Monday, February 19, 2018

The Girl Who Is a Gift

Does the world need another zombie movie? Well no, but I'm sure there's some heathen out there who thinks we're fine without another Step Up sequel. 

My point is simple: entertainment is rarely about need. Nobody thought we needed Toy Story 2 and 3, but isn't the world a better place with them? 

So hey, you want to give me a zombie movie in 2016? Make it good and I'll take it with joy.

Quick Plot: Preteen Melanie is bright and good-natured, a pleasant, creative individual who's first to raise her hand in class. She's the perfect teacher's pet save for one fatal flaw: her taste for human flesh.

Melanie, you see, is a second generation "hungry," aka evolved zombie who can function as a normal human being so long as she doesn't smell saliva, blood, or other bodily fluids.

In the near-apocalyptic future of The Girl With All the Gifts, the remaining uninfected are putting most of their resources into developing a cure for the virus (in this case, it's fungal-based and can spread through spores). Children like Melanie are treated like lab rats, much to the disapproval of teacher Helen (the always welcome Gemma Arterton) who disgusts her military escorts with her sympathy for the kids. Scientists like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close! In a zombie movie!) see hungries as a disease to be cured by any means necessary.

When Melanie's facility becomes overrun with activated hungries, a ragtag team of survivors bands together to seek shelter. Helen, Dr. Caldwell, the bitter Sargent Parks, soldier Kieran, and Melanie wander a hungry-swarming world together with very different motives.

Based on a novel by Mike Carey (who also wrote the screenplay), The Girl With All the Gifts presents an intriguingly thought-out system for a zombie horror setup. The science is explained easily, and some of the more fungus-ish tics lend both believability and uniqueness to the setup.

That's all well and good, but a decent pitch for zombie attacks doesn't necessarily a great zombie flick make. Enter Sennia Nanua in her film debut as one of the most lovable characters to ever come out of the very well-trod genre. With her eager-to-please sunniness and wry sense of humor, Melanie is a genuine delight. Your heart immediately goes out to any kid strapped into a wheelchair on a daily basis and treated with such disgust as the soldiers do towards the hungries, but it's Melanie's intelligence and moxie that make her the kind of child you can build a film around.

The Girl With All the Gifts is directed by Colm McCarthy and damnit, it is a delight. I laughed. I jumped. And you know what else? I damn well cried. 

This is a joy.

High Points
There's a lot to admire throughout The Girl With All the Gifts, but its key strength is right there in its title. As Melanie, Nanua is incredibly charming and engaging. I can't remember the last time I rooted so hard for a character in a zombie flick.

Low Points
This is a movie that finds a way to make a cat's death charming. I have none.

Lessons Learned
Velcro is equally as impressive to zombie children of the future as it is and has been to a generation of living kids who couldn't tie their shoes

Don't play with anybody that looks dead

As Arrested Development should have taught us, always leave a note

Obviously, I adored this movie. It moves well, it has a winking sense of humor around its horror and a true affection for its characters. You can find it streaming on Amazon Prime. And you should. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Tiny Living, Big Killing

When future generations look back upon this time, I'm sure they'll find a lot of cultural choices to make them scratch their heads. Sure, electing a sociopath buffoon and enjoying entertainment scored with laugh tracks will undoubtedly make the cut, but let's not forget one of the stranger trends of the aughts: tiny houses.

Leave it to the Lifetime Network to make the first horror movie out of it.

Quick Plot: Samantha is a landscape artist happily married to Kyle, a builder who runs his business with best friend Mark. Their relationship becomes strained by a miscarriage and some fertility issues, leading Kyle to storm out the door and clear his head via the one thing he finds relaxing: coast climbing.

In a world where people drool over the cuteness of 300 square feet, coast climbing is apparently a common stress-relieving activity.

Kyle disappears, presumably down the coast that he was, you know, climbing. A mournful Samantha retreats to Kyle's last project, a tiny home development isolated deep in the mountains. Before long, Samantha senses sinister forces at play. Poisonous spiders show up in her bedroom, knives fly past her head to the magnetic space-saving pot holder gifted by her supportive sister, and a creepy baby doll shows up with an ominous message. 

The suspect list mounts in that very paranoid Lifetime way. Could it be the friendly, bearded hipster who lives down the mountain? Mark and/or his wife? Samantha's caring sister? Or, considering Samantha has dramatically thrown her depression medication away, are all of these seemingly hostile acts merely figments of her lonely imagination?

Tiny House of Terror is directed by TV veteran Paul Shapiro with all of the Instagram filtered lighting you need to make it feel of its time. Samantha is sympathetic enough for a millennial widow, and the film's mystery is rewardingly solved with a bonkers climax. 

Hight Points
I won't get into spoiler territory, but the reveal is pretty kooky in that ridiculous way that only Lifetime can deliver

Low Points
The film's treatment of anxiety and depression is, to put it mildly, a pile of crap

Lessons Learned
Surviving a series of life-threatening acts will do wonders for your fertility

A true sign of the times: never delete texts from your loved one. In an age where voicemail is on its way out, that last emoji-filled message might just be the closest you'll come to hearing your late partner's "voice" again

When a soul-crushing darkness overcomes you, it's probably not the best idea to toss out your anxiety pills 

Tiny House of Terror is probably airing on your local Lifetime or LMN network during the next Trendy Home Killer marathons. It's not particularly worth seeking out, but if it shows up on your TV screen, it's certainly not the worst way to kill 90 minutes of your time. The twist is rewardingly wacky, and some of the random spurts of horror have that just over-the-top enough feel to make this one stick.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Let's Get Ready To Evil

We couldn't have a Shortening without at least one evil child flick, right?

Quick Plot: Fearing the youth of America is falling too far behind their more ambitious peers, a private tech country sets up a learning academy for the most gifted pre-teens in the near future. The school itself is buried deep in the bottom floors of a sprawling facility and run primarily via computerized educational tools, with no need for fallible humans in the teacher roles. Instead, three twentysomethings (eager Jenny, groovy Tiggs, and bad boy/self-proclaimed genius Darby) take on the new role as caretakers, merely supervising the kids to ensure they stay in bed and move from one class to the next.

This fancy new school is so elite that its occupants can only see with the help of souped up glasses that connect them to the technological workings of their surroundings. Also on board is ARIAL (it stands for some kind of Siri-esque function), a chipper virtual assistant designed to help the intellectually outmatched aides in their daily activities. 

You don't have to be as smart as the subjects to guess that locking super genius children in a sealed underground ward just might lead to some murderous chaos. As our three young adults try to evade their violent charges, we the audience watch it all unfold via their enhanced goggle vision.

Directed by Martin Owen (with a script by Owen, Jonathan Willis, and Elizabeth Morris, who also plays Jenny), Let's Be Evil follows the welcome format of IFC Midnight produced films with a brief 80ish minute run time. Since this is such a small, focused tale, it makes sense.

It also helps because one can only take eyeglass camera vision so long before it becomes a tad annoying.

As anyone who's ever stopped by this site knows, I'm an easy mark for a killer kid film. Maybe that's why Let's Be Evil worked for me. The visual style keeps things fresh enough, and the fact that we're literally in the dark on what's going on with the children works well. The leads don't get enough time to be interesting or overly compelling, but in their brief screentime, the story keeps everything engaging enough.

High Points
You have to give credit to a film that tells an age old tale with a new style

Low Points
I like to think I'm smart enough to get most of the plotting in modern horror, but it's been several days of thinking and I still can't figure out the exact significance of the opening and closing frame

Lessons Learned
Perhaps any school that's willing to hire caretakers with criminal records isn't going to be the safest work environment

Strong sensible people don’t put sugar in their coffee

In the near future, young men will be fashioning themselves akin to Max's jerky stepbrother in Stranger Things

This is the sort of case where I know I enjoyed a film more than the average viewer. Let's Be Evil has plenty of problems from a production and storytelling point of view, but it comes with a fresh approach and doesn't waste time turning into a hunt. It's not for everyone, but if evil children in a high-tech (but low budget) sounds intriguing, give it a go via Instant Watch.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Welcome to the Shortening!

It's February! 

Which is hardly exciting for anyone.

Unless you're a dog who really likes brushing his teeth. Or, more likely, you dig short things.

That's right: it's the 8th Annual Shortening, a monthly celebration covering films that deal with vertically challenged villains. 

Kids, dolls, houses (go with it), bugs. You get the drift. Any questions?

Yes, all are more than welcome to participate. If you have a blog or podcast and cover anything short-centric this month, simply shoot an email over to deadlydollshouse at with your link. Be sure to include a link to this here site and we're partners in crime.

See you soon!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Best of the Year, Year 9!

As we wrap up our ninth anniversary here at the Doll’s House, we honor tradition by looking back at the best—well, most enjoyable—films covered over the last 365 official blogging days. While 2017 didn't quite have the bang of some past years, it DID give us murderous gym equipment, zombie theme parks, and of course...

Yes, Cat In the Cage is easily the worst thing on this list in terms of quality, but it’s also the kind of wacky, joyous, angry, nonsensical batch of weirdness INVOLVING A CAT that makes it a default entry here. The story is both confusing and confused, an unresolved revenge tale with a last act twin brother reveal and unexplained disappearance of its best character (yes, it’s the cat). It is obviously well worth a watch.

I’m not here to tell anyone that Heidi, the found footage evil doll film airing in all its under 80 minute glory on Amazon Prime, is a great movie. For the first half hour or so, I wondered whether it was even worth finishing. But you know what? At some point, somehow, Heidi becomes a genuinely creepy little tale, making clever use of its budgetary limitations to suggest true evil without ever having to really show it. It’s an impressive feat that won’t click for everyone, but if you give it a chance, you might find it intriguingly unsettling.

It had to happen sooner or later: my drunken idea of a theme park where people hunt zombies comes true in this light but action-packed version of Jurassic World. The high concept is thankfully matched by decent production values and some of the better looking undead of the last several years. You get rich people hunting zombies then being hunted by zombies. What more do you want?

I could go into deep detail about how Baba Yaga is a fascinating representation of female power in horror or how it explores a woman finding sexuality outside of the male gaze, or I can just say THIS MOVIE INVOLVES AN S&M CLAD PORCELAIN DOLL THAT TURNS INTO A BADASS HENCHWOMAN and you know, you get why it makes the list.

7. Viral
At the risk of sounding like a very old woman, those Catfish boys seem to have a pretty impressive ear to millennial culture. Viral is a sleek, fairly small apocalyptic zombie tale framed so specifically as a tale of two teenaged sisters trying to survive. With a rich script from Barbara Marshall and Christopher Landon, it’s a solid, involving saga that finds a very human way in to a much larger story.

Less a horror film and more an American gothic fairy tale, Hunter Adams’ Dig Two Graves tells the sad, compelling story of a young girl whose mourning for her older brother leads her down a dark path buried deep in her small, haunted hamlet. Ted Levine ’s performance as her kind and morally torn grandfather is a thing of beauty. This is far from the scariest film on this year’s list, but it’s certainly the saddest.

Perhaps the one horror film on this list that would have been better if it just wasn’t a horror movie, Late Phases follows a grumpy retired veteran (the solid gold that is Nick Damici) as he discovers that his new gated community is the target of a hungry werewolf. The human stuff far outweighs the cheaper monster effects, but that tends to be what you get when you have deep conversations about religion and life with Tom Noonan. This isn’t a great horror movie, but it’s great in terms of how it lets an age class we never see get to deal with the situations typically reserved for bland teenagers.

A rookie cop starts the overnight shift at a soon-to-be-closed place station only to find herself doing battle with the ghosts of a satanic cult. Director Anthony DiBlasi does a whole lot with his one-night thriller, building tension beautifully and suggesting so much more than what we see in this all-too-short tale. It’s rare that I want a film to be longer, but this was a case where I could easily watch a prequel and beyond.

Yes, it’s most well-known for SPOILER ALERT OF THE SCI-FI ‘70S the “made from people” reveal. But the beauty of Richard Fleischer’s cinematic adaptation of the far less interesting novel Make Room! Make Room! is that it’s also a haunting preview of the possibilities of a world mismanaged. Overpopulation and environmental abuse have led to a miserable existence for the 99%, who pile up to sleep in hallways while the wealthy keepers occupy bland high rises where the romantic company is actually called “furniture.” Soylent Green’s most iconic image may be Charlton Heston’s final screams, but it’s the grand Edward G. Robinson’s journey of a man unlucky enough to remember the beauty of the natural world that truly elevates the material. You’ll never look at a plate of lettuce with the same unappreciative eyes.

As has historically been the case when it comes to political satire, genre film continues to be the first in line with biting commentary. Leave it to Roger Corman’s production company to nail a post-Trump world by casting Malcolm McDowell as the perfect hair plugged stand-in. The film uses the same basic outline as the 1975 original, wisely updating it with over-the-top characters more fitting of our time. Despite making strong statements about politics, pop culture, climate change, and other current issues, Death Race 2050 never loses sight of its main goal: ridiculous, violent entertainment that never stops moving.

For as rough a place as this world can seem (especially in these last two years of political darkness), there are certain human-made creations that do wondrous jobs of renewing our faith in the possibilities of this species. Bubble wrap packaging, nachos, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend…these are true gems in our physical world made with the minds and hands of homo sapiens. So, my friends, is Death Spa. An ‘80s slasher that somehow combines aerobics, cyber ghosts, killer power shakes, and Ken Foree in a rainbow blazer, this is the kind of boisterous ‘80s slasher that makes you remember why and how crappy horror movies can be an incredibly joyous thing.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lessons Learned 2017!

As we fast approach the ninth (NINTH!) anniversary of this little corner of the internet known as the Doll's House, allow me to continue with the NINE-year-old tradition of compiling a list of some of my favorite lessons gleaned over the last 365 days. You never know: they just might save your life...particularly if your life includes satanism, promposals, and as always, bear traps.

School Days
The trick to not vomiting when dissecting a frog is to chew gum

The best college professors are the ones who fashion themselves akin to female porn actress starring in teacher-student scenarios

Science As Business
In the early '80s, the going rate for transporting flesh-eating bacteria was 50,000 pounds

Wonders of the Natural World
Wild mustard has quite a high sulfur content

The Body Human
When done effectively, fatal stab wounds yield no blood

Chlorine probably prevents herpes
Pregnancy makes your skin really, realllllllllly dry

The Modern Chef
To best keep pepperoni hot, stick it to your butt

Nice Ride
Surviving a brutal car accident can change a lot of things about you, including eliminating any trace of your Australian accent

The majority of teen-related car accidents happen because everybody inside the car is screaming and flailing to dangerous levels of chaos at once

Personal Grooming (with special attention to the eyebrows)
Being in a mental asylum should never hold your eyebrow grooming back

Rural-based satanists take excellent care in grooming their eyebrows

It's a Family Thing
One of the perks of being VP of a toy company is that you can populate your stepdaughter's room with an arsenal of teddy bears
-- Mommy’s Little Girl

Always remember where your uncle's gambling-related bruises are located
-- The Chosen

Vacationing Know-How
LA hotels will charge guests extra to stay in rooms where guests committed suicide

The beach is for riff raff. Classy broads stay on the marina
Let Me Dance For You
Nothing kills a ballet career like falling off an 18" high stage in slow motion

Working Girls
When you sell something, that makes you a professional

Flirting with a good-looking coworker on your first day of work may not seem like the best career advice, but if your office is suddenly subjected to a cruel homicidal experiment, it may just be the thing that saves your life

If you are female and your morality is put into question, the solution to any accusation is simply, "I'm a businesswoman" 

Marketing Problems of the Near Future
Turning global famine into clickbait is harder than you think

Relationships Nuances
In world before online dating, one could always count on pet cemeteries as a great way to meet a potential partner

The best way to rebound from being stood up is to give in quickly to the sexy vampire next door

Affairs are always improved with warm champagne
A proper prom proposal should require at least four weeks of intense dance practice and intermediate choreography

The Name Game
Just because you've named your villain Susan doesn't mean supporting characters can't call her Suzanne

Catholicism 101
Priests are second only to rock stars when it comes to leaving a motel room in ruins

Backwash will seriously compromise the efficacy of holy water

Party Planning Tips
When organizing a home rave, don't skimp on the bouncer. A quality door man will really take your party to the next level

Basic Survival
The secret to escaping a horny forest beast involves wearing a lot of layers

Nail guns are cost-effective weapons when fighting zombie hordes

Want to throw your attacker off? Pee on him when he least expects it

Meg Tilly is not to be messed with

Love Me, Love My Pet
In an undead situation, never get too attached to a bunny, no matter how cute its floppy little ears may be

The Five Senses
When you're blind, it always looks like you're paying attention

The Real Estate Market
Realtors don't have myths

Bodyguard FAQs
Few henchwomen are quite so loyal--or breakable--as reanimated porcelain dolls

The Art of Self Awareness
To avoid freaking our your family after accepting a black magic deal, take two minutes and a moist towelette to wipe the glob of blood sticking to your face
— Dig Two Graves

If you don't want people to think that you're a murderer, wear something other than black ski caps when indoors

The Southern Hemisphere
Bumming around Europe is what Aussies do best

America the Beautiful
The only thing worse than phone service in South Dakota is the quality of its police force

Detroit is such a dangerous place that even a bear trap will get you when you least expect it

In some small American towns, the head surgeon also serves as the lead investigator in ongoing murder investigations

Social Media for Dummies
Duck faces and assholes are pretty much the same thing, particularly if you're a bitter police officer

Fashion Tips
Real pearls are what you would call "proper'

When leaving the house to confront your backstabbing partner and lawyer, make a statement by wearing your Macguyver jacket without a shirt
— Death Spa 

You Don’t Make Friends With Salad
Lettuce will never be exciting, even if the world hasn't had fresh food in decades