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Wednesday
Sep282011

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

More Than Meets the Eye

From the blackest depths of the universe comes a massive, sentient monster whose only goal is to devour any planet in its path. Using Saturn-sized fangs, it drills deep, sucking the life and energy out of entire worlds, leaving behind burnt-out husks. As this unstoppable thing makes its way to Earth, a small band of extraordinary heroes is mankind's last hope for survival.

Sorry, I've already reviewed Transformers: The Movie.

Today, I'm here to talk about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer--one of the strongest sequels and best comic-book movies I've seen.

(I've been batting a thousand this week, huh? First, defending Hellraiser: Revelations; now, sticking up for the sequel to one of the worst comic-book films ever made. I assure you, there's nothing wrong with me*.)

What makes a great sequel? First, it has to be better--or at least as good as--the film that preceded it. In the case of the Fantastic Four franchise, it would be almost impossible to make a movie worse than the original. In the two years between releases, director Tim Story seems to have figured out that an entertaining superhero movie involves more than just giving characters powers, watching them mope inside a skyscraper for forty-five minutes, and then having the supervillain show up downstairs for the climactic big brawl.

The second mark of a solid follow-up is to take the characters, story, and action (including, in the case of summer blockbusters, special effects) to places not explored in the original film. In Rise of the Silver Surfer, the main cast has already been established. Following a failed experiment in outer space, scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), his wife, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), her brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), and their colleague, Ben (Michael Chiklis), are each endowed with abilities ranging from invisibility to willed, full-body combustion and flight. At the end of the first picture, they vanquished professional-rival-turned-electricity-generating-madman, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon).

Rise's screenplay by Don Payne and Mark Frost acknowledges earlier events through allusions in the dialogue. The sequel doesn't go out of its way to recap Part One; it ties the origin story directly into the current threat--which, for most of the film is the appearance of a mysterious, silent man made entirely of silver, whose presence freezes oceans and causes massive craters in different parts of the planet. Reed thinks he may have been endowed with similar gifts to he and his friends, but he can't pin down the visitor long enough to ask.

It turns out that the Silver Surfer (physically played by Doug Jones, and voiced by Laurence Fishburne) is the herald of Galactus, the aforementioned world-chomping creature. He made a deal long ago to prepare planets for destruction in exchange for his own being spared. We don't learn this until much later in the film, whose focus isn't really the Galactus threat at all.

One of the biggest surprises about Fantastic Four 2 is that it's more about how the team struggles with interpersonal conflicts in addition to the weird predicaments that always seem to come their way--rather than being a two-hour chore of CGI explosions. The heart of the film concerns Reed and Sue's multiple attempts to tie the knot, which are always interrupted by some crisis or another. Additionally, following Johnny's first encounter with The Surfer, he develops a disease that causes him to switch powers with whoever he touches. This makes for some really interesting variations later on, and offers a nice twist on the superhero-movie trope in which characters are given a chance to get rid of their powers.

Tim Story deserves a lot of credit for balancing the first three-quarters of action-comedy against the last twenty-five minutes, which take on a more dramatic tone. The plot turns on a dime as Galactus draws close and The Silver Surfer is captured by the military--who has teamed up with a rejuvenated Dr. Doom. Sue forms a bond with The Surfer who, when separated from his board, loses his brilliant sheen and is reduced to a drained, scuffed-tarnished body. In these scenes, he explains his pitiful existence and gets the team on his side. The climax sees the Fantastic Four busting him out of a top-secret compound to confront both Galactus and Dr. Doom, who has channeled the board's powers to enhance his own.

Unlike many other Marvel Comics films, Rise of the Silver Surfer best captures Chairman Emeritus Stan Lee's vision of comic-book stories as fun adventures whose messages about friendship, family, and alienation are relatable even to those who can't scale walls or shrug off a spinning helicopter rotor to the face. Too many other comic adaptations either stray too far into camp (Spider-Man 3) or try to make four-color adventures into two-plus-hour, pseudo-art-house films (X2: X-Men United). At just under ninety minutes, Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like a great three-issue miniseries: we get in; we get out; we wouldn't mind seeing more. Most importantly, the journey is fun.

The cast deserves a lot of credit for making the movie so enjoyable. Gruffudd puts a warm, everyman twist on the cold, obsessed scientist; Evans is sufficiently snarky and charming as the branding-driven schemer; Alba and Chiklis do what they can, though their parts mostly involve being supportive and clobbering things, respectively. Jones is, um, fantastic as The Silver Surfer. When the gleaming CG effects aren't masking out all expression, he does wonders in conveying both sadness and the re-awakening of hope in his character. It's hard to tell how much of his performance was enhanced with effects, but watching the surfer in motion is really exciting.

My one gripe is with McMahon's interpretation of Dr. Doom. I was relieved to find that Doom didn't try to strike some kind of Lex Luthor-style deal with Galactus, but the character's voice is all wrong. I'm not alone in having grown up imagining Dr. Doom with a booming, European accent (he's the dictator of the fictitious island nation of Latveria, after all). McMahon sounds like one of Patrick Bateman's lunch companions in American Psycho--more nasally snob than world-dominating mastermind. Like I said, though, Doom is relegated to supporting-player status, so the fact that his look and his voice are completely incongruous didn't get under my skin too much.

If, like me, you hated the first Fantastic Four and had no intention of watching the sequel, I highly recommend you give it a chance. Had this been the first film (maybe with a five-minute, pre-credits origin tacked on), I think the series would still be going strong--instead of being all but forgotten in the era of The Dark Knight and Thor. Rise of the Silver Surfer is what most comic-book movies should be.

*Crazy people say this all the time.

Tuesday
Sep272011

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

It's Not the End of the World

I've gotta make this quick.

The air is thick with torch smoke, and the angry mob heading up my street is screaming things that should never be heard in a neighborhood full of children. In a matter of minutes, these maniacs will bust in here and take away my "horror fan" card.

Apparently, someone found out that I'd planned to write a positive review of the newest direct-to-video Hellraiser sequel, Revelations.

Maybe Clive Barker ratted me out for endorsing a movie he recently described as "not even from my butt-hole". The series' creator very publicly distanced himself from the quick, contract-fulfilling product that Dimension Films rushed out in order to retain its franchise rights.

But I'll stand up for director Victor Garcia and screenwriter Gary J. Tunnicliffe. Sometimes artists do their best work under pressure. And while Revelations is no one's idea of a masterpiece, it certainly doesn't deserve the hate it's received. The filmmakers seem to be bearing the brunt of two major strikes against their movie that soured fans before it was even released.

First, the trailer is one of the worst things I've ever seen. Really, it's an anti-trailer, and after watching it a month ago I was ready for Revelations to be a laugh-riot. Even now that I've seen the movie, I can't believe how badly Dimension messed up that promo.

The second problem is that Revelations is the first Hellraiser movie not to feature Doug Bradley as the melancholy demon, Pinhead. For whatever reason, Dimension dumped the guy who'd weathered eight films over nearly a quarter-century, handing the iconic role to an actor who looks like he was pulled off the floor at Comic-Con. I guarantee that if Bradley had returned, no one would have batted an eye at Revelations--they would've quietly ignored it, as they had every sequel since Hellraiser in Space.

So, external issues aside, how's the movie? It's a bit better than alright; great in some places, lousy in others. What sets it apart from the previous non-theatrical entries is its ambition. Tunnicliffe and Garcia attempt to bring the series back to its roots, crafting a film about family secrets and the kind of profound malaise that can lead a person to do just about anything for kicks. Revelations isn't a gimmick picture ("Look! It's Pinhead on the Internet!") and it's not a remake. But there's a definite feeling of rebirth here, as if the filmmakers said to Dimension, "Since we're clinging to this license, let's at least try to do something interesting with it."

The movie gets off to a rough start, with what looks to be a found-footage account of two spoiled teens named Nico (Jay Gillespie) and Steven (Nick Eversman) documenting their road-trip to Mexico. As the video cuts from the guys drinking and driving to picking up a prostitute in Tijuana to Nico "accidentally" killing said hooker after a bathroom-stall quickie, I found myself alternately annoyed and engrossed by the characters' adventures. Like Paranormal Activity, Revelations feeds on the audience's desire to see awful things happen to awful people, and does so with sufficient style and solid pacing.

The footage cuts from the bathroom where Nico and Steven are freaking out and planning their escape to a dingy hotel room, where Nico kneels on the floor. He's manipulating the familiar wood-and-brass puzzle box, which begins to glow and change the atmosphere. Soon, both boys are yelling at Pinhead, who has emerged from the shadows with his patented, "You opened it, we came" schtick.

In the next instant, the scene folds shut, cluing us into the fact that this is really an omniscient-perspective film. Steven's mother, Sarah (Devon Sorvari), has been watching the video on her missing son's camera for the umpteenth time since the boys disappeared. We meet Steven's sister, Emma (Tracey Fairaway)--who had also been dating Nico and was unaware of his rampant infidelity--and Sarah's husband, Ross (Steven Brand). The family has invited Nico's parents over for dinner, an event that sets the stage for a night of terror and, yes, revelations.

Let's take a sidebar to talk about Necessary Information. Fillmakers, if you want your audience to focus on the story at hand, it's important to divulge Necessary Information at the exact right time. In this case, we never find out how long Nico and Steven have been missing. A week? Two months? Three years? Did the families hold funerals for them? In his quest to cleverly jump between storytelling modes, Tunnicliffe leaves out a key piece of information that bugged me for almost the entire rest of the picture.

Emma storms off in the middle of dinner, angry that the adults have seemingly moved on with their lives. She finds the puzzle box in Steven's bag (which, I guess, had been returned to the family at some point during the investigation) and starts monkeying with it. Moments later, Steven reappears, accompanied by the reality-shifting properties of an open hell-mouth (weird, blue lights; disappearing cars; and no cell phone reception). From here, Revelations alternates between flashbacks explaining how the boys came into possession of the box in Mexico and the families' struggle to fend off the encroaching forces of evil (both from within and without).

I don't want to give any more away because, believe it or not, I think this really is a film worth seeing--especially for Hellraiser fans. Sure, it's annoying that Tunnicliffe and Garcia throw in tropes from the first couple of films that really have nothing to do with the Hellraiser aesthetic generally or Revelations specifically (slow-motion falling feathers again? Really?). But there's enough unexpected, messed up stuff here to surprise even the most jaded Cenobite-head (When was the last time one of these movies delivered both super-hot incest and an off-screen baby-murder?).

Another plus is Revelations' use of good, old-fashioned practical gore effects. From the face-ripping chains to the familiar skinless men hobbling around in search of streetwalker blood, the movie drips with violence that is at the same time realistic and over-the-top. I especially liked the inclusion of the new, young Cenobite that Pinhead has taken under his wing. He doesn't talk much, except to scream when his master nails another flap of innocent-victim-flesh to his glistening skull.

I've read complaints on-line that the acting is terrible. I submit that anyone who says that about this movie has never seen a film by The Asylum. There's a huge difference between bad acting, great acting in service of bad material, and great acting in service of solid-but-annoying material. Revelations sits firmly in the third camp. All of the human characters are pretty disgusting, though many of them start out as sympathetic. My only gripe is with Brand, a Scotish actor who doesn't quite pull off Upper-class American Dad. But he's balanced out with Eversman, who, in running the full gamut of emotions and likeability, is a real discovery in a movie that almost doesn't deserve him.

As for the non-human characters, I guess we should talk about the new Pinhead. Stephan Smith Collins was going to have a rough go of things regardless of how well he did stepping into Doug Bradley's considerable shoes. But I'm sad to say that the criticism is warranted in his case. Not only is it jarring to see a much younger incarnation of the Lead Cenobite (whose previous identity was that of a World War I British Captain), but he sounds like a horror-movie fan doing a poor imitation of Pinhead's voice. It's a shame that Bradley either bowed out of--or was not called back to--the first movie in almost twenty years in which Pinhead is given something cool to do. I missed him dearly.

There you have Hellraiser: Revelations in a very wordy nutshell. Despite a handful of really distracting detours (in a hip nod to the horror community--and perhaps a middle finger to the original Pinhead--Steven and Nico's last names are "Craven" and "Bradley", respectively), the movie gives fans of the series what they've allegedly been seeking for a long time: a fresh take on the material. The film could have used another pass, maybe two, to iron out some of the wonky bits, but overall, I think this is a step in the right direction. If ILM could somehow insert Doug Bradley into a new cut of this movie, I'd definitely watch it again soon--were I not already late for an appointment with a stake and some gasoline.

Is It Just Me? Or does Jay Gillespie look uncannily like How I Met Your Mother star, Josh Radnor?

Monday
Sep262011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005)

Dada Issues

This is an unfair review. Comprised mostly of backstory and miscellany, my assessment of David Lee Fisher's remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary promises to be one of the hardest I've written and the easiest to dismiss. Here we go.

Prelude 1: As I tweeted a few days ago, Netflix suggested that I'd love this movie based on my high ratings for Manhattan and Blade Runner. I now understand that the company's algorithms use the same logic as commenters on Rotten Tomatoes ("I like this movie 'cause it's in black-and-white"; "I like this movie 'cause it looks weird."). You shouldn't be surprised to learn that Cabinet has as much to do with Manhattan and Blade Runner as Manhattan and Blade Runner have to do with each other.

Prelude 2: Cabinet is part of my research for next month's Doug Jones interview.

Prelude 3: I've not seen the 1920 version of Cabinet. But, for reasons I'll explain in a moment, I plan to watch and review it later this week.

Fisher wasted a lot of time, money, and talent making this movie. That's not to say it's bad. In fact, there's a lot to recommend here--if you have no intention of watching Robert Weine's silent film. About thirty minutes into the picture, I got the sneaking suspicion that the moody music, bizarre set decorations, and story weren't new interpretations of existing material, but rather re-creations of them.

Because both versions are currently streaming, I paused and pulled up the original. Scrubbing through the scenes leading up to where I'd left off, I was amazed to find that Fisher had created a nearly shot-for-shot remake, with tweaks to a bit of Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer's dialogue.

This really puzzled me. And as I went back to finish the remake, I became more and more confused. The only quantitative difference between incarnations is that the one from 2005 is a "talky" shot almost completely against green-screen backdrops; there are also annoying, Pleasantville-style color flourishes incorporated into the black-and-white aesthetic that range from distracting in their lack of subtlety to eye-rollingly pretentious.

That's not the confusing part. I'm fine with young filmmakers re-creating whole movies in order to better understand not only the process but also the history of their craft (Hunter S. Thompson famously typed out the entirety of The Great Gatsby in an attempt to nail F. Scott Fitzgerald's rhythms). But this movie is a doodle, an experiment that somehow found distribution and raised enough money to attach known actors for supporting roles.

"Doodle" is a harsh word to describe a moderately expensive passion project, but it's the best word for Cabinet 2.0. Even on my computer monitor, the CGI backgrounds absorbed the outlines of the foreground characters; when not standing absolutely still, everyone looked as if they were shifting behind paper cutouts of a small 1920s German village (as imagined by Tim Burton and rendered by Tim Burton's toddler niece). Some of the wide shots see characters all but enveloped by their environments in a fuzzy blanket of non-reality. I'm sure some film-school freak would argue that this was intentional on Fisher's part, an aid to the surreality of his nightmare vision (actually, Weine's nightmare vision). But it just looks cheap, and I can't imagine seeing this projected on a big screen.

I should talk a bit about the story. A traveling hypnotist named Dr. Caligari (Daamen J. Krall) visits a village and attracts the attention of two young friends, Francis (Judson Pearce Morgan) and Alan (Neil Hopkins). Caligari's gimmick is that his main "patient", Cesare (Jones), can tell peoples' futures when summoned out of his persistent sleep state. On awakening, he predicts that Alan will be dead by morning.

Guess what happens?

The rest of the film can best be described as a cross between the original Fright Night and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I see how those films were inspired by the original Cabinet, and I'll delve more into the story when I review it later this week. The only feature of note--besides the terrible computer-generated scenery--is the bizarre performance model that Fisher set for his cast.

With the exception of Krall, the principals all go "big", relying on the kind of acting found in the non-singing parts of most musicals. There's a somber theatricality, a brooding soap-opera quality that makes Fisher's interpretation seem almost like a parody of the film that inspired it. Worse yet, the performances aren't even bad in a consistent fashion. In the opening scene, we meet Francis; as played by Morgan, he's a Billy Joe Armstrong look-alike with way too much guy-liner whose delivery is like a PETA activist reading telethon cue cards. A few scenes later, when the Alan character invites him to the travelling carnival, the actors' banter is positively modern--loose in both tone and manner of speech. In the next scene, we're back to serious and stilted again.

Most of the other cast fall into this same trap. They seem to think that ham-fisted acting is a prerequisite for starring in a black-and-white movie. It doesn't help that the actual tone of Cabinet keeps shifting from black-and-white to sepia to B&W with the aforementioned splashes of color. In the scene between Francis and Alan, both actors' lips are tinted the subtlest pink; I can only speculate about the gay subtext of this artistic decision, which bothers me only in its pointlessness. Honestly, I'm more offended by this being a German period piece in which all of the performers speak like headliners in a California dinner theatre company.

Like I said, this new version is not all bad. The lighting is sufficiently Gothic, and I really like Eban Schletter's score. Krall and Jones bring a sophistication to their roles that suggests they thought they were starring in a better movie. Or maybe that's Fisher's genius: perhaps the whole point of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is that the homicidal hypnotist and his narcoleptic puppet travel from town to town murdering bad actors.

Damn.

Now I have to reconsider this whole review.

Wait. No, I don't.

Saturday
Sep242011

Moneyball (2011)

Game Called on Account of Narcolepsy

We need a two-and-a-half-hour movie about The Doors? Folks, no we don't. I can sum it up for you in five seconds, okay? "I'm drunk. I'm nobody. I'm drunk. I'm famous. I'm drunk. I'm fucking dead."

--Denis Leary, No Cure for Cancer

There's a reason this site is subtitled "Movie Reviews from the Last Guy Anyone Asks". I've been told many times that my warning people to stay away from a particular film is as good as an endorsement--and vice versa. So when I say that Moneyball, the critically acclaimed new movie starring Brad Pitt and co-written by Thinking-Man's-Blockbuster scribe Aaron Sorkin, is really, really lousy, I understand that I may as well drop you off at the theatre with best wishes for a great evening.

I hate sports. I don't understand them. I don't get their appeal to anyone not actively involved in them. And from what I've seen of many atheletes' behavior, I'm iffy on the appealing aspects in general.

You might look at that confession and think, "Of course he hates Moneyball! It's a friggin' baseball movie!"

True. But my dislike of sports hasn't prevented me from loving sports movies; good ones, anyway. Plus, this particular baseball movie was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, the guy who proved the world wrong by co-creating a Facebook film that's the opposite of totally lame. I went into Moneyball ready to be educated, entertained, and won over by a writer who makes wonkish dialogue sizzle. I left two hours later in a daze, the pride of having kept my No Walking Out on a Movie policy intact dampened by a heavy, cheated feeling.

If you know the story of Billy Beane (Pitt), feel free to keep going. This is a BOATS* picture, after all. If you don't know anything about Beane or his radical attempt to turn the under-funded 2002 Oakland A's into a championship team using stats instead of star-power, turn away now. I'm about to break down everything you need to know about Moneyball in fifty spoilerific words:

Bitter, washed-up-player-turned-general-manager hires Yale numbers whiz to recruit cheap misfits. Misfits go on a winning streak but fail to win the Big Game. Washed-up guy's techniques help Boston win the pennant two years later. Washed-up guy still washed up and bitter. Roll credits.

If you go to Moneyball, you'll see much of this unfold in the last half-hour. Leading up to that, you get lots of drawn out speeches about how the game is all about money, and how best to rig the system. You see lots of old men doubting the "young" punk with the big ideas, along with fat-guy/handsome-guy banter between Pitt and Jonah Hill, who plays stats junky Peter Brand.

What you don't get is a clue as to what makes this story worth telling in a dramatic form. To my mind, that fifty-word anecdote contains everything you need to know. But, again, I'm not a sports guy. So perhaps the macho, Two and a Half Men-style jokes and Beane's numerous, violent tantrums are appealing to "inside baseball" enthusiasts. To me, I see little point in a film that displays the greed and arrested development at every level of the sport without negatively commenting on it--or at least showing some kind of contrast.

I guess the big draw is that this is the story of how nerds changed baseball by going after players whose lack of sex appeal meant that teams could win championships without spending ridiculous sums on marquee players. But from what I understand, Major League Baseball still shells out ridiculous sums of money for marquee players; also, teams still win games and lose games the way, I assume, they always have. It's like trying to convince me that red dye 40 forever changed the way people perceive the taste of candy.

For me, the most entertaining part of Moneyball was picking out the non-actors in the cast. They're easy to spot, especially in the early scenes around the A's conference room table: a sad collection of real-life sports guys posing as scouts. I assume they're former sports guys because they have the stiff, non-actorly delivery of the Cro-Magnon jag-offs you see shilling Gatorade and car insurance on TV. For sports fans, I'm sure seeing whoever these people are on screen is a real treat. For fans of good movies, it's a bit like entrusting the CEO of Marvel Comics to draw The Amazing Spider-Man.

Sure, there are some winners in the cast. Chris Pratt is especially sympathetic as a guy whose elbow injury knocked him out of a stellar career. But as with the rest of the story, his journey is butchered by a screenplay that can't decide if it's a Bad News Bears knock-off or a documentary about sports figures (numbers, I mean, not people). I can tell director Bennett Miller is a big fan of Sorkin and David Fincher's The Social Network because Moneyball is packed with extreme, to-the-pixel screenshots of charts and graphs, accompanied by ominous music. The human drama is crushed under the weight of the film's insistence that the stats jockeying is the most compelling part of the story (I've also never seen a fictitious baseball film in which file footage of old games is used so disproportionately, in lieu of re-creating key events).

Pitt and Hill have to be the most bloodless lead duo the movies have barfed up this year. Pitt discredits his fun, nuanced work in Inglourious Basterds by playing Beane as a smirking, handsome cipher who would give Ryan Gosling's character from Drive a run for his money in a "staring into the middle distance" contest. A lot of this has to do with the writing, as Sorkin and co-scribe Steven Zallian obscure key parts of his backstory, leaving us with a guy who seems really sad all the time for no discernable reason (okay, I guess choking during every game of your Major League career would be kind of depressing, but I still don't know what caused him to freeze up; nor do I care).

For his part, Hill marks continues his transition to more serious roles by wearing what is supposed to be a look of studious concern throughout most of the picture. Sadly, it just looks like he's watching Pitt for reaction cues most of the time. I'll give Hill half-credit for branching out from raunchy comedies; full credit when he does it well.

Based on the trailer, I walked into Moneyball expecting a rousing, fascinating look at a key moment in baseball. Turns out that moment doesn't amount to much, and no combination of star-power or brand-name screenwriting can spice up an unnecessary story about employees finding more efficient ways to make their multi-millionaire bosses into multi-multi-millionaires. It didn't quite work out that way for Billy Beane, who Miller, Sorkin, and Zallian put in the dubious position of being the hero of a film whose ultimate goal is to shit on its hero (the last film I saw make two hours of that work was The Human Centipede).

If you're a baseball fan, this may be your movie of the year. If you don't know an RBI from an MRI, revisit Field of Dreams instead.

*Based on a True Story.

Friday
Sep232011

The Newlydeads (1987)

Oatmeal Raisin'

Had I not been preparing to interview Doug Jones, I probably would've ever watched his first film, 1987's The Newlydeads.

Thank God for research.

You can't judge a movie like this on acting, directing, editing, or DVD cover art. The Newlydeads is like a forgotten sketch that someone in Hollywood needs to remake immediately. Hell, if you could tear the geniuses at ILM away from their forthcoming "Kermit-the-Frog-as-Luke-Skywalker" edit of Star Wars for a pristine digital restoration, I could easily see the film, as is, blowing up multiplexes from Bakersfield to Boston.

Our story begins in the early 70s, at a wooded lodge run by mustachioed horndog Lloyd Stone (Jim Williams). He tries to seduce an attractive blonde who's just checked in, only to find out that she's really a man in drag. A struggle ensues, and in a moment of (murderous) passion, Lloyd stabs her/him in the stomach and through the temple.

Fifteen years later, Lloyd has re-branded his lodge as a romantic getaway for honeymooners. It's so romantic that he convinces his own fiancée to get married on-site and spend their honeymoon in the forest (which, I imagine, is like an Arby's night manager treating his gal to a romantic drive-thru dinner). On the weekend of their wedding, Jackie (Scott Kaske), the ghost of the dead cross-dresser, springs up and begins murdering Lloyd's customers.

Jackie is one of the coolest, weirdest, most ridiculous movie killers I've ever seen. She's a teleporting shape-shifter who's not too high and mighty to impale a young man through the head with a lamp post. Bullets fly right through her, yet she gets her arm lopped off in the climax--not to worry, she picks up the limb and reattaches it like a fetid Lego brick. Jackie teases like a baritone Freddy Krueger in one scene, and executes with silent efficiency like Jason Voorhees in the next. And her look can best be described as "moldy porridge with strawberries under a cheap, blonde wig" (known in glamour circles as "The Kim Cattrall").

Oh, Kim, I kid because I love.

The Newlydeads isn't just a slasher/ghost story, it's also got a psychic! The movie's vacationing couples are typical for this kind of wacky, pseudo-haunted-house picture: the hick-ish southerners; the punk rockers; the wide-eyed, virgin innocents (Love the hair, Doug!); and the bickering, middle-aged couple. The female half of that last pairing has The Gift, which she uses to help Lloyd vanquish Jackie in the movie's bloody* climax. Her abilities are hilarious for three reasons:

A. They give her enough foresight to understand the threat Jackie poses, but not enough to clue her in to the fact that she's fighting the spirit of a man.

B. Her powers are a bit on the laid-back side. How else to explain...um, what happens to her at the end?

C. They're apparently too lame to impress her husband. Either that, or he's a complete stooge. He doesn't believe that his wife has psychic abilities, even though we learn that she once helped police locate the body of an eight-year-old boy buried in a neighbor's back yard (!).

Typically, I credit all the actors or crew that I mention in these reviews, rather than referring to them as "the wife" or "middle-aged couple". In this case, I can only remember the names of the two main characters. IMDb is no help because most of the actors don't have pictures associated with their characters' names. True, I could scrub through the movie again, jot down who's who, and play the matching game--but the disc is all the way across my desk, next to the dust-buster.

It's a shame, too, because I really liked the woman who plays the psychic (though, apparently not enough to learn her name; I'm pathetic). Most of the rest of the cast tries really hard--you can see it on their faces. Especially Williams, whose interpretation of absolute horror comes across as wide-eyed waiting. I never would've thought to play those scenes in that way, which is why he's a genius and I'm an Internet film critic.

But actors alone don't make a film. In this case, neither do the director, editor, or screenwriter. The Newlydeads is like a blurry compilation of deleted scenes from Fantasy Island, intercut with gruesome deaths and more boobs than the Republican primary. Sorry**. I have no idea how this movie looked when it first came out, but the DVD is fittingly atrocious. Presented in full frame with fuzzy imagery bordering on Impressionism, watching this took me right back to my youthful nights, wearing out VHS recordings of Cinemax After Dark.

I would love to know if co-writer/director Joseph Merhi and his scripting accomplice, Sean Dash, thought they were making a solid B-horror movie, or if The Newlydeads was the product of a dare or a coke debt. Don't get me wrong: I love the hell out of this picture, but I'd be remiss in not pointing out how spectacularly it fails on just about every level. It's irresponsible to put out a movie in which scenes either drag on for eternity or pop up out of nowhere, say "hello", and apologize for interrupting the main story (unless you're Terrence Malick, I guess). It's telling that even though Lloyd Kaufman was a producer on the film, The Newlydeads isn't even an official Troma release.

I hope I haven't discouraged you from giving this movie a chance. I sincerely think there are some fun ideas here (I'd rather see wedding lodge murders than a CGI remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark any day). The Newlydeads doesn't fit into the "so bad it's funny" category--or even "so bad it's just awful". This is its own thing entirely: a no-budget, supernatural slasher with no self-esteem but big enough balls to tease a sequel. Count me in.

* Read, "ketchup-y", "syrup-y".

** I mean, "Sorry".