheme, it’s pure heaven. Or hell, to follow the logic of a film in which good is evil.

The Film:

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

The Premise:

In the conclusion to the Fear Street trilogy, Deena learns the truth about Sarah Fier’s legacy and is determined to finally end the curse afflicting Shadyside residents, including her girlfriend Sam.

The Ramble:

At the conclusion of Part Two, Deena experienced a sort of time jump/vision/learning through osmosis about Sarah Fier’s life when she reunited the witch’s body with her cursed hand. As we learn through Deena/Sarah, Sarah Fier was a young colonist in the Puritan settlement of Union, lending us a very Crucible-esque spin on events.

A teen girl looks at a book, while another girl sits next to her, observing her.

Though a fairly good-natured young woman who has a talent for caring for and delivering livestock, Sarah has her share of doubters, from the perpetually intoxicated Thomas who claims to see darkness in her to the pastor’s wife…as Sarah is not so subtly in love with her daughter. Luckily, Sarah has allies in the form of her father and brother, as well as Solomon Goode, a loner from a well-to-do family who has recently moved to the outskirts of town to farm the land. Sarah also has friends with familiar faces played by actors from other installments, including a too-brief cameo from my personal favorite, Kate.

When Sarah and her friends sneak away from the 17th-century equivalent of a rave, they aim to acquire hallucinogenic berries from a widow who lives in the woods. While they do meet their goal, the teens are disturbed when the widow also utters an ominous warning and is in possession of a rather Satan-y looking book.

A group of people in Puritan clothing stand outside in the dark, their faces illuminated by a fire.

After returning to the party, Sarah and her secret girlfriend Hannah dodge the advances of town creep Caleb by sneaking back to the woods. There, a romantic moment is interrupted when it seems someone has caught the two. Rather than confront them, the mystery person opts for the repressed Puritan tactic of starting a nasty rumor that will eventually lead to a shunning. Or worse.

The following day, Hannah is horrified when her pastor father acts completely unlike himself…almost as if he’s possessed. Meanwhile, pests and mold sprout from every food source, the well water is corrupted with a dead goat’s body, and the sow who recently birthed piglets eats all of her young. While Sarah worries that she and Hannah have provoked God’s wrath with their sinful behavior, Solomon reassures her that they couldn’t have summoned the devil by mistake as she fears.

Three men with long hair in Puritan garb stand facing an enemy offscreen, prepared to act.

Things escalate quite dramatically soon after when the pastor locks himself in the church with his congregation…all of whom ultimately end up dead, including Sarah’s brother. This doesn’t really feel much like the inciting event so much as the moment all of the paranoid dudes of Puritanville, USA have been waiting for: a chance to have a literal witch hunt. It doesn’t take long for creepy Caleb to blame Hannah and Sarah, and for everyone to get onboard with this idea.

Managing to escape, Sarah vows to find a way to save herself and Hannah, even if it means making the deal with the devil they’ve supposedly already made. When this plan fails, Sarah turns to her pal Solomon for help…only to uncover an extremely dark secret that will set the stage for the Goodes’ future prominence and Sunnyvale’s success.

Armed with the knowledge that she must take down Sheriff Nick Goode in order to end the deal with the devil that Sarah Fier took the fall for, Deena unites with her brother Josh, Ziggy, and custodian Martin. But can they defeat the forces of evil with some divine inspiration from Carrie in–you guessed it–a very neon-lit mall?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I had a lot of fun with this trilogy, particularly as the characters and history of the Shadyside/Sunnyvale divide were fleshed out. Having the context of previous films to create dramatic twists and a conspiracy that brings together many disparate elements in a cohesive way makes this final installment especially satisfying. I feel quite justified in my immediate suspicion of generically good-looking dudes in film who are extremely agreeable on the surface.

A continued criticism is that the films don’t always connect the different stories and characters well until the end. With Part Three, the film sometimes seems disconnected both from the other two and from the distinct halves. The choppiness does detract from the success of the trilogy, though it does allow for a pretty big reveal around the halfway mark of this film.

Possibly because I’m always a fan of a period drama, I did find the first half of this installment more satisfying than the conclusion. That being said, the final half is still a lot of fun to watch as the neons make the scenes vivid and disorienting, and it’s impossible not to root for our final characters to all make it through. And I think the plan Deena & co. develop is pretty inspired, especially considering they’re working under extreme pressure to evade multiple undead serial killers.

I would watch the fuck out of another trilogy like this, Netflix.

Would my blog wife put a curse on this one or embrace it like a long-lost severed hand? Read her review to find out!