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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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Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own

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Starring Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Felissa Rose, and Tiffany Shepis

Directed by Adam Green

Distributed by Dark Sky Films


Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.

Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.

Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.

Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.

In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.

Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.

Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.

Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.

Special Features:

Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.

While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.

Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.

The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.

But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.

So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.

Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.

Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.

BUY IT HERE!

Special features:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
  • Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
  • Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
  • Trailer
  • Victor Crowley
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual

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Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.

Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!

Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

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3.0

Summary

Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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