Scream MTV Small Screen Slasher More Annoying Less Fun

First victim in Scream MTV
In 1996 Wes Craven started the Scream franchise, which to be fair came later, and, giving a great big cheeky nod to Alfred Hitchcock, killed off the film’s star in the first five minutes. The film was Craven’s homage with a tongue-in-cheek delivery to all things “slasher film” since the genre took off in the 1970s. The first film, like the rest, featured a strong female protagonist (or two counting Courtney Cox’s character) an endearing, and bumbling cop and some pretty spot on nods and winks to the genre and a lot of humor. It also featured Roger Jackson, who “appeared” (more accurately he was heard) in every Scream film as “Ghostface.”

The idea of taking the “scream-verse” to the small screen sounds like a great idea on paper, at least it must have to get MTV to get involved, but Scream lacks so much and the small screen slasher is more annoying and less fun than its inspiration. Certainly watching the first four episodes (“for free, then just sign into your MTV app and…”) there are things that work, albeit, barely.

There is a fairly good backstory, but it does feel like a Halloween borrow, giving the mask way more significance than Wes Craven or Kevin Williamson ever did. Certainly the creators of Scream “TV” have taken the idea of cell phone culture to heart. Using the young’s propensity to text rather than call on their cell, it almost negates the use of a “ghostface” voice changer, aka Roger Jackson (who, incidentally was never approached by the makers to work on the new series). Perhaps the most annoying thing about the show is the cheap trick by the program makers of having someone do a pretty underwhelming impression of Jackson on the phone and not having the “real deal.”

Certainly the unwillingness of the program’s makers to payout for the “real” Ghostface spells out all that is wrong with this show. Other problems deal with their use of the Internet, which Craven and Williamson opened the door on in Scream 4. Podcasts, the use of the net to promote instant “fame” (“How do you think people become famous any more? You don’t have to achieve anything. You just gotta have f***ed up-sh*t happen to you.” Jill tells Sidney this, before attempting to take over as hero of the Woodsboro story. Of course the proviso is that one has to film it, upload the footage and reap the rewards.)

Presumably the twist of the last Scream opened the door for this small screen version. The end result is one of overall disappointment. Where is the humor? Gone, like Roger Jackson and Kevin Williamson. The wry, sly, delivery that oversaw all the larger-than-life murders, buckets of blood, quips, plot twists and the likable main protagonists are all missing.

Emma Fitzgerald appears to be the small screen version of Sidney Prescott. She even comes from a broken home, single mom, versus Sid’s single dad scenario. Although mom is a coroner and dad is not dead, at least so far, he just does not live locally anymore. There is no Dewy and Gale Weathers appears to be taken over by a podcast crime aficionado Piper Shay, who lacks the career killer instinct that Weathers had in spades.

Noah Foster, played by John Karna, is a sort of Randy replacement, without the majestic geekiness that Jamie Kennedy infused the character with, although he is a crime buff and not a film one. He is also, a gamer.

The main problem with the small screen Scream is that this tries to be all things to all groups. There is a gay character, who was once bestie’s with Emma, who has yet to really prove to be anywhere near the equal of Sidney, but then who can really compete with Neve Campbell?

Answer?

Not many.

The acting is okay. There are things that stand out. John Karna’s broadcaster style delivery works and his (short-term) girl Riley Marra, played by Brianne Tju, had brilliant chemistry onscreen with Karna and Tju had the best death scene ever. Riley, who stupidly leaves the relative safety of the police station, gets stabbed repeatedly. She climbs to the roof and after slapping one bloody palm on the skylight to get the janitor’s attention, speaks to Noah, via FaceTime. Noah asks where she is, “What can you see,” he asks. As she dies, Riley rolls over to lay on her back facing the night sky. “Your stars,” she whispers and expires.

Not bad.

Unfortunately that two word descriptive fits the show all too well. Rather interestingly, the series seems to be fairly popular. Perhaps these fans are younger audience members who do not get what Craven and Williamson were doing with the big screen original franchise. Thus far the TV version lacks originality, which if would do as it is based upon a successful and beloved film franchise, and it has no humor. It takes itself far too seriously, going for the scare and leaving the humor out of the formula.

Although having said that, Noah does come close to being comic relief, but the working word here is “close.” Oddly, the best thing about the MTV show is the music. It sets scenes beautifully and supports the action very well. This makes sense, it is, after MTV. (Obligatory “Duh” entered here.) Sadly, great music and a kick-ass soundtrack do not a great series make.

One can forgive the lack of a Ghostface voice, since the plot does pretty much rely upon the text function of today’s smart phones, but to then use another actor Mike Vaughn to do a Roger Jackson style delivery is insulting. Not only to Jackson but to fans of the original who so desperately wanted to love this small screen Scream. Granted, it is not really clear if Vaughn is the voice on the phone, he is listed as “killer” rather than phone voice or “ghostface” wannabe. Just one more annoying thing about this show that is much less than the film franchise that inspired it.

Scream airs Tuesdays on MTV. Watch it and “catch up” if you are behind and see what you think. Prepare to be a little underwhelmed, this is a lot less fun than Craven’s films. Fans of horror with humor may want to hold out for Scream Queens on FOX.

Pretty Little Liars: Catching up is Hard to Do

Promotional poster for Pretty Little Liars
Looking over the list of “popular” shows on TV, Pretty Little Liars ranks right up toward the metaphorical top. With a cast of beautiful young women who can act and are topically relevant (example: Lucy Hale who is so socially applicable that Wes Craven killed her off in the first teaser opening for Scream 4) who fill roles from Sara Shepard’s book series that the show is based on, albeit very “loosely.” The many seasons of this mystery/thriller series ticks all the right boxes.

There is, however, one problem with the show. If you have not been an avid viewer from season one, or at the very least season five, catching up is hard to do. Being late to this particular party means trying to figure out who does what and to whom. Regardless of the character confusion the show does feature some great performers and this makes the difficulty worth it.

Holly Marie Combs who does not look much different from her 1998 Charmed days but can still pack a thespian shattering punch when in front of the camera is one example of a solid performance provider. Other cast members include personal favorite Nolan North, the voice over artist and actor who is seemingly in every video game ever, Nia Peeples, Torrey DeVitto and a slew of familiar names and faces who adorn the screen of this popular show.

Watching the latest season on Hulu yields a mishmash of events which leave the viewer at a total loss. The storyline, as presented by IMDb states that the four main “liars” were blackmailed when their fifth member, and leader, Alison DiLaurentis disappeared. Their deepest, darkest secrets will be revealed by “A” if they do not comply. Now Alison is back and she is apparently trying to save her four female buddies.

The girls in question were prisoners in an elaborate house that is makes one think of the banned episode of The Avengers, where a leather-bound Emma Peel being put through the paces was considered too risque for prime-time TV audiences. (The episode was A Touch of Brimstone and American censors banned it “outright” from US television screens. Pretty impressive for an old black and white show.)

Anyone not having read the books will be completely lost, although the show is, as stated above, only loosely based upon Shepard’s series. Fans will only be able to enjoy the series for another season according to Lucy Hale who let the cat out of the bag last year.

For the time being the girls are out of the doll house, after setting fire to the thing while Alison followed clues to the location. Now all of the ones from the house are having issues, flashbacks and dealing with it as best they can. Sara Harvey, the girl who had been in the silo doll house for years, runs away from home and goes to Emily’s place.

Rather ominously, Sara does not believe their captor is Andrew Campbell while Aria is so convinced that it is Andrew she lied to the police saying that she’d seen his face. Mona decides to go back to school and enlists Aria and Emily to return as well. Emily stays at home to comfort Sara and Aria never leaves the coffee shop.

Alison reveals a persecution complex, Spenser is struggling at home and it turns out that Andrew is adopted. Lorenzo and Ali appear to be mutually attracted to one another and the thought now is that Campbell may really be Charles DiLaurentis. Jason, however, shoots this down by telling Spenser that Charlie DiLaurentis was his imaginary friend.

Em, Ari, and Mona are at the doctor’s office to go through a group session when Spenser relays what she learned from Jason. However evidence exists that shows “Charlie” is real and as the girls discuss this, a call comes in for Emily from Sara on her borrowed burner phone.

Sara is asleep and a gloved hand, holding a knife is poised above her body. A text message appears stating that if his name is mentioned, the girl dies and they have seconds to leave the doctor’s office. They all comply. When they get to Sara, she is unaware of what happened.

Emily’s mother tells the girls that Andrew is being released by the police because of a lack of evidence. All the girls go through the DiLaurentis home looking for the proof that Charles is real. Aria finds a picture that matches the home movie that the girls found in the doll house. It shows Jason and another blond-haired boy…Charlie?

Andrew bumps into the girls at his release and is not best pleased that they thought he had kidnapped them. After he storms off, they meet Lorenzo and later talk about the “shocking game” Charles made them play. Now that it seems Andrew was not responsible, tensions return.

Ali and Jason confront their father about Charles DiLaurentis again and this time his answer is different. Viewers, however, will have to wait as whatever poppa DiLaurentis tells the two is behind glass and all we can hear is Alison saying, “What?”

Pretty Little Liars may be a little difficult to catch up on, but three episodes made it fairly easy to follow the most recent events. The show is entertaining and certainly contains a lot of twists and shifts in direction. Another ABC hit that will be missed when it ends after one more season.

Living in the Real Desert: Fact Resembling Fiction

Quartzsite, Arizona mystery mobile home graveyard

Riding to town this afternoon I decided to take an alternate route to the main strip leading to town. A quick decision was made to take a dirt road where the surface was hard packed enough to make the bike tires move fairly well despite the lack of asphalt. It was this detour that made living in the real desert suddenly become “fact” eerily resembling fiction.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’ve been binge watching all my DVD horror collection. Three of these films were watched back-to-back; the first being Wes Craven’s 1977 The Hills Have Eyes with the delightful Michael Berryman and “Lassie’s mom” Dee Wallace, and the last two being the damned good remake of the original film and the 2007 The Hills Have Eyes II that deviated from its Craven roots by a lot.

Screen shot from The Hills Have Eyes II 2007
The Hills Have Eyes II 2007

So it was with something resembling trepidation and downright creeped out fascination that I observed what appeared to be a sort of graveyard for mobile homes, aka trailers, RV’s and boats off the side of the road. On the opposite of this dirt road is a recycling business.

Boats, truck and propane tanks
Boats?

Slowing to a stop, I took some pictures and observed that apart from a couple of different sized watercraft vehicles there was also an old propane truck, complete with tank on tow behind it. A few RVs and a big trailer with a semi, or Mack” cab set up to pull the silver monstrosity if its tires weren’t flat.

More RVs...
Please forgive the blur, pictures taken “on the run.”

The whole thing had a sort of “horror film feel” to it. Especially as the first trailer/mobile home had a shadowy figure lurking behind the big window in the stripped “living room.”

Creepy.

It really felt like fiction had become fact, behind that tall fence in the “real desert.”  Although arguably these skeletal remains of holiday vehicles and abodes did not resemble the “nuke town” in The Hills Have Eyes II.

In front of the odd assortment of “dead” tin human receptacles is an old RV park that has had a “closed” sign on it since I got here at least. This derelict “Winnebago” version of the Bates Motel, looks to have been closed for some time. No stuffed animals or murderous mummy’s boy named Norman here…

Hopefully.

However, this place looks like an old deserted drive-in theatre, the site has old electrical hookup standing lonely and disconnected next to small rectangles of gravel and what appears to be a water outlet of some sort.

Tour trailer derailed
No “Highway to Hell” for this tour vehicle…

There is a “reception” building that looks as deserted as the old damaged denizens of the graveyard behind it, but there are a couple of dirty cars in front of the structure and about 500 yards away from it, next to a wash, or arroyo, is a washing line and the drying clothes hanging there change regularly.

Someone is washing their clothes and apparently living in the rundown and creepy looking old RV park with all those dead occupants scattered behind it…

It honestly creeped me out and after taking a few hasty pictures with my trusty iPhone, I got the hell out of there in case Papa Jupiter came after me with his family trailing behind. This living in the real desert lark does sometimes feature fact that certainly resembles fiction and vice versa. A little hard on the nerves of an older “big kid” with an overactive imagination.

15 February 2015

Wishmaster (1997): Evil a-Djinn

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Directed by Robert Kurtzman (Buried Alive, Deadly Impact) Wishmaster is a horror film that has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Starring Andrew Divoff and featuring a cornucopia of horror film alumni, as well as Jack Lemmon‘s son Chris. (Chis Lemmon sounds just like his dad and even has most of his mannerisms)

In the beginning of the film we see the “back story” of the evil Djinn (Divoff in heavy makeup) and we also see how he comes to be defeated by a court sorcerer. The sorcerer traps the Djinn in an opal the size of Texas and that is where he remains until a drunken crane operator smashes the statue that the jewel was hidden in.

This newly released opal is pocketed by a dock worker and it finds its way eventually to an auction house. The owner, Nick Merritt (Lemmon) gives the stone to Alexandra ‘Alex’ Anderson (Tammy Lauren) to see how much it’s actually worth. She in turn gives it to her best friend Josh Aickman (Tony Crane) to analyse and its while doing this that the Djinn escapes and starts his deadly path to Alex who actually woke him up.

I really enjoyed this film the first time I saw it. It was a case of “spot the horror star” with its long list of cameos by favourite genre actors. The list is long and impressive:

Like I said, quite a lot of folks to spot and enjoy recognising them before they each meet their respective ends.

The only real problem I had with the film was the female lead Tammy Lauren. Everything about this young lady; her actions, her voice, even her facial features,  screamed “Laura Hamilton” clone. It felt like the director and the producer really wanted Hamilton and since for what ever reason they couldn’t have her, they grabbed another female who resembled her and made her “act” like Hamilton.

I could be wrong, but man, she sure made me think of the Terminator gal.

I know that Wishmaster has been pretty much panned over the years and that it spawned three more sequels (none of which I’ve seen) that were equally panned. But if you took the film at face value and realised that from frame one it was never meant to be taken seriously; you would enjoy it. This film oozes a sly humour that is hard to avoid if you look for it.

Interestingly enough, Wishmaster was the only film out of a grand total of 4 in what became a series, was the only film to have the “Wes Craven Presents” credit.

I remember showing this to my daughter (at a pretty young age, yes I know, I was a bad parent) and once she got past a few of the scarier bits (scary if you’re that age) she found the film to be chock full of sardonic humour. The same way I did.

It’s a great film to watch and chuckle at. Kane Hodder’s scene with Andrew Divoff’s Djinn is hysterically funny. (Amazingly, it was this scene that scared the crap out of my daughter.)

I’d give this a 4 out of 5 stars for black comedy and sly innuendo and for Andrew Divoff and Chris Lemmon‘s performances. A big bowl of popcorn movie for sure.

Andrew Divoff and Robert Englund.
Andrew Divoff and Robert Englund.

My Soul to Take (2010): The Film Critics Love to Hate?


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Written and directed by “tongue-in-cheek” horror master Wes Craven, My Soul to Take opened to almost universal pans. No-one, it appears, liked the film and critics united in an effort to slam this film. As a huge Wes Craven (and fan of all the Screams) I am amazed at the amount of “Craven-bashing” that took place when this film premiered.

It is almost like a rerun of Craven’s other film, Cursed; which to be fair was a pretty messy affair (being re-shot no less than 3 times) and critics again rallied to beat Craven metaphorically about the face and eyes in their rush to show their hatred for this film. I waited for the film to be released on DVD and watched it.

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I liked the rated and un-rated version…

I liked it.

So when critics slammed the s**t out of  My Soul to Take, I withheld my judgement (as usual) until I’d seen it. Unsurprisingly, I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much I bought a Blu-ray copy of the film. So while I have to restrain myself from giving the middle finger of disdain to the world’s film critics, I have no problem with sending a huge raspberry their way.

Starring:

Max Thieriot
Denzel Whitaker
Raul Esparza
Shareeka Epps
Bug looking pretty damned guilty.
Bug looking pretty damned guilty.

The Plot:

On the night that an almost unstoppable serial killer with a split-personality is seemingly dispatched, 7 babies are born in the local hospital. 16 years later on their birthday, they are all hunted down by the presumed dead serial killer and one boy, Adam ‘aka Bug’ (Thierot), finds out that his dad was the serial killer. Adam must figure out who is killing all his peers and stop him or her.

The Device:

*Warning: this could be seen as a spoiler.*

All the film’s action hinges on the device of “soul eating” and that when a person dies their soul is consumed by their killer. Apparently, when the original serial killer died, his soul was split into 7 parts and each baby born on that night took a portion.

The Twist:

The killer isn’t who you (repeatedly) think it is.

The Verdict: 

The film is honestly not as bad as the critics would have you believe. Okay, so some of Craven’s sly humour is missing here. The overall plot is not too complex and basically folks, if you’re expecting another version of the Scream verse; you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not as clever as Scream or Cursed (which I liked remember) so be prepared.

It does feature another “super-human” Big Bad that is fairly impressive. So overall, I really cannot understand the total lack of love that this film gets.

The Score: 

I would have to give this a solid 4 out of 5 stars just for the split-personality angle and the 7 souls schtick. A good popcorn munchin’ film with solid performances by all.

*This is an experimental review format that I’m trying out for this film. Let me know what you think. Vote on the format you like best and I’ll try to write future reviews in that format.*

*Just to let you know, I’m popping my Poll cherry here, please be gentle! I’ll “post” the results after a week or so. Thanks guys.*

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