Directed by: Jeff Ferrell, Jeremy Berg, David Burns and Jeff Vigil
Run time: 100 minutes
The Lowdown: Holiday Hell, a new holiday horror anthology co-written and co-directed by Jeff Ferrell (Dead West), is a solid and enjoyable slice of seasonal slaughter.
With this, his third film, Ferrell also can claim a huge casting “get” by nabbing veteran genre icon Jeffrey Combs to play the curator of a little store that dabbles in magical, macabre and cursed objects. The store is called Nevertold, and every item inside has a story that’s, ahem, never been told before.
Combs’ shopkeeper agrees to show a last-minute shopper, Amelia (Meagan Karimi-Naser), around to find the perfect oddball gift. With each new curiosity, Combs tells the item’s tale to try and entice a sale.
The items include a doll mask, a Rabbi toy, a bloodstained Santa suit and a wrap-around story about a piece of jewelry.
The best stories are “Hand that Rocks the Dreidel” and “Christmas Carnage,” but there’s really not a clunker in the bunch.
Holiday Hell is not striving to take up shelf space next to the all-time anthology greats like Trick ‘r Treat and Creepshow. It exists as a self-contained campy, gory amusement ride, and that’s okay.
I wish more filmmakers made more films like Holiday Hell. Back in the ‘80s, horror fans had no shortage of fun little romps like Waxwork that weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. I miss those days when horror came in all shapes and sizes and such lower-budget movies consistently surprised and delighted viewers by being intelligent and engaging.
BVB highly recommends you check this one out.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – You name it, this flick has got it, from a killer Santa to a vengeful Rabbi doll.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw (Universal, 136 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra HD): Watching Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbes & Shaw, I was struck by the following deep thoughts:
Wait, Ryan Reynolds is in this movie? Followed quickly by, I love Ryan. He’s so funny. I’d pay to see him and Dwayne Johnson riffing off each other for 90 minutes.
It’s nice actually that extinction-level events can be discussed so casually over breakfast, in public. And instantly decided, as in ‘I’m in, I will save the world.’ Um, wait a minute, what about your mortgage payment that’s due? Did you remember to set the DVR to record the finale of The Masked Singer? That’s the shit I would think about first.
The script is pretty snappy. “Looking at your face is like God projectile-vomited in my eyes, and it burns.”
What if bombastic action movies were based on real life? What if this shit was actually possible? Any given day, you might wake up and expect to die horribly any number of batshit crazy ways. What would that life be like?
The extended sequence between Johnson and Jason Statham on a commercial airplane is fucking brilliant. It’s such an unexpected blast of subversive what-the-fuckery.
Hobbs & Shaw is like watching a modern-day Hope-Crosby road picture, with guns and a super-villain.
This movie actually touches on just about every film genre except horror. There’s comedy, action, family drama, romance and superhero, equally represented.
Gothic Harvest (Cinedigm, 82 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Gothic Harvest launches out of the gate with a drug-fueled three-way sexual tryst and maintains its crazy momentum for much of its brief runtime.
That doesn’t mean Gothic Harvest is a sure-fire cult classic in the making, but it does provide genre veterans Bill Moseley and Lin Shaye with more meat to chew on than many of their recent direct-to-DVD offerings. And it gives Sofia Mattsson a chance to tear into a gothic femme fatale role that’s one of the brightest treats of the entire film.
The film’s plot, which is centered in New Orleans, focuses on the Boudine family who arrived in the Big Easy during the 1800s and came up on the wrong side of a voodoo curse, courtesy of Marie Laveau.
Four naïve college co-eds travel down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and unexpectedly find themselves ensnared in the Boudine family madness, which includes an unholy birth by voodoo doll and a bunch of chaotic action and random murders.
Moseley, for what it’s worth, plays his philandering cop character like he’s a 15-year-old virgin trying to figure out which way is first base. He’s kind of a riot at times, and other times his performance feels too far out in left field.
Gothic Harvest is muddled as eff, but it’s at least kind of fitfully entertaining. Take that for what you will, but I wouldn’t recommend more than a rental.
Prey (Cinedigm, 85 minutes, PG-13, DVD): Prey is one of those completely contained teen-friendly fantasy films hiding a dark streak of subversive menace that don’t get made enough anymore.
I was wholly engaged throughout, and loved the twists that arrived in the third act.
Toby (Logan Miller, Escape Room) is a young man reeling from the death of his father during a botched neighborhood robbery. To try to help him cope, his mother ships him off to an immersive therapy program that’s more like Naked and Afraid than campfire counseling with smores.
Toby gets dropped off on an uninhabited island near Malaysia where he’s told to survive for three days while taking time to discover his inner strength and reconcile the guilt that’s been causing his heart to ache.
Prey wouldn’t be much of a thriller if the island actually was uninhabited, so of course Toby immediately meets Madeleine (Kristine Froseth), a teenaged girl who lives on the island with her mother.
Madeleine cautions Toby not to explore the tropical forest at night because her mother doesn’t take kindly to strangers showing up unannounced.
The plot is pretty basic. Is Madeleine’s mother truly a threat, or is there possibly something else stalking the jungle at night? But it works, and works really well once Toby realizes that his “retreat” actually has life or death circumstances.
The last 30 minutes, in particular, are outstanding.
Snow Falling on Cedars: Collector’s Edition
Apprentice to Murder
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Red Letter Day (Epic Pictures/Dread, 76 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Cameron Macgowan’s feature debut, Red Letter Day, which he wrote and directed, is an interesting if uneven slice of social commentary, a la The Purge.
The basic thrust involves a series of anonymous letters in a red envelope received by the residents of an idyllic community. Each letter comes with a photo of another resident, a warning and a charge. If the recipient doesn’t kill the person pictured, then that person will kill them.
The letters also take aim at each recipient’s reliance on social media and how little they know or understand anymore about the people living within spitting distance of each other in the community.
It’s a powerful indictment of our current influencer-heavy society where everyone feels entitled to be special, but no one wants to bother with traditional norms like civility and kindness.
And Macgowan’s script, at times, is surprisingly woke with the subtle asides. “Do we need to have another conversation about consent?” a mother asks her son after discovering that his telescope is trained on the bedroom of a young classmate one house over.
Red Letter Day doesn’t commit as much as you might want it to, however. There’s something missing, some crucial ingredient that the recipe forgot. At times, I wanted it to channel more directly the nihilistic rage of The Purge, yet at other times I was thankful that Macgowan opted to focus on a single family and tell a more intimate story.
I wouldn’t rush to check out Red Letter Day, but it’s definitely a title you can keep in your hip pocket for that lazy rainy day when you’re feeling the urge to sink into a timely thriller.
Marla (High Octane Pictures, 92 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Marla, a high-concept body horror film from writer-director Lisa van Dam-Bates, should have been this year’s equivalent of 2013’s stellar Contracted, a vicious viral thriller that mixed gore with thoughtful and intelligent consideration of women’s reproductive and sexual rights.
Marla starts off strong enough. Marla Mae (van Dam-Bates) slings drinks and waits tables in a neighborhood dive bar. Her boyfriend is the main bartender. After close one night, she tells him that she’s reconnected with a family friend of her brother who is now a doctor and who wants to hook her up with a free IUD.
After a bunch of unnecessary set-up, Marla finally gets to the wet stuff about 30 minutes in when Marla Mae experiences her first complication from the procedure, and it’s a doozy. Suffice to say, she’s now equipped with a killer vagina that can liquify men who penetrate her.
But van Dam-Bates seems unsure where to go from there only she lets Pandora’s lethal pussy out of its box, and the film begins to drag, again.
I’ve often talked about the 15-minute rule whereby some movies have 15 minutes and not a second longer to hook me as a viewer.
But I don’t think I’ve ever brought up the inverse, which is a much rarer occurrence. Sometimes, films can grab you right out of the gate because they’re instantly gory, or super quirky, or they spotlight a bunch of boobs, but then after about 30 to 45 minutes, you realize that very little, next to nothing has actually happened, and you start to question why you’re still watching. The plot has stopped making sense. You’re no longer identifying with any of the characters, or they’re all acting in ways completely contrary to how normal people might act.
It's like another checkpoint when you watch a ton of movies. Does it make sense to plow forward, or is it better to call it quits?
With Marla, once I hit the 43-minute mark and only two significant events had happened, and not a single character was talking about the fact that Marla Mae’s hoo-ha basically dissolved a dude.
I decided to give it five more minutes. Hook me, or I’m out.
Marla didn’t hook me. And I got out.