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Monster Trucks (2017)

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Starring Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley, Amy Ryan

Directed by Chris Wedge


Roger Corman meets Hal Needham’s The Cthuhlus of Hazzard was all I was hoping for from Monster Trucks. One hundred five excruciatingly dull minutes later, I fully understood why this clunker had been sitting on a shelf for over two years, why Paramount went ahead and jotted down an anticipated $110 million loss on the film all the way back in September, and why maybe, just maybe, studio execs probably shouldn’t turn to their four-year-old children to help develop their next big budget blockbuster.

Believe me when I tell you it mostly pains me to write this review because I was actually looking forward to Monster Trucks. In this age when seemingly every big budget genre movie is either a sequel, prequel, remake, reboot, or an adaptation of a comic book or television show, a movie with an original premise, even more so a premise so off-the-wall as a teenager bonding with a subterranean squid creature that powers his rickety old Jeepers Creepers truck, I really wanted something so fresh and wacky to succeed.

So many people have scoffed at the very premise of Monster Trucks; yet, the concept isn’t the problem. How poorly executed that concept is; how thoroughly uninteresting, and in many instances, pointless most of the characters are, especially the monsters; how flat the humor is; how shockingly lethargic and unimaginative the numerous chase scenes are: Those are the biggest failures of this utterly charmless kiddy car-themed creature feature that never gets out of first gear. Little kids deserve monster movies in their life appropriate for them, and they deserve better than this.

I recognize as an adult I am really not the target audience for this film. I still suspect even six-year-old me wouldn’t have been too impressed with “Creech” or his monster truckin’ shenanigans. I couldn’t judge the reaction of other children in the theater since I was the only person in attendance. Believe me; I was tempted to empty the place out.

I think back to last year watching Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, aka the highest grossing movie in Chinese history. It was absolute nonsense, yet was so visually imaginative, so enthusiastically loony, so unpredictably bug-nuts, it turned out to be a lot of ton of fun; and Chow did it for a fraction of Monster Trucks bloated $125 million budget. The most inventive visuals in this movie would still probably end up on the cutting room floor of a Fast & Furious or Pixar’s Cars sequel. If you’ve watched the trailer for Monster Trucks, you’ve pretty much seen all the highlights.

Set in the oil boom state of North Dakota – at least it was when they began filming three years ago, a sinister oil company (because there’s no such thing as a non-sinister oil company in the movies) drills down into an underground lake with no regard for the possibility of endangering the lives of any living creatures that may reside within it… or any concern that any living creatures within might prove a danger to them. One way or another, the oil people haven’t seen enough movies, particularly the E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial or The Descent wannabes to know how this works.

Three squid-like creatures that look like tadpole versions of the final form of the Deep Rising octo-monster jet to the surface. Two are captured by the oil company. The other Squidbilly escapes to a nearby town, where the petroleum-eating critter feeds on vehicular gas tanks before winding up in the auto scrapyard where 18-year-old Tripp works.

Lucas Till looks too old and too inappropriately handsome for the part of Tripp. One of his first scenes has him climb behind the wheel of his work-in-progress pickup truck and loudly imagining himself in a series of cool scenarios the way a small child would. It’s an off-putting scene because this guy looks like a male model closer to 30 than 18, and the age he’s supposed to be playing would still be way too old for this kind of infantile acting out.

Blow-dried tween and tentacle thing quickly bond in the lamest manner possible just in time for oil company thugs with stun batons to come looking for the monster. “Creech,” as Tripp dubs it, hides under the empty hood of Tripp’s engine-less 4×4. Since “Creech” has difficulty maneuvering on land and can function as a living engine if properly fueled up – don’t ask how, just don’t ask – Tripp rigs his rig into a makeshift hiding place/engine/cage, literally transforming it into a monster truck. Think Mac & Me, if the sponsor was Exxon instead of McDonald’s.

Tripp’s would-be girlfriend Meredith rightfully compares Tripp’s “monster truck” to a wheelchair for monsters. Meredith (Jane Levy; Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe), like every other character, is lazily written to the point of contempt. She has the hots for Tripp from their very first scene so there’s never any doubt whether he can get the girl. It merely becomes a matter of does he want to since he spends most of the film friend-zoning the hell out of her. Meredith is immediately established as a science geek so you figure her knowledge will help out not-so-book smart Tripp when it comes to helping Creech. Except we come to find out that Tripp is actually extremely intelligent when it comes to matters of science and engineering. There’s nary any romance, and she serves no purpose other than to be a third wheel. Quite literally a third wheel by the third act.

Levy seems well aware of this as well. Maybe it was just me reading more into it because I was so thoroughly bored, but something about her performance conveyed to me that she knew she was in a really bad movie, she couldn’t believe this movie was actually being made, and she wasn’t quite sure why she agreed to be part of it. She’s got this just-smile-and-get-through-it look for most of the runtime.

Levy’s not alone. There’s a rather astounding array of talent that gets squandered in this one:

– Rob Lowe as the unscrupulous owner of the oil company answers the question, “What would it be like if his Wayne’s World character quit showbiz to become an oil tycoon?” He’s so detached from the action his comeuppance is practically an afterthought.

– Sean Lennon is Lowe’s #2 guy: a dorky scientist who is more or less the Eugene Levy character from Splash, just nowhere near as fleshed-out. His big moment comes when he gets to throw up on himself after his own monster truck performs a big jump.

– Frank Whaley makes an appearance as Tripp’s estranged dad working for the oil company. The strained relationship between him and Tripp is barely explored and barely pays off. He mainly exists to provide some exposition without actually being integral to the story.

– Amy Ryan plays Tripp’s mom in one very brief scene at the beginning and then vanishes altogether from the film until making a silent appearance at the very end.

– Barry Pepper is the local sheriff and potential new father figure for Tripp. Their tempestuous relationship is actually the closest the film ever comes to credibly developing and following through on a genuine character arc.

– A wheelchair-bound Danny Glover is the owner of the junkyard where Tripp works. I kept hoping a smaller version of Creech would appear to power up his wheelchair and get him involved in the car chase action in the zaniest manner possible, but that was asking entirely too much of this turkey.

A running subplot that manages to fizzle out without ever even getting started sees Tripp repeatedly bullied – more like slightly harassed – by a rich kid always driving an expensive pickup with a hot blonde girlfriend by his side. They are such non-entities that the bully’s comeuppance totally flatlines because there’s really no uppence to come to.

The whole movie has been concocted in the most lifeless, creatively-deprived manner possible. So simplistic it all boils down to the usual wacky antics that ensue as a boy befriends an unearthly monster he’s trying protect and return home while developing a budding romance with a pretty girl; yet, somehow, in staggering fashion, they fail to get even the most basic fundamentals right. Just call it M.T. – The Massive TaxWriteOff. Or, better yet, just call it this generation’s very own Theodore Rex.

Just think… had the toothy underworld aquatic creatures of Monster Trucks inhabited different vehicles, this movie could have been titled Jeep Rising.

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User Rating 3.42 (12 votes)
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.62 (21 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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