Dragged Into Mediocrity

Sam Raimi’s return to horror after Spiderman gave him a big dose of mainstream credibility opens up with a prelude establishing its demonic (and kind of racist) premise: in 1969 medium Shaun San Dela (played here by Flor de Maria Chahua) tries and fails to help a young couple whose son has been cursed after stealing a necklace from a gypsy – a curse which causes the boy to be physically dragged into hell, as the movie’s title promises.

In the present day, loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is angling for a big promotion, and her boss Mr Jacks (David Paymer) drops a hint that what he’s looking for is someone who can make hard-nosed, tough decisions. On top of that, she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend, Psychology professor Clay Dayton (Justin Long), and his mother suggesting that she won’t approve of Christine unless she demonstrates more career ambition, and Christine’s main competitor for the post is Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee), an utter douche who uses shady tactics to make Christine look bad and to suck up to Mr Jacks.

Thus, when Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly woman, comes in to request an extension on her loan repayments, and Mr Jacks suggests that this is just the sort of hard choice that he’s thinking of as far as the promotion goes, Christine is more than ready to deny her the extension, even though she knows it means Sylvia will be evicted from her home. (The direction also makes strong suggestions that Christine fines Sylvia’s personal habits physically repulsive, which might colour the way she presents Sylvia’s case to Mr Jacks in the first place.) Pushed beyond her limits, Sylvia curses Christine with the same manner of curse the child from the prelude had. Will four decades of mediumship experience help Shaun San Dela (played in her elder form by Adriana Barazza) beat the curse this time, or is Christine as inexorably damned as the kid in the prologue?

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My Moan About “Madman”

In a moonlit forest, on the last night of summer camp, the kids and staff (who, in a move which doesn’t speak well for the camp’s commercial viability, outnumber the kids) sit about a campfire and tell spooky stories. The owner of the camp tells a tale of an old abandoned house nearby – a house haunted by an insatiable axe murderer who was mutilated and hanged by the locals years ago but who escaped death and still stalks the woods to this day, a killer who is inspired to undertake yet another spree whenever someone speaks his name above a whisper, an unstoppable engine of death who looks like an off-brand version of Iron Maiden’s mascot if he put on a bunch of weight and grew a beard – a stalker named Madman Marz.

Naturally, one of the kids takes it on himself to scream “Madman Marz” at the top of his voice and lob a rock through Marz’s house’s window.

Urban legends like Madman Marz are ten-a-penny, of course – more or less every campsite has them, and I remember being creeped out by a very similar story when I went to Scout camp as a kid because I was kind of a wimpy boy and hadn’t watched any of the Friday the 13th movies. There’s a particular area of New York where the local campsite killer urban legend refers to a certain “Cropsey”, who was supposed to haunt an abandoned mental hospital; fairly recently the documentary Cropsey explored the possibility that this particular iteration of the legend might have been inspired by the activities of a real life child kidnapper and alleged murderer from the area named Andre Rand.

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The Devil’s Dagger!

Two women rob a bank and murder some bank tellers pointlessly before escaping to a cabin in a woodland ski resort; they don’t last the night before one of them has shot the other so that they don’t have to share the money, only for the betrayer to get stabbed in the back by an unseen figure who stacks the bodies on the stairs under a strange symbol scrawled on the wall with blood.

The next day, two separate groups of holidaymakers arrive at the resort. One of them, a group of women who don’t seem to have much of a background or motivation beyond being on the prowl for dudeflesh, takes the cabin the murders took place in; another, two husband-and-wife pairs celebrating one of the husbands (Tony) passing the bar exam, takes the neighbouring cabin. Both groups are regaled with stories of a mountain man who long ago called on the dark spirits of the hills for a weapon to use against those encroaching on his land – a certain blade, which drove the bearer to kill his enemies and his family alike. Supposedly, he rests at the bottom of the local lake, occasionally rising to kill again.

As the gents spend their time ignoring their wives, cultivating their bromance, and hanging out with the ladies next door, the wives spend their time being ignored, and the women in the murder cabin try to have a fun holiday despite being in a murder cabin, the police keep their investigation into the killings going. Eventually, the plot has to start again… right?

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Not the Thanksgiving Turkey I Expected

In a world where nobody wears a bra and everyone makes sure you can tell they aren’t wearing a bra, single mother Maddy Simmons (Louise Lasser) and her boyfriend (Bill Cakmis) go along to a drive-in performance of an R-rated horror movie – with Maddy’s twin 11-years-ish-old sons, Terry and Todd, sleeping in the back. In the middle of the movie, the twins wake up and Terry finds himself a nice, sharp axe, hacks up a dude in another car, and then hands over the axe to Todd and smears him with blood to frame him. Ten years later, at Thanksgiving dinner Maddy announces that she’s gotten engaged to new squeeze Brad King (William Fuller), manager of the Shadow Wood lakeside housing development where they live, and receives the news that Todd (played as an adult by Mark Soper) has escaped from the special school they sent him to – but not before regaining his memories of that night and telling his therapist, Doctor Berman, the truth about the events.

Well, Terry (also played as an adult by Mark) isn’t having any of that, and he’s decided that a good old-fashioned killing spree is just what’s called for: after all, the more over-the-top, gruesome killings he can pull off tonight and pin on Todd, the longer Todd will be put away for and the better chance Terry will have of getting away with the original murder. With Todd making his way home and much confusion between the twins ensuing, the scene is set for a sort of slasher movie take on The Comedy of Errors. Can Todd get anyone to believe him – and can Terry really get away with his terrible scheme? Will everyone keep their cool, or will someone end up losing their temper and flying into a… Blood Rage?

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Dungeon Crawls In Space Are More Fun To Play Than Read

Blackstone Fortress is a tie-in novel. OK, all Warhammer 40,000 novels are tie-in novels by definition, but some are more tie-in novels than others. Whereas many pieces of Warhammer 40,000 fiction take inspiration from the game universe and its various sources of lore, Blackstone Fortress by Darius Hinks is intentionally crafted to coincide with the release of a specific Games Workshop product.

The product in question is Warhammer Quest: Blackstone FortressWarhammer Quest, back in the day, was a sort of followup to the classic HeroQuest boardgames which had such memorable TV advertsHeroQuest itself was Games Workshop’s take on the “dungeon crawl” subcategory of boardgame, which for a long time HeroQuest was the most famed and widely-played example of until it fell out of print, Warhammer Quest superseded it and then also fell out of print, and then new games in the same vein like Descent or Gloomhaven and the like arose to fill the vacuum.

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Rogue One, You’re an Odd One

As much as I liked Solo, that doesn’t seem to have been reflected by the market’s reception of it. I’m inclined to blame three things:

  1. The bizarre decision to not really market it to anywhere near the extent any other Star Wars movie had been promoted.
  2. The especially bizarre decision to yank its release forward to the spring after The Last Jedi came out, rather than putting it in the Star Wars-shaped gap in the release schedule this past December.
  3. The incredibly weird decision to make the protagonist an unshaven straight white dude, because everyone knows that movies about such niche minorities just don’t cut it at the box office.

Either way, Solo‘s stumble has meant that Disney’s given second thoughts to just how much appetite there is for spin-off Star Wars movies, and decided to put a whole swathe of other movies on ice – primarily projects which, liked the proposed Boba Fett and Obi-Wan movies, existed to follow the Rogue One/Solo path of telling some story that the existing canon had hinted at but not already covered.

That’s probably for the best when it comes to the long-term health of the franchise. Ultimately, fiddling about in the shadow of the original trilogy is going to yield diminishing returns; for the purposes of shepherding Star Wars into the future, it’s probably more sensible to look at ways of expanding the boundaries of what Star Wars is about whilst still making it feel distinctly Star Wars. It’s notable that Rian Johnson’s proposed new trilogy – which is explicitly meant to tell a whole new story separate from the arc of Episodes I-IX – was one of the projects which escaped the axe after Solo‘s release, and I suspect that’s for precisely this reason.

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Krude But Functional

Krull is a lovingly-crafted example of style over substance. The back cover of my Blu-Ray copy quotes the Variety review as saying it’s “Excalibur meets Star Wars“, and as is often the case with these cherry-picked movie quotes this is entirely true but in a very specific way.

To be precise, Krull cribs the lush fantasy aesthetic of Excalibur‘s most psychedelically excessive parts – along with that of the lesser Conan sequels and various ’80s sword and sorcery imitators – and then steals liberally from Star Wars when it comes to throwing in a mostly irrelevant science fiction angle (as well as eerily predicting the Star Wars prequels’ defiance of anything resembling coherent pacing or convincing romance).

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