Not It

•October 30, 2022 • Leave a Comment
Not It poster

Let’s cut to the chase. Do you like The Simpsons? Do you like It (2017)? Do you like both? Great. Go watch the season 34 episode “Not It.” “Not It” does what the best Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes do: it uses the subject of the parody as a jumping off point rather than staying strictly beholden to the subject’s plot. The episode also successfully walks the line between comedy and horror. Krusto, the Simpsons version of Pennywise, is legitimately unsettling, and the artists at The Simpsons should be proud of themselves.

Alright, time to out myself as a 90’s kid. When I was young, I watched The Simpsons religiously after school, twice on weeknights, once on Sundays. Like most of my generation, the show was a touchstone between childhood and adulthood. The show was whip-smart, subversive, empathetic, allusive, and consistently hilarious. It informed my vocabulary and introduced me to pop culture. It may be the purest encapsulation of 20th century Americana, and the most influential television show of all time.

The Simpsons is a show so good that people can complain about it sucking for twenty plus years and still revere it as legendary. I’m not going to weigh in on the sempiternal question of “When did The Simpsons lose its edge?” because, if you still care about The Simpsons, you’ve probably heard a few hundred opinions on the subject already. What you might not hear is that The Simpsons can still bring the heat, even in its relative dotage; seriously, how many shows are older than you are?

If The Simpsons was my daily ritual, the Treehouse of Horror episodes were my annual ritual, as sacred as Samhain to a pagan. After trick or treating when I was young enough for it, or, as a teenager, while waiting for trick or treaters to visit, I watched the ever-growing list of Halloween episodes. Years before I was even old enough to watch the originals, I was howling at parodies of a Nightmare on Elm Street, The Omega Man, and The Shining. Could I appreciate that “Fly vs. Fly” was a deft parody of both the original and the Cronenberg-directed sequel? No, but I was sophisticated enough to appreciate Homer trying to take a whiz in a matter transporter.

Even when I went to college and the daily habit of watching The Simpsons was displaced by going to class and then procrastinating homework, I still kept up the yearly tradition of watching the Treehouse of Horror. This year, the tradition kicked off early with “Not It,” a full-length horror parody that came before the 31st. I couldn’t wait until Halloween for this. I’m glad I didn’t.

“Not It” follows the beats of the It (2017) film, dividing the episode between the childhood lives of Homer, Marge, Comic Book Guy, Carl, and Moe as they gather as friends to defeat Krusto and their return to Kingfield (get it?) as adults to defeat It once and for all. It’s a dense adaptation, since the book is an epic and the 2017 and 2019 films total 5 hours of runtime, but it feels fully realized rather than rushed.

Constant Readers probably recognize that It features seven main characters, rather than the five I’ve just listed, but this is just one of many smart elisions the episode makes. The characters are allowed to share characteristics of the originals – Bill, Stanley, Richie, Bev, Mike, Ben, and Eddie – but the characterization isn’t a one-to-one mapping. Viewers who have already read the book or viewed the It Chapter One and Chapter Two will be able to appreciate that Homer shares traits with Bill, Ben, and Mike, and the twist on the original story this affords. Indeed, that flexibility is part of what makes “Not It” so successful. Krusto doesn’t take the forms that Pennywise does in the films or book, and the characters don’t make the same decisions. Even for Constant Readers, this episode will have surprises to spook and delight them.

What did you think of “Not It?” What’s your favorite Treehouse of Horror? Let me know in the comments below.


•September 15, 2022 • Leave a Comment
Puppetmaster title

Has it really been 9 years since I last wrote for this blog? Is this what it means to be old? To have a memory from a decade past and say to yourself, “I did this last year, right?” Just a decade ago, I was fresh out of college, BA in English in hand, with a glint in my eye and a dream to pursue. I was going to move to New York and work in the publishing industry. I was going to be a writer. Can you think of anything more grand, more magical than creating art? Than bringing that art into the world?

Hahahaha. Ah aha, ahahahahaha. Oh, man. I was screwed the minute I stepped off campus. All I did was start this blog about dumb movies to keep from going insane while I looked at the hyper competitive job market for editorial assistant jobs that pay nothing. I noped my way into another profession entirely. I haven’t used my English degree for anything. The path to adulthood is bizarre and winding, kids.

Anyway, around the time I switched careers, I found I was too busy to write about movies. I concentrated on getting my life together. But I never stopped watching movies. I mean, when you hear there’s a new French film called Titane about a woman who’s impregnated by a car and has to run from the police after committing a homicide, how can you keep away from theater? (I mean, besides because of Covid.) Movies keep me sane. Or they’re the reason I’m insane. In which case, I should stop. But I can’t, so I won’t, which is why I’m writing about Puppet Master.

I’ve reviewed films from Full Moon Entertainment before, such as Gingerdead Man and Evil Bong, but I still can’t get over how much I love their puppets. Practical special effects will always have a place in my dark heart, and seeing the stop motion effects in this film was delightful. What’s not cute about these puppets? …besides the maiming and dismemberment.

Movies about killer dolls often have wild plots. Child’s Play is about a serial killer getting his soul transferred into a Good Guy doll with the power of voodoo. Annabelle is about a group of Satan worshipers summoning a demon into porcelain doll for the purposes of making The Conjuring a cinematic universe. Puppet Master may be the wildest of them all.

[Spoiler alert for a 30-year-old franchise]

The year is 1939. Andre Toulon is a puppet master who flees Germany to the United States, bringing along his living dolls that have been animated by ancient Egyptian magic. The Nazis come to murder him, so he hides the dolls in the walls of his Californian hotel room and then shoots himself.

Fast forward to the present. Four psychics are called to that very hotel where Toulon by fellow psychic Neil Gallagher. When they arrive, they find out Neil has a wife! And Neil’s dead! From suicide! The psychics decide to stick around for the funeral and for some reason everyone is extremely horny. Frank and Carissa, who perform psychic research at Pensa Research Inc., are into light bondage. Dana, the fairground psychic, tries to invite Alex, the anthropologist, into her bedroom, but he is into Megan, even though her husband died yesterday. Apparently, psychics only have one thing on their mind.

Fortunately, the animated dolls are loose and ready to kill the lusty psychics. The maid is pounded (by a fire poker). Dana’s mouth is drilled (with a drill). And Franks chest is sucked (by leeches). Meanwhile, Alex is having prophetic visions of a sexy waltz between Megan and a mysterious masked man. Who turns out to be Neil! Cause Neil’s not dead! Cause Neil used Toulon’s power to animate the dolls to resurrect himself!

Petards must be hoisted, however, because in the process of Neil gloating about how he’s going to kill Alex and Megan, he kicks one of the dolls. Talk about rude. So rude, in fact, the dolls murder him…but not the two remaining survivors?

It’s a remarkable film with a remarkable cast. Starring in order of appearance are: Jester, the puppet whose face spins; Shredder Kahn, the puppet who does nothing; Gengie, who doesn’t even have a picture in the Puppet Master wiki; Blade, who has a hook for a hand, a knife for the other hand, and spikes for pupils; Pinhead, who has big fists, a small head, and such sights to show you; Tunneler, who has a drill for a head; and finally, Leech Woman, who is so disgusting and creepy that she alone may worth the price of admission.

There were some humans too, but I bet you don’t care. What you care about is which is my favorite and why? Oh don’t make me choose. They’re all so good. Okay, you twisted my arm. My top three are 1) Leech Woman for making me gag, 2) Pinhead for being a cuddly lug, 3) Tunneler for having the best kill in the movie.

I will be honest folks. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. I don’t know if I can just jump back in the saddle and do this again. What’s that? There’s two more Puppet Master films on Shudder… I think I will see you folks soon with a review of Puppet Master II.

If you liked the review or want to let me know who your favorite puppet is, leave a comment below.

Leech Woman vomiting her way into our hearts
Leech Woman vomiting her way into our hearts ❤️

Barton Fink

•April 13, 2013 • 1 Comment

Lately I’ve been on a writer’s kick on Netflix, so to speak, watching documentaries about famous writers like Hunter S. Thompson or about the trials, tribulations, and small joys of screenwriting – Gonzo and Tales from the Script if you want to know. For those who know me, I’m a bit obsessed with writing, both the craft and the writers themselves, and will go on spiels about poetry to anyone who has the stomach to listen to me ramble on. I’ve been hunting down documentaries on writing because I’ve been in kind of a literary ferment: coming up with new ideas all the time, working on several writing projects at once, dreaming of winning the Pulitzer Prize for the modern epic, etc. It’s a good time to be a writer right now, because I have a creative momentum going, but it isn’t always like that. Sometimes I get the blank page horrors, that mental stasis when trying to start a poem, story, or movie review. Actually, I get it almost every time, but usually it doesn’t last very long, not long enough to stifle the writing process. When it is bad though, I can’t get started for days. That’s why Barton Fink resonated for me. It’s the story of a man with terrible writer’s block, trying desperately to get over it so he can write the screenplay for a movie about wrestling. I can understand the feeling.

Barton Fink starts with the titular writer nervously watching his play being performed. There’s resounding applause but Barton still thinks it falls short of his dream of creating a kind of play that accurately reflects the lives of the common man, which will usher in a movement that completely transforms theater to focus on and champion the working class. However, he reluctantly goes to Hollywood on the advice of his agent to work for Capitol Pictures, a company that will pay him a handsome sum to write movies for them. He checks into the eerily deserted Hotel Earle, where the only other resident he meets is his neighbor Charlie Meadows, an insurance salesman. Barton gets assigned to write the screenplay for a wrestling film by his boss at Capitol Pictures, Lipnick, but he can’t seem to get past the first few lines. When he asks for help from the wrestling film’s producer, he’s told to find a writer to help him with his screenplay. It seems to be his good fortune when he meets a famous novelist by chance in the restroom, but the novelist in question, W. P. Mayhew, is an alcoholic lout who has trouble writing and getting his act together. The only good to come out of seeing Mayhew is that Barton meets his secretary and lover Audrey. Barton commiserates with his neighbor Charlie about the working man, though almost never listening to what Charlie, an actual working man, has to say. A whole week passes as he tries to write in his room, where it’s hot enough that the wallpaper comes unglued on a regular basis and mosquitoes bite him when he sleeps.

With only a day left to present the story to his boss, Barton invites Audrey over to his hotel room to help him figure out what to do. She gives him a few pointers about starting with broad strokes and general plot ideas to build his story. In the process, Audrey inadvertently reveals she had written and edited Mayhew’s screenplays and most recent novels. The two end up having sex. The next morning Barton wakes up to find Audrey horrifically murdered beside him, but he has no memory of murdering her or how she had died. He calls on Charlie for help, who disposes of the body while Barton passes out from shock. Barton wakes up and goes to Lipnick to present his story, but manages to dodge admitting he has no story by telling Lipnick that he can’t reveal anything about a work in progress because it interferes with his writing process. Barton returns to the hotel where Charlie says goodbye – he has to leave on insurance business – and gives Barton a box. Not much later, Barton comes across a pair of detectives who tell him his neighbor is a serial-killer named Madman Mundt. They found out Mundt was at the hotel after finding the body of a woman – which incidentally fits Audrey’s description – decapitated in a lake; they’re clearly suspicious that Barton’s somehow involved in the murders too; he lies and tells them he doesn’t know much of anything about Mundt and neglects to say anything about the box, which may or may not contain Audrey’s decapitated head.

In a sudden fit of creativity, Barton writes the screenplay for the wrestling movie all at once. He even celebrates by going to an USO dance after he’s finished, because he’s so excited about what he’s done. However, he finds the two detectives in his room when he returns, asking about Audrey, whose blood still stains the mattress, and where Mundt is. Before they have a chance to take him in, they hear the elevator and reason that it’s probably the killer. They cuff Barton to the bed and try to arrest Mundt, who pulls a shotgun from his briefcase and shoots them both while fire engulfs the hallway. Mundt helps Barton get free and tells him he’ll always be next door if he needs help. Barton shows his script to Lipnick, who tells him it’s garbage, because it’s more focused on the main character wrestling with his emotions than wrestling in the ring; this is incredibly devastating, because Barton considers the script the best he’s every written. Since Barton is still under contract, Lipnick says he can’t leave Los Angeles, and he has to keep writing screenplays for Capitol. Lipnick promises to throw out every one of his screenplays until he learns to write like they want him to write; since Capitol Pictures technically owns all of his creative output, they can do that. At the end of the film, Barton sits on a beach in a daze with the mysterious box Charlie/Mundt gave him and looks out on the ocean.

Allow me to set you straight. I said Barton Fink resonated for me because I understand what it feels like to have writer’s block, but I’ve never gone through anything as surreal and existential as Barton goes through. Barton is stuck in a much bigger rut than I’ve had to face, and the stakes are much higher. For instance, I’ve never had to write screenplays on a deadline for a living…or woken up next to a corpse. However, I think Barton is empathetic whether you’re a writer or not. The film isn’t just about struggling with writer’s block and starting a screenplay. It’s about Barton being transported to a strange, absurd, eerie world, where he doesn’t know the rules and never quite fits in. The only friends he makes in Hollywood are Audrey, who’s violently murdered, and Charlie, his insurance salesman neighbor who eventually turns out to be a serial killer. He’s caught between bright, sunny Hollywood, which is largely indifferent to his struggles, and the humid, empty purgatory of Hotel Earle, where he sits in front of a typewriter for over a week producing nothing. Barton tries to stay true to artistic aspirations of championing the common man but ultimately fails because it’s too heartfelt for Hollywood; by the end of the film, he’s stuck in a situation where he has to keep writing screenplays that may never get produced. I’d argue that Barton Fink is an existential tragedy – with a few elements of comedy and horror thrown in. We may not know what it’s like to be a writer or to work in a Hollywood, and we may not identify with the surreal situations, but we still feel for Barton as he struggles in a world that’s against him. It’s a great film, and I’d recommend it to writers and nonwriters alike.

Evil Dead (2013)

•April 5, 2013 • 2 Comments

It’s finally here. After months of fans drooling over the teaser trailers, Evil Dead, the remake/sequel-thing to Sam Raimi’s much-acclaimed The Evil Dead, has arrived. And it is awesome.

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve watched the original film. For those not in the know, however, The Evil Dead is about five college-age kids spending their vacation in a cabin in the woods. The cabin is a little rustic, but it all seems rather cozy until they discover a book and a tape recorder in the basement. The kids play the tape, which contains the recordings of an archeologist, who explains that the book is the Naturon Demonto and that it’s used to summon demons; it’s worth noting that the Naturon Demonto is called the Necronomicon in later movies. The man on the tape recites an incantation, and all hell breaks loose. One by one they’re possessed by evil spirits, turning them into psychotic monsters that can only be destroyed if they’re dismembered. The Evil Dead is a maniacal bloodbath as the main character, Ash, fights back against each one of his possessed friends, ultimately defeating them by burning the Naturon Demonto.

The Evil Dead is a horror classic, so it’s not surprising someone in Hollywood decided to remake/reboot/capitalize on it. Although the new Evil Dead isn’t a remake per se, it does take the same basic elements from the first movie – five college-aged kids, remote cabin, Necronomicon used to summon demons – so I feel justified in saying that Evil Dead is an example of a remake done right. Although I am often a champion of bad movies and on occasion an apologist for them, I’d find it hard to deny that the recent spate of remakes/reboots of classic horror franchises have missed their mark. You will probably cry heresy when I say that I actually liked the reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I admit that it was lacking something that made the original unique and scary, that hallucinatory conflation between dream and reality. Evil Dead is an example of a remake done right, because it has that special something: the spirit of the original movie.

Evil Dead is relentless, visceral, and over-the-top to the point of absurdity. Like its predecessor, Evil Dead starts off with a scare, goes somewhat slow, then ramps up the action and doesn’t let up. The tension is rarely broken, maintained by the frequent, violent fights between the kids and their possessed friends. I don’t usually think I’m squeamish, especially after seeing the Saw series and Cannibal Holocaust, but this movie made me cringe…in a good way, I assure you; it kept me on edge. There are a lot of grievous injuries to make your skin crawl and copious amounts of gore and other excretions; clearly director Fede Alvarez is taking after Sam Raimi. To top it all off, there is a hint of dark humor in the film, playing out in the over-the-top sequences that strain credulity; mind you that I’m saying it’s straining credulity in a film about demons possessing people.

Evil Dead captures the spirit of the original film by mustering all these elements. It has the same ‘all hell breaks loose’ kind of frenetic action from the original, as well as the occasional slower, eerier moment to maintain that relentless tension. It has the same visceral horror and icky gore. It even has that same glimmer of humor, which was fairly subtle in The Evil Dead but became more pronounced in the sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Add the stylish cinematography, bigger budgeted effects, a new plot that I won’t spoil for you, and a genuinely surprising, kickass climax and Evil Dead has the all the qualities to make it a classic in its own right.

Evil Dead will not depose its predecessor from its throne. The Evil Dead has the advantage of low budget charm and Bruce Campbell on its side. However, I highly recommend it for fans of the Evil Dead series – should we call them deadites perhaps? – and first timers to the series alike.

Chupacabra vs. the Alamo

•March 30, 2013 • 1 Comment

The key to selling a trashy horror movie is in part its title. The Gerund-ing or Something vs. Something Else are always promising titles. Having lived in San Antonio for eleven or so years, I had to jump at the opportunity when I heard the Syfy Channel was airing a movie called Chupacabra vs. the Alamo. I couldn’t resist the appeal of both the familiar and the patently ridiculous.

Chupacabra vs. the Alamo starts with a drug cartel near the border to Mexico, which in this movie is southeast of San Antonio, because there is no Gulf of Mexico. The main character, Carlos, rides his motorcycle from San Antonio to crime scene, traversing about a hundred in miles in a couple of minutes. He meets his new partner Tracy at the crime scene and immediately starts acting like an asshole toward her by treating her like a wet-behind-the-ears intern. While investigating the crime scene, Tracy recognizes that the slaughtered gang members look like they’ve been torn apart by animals instead of a rival gang. A chupacabra attacks Tracy as she’s performing the investigation, and Carlos saves her with a gunshot and a smartass remark.

Because Chupacabra vs. the Alamo abounds with wonderful people, we soon learn that Carlos’s son, Tommy, is a member of a gang that has connections to a Mexican drug cartel; he hints that the chupacabras are responsible for the killings, but he doesn’t learn the truth about that until the next scene. Tracy and Carlos go to meet her creepy, douchebag ex-boyfriend, who is dissecting the chupacabra they killed. Unlike Carlos, who hasn’t read the title of the movie, we’re completely unsurpised when it turns out, zomg, that the hideous dog-creatures are in fact chupacabras; yes, I went there…I typed zomg.

Anyhow, this wouldn’t be a horror movie without dead teenagers, so the film cuts to a Cinco de Mayo party that Carlos’s daughter Sienna is attending; every time I heard her name, I added the word burnt before it. Of course, Sienna’s friend has to go and make out with her boyfriend, alerting every chupacabra in a hundred mile radius that underage sex is imminent and needs to be punished with swift and merciless death. Especially merciless, given that the chupacabras bite the boyfriend’s dick off and toss another young man high enough to score a field goal. Incidentally, this is the third film that I’ve seen that involves penile mastication, following Snakes on a Plane and Teeth. Sienna and her friend escape to the nearby high school and are rescued by Carlos from the relentless chupacabras. He figures they would be safer with Sienna’s aunt, so he drops them off at her house. However, as you well know, chupacabras are vindictive creatures and they track the two teens down. Sienna manages to protect herself with an electric carving knife long enough for her father to show up once again and save her, but Sienna’s friend doesn’t make it.

Later that day, Carlos and Tommy meet while visiting Sienna in the hospital. Despite his misgivings, Tommy agrees to team up with Carlos to protect San Antonio from the vicious chupacabras, if only for the sake of his sister. Tommy and his gangbangers trade awkward Spanish insults with Carlos – though surprisingly refrain from calling each other cholo – before joining up with him and with the police to track down the chupacabras. Because they’re thugs, they have fully automatic weapons, which are hidden discreetly in toolboxes where anyone could see them. We also learn that Carlos once prevented Tommy from making a deal with the police to get out of jail, hoping that time in prison would set him straight. He further states that he doesn’t expect Tommy to forgive him and he doesn’t need to be forgiven, because Carlos is a model father and a lovable main character.

The group moves in on a group of chupacabras in a factory and manage to gun down quite a few, but are forced to retreat when most of the policemen and thugs are torn apart or dragged into the shadows to be eaten. They retreat to the Alamo and seal off the exits, hoping to fight off the chupacabras from their fortified positions. Just like the Battle of the Alamo, this ends with chupacabras breaking through the defenses, forcing the group to shoot them with rifles dating back to the 1800s and to run from place to place. Thankfully, Tommy happens to have some plastic explosives – because he’s involved with Mexican drug cartels I guess? – and the group decides that the best way to get rid of all of the chupacabras is to lure them into the fort and blow up the Alamo. They all escape through a tunnel under the Alamo in time to watch the whole place go up like CGI fireworks. All of the chupacabras are dead and everyone is relieved, even though the Alamo is still billowing smoke the next day, showing that San Antonio is now most likely engulfed in flames. Yay!

As a former San Antonian, I can attest that many of the location shots are accurate and I was certainly pleased to see my town. Naturally, that’s about all the resemblance there is between this movie and San Antonio. I was amused that in the first few seconds of the film, they established that the border is southeast of the city, which it isn’t, and made it look like Carlos took a leisurely drive to get to the border, instead of the hundred mile drive it should have taken. Better yet, it’s clear that the actors really aren’t in San Antonio, at least not all of the time. Several shots are conspicuous photographic backgrounds over which the characters traverse, making it look like they’re on location; this is especially egregious when there are shots of Carlos riding a motorcycle, but he’s clearly sitting on a stationary motorcycle while a green-screen background moves past him. Furthermore, the characters are clearly not at the Alamo when they’re running around that fort, even when it’s not the obvious CGI/green screen shots. The Alamo doesn’t have palisade walls or wooden gates. All that’s left of the original structure are stone walls and several buildings, most notably the iconic chapel. I’d be inclined to forgive that kind of inaccuracy if it didn’t take a few minutes of research on the internet and one look on Google maps from the street level to know the Alamo doesn’t look like it does in the movie.

It’s worth noting that Spanish is extremely common in San Antonio and Spanish words and phrases will be casually thrown into everyday conversation. What was amusing was how awkwardly everyone used the words. I couldn’t stop laughing at the beginning of the film when Carlos is talking to his daughter and he says, “You can go live with your brother Tommy and life will be one big fiesta!” It just struck me as absurd, like dialogue someone would write for hispanic San Antonians without knowing how they’d actually speak. On the other hand, all the Spanish words and phrases shoehorned into this movie definitely add color and are amply repaid by one of the greatest one-liners I’ve ever heard. While fighting off a chupacabra, Carlos says, “Chupa this!” and blows off its head with a shotgun. For those of you not in the know, in Spanish chupacabra means “goat-sucker” – chupa means “sucks” and cabra means goats – hence he was saying, “Suck this!”

So what do I as a San Antonian think about a film with a terribly unlikable main character, awkward Spanish thrown into make it sound more Tejano, ludicrous misunderstanding of the location and geography, all ending with the explosion of our beloved landmark and symbol of our city? I think it’s awesome of course! How many times do you get to see your hometown invaded by vicious chupacabras? How many times do you get to see someone triumphantly cry, “Remember the Alamo!” then blow it up a few minutes later to kill the aforementioned chupacabras? Chupacabra vs. the Alamo reaches the upper echelons of absurdity and for that I salute it. I couldn’t be prouder of my erstwhile home knowing that it was the stage for the two most important battles in Texas history: the battle against the Mexico for independence and the battle against the cupacabras for the safety of our goats.


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