Monday, February 8, 2016

Chi Chi Chi Chi Chi Doll Doll Doll Doll Doll

Some memories last forever. For me, a grand example is watching the premiere of Friday the 13th: The Series at the ripe age of 5 in 1987, wherein an evil porcelain doll drives a young and adorable Sarah Polley to murder.

Actually, that's not quite right. It wasn't the act of watching the show, but the fact that the very next day, I went on what we now call a "playdate" (or in my day, "I'm going over my friend Shaina's house") and convinced myself that my new friend had the very same haunted doll sitting on her bookshelf, waiting to unleash its fury.

Since Friday the 13th: The Series wasn't the big water cooler show breakout of 1987's kindergarten class, my pal didn't quite understand my fear. And while I have, nearly 30 years later, no real way of proving that her family heirloom was possessed or harbored ill will towards humanity, the glory that is Amazon Prime certainly gives me a way to skip down memory lane and confirm that if nothing else, horror television anthologies sure do know their creepy dolls and glorious '80s fashion statements.

Quick Plot: A grumpy antique shop owner reluctantly lets a wealthy couple and their somewhat bratty daughter inside just before closing. Young Mary is drawn to the aforementioned horrifying doll, who immediately introduces herself as Vita and proceeds to slit the throat of a nearby mechanic. Mary is rushed out of the store with her folks, while the manager meets his own grizzly fate via ghostly objects and a mysteriously vast elevator shaft.

With that out of the way, let's meet the stars of Friday the 13th: The Series: John D. LeMay's Ryan, a goofy twentysomething, and Robey's Mickey, the uptight feeYONsay of a wealthy attorney. Turns out, Ryan and Mickey are the long-lost niece and nephew of the late shop owner, and being the only living relatives, have inherited the store and all its goodies inside. Also, Ryan kind of wants to get into Mickey's pants, even though they may be related. 

It's an ongoing question.
Anyway, after holding a clearance sale that lands Vita right back into the arms of Mary, Ryan and Mickey meet Jack, a former pal of their dead uncle and bearer of grand news: the antiques are evil, they can't be sold, if they're sold, people will die, you're kind of responsible now for people not dying, and hey let's rename the store "Curious Goods." 

Mickey brushes off her snooty feeYONsay to retrieve Vita, although she's too late to save Mary's not-actually-evil stepmother from a near-fatal stair fall that puts her in the hospital. Vita urges Mary to finish the job, which, as you would figure, involves Mary shoving Vita in her stepmother's face until the poor woman dies of a heart attack. 

Yes, this is how I entertained myself when I was five. Nearly 30 years later, I can happily say that there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all. 

High Points
Look, we can argue whether a doll that you have to point at things in order to cause evil is scary all you want, but at the end of day, it is. It. Is.

Low Points
As much as I adore and pretty much worship Sarah Polley, we are agreed that Mary is kind of a spoiled brat, right?

Lessons Learned
You don't try to get out of a pact with the devil

When meeting your hot long-lost cousin for the first time, it's probably best not to wear an ancient tribal mask and greet her by jumping out from behind a counter. First impressions, dude.
Hell hath no fury like a li'l Canadian with an evil doll

Friday the 13th: The Series is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and can also occasionally be found on cable. While I can't speak for all of the episodes, "The Inheritance" comes out of the gate quite well as a premiere that manages to give you just enough doll creeps to keep things scary while balancing the exposition involved in setting up the show's main premise (long-lost cousins who may be hot for each other tracking down haunted antiques before they kill too many people). It's hard to complain about any horror show that opens on a killer doll, and even harder when the doll has a vague resemblance to Shannon Doherty.

You see it too, right?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Let's Get Ready To Leprechaun

Apparently, the film-seeing public really wanted a serious Leprechaun movie that handled the material with the full weight it--

Oh who am I kidding. I can't joke about this. WWE produced a Leprechaun movie. 

But why, you ask, would they do that?

Well, possibly because they have a little person in their employment and The Miz can only do so many of those ABC Family/WWE coproduction Christmas movies. Plus, they helped distribute Oculus, which was genuinely scary. If they had something (a tenuous something) to do with a good movie about an evil mirror, why, I suppose, shouldn't they find the same luck with a movie about a murderous leprechaun?

Applying the idea of logic to anything having to do with the World Wrestling Feder--er, Enterprise is never a wise move, as See No Evil could certainly tell you. But hey, how can I possibly let a new Leprechaun movie streaming for free on Amazon Prime go unwatched here in the midst of The Shortening?

I'm only human.

And maybe 1/32nd leprechaun.

Quick Plot: A quartet of young and attractive American backpackers who can store all their vacation clothing and essentials in messenger bags are wandering through Ireland on the search for some history. Well, smart Sophie (Stephanie Bennett of The Nine Lives of Christmas fame) wants to see artifacts, her selfish boyfriend wants to be selfish, and the token fun couple wants to have fun.

A friendly customer named Hamish tells Sophie about some secret ancient historical ruins located a few hours from their current location, and smoothly suggesting the group stays at a cabin he occasionally rents out. Because if they say no we don't get a Leprechaun: Origins movie, the kids settle in for the night as Hamish and his grumpy son ominously lock them inside as a sacrifice to you-know-who.

You might be wondering, since we're a good half hour or so into this movie, where the leprechaun might be. For whatever reason (I think I'll use that expression a lot in this review), director Zach Lipovsky (who co-starred in the basketball playing sasquatch movie Big & Hairy) decides to Jaws-ify his villain, giving us mere glimpses for most of the film's brief running time. That would be fine if Leprechaun: Origins was, you know, scary. 

It's not that the movie doesn't try, something that certainly could not be said about most of the original series. The Leprechaun franchise has always been an odd duck in the realm of horror, trying in its early installments to balance terror with laughs only to give up and embrace its own ridiculousness rather immediately. This is a series that went from Lucky Charms jokes to outer space, and that was all before Warwick Davis had to rap in da hood.

On that note, Leprechaun: Origins could have been exceedingly worse. Had its makers gone the "we're so self-aware" route and failed, this could have been a painful, completely hate-worthy experience. Of course, being a self-aware goofy franchise was in part what defined the Leprechaun series to begin with, so taking a 180 turn and giving us a straight-out horror movie with nary a wink is...well, a tad odd.
See, you'd have to travel over a lot of rainbows to find someone who genuinely believes it is possible to make a scary leprechaun movie. Sure, Davis's villain could teleport and pogo stick with flair, but even I can concede that killer leprechauns are not easy material. Perhaps a master of horror could make it work, in the same way that many a talented filmmaker has given the world genuinely terrifying children, dolls, and other Shortening alumni. But, well, that doesn't happen here.

Leprechaun: Origins is not a terrible movie. It's not really even a bad one, more a mediocre straight-to-whatever-format-people-watch-movies-that-don't-get-theatrical-releases horror flick about pretty young people being terrorized by something that will inevitably kill them in predictable order. The pretty young people are your typical brood of bland, although the script flirts with the idea of what it means when your fellow travelers don't react heroically with self-sacrifice. That in itself could have been a big strength in giving the story a new spin, but despite lingering on shots of characters blatantly not stopping to help their injured friend, the movie never seems to actually want to deal with it or its consequences.

So instead with get Dylan "Hornswoggle" Postl's leprechaun, which may as well just be a blood gnome. Postl is a WWE wrestler and, let's face it, probably the main reason the network decided to revive the property. But one of the biggest issues of the movie is the utter anonymity of its titular villain. For as chatty and cliche-spewing charming as Warwick Davis was allowed to be, Postl never makes a sound or really gets a chance to show off his physical skills. He's just there. Kind of like the rest of the movie.

High Points
When--eventually--the leprechaun finally starts to get his hunt on, there are some fairly interesting sparks of violence that suggest what a neater film this might have been if it had been given full reign to go for the rough stuff

Low Points
78 minutes into the film, the credits started to roll.

And roll.

And roll.

I'm a believer in sitting through the credits, not just to count the many wacky nicknames crew members tend to grab, but also because you really just never know if the movie has ended until you give it up for the best boy (usually someone with a name like John "Skippy" Skipton). So I let the television run.

And run.

And run.

In the amount of time Leprechaun: Origins' end credits lasted, I could have done any of the following activities:

- heated up 6 Hot Pockets

- run a mile and an eighth or so

- watched Cher say "wagon wheel watoosi" just long enough to ascend to the next level of nirvana, then sat back for an additional two minutes to enjoy new status of nirvana

And the thing is, THERE IS NO REWARD. Throughout the credits, you get get the same shots of basements and blurry Irish history books dropped in the film, only now bathed in sepia tone. And then there's a violent closeup of The Leprechaun. And then it's all over, and you rewind to confirm that yes indeed, you just experienced a 78 minute movie with a 12 minute end credits sequence. Even Charles Band has never been THAT obvious about padding his running time, and he's Charles Band!

Lessons Learned
Woods are generally filled with lions and tigers and chickens and shit

The eyesight of a leprechaun is a combination of Predator-ish heat vision and random spurts of clear lighting with really blurry figures. Or maybe those scenes were from the point of view of when the leprechaun took his contacts out

Always remember that you have plenty more than an Irishman can steal than a mere 6-pack of Guinness 

COME ONE Lessons For Filmmakers
Look guys, I get it. Hot chicks wearing bras are hot. You know what hot chicks in bras are not? SLEEPING. Women. Don't. Sleep. In. Bras. Male directors who don't wear bras, talk to the women in your life or the actresses in your movie and ask them what they wear to bed. Trust me, it's not a piece of clothing with wires that dig into your sternum designed to keep your breasts in place when being active during the day. Do you wear a tie to bed? EXACTLY. 

Leprechaun: Origins is ultimately a missed opportunity to restart what was a fun, if stupid little franchise. This is by no means the worst new horror movie you'll find on Amazon Prime, but it's certainly among the most frustrating. If you have a specific 78 minute window to fill, it's there. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Let The Shortening Begin!

If it’s February, that can only mean one thing:

Presidents’ Day is coming.

Wait, that’s not it.

The Oscars--

Eh, sometimes that’s in March.

Groundhogs! Yeah, cute little--

Oh right! LITTLE.

For those not in the know, February here at the Doll’s House brings in something we like to call “The Shortening.” 

See, around these parts, we celebrate the vertically challenged with a whole month’s worth of posts. As always, expect the occasional killer kid, biting bug, and of course, deadly doll. 

More importantly, if you have a blog of your own, accept this as your very own invitation to participate. During the month of February, if you cover any kind of petite villain, simply add your link to the comments of this post or email me (deadlydollshouse at 

Stop by tomorrow for round 1, where we'll take a trip to Ireland by way of Canada to test our luck. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

Best of the Year 7

Seven years ago today (or thereabouts), a seven years younger version of myself embarked upon a journey, a journey not of space but of...well, generally, a lot of terrible movies. But sometimes, when not beholden to sexy early ‘90s TV domestic thrillers or anything involving murderous appliances, I stumble upon actual quality. 

As is tradition around these parts, I celebrate my blogiversary with nothing less than a roundup of the best films I’ve covered over the past year. Put on your fancy monocles and let’s get to it!

More comedy than horror, The Happy House was easily one of the oddest films I watched this year, and that in itself merits it with a place on this list. An irritable New York couple heads upstate to an out of the way bed and breakfast run by a cheerful and conservative widow with a skill for baking and intolerance of bad language. At a certain point, The Happy House switches gears into a very, very different style of film. While it never quite finds the balance in its horror/comedy setup, it remains a surprising little movie that felt like nothing else. 

Less horror than philosophy, Merlin Dervisevic’s Cruel & Unusual (note: without the ampersand, it’s nearly impossible to find on IMDB) is a strange little post-life drama about a miserable ESL teacher named Edgar (David Richmond-Peck) who loves his Philippine wife far more than she loves him. When he ends up in either hell or purgatory,  Edgar is forced to relive his last day until he comes to some sort of peace. Cruel & Unusual isn’t a perfect film, but it’s not afraid to explore some big ideas through believably flawed characters that go on quite a journey.

15. Circle

50 strangers wake up in a strange room standing on lighted areas that will emit fatal electric shocks if they try to move. Also in the rules? Every two minutes, someone will be executed, and that someone can be decided via group voting. Circle has a neat Twilight Zone-esque premise and understands that 90 minutes is just the right amount of time to explore it. 

After losing his wife, a film archivist raises his young son in a house that by the titular and possibly haunted waterway. Like many a new horror film streaming on Netflix, The Canal has terrible cover art that comes nowhere close to capturing its earnest tone. This is a film about a good man and father trying to do his best, and something far older and deeper making that impossible. Filled with heart and good scares, this is a ‘turn the lights out’ watch.

Essentially an Americanized version of Man Bites Dog, Random Acts of Violence follows an entitled but unremarkable British snob killing his way through New York City with all the self-importance of your average hipster. While Malcolm buys his own hype, the movie (written and directed by its star, Ashley Cahill) understands that he’s far more pathetic than his ideas. Like Man Bites Dog, this is a cruel film, but because it’s self-aware, it never feels exploitive. 

Adam Wingard’s followup to You’re Next offers the same strengths: believable family dynamic, incredibly watchable actors, and a fast pace that never lets up. Dan Stevens charms his way into the family of his alleged fallen war buddy, with only the teenage daughter (played by It Follows Maika Monroe) sensing any doubts about his ultimate intentions. While the film is a little marred by its messy military complex subplot, The Guest remains an outstanding example of how to make an action/horror film that does nothing but entertain its audience. 

There are many horror fans out there who hated Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon, and while I can understand how some of it didn’t click (yes, the main couple is Brooklyn hipsters at their most cloying) I still found it a worthy accomplishment and rather heartbreaking film. Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway (both good, even if hiding their British accents seemed a larger challenge than it should have been) play newlyweds about to confront some very dark, very gross mysteries. Made on a small budget, Honeymoon smartly balances what it can show and when. It has its flaws, but it also left me feeling sadder than almost any other film I’ve seen this year. 

Craig Zobel’s dramatization of one of America’s ickiest, most disturbing, and sadly not unbelievable crime stories of recent years is not an easy or pleasant film to watch. Ann Dowd (outstanding) plays the manager of a fast food restaurant who has the ill luck of answering the phone on a busy Friday night. On the other line is an alleged detective reporting that a young cashier has stolen some money, and it’s now Dowd’s responsibility to help with the investigation. What follows is a horrifying mind game into just how little a person might question authority, and just how far he or she might go to please it. 

Look, I didn’t say these were GOOD films. But, you know, ten years from now, I’ll probably remember more about Rats: Nights of Terror than I possibly could about The Canal (which is a far superior film know, doesn’t have the Bruno Mattei touch that generally involves a lot of headbands). SO number 9 Is Rats. Want to fight about it? 

If I could give an award for best first hour of a film, The Taking of Deborah Logan would easily win. This found footage docu-horror starts off so strong and heartbreaking with a terrific, Oscar-worthy performance by Jill Larson playing the titular senior citizen now battling Alzheimer’s with the help of her frustrated daughter (a fine Anne Ramsay). Unfortunately, the film’s ghost story backdrop doesn’t quite connect with the far more interesting human story inherent in Deborah’s condition. That being said, it remains a hearty recommend, primarily for its incredible cast. 

I recorded this ‘50s sci-fi goodie expecting a goofy good time, and was therefore almost disappointed to discover an actual excellent early zombie tale made by Edward Cahn. When aliens invade the United States, they take over the corpses of the recently deceased and announce their plans of world domination. Where Cahn gets even more interesting is with his human characters, an assorted collection of scientists and soldiers still recovering from the moral questions asked by their participation in World War II. The film is a worthy watch for anyone interested in zombie history (as George Romero was clearly influenced by some of its themes) but also makes for a truly strong 67 minutes of post-war horror. 

Joan Crawford romances a younger man and leads a poodle parade in a circus. I really don’t think you need to know any more.

5. Congo

An adorable talking gorilla drinks a martini, an awesomely independent Laura Linney kicks ass, a game and cheerful Ernie Hudson gets the starring role he deserves, and Tim Curry dares to eat Delroy Lindo’s sesame cake. From start to finish, Congo is just a damn good time.

Mike Flanagan wowed me with Oculus (which gets even better on second viewing) so I was eager to see his first foray into horror. Absentia wears its low budget and inexperience on its sleeve, but also bears the mark of an incredibly promising filmmaker with excellent instincts. The story follows Tricia, a pregnant women whose husband vanished seven years earlier, and Callie, her younger sister who’s recovering from a drug addiction. With a low budget but outstanding cast, Flanagan creates a fascinating collection of small mysteries that add up to something far more terrifying. 

With a fresh premise and brilliant lead, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Starry Eyes was one of those great little horror films that helps optimists like me proudly prove that the genre is far from dead. The fantastic Alex Essoe stars as Sarah, a struggling young actress dealing with constant rejection and competition from her “friends”. When a Hammer-esque studio offers her the chance to audition for the lead role in a new high profile horror film, Sarah must decide whether a deal with what might be the devil is worth the career she’s always dreamed of. Plainly and simply, Starry Eyes is a very good horror movie. Isn’t that nice to say in this day and age?

Not quite a horror movie, but still worthy of its place, The Sisterhood of Night is the rare film that cares about, explores, and understands the very unique experience that is being a teenage girl. First-time director Caryin Waechter rounds up an outstanding young cast (including Chronicles of Narnia’s magnetic Georgie Henley, Moonrise Kingdom’s Kara Howard, the unique and awesome Willa Cuthrell, and a a pre-The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge) to explore the complicated waters of middle school friendship. It’s far more fascinating than such a premise might sound.

Marina de Van is not a boring woman. The actress/writer/director has carved out a rather unique niche in genre filmmaking, with the bizarre body horror In My Skin remaining, to my knowledge, the only movie that includes a scene of a woman eating dinner in a fancy restaurant while her disembodied arm sits nonchalantly on the table. With Dark Touch, de Van tells an achingly intense tale of a young girl whose telekinetic powers probably come from a short but deep lifetime of abuse. That the film never actually comes out and says these things makes it even more powerful. On its surface, this is a mere baby Carrie tale, but as soon as you start to really consider what it might all mean, the film becomes something very else entirely. You can still find it streaming on Netflix, and I can’t recommend it enough.