The Ninjabot

The Netflix Horror Shuffle Experiment, Part 3

Posted on July 27, 2014 at 9:00 am by Nathan Tolle

Every now and then, when I look for a movie to stream instantly, I find myself scrolling up and down aimlessly for many minutes, wasting so much time while looking for the perfect movie that never appears. In my previous two Netflix Shuffle Experiments, I managed to find a couple titles worth my while (if not overly memorable), so will a third attempt continue to entertain? Okay, Netflix shuffle. Goddammit. I’ve had it with this middle-of-the-road nonsense. Give me a film to feel passionate about! No more 4-7 scores because it’s so much more enjoyable to damn a film to hell like a ranting madman or praise it to the heavens, as opposed to sounding like a complacent, predictable even-Steven. Alright, what have we here? Ah, a Wishmaster film…

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

wishmaster2At this point, my only Wishmaster experience comes in the form of an album and title track from the amazing Finnish symphonic metal band, Nightwish. I figured the tale of an evil Djinn awakening and attempting to acquire 1,000 souls to fulfill a prophecy wouldn’t be too confusing without the context of the original, so this is a rare case where I watched a sequel before the original. Right away, I felt like I was watching a mid-90’s Full Moon picture due to the apocalyptic mumbo jumbo, elaborately grotesque special effects, and the kind of cartoonish villainy that makes every attempt at being profound all the more amusing. It brought me back to the days when I’d peruse the horror aisles at videostores and settle on what had a cool-looking cover, as opposed to visiting websites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb for influences.

During an art museum robbery, the statue containing the sacred Djinn stone is broken, unleashing the devil incarnate that wastes no time in re-opening his lucrative soul-collecting business. Andrew Divoff as the Lucifer named Nathaniel is just about the only reason the film works at all. With his goofy cadence and constant smirk, the scenes in which he interacts with macho thugs in prison are really funny. Much like the monkey’s paw, every wish comes with a morbidly ironic fine print, so we wait with anticipation to see how wishes are carried out that involve a man being able to walk through the jail cell bars or a lawyer literally f*cking himself—and we are not disappointed.

The Wishmaster himself uses prisons and casinos as the most ideal settings to find people desperate enough to sell their souls, and his only opposition is an attractive woman named Holly who has a navel-exposing tank top for every day of the week. She’s traumatized by her involvement in the museum robbery that cost a security guard his life, and is flummoxed as to why a complete stranger with seemingly no connection to the crime has confessed and is behind bars. Helping Holly on her mission for the truth is her ex-boyfriend, conveniently now a priest who shows her the path to salvation. Before we know it, she cuts her hair, removes her piercings, and is only slightly less scantily clad. As smooth as the first half goes down, it doesn’t take long for Wishmaster 2 to overstay its welcome despite the fact that it clocks in at only 96 minutes. By the fifth time I heard “fulfill the prophecy” in a voice that sounds like Pee Wee Herman’s dubbing as the hotel clerk, I wished for a very early exit. Once again, I failed to get my wish because this is as middle-of-the-road as it gets. Urge to kill rising! Rising! Score: 5/10

Red State (2011)

redstateIn addition to giving an honest look to obscure direct-to-video flicks that I didn’t even know existed, this Netflix movie shuffle, I hoped, would force me to watch the movies that had been on my queue for years. Because of how much attention it received upon its unorthodox theatrical release, and because of how polarizing the reviews were, Red State was one of those films I’ve always been curious to watch. With hundreds of titles to choose from, I just never felt like giving top priority to a stinging indictment of the Westboro Baptist Church (courtesy of Kevin Smith) that has one of the blandest promotional posters I’ve ever seen. Groups don’t get any more revolting and idiotic than the Westboro family, and every time I hear anything they say, my skin crawls and I weep for humanity. I knew Red State was going to be a maddening, frustrating experience, but I only hoped the inevitable catharsis of seeing these wackos get whacked would make it all worthwhile. Another reason for my apprehension was my track record with Kevin Smith’s films. Besides Clerks, I’m sorry to say that none of his movies have done much for me.

Red State begins with a trio of teenaged boys whose perversion and vulgarity make them perfect fits for Kevin Smith protagonists. Responding to an Internet invitation for sex, these three teens meet Melissa Leo’s character in a trailer; but before they get to decide who goes first, they unwisely drink the unholy concoctions that lead to their unconscious bodies being taken away to be integral in the next sermon. The most exciting moments of Red State are obviously when the teens are on the verge of escaping, because Smith had obviously studied many camera tricks to make a chase worthwhile. He manages to keep the action frenetic with a shaky-cam that never resorts to dizzying disorientation. I loved the way he captured the desperation of running at full-speed through an unfamiliar house in hopes of finding an exit, all while being pursued by maniacs with machine guns.

Much less successful are his other nods to Tarantino: the lengthy monologues and elaborate assault rifle shootouts that make the second half of the movie a real chore to sit through. Usually John Goodman’s presence is enough to save any movie, but not when he’s just reciting boring monologues in front of a stationary camera. I would have loved for him to stop talking long enough to give his wife a line or two since she’s played by the lovely-as-always Molly Hagan. Michael Parks gives a convincing performance as well, but then again, there’s no character easier to vilify than the leader of a violent religious cult. Nothing he says gives us better insight into the twisted mind of a person like Fred Phelps. A significant chunk of the third act is devoted to the corrupt inner workings of the federal government, but it also fails to teach us anything we don’t already know about how dangerous the Patriot Act is. Given my progressive political proclivities, I really wanted to respect and admire this movie; but for me, it failed as both a horror film and social satire. Rating: 3/10

Black Forest (2012)

black forestA good way to cleanse the palate made sour by a despicable religious cult with infinite ammunition is to travel down a colorful path flanked by the imagery of the Brothers Grimm. With a fractured fairy tale narrative, this SyFy original is much more thoughtful and ambitious than something like the standard Sharktopus vs. Megamothcroc, but is still weighed down by distractingly bad CGI effects, bland characters and subpar acting. Only Ben Cross seems fully prepared and engaged as he plays the wild-eyed, over-caffeinated Cazmar, who leads a group of tourists to the countryside to witness an ancient Pagan ritual.

Black Forest wisely borrows from multiple fairy tales that paved the way to horror fandom for children by showing them how to find beauty in darkness. You’ll see trolls under the bridge (and you better pay the troll toll!), seven cannibal dwarfs who don’t appreciate finding a girl sleeping in one of their beds, arachnids that would give Little Miss Muffet a heart attack, a house made of sugary sweets, a comatose woman who can only be awoken by her true love’s kiss (but she’ll have to settle for her cheating schmuck of a husband), a witch that will give you only three attempts to guess her name before blasting you to kingdom come, etc.

The main problem is that the film is so focused on referencing these classic fairy tales that it forgets to tell a story of its own. It’s easy to watch with mild amusement, but I never grew invested in the plot or what happens with the characters. Still, the intentions of this movie are quite good, and there were enough interesting things to look at to dispel any yearnings I might have for a tornado full of sharks. Rating: 6/10

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

dunwich horrorMostly written off as yet another example of H.P. Lovecraft’s literature failing to translate into cinema, here we have Dean Stockwell (looking much more like Donald Sutherland than Admiral Al) attempting to use the Miskatonic University’s Necronomicon to avenge an ancestor who was accused of witchcraft and killed by a frenzied Christian mob. He pursues a librarian played by Sandra Dee, hoping to use her in order to fulfill the virginal body ingredient he needs for the ritual. To the horror of her friend and a local professor, she seemingly begins to fall in love with him. There’s a meticulous attention to detail that makes The Dunwich Horror such a good-looking movie—the atmosphere is so rich you can practically taste the smoke gusting from chimneys and feel the mist shrouding the rocky cliffs. You gotta love the owl that makes itself known when a nervous character slowly approaches the foreboding lair. With tortured, moody characters speaking philosophically in beautiful scenery while a pleasing, haunting score plays, this film often seems more like an Ingmar Bergman film than your typical post-Rosemary’s Baby devil-child affair.

Unfortunately, the momentum dies at the halfway point, and the camera tricks and chroma-compositing that dazzled me at first, lose their luster with repetition. There aren’t any truly horrific moments in the movie, but there are plenty of bad-acid trip hallucinations that unleash the terrors that properly weird us out. There’s also a certain irresistible charm even among the few scenes that fail spectacularly—take the amusingly choreographed library brawl for example. Adding to the unintentional, but much-welcomed comic relief, is the performance of Sam Jaffe, whose elder Whateley character sounds just like Grandpa Simpson with his dire warnings for people to get the hell off his property and stop searching for their friend who mysteriously disappeared. Anyone who takes their Lovecraft with a side of chaotic psychedelia should find plenty to appreciate in The Dunwich HorrorScore: 7/10

While this go-around didn’t have me running for the hills, neither did it make much of an impression. Red State is hands-down the worst offender, and none of the others interested me enough for a second viewing. Perhaps another round in this experiment is called for, but not until next month. I think I’m all shuffled-out.

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