Cody revels in madness.
I feel like I was there when it all began. Sure, I wasn't in the room with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier when they were recording episode 259 of their podcast SModcast, an episode entitled The Walrus and the Carpenter. An episode in which Smith tells Mosier of a classified ad he was alerted to that originated on the UK website Gumtree. But I did listen to it as soon as it became available, and played my part in what spun out of the ensuing conversation.
The ad was from someone who was looking for a lodger. The person would give the lodger complete run of their large house (except for the owner's bedroom and workshop), rent free. The only condition: the lodger must be willing to, for up to two hours a day, wear the realistic walrus costume the owner had constructed, and for those two hours convincingly act like a walrus. You see, the person was nostalgic for an old friendship. They had spent three years on an island with no companionship except for a walrus, who provided the person with the most fulfilling friendship they had ever known. So there was a sweet reasoning given, but asking a person to be a walrus for you is also inherently creepy. Smith and Mosier's minds were blown by this ad and, picking up on the creepiness factor, as they riffed on it they began to picture the concept as the basis of a horror movie.
Now, Smith and his fellow podcasters often dream up movie ideas over the course of episodes, but it's all in fun, they're just comedic conversations, these ideas are never meant to go anywhere. There was something different about SModcast 259, though. As this conversation continued, there seemed to be a shift. Smith seemed to actually become inspired to make this walrus-themed horror picture he and Mosier had just dreamed up. At the end of the episode, Smith asked listeners to vote online to say whether or not they wanted to see this movie become a reality. The votes were Twitter hashtags: #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo.
SModcast 259 went live around 4:58pm on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Being an avid listener, I downloaded it as soon as I saw the link. I listened to the episode that evening. At 9:51pm, I voted. "#WalrusYes, a thousand times yes!" I was among those who made the amount of #WalrusYes votes overwhelming.
I didn't really think this movie idea would go any further than the others that have been discussed on podcasts, but I truly hoped it would, because it sounded like something I desperately needed to see. It really all came down to the word "walrus". If the ad, which later turned out to just be something a young man named Chris Parkinson had written up and posted on a lark, had been about pretty much any other sort of animal, it wouldn't have been as interesting. But the idea of a movie about a man forcibly, surgically turning another man into a walrus? I felt that was too good to pass up. Thankfully, Kevin Smith felt the same way, and he made the movie happen.
The finished product stars Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, a comedian who failed at stand-up but has found success as the co-host of a podcast with his pal Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment),in which he returns from travels to see interesting sights and interview interesting people to tell Teddy (and the listeners) all about it. Teddy stays at home because he's afraid of flying.
Success has changed Wallace's personality for the worse, but he doesn't have time to listen to the worries of his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), he doesn't give it any thought, he's got a job to do. A job which currently involves making a mockery of a young man from Canada who accidentally cut off his own leg while playing around with a samurai sword. The video of this incident has gone viral on the internet, this hapless fellow is called the Kill Bill Kid (he's the successor to the Star Wars Kid), and Wallace heads to Canada for a one-on-one interview with him.
Unfortunately, by the time Wallace arrives, the Kill Bill Kid has used his sword to commit seppuku. This leaves the podcaster stuck in the middle of nowhere in Canada and in need of a story to tell. He seems to have gotten a lucky break when he discovers a handwritten ad for a lodger stuck on a corkboard in a bar restroom, left by a man who wants to share his home with someone interested in listening to the many stories he has to tell about his life at sea.
Wallace drives deep into the Canadian wilderness to arrive at a secluded mansion, where the person who's looking for a lodger, Howard Howe (Michael Parks), begins to regale him with some of those promised stories, for example what it was like serving in the military with Ernest Hemingway, or the time he was rescued from a shipwreck by a walrus, a walrus which remained his companion while he was stranded on a small island.
But of course, Howard Howe hasn't lured Wallace here just to tell him stories. He has very sinister plans in mind for the podcaster, and the first step is drugging his tea. Once Wallace is unconscious, Howe begins to make a monster, surgically transforming Wallace into a grotesque effigy of his beloved, long lost walrus friend Mister Tusk, seeking both a reunion of sorts and a twisted closure.
Michael Parks is, as he tends to be, utterly captivating as the madman Howard Howe, whose distaste for humanity is fuelled by a backstory rooted in the real life horrors of the Duplessis Orphans. Whether Howe is putting on the facade of being an harmless old man or letting his true insanity shine through at full blast, Parks is always a delight to watch, with moments here and there driving home what a truly brilliant performer he is.
It's quite fitting then that Justin Long ups his game to deliver the best, most emotional performance I've ever seen him give. Wallace is a creep, but Long really gets the terror and desperation across when the character realizes what a bad situation he's in.
Part of the reason why Long was cast as Wallace was how limited the actor in the role would eventually be - Long has large, expressive eyes, and those are put to use in a major way when Wallace is in his final walrus form. Said walrus form is beyond anything I ever imagined. It's reminiscent of something out of a Frank Henenlotter film and is simultaneously one of the most disturbingly bizarre and hilariously absurd things I've ever seen.
Tusk descends into complete lunacy in its second half, and while Wallace is living through a surrealistic nightmare, Ally and Teddy are seeking to find him.
I have seen Genesis Rodriguez in a few other movies, but she is a revelation here. Amidst all the madness, a dramatic monologue she delivers still stands out as one of my favorite moments in the film.
During their quest to rescue Wallace, Ally and Teddy enlist the aid of a French-Canadian former policeman named Guy Lapointe, who has long been searching for the serial killer who has been leaving limbless, mutilated bodies strewn across Canada. Howe has had more than twenty victims before Wallace.
Guy Lapointe is credited as playing himself, but beneath some light prosthetics is an A-list actor. I've read other reactions to this film and it often seems that it's the moment when Lapointe is introduced where the positive or negative deciding line is drawn. The A-list actor plays Lapointe in a much different way than I would have expected, his lines come out so slowly that it was jarring and dragged down the film's momentum a bit, but I did find him to be an enjoyable character overall. He's an odd twist in the middle of a sea of strangeness.
Tusk was never going to be a movie that would appeal to a wide audience, so the fact that its 600 screen release isn't exactly raking in the dough isn't much of a surprise. It's a midnight movie by design, something for a cult segment of viewers. It's a wonderfully weird movie that greatly appealed to me personally.
The only thing that was lacking was the viewing experience. The theatre I saw it in was nearly empty, and deathly silent. I sat there throughout with a big grin on my face, just wishing I could see the movie along with an appreciative crowd, people who would audibly react to what was transpiring on the screen, who would cackle with glee and howl with laughter at the absurdity, like I wanted to do in that quiet screening room.
Hopefully I will get the chance to watch the movie with fellow Tuskateers someday, but in the meantime I'm just very glad that it even exists, and that it's even more insane than I hoped for. I'm grateful that Kevin Smith didn't just let go of the idea at the podcast stage and chased this whimsy all the way to fruition.
What I said last June, I still feel that way after seeing the final result. #WalrusYes, a thousand times yes.
James Wan's film The Conjuring was one of my favorite new releases of last year, and is a very important movie to me on a personal level, as it contains an exchange of dialogue that my girlfriend and I often quote to each other in lovey dovey moments. You wouldn't expect something like that to come out of one of the most heavily atmospheric horror films of recent years, but that's how strong the performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga were in the roles of real life husband and wife demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The Conjuring opened with the Warrens working on a case separate from the one that took up the bulk of the film, a quick pre-credits sequence during which the couple comes to the aid of some young women whose apartment has become a terrifying place to be thanks to unusual occurrences revolving around a battered old doll. The Warrens deduce that the doll is being used by a demonic entity in an effort to take possession of the young women. The doll, called Annabelle, had very little screen time in The Conjuring, but the creepy thing made such an impression on audiences that Warner Bros./New Line Cinema decided to give the object its own spin-off film while they work on developing a more direct sequel to the smash hit The Conjuring.
Annabelle is marketed as a prequel to The Conjuring, its story crafted in such a way that it's meant to lead right into what was presented in that pre-credits sequence, and yet while working to build toward that scenario, the story and film also contradict everything that was said at the beginning of The Conjuring.
Arriving in theatres just over fourteen months after The Conjuring, Annabelle centers on a young, church-going married couple; pregnant, doll-collecting housewife Mia (Annabelle Wallis), and her med student husband John Gordon (Ward Horton). As she prepares to bring a child into the world, Mia is disturbed by signs that the world is becoming a darker place than she has known - specifically, what has Mia feeling uneasy are the reports of the Manson Family murders. (This despite the fact that the Warrens worked the Annabelle case in 1968, this movie is supposed to be set one year earlier, and those murders were committed in '69.)
An incident similar to the Manson Family killings strikes uncomfortably close to the Gordons when members of a Satanic cult murder their neighbors in an effort to show their devotion to the dark forces and to summon a demon, then come over to the Gordons' with the intention of extending their killing spree. The cultists die in the Gordon home, the woman - whose name was Annabelle - dying with the doll that will also come to be known as Annabelle on her lap.
From that point on, the Gordons and Mia in particular continually experience strange, disturbing, supernatural events that gradually grow in intensity, and keep happening even when they move out of their crime scene home and into an apartment building. The couple has to figure out what the cultists have brought into their lives before it's too late, the life of their newborn daughter may depend on them defeating this evil.
Annabelle was directed by James Wan's frequent cinematographer John R. Leonetti, who previously directed Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. It's very strange how Leonetti can make Wan's films look so dark and stylish, and yet here his own film has turned out to look utterly bland and generic.
The atmosphere of Annabelle doesn't even come close to that of the movie it's tied to. Throughout the film, Leonetti tries to pull off the same tricks that make Wan's horror offerings so effective, but they don't work as well, instead just coming off as the imitiations that they are.
The fact that this "prequel" was a rushed cash-in shines through at every step. The bland look, the lack of atmosphere, the sparse locations, the fact that, although Wallis and Horton do receive some capable support from Tony Amendola and Alfre Woodard (as a priest and a bookstore clerk with access to tomes on the occult, of course), the majority of the film is a simple two-hander with John and Mia, and often just focuses on Mia hanging out in their places of residence by herself.
On the plus side, Wallis and Horton do a fine job carrying the film on their shoulders, the acting in the film is good all around. The script by Gary Dauberman (who did uncredited work on New Line's Final Destination 5 and A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) is decently written, although heavily reliant on clichés.
Annabelle brings nothing new to the table, you've seen everything in it in multiple films before, but it was never meant to be a groundbreaker. It's simply an attempt to replicate the style of James Wan in a film that exists solely to keep the Conjuring brand alive while a sequel is being developed. It's a film that is the definition of generic and middle of the road. You can do a lot worse than checking it out, but it's also not something worth rushing to see.
WRONG TURN (2003)
2003 was a busy year for murderous redneck families at the horror box office, and of the three films of that type to come out over the year, Wrong Turn was by far my favorite. I had issues with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre '03 for being a remake that paled in comparison to the classic original, one of my favorite films of all time. I thought the sylistic choices Rob Zombie made with House of 1000 Corpses made his feature directorial debut feel sloppy. But Wrong Turn, it won my heart by being a simple, straightforward throwback to my beloved 1980s slashers. Although set in modern day, it is a film that would have been right at home coming out during the early '80s slasher boom.
Directed by Rob Schmidt (Crime + Punishment in Suburbia) from a screenplay by Alan B. McElroy (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), the film follows a young med student Chris Flynn as he veers off onto a side road to avoid traffic on the highway and ends up making a wrong turn on the unpaved, forest-shrouded Bear Mountain Road.
Momentarily distracted by the sight of some roadkill, Flynn plows his '67 Mustang into the back of a Range Rover that stopped in the road after one of its tires was blown out by a strand of barbed wire purposely strung across the road.
With both vehicles now immobile, Flynn is now stranded in the middle of West Virginia's Greenbrier Backcountry, beyond cell phone signal range, with the passengers of the Range Rover - tough chick Jessie, engaged couple Carly and Scott, and pot-smoking horndog couple Francine and Evan.
Knowing that it's pointless to bother the Pepto Bismol-swilling old man at the nearest gas station with their problems, since Ric's Good Valu Gas is a rundown old shack with out of order phones and gas pumps, Flynn treks out through the forest with most of the group (Francine and Evan stay behind with the cars) in search of another way to get in contact with the outside world.
Instead of finding help, they find themselves in a filthy old cabin surrounded by rusting vehicles and filled with collections of human body parts. Teeth in jars. A corpse in the bathtub. Cut meat in the fridge and cooking on the stove. Then the inhabitants of this cabin get home, pulling the Mustang and Range Rover behind their tow truck, and proceed to hack up the body of Francine while her friends, hiding in the cabin, watch in horror.
The cannibalistic killers are a trio of mountain men who are severely deformed, the result of generations of inbreeding, and clearly psychotic. The ones called Saw-Tooth and One-Eye are hulking brutes (Saw-Tooth is played by 7'5" former pro wrestler Garry Robbins), while the third, Three Finger, is a small, quick, hyper, cackling madman.
Once the killers discover there are trespassers on their property, the chase is on, with the outsiders running and fighting for their lives as the mountain men track them through the boobytrap-filled woods and pick them off one-by-one. There are some great slasher kills in the movie as people are removed from it with barbed wire, with arrows, with axes...
We don't spend much time with the characters before the killing starts, but we get a good idea of who they are and the actors do well at making them a likeable bunch for the most part. Luckily, the worst characters die first. Standouts in the cast include Eliza Dushku and Emmanuelle Chriqui, while my favorite of the bunch is Jeremy Sisto's performance as the sunflower necklace-wearing Scott. Scott's a nice guy, slightly neurotic, and he rambles on and on as he and Carly adorably plan their future together. Some of Scott's humorous lines seem so natural and endearing that I suspect they must have been improvised by Sisto.
Wayne Robson is also a delight in his small role as the aforementioned gas station attendant.
The set-up is perfectly simple, the killers are awesome and can take a licking and keep on ticking, the death scenes are effective. The characters take a wrong turn, but there were no missteps made in the assemblage of this old school style slasher flick. If you enjoy movies like this from the '80s, Friday the 13th and its backwoods brethren, I see no reason why you wouldn't also enjoy Wrong Turn. I was certainly very appreciative to see a movie of this type back on the big screen in 2003.
Indie filmmaker Dustin Mills continues to delve into the trend of "extreme" genre films with his second release through the Crumpleshack Films branch of his company Dustin Mills Productions, a side label he developed so he could dabble in making sleazier, meaner, more exploitative movies than the average DMP release.
The first Crumpleshack film, Her Name Was Torment, was essentially a play on the "torture porn" trend. With Snuffet, Mills has made a "found footage" style movie, but this is no Paranormal Activity. It's more along the lines of Fred Vogel's August Underground trilogy, which examined the depraved life of a serial killer through the cameras he and his associates used to film their horrific acts. Like August Underground, Snuffet is presented as a collection of videos filmed by a serial killer as he torments, tortures, and brutally dispatches his victims. Mills never does something in exactly the same way as someone else has done it, though. There is a very unique twist to this production: most of the cast are puppets.
Snuffet is set in a reality where puppets are a living species who have only recently gained their freedom from serving humans and being forced to perform in puppet shows. As is the way of our world, every race has someone who hates them for being who they are, and it's no different for the puppet race. Anti-puppet racism is a problem in the movie's reality, and the lead character, Helmut Frosch, runs an internet message board called The Flame, where puppet haters gather together to share in their hatred and prepare for the race war they believe is coming.
Frosch's own hatred of puppets is so intense that he began murdering them in May of 2014, filming the murders and posting the videos on The Flame. Snuffet is comprised of those videos, as well as personal video diaries filmed by Frosch and Melissa Schweine, a like-minded individual who seeks him out after seeing his murder clips and falls in love with him.
Donning frog and pig masks, Frosch and Schweine commit murder together, and every one of their acts of brutality against puppets is presented here in graphic detail. Puppets of all ages are shot, blown up, crushed, burned alive, dissected. A puppet autopsy plays out in full.
Human puppet rights activists are also targeted by Frosch and Schweine, as are people who are in or support interracial relationships with puppets, such as an adult film star with the stage name Giggles Mouthworthy.
The film makes it clear at every step along the way that it's not going to hold back, it's not afraid to go to shocking extremes, but the amount of time Mills devotes to a puppet/human sex scene from one of Mouthworthy's movies is still quite surprising, and that isn't the only explicit sexual content. It's incredible what the actors were up for.
I don't typically watch extreme movies. I know of the August Underground trilogy, I've never watched it. When a theatrical horror marathon I was attending showed A Serbian Film, I chose to spend those two hours waiting in the lobby rather than subject myself to its imagery. Snuffet is the closest I've gotten to watching modern movies of that type, and just because most of the victims are made of felt doesn't mean their deaths don't have impact. The scenarios and the racism make this film highly disturbing, regardless of who or what the victims are, especially since there are clear parallels to real world civil rights issues and hate crime atrocities.
Mills got his start with the all-puppet movie The Puppet Monster Massacre, so it's no surprise that the puppetry on display in this movie is very impressive. There are shots of moving, talking puppets that I have no idea how were done. There's no place for the puppeteers to be. It's movie magic, something which Mills excels at pulling off even on his extremely low budgets.
Snuffet is a movie that is hard to recommend and at times hard to watch. Only a certain segment of viewers will be into it, but it will definitely have fans who will absolutely love it.
I was shocked, I was repulsed, but the creativity and inventiveness of the concept and execution kept me captivated.