Fright Club: Best Horror Endings, Part 1

A couple of firsts happening here! First first: spoilers aplenty! Yes, we are going to spoil some shit today. Why? Because we are covering the final moments in some horror movies, but not just any final moments and not just any horror movies. Nay, we say. We are going to talk through those final ticks of the clock that inarguably elevated each and every one of these films above all expectations.

Well, maybe we can argue since we’re joined by Hellbent for Horror’s S.A. Bradley, and we don’t always agree.

Second first: there’s an act two. Yes! It’s our very own cliffhanger. Listen to #10 – 6 today and we’ll share the top five in a few weeks.

6. Psycho (1960)
We don’t necessarily mean that surprise in the basement that changed the face of cinema almost as surely as that shower scene did. While that shocking moment has become so familiar by now that the image feels a bit—well, adorable may not be the word for it. Quaint?

For us (one of us, anyway), it’s actually that lingering shot on Norman, sitting quietly while Mother chatters away in his head. Anthony Perkins’s eerily frozen glance—such a perfect, creepy and also sad way to cap this masterpiece. The look on his face—why, he wouldn’t even hurt a fly.

7. The Shining (1980)
And while, yes, Act 3 in this film is a doozy, it’s not the entire act we want to celebrate. It’s the lingering image the film sends home with you. And here, after Jack Torrance’s slow but alarming descent into lunacy, he meets his own end.

That look on his face—we’re developing a theme! And then that spooky song straight out of one of Gatsby’s soirees draws you down an opulent hall and we close in on the framed image of one of those grand hotel parties. It’s 1921. And it looks like Jack was having a great time.

8. The Thing (1982)
Yes, when that beastie bursts out of what’s left of the outpost and Mac (Kurt Russell) blows it to smithereens—that’s cool and all. But it’s really that last conversation between Mac and Childs (Keith David). That’s the thing…

Where was Childs? Why does Mac breathe so much heavier? What will they do once that blaze dies down? How will they make it?

Maybe they shouldn’t.

9. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Sure, act 3 is a breathless sprint at breakneck speeds because these zombies can effing move. And yes, watching as good guy Michael (Jake Webber) takes one for the team just drives home the point that this world will never be the same.

But that is hardly what leaves you rattled. Rather than tacking on a few intriguing if needless scenes to the end-of-feature credits, director Zack Snyder drove a knife into your chest by way of found footage.

Picture it: Our ragged survivors, having risked and lost nearly everything, finally make it to a yacht and head away to find a remote island where they can ride out the epidemic. Oh, look: a camera! We cut away and back again to a highlights reel of misery onboard leading to something altogether worse once land is ho.

10. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Is it a brilliant movie? Will George be happy it made the list? That’s a lot of no right there, but honestly, how do we not acknowledge this stroke of genius?

Poor Angela (Felissa Rose)! She witnesses the death of her beloved father and, while still apparently quite traumatized, is asked to just go along with weird Aunt Martha’s (Desiree Gould—amazing!) whim.

Well, it doesn’t work out well for Angela or any of the staff or youngsters at Camp Arawak. But the damage you can do with a curling iron is hardly our concern today. No, it’s that final shot. The money shot. That face! That hairy chest! That wang!!

Screening Room: Impressive Assmebling

Just the one big one to talk through—with no spoilers! Maybe a little bit about superhero crushes, though. So, it’s Avengers: Infinity War as well as what’s new in home entertainment. Check out the full podcast HERE.

Down Wind

Downrange

by Hope Madden

There are some great films that spare you the exposition, dropping you instead into the center of the action and leaving you there, breathless, until the final credits. Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, for instance, exists in this Act 2-only universe.

When it’s done well, it can be a breathless, sometimes blistering ride.

Unfortunately, Downrange doesn’t do it well.

Director Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train) strands you with six motorists—just good looking kids ride-sharing their way with strangers across a deserted highway toward whatever.

One blown tire brings the carpool to a screeching halt, but it isn’t a stray pothole to blame (they’re obviously not driving through Columbus right now). No, it’s a well-aimed bullet, and these travelers have unwittingly volunteered to become target practice for some lone gunman (don’t call him a terrorist!) hiding in the tree line.

It’s not a bad set up, really, if a little clichéd and convenient: out of the way (read: no cell reception), car full of strangers (read: character development will unfold by way of action), escalating tension and drama.

How does the roadkill stew Kitamura makes from these ingredients wind up so bland? Once he puts these ducks on this pond, he can’t find anything imaginative to do with them.

The story is thin, yes—it’s a scene, really, stretched for 90 minutes. But it can be done. Greg McLean did it in 2007 with a raft full of tourists and a big gator in Rogue, but he had Radha Mitchell, Stephen Curry, John Jarratt and Mia Wasikowska—actors whose names you may not know but whose talent you would recognize. Downrange doesn’t have that.

To be fair, the cast struggles with more than just limited ability. They quickly lose the opportunity to feel authentic under an abundance of heavy breathing, high tension close-ups as each ducks and contorts to avoid the spray of bullets and body fluids.

The film isn’t terrible, it’s just tedious. Its nihilism feels undeserved, more like a lack of imagination than a cynical choice. A situation both so precise and so familiar requires some surprise—either in style or in narrative decision—to compel attention. Kitamura can muster neither.

Downrange is a Shudder exclusive, debuting April 28.

We Won’t Tell You Who Dies

Avengers: Infinity War

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Let’s say you recently penned Captain America: Civil War, an exceedingly successful comic book franchise effort weighed down by the mushrooming of heroes. So. Many. Heroes.

And let’s say it went so well that you are now tasked with the new Avengers movie—the film that takes very nearly every hero from your last effort and tacks on, say, 7 or 8 more. You would almost have to immediately think about thinning the herd, right?

Yes.

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who’ve penned all three Captain America films) weave a Marvel Universe-spanning tale that asks whether or not things would work out better if we had about half as many people to deal with. That seems like writerly self-reflection right there.

Thanos (Josh Brolin, who villains it up for Deadpool 2 next) believes in balance. He’s been collecting Infinity Stones across all the different Marvel movies so he can create this Justice Friends adventure and rid the universe of half its inhabitants.

Wait, Thanos is a Guardians of the Galaxy villain, right? Does that mean Starlord’s entire rag-tag crew will join the Avengers (and Dr. Strange and Black Panther and Spiderman and on and on)? So, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth?

Correct.

All we need to defeat Thanos is Chris Pine. No way six Infinity Stones can outshine the wattage of all the Chrisses!

The screenplay offers smart comic moments that suit individual characters (Drax! Teenaged Groot!) and never undermine the drama, of which there is plenty. And balance is clearly on the minds of the writers as well as directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who helmed the last two Captain American films and love Cleveland). The storyline divides up nicely to allow the plethora of personalities to shine, each in their own way.

Though the film runs a full 2 ½ hours with the end-of-credits stinger, it never drags. Plenty happens, all of it rooted in character and held together by Brolin, who gives the film a layered epicenter through his memorable CGI/voice performance.

The Thanos facial effects rank somewhere between Planet of the Apes and Superman’s mustache, while the outlying worlds and creatures sport satisfactory shine.

But we cannot get behind what they’re doing with Hulk. Not digging it.

The very best films in the Marvel universe excel in nuanced big thinking (Black Panther, Winter Soldier) or bullseye tonality (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Infinity War gets close on both battlegrounds, but lays up to bet on its own long game.

True, that sounds like cliched word salad, but we’re steering clear of planet spoiler.

Infinity War tackles some big ideas and makes some brave choices that may cause you to reassess the entire Marvel franchise.

Not everyone will be pleased.

But props to Markus, McFeely and the Russos, for being unmoved by the Last Jedi fanboy uproar and following an ambitious vision. And their film does entertain. There’s not a minute of bloat and there is plenty of thought-provoking story likely to make this a movie earning more respect through time and space.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of May 23

Heaps of movies to veg out and watch from the couch this week. We got docs, we got historical dramas, we got cartoons, we got action flicks. We got it all, and we’ll help you sort it.

Click the film title for the full review.

Paddington 2

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Hostiles

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Den of Thieves

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The Screening Room: Pretty, Dumb and Powerful

Join us in the Screening Room where we discuss I Feel Pretty, Super Troopers 2, Traffik, You Were Never Really Here and everything fit to watch on home entertainment.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

Don’t Call Her Foxy

Traffik

by Hope Madden

A mid-budget action thriller sees a handsome couple alone in an isolated home suddenly at the mercy of a biker gang.

Well, hell, this could be just about any mid-to-low budget thriller from the Seventies. Writer/director Deon Taylor borrows some of the ideas and themes from Seventies exploitation, updating it with a more contemporary style, slicker editing, modern problems and Paula Patton.

That last one might be the real trouble.

Patton plays Brea, a Seattle journalist who may have just lost her job because she’s too interested in telling the whole story. She’s just not one to turn a piece around quickly enough for today’s 24/7 news cycle.

She takes her mind off things with the surprise trip her boyfriend (Omar Epps) planned.

Traffik builds slowly with overly familiar tension, and Taylor makes a handful of interesting choices. These bikers aren’t just racist and bloodthirsty (although they are that). They are the goons of an international human trafficking organization and Brea, her boyfriend and this pointless second couple are in for some real trouble.

The women in Taylor’s film get every opportunity to make a difference, participate in the action and make reasonable decisions—definitely not a staple of Seventies exploitation. Problematically, Paula Patton cannot act.

A lot of action stars can’t, that’s true, but the film really depends upon Patton’s emotional journey and the woman cannot emote.

Taylor makes up for that by simply ogling her body with his camera for 90 minutes. I have never in my life seen a film more preoccupied by one performer’s nipples than Traffik. It would be problematic anywhere, but in a movie where the heroine hopes to save women from sex slavery, it feels wildly wrong-headed.

Given a couple of turns in the script and the film’s overall Seventies vibe, you wonder whether Taylor sees Patton as the new Pam Grier.

She is not.

The film is not terrible. Dawn Olivieri’s turn as a truck stop druggie will haunt you, and even though you basically know what’s coming, Taylor’s game direction keeps you interested nonetheless. There are a couple of decent action sequences—nothing to write home about—and the pace is quick.

Take Paula Patton (and Taylor’s leering filming of her) out of the movie and it’s not a bad little piece of throwback exploitation.

Bloody and Beautiful

You Were Never Really Here

by George Wolf

Two killers lie on a kitchen floor, gently singing along as the radio plays “I’ve Never Been to Me,” surely on of the cheesiest songs of all time. Only one of the men will get up.

It’s a fascinating sequence, one of many in Lynne Ramsay’s bloody and beautiful You Were Never Really Here.

In 2011, Ramsay turned We Need to Talk About Kevin, a spare novel that was not especially big screen friendly, into one of the most devastating yet necessary films in recent memory. Her gifts keep on giving, as here she adapts Jonathan Ames’s brisk novella into a dreamy, hypnotic fable, an in-the-moment pileup of Taxi Driver, Taken and Drive.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers an intensely powerful performance as Joe, a combat veteran who has been wounded in various ways. Joe lives with his mother in suburban New York, whetting his appetite for violence as a vigilante for hire who specializes in rescuing kidnapped girls and exacting brutal justice.

A New York senator (Alex Manette) wants his daughter’s (Ekaterina Samsonov) disappearance kept quiet, so Joe gets the call, only to find this case comes with unexpected complications.

Together, Ramsay and Phoenix ensure nearly each of the film’s 89 minutes burns with a spellbinding magnetism. While Phoenix lets you inside Joe’s battered psyche just enough to want more, Ramsay’s visual storytelling is dazzling. Buoyed by purposeful editing and stylish soundtrack choices, Ramsay’s wonderfully artful camerawork (kudos to cinematographer Thomas Townend) presents a stream of contrasts: power and weakness, brutality and compassion, celebration and degradation.

Much like Ramsay’s Kevin, YWNRH is no feel good garden party. It is darkly surreal, and ironically exacting in its impressionistic study of taking hits, and hitting back. Still, it offers a rich cinematic experience, with a filmmaker and actor working in glorious tandem to soak each frame with meaning.

Border Wars, Eh?

Super Troopers 2

by George Wolf

If you’ve been holding your breath for another Super Troopers, let’s face it, you’re long dead.

But after 17 years, the Broken Lizard gang is back with more of the same stupid gags from that doofus crew in the Vermont Highway Patrol.

Well, technically, the crew has been relieved of duty since the “Fred Savage ride-along incident,” but destiny finds them at the Canadian border. After a rare border reassessment, a small Canadian town (with a winning Rob Lowe as the local mayor/bordello owner) must begrudgingly accept that it will soon become a small American town. To ease the jurisdictional switch from Mounties to VHiPs, Captain O’Hagan (Bryan Cox) reaches out to his old cohorts with the defiant cry of “stoners assemble!”

He really doesn’t do that, but you get the idea. The guys are still stoners.

Apparently inspired by an actual border situation, the film digs in for plenty of sophomoric antics about polite Canucks, boorish Yanks, body parts, bad puns and how each side pronounces “sorry.” There are easy targets and cheese aplenty, but some laughs do get squeezed out, mostly from sheer commitment to the familiarly low bar of the original.

The writers/director/stars in the BL gang are aiming to please, and understandably so. They’re here thanks to cultish fans and a crowdfunding boost, so giving the Troopers troop what they want, including at least two inspired callbacks to that first film, is a sound strategy. It’s just not a consistently hilarious one.

The verdict is pretty simple: if you liked the first one, you’ll like Super Troopers 2. 

Either way, stay for the Fred Savage thing.

 

 

Me Be Pretty One Day

I Feel Pretty

by Hope Madden

Trainwreck, the 2015 big-screen break out for comic Amy Schumer (and LeBron James and John Cena) offered a wise about-face for the rom-com.

Written by Schumer, the film simultaneously embraced and subverted tradition by basically casting a female in the traditionally male role of eternal adolescent who accidentally finds love and, therefore, adulthood.

She returns to the romantic comedy with I Feel Pretty, film that is neither romantic nor comedic, unfortunately.

Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a perfectly attractive woman.

So there’s your first problem.

I will give writers/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein credit for one thing. When Bennett hits her head at a spinning class and wakes up believing she’s traffic-stopping gorgeous, at least the film does not stoop to showing us the flawless physical image Renee sees in the mirror. Thanks for that.

So, it’s only after a traumatic brain injury that Amy Schumer can consider herself attractive.

Now she has all the confidence she needs to go after that receptionist gig at the big cosmetics firm. (Wait! A romantic comedy where a receptionist can afford a small but cool NYC apartment? Yes, that checks out.)

Things take a turn for the better whenever CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams) appears onscreen. Her weirdly spot-on performance as the baby-voiced heiress is a riot—and the only unpredictable moments in the film belong to her.

Schumer does what she can with this superficial, blandly rote script. She has excellent chemistry with her co-stars (Busy Phillips, Aidy Bryant, Rory Scovel), regardless of their underwritten roles. But when you have a comic talent like Schumer on the bill and you still cannot think of anything funnier than seeing a pretty woman fall down, your writing is weak.

Let’s not even address the fact that all Renee wants in life is to work for a cosmetics company and maybe, if we all dream big enough, she might be the new face of a cosmetics line!

Jesus.

In summation, I Feel Pretty is Big meets Shallow Hal, if those films suggested that all Tom Hanks needed was confidence enough to believe he should be objectified, then all would be well.

Can Amy Schumer just write the next Amy Schumer movie? Please?