Directed by Rick Jacobson
Premiering on Starz in October 2016
Over the years the San Diego Comic-Con has grown a reputation of being the nerd Mecca. Year after year, all manner of fans, freaks, and people that just want to see what all the fuss is about make the journey to beautiful, sunny San Diego to spend thousands and stand (or sleep) in lines.
As a native San Diegan, I’ve personally been going since I was 12. It’s incredible to see how the convention has grown. It really is as massive as the rumors say it is. The entire downtown transforms in a celebration of all things pop culture.
Comic-Con is more than just advertisements and overpriced parking. For all you can gripe about the crowds or recount the good ol’ days when it was all about comics, Comic-Con has rightfully earned its reputation. People pay hundreds to see the show floor because there is a great variety of unique stuff there. They sleep for days on the lawn because the panels are killer. They travel hundreds of miles and book hotels months in advice to be in a place where, for one weekend at least, they aren’t the weird one for dressing up and playing pretend.
And then there’s the reason I go, which is for the exclusives. Every year, names both big and small bring exclusive first looks at their new titles. Earlier this week, Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton had the chance to check out Blair Witch, which releases to general audiences September 16th. I’m a bit jealous, but for my part I got to check out something just as cool: “Ash vs. Evil Dead” Episode 2.01, slated to air in October. I greatly enjoyed the first season, and in my excitement to get to the room I almost got hit by a train. So, expectations were high.
Which is why I’m sad to say that while I enjoyed this first new episode of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” Season 2, I’m left feeling a bit empty. The episode picks up a year after Season 1 left off, with Ash (Bruce Campbell), Pablo (Ray Santiago), and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) all enjoying a life of leisure in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) realizes that The Necronomicon is too much for her. Team Ash is once again called back into action and must join up with Ruby to stop the Deadite menace that he kind of created.
Frankly, I don’t need a whole lot of plot to enjoy an Evil Dead vehicle. While you can praise the camera work, effects, and performances, no one is accusing these of being “heady.” The franchise works best when it establishes basic rules, some fun fluff, and then just lets itself run wild with it until all kinds of demons are floating around. I mean, hell, you’re SUPPOSED to kill a Deadite by chopping off its arms, legs, head, and burying it, but they kind of just wave their hand at that rule all the time. So when I say that this episode was kind of dumb, it’s not because I need it to be complicated or intelligent.
To understand why Season 2’s first episode didn’t work for me, you have to understand why Season 1 did. This show is inherently fan service, and fan service is great when it adds something to the franchise. What “Ash vs. Evil Dead” added was heart. In the previous three movies, the character of Ash was an ever building joke, going from frightened teen to a narcissist superhuman with a robot hand. I absolutely love The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness for exactly what each of those films are, and I love the series for being so wild and varied.
When “Ash vs. Evil Dead” came out, I loved it because it put Ash in a new position: the weird one. He’s still the same brash, cocky, oblivious Ash, but the world around him was played mostly straight. Pablo was a bit of a caricature, but his faith and adoration for Ash was a byproduct of him being different. Kelly, Amanda, Ruby, and the rest of the world reacted with the proper mix of “let’s get the job done” and “holy shit” to ground them in some sense of reality. When Ash was his normal self in, say, a random diner, the world would react with the same realistic level of confusion and rejection that any normal human would. It isn’t until the Deadites show up and you need Ash that you really appreciate him (or don’t because you’re too dead to care). I really loved this dynamic because it was a unique take on a hero. His selfish idiocy is an integral part to why he is the chosen one. No one else is that cocky or stupid, and that makes him the perfect candidate to destroy the ultimate evil.
In this first episode of Season 2, we get no sense of that balance at all. Kelly and Pablo are still with him being, respectively, Kelly and Pablo about things, but both are too wrapped up in their own issues to provide any kind of balance to Ash’s antics. When the scene first opens in a bar, we see Ash opening a keg with his chainsaw and shooting glasses out of the air to the cheers of a crowd. Afterwards, he’s immediately approached by a mother/daughter combo looking to schedule intimate appointments with his wiener. Cool, funny, Ash got his wish of a life of leisure in Jacksonville, no big deal. I can get behind seeing one of my favorite characters finally happy for once.
Unfortunately, once he leaves the town, everyone continues to act like extras in the “Ashley Williams Comedy Special.” We’re introduced to his father, played by Lee Majors, and we get to see where Ash got a lot of his bad habits. We also learn about about his home town and the untold repercussions of his experiences in the Evil Dead films. The problem is that everyone is set up like a caricature. From the bossy sheriff to the waitress who’s too good for this small town to the guy screaming at the bar, it’s all delivered with the same level of schlock that Ash does when he holds up a crayon drawing to serve as a police sketch. These moments are funny when played against a rational backdrop. When everyone is being stupid, it feels forced.
My big problem was with the tone and presentation, which unfortunately I can’t go over more of without spoiling anything. So let me take a moment to step back and say that I didn’t at all hate this episode. There’s way more than enough good stuff to make it fun. They go back to a lot of practical effects work this season, so watching the creative ways they make blood fly is always a treat. And shit, do they make the blood fly. As a Californian, I shudder to think how much water they used to spray all of that fake blood. The new monsters are really creepy, exuding both power and menace. They have the most noticeable CGI element, but it works very well for their design. As always, the performances are all top-notch, with Majors feeling like a new natural fit to the show.
I hope that Season 2 will be a load of fun, but from what I saw, it was just enjoyable. My fear is that, hot off of the success of the blood, gore, and cheese of Season 1, they will just try to ramp that shit up to 11. Let’s not forget that what makes all of that fun are the elements that ground us and make all of that seem so extreme. When shit flies off the rails, it’s because nothing was there to hold it down. Perhaps the euphoria of fan hype and the pure charm of Bruce Campbell can elevate media as we know it to a new plane where constant schlock is the new meta. As it was tonight, I didn’t see it.
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
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