Monthly Archives: March 2022

Truth or Dare (2017)

IMDb says the version of Truth or Dare I just watched was a TV movie. And now that I’m thinking about it, like, maybe it was? Most of the violence was reactions or cutaway, and I honestly do not remember the language levels, though also I’m not sure if made for cable counts as what they consider “TV movies”. There are just a lot of layers here.

And then, on top of that, the Happy Death Day people did a remake the next year that was theatrical. Man, why didn’t I just see that one instead?

Anyway, this implies that I was unhappy with the truths and/or dares that the movie provided. And, nah, it was fine. Maybe a little too deep in the gross-out mutilation angles, but…. it’s like, I can imagine this having turned into a franchise the way Final Destination did. A bunch of college kids rather than high school kids, but either way: they’ve gotten mixed up in something outside their control, and now they have to find a way to survive something that very much wants them not to. We’ve seen it dozens of times before, but have we seen it with people who immediately rule out anything sexy in a goldurn game of truth or dare[1], can’t figure out how to rob a gas station, and accidentally miscount the number of body parts they have to sever?

I think we perhaps have not.

[1] If there’s anything that makes me dislike the movie, this was it. Either play the game or don’t, but, come on.


I was recently discussing how the horror movie as a genre nearly died between the mid-’80s and -’90s.

So, anyway, I just watched Hellmaster, released in 1992, only the cut I watched was dated 1990 and named Them, which imdb shows as a working title for the movie. There is an implication, therefore, that perhaps edits and reshoots were done between the version I watched and the version that was released to the public. Never having heard of the movie before, I couldn’t begin to guess.

Anyway, there’s this college, the Kant Institute of Technology, which purports to have a very high rate of graduates in the FBI and CIA, but at the start of the movie, the whole college is gathered in a normal-sized auditorium for the dean to take over teaching for a week, only there are maybe 30 students total. Also, the college only has one building, and it’s laid out like an old mental hospital[1].

I’m not sure if any of that is particularly relevant, but what does seem to matter is that a whole bunch of killers with crosses carved into their foreheads (among other things, in some cases, a la the video cover) are coming to kill the students for reasons that entirely eluded me. Also, John Saxon[2] has a three-pronged injector that he waves around menacingly in the midst of philosophical debates with the dean and some guy from six months ago (aka the prologue) who is bitter over losing his wife into the cross-head brigade and also I guess the surviving students at times?

I have rarely if ever had so little idea what just happened in a movie.

[1] Which, okay, is what it was, my accidental research has informed me. It’s possible I would not have appended “mental” if I hadn’t seen it in print, but it for sure looked like a weird old hospital, not a university building. Those, you see, are generally symmetrical.
[2] You’d know him if you saw him, assuming you’ve seen any significant number of ’70s and ’80s B-movies.

Dexter’s Final Cut

A really long time ago, when I bought Dexter’s Final Cut (at Half-Price books per uzh, back when I went book shopping just for fun, since I hadn’t yet bought all the Deathlands books and also there wasn’t a multi-year global pandemic yet[1]), I remember thinking that it was, you know, the last book. There’s a clear implication! Later, there was one more book which had an even more final title, and a new one hasn’t happened since then, so I accept.

Anyway, those two books, the only ones of the series I bought in hardback, have been staring at me for many years now, and I finally thought to myself, self, start finishing your serieses that are sitting on your to-read shelf. Like, take advantage of the lack of making it get bigger to make it get smaller! And that seemed like pretty good advice, so I grabbed it after all those years, and I read it, and haha it’s actually a pun on him being attached as advisor to a new cop show being filmed in Miami. Characters include the really annoying popular actor, the salty comedian who hide darkness behind his jokes[2], the impossibly, ethereally beautiful actress who is nevertheless just a smidge past her Hollywood prime, oh, and the serial killer who has been stalking her for months.

The intersection of Dexter with these new characters went in a very different way than I expected, and in fact some latent humanity that has never before been present was awakened, and under other circumstances I think I’d very much want to talk about these things in a spoilery fashion, because they made a lot of sense despite being unexpected, and that kind of emergent character development is of great interest to me. (Plus I’d get to riff again on how he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, aspects of which make the series a lot more comedic than I’d have guessed it would be, back on day one.)

But instead I’m just sad, because while pulling up the link on Amazon, I saw an unfamiliar title, and goddammit, I skipped a book. So I’ve just read the next to last book in the series, which ended on a pretty badass cliffhanger to boot, and… I need to go read book six instead.

Ugh. This has never happened to me before, I swear. (…except for the time I read Wishsong of Shannara not realizing it was the third book in a trilogy, but I was like 12 then.)

To recap: ugh.

[1] One of these is no longer true, and the other one is sort of semi-over, except for, you know, small children (of which I have like one and a half) who are not presently capable of immunization.
[2] You know, like every comedian. Also, he wasn’t very funny? Which I blame on the author, who is good at situational humor but not good at spoken humor. (Or maybe the comedian wasn’t supposed to be funny? But the remainder of the text doesn’t bear out that reading.)

Random Acts of Violence (2019)

Imagine, if you will, that you make comics. Specifically, that you make horror comics based on a true life serial killer who for a period of time wandered an interstate corridor, and who was never caught. Imagine that your comics are wildly popular, and that you are nearing the end of your run. Imagine that as a publicity stunt you are making your way down that interstate, doing radio shows and convention signings and whatnot, to drum up interest for your big finish.

Imagine that suddenly people are being killed again along that interstate, based on images in your comic.

Random Acts of Violence tried a little too hard to be some kind of high-minded treatise on the line between art and violence porn, as though its creators felt guilty about their creation, even as they followed whatever compulsion it is that causes people to make a movie.

Which is a pity, because as a hook for a slasher movie, you would have a hard time finding an easier way to draw me in than with the comics motif. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone go this way before, and a unique take on horror is like breaking a record in baseball; even if it’s vanishingly specific, it’s still hard to actually accomplish.

Scream (2022)

Once upon a time, the horror movie flourished across the land. It was a magical decade called the 1970s. Chainsaws, flamethrowers, butcher knives, axes, gas masks… anything you wanted, as long as it resulted in dead teenagers, it was fair game. But then: disaster! The drive-ins closed, for some reason, and there was no longer a place for the horror movie to exist. Or was there?!

And then, in one of nature’s cruelest ironies, the horror movie discovered the VCR. Because, what you’d think is: hey, a way to survive! But what actually happened was, there were millions of VCRs, instead of thousands of drive-ins, and everyone knows that capitalists abhor a vacuum. Which meant, so many horror movies got made. And they were…. not good. I mean, of course some of them were, but by and large, they weren’t.

By the mid ’90s, the horror movie tottered on the edge of extinction. But then, something incredible happened. Scream was a post-modern, snarky, thoroughly Gen-X deconstruction of the past two decades of horror movies. But not only did it make fun of everything around, including itself, it simultaneously brought back the mystery part, and it did it extremely well. Who was the killer? Was it even possible to figure it out? It wasn’t, but best of all, not because the movie cheated. It was impossible because it was playing by a new set of rules that nobody had ever heard of. And suddenly, it was okay to like horror again. Which meant it was okay to make horror again. Mostly not big budget multiplex horror, as the studios were still feeling burned by the crash, but small screen, curated, indie horror? Easy to find, and even better, easy to find stuff that was well made[1] and that was penned by people who understood the way the genre was supposed to work.

None of this is a review of Scream, which somehow managed to have the same title as its 25 years earlier predecessor (and, in true Scream fashion, made fun of itself for doing so). But it also put a name to something I was just discussing here, about the trend of bringing horror movies back to their original roots, even after multiple sequels or remakes have been made: this was a requel, which is to say, a reboot that is also a sequel. You have the original characters, but you also have a bunch of new characters, and you have the same title, and you’re basically making the same movie you made 25, or 40, or 45 years ago.

And that’s the deal. As Koz put it: if you liked the original movie for its metacommentary on the horror movie, and if you are okay with requels, this thing is pretty much A+ primo. Even though Wes Craven has shuffled off, and was well memorialized here, the people who are still around still know what a Scream movie is and what it should be doing.

Also: this is the first and probably only movie I’ve seen that went out of its way to make fun of the people who hated Star Wars Episode 8. (I don’t mean the people who quibbled with its runaway sharp divergences from the previous movie even though it was nominally part of a trilogy, I mean the people who hated it. You know, because all their heroes were no longer perfect and they maybe should have been listening to the ladies instead of being dumb luck Star Wars heroes. Those people.) The fun-making was well-deserved, and will probably not be noticed by anyone who should, and would not be listened to if they did. But I quietly snickered to myself.

[1] I’m being unfair to the ’70s, here. Because plenty of horror in the ’70s was shoddily made at best. But it always had heart, it was made by people who were living out their dreams. What came later was a nonstop cash-in, and it showed.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Somebody[1] watched Halloween (the recent one, not the first one) and thought to themselves, hey, if they can bring back Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, I can bring back Sally and Leatherface.

You know, I could nearly have stopped the review right there?

So there are these Austin[2] hipsters with far more money than anyone should have at the age when they could be aptly described as hipsters, who have decided to buy up all the main street property in a tiny town that happens to be where a certain massacre occurred in the early ’70s, a massacre with one survivor, a massacre that has never been solved, a massacre that at least tangentially included a chainsaw.

You know the one.

Since Austin hipsters are the new Austin college kids, you can of course imagine that this is going to be very triggering for that one fellow who never got caught, and him being triggered is going to be very triggering for the survivor I mentioned. And from there, well, I think the script to Texas Chainsaw Massacre writes itself, you know?

I guess the main thing is, all these psycho killers are getting way too old to a) still be psycho killers and especially b) shrug off that many gunshot wounds. Your Jasons and your Freddies are explicitly supernatural, so they get a pass, but these guys? I’m not sure I buy it. Plus, there was something a little bit wrong about bringing back Sally, but not as Marilyn Burns, may she rest in peace.

I wonder if Tobe Hooper would have signed off on this.

[1] and by “somebody”, I mean Kim Henkel
[2] Or maybe somewhere else? It’s weird to have someone talk about it being a 7 hour drive to somewhere near Austin, but also they are big city folks with their big city ways, because Austin is either much closer to or much farther from anywhere that could be described as a big city. But if they meant 7 hours from Austin, I simultaneously salute their understanding of Texas while rolling my eyes at their conception of where the original Chainsaw happened. No matter how I look at it, you can tell I’m overthinking things.

Nightmare Cinema

Framing device for a horror movie compilation: people walking by a Bijou-style single screen theater see that the movie showing on the marquee stars themselves, so they wander in and watch it. Also, Mickey Rourke is there running the projection booth and being super judgy to the people who have come in. Later, they individually watch their movies (inverted teen slasher, I see dead people, demonic possession, another one I can’t really describe well[1], and one I forgot entirely except I had more time to think during the footnote, and it was body horror I guess?) while Mickey Rourke gets more judgy, and then at the end, he’s not judgy about someone, for reasons that eluded me.

Nightmare Cinema was a mixed-results but mostly entertaining compilation, though as you can see the framing device was basically terrible. Oh, well.

[1] Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the best of the bunch.