The Ninjabot

The Netflix Horror Shuffle Experiment

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 10:32 am by Nathan Tolle

This weekend I found myself severely under the weather and not wanting to leave my bed. I used Netflix Watch Instantly to keep me company, but due to my nebulous, Nyquil-fueled mental capabilities, I couldn’t decide what I was in the mood for. I was wishing for a Random or Shuffle mode so I wouldn’t have to make any decisions. Since an option like that doesn’t exist, I decided to just close my eyes and spend at least 30 seconds scrolling up and down, moving the mouse all over the screen before clicking randomly on something. It had been awhile since I’ve contributed to the House of Horror section so I figured this type of horror movie marathon could be a neat experiment, even though I was fully aware that the odds weren’t in my favor for a satisfying movie experience. For every horror movie on Netflix’s Watch Instantly on the impressive level of Night of the Creeps, Fright Night, and The Cabin in the Woods, there are about ten crawling in the depths of Scar, Vile, Strippers Vs Werewolves, and seemingly hundreds of sequels to Children of the Corn. My only stipulation was that these all had to be movies I’ve never seen before because I wanted this experiment to introduce me to several obscure films and remind me that I shouldn’t judge movies by their covers.

Wake Wood (2010)

wake woodWith the first click of the mouse, I entered a secluded Irish village named Wake Wood, where pharmacist Louise and veterinarian Patrick have relocated to following the tragic death of their only child, who was savagely attacked by a dog in the opening moments of the film. Wake Wood earns instant credibility the moment British actor Timothy Spall—who I have never seen in a bad movie—appears as the village leader who hosts awfully strange neighborhood gatherings in his backyard. After Louise witnesses one of these ceremonies, he promises that he can bring back her deceased child for three days so that she and Patrick can have one last chance to see her alive and well, and hopefully gain some sort of closure. The only stipulation is that they must remain in Wake Wood. It’s an interesting scenario but I wish I had an idea of what he would have done had they said no. I couldn’t tell whether he was more like the big-hearted Jud Crandell from Pet Sematary, simply unable to resist sharing such an amazing secret, or the manipulatively malevolent Lord Summerisle from The Wicker Man. The idea of a three-day revival confined to one town does enough to distinguish itself from Pet Sematary but it doesn’t have anything new to say about the severity of this predicament, the extreme measures one would take to possibly spend one more moment with a loved one, or the possibility that dead is better. Even though I wish it could have gone farther in any direction, Wake Wood managed to hold my interest and successfully distract me from my sore throat and shortness of breath. Score: 6/10

Maniac (2012)

maniacI groaned when I saw what the next selection was because not only was it a remake for an 80’s slasher that never meant anything to me, but I just wasn’t in the mood for such a gimmicky POV style that forces us to see everything through Elijah Wood’s eyes. My trepidation eased with an impressive title sequence that fuses seedy Los Angeles neighborhoods with a moody synthesized score. It didn’t take long until I was put off with a senseless and very graphic stabbing and scalping of a young woman, but I could already tell that the movie had a lot more to offer, such as smooth and creative cinematography, vibrant colors, and one hell of a good soundtrack. The character of Frank is a tad more sympathetic this time around, but I wish they could have found a way to explain his insanity rather than resorting once again to flashbacks involving promiscuous, irresponsible mommy, an excuse that is overused in slasher flicks.

While Elijah Wood does a fine job in the few scenes we actually see him in, it’s hard to take the character seriously because too often he wears his hysteria on his sleeve (he cannot even go to a restaurant without causing a scene) and brutally murders people without doing anything to protect his identity, so we wonder how he could go unnoticed by authorities who must be on high alert for a serial scalper. Also implausible is his ability to find sections of Los Angeles where the only sign of life is one extraordinarily beautiful woman walking alone, who wouldn’t be heard running down streets screaming for help in broad daylight. But I can’t deny that these action scenes were gripping and well executed. Score: 6/10

Tentacles (1977)

tentaclesI scrolled down longer this time and with my eyes closed, my dancing mouse eventually landed on something I figured would be light and harmless to balance the brutality of Maniac: Tentacles, a little-seen, micro-budgeted Jaws rip-off featuring John Huston, Shelley Winters, and Henry Fonda whose fellow coastal citizens are being turned to skeletons by a mutated octopus angry about the development of an underground tunnel that threatens its habitat. Both the direction and editing improve as the picture moves along but boy does it get off to a clumsy start and give the Mystery Science Theater crowd a lot of material to work with.

Aside from Shelley Winters wearing the worst hat I have ever seen in my life (think of an urban sombrero on steroids), none of the characters were interesting or likable, and the octopus must have thought the same because it didn’t discriminate at all: babies, peg-legged sailors, little boys, and the morbidly obese are all on the bone marrow buffet. This is probably the first movie I’ve seen where a trainer gives a long, heartfelt motivational speech to a couple of killer whales about the possibility of them assisting in the battle against a tentacled monster, and if only there had been more scenes like this, I might have cheered up a little. Instead I was just treading in murky waters for 100 minutes, not caring about anything and not given anything constructive to think about, with the exception of how surprisingly good the soundtrack was. Severely out-of-place, the amalgamation of prog-rock psychedelia and bombastic sword and sorcery soundscapes deserved to be in a much better movie. Score: 4/10

The Comeback (1978)

the comebackNext I clicked on a film I had never heard of, and was intrigued by its minimalistic cover. This ended up being a refreshing departure from the tentacled schlock because even though it had too much repetition and a few boring stretches, The Comeback was a very classy production with first-rate direction by Pete Walker, interesting locations, adrenaline-fueled sickle attacks courtesy of a granny-mask wearing maniac, and a story that, while familiar, kept me guessing until the end. It’s about a successful 70’s adult contemporary crooner named Nick Cooper, who is making his first album in six years, and his secretly-cross-dressing manager hooks him up with a recording studio inside a lavish mansion. He spends his days romancing his manager’s beautiful blonde secretary, and his nights creeping around the mansion trying to locate where all those damn wails are coming from. I wish the caretakers hadn’t been so over-the-top loony because it makes Nick look like a total idiot for trusting them.

Speaking of Nick, he’s a real tough protagonist to root for because he’s the kind of arrogant narcissist who would prefer to fornicate with groupies to the tune of his own music; however, you still worry about his safety in that house because these are not your average melancholy ghost cries in the distance: these are heart-stomping explosions of torment and aggression that made me think of Alyda Winthrop, the hideous creature from The Unnamable. Also effective is the use of a maggot-infested corpse, which makes numerous appearances and made my skin crawl more each time. Score: 6/10

Alice in Murderland (2010)

alice in murderlandAt this point, I was getting restless with my mediocre movie marathon and desperately hoped my next one would be either fantastic or godawful just to spice things up a little. I was sure my pathetic little wish had been granted in the form of Alice in Murderland, which laughably claims to be based on true events, and is one of seemingly hundreds of amateurish direct-to-video horror movies available on Netflix from the past decade, which all look more like student films in their quality and budget. When we first see Alice, she’s by the pool with her scantily clad sorority friends; there’s never an establishing shot so we can’t tell where they are positioned or how many of them there are.

Through Alice’s clumsy exposition, we learn that her 21st birthday is tomorrow and that for some insane reason, her party is being held in the same house where her mother was brutally murdered on her 21st birthday. It’s not much of a party though because this Alice in Wonderland costume party involves more playing charades with Alice’s flamboyant uncle (who I must admit was a pretty entertaining character) than the typical sorority slasher staples like boys, booze, or boobs—in fact, there is absolutely zero nudity in this movie, which is both disappointing and admirable.

It’s amusing the ways these one dimensional dingbats manage to repeatedly split up and get themselves stuck, but much less amusing is all the comedy that was intentional: a typical line of humorous dialogue that will have you groaning out loud comes when one of the characters comments how she’d rather play Russian roulette than charades, and then the blonde dressed up as Tweedle Dum says “Wow, I didn’t even know you were Russian!” Of course, the only girl with any semblance of personality turns out to be the Jabberwocky killer, and her motive for the bloodshed is beyond ridiculous. But transcending all the idiocy is a generally likable cast and the impression that everyone had a great time making this movie, which resulted in me not being bored for a moment. Score: 4/10

Dead End (2003)

dead endYES!!! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Finally, lady luck shined upon me and my trusty mouse, breaking the long streak of mediocrity and delivering to me what is possibly the best horror movie I’ve seen so far this year. 2003 was an incredibly busy time for the horror genre but still, it’s mystifying how Dead End managed to go under my radar and remain there for over a decade. A movie this satisfying and unconventional should be a cult classic by now, or at least considered as a very worthy choice for a horror movie during Christmastime. It’s about a family who are once again driving to see their relatives on Christmas, but this time, the father decides to take the back roads because he hopes the change of scenery will prevent him from falling asleep. He soon realizes that he has no idea where he is and continues driving down a lonely road that offers no highway signs, gas stations, helpful landmarks, or other vehicles.

What follows is a nightmarish odyssey that plays out like an adrenalin-pumping episode of The Twilight Zone (but with much more blood), as the family eventually meets up with a ghostly blonde woman and a black hearse. The most remarkable thing about this movie is how well it balances the humor and horror, allowing the characters to react to the most insane set of circumstances in ways that are both hilarious and believable. As we spend a lot of the time confined in the car, getting to know these characters through all the bickering, Jingle Bells, and dysfunction, they seem like fully fleshed out characters by the time they step outside to what are surely horribly dangerous situations, which really amps up the stakes and the excitement.

From the description, I assumed this would be a formulaic slasher picture but instead it was much more like a David Lynch film, and I’m not just saying that because it stars Ray Wise—who gives yet another amazing performance here that in just 85 minutes, covers nearly the entire complicated spectrum of Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks. Another familiar face to a lot of horror fans will be Lin Shaye, who gives another gripping, multi-dimensional performance that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Dead End is an absolute blast and I know it won’t be long until I venture down this twisted road again. Score: 9/10

Since my Netflix shuffle marathon ended on such a positive note, I will surely try it again sometime soon!

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