Home Video Round-Up 10/20/2021 (Halloween Edition)


If you research horror movies for long you eventually learn about the moral panic over “video nasties” that plagued the UK during the thatcher era when, for some reason, the idea that there were horror movies being distributed over VHS led the British public to think that society would collapse in on itself.  At the end of the day it wasn’t too different from the various panics over video games and rap music that occurred through the late 20th Century, but this one left a mark on a lot of influential horror fans and has now become the setting for a horror movie itself.  The film follows a rather uptight woman who works for the BBFC in the 80s and even among those ranks she’s considered a bit prudish and eager to ban various horror movies.  The film looks at one of the central ironies of the censor, namely that their job is to watch all the “filthy” things that they feel they need to protect the public from yet somehow think they themselves will be immune from whatever ill effects they think these movies will cause.  The film has this woman sort of being possessed by one of the movies she watches and its seeming connection to something from her past, then by the end she starts to be the one who loses perspective of fact and fiction and kind of ends up being the only one actually harmed by any of these movies.  So there are definitely some cool ideas here but I’m not sure the execution was everything I was hoping for.  The film’s budget seems to be a bit short of its ambitions and I also feel like even at a very short 84 minute runtime it still feels a bit padded.  Also the appeal of this thing is going to be kind of limited.  I’m enough of a horror nerd to know what a “video nasty” is but I doubt many other people outside the UK or under forty will.  I’d like to see what the director does in the future but I don’t think this one quite made it.
**1/2 out of Five 

Blood Red Sky (10/4/2021)

Blood Red Sky is a film that gets a “A” for high concept selection and maybe a “C” for execution.  It’s a German film (though a majority of its dialogue is in English) primarily set on an ill-fated airline flight which is hijacked by European terrorists for unclear reasons, but little do these hijackers know that one of the passengers is secretly a vampire.  So from there it kind of becomes “Die Hard on a plane,” but with a lady vampire acting as the John McClane.  The lady vampire in question is not an evil vampire, she was turned against her will previously and hates what she’s become but must manage in order to raise her son but must let her more feral side go wild in order to fight back these terrorists.  It’s not really a horror movie despite playing around with horror iconography but I’m not sure I’d quite call it an action movie either.  I guess just straight up “thriller” might be the best way to describe it.  That said the movie is perhaps a bit slavish to that Die Hard formula in a bad way too, including tropes like the “asshole hostage who tries to deal with the terrorists” or its complete disinterest in the bad guy’s motivations despite those seeming kinda relevant given that this is a post-9/11 film about a plane hijacking.  I like the moxie of this thing but I didn’t necessarily come away from it thinking that director Peter Thorwarth was a great new talent as these action scenes rarely really excelled in practice and there are some not great performances here as well as a somewhat misbegotten structure involving a framing story and a finale that diverges from what the film did best.  The movie is maybe worth a look if the premise sounds intriguing but this wasn’t the next great vampire movie I was hoping it might be.
*** out of Five

Werewolves Within (10/10/2021)

The horror comedy Werewolves Within is technically based on a videogame, albeit a not very popular one which I am not too familiar with.  It’s apparently a VR game which is itself rooted on the popular hidden roles party game “Werewolf” and I can kind of see some of the same paranoia I associate with that little gaming phenomenon but otherwise I don’t think this feels much like a videogame at all.  The film is set in a small wooded town in the winter where a new forest ranger played by Sam Richardson has just arrived only to find the town tearing itself apart over a proposed oil pipeline and at each other’s throats, a situation made much worse when it’s discovered that one townsperson has been killed and it looks like a werewolf may have been responsible.  What follows is a quirky little movie about the hidden secrets and resentments hidden in small town life and something of a “And Then There Were None” style storyline about people in a small place picking each other off.  That’s a cool premise but I’m not entirely sure the film lives up to its potential.  I liked the film’s cast, particularly Richardson and Milana Vayntrub, but the film maybe lacked a really commanding improvisational comedy backbone to really keep the laughs flowing.  Also, if you’re going to make a horror comedy involving werewolves you’re going to invoke An American Werewolf in London in the minds of most audience members… and this is no An American Werewolf in London.  Overall the film is a decent enough genre diversion but one whose accomplishments are rather limited.
*** out of Five

Willy’s Wonderland (10/16/2021)

So, it’s recently come to my attention that much as there are people who find clowns to be frightening rather than amusing there are also apparently people who have some primal childhood memory of that animatronic band from Chuck-E-Cheese being scary as hell.  This was the idea behind a popular video game called “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and it’s also the idea behind the film Willy’s Wonderland which follows a guy played by Nicholas Cage as he attempts to survive a night locked into an abandoned off-brand Chuck-E-Cheese type place where similar animatronics have come to life to try to kill people.  That is certainly a unique premise and one that could be fun but I think this movie botches the execution pretty badly.  Watching the film I assumed given the general amateurishness of aspects of the film that director Kevin Lewis was a first time filmmaker but he actually has six feature length movies under his belt over the course of twenty years, all of which appear to be direct-to-DVD dreck with one of them appearing to be straight-up softcore porn and that scans with the level of filmmaking we get here.  It was the work of a first time writer however and I don’t think this guy is quite ready for primetime as some of the dialogue here is absolutely dreadful and all the characters are just ridiculous stereotypes.  The film’s visual style isn’t completely incompetent and some of the animatronic monsters are kind of interestingly designed in their way but ultimately this premise just derived a far more inventive filmmaking team than it was given and the whole thing just reeks of people trying to reverse engineer a cult film rather than letting one emerge organically.
*1/2 out of Five

In the Earth (10/20/2021)

Ben Wheatley is a filmmaker I think I should like more than I do.  He’s clearly a very adventurous and prolific filmmaker who makes movies that are really “going for it.”  However, I often finds he marries his visions to character that are hard to relate to or be interested by and all too often you just don’t care enough to try to parse through the vision on display.  His latest film, In the Earth, is a pretty good example of my mixed feelings about his work.  The film was shot last summer, so this is a pandemic era work, and that informs the set-up in which someone is going to the countryside to escape a fictional disease but once things get going that theme falls to the wayside and was likely not an element of the original screenplay.  What does follow feels a bit like a modern companion piece to Wheatley’s A Field in England, which has a similar setup in which a standoff in an outdoor area becomes increasingly surreal and trippy.  The movie tantalizes with some talk of runes and whatnot but you never really get onboard with the film’s protagonist to begin with and the story becomes increasingly strange and hard to follow as the film goes on.  The filmmaking itself does become very tantalizing as Wheatley starts using some really aggressive lighting and montage editing techniques that make the film feel like Annihilation by way of Stan Brakhage but I was pretty in the dark as to what any of it meant or was supposed to mean.  Maybe I didn’t quite give this one my due, but I kind of end up feeling like that coming out of a lot of Ben Wheatley movies to the point where I’m increasingly less willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Still there’s too much intriguing filmmaking here to completely ignore.
**1/2 out of Five

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