Friday, April 22, 2016

Worth Mentioning - Through Black Abysses

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A mysterious creature. The Dragon. Fish monsters.


2014 was a huge year for actress Maika Monroe; a year in which a wider audience, and especially genre fans, really started to take notice of her. She earned the attention and new found fans by landing lead roles in two movies that had a clear love for the 1980s and the works of John Carpenter. The first was the thriller The Guest, and soon after came writer/director David Robert Mitchell's horror film It Follows.

It Follows seems to be the more divisive of the two, a lot of people love it, a lot of people hate it. I don't have strong feelings for it in either direction, but I have enjoyed my viewings of the film.

This movie takes the horror cliché that "sex kills" to the extreme; sex is the way characters become targeted by the monstrous "It" of the title. It is a sexually transmitted supernatural killer, some kind of being that can change its appearance to look like different people - sometimes it looks perfectly normal, sometimes it looks very inappropriate, sometimes it looks a mess. This thing will follow the person it has been transmitted to until it catches them and murders them, twisting bones and breaking flesh with its brute strength. The only upside to this situation is that it walks incredibly slow, maybe even slower than your average slasher or zombie.

Monroe plays college girl Jay Height, who gets It purposely passed along to her by the douchebag she recently started dating. He was just using her to get rid of It, and advises her to sleep with someone as soon as possible to pass It on to them. If It kills her before she passes It on, It will be coming after him again.

The concept of It would be hard to grasp for any rational-minded person, but Jay's sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Keir Gilchrist of Dark Summer and Tales of Halloween), and ex Greg (Daniel Zovatto) don't give her grief for believing in this stuff. They step up to protect her from whatever is scaring her so badly and to help her get out of this situation.

They try several ways to thwart It, but It just keeps on coming...

Much like the monster it features, It Follows moves at a deliberate pace. It has a rather sedate style that has caused many viewers to brand it as boring and/or pretentious, and while I'm fine with the way things progress during the 100 minute running time, I can understand where the viewers who didn't like it are coming from. If you're not drawn in by the characters and scenario, I see how this style could feel torturous to endure. It's not an approach that draws me back to watch it again and again, but I think it works for the film.

Mitchell came up with a concept here that is so simple that it's kind of genius. People have sex and a monster comes after them. That's all there is to it, and there's enough sexual tension among the characters that it allows for some twists and turns. Another complaint is that the movie doesn't play by its own rules, but in my viewings I have never felt that there was anything off about what goes on.

A great young cast was assembled to bring the story to life, with Monroe again (after The Guest) proving herself to be a capable heroine and an actress worth watching, Gilchrist doing a wonderful job as the friend who has been infatuated with Jay since childhood, Zovatto making a strong impression with a great screen presence, and Sepe and Luccardi making their supporting characters fun and likeable.

At the end of the day, though, what I enjoy most about It Follows is the synth score by Disasterpeace. If a movie wants to win a place in my heart, having a synth score that gives me '80s flashbacks is a great way to start.


Seven years. Eight films. A lead actor who played seven different characters over the course of those films. Bloodfist VIII: Hard Way Out, which has the alternate subtitle Trained to Kill, marked the end of an era, as it was the last Bloodfist movie that star Don "The Dragon" Wilson ever made. I'm not quite sure why. Although his acting career slowed down a bit after this, he has still been working steadily, appearing in 26 different projects in the twenty years since Bloodfist VIII was released (he packed in 19 different projects between the first Bloodfist in 1989 and this one). We could have gotten more Wilson Bloodfists, but for some reason the well just ran dry.

Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero director Rick Jacobson returned to helm part 8, which holds up Bloodfist sequel tradition by having no connection to the films that came before it. The only constants are Wilson and producer Roger Corman.

With a script by Alex Simon, Hard Way Out/Trained to Kill introduces us to The Dragon as we've never seen him before. This time he's playing Rick Cowan, a high school math teacher, widower, and father to a teenage son named Chris (John Patrick White, who looks more mid-twenties than mid-teens), who he's trying to raise to be a pacifist, telling him that "The first man to raise a fist is the first man to have run out of ideas."

While this is unusual for a Wilson character in a Bloodfist movie, what's even more jarring about this section of the film is the fact that this is a Bloodfist movie that features (old-looking) teenagers going about their school day, talking to each other about dates, getting bullied, and the bullies getting a cringe-inducing, ridiculous comeuppance. The bright side to all of this is that the girl Chris tries to get a date with has written "Led Zeppelin" on one of her school books. At least he knows how to pick them.

When heavily armed assassins attack the Cowan household, it turns out that Rick is actually quite good at raising fists. He has, in fact, been "trained to kill"; the Rick Cowan identity is one he assumed after he retired from a career doing covert ops for the CIA. That's more like The Dragon we know and love. His real name is George MacReady, call him Mac, and now someone is knocking off the members of his old spy team, with Mac the next on their hit list.

Like previous entries Die Trying, Human Target, and Manhunt, this is a "man on the run" installment in the series, but this time the run is an international trip. With the aid of Mac's former associate Danielle Mendelsohn (Jillian McWhirter, who played a different character in Bloodfist VII: Manhunt), the Cowans/MacReadys leave the U.S. and head to Ireland, the mysterious assassins tracking them all the way.

There are twists and turns and betrayals as conspiracies are unearthed, but the main things here are the action sequences, and Hard Way Out delivers in the departments of physical altercations and gunplay. There's even a car chase in the very cost-efficient location of a muddy beach.

Bloodfist VIII is not such a great movie, I don't think I would call any of the Bloodfists great, but it is eminently watchable. Spy thrillers can be so overwhelming in scope and length sometimes that there is something charming about one that gets the job done in under 84 minutes, and I'm coming to respect simple, old school action flicks like these more and more.

In some ways, it seems a shame that the Wilson/Bloodfist era ended here. There had been so many, it only seems right that it would continue on. At the same time, Bloodfist II was the only true sequel of the bunch, so the fact that there are so many movies with the Bloodfist title is kind of silly. Well, they were obviously moneymakers, so kudos to Corman for the successful marketing tactic.

DAGON (2001)

Another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from Re-Animator / From Beyond / Castle Freak director Stuart Gordon, Dagon is, like Castle Freak, a movie that I respect more than I actually enjoy watching.

Written by Dennis Paoli, who worked with Gordon on all of his previous Lovecraft films, Dagon is actually an adaptation of two Lovecraft stories combined, the titular one and a story called The Shadow Over Innsmouth that Gordon had been wanting to make a version of ever since the mid-'80s. It got close to happening at Full Moon, even though Full Moon head Charles Band had a fundamental issue with the story. Some concept art was shown during one of the behind-the-scenes Video Zone specials on a Full Moon release in the early '90s, production on The Shadow Over Innsmouth was expected to begin soon, but then it never happened.

Gordon finally got his chance to bring the Innsmouth ideas to the screen when his frequent collaborator Brian Yuzna (director of the Re-Animator sequels) set up the production company Fantastic Factory in Spain. The budget would be low and, since the movie would be filming in Spain, the setting had to be moved there from Lovecraft's New England, but Gordon made the sacrifices and changes necessary so he could take his cinematic journey to Innsmouth. Or, as it would now be called, Imboca.

The film centers on a young man named Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden), who was born in Spain but his mother took him away to the U.S. when he was an infant. As he nears the coast of his birth country while on a boating vacation, he starts to feel uneasy... and to have nightmares about an undersea kingdom and its part-fish inhabitants.

When a sudden storm wrecks the boat, Paul and his girlfriend are forced to seek assistance in the coastal village of Imboca, but it is immediately apparent that there are threats all around, from both dangerous creatures in the water and the very strange locals.

The residents of Imboca are all gradually turning into fish people. Pale skin, gills, webbed digits, tentacles. This is the issue Charles Band had with the idea, as he thought basing a horror movie around people turning into fish was ridiculous. It is an unusual idea, but it doesn't come off as silly in the film. As realized on screen by Gordon, these fish people are actually quite disturbing and disgusting.

They're soon swarming after Paul as if they were zombies, which brings about my favorite moment in the film quite early in the running time, when Paul finds himself trapped in his hotel room by a legion of gurgling fish people, struggling to keep the doors closed and locked, ending up in a room with two doors that won't lock and fish people trying to come through both of them. It goes by very quickly, but it's as thrilling as the movie gets for me.

Paul is running from the fish people army through the pouring rain for the bulk of the running time, but along the way we learn the history of Imboca and just why its people are mutating (an ancient god called Dagon is behind it all), and we see that Paul's nightmares have a deeper meaning than he realized, because the mermaid of his dreams is one of the women living in Imboca.

Dagon is an interesting film that moves along at a good pace, it's just not one that I find particularly enjoyable to sit through, for whatever reason. I can't really say why it doesn't click with me. Maybe I just have a Charles Band mental block after all and can't get into the idea of fish people and undersea god mythology, no matter how well Gordon pulled it off. The story doesn't appeal to me, and I don't really care about Paul while he's running around the island.

The movie is definitely worth giving a viewing, but if I want to watch Gordon do Lovecraft I would choose to watch Re-Animator and From Beyond multiple times before I would take in a viewing of Dagon. If it came down to a choice between Castle Freak and Dagon, though, Dagon would be the victor.

Dagon may not be for me, but I'm glad Gordon was able to make his dream project after enduring fifteen years of not being able to get it off the ground.


  1. I thought It Follows was great. Agreed on the synth score too.

    - Zach

    1. The more movies we get with '80s throwback synth scores, the better.

      - Cody