Movie review: Becky

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For some, this movie will be hard to get past the casting of Kevin James as its lead villain, a man synonymous with lukewarm comedy, but given that fellow comedian, Simon Pegg had been initially touted the role for, one can start to see that the filmmakers never intended this film to be an out and out horror/thriller and would have their tongues firmly planted in the black comedy buccal. The fact that Community’s Joel McHale is also attached to the film only supports this notion further.

There are the subtle comparisons to Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left with its home invasion at the hands of some escaped convicts, but perhaps the better differentiation is that of Home Alone with the DIY skills wretched up to some gloriously gory and macabre moments.

The premise of the film rests solely on the darkly disturbing Becky, a character that relies on the strength of the performance from Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Annabelle: Creation, House On Haunted Hill), who’s calibre of movies alone should tell you that she’s no stranger to mayhem and dread. Wilson owns this film and appears to relish her turn as bratty, teenager with a broken heart, and flipping to ‘seriously don’t fuck with me’ menace. I’ll admit that I had my reservations, especially for a time when the film appeared balanced on her grief and pain from the loss of her mother. So easily it could have walked the path of predictability, but the killer switch comes from that ‘eye for an eye’ moment in the film when everything turns on its head and you believe her inner rage and turmoil as it is ejected to the surface. 

From there on in, you’re along for the ride and just want her anarchy to reign supreme.

The premise of the film has Becky going away with her estranged Dad (McHale) to her old family lake house retreat, only to be welcomed by her Dad’s fiance, Kayla (Amanda Brugel – Jason X) and her son, Ty. Let’s just say that Becky isn’t a fan of the suggested idea of a blended family, but that’s the least of her troubles when escaped prisoner and Neo-Nazi (as if to make James’ role more intimidating), Dominick and his crew come knocking for some hidden trophy.
There are some great moments towards the beginning of the movie where the captured images portray Lulu’s life in juxtaposition to the life of an inmate, suggesting her imprisonment from the world around her. It is this wall that she has placed around her to protect her or isolate her from everything that will be torn down, bit only in the wake of some devastating ordeal.

It’s the anarchic moments that truly lift this film from revenge flick doldrums however, as directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion amp up the special effects and bring home the gore, and with it unleashing Becky’s zealot for death and destruction, serving as an outlet for her inner rage. Peppered with Nima Fakhrara’s kicking score, these moments are a mix of camp and gross out horror, the pick of the bunch going to a certain outboard motor. 

The Prognosis:

Don’t necessarily judge the book from its cover.

Becky may appear to be your usual revenge home invasion flick but its pulse is beating pure mayhem and delight that will suit fans of gore.

Kevin James may not fit the bill as the film’s villain, but this is Lulu Wilson’s movie and she owns her titular role as the teenager on the brink of rage and turmoil.
When she is unleashed, there is no holding back.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Strange Case of Doctor Rx

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The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is a curious oddity indeed as Universal once again struggles to fire a hit outside of the ‘classic’ monster films that they had become synonymous with. Described as a B Movie murder mystery horror, this film crunches and clunks its way through numerous genre changes in gear that it never really hits its stride. Some elements lay sway to the screwball comedies of the era, but freezes more than sizzles with its dialogue. 

With Patric Knowles handed a top billing role (following his support performance in The Wolf Man) as Private Investigator Jerry Church, hired to investigate a series of murders by someone who labels himself as Rx. What is bizarre about the narrative is that it picks up after five murders have already occured which feels like a missed opportunity to build up the suspense.

Church is indeed a hot shot investigator who is at odds with his desire to do what he does best and settle down with his new wife Kit (one of the original scream queens Anne Gwynne). He is ultimately drawn into the mystery however as we too are struggling to comprehend what is actually going on. 

The comedy moments aren’t enough either to lift the audience out of the confusion and fall flat, coming across as befuddling rather than bemusing. 

By the film’s conclusion the script somehow manages to side step a suitable conclusion with Church placed in a dire situation without showing how he is able to escape his plight. It then wrangles a conclusion that is just as perplexing as its premise, leaving me to wonder what I had just watched.

It’s one silver screen lining is the red herring element with the great Lionel Atwill lurking mysteriously in the shadows (Man-Made Monster, The Mad Doctor of Market Street). If only his presence was felt more strongly throughout the movie. It’s absence of mystery is heavily felt and with more work on the screenplay, Universal could have had a very different film on the hands. Missed opportunity.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The New Mutants

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For a time it felt like this movie wasn’t ever going to materialise, shapeshifting more times than Mystique.
When news spread that director Josh Boone was intending to create Mutant horror film, this surgeon’s interests were piqued. Even with its YA moniker attached proved no obstacle for my expectations at the thought of a dark world to be explored. So it was with much disappointment that constant barriers were thrust in its way including the transition under the Disney umbrella with fears that it would soften the scare factor, the interest started to wane.
Despite this, I was still intent on seeing the final product, so when it finally surfaced this week, I propelled it to the top of my list and while it fell short in some areas, the end result is far from tragic with Boone serving up a decent film.

The concept follows Dani Moonstar (Psyche) played by Blu Hunt, a young Cheyenne girl whose village is attacked by an unknown entity. She awakens in a hospital under the guidance of Dr. Reyes, the only adult visible in the entire film. Joining Dani in the unit are a batch of young mutant misfits that promise to be a more credible group with super powers than The Dream Warriors could muster.
Making up the motley crew is Magik, a Russian with the power of teleportation, among other things, who serves as the needle in Dani’s back for most of the film and could seriously com across as two-dimensional, but thankfully Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch) manages to sharpen some further  points to her character adding much needed dexterity. 
Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things) is equally enjoyable on screen as Cannonball, a tortured soul with the power of jet propulsion. There are times that Heaton’s brooding presence appears to tap into James Dean’s aura with his performance, stealing the audience’s gaze with some subtle movements, which at times makes you wish he had more screen time.
Henry Zaga’s (Teen Wolf)  portrayal of Sunspot feels a little under cooked for a super hero who’s ability is to channel solar power, and as such feels the weaker of the group. If anything it’s Maisie Williams’ (Game of Thrones) performance of Wolfsbane, a mutant with lycanthrope abilities that outshines her counterparts with a beautiful blend of strength and vulnerability. She’s such a joy to watch and continues to deliver characters with so many layers and blends them with her own special touch.

All of this serves well for the narrative that forces this mismatched group together for a common cause when another unknown  entity appears to be attacking their weaknesses. It’s one nagging point for me however, is that by placing Dani as our central protagonist and surrounding her with mystery, she has very little to do other than to serve as our narrator until her ability is able to be unleashed.

The Prognosis:

With all the promise of a horror film tied into the Marvel universe, The New Mutants suffers under the shroud of its YA genre and fails to deliver anything truly fearful.

It does however, serve a semi-decent psychological movie, tapping into the mindset of troubled youths imprisoned in a world where they must discover themselves in order to survive.  

  • Saul Muerte

Podcast: Season 7 Ep 11: John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China

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The Surgeons team continue to dissect and discuss the movies of John Carpenter in our current season.

In this episode we scrutinise Big Trouble In Little China starring Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall, a film that didn’t pull the numbers at the Box Office but has since become a cult classic.

Listen to the episode and the thoughts of the Surgeons team below:

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Retrospective: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

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There’s a warm familiarity about Universal’s fourth Frankenstein instalment. Where other classic monster films have struggled to continue their respective story arcs, the Mary Shelley inspired creature horror manages to breathe new life into the story this far.

Serving as a companion piece to its predecessor, Son of Frankenstein,  the story follows the devious Ygor (Bela Lugosi reprising his role) who managed to survive alongside the creature and tries to exert his power once again.

Despite Karloff’s absence as the walking husk, Lon Chaney Jr steps into the big shoes and dons the bolts effectively. In particular the running theme with the creatures’ connection with a young village girl, Cloestine, a symbol of innocence and purity. In James Whale’s original Frankenstein, this is snuffed out, so the threat hangs in the air despite it coming from a genuine place of curiosity and the need to be like her.

Joining the main players is another strong ensemble with Cedric Hardwicke as Frankenstein’s descendant, Lionel Atwill as the misguided assistant Dr. Bohmer, Ralph Bellamy as the steadfast representative of the law Erik Ernst, and Evelyn Ankers as Elsa Frankenstein (whose name is a delightful nod to The Bride of Frankenstein’s Elsa Lancaster).

The drive in this film is a mixture of writing the wrongs and striving to better oneself. The creature longs to be accepted, Frankenstein sees the opportunity to clear his family name through a brain transplant using a suitable host: not a criminal mind, and Dr. Bohmer driven by the need to be recognised in his profession.

This is Lugosi’s show though and he relishes expanding on the character of Ygor wanting initially to strive away from his deformity but throughout the film transforming this gaze to one of power.

The screenplay written by W. Scott Darling weaves in some weaves in some typical tropes that is instantly recognisable from the franchise such as the lynch mob wielding torches that bookends the film and even places the shocking theme of gassing into the mix, a subject that would have had strong reactions at the time. This combined with the direction of Erie C. Kenton delivers another strong entry into the franchise and Universal Horror.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Relic (2020)

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There’s good reason that Relic has been closely associated with The Babadook, not just because it’s Australian genesis but also as it manages to expose one of humanities greatest fears from the perspective of a directorial feature debut.
Where The Babadook shone a light on grief, and how it can it can take hold of our sanity, Relic puts our response to dementia under scrutiny.

Natalie Erika James proves that she can handle the strong subject matter head on and guide highly esteemed actors Robyn Nevin (Edna) and Emily Mortimer (Kay) in a mother / daughter relationship that is already estranged but the chasm of time  exposes this further through Edna’s deteriorating condition.

Muddying the waters is this strange notion that all is not as it seems at the family abode, with a dark presence lurking in the shadows.
Rounding out the trio and providing a third  generation into the mix is granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote – cutting an impressive performance alongside her costars) who equally has distanced from her mother but holds a strong connection to her grandmother, willing to put a life which holds little meaning on hold to try and aid Edna’s needs, so that she doesn’t get sent to an elderly home.
Part of this films appeal definitely comes from the way the three relatives interact with one another, in some cases trust are brought to light, in others harbours away and kept from the audience as such family stories often do, but the depth of their emotional hardship is etched on the faces of the characters.
Again, a testament to the talent involved but also the strength of the script written by James and her cowriter Cristian White.
The film lures you into the mystery as Kay and Sam are called to Edna’s house when they hear of her disappearance.
It’s the crisis point that unites each relative together as they try to understand the unknown while finding themselves along the way. In order to do so however, they must face the demon head on and either vanquish or embrace it.

The Prognosis:

At its heart, Relic is a story of love and hope. When these are challenged, we’re left with hardships and invisible barriers preventing any chance of rehabilitation.
Dementia is such a harrowing experience for all involved and using horror as its genre of choice, James weaves together a story that delivers the turmoil not captured since Sarah Polley’s Away From Her.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)

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By 1942 Lionel Atwill had firmly established himself as a veteran of the silver screen and rightfully deserves top-billing in this horror / thriller from Universal Pictures.
He hits every note of the titular character in his stride with relative ease, both dialling up the mania and subtly downplaying the more reserved moments whilst still coming across as sinister in his mannerisms.
The narrative quickly shifts from science experiment gone awry when Atwill’s Dr. Benson inadvertently kills his subject when trying to resurrect the dead.
Think Flatliners but on a minimum scale.

Now a fugitive on the run, he goes in hiding on a ship to New Zealand. Unfortunately a police detective had also boarded the ship on a hunch that Benson is among its passengers.
This results in Benson resorting to drastic measures and pushing said detective overboard.
The drama doesn’t end there however, as somehow a fire erupts on the ship causing the passengers to abandon ship and our key players (including Benson) washing up on a remote island.
Once on the island the film starts to show its age, depicting the islanders as savages and easily manipulated by Benson’s medical knowledge when he resurrects one of the villagers from a supposed death (in reality, a stroke) with a potion (adrenaline). It’s a she because this depiction does jar when viewed with a modern lens and shifts the gaze away from the terror that is trying to be depicted.

It is then down to the survivors (all of whom are pretty formulaic) to try and outwit and expose Benson his true malicious  interests without putting their own lives on jeopardy.

The script does suffer from falling into predictable terrain and it could have amped up Benson’s maniacal moments to make his presence more terrifying, but hats off to director Joseph H Lewis for crafting together a fairly decent effort from a very low budget.
With a running time that’s just over the hour mark, The Mad Doctor of Market Street still amazed to entertain.

  • Saul Muerte