Starring Tyler Posey, Crystal Reed, Dylan O’Brien, Tyler Hoechlin, Holland Roden, Colton Haynes
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Created by MTV Networks and MGM
I want to preface my review for the upcoming TV series adaptation of the classic comedy Teen Wolf by saying I had absolutely zero faith in this project going into the premiere episode. As a child of the 80s (and a horror remake cynic), the original film starring Michael J. Fox was an integral part of my 1985 summer (actually, Fox was a pretty huge childhood crush of mine for a few years growing up) so I wasn’t completely sold on the idea this was a concept that needed a remake or needed to be adapted into a television series either. That was, until I saw the premiere episode recently and my opinions on this series were almost completely reversed.
In MTV’s “Teen Wolf” we get introduced to Scott McCall (Posey), an average teenager growing up in suburban Northern California struggling with the usual issues- he’s a benchwarming lacrosse player suffering with asthma, he’s got very little ‘game’ with the ladies and his only true friend is the wise-cracking Stiles (O’Brien) … until one night when Scott and Stiles go to investigate reports of a mangled body in the woods and he gets separated from Stiles. Scott suddenly finds himself face to face with a deadly wolf who takes a bite out of the tasty teen before he can get away.
The next day Scott starts to realize he’s going through some very unexpected changes- suddenly, he no longer needs his inhaler to function, his senses are becoming refined to the point where he can hear conversations that no ordinary person could possibly hear and he magically transforms into a lacrosse-playing machine much to the chagrin of team captain Jackson (Haynes), who realizes his status as alpha male on the team is in jeopardy. He can’t possibly begin to understand what’s happening to him, but Stiles has the idea that Scott wasn’t bitten by an ordinary wolf and instead was bitten by a werewolf, and when the full moon rises, Scott will transform into a creature himself that will need to satiate his new thirst for flesh. Even though he can’t explain his heightened abilities, he dismisses Stiles’ theory as a joke … that is, until all the weirdness starts to set in.
Beyond needing to comprehend the unexpected changes he’s facing, Scott is also dealing with some complications in the romance department- new girl Allison (Reed) has just moved into town and seems to dig on the usually awkward teen, which would generally be a good thing. But when the young lovers set up their first date for a house party that unfortunately coincides with the first full moon since he was attacked, Scott has to make a hasty retreat home when he starts to realize that he’s unable to control what’s brewing deep inside, which leaves Allison both pissed and frustrated.
To go any further in breaking down the story would ruin the fun of the first episode because there are a lot of subplots to chew on that involve werewolf hunters and the mysterious Derek Hale (Hoechlin), whose mysterious lineage has become urban legend fodder for the locals.
On the surface “Teen Wolf” is a pretty standard tweener offering from MTV, but what saves the show (or at least the first episode) is the talent at the helm that keep it from feeling like it’s a Twilight style upgrade of the original Teen Wolf. Executive producer Jeff Davis (who also created the highly successful “Criminal Minds”) developed and wrote the scripts for the “Teen Wolf” television series and definitely takes some calculated risks with his “remix” of the classic film. For one, there are no characters called Boof, basketball is out and lacrosse is in (which actually works to Scott’s favor as he struggles to keep his new ‘affliction’ hidden from everyone around him so wearing a mask is a plus for his character) and there are no van-riding shenanigans this time around either. The tone in “Teen Wolf” is a far more serious approach to the struggles of being a teenage werewolf than its source material, and for me this tone change works.
Sure, I loved the hilarity of Scott’s werewolf dance in the original, and who could forget Stiles penchant for oddly colored jeans, but this “Teen Wolf” takes a more realistic approach- werewolves are dangerous creatures and they need to feed so when the full moon hits, humans better beware or stock up on silver bullets because these werewolves aren’t cute and cuddly basketball players that all the ladies find irresistible this time around.
Featuring an entire cast made up of fresh faces, I found the talent assembled for “Teen Wolf” likable and engaging. Posey, as the series lead, has a lot riding on his shoulders, and but he proves he’s got the chops for the role of Scott. I also found a lot to like about the mystery surrounding both Allison’s and Derek’s characters and am pretty intrigued to see where their characters go as well (again, if I say any more, I run the risk of ruining my ‘no spoilers’ rule for reviews).
At the helm of this episode of “Teen Wolf” is director Russell Mulcahy. It may surprise some to find out that Mulcahy, who is known to genre fans all over from his body of work that includes “Tales from the Crypt,” Highlander and Resident Evil: Extinction, was actually a renowned music video director during the heyday of the MTV network and was responsible from some of the most mind-blowing music videos that came out of that era, including (ironically enough) “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. Here Mulcahy demonstrates his ability to give audiences layered storytelling that deftly manages to keep a solid balance between “Teen Wolf”’s funny moments and scares alike. There are a few lagging moments in the premiere episode, but they’re so minor that they didn’t weighed down the story at all.
My only real issue with “Teen Wolf” was the use of a CGI werewolf throughout the premiere that made me cringe every time I saw it come into frame. I understand that budget constraints would mean there was the need for a CGI creature (wolf suits alone are insanely expensive, and then you have to pay a dude to get into the suit, which adds a lot to any budget), but when you’ve got a company like KNB handling all your practical effects, bad CGI feels like a slap in the face to anyone who can tell the difference.
Overall will the new “Teen Wolf” series be for everyone? Absolutely not. There will be a lot of purists out there who will dismiss the series just based on the fact that a beloved classic is being remade or because the marketing push for “Teen Wolf” that MTV has unleashed so far (which I concur is pretty weak marketing if you’re looking to reach actual horror fans) hearkens to something for the “Twi-hards” out there, and those are all valid responses. But for those who are willing to give the series a chance, you’ll most likely end up pleasantly surprised like I was at just how enjoyable this new “Teen Wolf” truly is.
3 1/2 out of 5
Discuss MTV’s “Teen Wolf” in the space below!
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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