May 242016


By: Bill Nelson

Welcome back, bad movie fans! It's time for another trip to the pit. Last week we we jumped into the Halloween season with the atrocity that is Darkness Falls. This week, I figured we'd continue the journey of terror and take a look at one of the newer releases on Netflix. Our film this week is the 2013 remake of the Brian de Palma masterpiece, Carrie. For those that care, Carrie was the debut novel of famed horror author Stephen King. It tells the story of Carrie White, a young woman who is tortured at home by her religious fundamentalist mother and abused at school for being different as she comes to grips with her burgeoning telekinetic abilities. King, who had been struggling as an author for some time prior to Carrie's publication had famously tossed the manuscript into the trash only to have it famously saved by his wife Tabitha who prodded him to submit it and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Carrie was both a surprise hit in both the literary and cinematic worlds, it left a lasting legacy in the horror world. While I was inwardly groaning when I read that it was being remade, I held out hope that it would be worthwhile when I discovered that Kimberly Peirce would be directing. Peirce, as the director of Boys Don't Cry, should have been the one to finally make Carrie into a work of terror with the touch of feminism that De Palma's vision hadn't quite captured. Instead we got yet another pointless remake of a famed movie.

To be fair, the remake is about as solid as you can get. Chloe Grace Moretz brings a willowy sadness to the character of Carrie. While she doesn't have the pitiful quality that Sissy Spacek did in the 1976 original, she is believable as the shy, lonely outcast who only wants to belong. She’s perhaps too pretty for the part, but that does little to impede her performance. Moretz's films over the years have largely been hit or miss. Personally, I think she has the potential to be an amazing actress, but thanks to her performance in Let Me In, she keeps getting lumped into roles for overly mature youngsters when her best parts allow her to be a kid and allow the maturity to shine through from there, a la Kick Ass and Dark Shadows. In Carrie she continues this tradition, her fidgets and awkwardness making Carrie feel real and her torment real.

The cast is rounded out by Judy Greer, who does a phenomenal job of playing the caring if slightly two-faced gym teacher Rita Desjardin, and Oscar winner Julianne Moore in the role of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White. Moore does a solid job in the role of the overly religious Margaret, but she's a pale shadow to Piper Laurie's unabashedly insane version of the same character in the original. It’s apparent that the filmmakers toned down the overtly religious Margaret and gave her a more compassionate angle in this version. I actually applaud that effort. It’s obvious that this version of Margaret ultimately believes that she’s trying to save Carrie but it ends up falling flat as we only get two scenes of Margaret without Carrie (though one of them still technically has her in it) to round this character out.

We also can’t ignore the film’s secondary protagonist, Sue Snell, played by the lovely Gabriella Wilde. She carries almost as much screen time as Carrie herself, and though much of the interaction between the two characters was eliminated, she handles her role well. She is given an unnecessary subplot that only comes up once midway through the film and isn’t referenced again until the very end, but beyond that her guilt is ultimately what propels the film forward and she does a decent job of playing the good girl who’s ashamed of giving in to her dark side. Ansel Elgort is appropriately charming as Tommy Ross, Sue’s boyfriend who is cajoled into taking Carrie to the prom. The scenes with him and Carrie are both tender and sweet and Elgort does an admirable job showing how surprised he is that he’s enjoying his time with Carrie. The film doesn’t quite go to the length that the original did and hint at a possible romance between the two characters, but it’s not far off. Finally, cast-wise, there’s Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargenson, our primary antagonist. Chris is the stereotypical spoiled teen taken to an extreme. Doubleday imbues her with a flair that makes it possible to understand why she’s one of the most popular girls in her school while making her raging bitch personality seem genuine. Ultimately, Chris ends up being evil for evil&’s sake instead of having a real progression, but it never feels out of character for her.

Now that I’ve raved about the cast for so long, I’m sure you’re wondering where the ball is going to drop on this film. There’s always something that turns a good film bad, isn’t there? In this case, it’s nothing glamorous. The film isn’t a train wreck and obviously the acting is more than solid. Instead, as is the case for most remakes, the film just isn’t original enough to warrant it’s own existence. While not the pointless endeavor that was Gus Van Sant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho, it’s very close. With the exception of an increased presence of social media that obviously didn’t exist back in 1976, 2013’s Carrie does very little that’s different from its predecessor. In researching the film prior to writing my article I did come across a few things that give me some hope there was a genuine reason for filming this new version of Carrie, though. In virtually all of the film’s marketing it was labeled as Kimberly Peirce’s reimagining of the original film. Since that is obviously not the case you have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The film was pulled from it’s original release date in the spring of 2013 for reshoots and an attempt to cash in on a potentially huge Halloween release. My research indicates that these reshoots were largely studio ordered and are likely what made the film a clone of the original version. If you pay close attention there are moments where we are introduced to characters who appear poised to do something in the film only to have them disappear, such as the boy with the camera in the library. He is in that one scene and doesn’t return again until the final carnage in the gym where he is given an oddly personal death for someone who only had one other scene in the movie. Also, the DVD/Blu-Ray release contains an alternate opening that shows Carrie has been developing her telekinetic abilities since she was very young. It’s small things like this that give me hope that there’s a director’s cut out there that shows us the unique vision that I know Kimberly Peirce is capable of.

Ultimately, though, we have to look at this version of the film and it’s surprisingly decent, just completely unnecessary. Fans of the De Palma version will likely be better served watching it instead (both versions along with the equally pointless sequel are available on Netflix) but if you’ve never seen Carrie before this isn’t a bad version to watch. Just make sure and watch De Palma’s version at some point before you leave this earth.

Stank Ranking ­- – 5/10

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Mar 232016


Bad Movie Tuesday: Darkness Falls

By Ozzy Nelson

Welcome back, bad movie fans!  Have I got a treat for you, just in time for the Halloween season.  Today we’re going to look at Darkness Falls, a 2003 ghost story romp that fails to scare.  Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, who’s best known for butchering numerous franchises from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company, the film attempts to give us a new movie monster to haunt the pantheons with idols like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees.  However, like most attempts to build a franchise around a monster, they fail in pretty much every respect.

Darkness Falls is set in Darkness Falls, Massachusetts and centers around a local legend of a widow named Matilda Dixon.  Dixon loves children and earned a reputation as the the ‘Tooth Fairy’ for her habit of giving gold coins to the children of the town when they lose a tooth.  However, a fire leaves her heavily scarred and extremely sensitive to light.  She becomes a recluse, only going out at night and wearing a porcelain mask whenever she does.  One night two children fail to return home and the town goes into a panic.  They lynch Dixon thinking she’s done something to the kids and with her dying breath she curses the town.  The next morning the children return unharmed and the townspeople bury Matilda Dixon and the reason for her death in shame.  However, for the last 150 years, whenever a child loses their last baby tooth the ghost of Matilda Dixon visits them and, if they see her face, she kills them.

The biggest problem with this film is an overall lack of a story.  There is an intriguing back story but instead of developing it they jump right into the meat of the story.  There is no character development and even less actual good acting.  The thing is they treat the story like a monster movie, but it would have worked better as a ghost story.  A successful ghost story works on at least two levels.  First, it needs to be a mystery that slowly reveals the nature of the haunting.  Second, it needs to build its scares slowly.  Too much of the Tooth Fairy is revealed too soon for her to ever be truly scary.  What scares we do get are derivative and largely unimaginative, pointless jump scares that you can see coming a mile away.

This film was scene as a launching point for Emma Caulfield who, at the time was something of a breakout star on TVs Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing the wonderfully droll ex-demon Anya.  As a character, Anya played to Caulfield’s strengths.  She could be vulnerable and tender when needed, but what made her work was her ability to say whatever comes into her head without any kind of verbal filter and fail to understand why it’s inappropriate, which comes from living hundreds of years as a vengeance demon without actually living among the humans she slaughtered.  In other words, Anya was witty and silly all at once and could muster a steely resolve when needed.  In Darkness Falls, Caulfield is reduced to a helpless woman who is utterly reliant on everyone around her to save her from the terror that surrounds him.  She has no spunk, no wit, and very little charm.  She’s just a pretty face to look at as the film races to a conclusion that makes little to no sense.

There are some very good creature effects in the movie, though they fail to capitalize on anything interesting in a movie that should have had fun playing with how light is used considering its their primary antagonist’s only weakness.  Still, the Tooth Fairy is solidly constructed and the few scares in the movie are because of this.  All in all, there’s little to recommend in this film, but it’s a good flick to start your Halloween with.  It follows a similar premise to James Wan’s Dead Silence, which is a far superior film, but it does a good job of getting you in the mood for much better scares to come.

Stank Ranking –  – 9/10

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