Film Review: Election (1999)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1999 (limited)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Based on: Election by Tom Perrotta
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Colleen Camp, Nicholas D’Agosto, Holmes Osborne, Matt Malloy, Frankie Ingrassia

Bona Fide Productions, MTV Films, Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Larry, we’re not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.” – Jim McAllister

I didn’t know much about this movie the first time I saw it but I liked it quite a bit.

Back in 1999, it didn’t come out with a lot of fanfare or really much promotion and sort of just came and went in the theaters quickly. I saw it once it came out on VHS and thought it deserved more recognition than it initially got. Luckily, it did become a bit of a cult classic fairly quickly.

When I see this now, my brain can’t help but to think of this as the origin story of Hillary Clinton. I don’t mean that to be an asshole but there are a lot of similarities between what we know about her now and how the character of Tracy Flick was played in the film by Reese Witherspoon in one of her best early performances.

The film also stars Matthew Broderick and at the time, this was the first time I saw him and thought of him as old. He really wasn’t but he had matured quite a bit since his most iconic roles in Ferris Bueller and WarGames. Regardless of that, this is my favorite performance of his career, as he plays a good guy that becomes corrupted by the power he wields and his burning desire to stop a future political monster before she really has the chance to effect the real world. He’s also approaching his midlife crisis point and makes some poor life decisions because of that.

You also have Chris Klein in this as the third main character. While I’m not a big fan of Klein’s, he’s really good in this and it’s almost like the role was tailor made for him. He’s good as a popular but nice, optimistic jock that genuinely cares about all the people around him. This is my favorite thing that he’s done, as well.

The film’s plot is really good and well constructed. There are a lot of layers and several characters to balance but the movie does that rather well while also making you care about the lives of the core people involved.

This isn’t a predictable film and it takes some interesting turns with some of the smaller subplots. The main story is pretty straightforward and while you can guess where it’s going, it’s still got a few surprises.

The film’s director, Alexander Payne, would go on to have a pretty impressive career. He followed this film up with the Jack Nicholson starring About Schmidt and then one of the Academy Awards’ darlings of 2004, Sideways.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other quirky ’90s comedies, as well as other films by Alexander Payne.

Film Review: If Looks Could Kill (1991)

Also known as: Teen Agent (UK, Denmark, Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 9th, 1991 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: William Dear
Written by: Darren Star, Fred Dekker
Music by: David Foster
Cast: Richard Grieco, Linda Hunt, Roger Rees, Robin Bartlett, Gabrielle Anwar, Roger Daltrey

Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I knew I should have taken Spanish.” – Michael Corben

I can understand why this film wasn’t a big hit in theaters but I never understood why it didn’t catch on once it came out on video. It’s one of those films that should’ve been a cult classic because it’s just a ton of fun and Richard Grieco was immensely talented, especially in this sort of production.

Sadly, this flopped hard and Richard Grieco didn’t become the superstar that many thought he was destined to become coming off of 21 Jump Street and his own spinoff series Booker. I liked both those shows, liked Grieco and was pretty stoked when this was coming out, as I also loved goofy teen comedies, loser rising to the occasion stories and spy flicks.

This seemed like a perfect formula for my twelve year-old self in 1991 and fuck it, it totally was! I loved it and copied the VHS tape that I rented. I’d then go on to watch it quite a bit but since then, it’s been lost to time and sort of just faded away and pretty quickly.

I found myself thinking about it, recently, so I looked to see if there was a DVD release and there was. When I looked some time ago, it hadn’t yet been released in that format. So I bought it and threw it in the DVD player the same day it arrived.

What I was most happy about was that this held up really well. I mean, it definitely feels like a product of its time but it wasn’t an awful movie that I simply liked because I was a twelve year-old idiot. The main reason is because Grieco has charisma, charm and he just comes across as cool, which is something lost in most modern films.

This is the epitome of mindless, fun escapism and it was a hell of a lot of fun escaping into it in 2020, a year that almost all of us would love to forget.

Beyond Grieco, I loved the women in this, especially Linda Hunt and Robin Bartlett. Both of them really got to ham it up and they appeared like they were having a real blast making this movie. Hell, Linda Hunt is an Academy Award winner and she still performed in this “low brow” comedy with gusto and real passion.

This also looked like it cost a pretty penny to make, as the special effects and stunts were top notch stuff, especially for the time. Now this wasn’t James Bond level but it obviously had a budget much higher than your typical teen comedy flick.

I also learned that this was written by Fred Dekker in the ’80s with the intention of it being a starring vehicle for Anthony Michael Hall, capitalizing off of his fame from multiple John Hughes movies. I’m sure that would’ve been a pretty awesome film too but I’m really happy with how this turned out, regardless.

It sucks that this wasn’t a big kickoff to Richard Grieco’s film career but he’s got nothing to be ashamed of, as this is a film I’ve loved for decades and was really happy revisiting nearly thirty years later.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other goofy teen movies from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

Release Date: January 19th, 2001 (Sundance)
Directed by: Richard Kelly
Written by: Richard Kelly
Music by: Michael Andrews
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, Arthur Taxier, David St. James, Jazzie Mahannah, Jolene Purdy, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Seth Rogen, Beth Grant, David Moreland, Ashley Tisdale, Jerry Trainor

Adam Fields Productions, Flower Films, Pandora Cinema, 113 Minutes, 134 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.” – Donnie

This movie had a profound effect on me when I saw it in a movie theater, alone, in 2001. Once it was released on VHS and DVD, I had a copy of both. In fact, I had a version of the VHS that was released in blue plastic, as opposed to the traditional black.

Once I owned the movie, I watched it a lot. Mainly because it was so damn good and I was so damn intrigued by the vague concepts and ideas in it. There was this whole deep, mystical yet science-y mystery, which captivated my psyche.

Beyond that, the film connected with me in a way no other film has. I think that has a lot to do with my age, at the time, and because the title character and myself had similar issues. I liked seeing this character and how he was portrayed, as it felt genuine as hell and like it came from a real place from someone with similar experiences. I’m not saying that Richard Kelly is as “fucked up” as Donnie Darko but it’s clear that he knew what he was writing quite well.

I also liked how this sort of critiqued the Americana lifestyle and was set in the late ’80s, a time where American ideals seemed like they were winning and the middle class were relishing in a time of affordable opulence. Not that any of that is specifically negative, I just thought that this film looked at and examined it in an interesting way.

This is the first time I have watched the movie in probably a decade. I used to watch it so much, it was pretty much burned into my brain. Having that much time away from it, though, allowed me to see it with somewhat fresh eyes and in fact, I was a bit apprehensive about it, as I thought it might not stand up to the test of time and play as well.

Luckily, that apprehension was quickly absolved because this was just as good as I remembered it. Also, in some way, it was like rediscovering it because there were some neat details and nuance that I had forgotten about. I mean, I am starting to get old.

The film is pretty close to perfect and it is so well acted that you get ensnared by it. It’s beautiful visually and narratively and it certainly deserves more recognition than it gets, even if it did establish cult status and a slew of fans over time.

In recent years, though, it feels like it’s being forgotten, as new generations come along and prefer movies with less heart and simplistic, rapid storytelling that deliver constant gratification while moving so fast that nothing in a film older than fifteen minutes seems to matter. Look at the ninth Star Wars saga film and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s sad that Donnie Darko sort of feels like a relic now. At the time, I had hoped it was a bright beacon at the beginning of a new millennium that would help inspire smarter, more original movies but the Michael Bays and J. J. Abramses won out.

And sadly, Richard Kelly tried but was never able to capture the magic he had here with his feature length debut.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: this is pretty unusual but I’d say Richard Kelly’s other films: Southland Tales and The Box.

Film Review: The Mutilator (1984)

Also known as: Fall Break (alternative title)
Release Date: August, 1984 (Wilmington, North Carolina premiere)
Directed by: Buddy Cooper, John S. Douglass
Written by: Buddy Cooper
Music by: Michael Minard
Cast: Matt Mitler, Bill Hitchcock, Ruth Martinez, Connie Rogers, Morey Lampley, Frances Raines

OK Productions, Ocean King Releasing, 86 Minutes

Review:

“So my philosophy is, let’s have some beer.” – Ralph

Growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s, nothing quite made Halloween feel like Halloween more than a low budget, formulaic slasher flick. Luckily, there are so many that I still come across that I haven’t seen, this being one of them.

The Mutilator, also known as Fall Break, is actually better than I thought it could be and it also reminds me of another great, lesser-known slasher, Blood Rage.

The story is simple, a young kid accidentally killed his mother and it drove his father insane. Years later, the kid is now a teen and he takes his friends to his family’s old beach house to clear it out. Unbeknownst to the kid and his friends, its a trap by the crazy father, who is fell bent on killing everyone in and around the house. Unfortunately for the teens, this North Carolina beach house is on an island in a small seasonal community where all the other residents are away.

This has the two main ingredients that every slasher film needs: violence and titties. There could’ve been more titties but the overall experience is pretty damn good and you can relish in the pretty decent kills and well executed special effects.

The real highlight for me was the scene at the end where the father is split in half by a car slamming him into a cinder block wall. Immediately after that, the father, who is literally in two separate pieces, snaps back to life for a split second and uses his big ass battleaxe to chop off half of a cop’s leg with ease. It’s crazy but it’s great and it left me with a smile, ending the film with a good gory exclamation point.

I liked the setting a lot and it just made the film more interesting. This could also be because I was born and raised in a small coastal community.

Overall, this is kind of cookie cutter and predictable but that’s the slasher genre’s modus operandi. It’s the little things in this that are different that set it apart from more mundane slasher flicks.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other slasher films of the ’80s, especially the very similar Blood Rage.

Film Review: Haunt (2019)

Also known as: Halloween Haunt (Austria, Germany)
Release Date: August 7th, 2019 (Popcorn Frights Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Written by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Music by: Tomandandy
Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain

Beck Woods, Broken Road Productions, Nickel City Pictures, Momentum Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

Featured on a recent episode of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I didn’t expect much from this modern horror film. The recent Shudder originals and exclusives that I’ve encountered have been a mixed bag but mostly bad-to-mediocre.

This one surprised me, though, and it was a pretty fun experience that immediately made me think of Tobe Hooper’s great 1981 film, Funhouse. I found out after I had that thought, that this was actually inspired by it, as the film’s directors were fans of that picture.

Also, going into this, I didn’t realize that these directors were the same guys that produced and wrote John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. A film I mostly liked and also thought was much better than most modern horror offerings.

This film sees a group of teens go to a mysterious haunted house that appears to be some next level shit, as they have to give up their cellphones and sign a release form, which includes some worrisome rules like “Don’t touch the haunted house performers.” Maybe they should’ve asked for a safe word upfront.

Anyway, this goes exactly how you’d expect. The haunted house is actually a trap where the teens get murdered in horrifying ways making this picture one-part Saw and one-part slasher with the Funhouse aesthetic. It’s a really good mix and once you throw in some other weird surprises, this is just a good, fun, mindless horror film.

My only big complaint with the film was in regards to the editing. It was a bit quick and felt kind of disjointed. It made it hard to understand the layout of the haunted house. Maybe that was intentional, to make the viewer also feel lost within it but it’s not like it was an actual maze or anything, it was just a series of rooms and sections broke out into two different paths that eventually intersect again.

Other than that, the film looked good, I liked the antagonists and it definitely registered pretty high on the creep meter.

This is one of those things that could probably be spun into a moderately successful, low budget, horror franchise but unlike everything else these days, they should leave it alone and let it stand on its own merits, unaffected by increasingly shitty sequels and formula fatigue.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other more modern horror films but this is much better than most.

Film Review: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Also known as: Horror Party (Germany)
Release Date: March 28th, 1986
Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Danilo Bach
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neal, Leah King Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson

YCTM, Hometown Films, Paramount Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“[watching Kit and Rob through binoculars] Respectable young Quaker couple returning from a quiet afternoon of nonviolent sex.” – Chaz

I have never seen April Fool’s Day until now and that has a lot to do with the twist ending being spoiled for me at a young age by friends who were annoyed by it. While I have seen some clips and scenes over the years, this is my first time checking out the total package, as it was intended to be viewed.

Overall, this wasn’t bad but it’s really just a paint-by-numbers slasher flick with a unique ending.

If you’ve never seen the film and don’t want the ending spoiled, you might want to skip reading.

Anyway, the title sort of does give the ending away, as once we reach the climax of the film and the last two surviving teens are faced with the killer, it’s revealed that everything in the film was just a big, elaborate April Fool’s Day prank.

This upset a lot of people and others that weren’t as upset just wrote this off as dumb. I’m actually fine with it now that I’ve seen the movie, as it’s an original take on the genre, which was already exhausted to death by 1986, and because it was effective at being a decent slasher flick before the big reveal.

Plus, the ending makes it stand out in a sea of slasher clones and without it, no one would still talk about this film. While some said it killed the genre, that’s bullshit. Slashers kept being pumped out for years and in fact, they still exist today and often times have little resurgences even though Scream actually broke kayfabe on this subgenre of horror.

April Fool’s Day is a mediocre slasher movie but at least it tried something different. I get why altering the formula may be upsetting to some but it’s not like there aren’t about three-thousand other slasher pictures out there.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s slasher flicks.

Film Review: Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

Also known as: Death Mask (alternative international title), Halloween Night (US alternative title), The Damning (UK)
Release Date: March 25th, 1988 (UK)
Directed by: Jag Mundhra
Written by: Dave Eisenstark (as Burford Hauser), Carla Robinson
Music by: Greg Haggard (as Gregory T. Haggard)
Cast: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla B., Katina Garner

Spencer Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

This weird ass movie is a combination of being abysmally bad and kind of entertaining, when not mulled down by the really dull parts. The abysmally bad parts kind of win out, though.

Hack-O-Lantern is a Halloween-themed horror movie directed by an Indian guy that doesn’t seem to know much about Halloween. Also, he is relying on tropes and themes that were kind of played out by the time this was released. It’s like the guy watched Halloween nearly a decade earlier and said, “Let’s do that but crazy! Very, very crazy!”

The film is about an old grandpa that runs a Satanic cult while also featuring a slasher, who goes around killing teens. There’s also some weird rock and roll band subplot that sees music videos just kind of randomly appear out of nowhere. I guess it’s not even really a subplot. This is just an amalgamation of bonkers ass shit that makes little to no sense.

I only watched this because it was featured on The Last Drive-In. I can’t call it the worst movie featured on there, as it was at the very least, amusing in spite of its massive flaws.

I don’t think that I’ll ever watch this again or even recommend it but I didn’t hate it, so that’s something.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Halloween-themed horror movies.

Film Review: Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Also known as: Captive Women (Philippines title), Stab In the Dark (alternative title), Night Light (original script title)
Release Date: September 7th, 1990
Directed by: Sally Mattison
Written by: Catherine Cyran
Music by: Jamie Sheriff
Cast: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, M. K. Harris, David Greenlee, Hope Marie Carlton, Maria Ford

Concorde Pictures, 87 Minutes, 75 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“I don’t wanna play this game anymore!” – Ken

The original Slumber Party Massacre didn’t need a sequel, as it was incredibly derivative of the slasher genre and also re-used the neat killer concept from the movie Driller Killer.

However, the second film was very different and had more personality and cool rockabilly charm, setting it apart and making it a unique slasher flick experience.

This third movie, sadly, is just derivative of the derivative first film and lacks the musical flair and uniqueness of the second one.

This is cookie cutter shit at its worst that’s both highly predictable and doesn’t offer up anything new to the genre or even its own series.

Although, by 1990, the slasher genre was becoming passe and horror was trying to get smarter and more introspective. I wouldn’t say that slashers were dead but they had definitely been made in abundance over the course of the previous decade and to stand out, you really needed to do something different.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike this film. I just don’t have much love for it when there are dozens of better slasher flicks to watch and re-watch.

The characters are simple archetypes devoid of real personality and the mystery of who the killer is, is made quite obvious in the film’s opening. Sure, there’s a red herring but I even found that to be predictable as hell.

Being that this was produced by Roger Corman, it probably made money. So the fact that there wasn’t a fourth one is kind of interesting. But maybe Corman saw the writing on the wall and knew that this film was one too many in the Slumber Party Massacre series.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Slumber Party Massacre series, as well as other teen slasher flicks.

Film Review: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Also known as: Slumber Party Massacre: The Sequel (working title), Don’t Let Go (Germany), Massacre 2 (Brazil)
Release Date: October 16th, 1987
Directed by: Deborah Brock
Written by: Deborah Brock
Music by: Richard Cox
Cast: Crystal Bernard, Atanas Ilitch, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Patrick Lowe, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Jennifer Rhodes, Michael Delano

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 85 Minutes (Unrated version)

Review:

“Oh come on, baby. Light my fire!” – The Driller Killer

I dig this movie.

The thing is, it doesn’t need to make a lick of sense or even have a great story. This film features a driller killer that is some sort of singing rockabilly ghost and his objective here is to try and murder all the members of a girl band and their doofus love interests.

The film also stars a young Crystal Bernard before she would go on to greater stardom, as a core cast member of the long-running NBC sitcom Wings. She was also on the syndicated sitcom It’s A Living but I don’t think anyone, other than me, even remembers that show. But my mum made me watch it every weekend when it was on and I sort of liked it, back in the day. I was also crushing hard on Bernard because of that show.

I like that this film taps more into the realm of black comedy more than its predecessor, and while I think the original is a tad bit better, I like that this installment was more creative and lively. I love the singing rockabilly driller killer, as well as his tunes. I also love the girl band and all the female characters were fun and kind of cool in their roles, even if their characters didn’t require Oscar-caliber performances.

This film also ups the ante from the original, as it has more gore and some cool gross out moments. The big zit scene was well done and superbly executed for a film with a Roger Corman micro-budget. But this film, like so many from the realm of ’80s horror, just goes to show how great practical special effects can be over the easy-out of modern CGI.

Slumber Party Massacre II is hardly a classic but it’s still a fun romp with an energetic soundtrack, killer tunes and a much better than decent finale that exceeds the climax of its predecessor.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Slumber Party Massacre series, as well as other teen slasher flicks.

Film Review: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Also known as: Don’t Open the Door, The Overnight Massacre (working titles), The Slumber Party Murders (UK), Slumber Party (France), O Massacre (Brazil), Sleepless Nights (alternative title)
Release Date: September 10th, 1982 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Amy Holden Brown
Written by: Rita Mae Brown
Music by: Ralph Jones
Cast: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella

Santa Fe Productions, New World Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Y’know, I think your tits are getting bigger.” – Diane, “Mine?!” – various girls

Man, this is just about as bare bones as a slasher film can get. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, as this does stick pretty close to the core of what made these films great in their heyday. But on the flipside of that, this isn’t as great as the better offerings from this subgenre of horror.

I do like this film, though, as it gets down to the nitty gritty and doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to the gruesome point. Although, the version that I’ve seen over the years, cuts away before you get to see any real gore. Which is pretty weak, considering that the killer’s weapon of choice is a very large power drill.

The weapon isn’t all that original, as the more over-the-top and violent Driller Killer was released in 1979. But it’s certainly a better weapon that just having the guy use some big, generic knife. Also, the drill became the instrument of death in this film series and this is actually a better movie than Driller Killer.

I actually found the simplicity of this film to be refreshing, as many slasher movies get bogged down by trying to make you care about the teens and by trying to make a memorable monster with a cool look. This film just says, “Fuck it!” and gives you normal, kind of generic teens, as well as a killer that’s just some normal dude that escaped a mental hospital. And really, that’s all you need to know. Dude’s crazy, chicks are hot, crazy dude wants to kill hot chicks because he’s crazy.

In its simplicity, it actually works well for the characters because it kind of lets the actresses’ personalities come out, as they’re pretty much just versions of themselves. And with that, you strangely care about them more than them simply playing a trope.

In fact, there’s this part of you that feels bad when one of the heroines actually has to fight back and kill the driller creep because you don’t want them to end up permanently damaged from the ordeal. It’s weird how that worked but I felt legitimately sad that the girls had to go there when typically, in a slasher film, this is just accepted as part of the narrative.

The Slumber Party Massacre is a better film than it should be and that’s really what I like about it. As I’ve said, it’s bare bones but it is damn effective.

Being that this was put out by New World Pictures, also means that it could’ve just had that magical Roger Corman touch. Also, the films in this series are all written and directed by women and maybe that perspective made for a better final product in regards to the final girl formula.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as other ’80s slasher flicks.