Starring Vincent Ventresca, William Forsythe, Rachel Hunter, and David Selby
Directed by Tim Cox
Written by the Generitron Automated Screenwriting Program
I wanted to like this movie. I really did. But I didn’t and know exactly why I didn’t. Larva is as generic a b-movie as I’ve ever seen. Every single aspect of this movie has been preprogrammed to the point of tedium. It follows every single cliché without skipping a beat or bothering to introduce something new or at the very least imaginative to the scenario. The set-up for the premise is pretty much where the creativity ceased.
Vincent Ventresca is the new veterinarian in the laidback farming community of Host, Missouri. The backbone of Host’s economy is raising cattle for the local meat-processing conglomerate Host Tender Meats. The company is currently testing a new experimental feed on the local livestock that’s designed to make their meat healthier for consumption. Local cattleman William Forsythe calls the vet out to his farm to check on a few of his cows that are behaving strangely. Soon he uncovers a strange mutant parasite inside the cows that have been eating the experimental feed. His attempt to warn the farming community is thwarted by the evil corporate honcho of Host Tender Meats and his legal council, the terribly miscast Rachel Hunter, who looks like she must have graduated from Harvard Law & Beauty College.
Still determined, the new vet and the local cattleman team up to produce conclusive proof that the experimental feed is causing the mutation and soon large, winged, blood-sucking creatures begin erupting from both the cattle and the human hosts that have consumed some of the new genetically altered meat.
All the while, the corporate evildoer attempts to cover his tracks and enlists the local sheriff to help run interference on his behalf, primarily by completely dismissing seemingly hundreds of phone calls from the townsfolk about mysterious flying creatures on the rampage as being just a pile of cow manure.
Folks, let’s go over the checklist of clichés real quick.
Lead character uncovers that something strange is going on and sets out to save the day. CHECK!
Lead character has his credibility questioned by the bad guys. CHECK!
Only person that believes lead character is the town crank. CHECK!
Bad guy attempts to cover his tracks before anyone discovers he’s at fault. CHECK!
Person working for the bad guy realizes the truth and helps the lead character save the day. CHECK!
The creatures spawn by gestating inside of someone or something before erupting from their body cavity. CHECK!
Young couple falls victims in the midst of a potential sex scene. CHECK!
Law enforcement character is in the pocket of the bad guy and aids him in covering up the problem. CHECK!
Law enforcement character aiding the bad guy in covering up the problem has lead character arrested on trumped up charges in order to prevent him from further investigation. CHECK!
Henchman for the bad guy has a change of heart and eventually dies in the course of helping to save the day. CHECK!
Bad guy killed by his own monstrous creation. CHECK!
Trap set to lure all the monsters to one place and blow them to kingdom come. CHECK!
I’ll just stop there since I’ve already covered the main plot clichés and, take my word for it, there are many more on display here. In fact, the movie is so formulaic that just about everything happens right on cue except for a few scenes that almost happen at random just because the formula requires that they take place somewhere along the way.
Alas, Larva is yet another movie written by the Generitron Automated Screenwriting Program (G.A.S.P.). Most in Hollywood would have you believe that G.A.S.P. is nothing more than an urban legend, but in reality it exists as Hollywood’s dirty secret. It’s rumored that G.A.S.P. was commissioned by some major Hollywood producers back in the 80’s in order to eliminate the human element from screenwriting and simply make things more convenient for them to produce movies using tried and true formulas. Producers would come up with an idea, feed it into the program, and out pops a freshly written script using the most basic film formula that most closely fits the concept inserted. Sometimes producers would take the pregenerated script and give it to an actual script doctor to punch it up by adding some snappy dialogue or visual pizzazz. This would also give them a name to credit the screenplay to in order to help maintain the secret of G.A.S.P.’s existence. In the case of Larva, it seems they just went ahead and produced the movie just as G.A.S.P. wrote it.
Like I said a moment ago, I really wanted to like this movie. I loved the concept of genetically altered meat producing killer parasitic creatures that terrorize a farming community. That scenario had the potential for a great amount of Critters style fun and even some social commentary. Larva fails to capitalize on any of it. To call this movie “by the numbers” or “run of the mill” doesn’t do justice to just how formulaic it is.
Making a movie this predictable would be acceptable if not for the complete lack of suspense or energy. There’s no spark to this material and there’s really nothing the director is able to do give it life. Since there is no suspense and no sense of fun things just become dull. You can already figure out every single thing that is going happen well in advance.
Even the music score is telegraphed so that you know exactly what’s about to happen. The music is starting to ominously swell up as he reaches out into the murky water for that hat. I wonder if that means something bad is about to happen to him? Hmmm…
The characters themselves are all devoid of any actual personality unless you count accents, and I don’t. They exist solely to fill the role required of them in the movie. While the acting is perfectly fine, I kind of got the impression that most of the actors realized they weren’t really playing characters but just filling in roles.
The only thing unpredictable about the movie is the pacing, as it will be moving along for awhile and then suddenly it will just slow to a crawl before picking back up again. One scene in particular with Ventresca and Forsythe roaming around the bottom floor of a hospital searching for one of the creatures feels as if it goes on forever.
Even the film’s title is generic and unless I missed it I don’t recall the word “larva” ever being uttered once in the entire movie. They use the word “parasite” a lot. You got people and animals being infected with parasites and bat-like horseshoe crab creatures bursting out of them throughout the movie but never once did I hear the film’s title spoken.
There is one clever scene I do give them credit for. You see a shot of tree branch set against the backdrop of the moon. One of the creatures is shown crawling along the branch followed by the hooting of an owl. The creature pounces, you hear the owl screech in mid-hoot, and feathers go flying from off-camera. This movie needed a whole lot more of that.
And there was something unintentionally funny watching a flick with this premise and seeing the Sci-Fi Channel announce that Kentucky Fried Chicken was sponsoring the movie. If only it had been a steak place then it truly would have been comedic gold.
One more thing worth noting, I have absolutely no idea what the heck was the point of including the Rachel Hunter character other than to give the film a female presence. Her character has absolutely no purpose whatsoever. She never ends up in peril, she never has a big confrontation scene with her boss, she really doesn’t act as a whistle blower against her boss, and most shocking of all, she’s not doesn’t even become the lead’s love interest. So why is she in this movie? I guess that qualifies as the film’s one deviation from the formula. Guess G.A.S.P. must have hiccupped on that one?
Larva plays out like somebody combined Alien with Bats but jettisoned the suspense of the former and kept much of the blandness of the latter. I suppose it’s watchable if you have nothing better to do. I suspect most people just won’t have the patience to sit through it once it becomes obvious to them that the movie is just going through the motions. There really is no excuse for this movie to not be if nothing else, lively. I mean it’s a monster movie about killer parasites in a town called Host. For crying out loud, use some freakin’ imagination already! This is the kind of film that a company like New World Pictures or New Line Cinema would have had a blast with back in the 1980’s. We could use a little more of that b-movie joy here in the 21st century.
1 1/2 out of 5
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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!
Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon
Directed by Adrian Corona
I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.
Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.
Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.
Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.
If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review: A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form
Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes
Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace
“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.
That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.
Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?
At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play
second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?
These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.
Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?
It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.
If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.
The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.
The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.
The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.
Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.
The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.
While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.
Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.
The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.
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