Friday, August 10, 2018

Worth Mentioning - The Scare of the Millennium

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.

Slashers, monsters, a masked wrestler, a sinking limo, and Jay & Silent Bob.

SCREAM 3 (2000)

Screenwriter Kevin Williamson had always envisioned Scream as being a trilogy, having even included brief outlines for the two sequels when he was shopping around the script for the first film. Fortunately for his bank account and unfortunately for the rest of us, by the time Scream 3 came around Williamson was too busy to write the script himself and had to hand those duties over to a writer named Ehren Kruger. And even if Williamson had knocked out a lackluster script for Scream 3, I think it probably would have still been better than the cringe-inducing script Kruger turned in.

But I shouldn't put all the blame for how disappointing I find Scream 3 to be on Kruger's shoulders. Wes Craven and the producers went ahead with the film, which turned out to have all the atmosphere of a Lifetime original, with a heavy dose of lame comedy mixed in.

This sequel is set in Hollywood, a sensible trajectory for the series. The characters of the first film were cinema fanatics who rebuked the idea that "movies create psychos", in the second film we learned that a movie called Stab had been made based on the events of the first, and now we're taken to the set of Stab 3, which takes the cinematic adventures of the Ghostface killer beyond what really happened.


Most of the characters here are the cast of Scream 3 - Matt Keeslar as Tom Prinze, who is taking over the role of Deputy Dewey Riley from David Schwimmer; Jenny McCarthy as Sarah Darling, who is playing a character named Candy; Deon Richmond as Tyson Fox, who's playing the Randy substitute Ricky, a video store employee; Parker Posey going way over-the-top and chewing every piece of scenery around her as Jennifer Jolie, the film version of Gale Weathers; and Emily Mortimer as Angelina Tyler, who beat out 50,000 hopefuls to win the role of Sidney Prescott after Tori Spelling opted not to return. Also on set are Scott Foley as high-strung award-winning director Roman Bridger and Lance Henriksen as producer John Milton, with legendary producer Roger Corman making a cameo as a studio executive. The banter exchanged between this bunch tends to be about as ridiculous as their celebrity referencing character names.

Adding more out-of-place goofiness is Patrick Warburton as Jennifer's bodyguard and a mind-boggling cameo by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith as Jay and Silent Bob. As much as I love Jay and Silent Bob, their cameo here is just a sign of how far off the rails this movie has gone. Plus Jay and Silent Bob are characters from the movies Clerks and Chasing Amy (among others), which we see copies of in these movies - you can even spot a VHS copy of Chasing Amy in Scream 3 - so Jay and Silent Bob should be fictional characters within the reality of the Scream movies, as they are in ours...

Also given a comedic cameo is Carrie Fisher as studio employee Biane Burnette, who says she was very close to getting the role of Princess Leia but this actress who looked just like her got the job by sleeping with George Lucas. That's a fun moment, but why is it in Scream 3?

The real Dewey Riley (David Arquette), whose injuries from the first movie seem to have been healed by his injuries in the second movie, is already on the Stab 3 set, working as a consultant. It isn't until the murders begin again that his fellow survivors show up.

The opening kill isn't a name actor making a cameo, it's a returning character - Liev Schrieber as Cotton Weary, the man Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) thought killed her mother a year before the events of the first film, but who was exonerated when that film's killers admitted their guilt. Cotton was on a quest to get Sidney to be interviewed alongside him in Scream 2, and by the time Scream 3 begins he's the host of his own popular talk show, 100% Cotton.

One of the things I dislike most about Scream 3 is strongly present right in the opening sequence. While Ghostface calls his victims in this one while using a voice changer like he did in the previous movies, this time the voice changer got a sci-fi upgrade. Not only does it disguise a voice in the usual way, but with a press of a button Ghostface can make his voice sound like any character in the film. In this opening we have Ghostface speaking into the voice changer and the voice that comes out sounds exactly like Cotton's, no distortion or anything. I can't suspend my disbelief for this, that's not the sort of thing that should be in a Scream 3.

Cotton and his girlfriend Christine (Kelly Rutherford), and the news reaches not only reporter / author Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox Arquette), who is continuing to profit off her near death experiences, but it also reaches franchise heroine Sidney, who has changed her name to Laura, now resides on a remote gated property with a guard dog by her side and, ironically, takes phone calls for a living. She works for a women's crisis counseling hotline.

One of Sidney's early scenes involves her having a nightmare in which her mother Maureen (Lynn McRee), wearing a nightgown, walks up to her front window through the blue-lit night and starts clawing at the glass, saying terrible things about her. Maureen is then replaced by Ghostface, who comes busting through the glass... And even though this nightmare scene has a stylish look to it, I hate that it was included in this film. I'm not a fan of nightmare scenes being dropped into sequels to films that didn't offer glimpses of the characters' subconscious. If you don't have dream scenes in the first movie, I don't think there should be dream scenes in any that follow.

Even worse than that, though, is when Ghostface locates Sidney and calls her using the voice of Maureen. This voice changer is so amazing that it can even replicate the voice of a woman who has been dead for years!

Whoever Ghostface is this time, they're trying to draw Sidney out. Dewey was alerted to strange activity when someone claiming to be involved with Stab 3 called the police department in Woodsboro (the setting of the first movie) asking to see the file they had on Sidney. When they were turned down, that someone broke into the police department and ransacked the file room... but Dewey had already removed Sidney's file. This is why he's working on Stab 3. Gale is brought into the mix by the detective investigating Cotton's murder, Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey), who asks her for some information. Soon Gale and Dewey are teaming up to do some investigating of their own, while dealing with the rockiness of their on-and-off personal relationship.

Meanwhile, Ghostface is whittling down the cast of Stab 3 in the order they die in the script, but no one can be sure which is the proper order because there are three different drafts floating around - a nod to the fact that the Scream movies had to get very sneaky with their scripts after a draft of Scream 2 leaked online. Then Ghostface starts doing his own rewrite, so the whole "people are dying in the order they die in the script" aspect amounts to about as much as the "these victims have the same names as the Woodsboro victims" aspect of Scream 2 - which is to say, it amounts to nothing.

Scream 3 has a body count in the double digits, but none of the kills are all that memorable. People just get tossed around and stabbed. The standout death involves an explosion, which is not a great thing when you're talking about a slasher movie.

Nearly half the movie has gone by before Sidney leaves her home and shows up at Kincaid's office, and she gets quite a surprise when she does. The killer has been leaving black and white publicity shots of Maureen Prescott at the crime scenes, revealing that Maureen had a secret Hollywood past that Sidney had no idea about. And she knew John Milton.

Sidney, Gale, and Dewey aren't the only Woodsboro residents to be making their way around Hollywood now. While looking around the studio lot, the trio bump into someone Sidney and Dewey know but we've never met or heard of before: Martha Meeks (Heather Matarazzo), sister of Randy Meeks, a fan favorite character from the previous movies who was killed off in Scream 2.

It's clunky storytellig that Martha is just found hanging out on the lot, and it's super odd when she busts out a video recording Randy (Jamie Kennedy) made in the midst of the events of Scream 2. Randy was always going on about movies having rules - "rules to survive a horror movie", "rules of sequels" - and even while fearing for his life during the second Ghostface incident he had the foresight to warn his pals that they might be in a trilogy.

Unexpected back story? A preponderance of exposition? This must be the concluding chapter in a trilogy, and that means they'll be going back to the beginning and discovering information they have wasn't true. He's going by trilogies like Star Wars and The Godfather, though, not horror movies, and he goes into a list of rules that don't have any obvious basis like his horror movie and sequel rules did.

It's nice to see Randy again, but this scene is really weird, and it ends with Martha walking off into the nothingness she came from.

Things go full Scooby Doo from that point on, and the highlight of the film's second half is a sequence in which Sidney enters a soundstage to find replicas of locations from the first movie. She has her first encounter with Ghostface (this time around) on the soundstage and gets chased through places she has been chased through by a Ghostface before.

If there's one positive thing I can say about this version of the killer, it's that the new Ghostface does come off as being stronger and more capable than his predecessors. He doesn't have the best of luck in chase scenes, but still stumbles and falls less than the bumbling killers that came before.

Ghostface doesn't have good luck with knife throwing, either. Although it's a goofy moment, one of my favorite scenes in Scream 3 involves Ghostface throwing a knife at Dewey, the camera following the spinning knife through the air, heading toward Dewey's face.

There are some good ideas within Scream 3, like the Hollywood setting and the living situation we find Sidney in, but the overall execution is atrocious. This is a descent into camp that the franchise should not have made. Scream 3 was a let down to me when I first saw it, as soon as it was released in February of 2000, and I have never warmed up to it over the eighteen years since. This is a movie that should have been much better than it is. And they should have waited for Kevin Williamson to be able to write it.


There have been a lot of survival thrillers set within one confined location released in recent years, most notably Buried, which was nothing but Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for the entire running time. Director Steven C. Miller made his contribution to this thriller sub-genre with the film Submerged, which was written by Mother's Day remake writer Scott Milam.

The confined location here is the interior of a reinforced limousine, and the situation the characters have to struggle to survive is the fact that this limo they're in has gone off the side of a bridge and is now sinking in a body of water, the interior filling up with water as it goes. The movie starts with the limo already underwater, and if this were Buried that's where it would stay, showing the ordeal play out in real time. But this isn't Buried.

Milam's story frequently cuts away from the sinking limo to jump back in time and show us the build-up to this terrifying situation. That build-up is not at all what I expected it to be. I figured this would be the average limo booking, with a group of friends celebrating something being driven somewhere by a driver who's a stranger to them, then an accident puts them off a bridge. That's not the story Submerged tells.

This story focuses on the driver, Jonathan Bennett as Matt, and it delves into a bunch of personal drama that was so uninteresting to me I could only wonder if it had any bearing on the situation in the limo at all. What do I care if Matt has a troubled brother, or whether or not he'll act on the obvious crush he has on a girl named Jessie (Talulah Riley), who we know ends up riding up front in the limo with him? The passengers of the limo are friends of Jessie - and one important thing we do find out about her is that she's the daughter of a corporate big wig played by Tim Daly, and her father's business practices make Jessie the target of death threats. So maybe the limo crash wasn't an accident after all...

I could barely care, because the first third of the movie was way more interested in Matt's drama than it was in showing people trying to escape from a sinking limo. This allows for Mario Van Peebles to show up in the film as a likeable mentor character, but the back story was still such a slog that I was ready for the movie to wrap things up when there was an hour left. Thankfully, the movie started spending more time in the limo at that point, as the situation becomes more desperate when the characters realize an undertow is dragging them out to sea. Sure, they waste time fighting with each other over personal beefs rather than fighting to survive, but at least they're in the sinking limo while doing that and I came to see a movie about a sinking limo, so I'll take what I can get.

Submerged wasn't quite as interesting as I thought a movie about a sinking limo would be, but 38 minutes in it started to get closer to being the movie I had expected it to be, then added in some unexpected action beats. Overall, I felt it was a middle-of-the-road movie that wasn't terrible but did squander some potential.

LOWLIFE (2017)

Quentin Tarantino's debut feature Reservoir Dogs was a breakout success, but it was his Oscar-winning follow-up Pulp Fiction that truly launched a thousand (give or take) imitators. After that film hit in 1994, everyone and their cousin was trying to make a quirky crime thriller packed with attempts at clever dialogue, with varying degrees of success. The post-Pulp boom died out pretty quickly and Tarantino has moved on to different styles of filmmaking, but now director Ryan Prows has arrived on the scene with his debut feature Lowlife, a quirky crime thriller that features some clever dialogue and is the most Pulp Fiction-esque film I've seen since the late '90s.

Comparisons to Pulp Fiction are unavoidable. Lowlife is set in Los Angeles and tells its story in chapters, going back and forth in time while following multiple characters, most of them criminals, who all turn out to be connected to each other in some way. The influence of Tarantino's film on this one is very apparent. But even though it has the shadow of Pulp looming over it, Prows and his co-writers (Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, and Maxwell Michael Towson) still managed to craft a film that feels unique and original.

At the center of everything is style-conscious (he seems like he's going to be one of those Tarantino type of characters who's obsessed with Elvis Presley when first introduced, but thankfully any Elvis appreciation isn't delved into) criminal Teddy Bear, a thoroughly detestable character who is played by Mark Burnham and runs a black market organ harvesting operation out of the basement of his taco restaurant. Every other character in the film is in Teddy's orbit in some way.

Hotel owner Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) gave her daughter to Teddy to raise as his own a couple decades earlier and is now hoping the girl might be willing to donate a kidney to her ailing husband. That daughter is pregnant heroin addict Kaylee (Santana Dempsey). Teddy's accountant Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) gets forced to do an abduction job for his client and brings his friend Randy (Jon Oswald) with him. Randy just walked out of prison after serving an eleven year sentence - he took the fall for Keith - with a swastika tattooed on his face, which is quite a shock to his African American best friend. Randy will defend himself against any criticisms of the tattoo; he's not racist, and this offensive ink helped him struggle through the race wars that were constantly being waged behind bars.

The character who may be the film's greatest drawing point is luchador El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), and when I first heard that there was going to be a movie involving a luchador and an organ harvester who preys on illegal immigrants, it honestly caused me to imagine a film much different from what Lowlife is. El Monstruo is not a virtuous luchador hero along the lines of El Santo. We get the impression that's the sort of character his father was, a legendary protector of the Mexican people. I expected El Monstruo to be played for broad comedy, but Prows, his co-writers, and Zarate actually make him something of a tragic character with real emotional depth. He's not fighting against Teddy, he has set aside his morals (and let down his father's legacy) to work for the man. El Monstruo has had a hand in some terrible things, and that weighs heavily upon him as he awaits the birth of his first child.

El Monstruo's psychological burden is especially apparent when he flies into blackout rages, and though it is occasionally amusing when the luchador comes back to his senses to find that he has ripped someone's hand off or smashed in a head, he's not the over-the-top comedic character I had expected. It was nice to see that he was more than just a joke.

Most of the film's comedy is actually provided by Keith and Randy, and Prows and Oswald were successful at making Randy one of the most likeable and entertaining people in the film despite the swastika. The swastika really doesn't make any sense for the character, but that's part of the humor.

While it has some laughs, Lowlife also gets incredibly dark at times - as you find right up front, with credits appearing over a grotesque sequence of Teddy killing a middle-aged woman, then proceeding to cut her body open and dig out her organs. That's the darkest the movie gets, but putting that right up front prepares you for the violence, bloodshed, and unexpected sights that are to follow.

Lowlife isn't destined to become the pop culture phenomenon Pulp Fiction was, but it is better than a large number of that film's '90s imitators were, and it is sure to find an audience that's going to absolutely adore it. They will for good reason, as it's a well made film that tells an interesting story, moves along at a good pace, and has a tone and style all its own. There's no other movie out there offering what Lowlife can provide.

I only expected absurdity from this film, but Prows delivered a darker, wilder, and more entertaining ride than I anticipated.

The Lowlife review originally appeared on


In the 1980s, my older sister was a big fan of the musician Adam Ant. On her bedroom wall hung a framed poster of the man, and among the stickers on her sticker-covered door there was a sticker of Adam Ant... And those things weren't removed for a long time. Even when my sister moved out and I took over that bedroom, I still kept the poster around for years - because, why not? And even as I write this, that sticker remains on that door.

My sister's love for Adam Ant and my passion for horror movies got mashed together in the 1988 film Spellcaster, which was a Charles Band production made right before he moved on from Empire Pictures to Full Moon. Adam Ant is in the film's cast, and much like the classic Alice Cooper vehicle Monster Dog this one works some music videos into the story.

In this case, the film begins with a music video of a woman dancing and running around an Italian castle, singing directly to the camera while the main title sequence (including the credit "and Adam Ant as Diablo") plays out. No, Adam Ant is not the musician in this film, the musician is named Cassandra Castle and she's played by Bunty Bailey, who's best known for being the girl in A-ha's "Take On Me" video. Ant is the mysterious owner of the castle, Castle Diablo, where almost the entire film takes place.

The characters are a bunch of people who are brought from around the world (including from Cleveland, Ohio!) to Castle Diablo by the TV station Rock Television to compete in a treasure hunt, with the prize being $1 million dollars. Castle is there to party with them and make the contest Rock TV relevant. 

The contestants - some greedy and manipulative, some violent, some perfectly nice - have barely gotten settled in, and the VJ hosting the show has barely gotten started screwing his way through the assembled females, before they start getting picked off one-by-one.

Yes, it's one of those films where it's blatantly obvious that Band wanted writers Ed Naha, Dennis Paoli, and Charlie Bogel to come up with something that would be quick and easy to film in the Italian castle that he owned. So you just have people gathered together there and killed. Simple.

While Diablo uses a crystal ball to watch the events unfold, people die in unexplained explosions (there goes William Butler of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), get munched on by a monstrous carving on a wooden chair (that scene was excellently shot and cut together, with great close-ups of blood running down body parts and a terrifed eyeball), get attacked by zombies, are confronted by a monster that escapes from a painting, or transform into a pig man (the price of gluttony). A character may suffer a lame fate here or there, but it's cool how much variety there is to the horror sequences, and John Carl Beuchler did great work with the special effects.

It's predictable who will be the last characters standing, even though the heroine isn't given much to do at all. She stands out regardless, because she's played by Gail O'Grady, who was just getting her career started at the time.

Spellcaster moves along at a quick pace and is packed with horrific, deadly set pieces, so I found it to be a really fun movie to sit through. It took me thirty years to get around to seeing it, and I'm glad I finally did. There are definitely more viewings of this film in my future. It's so much fun, I can even forgive the fact that Adam Ant doesn't really show up until the end.

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