Tag Archives: Christopher Landon



by Hope Madden

Nobody has more fun with the slasher genre than writer/director Christopher Landon. (Well, maybe his writing partner Michael Kennedy.)

Three years ago, the duo created a time loop to allow one victim to return from the dead again and again and again and again until she stopped the marauder. Happy Death Day was so much more fun than it had any right to be, thanks, in part, to a giddy appreciation of the genre and some great casting.

Landon and Kennedy are at it again, and this time the premise and casting might be even better.

What if Freaky Friday met Friday the 13th?

That’s gold right there.

Freaky is as upbeat and lesson-filled as any Disney coming-of-age film, and its body count is as high and as messy as anything in the Voorhees universe. It’s a bloody riot, and Vince Vaughn hasn’t been this much fun since Old School.

Vaughn plays the Blissfield Butcher—at least for a while. But the boogeyman who haunts Blissfield teens right around Homecoming each year steals a cool looking dagger while dispatching nubile youth at an art collector’s house. When he uses the weapon on Millie (Kathryn Newton, Blockers), their souls magically reassign. The evil menace wakes up inside the body of a 5’5” high schooler while Millie wakes up looking like Vince Vaughn.

Oh, the hijinks.

Part of the subversive fun is watching Landon and Kennedy’s wish fulfilment, as the now-evil high schooler dispatches bully teachers, catty bitches and would-be gang rapist jocks. But most of the joy is in watching Vaughn.

He doesn’t overdo it, either. His gestures aren’t wildly feminine—he never feels like a caricature of a high school girl. It’s still funny, but the humor is far less built on a man playing a girl as it is on a petite female inhabiting the body of a really enormous man. That’s mainly the terrain Vaughn and Landon mine for physical comedy, and it is fertile ground.

And the fact that Vaughn so believably conjures the heart of a teenage girl makes any number of scenes—especially the romantic ones—delightfully sweet and tender.

And also, a lot of people die. This is not a PG-13 comedy. But it is a hoot.

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Happy Death Day 2U

by Hope Madden

Two years ago, writer/director Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day managed the unexpected. It took an immediately tiresome premise—Groundhog Day meets Scream—and generated enough audience good will to entertain.

This was mainly thanks to Jessica Rothe, whose performance was funny enough to be simultaneously likable and detestable, and whose character arc mostly felt earned. (Bill Murray’s are big shoes to fill.)

Well, Rothe is back for a second helping of death day cake, as is Landon, who again writes and directs. Can the pair keep the story fresh for a sequel?

Why, no. Thanks for asking.

Where the original was a funny slasher with a SciFi bent, the sequel is a standard Eighties romcom with an occasionally morbid sense of humor. Think Real Genius, only dumber and more tedious.

Or Zapped. Remember Zapped?

Tree (Rothe) believes she’s broken free of her murderous time loop by killing the person who was out to kill her—and learning some hard-won life lessons in the meantime.

She was wrong, though, because the truth is that her boyfriend Carter’s (Israel Broussard) weird roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) has gotten all Timecrimes in the college lab and that’s what caused the loop. In fact, it’s causing another loop into a parallel dimension.

Everyone from the original is back and almost the same as last time (because this is a parallel universe). Any new character who is not white joins Ryan in the lab. Nerds – another sad Eighties theme that won’t stay dead.

Slapstick humor (Oh, this blind French thing is enough to make your brain bleed) and dumbfounding gaps in logic follow. A list of what does not follow: tension, horror, laughter.

Seriously, though, if you haven’t seen Nacho Vigalondo’s 2007 mindbender Timecrimes, you should definitely do that instead of going to HDD2U.

Oh! You know what else is great in that SciFi/time loop/horror neighborhood? The Endless.

The point is, if you are in the mood for some genre bending SciFi fun, you won’t find it here.

And Many More…

Happy Death Day

by Hope Madden

It’s funny how long it took people to rip off the Groundhog Day conceit—20 years, basically. No one really revisited the “day on repeat” idea (Source Code came close, but it wasn’t a full day) until Tom Cruise’s surprisingly high-quality 2014 flick Edge of Tomorrow.

It took twenty years to redo it once, and yet I’ve seen at least 9 of these this year. OK, I’ve seen two (Happy Death Day, Before I Fall) and am aware of two others (Naked, Premature). Still, that’s a lot. It’s like sitting through the same events over and over and over and over again with no idea why it’s happening or how to make it stop.

Happy Death Day does what it can to make up for its lacking originality with a tight pace and compelling lead performance.

Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in some rando’s dorm room with no memory of the night before, a raging hangover and an attitude. She’s murdered that night by a knife-wielding marauder in a plastic baby mask, only to wake up back in that same dorm room under that same They Live poster.

Repeat ad nauseam.

It doesn’t take too many déjà vu mornings before Tree decides there is a mystery to solve here and just like that, we’re off in Phil Connors territory: reliving the same day again and again gives you the chance to become a better person, right?

If, like Tree, you are unaware of Groundhog Day, Phil Connors is the Bill Murray character doomed to relive February 2 until he…well, if you haven’t seen it I don’t want to ruin it for you. But the fact that Happy Death Day addresses the groundhog in the room is part of its self-aware, played-for-comedy charm.

Rothe boasts strong comic timing and a gift for physical comedy, a skill that transitions nicely to the demands of being repeatedly victimized by a slasher.

Director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) wisely mines Scott Lobdell’s screenplay for laughs. Given the repetitive, bloodless nature of the kills, trying to generate scares would have been a tough go.

The mystery absolutely does not hold up, red herrings are silly and fairly pointless, and whatever charm the filmmakers infuse into this recycled premise wears off just a tad before the credits roll. Still, there are funny bits and clever moments peppered throughout what is easily this year’s best Groundhog Day ripoff.

Be Prepared

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

by Hope Madden

“Do you know what’s cooler than cool? Scouting!”

OK, maybe not, but Boy Scouts are exactly the people you need on your zombie survival team. Who doesn’t know that? They know how to tie knots properly, they can forage, find their way around in the woods, and they’re handy. They’re prepared. Duh.

Director Christopher Landon, working with a team of writers, puts this wickedly logical premise into action with his new horror comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

The only three scouts left in Scout Leader Rogers’s (a characteristically wacky David Koechner) troop are at a crossroads. Augie (Joey Morgan) thinks scouting is the best. “Scouts forever!”

Carter (Logan Miller) wants to ditch the uniforms and badges before their high school reputations are ruined forever. “Junior year is the year all the girls become sluts!”

Ben (Tye Sheridan) is torn between both really convincing arguments.

And then zombies overrun the town and they’re glad 1) they weren’t invited to the super-secret cool kids’ party, and 2) they have mad scouting skills.

After a series of really impressive dramatic turns (The Tree of Life, Mud, Joe), Sheridan shoulders the lead in this coming-of-age comedy quite well. He’s a talented actor, able to fill out what could have been a one-dimensional good guy role.

Both Miller and Morgan fit the bill as the goofball sidekicks, while pros like Koechner and Cloris Leachman fill out the rank and putrid ensemble. (Not the actors – their characters.)

The film will win no feminism badges, but a story told from the point of view of three 15-year-old boys should probably be preoccupied with boobs and other assorted whatnot.

This is not a family film, though – make no mistake. This is definitely an R-rated movie, but for all its juvenile preoccupations and vulgar body horror, a childlike sweetness runs through it that keeps it forever fun to watch.

Says Augie upon entering a girl’s bedroom, “It smells like pixie stix and hope in here.”

Cleverly written, directed with a keen eye toward detail and pacing, brimming with laughs, gore, friendship, and dismembered appendages – but utterly lacking in cynicism or irony – it’s a blast of a film with a lot to offer.