If I had to come up with one word to describe THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, it would probably be “stylish.” However, that isn’t the way reviews work, so… let’s get to it, shall we? The film, based on the Peter Ackroyd novel, THE TRIAL OF ELIZABETH CREE (also known asDAN LEO AND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM), is a tightly woven murder mystery set in the Limehouse district of 1880 London. At the time, Limehouse was a dark and gritty place and, geographically, not too far from Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel haunts of 1888. Thanks to the attention to detail by director Juan Carlos Medina, cinematographer Simon Dennis, set decorator Pilar Foy and all of the other talented individuals on the other side of the camera, the seediness and rather tawdry look and feel of the sets (especially the music hall, where much of the movie takes place) are as important to the plot as any single character.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth) (photo courtesy: NICOLA DOVE)
That plot unfolds from the end, with a music hall dramatization of the murder trial of Lizzie Cree, an abused and neglected child who has grown up to be an abused and neglected young woman. Amid a frenzy of savage murders perpetrated by a sadistic slasher dubbed the Golem, Lizzie is accused of murdering her husband, John, a failed author, aspiring playwright and primary suspect for the Goelm’s grizzly work. The public, fascinated and horrified by the Golem murders, demands answers and an end to the madness; faced with the possibility of failure, the high-ranking Scotland Yard official handling the case passes the assignment off to Inspector John Kildare, a senior detective with “problems” of his own. With Kildare installed as the fall-guy, the Yard’s hierarchy sees a chance to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak: If Kildare fails to stop the killings, the top brass can save themselves a personal humiliation by laying the blame squarely at the feet of a man they don’t like and want to be rid of. And, why don’t they like Kildare? He is one of THOSE fellows – the Inspector is gay, something not well tolerated in the nineteenth century. By extension, Kildare also inherits the Cree murder case, which leads to a kind of father/daughter relationship with Lizzie. Believing her husband to be the murderous fiend terrorizing Limehouse, the Inspector seeks to prove John guilty in an effort to free Lizzie on a self-defense plea.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Daniel Mays, Maria Valverde, Bill Nighy) (photo courtesy: NICK WALL)
As the tale continues to be told with a glance backwards, we are introduced to several characters essential to the Cree’s story, including Dan Leo, a flamboyant music hall performer and stage “narrator”; a stage director and calming presence for the music hall troupe called “Uncle”; aerialist and sexual focal point of the group, Aveline Ortega; and, in flashback fashion, perhaps the person most pivotal to Lizzie’s current woes, her mother. In the 1995 novel, Ackroyd populated his story with several historical figures; Jane Goldman’s script retains three of those luminaries for the film version, to stunning effectiveness: George Gissing, the troubled author whose first novel, WORKERS IN THE DAWN, was published in 1880; Karl Marx, the father of modern Socialism and Communism; and the aforementioned Leo. It is never an easy task to weave real personalities into a work of fiction, but the creative team responsible for THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM have peopled the story with an entire cast of realistically believable characters that the trio of Leo, Gissing and Marx fit right into the surrounding landscape. All three lived in London during the time of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, with both Marx and Gissing appearing on the suspect list (and in Kildare’s reimagining of the grizzly killings).
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (María Valverde, Sam Reid, Douglas Booth, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan) (photo courtesy: NICOLA DOVE)
While I fairly well had sussed out who the killer was early into the film, I found myself second-guessing my theories – changing my mind several times as Inspector Kildare and his equally astute assistant investigator, Officer George Flood, interviewed Lizzie and her music hall compatriots and unearthed new leads. Yet, the story is so well done that, when the identity of the Golem is finally revealed, you aren’t disappointed in the least. This is a movie and a story that works so well on so many levels. At the beginning of this review, I told you about the artistic and stylistic beauty of the sets… to that beauty, we can definitely add the work of costume designer, Claire Anderson, whose slightly modern take on the wardrobes of Victorian Londoners is every bit as important to the look of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM as anything else. Of course, any film is ultimately based on the talents of the people on the screen and this one is stacked with actors perfect for their roles, even if one is actually a replacement for another beloved performer. Olivia Cooke (ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and the BATES MOTEL television series) is devastatingly vulnerable as Lizzie Cree, while Sam Reid is suitably smarmy as her fame-seeking husband, John; as both business man/mentor and over-the-top stage performer, Douglas Booth (JUPITER ASCENDING, as well as Reid’s co-star in THE RIOT CLUB), shines in the pivotal role of Dan Leo; Spanish beauty Maria Valverde sizzles as Aveline Ortega; in fact, each member of the supporting cast shines brightly and each is given their moment in the spotlight, including Eddie Marsan (Uncle), Keeley Forsyth and Amelia Crouch (as Lizzie’s mother and a younger Lizzie in a couple of frightening sequences that give the viewer important insight into the character) and Daniel Mays (as the rather uptight but totally professional – and loyal – George Flood). As brilliant as these cast members are, I’m not sure that this flick would have risen to the heights to which I have elevated it if it were not for the presence of Bill Nighy (Davy Jones in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, Minister Rufus Scrimgeour in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART ONE and a ton of video games and animated stuff over the last decade or so) as Inspector John Kildare; with Nighy’s understated performance, Kildare is thoughtful, vulnerable and, though set-upon (and set to fail), determined to get at the truth. Nighy was a last minute replacement for Alan Rickman, who was forced to pull out of the project due to illness (the film is dedicated to Rickman, who passed away in 2016).
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Olivia Cooke, Bill Nighy) (photo courtesy: NICK WALL)
Obviously, to divulge too many of the intricacies of the plot would be akin to telling your kids that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist (remember how that turned out for Dwayne Johnson in THAT movie?), so I’m just going to tell you that THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM is worth your attention and, even if you think you have things figured out in the first twenty minutes, you won’t see the end coming. Just getting to the end is a thrilling, chilling ride through the dark underbelly of late nineteenth century London. Anyone who has ever explored, examined or theorized over the case of Jack the Ripper will certainly recognize the similarities here… that was Ackroyd’s intent with his novel. The fact that the film incorporates several of the tropes common to modern police procedural and crime scene investigation fiction keeps things fresh and allows us to play armchair detective, all the while rooting for Lizzie and Kildare; the fact that both of the main characters are fundamentally flawed (but, then, aren’t we all?) keeps us intrigued and totally invested in the story’s outcome. As always, there are certain scenes, as well as the generally violent theme of the movie that some may find objectionable and, as such, I would probably advise parents of children thirteen or younger to steer clear of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM while the kids are around… though I’m sure that they could possibly see far worse on an episode of LAW AND ORDER: SVU.
Back in September, I was just back from the theater, having seen EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS. My immediate thoughts were that the film was truly an amazing ride and that director Ron Howard did a fabulous job with all of the archival film footage; cleaned and restored for the big screen, I was definitely taken back to the height of Beatlemania. After the end credits rolled, the audience was treated to a near-thirty minute segment of the Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium concert (almost the entire show), which was awesome… with a crisp new “remaster,” it was like being in the front row with that screaming, rabid New York crowd. Unfortunately, that piece of history didn’t make it to the DVD/Blu-Ray releases, as it was used as an “incentive” to get butts in theater seats. Oh, well… maybe someday! The film (and the bonus feature) made me realize, again, how much I miss both John and George; it really was a wonderful night of Rock ‘n’ Roll with, as Ringo said, “The biggest band in the land.”
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, RIngo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, circa 1964) (uncredited photo)
So, by this time, who doesn’t know the story of the Beatles’ humble beginnings? Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six decades, here’s the Cliff Notes version: Paul McCartney meets John Lennon, joins his band, bringing George Harrison along for the ride; then, here comes Ringo Starr, John and Paul start writing songs together, Brian Epstein becomes their manager, the lads meet George Martin, who works with them, molding their sound in the studio… yeah, yeah, yeah! As a lifelong fan of the Fab Four, I still came away amazed by this fabulous new documentary. Seeing and feeling just how wonderful the Beatles and their music were and continue to be today makes me realize just how much they still mean to me, forty years after they went their separate ways. The narrative of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK is presented through, not only vintage interviews of the Liverpudlians, but recent remembrances from Paul and Ringo, plus various other musicians, composers and celebrities. However, the real “star” is the concert footage and the mania surrounding the mop tops. It’s great reliving how the Beatles literally took control of popular culture in the 1960s; one of the things that I enjoyed seeing was how hard Ringo was playing back in the very early live days, displaying an almost punkish verve at times.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, RIngo Starr, Washington DC 1964) (photo courtesy: APPLE CORPS)
Personal fan-boy histrionics aside, what sets THIS Beatles documentary above others – first and foremost – is the unbelievable quality of the film itself: Not only the concert footage, but the manic press conferences and even the boys simply caught relaxing, is so clear and crisp that it really just staggers you. It was worth it to hear new concert footage with clean, crisp sound, highlighting how truly hard they rocked… especially Lennon tearing up now-classics like “Twist and Shout” and “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy.” Celebrated fans as disparate as Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello and Sigourney Weaver relate just how hard they fell for the Beatles… Yes, everything from THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW to the Hollywood Bowl performance to their huge world tours and all of the madness that followed, but also because they were funny and talented, met the right people at the right time (manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin would become the two most important people in their professional lives) and had a ton of belief in themselves and in their art. The Fab Four were always ready and more than willing to push the envelope. After seeing this movie, it’s very easy to see how and why these celebrities and, indeed, the world fell in love with them and why that love is still going strong over fifty years later.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (a 14 year old Sigourney Weaver at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964) (uncredited photo)
To be sure, the Beatles released an astonishing number of great, hit songs and huge, groundbreaking albums between 1962-1970… a mere eight years. It’s still hard to believe! EIGHT DAYS A WEEK tells their story quite well and, seeing it initially in the theater, on the big screen, was a huge benefit (in particular, the restored Shea Stadium footage, with all the madness and screaming, was stunning). The film is nothing short of phenomenal; Howard and his crew did a superb job of presenting another – often overlooked – part of the Beatles’ huge world wide success, aside from the string of hits and the intense madness that surrounded them everywhere they went. Quite frankly, watching them deal with the insanity going on around them all the time, it amazes me how they remained so grounded. That Shea Stadium show in August, 1965 before 56,000 people was a game changer, setting up a future for arena and stadium rock shows; that performance took Rock and Roll music to heights never before (and seldom after) imagined.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr at Shea Stadium, 1965) (uncredited photo)
Historically, one of the real turning points for the band was when they rejected George Martin’s idea of wanting them to only do other people’s songs; they wanted to write their own music and, so… away they went. The Lennon/McCartney hit-making machine was rolling and wouldn’t stop until outside business affairs jammed the gears. Still, by the time they decided to quit touring in 1966 to focus their creative output into studio work, they were just starting to hit their peak, releasing a string of masterpieces starting with RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER. Recent interviews with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney and archival clips of George Harrison and John Lennon, commenting on and explaining things along the way, really adds to the story and to the enjoyment of this documentary. The film flows very well.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Ringo Starr, Ron Howard, Paul McCartney) (photo courtesy: STUDIOCANAL)
I have been a Beatles fan since their first appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, solidified by seeing A HARD DAY’S NIGHT in the theater and they are still as wonderful, their music still honest and positive and still touching new generations of listeners and fans… over fifty years later. As Sigourney Weaver said in the movie, “It was this sense of world music. We were all loving them, all over the world.” The joy of the Beatles’ music is, we can all have our favorite song and our favorite album; from 1962 to 1970, they made music for the ages and, indeed, this film is a must see for fans of all ages. A big “Thank you!” to Ron Howard for bringing us a new look at a very well-known story. He did a fantastic job with this movie, with a little help from some friends… John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Every generation needs its “Scream Queen,” a pretty young lady destined to be set-upon by various creeps, ghouls, monsters and demonic beings in horrific movie after horrific movie. Katie Keene is working very hard at being this generation’s version of the frightened survivor of such horrendous happenings, appearing in a slew of horror flicks including LOST LAKE, UNION FURNACE, the new CLOWNTOWN and the upcoming hospital torture film, INOPERABLE. In a recent interview, Katie discussed her craft, her favorite Halloween memories, her very real case of coulrophobia and her INOPERABLE co-star, the reigning Queen of Scream, Danielle Harris. Strap in, boys and girls… Katie Keene is an up-and-coming talent who is really gonna play on your fears.
THE MULE: Okay… first things first, give us a quick synopsis of CLOWNTOWN and tell us a little bit about your character, Jill.
KATIE KEENE: So… CLOWNTOWN… a little killer clown action for you. A couple of friends go to see a concert, they kinda get lost along the way and end up in this really small town full of killer clowns. Jill is a friend that’s going with the rest of her buddies. You know, couples date. And, she gets stuck with the rest of her buddies in this terrible town… of killer clowns.
THE MULE: You do a lot and I mean… a LOT of screaming in this film. Did you ever lose your voice during your oxygen-depleting, throat-mangling, near-operatic performance?
KATIE: My big screaming scene in CLOWNTOWN, that was a tough one. I have a space that I go to and I sit in this space on set. I’m there way before we’re filming, sitting at that tree, just zoning in… I just kind of sit in the environment and… sorta let that get to me emotionally and, buddy, when I’m directed to scream and to not stop screaming, that’s what I do. I just bring everything I’ve got. I give everything my little body can give. And, when I do it, I’m physically exhausted after but… I never lose my voice. So, that’s kinda cool.
THE MULE: So, you’re physically exhausted, but that must take an emotional toll on you, as well.
KATIE: Absolutely… it does. It’s really a lot of work. I’ve made a couple of horror movies and horror movies are hard to make. They take a lot out of you emotionally. There’s so much screaming, there’s so much high emotion and, when you’re in high emotion like that every day for a month or however long, it works on you… it works on your body, it takes a toll on you. My body is literally giving everything I can to the role. That’s what I love to do.
THE MULE: You mentioned that you’ve been in a couple of horror movies before CLOWNTOWN. So, what really frightens you?
KATIE: Well, that would be those filthy clowns! Clowns are my biggest fear in all the world and when they had… When I took this role, I didn’t know it was about killer clowns. When Tommy, the director, asked, “Oh, you want to be in a movie?” So, yeah… after I booked the role, I was so excited and then he said, “But, we have to let you know… it’s about killer clowns!” I was so taken aback and was a little speechless because I have a legit fear of them. As a young girl… I suffer from terrible nightmares and ever since I was a young girl, I dream about clowns. I’m SO scared of them. It’s crazy to be thirty years old and be afraid of clowns, you know. That’s a real fear that I have and it took me a minute to really check in with myself to see if this was something I could do and I was just like, “You know what? It could be the greatest acting I’ve ever done ’cause I’m not gonna be acting… I’m really going to be scared!”
THE MULE: Oh, yeah… you gotta watch out for those killer clowns! I don’t trust any of them!
Katie Keene on the set of CLOWNTOWN (uncredited photo)
KATIE: Oh, no! Gosh, aren’t they just so terrifying?
THE MULE: So, aside from CLOWNTOWN, what’s coming up for you next?
KATIE: After this movie, actually with some of the same producers, I was… on another horror film called INOPERABLE. We’re finished filming now, but that’s my newest film coming up on the horizon. And that’s just now having a trailer come out and starting to get a little buzz from that. Then, continuing my day-to-day actor life here in LA, you know, auditioning for all kinds of different things day-to-day and working on the craft and seeing what you can land next. It’s kinda nice, ’cause I’ve got a couple films that are coming out around the same time. It’s really cool, especially with the Showmi and the Netflix. You know, I’ve got a couple movies on a couple of different things and people see the trailer for CLOWNTOWN and they go, “Oh, I’ve been a fan since LOST LAKE” or “I’ve been a fan since UNION FURNACE” or a couple other horror films I did… they’re starting to come out around the same time. It’s great for my career; people recognize me from a couple other very small independent horror films. It’s just so cool to be recognized, that people are watching some of these films. It’s just great!
THE MULE: Oh, absolutely. Now, INOPERABLE… I have seen the trailer for that one and, yeah… I guess that’s another thing that can be kinda creepy… hospitals.
KATIE: Absolutely. That hospital we filmed in WAS creepy. It was not a very fun hospital. It’s so neat what scares people… that’s what so fun about horror films – it’s like, there’s so many things you can make scary, you know, you can just play on peoples fears. I know,,, the fear of clowns is very common. There are so many people. And, fear of hospitals… people are scared of hospitals and there are just so many… so much opportunity to play off the fear of real people but… can I just say, it’s really fun!
THE MULE: Yeah, it is. I mean… people love to be scared.
Katie Keene is terrorized and tortured in LOST LAKE (publcity still)
KATIE: Yeah, they love to be scared! You know what? I like to be scared. Halloween is my favorite holiday. The scary haunted houses, they scare me. I mean, I know they’re actors… I used to act in them but, now, that’s what scares me – going to haunted houses. Horror films these days, I’m very critical. It’s very hard for me to find a scary movie that really scares me. I’m always like, “Bring it on! Bring me everything you got!”
THE MULE: I’m less than an hour away from Saint Louis and there are some really good haunted houses there. I’m talking world class haunted houses.
KATIE: Oh, absolutely! And, people will drive from all over to go to the real good ones. It’s crazy! It’s such an interesting thing that people just love to get the shit scared out of them!
THE MULE: You mentioned Halloween. It’s probably everybody’s favorite holiday… well, Christmas is up there, too. But, anyway, what is your favorite Halloween memory?
KATIE: Oh, wow… I’ve just got so many. You know, the Halloween I really liked, I was working in a haunted house; it was a couple years back. It was the Hollywood Haunted Hayride… I don’t know if you’re familiar with it but, they do big haunted houses here in LA. I was working that for Halloween one year and we just had a ball! It was just so much fun. That’s the most recent one that really sticks out in my mind. I always try to do something crazy for Halloween. A lot of Halloweens these days, I’m working. As a child, growing up, we always would dress up and trick or treat and then, when I got a little older, then started the pranks. I was always running around in camouflage, me and my buddies from school… we were big pranksters. So, every Halloween, everybody was going to get egged or pranked in some way. I had a lot of fun on Halloween growing up… always trying to scare people. I’ve got so many good Halloween memories.
THE MULE: Cool. I was just going to get back to INOPERABLE again. What is it like to work with Danielle Harris? She’s kind of a queen of the scream movies.
KATIE: Danielle… yeah, she sure is. Danielle was so great, such a big help to me, such a good friend to me, such a good mentor. She’s been working since she was three years old and now she’s kinda the big scream queen, you know, with HALLOWEEN. That’s what she does. We were so in awe… it’s always really neat when you grew up watching someone on television and then, a few years later, down the road, there you are working with them in a movie. A known movie. It’s always so great. She was just so very informative, she’s very professional. I love to watch her work, I love to watch her act and to hear her ideas and her thoughts. It was just so professional; you could just tell she’s been doing it her whole life. It was just great to see. We have a similar… She gave me a lot of great advice for my own career. She did a lot of horror films; I’m kinda… in that way, as well… doing a lot of horror films. She gave me great advice and had only nice things to say about my acting. She was like a friend and a mentor, too. I just loved her. She was amazing to work wth, so professional, so good at what she does… it’s second nature to her. It’s so cool to see people work that way, She’s a love, a friend of mine to this day. I really appreciate that. Just a lovely lady.
THE MULE: Awesome. We will be looking for that one and CLOWNTOWN is coming up soon. Thanks for the time and maybe we’ll talk again around the time INOPERABLE is released.
(MILLMAN PRODUCTIONS/STEEL HOUSE PRODUCTIONS/ZORYA FILMS (85 minutes; Unrated); 2016)
This could very well be the first current events, topical horror movie ever made. It is released in the midst of a “Creepy Clown Mania” that has overtaken small towns from coast to coast; in many in rural areas, there are (mostly unsubstantiated) reports about children being menaced and stalked by people dressed as clowns. Personally, I think it’s all a magnificently choreographed – if terribly misguided (think Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS) – promotional stunt… maybe one intended to prepare audiences for CLOWNTOWN. Be that as it may, the Tom Nagel/Jeff Miller hack and slash is, actually, “Inspired by true events.” Apparently, October 2014 saw numerous armed people in Bakersfield, California dressed as clowns, scaring the populace at-large. I guess I missed that newscast… or, just maybe, living here in the middle of the country, I’m kinda used to seeing armed clowns at the corner store and at the family diner down the street. (Before a large contingent of angry townsfolk come after me with torches and pitchforks… that was a joke! Sheesh… why so serious?) Some of the situations our hapless heroes find themselves in call for a major suspension of reality on the part of the viewer, much like great hack ‘n’ slash movies of the past, like FRIDAY THE 13TH. That doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable for what it is: A Halloween movie meant to scare the crap out of you.
CLOWNTOWN (David H Greathouse) (publicity still)
CLOWNTOWN begins – as most such stories do – with a preamble, a foreshadowing of the impending violence. A pretty blond babysitter (I would identify her as “Interchangeable Blond Rack 247,” but that would be demeaning and chauvinistic, so I won’t… the actress’ name is Kaitlyn Sapp, by the way) and her two charges enjoy a final swim before the kiddies’ bedtime; a foreboding mention of the sitter’s predecessor and random shots of clown-related knick-knacks inevitably lead to the… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Fast forward fifteen years as four friends (played by Brian Nagel, Lauren Elise Compton, Katie Keene and Andrew Staton), on a road trip through Southern Ohio to a concert in Columbus, pull into a roadside diner to ask directions and use the facilities. A pair of workers (director Tom Nagel and Jeff Denton) sit at a window booth, one wanting to be on his way home and bemoaning the slow, leisurely manner of his friend’s eating style; remember them… they’ll be back later. Also adding to the (weird) local flavor is the county sheriff (Christopher Lawrence Chapman) and a leering old dude with lewd intentions (don’t worry about him, though, as he ends up dead in the next scene).
CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, Lauren Elise Compton, Brian Nagel) (publicity still)
With directions for a shortcut offered by the Sheriff, the revelers are on their way. On the road once more, Mike (Staton) asks his girlfriend to locate the nearest gas station, but Jill (Keene) discovers her phone is missing. Sarah (Compton) calls Jill’s number in hopes of locating it; a male voice answers the call and directs the group to the nearby town of Clinton, promising to meet them there with the phone. The town seems deserted as the four head to the designated meeting place; after several frustrating hours spent waiting, the decision is made to abandon the phone for the time being and get back on the road to Columbus. The group returns to their vehicle only to find that it has been tampered with and won’t start; as the hood is closed, they finally see another person, a menacing looking man dressed as a clown and wielding a machete. The man disappears as Brad (Nagel) and the others approach. Desperate to be on their way, they begin searching for additional signs of life in the town and eventually run into Billy and Dylan, the two homeward bound workers from the diner, who have just had their own encounter with a clown. As notes are compared, the clowns return and Billy is… well, let’s just say that things quickly degenerate from that point. Heading into a suitably foreboding junkyard, the quintet is quickly reduced to a quartet as Jill is caught lagging behind the others; the hotheaded Mike is ready to confront the murderous clown horde, but is held at bay by the levelheaded leadership of Dylan (Denton).
CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz) (publicity still)
That works out so well for the harried remnants of the little group that they find themselves surrounded, cowering in the husk of an old Winnebago until a grizzled citizen-in-hiding comes to their rescue – a variation on the whole “Follow me if you want to live” theme. Frank (Greg Violand) comes across as a stereotypical homeless psychotic, but once our heroes regroup in an abandoned warehouse, the truth about why he is the way he is comes to light. It seems that Clinton was once a thriving railroad stop, until a horrendous train wreck ruined the economy and turned the village into a virtual ghost town where the clowns imposed their own style of marshall law on the remaining citizens. Frank concludes the story by emphasizing, “Clowns own this town now.” Dylan says, “I heard rumors of clowns in this town, but I thought it was just bullshit to scare people. I heard it all started with some crazy, messed up family.” Looking away, Frank replies, “I don’t know nothin’ about that.” Which, of course, means… the clowns have discovered their hiding place and are on the hunt again. The sad thing about the whole predicament is highlighted at about the forty-four minute mark of the film, when Sarah tells Brad that she doesn’t really like Country music, anyway – had she made that fact known way back before the original foursome set out for Columbus, they would be safe at home, not running for their lives from a gang of homicidal Bozos (the killer crew are played by David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz, Alan Tuskes, Beki Ingram and former WWE/WCW/ECW wrestler, Chris Hahn). But, then, what fun would that be for us?
So, anyway… with Frank and his new friends once again on the run, the clowns begin to exhibit certain preternatural – if not supernatural – abilities: Heightened agility, strength, speed and a high tolerance for pain among them. It’s also around this point in the flick that we finally get a glimpse of Jill’s fate; she isn’t dead, but she is being held captive at the clowns’ “compound.” The fact that she is still alive actually came as a bit of a surprise to me, even though the actual body count throughout the entire movie is startlingly low for one of this genre. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gruesome scenes to keep today’s horror fan watching, just not a lot of people dying. After escaping from the clowns (and doing damage to at least one), Frank gives the others directions to find Jill, but along the way, they are set upon once more, as Brad is separated from Sarah and Mike. Now, well after dark, Brad sees lights on in a house; entering the home, he finds a woman (Maryann Nagel… that’s right, this low budget screamer is a family affair, with many a Nagel and Uncle Greg Voiland involved, either behind or in front of the cameras) with screws looser than Frank’s and, upon seeing a familiar picture on the mantle, begins to put things together. Meanwhile, Mike and Sarah are captured as they try to get help and removed to the clowns’ sanctuary. There really aren’t a lot of surprises left by this point, but getting to the end of the story is still a lot of fun… in a “brain-disengaged” sort of way. As I mentioned at the top of this review, CLOWNTOWN ain’t Shakespeare; it’s just good, cheap fun meant to scare the bejeezus out of you around Halloween time. Having said that, I must congratulate the writers for the humorous deaths of a pair of clownsin the last few minutes of the movie. For those who are interested in such things, the movie features a very HALLOWEEN-esque soundtrack. As far as parental warnings, there are more than a few very violent scenes, some implied bondage and one topless babysitter… kinda mild for a horror film nowadays, actually.
CLOWNTOWN is coming to DVD and Video-On-Demand on October 4, 2016… just in time for Halloween and your “Creepy Clown” or “Scream Queen” festivities.
The much anticipated thriller from filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes its DVD and Blu-Ray – as well as digital and On-Demand platforms – debut on May 10, 2106. The film is set in 1990, as a Minnesota youth, Angela (Emma Watson), accuses her father of sexually abusing her as a child. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the girl’s allegations and becomes embroiled in tales of repressed memories and Satanic rituals. The palette of this movie is suitably dark and, like Amenabar’s genre-hopping classic, THE OTHERS, the twists and turns here keep you guessing. The plot features elements of horror, crime drama and psychological thriller all rolled into one, as first Angela, then her father begin to remember a past that may or may not be real. Hawke is at his brooding best as Detective Kenner, while the rest of the formidable cast (including David Thewlis) are swept along in his vortex. Watson is doing her best to move past her HARRY POTTER character, as she chooses roles that are far edgier than the sweet Hermione Granger. Just watching the trailer, I’m not sure this will earn her any new fans (or convince her longtime fans that she is anyone other than Hermione). Time… and a full viewing of REGRESSION… will tell.
(HAMMER FILMS/UNIVERSAL PICTURES/WARNER HOME VIDEO (82 minutes; Unrated); 1958/2013)
The power of atmosphere can not be overstated. The act of becoming immersed in a movie is one of the most rewarding and genuine aspects that one can experience whilst viewing a film. Director Terence Fisher realized this to the fullest when helming HORROR OF DRACULA (known simply as DRACULA outside of the US) in 1958, and it’s outcome paid off immensely, with critics and fans alike set to sing the film’s accolades for decades to come.
Following the path tread by it’s predecessor, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the film possesses all of the signature Hammerisms that would prove to be the British production company’s lasting calling cards, IE: vivid color, eroticism, action and a quirky sense of British discernment. These attributes, combined with career defining performances from Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, propel the body of work to a preeminent level that very few vampire films have managed to reach. The set design, provided by one Bernard Robinson, is nothing short of breathtaking. Gothic and lavish, Mister Robinson walked a razor thin line between aesthetic beauty and the overwhelmingly grandiose. The artistry and tastefulness in which these pieces were created has, with no doubt, gone on to influence many present day films, not limited to THE OTHERS, THE WOMAN IN BLACK and CRIMSON PEAK.
HORROR OF DRACULA (Melissa Stribling, Christopher Lee) (publicity still)
On the negative side, the film falls prey to a fair amount of melodramatic excess, mostly in the form of overacted sequences from Melissa Stribling. And, while wholly majestic, the score can at times feel a bit forceful and overpowering. Altogether, HORROR OF DRACULA is a seminal horror film that should be able to find a home in any genre fan’s collection. It’s stylish and elegant imagery allow it to retain it’s place among the best the vampire sub genre has to offer.
4 FILM FAVORITES, DVD cover (WARNER HOME VIDEO)
HORROR OF DRACULA is currently available as part of a budget-priced DVD collection from Warner Home Video called FOUR FILM FAVORITES: DRACULAS, alongsideDRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and DRACULA, AD 1972; these and most of the Hammer Studios horror films show up occasionally on the Turner Classic Movie channel (usually during October, as part of their Halloween celebration), as well as being available digitally.
As much as I love science fiction movies, I’m not big into the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) thing; cyborgs, robots, androids are okay (Deathlok, that canned dude from LOST IN SPACE, the Vision) but, a lot of times, the attempt to make these types into a “normal” human-like construct just leaves me cold. With that as background, I wasn’t sure about UNCANNY and where it would fall on the spectrum; the advance publicity and trailer promised a creepy sort of stalker thing with the possibility of a very violent second half. Uh… kinda.
UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)
The story has a rather claustrophobic feel… it mostly takes place in one location (an apartment/suite/laboratory called Workspace 18) with only three characters for roughly ninety-eight percent of the movie. David Kressen (Mark Webber, who strikes me as a younger version of the brilliant Jeffrey Combs) is a reclusive (and amazingly well-adjusted) boy genius who has been left to his own devices for the past ten years, charged with creating the ultimate robotic AI; his roommate, Adam (David Clayton Rogers), is the result of Kressen’s work and has taken his creator’s last name. The introduction of a third individual, reporter (and failed roboticist) Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths), is initially met with trepidation and mild annoyance from David and confusion from Adam. Joy has been sent to conduct a week’s worth of interviews for a feature story on Kressen and his work. She is totally taken aback when David reveals the truth about Adam and, thus, the three embark upon an intellectually stimulating few days; as the continued interaction leads to more intimate feelings between Kressen and Andrews, Adam begins to exhibit some very human reactions: Love, jealousy, confusion and, finally, hate and revenge. By the fourth day, the situation has become a bizarre lovers’ triangle, with Adam infringing upon and, at times, outright sabotaging the others’ time together. Adam also develops some new voyeuristic tendencies, which come to a head when he gives a gift to Joy, in the form of a prototype robotic eye with, naturally (and completely unknown to the receiver), a camera. The better to secretly watch you mediate in your underwear, my dear.
UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)
The whole movie is very quiet and serene, three highly intelligent beings discussing the things that they enjoy most and interacting in the most reasonable fashion imaginable… until the final twenty minutes or so. When Joy discovers what Adam has been up to, she takes Kressen aside to let him know what his creation is capable of; Kressen tells her she shouldn’t worry too much… it’s just Adam adjusting his learning curve and adding new stimuli and knowledge to his matrix. David does, however, confront Adam about his actions; Adam apologizes and – as far as Kressen is concerned – the incident is forgotten. Adam hasn’t forgotten and, when he tries to stick his tongue down Andrews’ throat, she objects and David chastises Adam, sending him to his room like a misbehaving child; a very childlike outburst from Adam stuns creator and reporter alike. That’s really the extent of the violence, though there is a nice (if rather anticipated) twist-ending that delivers the “evil corporate construct” message like a very quiet sucker-punch to the solar-plexus. That message, delivered by Rainn Wilson as the deliciously sinister Simon Castle, Kressen’s benefactor/employer, will send a chill down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder as you conduct your day-to-day life for, at least, a few days. And, that, friends, is what a good piece of science-fiction should do… leave you questioning the reality of the subject matter at hand; first-time screenwriter Shahin Chandrasoma (who is a surgeon specializing in robotic urology) and acclaimed director/editor Matthew Leutwyler have certainly accomplished that.
UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)
UNCANNY succeeded in holding my attention and stimulating my mind much more than I would have thought possible, given the subject matter and the subtly delicate approach. This kind of story probably isn’t for everybody… teens and young kids will undoubtedly be bored out of their gourds waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen and, by the time it does, will probably have given up on the whole thing. However, if YOU stay with it, I think that you’ll be grateful you didn’t give up on UNCANNY too soon. The movie is available on DVD and as a digital download.
(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/CALIBER MEDIA/DESTROY ALL ENTERTAINMENT/REVEK ENTERTAINMENT (83 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
Today’s version of the slasher movie is very rarely a nuanced thing; these flicks are more about the body count, finding unique ways to raise that body count, as well as making sure that a fair number of the bodies being counted are either scantily clad or completely unclad… there is generally no rhyme or reason for the slaughter, as the slasher (rather human, spirit, demon or other) just shows up and starts hacking. I’m not going to tell you that certain aspects of the genre are not here in spades with SOME KIND OF HATE but, the reasons are well-placed and well-thought-out. The writers‘ (Brian DeLeeuw and Adam Egypt Mortimer co-wrote the screenplay) original concept and script was titled BULLIED, so there is much more of a message here than the usual “let’s go to the woods, get drunk and screw” mentality of one of these things. Obviously, bullying is a horrible problem pervading our society, particularly our school systems. It isn’t a new thing… there have always been older, bigger, richer, prettier, whatever type of people who feel a need to push and belittle those they deem to be beneath them; sometimes a bully is someone who is so insecure that they attack others just to feel good about themselves. The problem – and the symptoms – seems to be getting worse, with the number of victims rising daily. Even without the vengeful spirit aspect of this movie, the under-riding theme is enough of a horror story on its own merits. This ain’t no AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL or one of those “Very Special Episodes,” though… there’s too much blood.
SOME KIND OF HATE (Ronen Rubinstein) (photo credit BENJI BAKSHI)
The lead character, Lincoln, is your standard issue dark and brooding angst-ridden type… a quiet, artistic tortured soul who is abused at home and bullied at school (played to the quiet, brooding hilt by Ronen Rubenstein, who explained in a recent interview that, while he was never really bullied, one of his friends was bullied to the point that he committed suicide). Lincoln tries to stay out of the way of the big-man-on-campus, spoiled jock who delights in torturing those he deems too different (Lincoln is an “art fag” who doesn’t look or dress like everybody else); the loutish tormentor – his friends and hangers-on trailing behind like puppies – finds Lincoln alone and pushes the kid over the edge. Of course, when Lincoln retaliates, he is the one deemed a troublemaker and he is the one sentenced to a rehabilitation facility for teens with anti-social proclivities. The secluded “camp” is one of those “let’s get in touch with our feelings,” hippie psuedo-religious places for “troubled youth” that MAKE you wanna go all Jason Voorhees just to shut up the directors and counselors. The name of this place? Why, Mind’s Eye Academy, of course. There are the usual group of screw-ups and misfits, all stunningly beautiful, most with darker problems and secrets than the things that had them sent to the MEA; naturally, they have all learned to play the game and fooled the staff into believing they have assimilated. Lincoln is befriended by another newcomer, his bunk-mate Isaac (Spencer Breslin), a sorta boastful, obnoxious kid who ended up at the camp for “porn hacking” the computer system at his school. Everyone definitely is not copacetic with the new kid, though, as a tough named Willie (Maestro Harrell) and his goons start pushing Lincoln to see how long it will take before he goes crazy and attacks them. Ah… good times. Good times.
SOME KIND OF HATE Ronen Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin) (photo credit: BENJI BAKSHI)
Lincoln finds solace and a kindred spirit in another societal reject, Kaitlin (played by Grace Phipps, a refugee from Disney, who starred in the tween-sation TEEN BEACH MOVIE and its sequel), a bad girl cheerleader whose coping mechanism was/is cutting; Kaitlin is another kid with a secret… she has first person knowledge of what bullying can lead to but, she doesn’t share with Lincoln until much later. After the third altercation with Willie and his minions, which sees Lincoln lashing out and hitting his tormentor, Lincoln is drawn to the basement of an old building, just to get away from everything and to get his thoughts together. Still enraged, he blurts out, “I wish they were all dead!” That phrase brings forth the spirit of Moira (another former Disney star, Sierra McCormick, who played the oddball genius Olive in a series called ANT Farm; she may also be remembered for her role as Lilith for a couple of episodes during season four of SUPERNATURAL, her only other appearance within the horror genre), a former student at the Academy; Moira was driven to suicide by the taunts and bullying of her peers and now seeks vengeance for herself and for other victims of bullying. Part of the appeal of such movies is discovering how and why violent things start happening, so I don’t want to spoil the fun for you; let’s just say, that soon after Moira’s appearance, Willie is found dead, with deep cuts all over his body and a razor blade in his hand. The first sign that things are not all sunshine and light at the Mind’s Eye Academy occurs as a sleazy sheriff’s deputy comes to investigate Willie’s apparent suicide: The deputy tells Krauss, the assistant director of the facility (Noah Segan), “It’s an hour drive – each way – every time I gotta come out here to pick up another dead kid.”
SOME KIND OF HATE (Sierra McCormick) (photo credit: BENJI BAKSHI)
As the body count starts to rise, Kaitlin begins to think that Lincoln is the one killingthe bullys; he tells her and Isaac about Moira but, Kaitlin has her doubts until she follows Lincoln back to the basement, where he confronts Moira and begs her to stop. Moira, once again feeling betrayed, tells the boy, “I’m yours Lincoln… and you’re mine.” Now a believer, Kaitlin seeks out Moira and the two bond over a bit of self-loathing and bloodletting, as the vengeful spirit recruits the other to help with the devastation. Now, I know that you guys are pretty sharp, so you’ve probably already guessed a lot about this movie that I didn’t share here, but… I think that there are still enough scares and more than enough buckets of blood to keep you engaged ’til the end. And, if you stick around, there’s a quick tease to let us all know that there will be a sequel. While the underlying current (bullying) is something that the kids should be made aware of, I’m going to suggest that you keep this one away from them until they’re sixteen, at least. The flick is available on DVD or Blu-Ray, as a digital download or Video-On-Demand.
I had the chance to speak to the star of SOME KIND OF HATE, Ronen Rubenstein regarding this movie and another project that will be premiering soon. It’s called CONDEMNED and is in select theaters on November 13. The movie also stars Dylan Penn as a rich kid, squatting with her boyfriend in an abandoned building. Unfortunately, we had horrible reception (he lost signal at least once), which means that I wasn’t able to save enough of our conversation to post the whole thing here. However, he did have this to say about CONDEMNED: “It’s funny, it’s gory; some scenes make you want to throw up, some scenes make you want to laugh.” You had me at “throw up,” Ronen. We’ll definitely be looking for that one soon. Until then, here’s the trailer:
So, the press release for the independent action flick AWAKEN shows up in my inbox and, I’m thinking, “Okay… the premise sounds promising but, I’m so afraid it’s gonna be nothing more than a distaff version of Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.” But, then, the clincher… the movie features one of my favorite character actors, David Keith. And… he’s doing interviews! How could I possibly turn this one down?
Obviously, I couldn‘t and… I didn’t. So, before we take an in-depth look at the movie, here’s my conversation with actor David Keith. While Mister Keith may not really be as intense as many of his characters, he is nonetheless a passionate performer and a compassionate human being.
THE MULE: It’s a pleasure to speak to you. Since you’re on a little bit of a schedule here, let’s talk about AWAKEN and then a couple of other questions. How did you become involved in this project?
DAVID: The producer, Natalie Burn, is an old friend of mine and she asked if I would do her a favor and come play a small role in the movie.
AWAKEN (Natalie Burn, David Keith) (publicity photo)
THE MULE: You said “small role.” It is a rather small role but, in my mind anyway, fairly pivotal to the story.
DAVID: Yeah… you can’t really harvest organs without a surgeon.
THE MULE: Right. I didn’t wanna give anything away. I guess I shoulda read the back of the box… it may very well tell us what the bad guys are kinda up to. I got the feeling that, possibly, your character wasn’t so much into the way things were being done, but you were just there to help where you could.
DAVID: Well, all he’s washed up. He’s probably lost his license, he’s a drunk and he’s just trying to live out the rest of his days, making some money. But, he does want to do it right. If it’s going to be done, he certainly has given up on the moral question of what he’s doing but, he doesn’t want these kids brought in dead, ’cause then the organs die. He wants to harvest the organs while the person’s still breathing. Dead makes it a little worse; that makes his job work better… you take a live organ over somebody who’s dead or beaten up.
THE MULE: So, this whole thing… there are bad-assess wall-to-wall. I mean, from, I guess, former bad-asses to current bad-asses to future bad-asses… everybody just kinda comes in and pretty much kicks butt and worries about the fall-out later. It’s gotta be fun to work on something that’s almost wall-to-wall action.
DAVID: Well, of course, I represent the part where there isn’t much action. Most of the fighting and action that you see went on when I wasn’t on set. Now, there were some fight scenes shot while I was waiting to shoot my scenes, so I saw a couple of those things. I was only there three or four days and those were the days that they were shooting my scenes, which was a lot more dialogue. I was involved in the dialogue scenes more than in the action.
THE MULE: Okay. So, you didn’t get to actually partake, so to speak, of any of the bad-assery.
DAVID: Not really. No.
LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (David Keith) (publicity still)
THE MULE: Speaking of which, I’ve gotta tell you that one of my all-time favorite episodes of LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT is the one that you played the character “Hawk.”
DAVID: Yeah… I was kind of hoping they would make a spin-off of that character.
THE MULE: Yeah. It could have been a recurring character or a spin-off.
DAVID: I did do another LAW AND ORDER after that but, it was CRIMINAL INTENT and a completely different character.
HEARTBREAK HOTEL (David Keith) (publicity still)
THE MULE: You have done… so many great things through the years and, I guess, what may be the ultimate chick flick, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Do you have any favorite roles or favorite movies or TV series that you’ve worked on through the years?
DAVID: Yes. My favorite role was Elvis Presley in HEARTBREAK HOTEL because I’m a frustrated rock star and I got to the singing myself, go into a recording studio and perform onstage. My two favorite television shows were THE CLASS, which was a sit-com, 2006 and 7 and that was just really a riot… an absolutely hilarious show that didn’t make it. And then, LONE STAR, which was probably the best writing of any project I’ve ever worked on… in any medium. And, that show… a few episodes on Fox and then it got yanked. It was brilliant. Basically, those were the shows that were pearls before swine, in my opinion. They were too smart for the average television audience.
THE MULE: That seems to happen a lot.
DAVID: Um-hm. It has to achieve a certain level of mediocrity in television if you’re going to be successful.
THE MULE: Maybe it’s because people just can’t commit to something like that. Know what I mean?
DAVID: They want to multitask. They need to be able to take phone calls while the show’s on or go get a sandwich. And, if it’s multifaceted and has any sort of depth or texture or tapestry to it, then it demands your full attention. If you make a television show that’s as good as a movie, you’re not gonna want to get up and go get your popcorn. That was the fate of both of those shows, I think. Too smart, too clever.
AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (David Keith, Louis Gossett Junior) (publicity still)
THE MULE: Too nuanced for their own good. So, where are you headed after this… after AWAKEN? Do you have anything else lined up?
DAVID: Well, I’ve had some minor medical issues that kept me out of show business for the past few months but, there’s always something around the corner. I’m enjoying being a Mister Mom.
THE MULE: That’s a completely different lifestyle, isn’t it?
THE MULE: That’s great. I know you have another interview in a few minutes, so I’ll let you go. Just let me say that I like the movie… like watching the old stuff on TV or DVDs and I really appreciate your time.
Billie Kope (played by Natalie Burn, whose most high-profile appearance to date is probably THE EXPENDABLES 3), on a search for her sister, who disappeared in Mexico, finds herself alone and very confused when she wakes up on the beach of a remote island. As she begins to regain her bearings, she is surprised by the screams of a frightened young woman; nearly walking to a trap, she is saved and befriended by a group of people who have also been kidnapped and transported to the island for some nefarious reason. This group is populated by a number of well-known character actors, including Phillip Tan (as Todd), Edward Furlong (as Berto), Augie Duke (as Chloe) and Robert Davi (as Quintin). As Billie soon learns, her abduction (and those of the others) are linked to a sinister group of black ops soldiers, who are seemingly hunting them merely for the sport of it. What’s really happening is an intricate organ harvesting operation involving – and you had to see this one coming – her sister, Kat (Chrisa Campbell).
AWAKEN (Natalie Burn) (publicity still)
The plot – a twist on the Richard Connell short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” – is one that’s turned up over and over again in movies, television (including an episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, with Rory Calhoun starring as “The Hunter”), literature and comic books but,with enough of a spin to keep it interesting. Aside from the actors already mentioned, the cast is filled with recognizable faces (if not names): Vinnie Jones as the ruthless black op leader, Michael Pare as his second in command, Jason London as the head of the organ harvesting cartel and Michael Copon as the love interest/hero of the piece. Daryl Hannah appears as Mao, a “customer”searching for a liver donor with the proper chi for her daughter; her performance is over-the-top and cartoonish, the one weak link in an otherwise solid cast. Conversely, David Keith, as Walsh, the disgraced doctor hired to perform the surgeries, gives a nuanced, believeable performance as he struggles with what his life has become and, ultimately, with saving as many lives as he can to atone for his past (and current) indiscretion. Miss Burn (who is also writer, producer, casting director, as well as doing her own stunts) is definitely easy on the eyes, kinda like a cross between Lucy Lawless and Juliette Lewis, only… softer.
AWAKEN (Daryl Hannah) (publicity still)
The action sequences tend to work better than the rest of the story, especially the dialogue which occasionally borders on the soap-ish (as in operas). The one exception is the final shoot-out, which like Miss Hannah’s acting, comes across rather like cartoon violence (but, honestly… I do likes me some mindless cartoon violence). Having said that, AWAKEN does manage to engage and hold your attention; the actors are certainly nice to look at (with the possible exceptions of Jones and Daz Crawford as Stitch). The movie works equally well as an action/adventure dude’s night-in, as a chick flick or even as a date night feature. Some of the concepts may be to advanced for kids younger than twelve and the R rating is due to the violence. My recommendation? Suspend all semblance of believability and strap yourself in for a fun ride. AWAKEN is available in digital, DVD and Video-On-Demand.
(KETCHUP ENTERTAINMENT/COPPERHEART ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
When actor David Hewlett decided to write a Sci-Fi movie, I’m sure the concept looked pretty good on paper and – you know what? – even with a couple of black holes in the plot and unspoken back stories (due, no doubt, to time and budgetary constraints), the finished product looks pretty good, too. Hewlett’s script is equal parts 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY, TRON, WAR GAMES and just about every slasher movie ever made; toss in some nifty KILL BILL style fight scenes and a cast of beautiful – if limited – actors and you have a rollicking good time of a space opera with DEBUG.
DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)
The concept is relatively simple: Convicts on a work release derelict spaceship clean-up detail (got that?) are dispatched for one final debugging assignment before returning to lock-up; the debugging is of the computer kind, as long dormant vessels with still-functioning systems tend to become infected with various viruses and need to be cleaned before a reboot and a return to active service. We get a glimpse of just how corrupt the system is in a prologue that sees the sole survivor on-board, one of 1,200 prisoners (a terror-fraught cameo by Tenika Davis), stalked by a physical manifestation of the infected security program (malevolently played by future Aquaman, Jason Momoa). Suffice to say, bad things happen. The cleaners are under the supervision of a no nonsense (though somehow good-natured) guard named Capra (Adrian Holmes), who gets hijacked by the virus, doing its gruesome bidding. Capra’s eventual demise is kind of a side-splitter.
DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)
Of course, each member of the convict crew has their own little secret: Lara (Sidney Leeder) and team leader Mel (Kerr Hewitt) are – if not romantically – sexually involved; Diondra (Jaydn Wong) is looking for a quick score, but ends up with a splitting headache for her troubles; Samson’s exit (and, by extension, CARRIE’s Kyle Mac) was so quick, I’m not too sure I can even tell you what his secret was or what happened to him; tough-as-nails scarey chick Kaida (who really has a heart of gold, much like – I’m sure – the actress who portrays her, Jeananne Goossen) is all business, as she hacks into the rogue system for a bit of virtual butt kicking; James (played by Adam Butcher, Momoa’s co-star in WOLVES) is a former cadet whose dreams were smashed after pleading guilty to a cyber-crime committed by his younger brother. Each, seemingly working against the others, are given their own little vignette, as they are assigned different sections of the ship to work on; most interact with various “creature comfort” programs, all under the control of the evil “I Am” (Momoa), leading to varying degrees of pain and suffering. The final confrontation with the I Am and the ultimate sacrifice by one team member is right up there with other such selfless gestures for which the genre is so well known (Spock’s final moments in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN remain untouchable in that area).
DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)
There are a plethora of direct-to-DVD Science-Fiction movies released every week, most of which are totally forgettable and many of those are utterly regrettable; DEBUG rises above the dross with an imaginative script and cold, antiseptic sets that add to the creepy machines-in-control aspect; the small blasts of color (the convicts’ orange jumpsuits and, yeah… a whole lot of blood) tend to be rather jarring against the bright lights and stark white of the spaceship. This is a movie that would have benefited from another 20 to 30 minutes. That’s something that I very rarely say about any movie but, here, the extra time would have definitely made an already strong feature into a great one, allowing the characters to be fleshed out more fully (we don’t really know why most of the crew are in prison or what motivates their actions on this mission), as well as offering a more in-depth examination of just how the ship’s computers became so corrupt.
DEBUG is unrated but, due to some strong language and some fairly brutal scenes of violence and death (a couple of which are quite imaginative), this one probably shouldn’t be viewed by anyone younger than, say, twelve. It’s not really a great date flick or family movie night fare… in fact, it may not be anything that the female of the species will find appealing at all. Having said that, it’ll play really well for a bunch of guys just hanging out in a man cave somewhere.
(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/JAM FILMS (95 minutes; Rated PG-13); 2015)
Can I tell you guys something? I don’t like golf. Never have and, considering my curmudgeon-like obstinacy and advanced years, probably never will. Everything about the sport (at least ’til Tiger came along… and, maybe, John Daly before him) is too quiet, too polite! I’ve only ever played the game (rather accurately dubbed by my father, “Cow Pasture Pool”) once. I shot a 64… I quit after the first hole. Here’s another little secret: I don’t like golf movies; except, of course, CADDYSHACK (and, yeah… I’ll even throw CADDYSHACK II in there, as well). Until now. THE SQUEEZE is more of a caper movie or a gangster movie but, with golf as the central element behind all of the intrigue and death threats, I think we can fairly safely call it a “golf movie.”
THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stills)
Most “based on actual events” stories are only marginally based on those events; THE SQUEEZE is no exception. Jeremy Sumpter (who was apparently in a television show called FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS… I’m sure the little girls know the one I’m talking about) plays golf savant Augie Baccas, a character loosely based on a guy named Keith Flatt. Baccas – like Flatt – is the Meadowlark Lemon of his small town’s golf club, winning a one day tournament by a course record fifteen shots. The flick begins, as most do, with Augie indulging in a game of cross country extreme golf with his friends, including his girlfriend, Natalie (played by Jillian Murray, whose resume includes the latest installment of the CABIN FEVER horror franchise). With Augie bemoaning his financial state and his inability to make a better life for his mother and little sister (all three are under the thumb of the abusive Baccas patriarch), golf and Natalie are his only escapes; he dreams of joining the PGA Tour and qualifying for the US Open.
THE SQUEEZE (Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stll)
After a particularly brutal confrontation with his father, Augie is offered a way to make enough money to remove his family from his drunken lout of a father. That offer comes from a gambler named Riverboat (a sleazy, almost endearing character portrayed by Christopher McDonald) who, driving cross country to Las Vegas for a poker tournament, after hearing a report of Augie’s phenomenal feat on the local radio station, changes course to locate the young man to convince him to come to Vegas and use his talents in high-stakes matches against unsuspecting golfers. Along for the ride is Riverboat’s high-maintenance wife, Jessie (Katherine LaNasa), whose provocative dress and coyly flirtatious demeanor are so distracting to opponents that she is as important to Riverboat’s game plan as are his gambling skills. Naturally, Natalie is concerned and angered that Augie would compromise his reputation and integrity for a quick buck, earned in a rather dubious fashion under the tutelage of an obvious shyster. She has Augie leaning toward turning down the offer until Riverboat waves a stack of hundred dollar bills under his nose. The decision made, Augie asks Natalie to look after his sister and mother and, though she refuses to speak to him, she does agree to keep an eye on his family.
THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald) (publicity still)
Working their way to Las Vegas, Augie, Riverboat and Jessie play the best of the best at every course along the way, amassing a nice little nest egg for the ultimate Vegas fleecing: Riverboat plans to engage notorious card sharp and mid-level gangster Jimmy Diamonds (Micahel Nouri) in a poker game. After winning big, Riverboat suggests a golf match between Augie and Diamonds, giving the latter a chance to win his money back. Diamonds knows a ringer when he sees one and counters with a ringer of his own, reigning NCAA champion Aaron Bolt (Jason Dohring, who was in some movie about some television series that I never watched), who has made his own deal with a much more violent devil. Diamonds sets Augie up and, breaking in to his hotel room, tells Augie that if he does not lose the next day’s million dollar round to Bolt, he will end up in the deep end of a swimming pool with lead weights tied to his ankles. When Augie tries to get out of his deal with Riverboat, the gambler tells him in no uncertain terms that if he does not WIN the million dollar challenge, HE will kill him. With Augie caught between a rock and very hard place, the final third of the movie features enough twists and turns and all-out action (as well as some questions best left unanswered) to make THE SQUEEZE one cool thrill ride of a caper flick.
THE SQUEEZE (Christopher McDonald; Katherine LaNasa) (publicity stills)
The attention to detail in the golf sequences is amazing. Sumpter (and, I understand, Dohring, as well) can really play and most of their golf shots – even the trick shots – are real and were generally first takes. Sumpter, in fact, could probably qualify for a spot on the Tour. Of course, the main reason that everything looks so legitimate is because writer/producer/director Terry Jastrow was a junior champion himself and actually caddied for Arnold Palmer; he also became a producer at ABC Sports at the age of 22, winning seven Emmy Awards for his groundbreaking golf coverage. The fact that he’s married to actress Anne Archer is merely a bonus as regards THE SQUEEZE. The family, relationship, gambling and action sequences range from stilted to over-the-top, though, honestly, a couple of the characters call for an over-the-top performance (particularly Jessie and, to a lesser extent, Riverboat); Sumpter’s portrayal of Augie is the most grounded and believable but, overall, the cast does a good job.
THE SQUEEZE (Michael Nouri) (publicity still)
I’ve seen THE SQUEEZE reviewed as a “Faith-based” production and, I suppose, it does have certain elements that could cause it to be considered a morality play of sorts. However, there are also some dirty, gritty elements (coarse language, some drug use and sexual situations, not to mention the violence) that would probably exclude it from most “Family” movie lists. Having said that, parents shouldn’t necessarily shy away from making it a family movie night option; I wouldn’t be too concerned about allowing a twelve year old to watch it. The film would also make a great date night offering for Mom and Dad. If the actual game of golf was more like a cross between this flick and CADDYSHACK, I might actually find myself a bit more interested in it.