Weird and Pissed Off Mini-Reviews Vol. 3
Haunted Art, Cursed Pyramids, and Summertime Fun!
From the peaks of the great pyramids of Egypt to the sleepy (and fictional) town of Ipswich, OR, this week's selection of movies had me traveling across the globe.
I spied on neighbors and trekked through mysterious pyramids. I got a taste of California's art scene and flew off to the dense forestry of Hudson Falls, NY. I was transported to the golden age of the 80s and even further back still, to an age when gods ruled.
It was a busy week, and now you get to read my thoughts on how it went.
'Summer of '84' (2018)
Have you ever sat down for a movie and expected it to be something lighthearted and satirical only to reach the soul-crushing end and find yourself checking the locks on every door of the house?
That was my experience with Summer of '84.
The movie is a slow-burn to get to the big payoff, which is incredibly dark considering the type of movie it was. Coming of age stories usually end on a high note as the core group of teens or tweens learn something about themselves and the world around them.
There is a lesson to learn by the end of Summer of '84, but it's taught in such a brutal and upsetting manner. I'd go so far as to say it's in my top 10 best horror movie endings, partially because I wasn't expecting it at all.
Summer of '84 is led by a (mostly) likable cast of teenagers in the sleepy town of Ipswich, OR. When news of a serial killer goes public, Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) leads his friends down a rabbit hole of conspiracies and assumptions as he points the finger at his middle-aged, single, white neighbor.
It's a premise we've seen dozens of times before, and the dialogue tends to become an obnoxious string of sexual innuendos, but watching the murder mystery unfold is still entertaining. Don't expect to be wowed by ingenuity for much of the movie, but do invest yourselves in the characters and their primary goal.
It what makes the end that much more impactful.
'Velvet Buzzsaw' (2019)
Velvet Buzzsaw goes through three phases and so many different tones.
First, it's an art-house flick that caters to an audience of art enthusiasts. The first half-hour of the movie forgets that not everyone is into art or knows a thing about the industry. This isn't entirely bad, however. Viewers are supposed to be sucked into this high-society lifestyle so that the rest of the movie is more impactful, which brings me to phase two.
After the mysterious paintings of Ventril Dease are uncovered, we start to see a completely different side to the characters we were just introduced to. It makes them far more human as they scheme, plot, and grow paranoid over the paintings. These are arguably the movie's best moments.
Then things get weird.
When Velvet Buzzsaw turns into a horror movie, it starts to fall apart. Quite frankly, it was more enjoyable to watch them squabble over the unknown artist's paintings. Not to rewrite Dan Gilroy's work, but had the horror been more human and not rooted in the supernatural, it may have worked better.
Overall, Velvet Buzzsaw was fun enough to sit through. Jake Gyllenhaal's influential Morf is easily the most entertaining, but Rene Russo (Rhodora Haze) and Zawe Ashton (Josephina) were also delightful. Toni Collett (Gretchen) again proves she has quite the range while Natalia Dyer (Coco) sneaks in with a small but tragic role.
Oh, and John Malkovich is there to fill space.
'The Pyramid' (2014)
What could possibly go wrong with an innocent trek through a mysterious Ancient Egyptian pyramid that only recently spewed forth toxic air? How about ravenous Sphinx cats, falling rocks, spike pits, sand traps, and pyramid werewolves?
It's all there in Grégory Levasseur's The Pyramid!
We've seen this movie before. A band of moronic protagonists becomes trapped in an inescapable situation and find themselves being hunted by something otherworldly. In this case, to avoid spoilers, all I'll say is this: pyramid werewolf.
So many frustrating things happened during this movie, from the fool that inadvertently murdered his friend to the "heroes" leaving an invalid alone in a spooky room shortly after coming to the conclusion that there is something dangerous and potentially hungry for flesh scurrying about.
I'm often fine with sitting through a bad movie if it's framed in Ancient Egyptian lore, but The Pyramid doesn't even make that interesting. Save for an end-game plot point that doesn't need to exist, we could have been in any closed off location running from any kind of creature. If anything, The Pyramid is a little insulting to Egyptian mythology and dilutes one of its cooler facets into a ruthless monster.
The Pyramid has one minor redeeming quality in Denis O'Hare. He's the only reason I sat down with it, as he has been for several awful movies I've sat through.
Maybe I should stop trusting Denis O'Hare...
'Sleepaway Camp' (1983)
It took me far too long to finally sit down to watch this 80s slasher, which came on the heels of the success of the Friday the 13th series.
In a way, I enjoyed Sleepaway Camp a bit more than Friday the 13th. It was ridiculous and campy but also took itself very seriously when offing its cast. Robert Hiltzik took Victor Miller's concept of a campground killer, slapped a lot of denim short shorts on it, and let it fly as its own creature to avoid being a clone of the exploits at Camp Crystal Lake.
Ample praise goes to Ed French, who wows with practical effects that were gruesome even by today's standards. The facial work and gore was disturbingly realistic and helped ground the film—at least as much as one can ground a movie as silly as Sleepaway Camp.
Every core character was a caricature of the personalities you expect in a movie like this, from the sleazy camp owner to the bitchy cabinmate. It borderlines being too much, especially as the movie forgets it's a slasher for a good amount of time in the middle, but the production ultimately comes back together for a fun finale.
Sleepaway Camp is an enjoyable first entry in a series that got lost in the popularity of the genre's big hitters. The original deserves to be recognized among its fellow slasher greats that dominated the 80s. The killer may not have the charisma of Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruger, but the campy horrors that befall Camp Arawak are exactly what we watch these movies for.
A movie like Sleepaway Camp confirms this notion I have that I was born into the wrong generation. That ending shocked me today, and I can only imagine what it did to audiences in 1983. I had an idea of who the killer was, but the twist didn't dawn on me until it was dangling right in front of my eyes.
Oh, to have witnessed the impact it had on audiences back then.
'Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers' (1988)
Something very fundamental was missing from the follow-up to the 1983 cult classic slasher Sleepaway Camp. Actually, there were a lot of things missing. Among them being: characters that were fun to watch, suspense, great practical effects, a mysterious killer, a jaw-dropping twist... you know, everything that made the original good.
Sleepaway Camp 2 ultimately lacks the bravado the original had by sticking to the tried and true formula of just showing breasts and awkward splatters of blood. There isn't much to say about the sequel because it was an incredibly shallow movie with nothing to hold it up besides what's become the staples of the genre—drugs, sex, and alcohol.
The original killer makes their return in this uninspired and lazy schlock, only far less interesting. They're a prude with attitude. A killer with the purpose of wiping out everything that's fun in the world. At the slightest notion of off-color fun, they scowled and murdered. I'm not sure I understand the tactic of making the main character so unbearably unlikable, but it made the movie hard to sit through.
But sit through it I did, and regret it I did even more. Even if you loved the original, sit this one out. It's grotesquely insulting to the original production and openly lays out the handicaps of the slasher genre. Sleepaway Camp was smart, clever, and original. Sleepaway Camp 2 was a generic mess that you should definitely avoid.