Cody ends the year with thrills, action, and 1980s monsters.
TIGER HOUSE (2015)
I had a great-aunt who went through a terrible ordeal, long before I was born, where she was accidentally shot in the leg with a shotgun. Thankfully she was able to recover pretty well from the wound, but it's certainly not something anyone would want to go through. I was reminded of my late aunt during the opening scene of director Tom Daley's feature debut Tiger House, as it depicts a moment in which a young girl named Kelly (Kaya Scodelario) is accidentally shot in the leg with a crossbow.
This messes up Kelly's gymnastics dreams (she was supposed to compete in Brazil!), but luckily for her the arrow causes much less harm to her leg than the shotgun blast did to my aunt's, so during her recovery she's still able to climb a rose trellis to sneak in through her boyfriend's bedroom window, and her primary concerns still involve their complicated relationship - the fact that his mom doesn't approve of her, and the positive result she just got on a pregnancy test.
Kelly's covert night with her love is interrupted when the house is invaded by a team of armed thieves that includes Mission: Impossible II villain Dougray Scott and Deadpool's Ed Skrein, who you might say is the new Jason Statham since he replaced Statham in The Transporter: Refueled.
With her boyfriend and his family taken hostage, Kelly is left to fend for herself, struggling to escape this dangerous situation and save the hostages in the process. Of course, the crossbow comes back into play, and this time Kelly uses it to cause injury rather than being on the receiving end.
Tiger House is a fast and short (under 83 minutes) thriller with twists and turns that kept me captivated throughout, but it's not without its issues - for one, the way the interactions with and between the thieves are handled made it tough for me to see them as a great threat, despite the fact that Skrein's character turns out to be a raping, murdering madman. I didn't believe that Kelly would have much trouble taking them down.
The characters in this film are also of questionable intelligence, allowing for several scenes where the viewer might be groaning and yelling at the screen as characters either do things that appear to be quite dumb, or are completely oblivious to what's going on around them.
Still, being baffled by stupidity in a movie can add another level of entertainment to watching it, and my friends and I had fun watching Tiger House together.
SILVER BULLET (1985)
In the early 1980s, a company called Zavista came up with a pretty cool idea: they would create a calendar with famed comic book artist Bernie Wrightson drawing some kind of horrific image for each month, and each image would be accompanied by a very short story written by literary master of horror Stephen King, crafting a scenario around Wrightson's art. But there was a problem: as evident from the fact that some of his novels have been more than 1000 pages long, sometimes King needs a lot of words to tell his stories. More words than you can fit on a calendar page. So rather than do that calendar, King and Wrightson teamed up on a novella. King came up with a story that he told in just over 100 pages, and Wrightson provided illustrations of scenes to put throughout the book. That book was Cycle of the Werewolf, first published in November of 1983.
Some of the calendar idea did make it through to the novella, because the book's story occurs over the course of one year and it's told in chapters that are each set a month apart, during the period of the full moon. A werewolf is stalking the town of Tarker's Mills, Maine, and it ultimately comes down to a ten-year-old boy in a wheelchair to bring its monthly rampages to an end. For the purposes of the story, the full moon tends to fall on a holiday - Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, April Fool's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween, New Year's Eve. I don't think that's possible, but it works fine for the work of fiction.
As tends to happen with King's stories, Cycle of the Werewolf received a cinematic adaptation, and it happened pretty quickly. The film version of the story, directed by Daniel Attias and re-titled Silver Bullet, reached theatres just under two years after the illustrated book was published, on October 11, 1985.
The film is, for no clear reason, set in 1976, and it gets off to a spectacular start when a drunk railroad employee working out on the tracks late at night gets attacked by a werewolf, his head getting separated from his body with one swipe from the monster's clawed hand.
Before the next attack, we're introduced to two of the heroes of the film, Corey Haim as 11-year-old Marty Coslaw and Megan Follows as his teenage sister Jane. Marty and Jane have a tumultuous relationship, as siblings often do, with Jane often feeling like everyone cares more about Marty simply because he's in a wheelchair. She cares for him an awful lot too, though, and he's a good, caring brother to her.
As the year goes on, more and more residents of the town Tarker's Mills are killed and torn to pieces by the werewolf, who seems to choose its victims at random. The film is a bit front-loaded with these attack sequences, but when they occur they are an awesome sight of slashing claws, gnashing teeth, and body damage.
In the midst of the murders, we not only get to see how the townspeople react to it, with a paranoida setting in, and how the sheriff (Terry O'Quinn of Lost, The Stepfather 1 and 2, and Young Guns) tries to handle it - and he doesn't handle it very well, according to some vocal locals - but we also get to learn more about Marty as a character and the relationships in his life. His father doesn't have much of an impact on him, his mom is overprotective. It's his drunken Uncle Red (Gary Busey) who he can really connect with more than anybody.
Uncle Red isn't the best role model, but he and his nephew have fun together, and he tries to make sure the kid has fun. At one point, he builds a high speed motorized wheelchair for Marty that's called the Silver Bullet, giving an extra meaning to the film's title. This thing really doesn't serve much of a purpose aside from allowing Marty to take part in a couple action sequences that wouldn't be possible in a regular wheelchair.
As the population of Tarker's Mills gets whittled down, Marty begins to suspect that a werewolf is responsible, and that suspicion is confirmed when he goes out one night to set off some fireworks Red gave him. When the werewolf lunges out of the darkness, Marty fires a bottle rocket right into its eye and speeds off on Silver Bullet... you see, you couldn't have gotten out of that situation so quickly without Silver Bullet. He also couldn't participate in the car chase when the one-eyed person Marty believes to be the werewolf tries to run him down.
Marty's claims that there's a werewolf stalking their town is a tough pill to swallow for Jane and Red, but they eventually come around to believing him and help him prepare for a climactic face-off that occurs on Halloween night... A fact which barely registers, because the movie doesn't play up the Halloween setting at all, aside from a background glimpse of one house's decorations.
I saw Silver Bullet on television quite a few times during my childhood, and I have to admit that I was never very into it. I always found something about it to be off-putting, and I'm not sure what it was. Maybe the look of it didn't come off well in the days of lesser picture quality. I know I didn't like the unnecessary voiceover that an older Jane (the voice of Tovah Feldshuh) provides at a couple points in the film, and I still didn't like that, it's completely pointless. It could also be that I was too familiar with the Cycle of the Werewolf book at a young age to be a fan of the changes made to bring the story to the screen, even though Stephen King himself wrote the adaptation.
For example, the Silver Bullet wheelchair was not in the book, and even as a kid I thought that was a silly addition to the story.
These days, I don't mind the Silver Bullet wheelchair, and as an adult I find that my younger self was too hard on this movie. It's actually a cool little werewolf flick with some great attack scenes and good characters. Some questionable decisions went into it, but it works overall. When there's a decapitation within the first five minutes, chances are the movie you're watching is going to provide an entertaining viewing experience, and despite what I might have told you in my younger days, Silver Bullet does just that.
ROAD HOUSE 2 (2006)
Yes, this is something that exists. A direct-to-video sequel to the action classic Road House that followed seventeen years after its predecessor and does not star Patrick Swayze as his iconic Road House character Dalton. Internet trivia says that Swayze was approached about starring in the sequel but left the project due to "creative differences", but it really wouldn't surprise me if they hadn't asked him at all. Direct-to-video sequels often move ahead without the franchise's original star.
The star this time around is Johnathon Schaech, who also worked with Miles Chapman and Richard Chizmar to write the screenplay that was brought to the screen by director Scott Ziehl. Schaech plays DEA agent Shane Tanner, who takes a leave of absence when his uncle Nate Tanner (Will Patton), owner of the Black Pelican bar in Tyree, Louisiana, turns up badly injured. As Shane will come to find out and the audience knows right up front, Nate was beaten up and nearly killed by a man called Wild Bill (Jake Busey), who wants to take over the Black Pelican so he can use it as the base of operations for his drug trafficking business.
So we have here a reasonable set-up for a Road House sequel; a man who can handle himself in a fight has to protect his uncle's bar from a criminal organization, and in between fights he romances a local, in this case Ellen Hollman as a girl named Beau. That's really all you need, and if Patrick Swayze's not back there's no reason to try to tie in Dalton beyond maybe a respectful reference. And that's my biggest problem with Road House 2. They don't just include a respectful reference. There is a subplot involving Dalton's fate that takes the Kickboxer 2 route: they say that Dalton was murdered between the two films. Not only that, it gets even more ridiculous - Shane Tanner is Dalton's son. A son who, going by Schaech and Swayze's real birth dates, would have been born when Dalton was 17, and would have been 19 during the events of the first film.
I don't like the idea of Shane being Dalton's son, and I really hate that they would dare to kill off such a legendary character. It's insulting that they would tell us the hero of Road House would someday be murdered by someone who had a vendetta against his son. That's what Shane eventually learns; Dalton was killed at the order of the crime boss behind Wild Bill, Richard Norton as Victor Cross, a drug runner Shane crossed paths with during his days as a Louisiana State Trooper. Cross had Wild Bill kill Dalton. Dalton was a one man army in Road House, but he will someday die at the hands of Jake Busey? I'm sorry, I'm not accepting this story. For this reason alone, I will never be able to enjoy Road House 2 in the way that I have enjoyed other direct-to-video action sequels. You don't mess with Dalton.
Beyond that troubling aspect, the movie is a serviceable sequel that is, for the most part, a copy of the original film. It's just not nearly as good. If you haven't seen Road House 2 during the ten years since it was released, you haven't missed much, but if you do decide to check it out you're in store for a good amount of fights, gunfire, a "more of the same" feeling, and the annoyance of this lesser film with a lesser hero telling you that they have killed off Dalton.
If Pet's lead character Seth (played by Dominic Monaghan) had decided to take his life down a different path, this film could have been the heartwarming story of a man who works in an animal shelter and can't stand to see the animals in his care get euthanized any longer, so he starts harboring them in the tunnels beneath the building. It could have been a subterranean Hotel for Dogs for a more mature audience. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it's not the animals that he bonds with at the shelter that Seth decides to keep in those tunnels. It's his high school crush, who he bumps into on the bus during his commute one day. And thus, we have a psychological thriller on our hands.
Pet seems to be something of a passion project for Monaghan, who signed on to it in early 2008 and remained attached and dedicated to bringing screenwriter Jeremy Slater's script to the screen even while directors came and went and the project endured time in development hell. If Pet had been made eight years ago, it still could have been a fine film, but it's not likely that it would have co-starred Ksenia Solo as Seth's crush / captive Holly, and having her presence in this film may well have been worth the eight year delay.
Sure, Monaghan and Solo are nearly 11 years apart in age in real life, so you may have to suspend disbelief that they were in high school at the same time, although the age difference really didn't stand out to me. What did stand out were the impressive performances they both delivered.
Although Monaghan's American accent took some getting used to, he still came off quite well as the quirky, awkward Seth - a guy who at first seems very pleasant and likeable. He's nice, he cares about the animals at the shelter, one dog in particular. Things get a little shaky when he allows that dog to be euthanized rather than find a way to rescue her, and then Seth gradually becomes creepier as he becomes more obsessed with Holly and tries to find a way to worm into her life. When he shifts into full abductor mode, it did raise questions for me, as we don't know that much about Seth's history. Is becoming obsessed with women like this a usual thing for him? Has he ever shown signs that he could take something in this direction before? It wasn't clear to me just what sort of creep Seth was, but we'll eventually come to find out that he was spurred into doing this by something specific he read in Holly's journal. Which he stole, being the creepy stalker that he is.
I've been familiar with Monaghan since he first became a Hobbit, but Solo is an actress I was seeing for the first time here, and she was something of a revelation. Holly doesn't start off on the best foot; she seems aloof and cold, but hey, if she's not interested in Seth, who can blame her? However, things take a turn once Seth has her locked up in a cage, and the strangeness begins when we see that she is continuing to have conversations with her friend Claire (Jennette McCurdy), a character who to this point had appeared to be Holly's roommate, even while in Seth's custody. Claire isn't really in that room with her, so what the hell is going on here?
For the first 30 minutes, Pet is the story of a young woman being stalked by an unwanted admirer. For the next hour, it becomes a fascinating study of two screwed up characters bouncing off of each other in a very dark and twisted scenario. As misguided as it is, you'll come to understand Seth's reasoning for locking Holly up beneath the animal shelter, and you'll begin to wonder which of these two is actually more mentally unbalanced than the other.
This is a film that is carried entirely on the shoulders of its two leads, and Monaghan and Solo were more than up for the challenge. Director Carles Torrens did well at capturing their performances and displaying them in a film that is captivating and moves along at a good pace. Monaghan had to wait almost a decade to bring this story to life, and he should be very proud of how it ultimately turned out. Sometimes, good things really do come to those who wait.