REVIEW – JENNIFER’S BODY

We were wrong.

Maybe it was the era. We were getting stuff like THE ORPHAN, A HAUNTING IN CONECTICUT, FRIDAY THE 13TH (reboot), and Rob Zombie’s second HALLOWEEN movies. Besides ZOMBIELAND or shit like STAN HELSING, horror was taking itself very seriously.

Horror (and comedies) had just gotten out of a phase of appealing to horny teenage guys. If you went to a rated R horror movie, you were going to see some boobs, one way or the other.

And then came JENNIFER’S BODY.

I’d never heard of JUNO in 2009. I had no idea who Diablo Cody was. I had heard that you got to see Megan Fox naked in this movie, so my friends and I (sophomores in college that we were) went in with the dual expectation of seeing some early 2000s frat guy horror movie or something like THE FINAL DESTINATION, which also came out that year.

I mean, look at the poster.

What we got instead was something that was smart enough to see us coming a mile away and give us something we didn’t know we wanted until years later: tongue-in-cheek camp mixed with interesting themes and a great sense of humor.

I remembered hating this movie, chalking it up with the likes of ULTRAVIOLET or (possibly still the worst studio released film I’ve ever seen) the dreadful THE SPIRIT. JENNIFER’S BODY became a joke in my friend group. How could someone make a movie so stupid?

It turns out we were stupid.

What we thought was a dumb plot was an intentionally campy plot.

What we thought was bad dialogue was intentionally stupid dialogue.

Our disappointment at missing the fabled Megan Fox naked scene was kind of the whole point of the movie, in a way.

Megan Fox is the hottest girl in high school even though no one ever really interacts with her at all except for her best friend Amanda Seyfried and boys who want to bang her. Fox gets Seyfried to go to a bar to watch a band (with the horrible name Low Shoulder) because she thinks the singer is hot. Little does she realize the band has found a grimoire and plans to sacrifice the first virgin they can find to the devil so that they can achieve rockstar-level success.

I know. It sounds like the perfect plan.

Except Fox isn’t a virgin.

Not even a backdoor virgin.

Turns out if you sacrifice someone who is neither a front nor backdoor virgin, they get infested with a demon, which means that they have to eat people to stay looking hot and they can levitate and do a few other things. Fortunately for Fox, she gets a kick out of eating all the boys that want to have sex with her.

Long story short, Seyfried and Fox have a falling out when Fox spills the beans on the whole demon thing, prompting Seyfried to swear to stop Fox from eating anyone else and Fox to eat Seyfried’s boyfriend.

JENNIFER’S BODY is everything a good I SCARED MYSELF movie should be: campy, gory, a little dumb, and not afraid to be what it is. The movie revels in its own campiness, from goofy dialogue (Fox refers to Chris Pratt, who is in this movie, as green jello due to his jealousy at one point) bizarre and hilarious choices (Fox burns her own tongue with a lighter while talking on the phone with Seyfried and is just so bored while doing it), to intentionally dumb ideas (like naming a band Low Shoulder).

But here’s the question: Is Jennifer’s Body too good for an I SCARED MYSELF movie?

The answer is probably.

It’s a clever feminist rape revenge allegory that was way ahead of its time. Everything it does is well-thought-out and intentional, which is one of the things we usually try to avoid for movies featured on this blog. The directing and photography are great, the acting is even better, and it grapples with some really interesting themes.

And yet…

It is campy, it is goofy, and it is dumb.

I’ll leave it at this: should you watch Jennifer’s Body?

The answer, as the poster says above, is Hell Yes!

Monster Island (2004)

My sweet spot for horror is anything from 1980 to somewhere around 2007 or 2008, especially if it’s made for TV or direct to video. There’s a good chance that any horror movie you’ve never heard of from this time period is going to be wildly unfocused, wildly inept, tonally confused or just plain bad enough to be funny and, especially compared to modern low budget horror, there’s a good chance movies from this time have that wonderful mix of campy, low budget plots, effects and dialogue that make them so much fun to watch.

All of that above is one of the reasons I prefer to look for movies on Prime Video. Unlike other services, Prime Video will tell you the release date when you hover over a title, so it’s an easy way to find things in my ideal time range.

It’s how I found 2004’s MONSTER ISLAND, after all.

On it’s surface it seems like a slam dunk of an idea: a bunch of high schoolers win an all-expense-paid party on a tropical island courtesy of MTV (the party even features a live musical performance from Carmen Electra the… famous singer), but the party turns into a nightmare when a giant flying ant kidnaps Carmen Electra! Now it’s up to a ragtag gang of teenagers, MTV producers and even a bodyguard named 8-Ball to travel to the islands mysterious volcano and rescue Carmen.

Welcome to Monster Island.

A throwback to the 1950s “giant thing” movies, practically nothing about the development and production of this movie makes sense. Why did MTV choose to make this while they were in the middle of their golden age of trashy reality television (anyone remember NEXT?)? Why did they throw Carmen Electra in there? Why did they pretend anyone knew she was a musician (her last release on Spotify is 2015s Around the World Remixes 2, which features 13 remixes of the same song)? Why wasn’t Mary Elizabeth Winstead on any of the posters?

I guess Carmen Electra was a big draw in the ears 2000s? I remember her playing a blind woman in 2006’s SCARY MOVIE 4, in which she shits into some sort of chest in the middle of a crowded church (it’s funny because she thinks she’s at home because, you know, blind). Surely they could have taken a page out of THE LEPRECHAUN’S book and redone the marketing so it at least showed an actually recognizable name like Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Written by Jack Perez (2009’s) MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS) and Adam Glass (who would later write on CRIMINAL MINDS and SUPERNATURAL) and directed by Perez himself, MONSTER ISLAND follows the story of (the excitingly named) Josh, who spearheads the mission to rescue Carmen Electra, along with his former girlified Maddy and her idiotic new boyfriend Chase. An MTV production team tags along to document the rescue attempt.

Almost the entire movie features this group wandering around a jungle while giant insects or (for some reason) a fish person attacks them. This miserable misadventure is saved by the timely arrival of Adam West, playing a demented scientist whose been living on the island since the 1960s. He serves almost no purpose to the plot except to reveal that the insects are big thanks to radiation, and that the island has somehow chosen Mary Elizabeth Winstead for some greater goal thanks to her randomly picking up a necklace she found in a bush.

In the end, the giant ants on the island merely kidnapped Carmen Electra to perform for their islander slaves (“even abducted and abused Carmen’s got it goin’ on!”), Mary Elizabeth Winstead is revealed to be the physical incarnation of the islanders’ goddess, and the humans triumph over the giant bugs, and Josh manages to rescue Carmen Electra (who he thought he had a chance with because they both liked the Ramones). Everyone is miraculously rescued by (barely foreshadowed) Nick Carter and his rock and roll helicopter just before the island explodes and sinks into the sea.

There are some genuinely funny gags (Jen nonchalantly pulling bear mace and brass knuckles out her seemingly bottomless purse when Josh asks if anyone has weapons, Adam West casually explaining that years ago the army “napalmed the hell out of this hill”) but the vast majority of the jokes fall flat to the point of making you wonder if they were even meant to be funny in the first place. There are also some fun reveals, like the ‘volcano’ at the island’s center really being a giant anthill.

Besides Adam West, this movie’s one saving grace is it’s special effects, which are sometimes amazing, but always hilarious. Most of the giant insects are stop motion, and all exteriors of the island are clearly some cheesy model. It’s almost worth watching the movie just for the effects.

The Final Verdict: If you (like me) were in middle school and high school during the 2000s, this movie might be worth watching for you. While not as hilariously bad as something like LEPRECHAUN 3, it has some great special effects and delivers a fair amount of nostalgia for a forgotten time (seeing everyone’s cellphones in movies of this time period is always a trip).

REVIEW: OLD

It’s not unreasonable to view society and technological advancement as a method by which we become no longer scared to grow old. Growing old was used to be like walking into a dark cave. Now it’s like walking into a Las Vegas casino. We’ve got pills and drugs and distractions galore to make your final days as fruitful as possible. I used to look forward to getting old, then when I got older I started to worry about it again. Recently I’ve come to terms with it, but then I watched OLD (2021) and now I’m not so sure.

Like a lot of M. Night Shyamalan movies, OLD lives and dies by its premise. There’s a beach on a tropical island somewhere that makes people age fifty years in a day. The sun rises and sets, and children become adults, adults become elderly, elderly become dead, and their bones become dust. Mr. Shyamalan does about everything you can do with this idea, from wounds healing surprisingly quickly, to people developing hearing problems or dementia in a spilt second, to a tumor growing to the size of a grapefruit in a few minutes (don’t worry, they cut it out with a knife).

The movie succeeds (and can be quite existentially frightening) when it plays with its own premise. It really is terrifying to watch Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps catch a case of the olds and suddenly develop cataracts, hearing problems, dementia and then just keel over and die. It’s pretty horrific to watch their kids have to deal with all that in the span of two minutes.

The movie fails when it’s doing most everything else. Rufus Sewell’s subplot of turning into a crazy man with sundown syndrome is strange and goofy enough that it ends up almost being funny, especially when he’s attacking Bernal and Krieps with his mom’s sharpened femur. The two parents scream and just sort of sit there while he slices them up. It’d be scary if it wasn’t so silly.

There really isn’t a plot. M. Night himself drops these families off at the beach and then watches them as they all slowly die. Everyone learns quickly that it’s impossible to escape. Fortunately, Alex Wolff happened to receive a coded message from a little kid earlier in the day, which he translates, revealing that you can escape the beach through some coral just offshore. There’s no reason why, but there’s also no reason why the beach and the cliffs surrounding it age people. M. Night might have learned a valuable lesson from projects like THE HAPPENING. OLD just isn’t interested in showing us how the magic works, and its better for it.

There is a slight twist (which I won’t spoil here, though it’s certainly no spoiler that a Shyamalan movie has a twist) at the end that explains why people are sending tourists to this evil beach, and it has some interesting thematic connections to the healthcare industry’s vulture-like preying on old people, but it’s neither good enough nor bad enough to be as interesting as some of his other films.

In the end, like a lot of movies I watch, OLD is caught in that age old paradoxical purgatory of not being bad enough to be good, but also not being good enough to be good. It’s definitely worth a watch if your a Shyamalan fan, but something like THE HAPPENING (2008) or THE VISIT (2015) would be better choices if you wanted to watch something bad or good respectively.

In terms of the good work we do at this blog specifically, I just can’t recommend OLD. It’s too well-done, it’s themes and ideas are too clearly explored, and it makes too much sense to be as bad as something like LEPRECHAUN 2 (1994).

Review: The Stuff

Any movie that starts off with an elderly man finding some white substance on the ground, shoving it in his mouth, and saying “that tastes real good. Tasty! Sweet!” is A-OK in my book.

Enter 1985’s THE STUFF, the story of what happens when white goop bubbles up from the earth and people decide to ingest it.

Here’s a trailer Arrow Video made for it:

There’s something weird in Georgia: it’s white, low calorie, sweet, and takes control of your brain. It’s called The Stuff, a name given to the new desert by marketing whizz “Miss Kendall,” and America can’t get enough of it. There are songs, TV commercials, and even a runway show with models dedicated to it. As they say, when it comes to the stuff, enough is never enough.

But there’s something off about The Stuff. A kid named Jason saw it move in his fridge, and refuses to eat it, even though his family demands that he take a bite. Former FBI agent Moe Rutherford (people call him Moe because every time they give him money he wats mo’) is hired by a mysterious group of suits to find out what’s in The Stuff. His journey leads him to a small town in Georgia, where he meets Chocolate Chip Charley, a cookie mogul the low-calorie Stuff put out of business, and witnesses first-hand what The Stuff can do to people: make them turn into crazy maniacs who attack you at a moment’s notice.

Moe escapes and teams up with Jason and Miss Kendall. The trio goes to the factory where they make The Stuff, but are horrified to find out that The Stuff isn’t manufactured, it just bubbles up out of the ground. Fortunately, Moe’s quick thinking allows them to steal a truck full of The Stuff, which they take to a militia colonel who lives in a castle (in Georgia), who Moe convinces to help them storm the factory.

They shut down production with the help of the militia (and guns!). Everyone in the factory is dead, hollowed out by The Stuff, which ate them from the inside out. In a stroke of good luck, the colonel reveals he owns two radio stations in Atlanta, so the group travels to the big city and spreads the word about the harmful effects of The Stuff over the radio waves, saving America.

In the end, the same suits who hired Moe to find out what’s in The Stuff tell him that they plan to remarket The Stuff in a “safe way.” They’ve got a new snack that only contains 12% of The Stuff, which they claim is safe (though they refuse to try it). Fortunately, Moe and Jason, who now wears a motorcycle jacket because he’s “grown-up,” force-feed The Stuff to these capitalist pigs at gunpoint. As they choke on it, Moe asks them a question I’d been asking myself about this movie the whole time: “are you eatin’ it? Or is it eatin’ you?”

When I finished watching The Stuff, I wished that I hadn’t watched it. It doesn’t ever master the perfect b-movie tone something like TREMORS 2 hits straight out the gate, and it lacks the bananas-cuckoo auteurship that makes films like THE ROOM and TROLL 2 inexhaustibly fun. The acting was bad but not terrible enough to make me chuckle (except for a few moments when Moe hits the Savannah accents really hard), and the directing and editing were largely competent which, somehow, was a strike against it.

On the plus side, Michael Moriarty’s performance as Moe was occasionally believable, sometimes even good. Jason is a very funny character, and perhaps one of the dumbest movie children I’ve ever seen. His clever plan to avoid eating The Stuff in front of his possessed family is to instead eat shaving cream, which, according to menshavingclub.com is “highly toxic and not edible and should never be ingested.” Fortunately, the kid later vomits it all up in Moe’s car, to which Moe cheerily tells him “everyone has to eat shaving cream once and a while” like it’s some sort of adage.

Some of the special effects are fun and disturbing in ways only an 80s horror movie can pull off. The footage of The Stuff crawling up walls is just The Stuff (which seems to be shaving cream, no wonder Jason thought to give it a try) dripping down walls played in reverse, which is unsettling. Moe at one point runs a man over with a semi-truck, gruesomely cutting a gore-filled dummy in half. During the radio station finale, Chocolate Chip Charlie’s face distends horribly into a cheap mask before he expels the stuff that’s been secretly eating him away the whole movie.

But the bad outweighs the good. There’s a feeling watching THE STUFF that the filmmakers are consciously trying to make a cheesy horror movie, which is a death sentence (see Tommy Wiseau’s NEIGHBORS or SAMURAI COP 2). One of my criteria for a “so bad it’s good” movie to be enjoyable is that the filmmakers cannot know they are making a bad movie. The best “so bad it’s good” movies (THE ROOM, TROLL 2, GRIZZLY, SAMURAI COP, etc.) are earnest movies. The people making them think they’re going to be good. I never get the feeling the filmmakers thought they had something good here.

They knew what they were doing.

Furthermore, there just aren’t that many horror moments in the…you know… horror movie. The Stuff never really goes on a rampage, and there aren’t too many sequences of it eating people from the inside out. There’s never a moment when Moe and the gang uncover the evil mystery of what The Stuff really is. It’s just tasty stuff that comes out of the ground and hollows you out if you eat it. The Colonel tells America that it’s an alien, but what the hell does he know? The man lives in a castle for goodness sake!

There is one flash of brilliance that shows what this movie could have been. In the movie’s final horror sequence, Moe uses electrical cables to electrocute and burn The Stuff that sprung from Chocolate Chip Charlie’s Stuff-ravaged body. It’s delightfully low-budget and cheesy. Seconds afterward, a soldier asks the colonel if they should delay the broadcast, to which the colonel hilariously replies: “No. We’ll never get the clearances again.” If the whole movie was made like this sequence, it would have been a real treat.

There is one moment in the script that I can’t stop thinking about. It happens when Moe, the militia and the gang storm the factory and find all the hollowed-out factory workers. Moe (out of nowhere) asks a soldier: “do you think you can shoot anything you don’t like? What if what you don’t like is inside you? How you gonna shoot it?”

I’ll probably be asking myself that very question over the coming weeks, because THE STUFF is inside me, now, and I’ll probably never be able to get it out.

3/5

Life after death

Hollywoodsuite’s wonderful header art for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

I created a blog when in undergrad and it quickly took over my life. I started off writing funny observations, things I thought David Sedaris would have written in his journal if he had gone to the same tiny liberal arts school I went to, if he had to prepare a debate for why demonic possession isn’t real for a class called “the scientific method,” and if he somehow lost that debate because he went to school in Birmingham, Alabama, and the folks down that way are known for their religiosity.

It was fun just to spew my thoughts into the ether.

Then I found myself with 4,000 followers, hundreds of likes a post, and people asking me to advertise their gofundme campaigns. I was writing at least one post a week. It almost felt like a job, and it was certainly more fun than the part-time thing I had going with Starbucks.

Then I actually got a job.

And the posts slowed down.

And time flew away.

And the blog was forgotten.

Then something peculiar happened: We all had to stay inside for a year, and I got a computer with two monitors. I was somehow making more money on unemployment than I had ever made working, so I divided my time between writing my horror-comedy novel HUNT!, learning how to compose music, and watching horror movies while I played video games.

It was a perfect existence.

Only I missed interacting with people. My thoughts drifted to my old blog.

I didn’t need it anymore, at least not in the way I previously did. I didn’t feel the need to get on a soapbox and tell everyone how much I liked my dog, or why IN-N-OUT lines would be the perfect place for a serial killer to get his victims (no one escapes those lines. You’re locked in for hours).

Maybe I could start another one, a blog about one of my favorite things in the world: watching horror movies while I play video games. People would want to read that. Right?

Right?

There were flaws in the plan. I quickly realized that I couldn’t focus well on something good, something with substance like THE VVITCH while I conquered the galaxy in STELLARIS, so I decided to put on bad movies instead.

That quickly turned into the only thing I watched.

Twice a month I hop on discord and watch movies with friends. There’s only one rule: whatever we watch has to be bad. Something like GYMKATA, ACTION USA, SWORN TO JUSTICE, TIP TOES, or BLAIR WITCH 2: THE BOOK OF SHADOWS (all classics, in my opinion, except for BLAIR WITCH 2, which is nothing at all like the first one and is barely even a movie). We all enjoy it immensely, and we’re always looking for the next, great bad movie. There are many great resources online, like the bad movies subreddit or countless youtube channels aping HOW DID THIS GET MADE, but I’ve yet to see someone review these things in print, nor have a seen anyone with a list of recommended bad horror movies.

It was a good idea, but like a lot of my good ideas, it never came to fruition.

Well, this is it coming to fruition..

I’ll review a bad horror movie once a week, and I’ll recommend ones that match my criteria for movies that are so bad they’re good (more on that in a later post) or, at the very least, are just a fun watch.

In a way, it feels kind of perfect that horror has gotten me back into blogging. I’ve risen from a crypt like one of the zombies in THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), my eyes blinking, unaccustomed to the light. I’m hungry for something, but it isn’t brains: it’s horror movies so bad they make me laugh.

It’s BATS (1999).

It’s TREMORS 2 (1996).

It’s C.H.U.D. (1984).

And the hunger feels good, like a lost T-Shirt that you only found when you started packing up for a move.

It feels like breathing again, like life after death.

And I can’t wait to get started.