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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Glorious, or: Inglorious Bathrooms

After a sadly disrupted Shark Month, we’ve decided to do whatever we’d like on the Collab this month. Which is probably B horror, but we may surprise you yet. This week’s film could very well be a French documentary about climate change just to show you how little you know us.

It could be…but it’s B horror. About a man stuck in a bathroom with a sort of demon or god. Who speaks to him through a gloryhole.

Garbage forever.

The Film:

Glorious

Director:

Rebekah McKendry

The Premise:

Following a bad breakup, a very hungover man is locked in a bathroom with a god-like creature who has…demands.

The Ramble:

Following demonic dreams while falling asleep at the wheel, Wes is in pretty rough shape. With all of his possessions seemingly stuffed into his car, eventually the pain is too much to bear. Leaving embarrassing messages for his ex repeatedly, Wes ultimately stops for a roadside bonfire to purge himself of all of his memories. And why not make regrettable decisions worse by drinking to the point of throwing up?

A man sits next to a glory hole that has been decorated with a very phallic painting of an alien.

Stumbling into a rather gross public bathroom the next morning, Wes has a conversation with a stranger that seems rather uneventful…until it isn’t (it’s destined to take an odd turn when the voice is J.K. Simmons). The voice is one stall over and appears to emanate from a gloryhole, initially asking harmless questions that take an increasingly bizarre tone. Ultimately, the voice reveals itself to be Ghatanothoa, a god-like creature.

Shortly after, Wes discovers he is locked in the bathroom and has no chance of escaping without doing Ghatanothoa’s bidding. Hoping to get a glimpse of the creature, Wes leans over the side of the stall, only to discover this is strictly forbidden. Ghatanothoa has the power to create all sorts of nightmare scenarios for Wes, including one involving a pleasant drive with his ex turning sinister.

A woman screams in rage.

As Wes learns more about Ghatanothoa’s life(?) and motives, he’s more and more concerned about the god’s insistence that all of this is fated. Whenever Wes disobeys the god, there are horrible consequences. Finally yielding to the god’s will, Ghatanothoa reveals that Wes must satisfy his physical form. Say what now?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s some kind of message about memory and loss here, but it gets mixed up in the jumble. I will give the film some credit for the excellent use of J.K. Simmons, though it does lean way too much on his performance to make the film bearable…and that’s a tall order.

Ghatanothoa has some memorable dialogue, but Wes is unfortunately written as the most mediocre white man ever to exist, so his replies are less than thrilling. His character leans into juvenile humor all the damn time, and it gets old. Admittedly I wasn’t paying the most attention, but it just seems like Wes is having a meltdown because someone broke up with him and said no to him for the first time ever. It’s pretty difficult to like his character.

Beyond this, the decision to set this film primarily in one location is smart from a budgeting perspective, but not overly exciting visually. There are so many bathroom jokes. So many.

I will admit that I endlessly appreciate the absurdity of living in a world where J.K. Simmons, as a god-like being, delivers the line “I have returned to the ether.”

Would my blog wife rain blood down on this one or return to the ether instead? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Aquarium of the Dead, or: Stars in My Eyes

Alas, shark films seem to be a victim of the streaming wars or perhaps have peaked in popularity. Either way, it’s been a bit of a challenge to dig up a relevant shark movie each week of the month…which is why this week we head to the aquarium (it’s like a zoo for fishes). An aquarium that contains zombie sharks, if that’s any consolation?

The Film:

Aquarium of the Dead

Director:

Glenn Miller

The Premise:

After the animals in an aquarium suffer from a reanimating disease, the staff and visitors inside must find a way to escape while containing the outbreak.

The Ramble:

Things are off to a rocky start when a routine vet visit with an aquarium’s octopus goes awry, leaving two dead. It seems the octopus had an unexpected reaction to medication, essentially dying and then becoming reanimated. The reanimation brings along with it some pesky side effects–notably, the urge to kill humans.

A group of five people freeze as a large walrus on the loose in an aquarium approaches.

After receiving a warning to destroy all of the medication, aquarium director Miranda feels confident their facility is secure. All of the doses their staff found were destroyed…right?

Meanwhile, all is not well as unlucky Skylar enjoys a personal VIP tour of the aquarium for his birthday. Which is an interesting choice as he doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of interest in marine life, but who am I to judge (said with some degree of irony as that’s one of the primary elements of the Collab)? As the aquarium goes on emergency lockdown, Skylar as apparently the only paying guest is trapped along with the aquarium staff and the visiting local Senator and his assistant.

A woman wearing scrubs and a white labcoat clutches her face, starfish on and around her body as they attack her.

It becomes obvious fairly soon that the octopus is not the only afflicted creature–whatever mysterious illness reanimated it is targeting all of the animals. With the emergency lockdown in place, no one can get in our out…which feels like a flawed system, honestly.

As two parties navigate an aquarium filled with all manner of creatures that have busted out, including crocodiles, dolphins, sharks, and starfish, head of security Clu (Vivica A. Fox) desperately attempts to restore power. Partly for dramatic effect, but realistically because if Vivica A. Fox agrees to be in a movie like this, you know for damn sure it’s written into her contract that she’ll do one stunt max.

A character played by Vivica A. Fox holds a flashlight and walkie talkie, looking concerned.

The plan becomes essentially to make it to a different quadrant so the octopus on the loose can be tracked as the survivors attempt their escape. Will there be tragic losses that aren’t particularly convincing? You may as well ask if there will be fairly low tier giant CGI crabs. Of course there fucking will be.

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, there’s not a lot going on in terms of coherent plot. Would an aquarium really meet fire safety code if it had locks designed not to work in case of power failure? In terms of the virus, there’s not much explanation for how the virus works…including why it seems to affect every species except for humans. And why the infected animals don’t turn on each other? I could over-analyze this all day, y’all.

A few other observations (I will spare you every single one):

  • there’s a debate of who would win in a fight–shark vs. octopus, but no fucking shark/octopus encounter in the entire film!
  • this aquarium has serious financial problems if they seem to have one paying guest during their open hours, and not a single person trying to get in during their emergency lockdown
  • unclear if/how the aquarium will ever reopen given the massive damages it suffers through the course of the film
  • I hope Skyler’s family sues, honestly
  • Vivica A. Fox deserved better in this film. Realistically, she deserves better than this film.
  • Madeleine Falk as Dr. Karen James should get credit for her commitment to the role of woman attacked by starfish, as she puts more into this scene than strictly required.

However, for all of my complaints, I will say that this does what it says on the tin. I enjoyed this much more than many other similar B movies, and I always appreciate when films like this manage to tread the line (mostly) well. We get a lot of schlocky action with zombie aquatic animals, and there’s a decent amount of creativity in terms of the creatures and their attacks. Admittedly a share of the deaths are underwhelming, but I appreciate the effort anyway.

This barely fits into Shark Month, and the shark scenes are actually a bit boring. That being said, it comes close to the silly fun of some of our favorite shark picks, and I’m willing to give credit for that.

Would my blog wife take an axe to a giant crab for this one or leave it to sleep with the zombie fishes? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blood in the Water, or: Texas Chain-law Massacre

It seems to be our misfortune this Shark Month to have very few shark appearances in films ostensibly about sharks. Instead what we get is a series of shady characters with questionable motives. Is it so much to ask–is it really? To reflect the anarchy of our world in a bunch of senselessly violent CGI shark attacks?

Apparently so. If you’re looking for bloody shark murder content, this week’s film ain’t it–despite promising gore in the title.

The Film:

Blood in the Water

Director:

Dominic Nutter

The Premise:

Waking up chained next to a shark-infested pool, a group of strangers must rely on each other to escape death…or not.

The Ramble:

After waking up chained by the ankle next to a pool, a man pleads for his life to an unseen voice over a speaker. The man is Henry, a lawyer with sketchy dealings, and those seem finally about to catch up with him. Escalating things extremely quickly with an escape attempt involving jumping into the pool and cutting his own foot off…turns out to be unwise. An unknown creature in the pool attacks and kills Henry. And, of course, that creature is a shark.

A woman sits on a couch in an apartment, looking upset.

Unfortunately for a group of seemingly unconnected strangers, Henry is not the last victim of the voice/pool shark. Troubled young woman Hannah is abducted, finding herself chained by the ankle along with 5 others. It’s not long before the group realizes they are all linked by Henry, who had been secretly recording many of his clients.

A man lies next to a pool, grimacing. His leg is chained to something beneath the water.

Of course, Henry is not the only connection the strangers share, and the voice is fixated on getting all of the victims to confess their sins before time us up and the shark is unleashed. Uncaged? In a fairly uninspired Agatha Christie knock-off plot, all of the victims’ crimes are related. To be honest, though, the only mystery that held my attention at all was how every single character managed to be so boring, whether engaging in illegal activities or dying by pool shark.

The Rating:

1/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a rather incoherent mess, all told, and I’m not feeling particularly forgiving. I got bored, so the only thing I can do is be overly critical about unimportant plot details. A few questions that will doubtless keep you up at night:

  • What is the setting for this film? The accents are a confusing range of American, British, and somewhere in between? They somehow all sound fake.
  • People call Henry a lawyer (American), but…
  • the Brooklyn(?!) cop pulls over a guy whose steering wheel is on the right side of the car (defo not legal in the US). Pretty sure, anyway. I can’t be bothered to rewind and confirm.
  • Is the pool full of salt water? That feels difficult to maintain long-term, though admittedly this is a rather short-term murder plot.
  • I expected some kind of explanation for the choice to go to so much trouble to murder people by shark. I remain dissatisfied.
  • Above all, why so little shark action?!?!?

Would my blog wife fess up to her sketchy criminal past or sacrifice this one to the sharks? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shark Killer, or: Team Shark

Is it possible this month is the best of our recurring themes on the Collab? I know–I say that virtually every month. However, it’s time for not only Shark Week, but Shark Month, so I don’t say this lightly. Just when it seems we’ve run out of B movie shark nonsense, we manage to dig up another feature in a failed franchise. This week with diamonds, drug deals, and a shark bounty hunter.

The Film:

Shark Killer

Director:

Sheldon Wilson

The Premise:

To help his estranged brother, a shark killer must track down a shark that has swallowed a priceless diamond. For real.

The Ramble:

Poor Chase seems to be the only one not having fun on a newly reopened beach just declared 100% safe and without a doubt entirely shark-free. As it turns out, he’s a shark killer for hire, and has repeatedly insisted to the mayor that the dangerous shark is still lurking, alive and hungry. Inevitably, a resigned-looking Chase must wade into the ocean, which he very much loathes, and save the day just in time.

A woman drives a silver convertible with a man sitting in the passenger seat.

Chase is basking in his success the following morning after somewhat shadily hooking up with a woman he saved from the shark. Unfortunately, he’s interrupted by Jasmine, a lawyer who insists Chase be ready to leave in 10 minutes. Presumably because of horniness, Chase asks zero questions, to the point of getting on a plane and into a car with Jasmine even though he has no clue where they’re going.

A tall man looks down in disbelief at a shorter man from behind a hiding spot by storage crates.

As it turns out, their destination is an ultra modern McMansion in Capetown, now owned by Chase’s brother Jake. With something of a chip on his shoulder as the family black sheep, Jake has finally made a name for himself through criminal activities. His latest scheme gone awry involves a diamond that was eaten by a shark for honestly forgettable reasons. Though the brothers haven’t spoken in years, Chase agrees to help Jake…as long as Jasmine joins him.

Clearly no one in the family ever had a much-needed conversation about consent with the boys, as neither cares that Jasmine has no interest in going along. But then she does so anyway because it’s a necessary plot point. Chase is making progress in tracking down the shark when not doing his sort of knock-off Chris Pratt routine with Jasmine. Unfortunately, Jake hasn’t been entirely truthful, and someone else is after the diamond in a shark carrying case: Nix, a drug lord running quite an extensive operation.

A man in a modern living room stares at another man, who is facing away from him and using a tablet.

Now facing an aggravated shark, a violent drug smuggler, and his morally questionable brother, will Chase manage to retrieve the diamond and finally impress Jasmine with his heroics?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Admittedly it’s quite a low bar, but this is not the worst film we’ve ever watched on the Collab. The beginning and the end are the high points of the movie, and surprisingly fun with the Jaws parody opening our film and silly plot twist after twist keeping things interesting at the end. Every scene with villain Nix (Arnold Vosloo) is extremely watchable, largely because he puts so much more energy into the role than strictly necessary.

I will say leading man Chase does grow on me, especially when he and Jake are forced to make up and work together. It helps that Jake definitely takes on the bad cop role in the duo, and when Chase isn’t constantly hitting on Jasmine, he actually comes across as a reasonably likeable hero. The sibling rivalry is honestly one of the more believable elements of the film, and I completely buy that the impulse to argue would win out over the need to sneak past armed guards (which it does). Willing to overlook that Jake’s accent changed completely about 2/3 of the way through the film.

However, the parts of the film I did enjoy lasted for about 20 minutes total, and the rest of the film was kind of meandering and boring. Jasmine is annoyingly one-dimensional and has almost no personality traits besides being a lawyer. Biggest complaint is that this is more of a comedy adventure than a shark movie, despite having the word shark IN the title. Feels a bit of a sneaky marketing tactic capitalizing on Sharknado, as there are about 2 minutes of CGI shark action total.

Props for the silly tagline, though: blood is thicker in water.

Would my blog wife knife a shark for this one or use it to chum the waters? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman, or: I Yacht the Sheriff

While I’m glad we crossed off some Oscar-nominated films during April, the month felt a lot like homework. And critical favor is so fleeting…is anyone going to be watching Licorice Pizza 10 years from now?

Of course, films that veer into tacky and trashy territory are much more our speed, so this May is dedicated to movies that under no circumstances would ever be award winners. Is there any category more fitting than horror based on serial killer true crime?

The Film:

Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman

Director:

Daniel Farrands

The Premise:

Facing execution, serial killer Aileen Wuornos recounts her early days, including an ill-fated marriage to a much older man.

The Ramble:

First interviewing the subject of your documentary the day before their execution feels like poor planning, but we’re apparently meant to believe this is something a good filmmaker would do. The fictional filmmaker of this fictional documentary (but confusingly based on a real documentary?) is determined to be the one to get compelling footage of Aileen Wuornos making never-before-seen confessions, though she has very little incentive to do so beyond enjoying the sound of her own voice.

For whatever reason, Aileen opts to do a deep dive on her brief early marriage to a much older man and the aftermath, years before the serial murders she committed. Though she hasn’t yet murdered, Aileen demonstrates violent tendencies from a young age, fairly regularly fighting, assaulting, and/or robbing johns as well as other men she encounters. In Aileen’s recounting, these men were by and large attempted rapists who had it coming.

A young woman clinks shot glasses with a man at a bar.

It’s after punching a man who accuses her of being a lesbian that Aileen has a fateful meeting with Jennifer, and the two seem to be mutually attracted to each other. When Jennifer invites Aileen home to the family mansion, she doesn’t realize she’s about to introduce her father, Lewis, to his future wife. Aileen charms Lewis so completely that they’re married soon after.

Jennifer is shocked by the turn of events, vowing to dig up dirt on Aileen and remove her from the family forever. Considering that Aileen ends up being arrested for assault on the night of her wedding, probably not an overly difficult task.

A young woman smiles at a significantly older man as they exchange vows in front of a priest.

As Jennifer keeps an eye on Aileen, she realizes that her new stepmother has problems with rage and impulsivity, along with a massive chip on her shoulder as she grew up poor. When Lewis’s friend and financial advisor manages to uncover information about Aileen’s prior troubles with the law, it seems she has no choice but to leave town.

But more than one character may find that underestimating Aileen is the last thing they’ll ever do…alive.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I will forgive anything but a boring film, and I found this one surprisingly dull, to be honest. This was supposed to have a theatrical release, but that was cancelled…and it’s not a shock as this one has an extremely made-for-TV feel. The plot is highly formulaic, the acting bad, and the dialogue horrible. I do appreciate the schlocky title, but that’s about it.

There’s a very good reason most discussions of Aileen’s annulled marriage to a much older man aren’t the focus of most media about her life: this is probably the most uninteresting thing about her. In anyone else’s life, the transparent gold-digging might make for a juicy story, but I’m guessing most of those cases don’t involve serial murders.

Because there are quite a few nods to Old Hollywood noir, I was really hoping for some soapy plot twists. Maybe Aileen and Jennifer would give in to a forbidden romance, scheme to murder Lewis, or have an unsettling Sunset Boulevard-style dynamic. None of these things happen, and Jennifer comes across as totally brainless and so dull. Aileen is somehow kind of boring to watch as well.

From my perspective, what it comes down to is the flawed concept that playing with what’s true and what isn’t will make for an interesting film. Aileen is cast as an unreliable narrator, reflecting the contradictory stories she told in reality. However, the film doesn’t push this concept far enough, sticking with fact in a way that confines the events that depart from reality. It’s not inventive enough to be stranger or more sensational than what actually happened.

Would my blog wife invite this one out for a jaunt on a yacht or decide to take out the trash? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Slaxx, or: The Wrath of Couture

Not necessarily being a follower of high fashion, I don’t always understand the world of high-profile prestige brands. Luckily, this week’s film doesn’t require any insider knowledge of trending styles, though it does embody the spirit of exaggerations like “I’d die for those shoes” or “kill for that coat.” Maybe a bit too literally. Either way, brace yourself for the first groundbreaking killer jeans film on the Collab (and likely last unless a franchise is born).

The Film:

Slaxx

The Premise:

Just ahead of the launch of a major fashion company’s miraculous shaping jeans, a pair of the pants comes to life, driven by a thirst for vengeance and blood.

The Ramble:

Young tenderhearted Libby is eager to start a job with The Canadian Cotton Clothiers, a trendy yet ethical fashion brand. As they say in the South, bless her heart. Libby is a seasonal worker who has been hired by manager Craig to support the launch of Super Shapers, a revolutionary new product. These jeans are woven from cotton grown in experimental fields in India and promise to use heat-activated technology to mold themselves to the wearer’s shape in the most form-flattering way possible. By no means is this the stuff from which nightmares are made.

Libby, a young woman in a fashionable clothing store, stands in front of a mirror, trying on a pair of leopard print leggings and a shirt with holes cut out of it.

With a single-minded focus on the CCC brand and maintaining their own “ecosystems” (the section of the store they are responsible for), Libby’s coworkers are largely vain narcissists who have no time to help the new hire. The exception is Shruti, who is totally checked out of her job and unwilling to assist anyone, but in more of a Daria way than anything else.

Shruti, a young South Asian woman, and Libby, a young white woman, look at security camera footage in astonishment as they observe the film's titular slacks.

Because the clothes at The CCC are on the cutting edge of fashion (and employees are required to buy and wear the brand while on the clock), theft is a major problem at the store. Though certainly the message of the film invites us to question who is stealing from whom. Craig often looks the other way on violations of company policy (particularly when he is perpetrating them), but draws the line when employee Jemma arrives for the launch wearing a pair of the currently unreleased jeans. Instructed to change clothes before the company’s CEO Harold arrives to deliver a stirring motivational speech, it turns out the pants are exactly the kind of fashion statement you would be caught dead in. Because the pants kill her.

Ahead of the launch day, the store will be on complete lockdown, with employees locked in the building and prohibited access to their devices as they prepare the store overnight. The one exception will be a visit from YouTube star & influencer Peyton Jewels, who will be granted an exclusive preview to promote the Super Shapers to her followers. This will allow for 10 minutes total when the lockdown is lifted as Peyton enters and leaves the premises, aka the setup of a classic horror dilemma.

Peyton, a young woman with hair in double buns and a white furry coat, looks determinedly at a pair of Super Shaper pants.

Unsurprisingly, the bodies begin to pile up. When Libby finds the body of Jemma, Craig is determined to cover up the death until Super Shapers have launched. As a result, all hell breaks loose when Peyton visits and begins filming. When Libby and Shruti realize the jeans will temporarily stop the violent rampage to appreciate the sounds of Bollywood musical numbers, they learn the pants have a sort of humanity. Is this the key to declaring the new fashion trend officially over?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I will give this one a lot of credit for originality. Has there ever been a horror film about a killer pair of pants that’s also a critique of fast fashion and the questionable ethics of an industry built on exploiting extremely underpaid and highly dangerous labor? Well, this is the one.

On a technical note, I appreciate the…level of emotion the filmmakers are able to convey through the pants. Is a weird sentence to type. The, uh, green screen actor(?) gives authentic movement to the jeans, allowing them to convey menace and even joy as the scene demands. Lighting and sound effects work together to create genuine moments of suspense (and quite a few gory deaths).

All of this being said, there are some issues with the film’s approach. The short run time and the number of characters whose sole purpose is to die make it difficult to invest in the storyline. I can somewhat root for Shruti, but even she falls a bit flat for me. Libby is our lead and the way her youthful optimism is exaggerated is annoying AF. The majority of the other characters are so awful that it’s clear early on they will die, but none of these deaths really feel like a big payoff. I would have liked the story to focus in on these horrible characters, honestly, rather than trying to have it both ways.

While I always appreciate a piece with some social commentary, this one is extremely heavy-handed. The over-the-top dialogue gets old fast, and a lot of the representation of India and Indian characters comes off as pretty stereotypical. I got a little bit of a kick from the Super Shapers’ SS logo being a very clear nod to the scary Nazi death squads…but only the first couple of times it appeared onscreen. This also got pretty old, as did the lack of nuance or trust in the audience to connect the dots.

No regrets on watching this one, but it didn’t change my life like a pair of Super Shapers or even particularly challenge my participation in morally reprehensible systems of production. Though I will avoid purchasing new clothes for at least a week or two. Probably.

Would my blog wife still be first in line for a pair of killer trousers or refuse to even snag them from a secondhand clearance rack? Read her review to find out!

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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

Carnival of Souls, or: Ghosted

Watch Catherine Deneuve delightfully sing and dance in a French New Wave classic, they said. Finally cross off a classic sitting on the watchlist for years. Too bad UK/French relations are at an all-time low when it comes to streaming The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for a reasonable rental fee. However, our misfortune turned around when we opted for another classic of 1960s cinema this week on the Collab, and it’s the best kind: a cult classic.

The Film:

Carnival of Souls

The Premise:

Following a tragic car accident and her subsequent move to Utah, a young woman is haunted by a ghostly carnival figure connected to an abandoned pavilion on the outskirts of town.

The Ramble:

When a random 1960s dude challenges you and your crew to an impromptu car race, what’s a self-respecting woman to do but press her elegant stiletto heel to the pedal? As it turns out, this is a fateful decision–the driver turns out to be rather nasty, bumping our ladies from a bridge into the depths of a river below. One of the passengers, Mary, is the only survivor as her two friends die in the accident. As is to be expected, the two men in the other car blatantly lie about the events and walk away scot-free. A search team attempts to retrieve the remains of the wreck, but odds seem low as the muddy waters leave only the classic hook on a rope technique available. This feels so old-fashioned, but I’m honestly not sure our search and rescue technology has advanced significantly in the intervening years.

A woman looks distressed as she is wrapped in a blanket, looking at the river she was rescued from. A group of men stand behind her, impassive.

Though Mary seems understandably in shock, she is determined to carry on with her pre-crash plans to relocate to Utah for a job as a church organist. Upon leaving the institution where she learned to play the organ, she bluntly tells those wishing her well that she appreciates the sentiment but she’s never coming back. What’s more, despite the expectation that music should be her passion, it’s just a job to her. As a person with an abiding yet unfulfilled desire to disrupt polite social conventions, this speaks to me on a fundamental level. I have an extreme amount of love and admiration for our girl Mary.

Unfortunately, Mary’s expectation that she can start over with a clean slate is doomed from the start as she begins seeing the chillingly pale face of a man virtually everywhere. As she drives into town, she notices a grand empty pavilion that has seen better days…just before its closure, as a carnival.

Mary will be living in a house overseen by Mrs. Thomas, which is home to only one other lodger, John…who we will certainly spend some time on later. When the pastor welcomes Mary to town and to her new role within the church, she dodges the offer of a reception by asking if it’s absolutely necessary. No, Mary. It’s never necessary. As the pastor shows her around town, Mary asks about going into the abandoned pavilion. The pastor declines as the building has been closed off to the public for so-called health and safety reasons.

A man and woman sit on a sofa, drinking cups of coffee. The man leans forward slightly, smiling, while the woman leans away.

Shortly after, Mary get to know her neighbor across the hall, John, better. When she opens the door in a towel, expecting Mrs. Thomas, she changes into a robe…with John creeping on her. Initially rejecting John’s advances, Mary reconsiders after another disturbing encounter with the ghostly pale man. When John brings her coffee in the morning, Mary learns that he may have a problem with alcohol, but this doesn’t prevent him from considering himself a happy-go-lucky ladies’ man.

Mary’s plans to acquire a new (gently used) wardrobe are disrupted when, upon leaving a dressing room, she suddenly hears nothing and seems to be invisible to those around her. Understandably upset, Mary has a bit of a breakdown and encounters a doctor, who advises her that hysteria solves nothing. Solid advice right from a groundbreaking medical research study of the 1960s. The doctor is surprisingly helpful beyond this, attempting to dissect the reasons for Mary’s visions. Channeling David Rose to explain that she doesn’t want to be close to people, Mary is relatable indeed.

A man sits at a desk in his office, looking expectantly at a woman sitting in a chair nearby. She looks down towards the ground, her expression pained.

Finally unable to resists the allure of the pavilion, Mary explores the structure at last, finding her life becoming increasingly surreal. Falling into a trance-like state while playing the organ, Mary begins playing music deemed terribly offensive by the pastor, who fires her on the spot. Meeting up with John, Mary is distant and miserable but afraid to be alone with her visions, real or imagined. After John gets fed up with Mary’s neuroses and she spends the night rearranging the furniture, Mrs. Thomas contacts the doctor. However, Mary is disinclined to seek help; rather, she’s utterly determined to leave town. But as unfortunate circumstances arise at her every attempt to escape, it seems Mary may be inexorably guided back to the pavilion. What horrors await her there?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Achieving cult classic status, our film is an impressive achievement, and its influence is massive. Many of the techniques and themes feel quite contemporary. There are a lot of moments where this feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, and I do not at all object to this. Things are legendarily low budget for this film, so we are relying heavily on empty spaces, close-ups, and quiet moments of dread (as well as dramatic organ music) to create a highly atmospheric tale. One scene where Mary’s doctor turns around to reveal himself as the ghost man is not the most surprising for its existence in so many subsequent films, but no less effective. Perhaps due to the low budget and lack of prestige, I can see how this film was easily overshadowed by Hitchcock in its time. We’ve got many of the same elements that make for a suspenseful watch, and star Candace Hilligoss looks so much like a Hitchcock leading lady.

Personally, I find the complexity of the film’s themes and thoughtfulness of its messages most compelling. There are a number of ways to interpret director Herk Harvey’s film. First, it’s an effective exploration of post-modern existential dread and isolation. Mary both seeks out and fears being alone–when she’s around other people, Mary is limited by their expectations and assumptions. As something of an outsider, she experiences a great deal of anxiety to essentially conform or die. At the same time, there are a lot of instances in which being around people is the only thing between Mary and truly terrifying thoughts and experiences, and this tension is highly effective in creating suspense. There are more specific anxieties to unpack as well, including those around mental illness, gender roles, and workplace expectations. I find Mary’s relationship to the supposedly passion-driven field of music refreshingly honest–if a bit depressing that it’s been so long that we’ve been telling ourselves the lie that work is a thing we should love.

I will say there were some limitations that prevented me from bumping up this rating a bit higher. First, there are times when the low budget does become noticeable…particularly in the acting department. Mary’s wide-eyed stares of horror carry a huge amount of the film, but some of the performances are less than convincing (except my love for the director as lead creepy ghoul will never die). I also hoped some of the elements and themes would be fleshed out a bit more and create more cohesion–there is a sense that the production ran out of money and rushed to the dramatic twist ending at a certain point. And the amount of screen time John gets is effective, but I still wish he had been written off earlier or met with a more gruesome ending. The men who do awful things in the film walk away largely unscathed–which I do feel makes a surprisingly forward-thinking feminist argument…but is still frustrating.

On a side note, I thought it was quite progressive that Mary shopped for secondhand clothes–I can think of virtually no other films where characters thrift shop for clothes unless it’s to make a point about how cool and quirky they are.

Overall, even though I love to be a contrarian, I can’t argue there’s a very good reason this film has a reputation as a well-loved cult classic.

Would my blog wife follow this one to a creepy abandoned pavilion or drive off without looking back? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Happiness of the Katakuris, or: Born This Clay

It wouldn’t be the Blog Collab if we weren’t pressing play on a horrible mismatch of genres that shouldn’t work. Horror, musical, comedy, claymation? Surely these elements can never combine in satisfying cinematic harmony. But we’re not necessarily seeking perfection here so much as that certain B-movie je ne sais quoi.

The Film:

The Happiness of the Katakuris

The Premise:

After an unlucky family covers up the suicide of their first inn guest, things…escalate.

The Ramble:

At a hotel restaurant in Japan, a young woman finds a horrible surprise in her meal: a little demonic creature that thinks her uvula looks like a delicious snack. After leaving the woman for dead, the creature undergoes a very quick life cycle, coming full circle as it’s snatched up in a crow’s beak. When an elderly man kills the crow, bringing it down mid-flight, you know ominous events are about to unfold.

A claymation woman screams as a small winged demon pries open her jaws.

The aforementioned man is our narrator’s great-grandfather Jinpei Katakuri, the head of a rather unfortunate family. His son, Masao, laid off from his job, made the seemingly sound decision to buy a remote property sure to transform into a popular tourist destination after the construction of a major road. Major setback to this plan? The road has yet to be built.

Masao’s daughter Shizue lives with the family, along with her brother Masayuki and daughter Yurie, the narrator. Shizue is divorced and falls in and out of love too quickly. Masayuki has a violent temper and is attempting to leave his criminal past behind. Yurie herself is a child but old enough to realize her family is leaning heavily on the dysfunctional side of the scale.

Four members of a family stand outside, looking unhappy and facing away from each other.

Just as the family is prepared to give up on making a living from the inn, they finally welcome their first guest on a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately, their guest is extremely depressed, ultimately dying by suicide when he stabs himself with a hotel key. When the family discovers the body, they decide to cover things up, fearing their first guest’s suicide will doom their business.

Four people in a dark room pause in the middle of a dance. They react in distress to the discovery of a body in the room.

Soon after, a man claiming to be a member of the British Royal Navy arrives, and Shizue is instantly smitten. It becomes increasingly clear that the man is not who he appears to be, especially as he makes ever more outlandish claims about his connections to the royal family. After he leaves, Shizue receives a call implying he has died…but is that the truth?

When a somewhat renowned Sumo wrestler arrives at the inn with a teen girl, it’s not long before both end up dead. Because of the suspicious number of bodies piling up, the family starts to believe Masayuki may be responsible due to his criminal past.

Add a few musical numbers to the mix, a plan to finally begin building the long-promised road, and some reanimating corpses, and you’ve got…a rather surreal experience.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise is irresistible, but the loose structure of the film itself is confusing and often frustrating. I appreciate the musical numbers so much, especially the extremely dark ones that discuss hiding the body of the first guest and discovering the exhumed bodies have become zombified.

I would have liked a bit more direction here, though, and some idea of what is to come. I expected more horror, but the film is more interested in exploring themes around family and social commentary about success/happiness and the perception of these…as well as just doing whatever the fuck it wants to. Some of these themes don’t work well when everyone in the family is problematic to some degree. I found it difficult to care about the characters and what happened to them as they spent most of their time being horrible, making questionable decisions, and having things go miraculously well despite their incompetence.

Props for weirdness, though. I’m struggling to think of a recent watch as unabashedly strange and visually daring as this one.

Would my blog wife save this one from an unexpected lava flow or bury it along with the other bodies? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bounty Killer, or: Stab Me Once, Shame on You

*Spoilers follow*

Once again, this week finds us walking the fine line between B-movie greatness and despair. Rather blatantly stealing from the Mad Max franchise, will this week bring us badassery on the level of Furiosa or is a repeat of Ouija Shark in the cards?

The Film:

Bounty Killer

The Premise:

In a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, former bounty hunter partners compete for kills while unwittingly unraveling a conspiracy. In no way influenced by Mad Max.

The Ramble:

Ah, the future. Is there a single piece of media from the past 10 years where it isn’t a nightmarishly awful hellscape?

This one is no exception; in our film’s vision of the future, corporate interests have escalated into all-out warfare, leaving the world a barren wasteland. As those left behind attempt to rebuild society, the Council of Nine forms some sort of shadow government that people seem to virtually worship. The Council rewards bounty hunters with stacks of cash and fame for tracking down and killing the white collar criminals responsible for society’s collapse. Undisputed queen of the pack is Mary Death, a bounty killer who most definitely has an unspoken past with the aloof Drifter.

A woman leans out of the driver's side of a vintage car, aiming a revolver with one hand.

As Drifter receives the news that the latest warrant is for a friend and informant of his, Jack, a down on his luck gun caddy manages to join forces with the loner. Both Drifter and Mary are keen on claiming the bounty for this kill. When shady associates of the development company Second Sun track Mary down, she suspects they are connected to Drifter. Even more infuriated when she learns that the next warrant is out for Drifter himself because of his white collar criminal past, Mary is determined to kill him herself.

Two men ride across a desert landscape on motorcycles.

However, before bounty killers can take him out, Drifter decides to throw himself on the mercy of the Council. As Jack sabotages Mary’s car, she is left stranded with only her homicidal urges to keep her company. The Drifter and Jack aren’t far along on their journey when they encounter a hostile group of gypsies (regrettably, this word gets tossed around a LOT, and the group is only ever referred to in the most problematic of ways). Blaming Drifter for the escape of Nuri, one of their own, years ago, the duo seems destined to die unless they can get away. Before this happens, though, we’re going to get the entire tragic backstory of Drifter and Mary because spoiler/not really a spoiler, Mary is Nuri.

After assassinating the king, Mary escaped the gypsies and tracked down Drifter, demanding he teach her to be a bounty killer. Once her training is complete, they become both business and romantic partners…until the day Drifter suggests they settle down and Mary responds by stabbing him and leaving him for dead. I support people leaving relationships that don’t work, but it’s probably better to have a conversation rather than risk ending up on Snapped.

A group of three men and a woman are forced to kneel on the ground in front of a line of armed men.

In the present, Drifter and Jack escape, though with some high-speed antics. As they make their way across the Badlands, Mary catches up, only to make up with Drifter. Now a team, the three make their way to the Council to find it destroyed. When they are ambushed by the Second Sun lot, chaos ensues. Can our unlikely heroes compete against the forces that promise to destroy any hope for the future?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I would almost give this a surprise 3, but there are a lot of issues, particularly in the first half. The plot is actually more developed than needed for this type of film, and some of the twists, while not especially shocking, are fun to watch unfold. I wish the storylines had been woven together better as, once the character relationships are more firmly established, the plot is significantly more interesting. Our villain Catherine is extremely one-dimensional, but I would have loved to see more moments of her simply being awful and evil.

Mary Death is the scene stealer here, and she has a stunning if rather male gaze-y appearance. No one in their right mind would think it makes sense to kill people while wearing white, especially when the alternative to being covered in blood is being covered in dust. I can’t help admiring the aesthetic of a woman who has bombs branded with her own logo, but Mary is simultaneously compelling and frustrating as a character. From a worldbuilding standpoint, it makes no sense to me that bounty killers gain a certain amount of celebrity–surely this would just make the job more difficult. Add in the fact that Mary has somehow dodged the gypsies for years while rising to prominence as a bounty killer and the logic is…negligible.

I would say that, in addition to the pacing issues and horrible dialogue, the portrayal of the gypsies and all of the racist nonsense around them is the worst part of this film. It’s so problematic that this group represents the vast number of people of color onscreen too.

I’d like to take this opportunity to register a formal complaint about the horrendous nicknames here as well. The Drifter calls Jack “kid” all the fucking time despite being 2 YEARS older. If anyone pulled that shit with me, I would resign immediately. This pales in comparison to Drifter’s terrible “Fender Bunny” nickname for Mary.

Though this is surprisingly good for what it is, most of the “edgy” social commentary and reflections on corporate greed fall flat. If you want a legitimately compelling examination of similar themes, try the Canadian TV show Continuum. Mostly because I (still) want more people to watch Continuum.

Would my blog wife back this one up as a gun caddy or chase it with a pistol across a desert landscape while driving a classic car with one foot? Find out in her review!