horror

Truth: Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare is Weak Sauce by Ryan Hill

 
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Going on a trip over Spring Break – be it to Mexico, Florida or anywhere else – is guaranteed to end poorly. At least in movies. People are murdered to appease ancient gods (Cabin in the Woods), killer plants attack (The Ruins), and sometimes a corn-rowed James Franco shows up, saying, “Spring Break” over and over (Spring Breakers).

Basically, it’s best to stay home over Spring Break if you’re in a movie. If only the characters in Truth or Dare did the same. Or went on a Habitat for Humanity mission, which Olivia (Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale) was planning on doing before her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) convinced her to go to Mexico instead for Spring Break. There, the meek Olivia meets a cute guy at the bar who convinces everyone to leave the bar in favor of making the long trek to an abandoned church to play… wait for it… Truth or Dare. And in Truth or Dare, once someone plays, they have to follow through with the truth or dare. Otherwise, they die in a some PG-13 way that’s not nearly as graphic as it should be.

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The idea of making Truth or Dare a horror film is genius. It opens the door for all sorts of ingenious death scenes, the kind that would make the Final Destination series jealous. Instead, Truth or Dare is saddled with a PG-13 rating, so there goes any hope for wild, gory death scenes. Throw in some silly plot involving a demon and Truth or Dare becomes another low-level horror that’s more cash grab than inspired terror.

Truth or Dare is one of those horrors where the characters get picked off one at a time by some supernatural, all-powerful being. Those don’t work unless the characters are awful people, making the audience root for their demise. It’s one of the biggest lessons Cabin in the Woods taught us. Even Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day was smart enough to have its main character start out as a horrible human being.

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It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Truth or Dare and Happy Death Day, since both are PG-13 horror flicks from Blumhouse. Death Day wrung every ounce of PG-13 fun from its Groundhog Day premise. Truth or Dare, on the other hand, does very little with its premise, even forcing the characters to pick dare after a while.

Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow, who made the bad Kick-Ass movie, Truth or Dare is lazy from the start. Before leaving for the Spring Break trip, Olivia and Markie talk about having fun “before life tears them apart,” which isn’t ominous. At all. The rest of the dialogue is so on-the-nose, that every dare (and truth) is visible from a mile away. And what fun is a game of Truth or Dare with predictable dares? My guess is probably as much fun as watching Truth or Dare, i.e. not much.

 

Happy Death Day's fun premise hampered by PG-13 rating by Ryan Hill

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Slasher flicks should always be rated R. It should be a truth universally accepted by every living being in the entire history of living beings. What fun is a slasher flick without fun deaths and gratuitous violence? Nobody cares about the characters in these things; audiences just want to have their blood lust satiated. It's the entire point of Drew Goddard's classic deconstruction of the entire horror genre, Cabin in the Woods.

So why is Happy Death Day bothering with a PG-13 rating? What's a slasher film without blood? Doesn’t that make it an average, run-of-the-mill film?

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After getting murdered by a killer in a creepy baby mask, Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up to find that she's stuck reliving the same day over and over until she can ID said murderer. Tree goes through the suspects one by one, dying each time she's got it wrong. It's Groundhog Day, but for the slasher genre. Things get kicked up a notch for Tree when she realizes each death is leaving a permanent scar, giving her a somewhat finite amount of deaths before she dies for real.

The good part about Happy Death Day is its very much aware of its ridiculous premise. Everyone is in on the joke, especially Tree, which makes for some silly fun. Working her way through potential suspects, dead-ends are met with a shrug as they each end with her death. It’s just a shame those deaths are mostly uninspired and blood-free, partly due to the film’s PG-13 rating. Happy Death Day still could’ve gotten a little creative with the deaths, as the similarly-themed and PG-13 rated Edge of Tomorrow had all sorts of fun killing Tom Cruise over. And over. And over.

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Despite not having enough “awesome” deaths, Happy Death Day is mostly fun, at least until the third act. That’s where the PG-13 rating really hurts, since things break down into a typical slasher genre third act with the killer chasing the heroine. Happy Death Day tries to put a spin on the killer’s identity, but it’s pretty easy to guess who the killer is within the first 20 minutes.

Happy Death Day doesn’t break any ground in the slasher genre, but it’s breezy enough entertainment. The premise also leaves open the opportunity for oodles of sequels, a la Final Destination. If there is a Happy Death Day 2 though, hopefully it will embrace a R-rating.

Stephen King's It Gets a Scary, Funny Adaptation by Ryan Hill

 
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Does anybody really like clowns? There’s something not right with them. The white faces? The wigs? The silly behavior? All of the above? Hard to say. But pretty much everyone under the age of, say, 45 is terrified of one clown in particular.

Pennywise, the evil clown from Stephen King’s novel It.

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Famously played by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries, Pennywise comes to Derry, Maine every 27 years to feast on scared children. In the hands of Curry, the clown was as evil as he was fun. An all-time villain that to this day still holds up. Now, 27 YEARS AFTER THE MINISERIES, Pennywise has returned on the big screen.

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It’s the summer of 1989, and a group of kids dubbed the Losers want nothing more than to have a fun summer with no worries and no run-ins with the local bullies. That doesn’t really go according to plan, thanks to Pennywise, who terrorizes the kids one by one, feeding on their biggest fears. Bill, the Losers’ leader, is haunted by the death of his little brother Georgie, whom Pennywise killed the year before. Another is terrified of a strange painting. In true Stephen King fashion – and an obvious nod to his novel Carrie – the lone girl in the group is most afraid of her period. As the summer goes on, the Losers realize they’re all being hunted by Pennywise, and since the adults won’t do anything, take matters into their own hands.

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The 1990 miniseries version of It introduced a generation to the work of King with a bang. The author was HUGE in 1990, and King’s novels, with their supernatural elements, piqued the interest of eager young readers like myself. The catch? Most of us weren’t allowed to read his books, because they were “too scary.” The It miniseries was a chance for my generation to finally get a taste of King, and it did not fail to deliver. I was 10, and even though the miniseries aired on network TV, prompting a lack of gore, Pennywise scared the dickens out of everyone.

This new version of It is the first of two films based on the novel, with this one focusing on the Losers as children. Cutting King’s 1,100-page novel into two is no easy feat, and the first half of It can basically be described as evil clown messes with kids. There’s a struggle to reconcile the connection between the Losers and Pennywise, but once those two threads come together, It becomes almost non-stop horror.

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The film is vintage King. Children coming of age, over-the-top adults, sadistic baddies, shocking terror … It, more than maybe all the other King adaptations, feels like one of his novels come to life.

It’s also maybe the funniest King movie.

Yes, It is full of solid scares. Where the 1990 version of Pennywise was scary and fun, this version, played by Bill Skarsgard, is just plain menacing. With the freedom to work within an R-rating, director Andy Muschietti doesn’t skimp on the gore, fully realizing the horror within It. But none of it would work without the Losers. They trade rapid fire quips, and drop F-bombs just like regular kids. The best of the bunch is Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things), who regards his mouth as a gift. The Losers are so funny and authentic, they’d fit in with any of the John Hughes films around at the film’s 1989 setting.

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It’s hard to look at this new adaptation of It without acknowledging the miniseries’ huge influence, but the film really does stand on its own two feet. Alternately hilarious and scary (and not without a couple of shortcomings), It is, to coin a generic critic phrase, a roller-coaster ride.

Put THE MUMMY Back in the Tomb by Ryan Hill

 

The first reboot of The Mummy in 1999 was silly, cheesy popcorn entertainment. It wasn’t anything special, but it grossed more than $400 million worldwide, spawning two sequels of decreasing quality. The franchise, like the Mummy itself, was left for dead in 2008 after the disastrous third entry, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Like any good member of the undead, the Mummy is back after 11 years, this time sporting Tom Cruise and the kickoff to a cinematic universe of classic movie monsters.

Even with a megastar and an entire universe behind this dark and dreary version of The Mummy, it doesn’t hold a candle to the bright and colorful 1999 version.

Cruise stars as his typical cocky self with Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Jake Johnson and Sofia Boutella as the title character. The plot is a rehash of the previous Mummy films: a mummy wakes up, sucks up people’s life for regeneration, then goes on a rampage as epic as the CGI and budget allows.

The decision to create a cinematic universe out of a group of monsters that were at best loosely connected to begin with reeks of money, but that’s a “no, duh” statement. Dubbed the Dark Universe, this is Universal Studio’s attempt to cash in on the cinematic universe craze started by Marvel and copied by DC, now Universal, and soon Paramount’s Transformers universe will hit theaters.

The funny thing about the Dark Universe is Universal tried it once before with the horrific, awful, please God burn the negatives of the print Van Helsing. That Hugh Jackman monstrosity – phrasing – combined Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and a werewolf, much like this new Dark Universe. The Mummy is meant to be the start of that universe, which also includes a Bride of Frankenstein film, The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

But why kick things off with a new Mummy? It’s lazy. More to the point, why would Cruise star in the film? Sure, The Mummy tries to be a “Tom Cruise” movie, giving his character the typical, “cocky a------e turns good” arc that defines most Cruise films, but it fails in spectacular fashion. If Cruise’s arrogance isn’t fun, or in the case of Edge of Tomorrow leads to a series of deaths, there’s no point. The Mummy has neither, instead featuring the most unlikable Cruise character since … ever? Maybe Lions for Lambs?

Alex Kurtzman, making his directing debut, seems lost behind the camera. Every decision made feels like it was done to appease a studio suit, editing out everything that isn’t loud or goes boom. The result is a near-incoherent mess with massive gaps in logic and questionable character motivations that never go unanswered.

If this Dark Universe – which is such a big deal, the film has a logo for the universe before the opening credits – is to thrive, things better improve. Because if The Mummy is any indication, this universe will get sucked into a black hole before it even has a chance to untangle its bandages.