New Releases for Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Directed by: Glenn Danzig
Run time: 90 minutes
The Lowdown: In 1994, horror punk stalwart Glenn Danzig founded a comic company, Verotik, which served as publisher for a series of adult-themed, mature content books over the years.
In 2019, Danzig finally made good on his promise to bring one of those comics, "Verotika," to life as a feature film.
Conceived as an anthology, Verotika has been assailed, and championed, by critics and horror fans alike since it first started appearing at film festivals last year.
The mixed bag of backhanded praise and bewildered denunciation seems, in large part, to focus on the same issue – how woefully bad Verotika is as a movie.
Some have called it the horror equivalent of The Room, Tomy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic, which is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made because of its inept staging, stilted dialogue and wooden, emotionless acting.
I’m not sure I would go that far, if only because The Room was infinitely more memorable (and quotable).
Here’s what works, and what doesn’t, in Verotika:
The opening sequence offers short-lived hope that this may not be as awful as advertised by showcasing some solid practical effects work when a gothic succubus pokes out the eyes of a chained vixen.
However, that’s immediately followed by the introduction of a female character who inexplicably has eyes for nipples. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the boobies, but there should at least be some point, some raison d'être to explain why she has eyeballs for nipples.
Throughout the first segment, "The Albino Spider of Dajette," Danzig – who wrote, directed, produced and scored Verotika – exhibits some flashes of influence, primarily by using a lush palette of colors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dario Argento film.
And the score, and soundtrack, which is included with Verotika as a bonus disc, is actually decent. I’m a longtime fan of Danzig’s musical output. My roommate my junior year in college used to haze me for keeping Danzig II – Lucifuge on heavy rotation in my CD player.
But those small positives aren’t enough to overcome a surging tsunami of technical and creative missteps throughout.
Whenever Danzig seems conflicted about how to advance his story, he reverts back to filler scenes from inside a dank strip club. Yes, boys (and girls) can be easily distracted by gratuitous nudity, but not for long.
The terrible accents on display seem almost on purpose, but I caution to assume that much consideration or thought was expressed during pre-production.
The dialogue is atrocious.
The pacing is untenable.
And even crazy somewhat inspired sequences, such as a spider creature trying to go full anal with a hooker before snapping her neck, fail to launch Verotika into cult classic territory, which is actually a damn shame
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Gratuitous. Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Where to begin…
Buy/Rent – This depends entirely on your personal preference for ‘bad’ bad movies, but BVB recommends neither.
Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony/Columbia, 123 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Though it took 22 years for a sequel to Robin Williams’ classic Jumanji to finally be realized, it was less than two years before a sequel to the smash-hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle arrived in theaters.
Trust me when I say the rush to beat the clock and capitalize on an unexpected blockbuster shows.
Jumanji: The Next Level is loaded with talent, but scarce on original ideas. Worse, if you haven’t seen Welcome to the Jungle, the new installment makes little sense.
The predominant gag in The Next Level is that the four young adults introduced in Welcome to the Jungle, which transported their personalities into avatars within the game, can randomly swap personas with the avatars. This allows actors Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan to play opposite their traditional roles, whether it’s Black pretending to be a young woman or Johnson trying to emulate the conflicted emotions of a naïve lovestruck young man.
In place of actual world-building, The Next Level opts for CGI-enhanced action sequences.
As movie-watching goes, this is akin to unwrapping a long-desired sequel to your favorite video game only to discover that the controls are wonky and the story reeks of derivative cheats.
Hanukkah (Invincible, 97 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): It almost seems inconceivable to think that of all the various holidays to inspire a slasher movie – from Christmas to April Fool’s Day to Father’s Day and beyond – there has never been a Jewish-themed horror flick.
Hanukkah, which hails from Eben McGarr, who some fans might remember from 2007’s gratuitously gory Sick Girl, has the best intentions and really wants to invoke nostalgia for the classics from the 1980s.
And for a good while, Hanukkah has the potential to become a newly minted cult classic.
The film opens on December 8, 1983 with Judah Lazarus (Sid Haig) terrorizing his local community as the media-coined Hanukiller.
Police have discovered six more bodies, each with the Scar of David (get it?) carved in their chests.
Lazarus is busy in his home temple/kill room, which is adorned with severed heads. Upstairs, next to his son Obediah’s bedroom, a naked woman (Caroline Williams, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) thrashes while chained in a bathtub full of blood.
The knowledge that Hanukkah is Haig’s last film (he died in September 2019) makes for a bittersweet viewing. It’s hard to watch him, his former bulk dissolved down to sagging skin and jutting bones, but he delivers in what’s essentially a brief cameo.
Large chunks of Hanukkah call forth a range of emotions, which is partly by design and partly due to watching a handful of genre greats – Haig, Williams, P.J. Soles, Dick Miller (also his last film role before he too died in January 2019), Charles Fleischer – and seeing the passage of time on their faces.
Then there’s the score by none other than Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th), which immediately takes you back to the early 1980’s and delights throughout every time the music surges forth.
Hanukkah has so much potential. There’s a skeleton hand menorah. Judah’s son, Obediah, scalps a skinhead and uses his bloody skull cap as a yarmulke. At one point, even Soles’ character, Ms. Horowitz, gets her ‘Totally!’ moment.
So why isn’t this film more fun? Why am I not shouting from the rooftop, demanding that every film freak I know stop what they’re doing and rent or buy Hanukkah?
Part of me thinks it might be because the review copy I received was impacted by a terrible audio transfer with the voice track lagging several seconds behind, making the film look (and sound) like an early ‘80s Italian horror film with a purposefully bad dub.
Part of me also thinks that this may be one of those titles to keep on the New Release shelf to revisit at a later date because my reaction might be totally different on a second or third viewing.
Witch Hunters (Chemical Burn, 80 minutes, Unrated, DVD): True story: If you make a low-budget movie about two Bosnian witch hunters, a brother and sister, who have runway model looks and Bruce Lee fighting skills, and who wear black leather vests with the words witch hunters embellished on the back, and their main antagonists are 1) a sexually repressed sheriff, who also is the bad guy, who solicits gay sex and then kills those men indiscriminately, and 2) a coven of apocalyptic sex witches, then you shouldn’t have to do much more than let that shit unspool in the most violent, immoral and flesh-tastic way possible.
Witch Hunters has all of that, and YET still somehow manages to not be any good.
Amityville Island (Wild Eye Releasing, 80 minutes, Unrated, DVD): True story, part deux: The box art for Amityville Island features a giant shark about to devour a diver. There’s a boat on fire floating on the surface. And some weird land-based structure way back in the distance.
Before you ask, yes, this is BOTH a killer shark movie AND yet another attempt to use The Amityville Horror mythology in a way that makes even less sense than Amityville 3-D.
The film opens with a young woman driving to an old woman’s house where she buys a bunch of yard sale items. The young woman leaves. Then the old woman sees a devil man, her eyes suddenly glow bright red, she pulls out a gun (from where?!?) and shoots herself in the head. When the young woman gets home, she finds an old doll among the items she bought. Suddenly her eyes glow bright red too.
From there, we hurtle forward, stopping briefly for a female fight club, before boarding a boat to a mysterious island that gets attacked by possibly the worst CGI shark ever. Like ever, ever.
Universal Horror Collection Vol. 4
While You Live, Shine
Now on Video-on-Demand:
To Your Last Death (Quiver Distribution, 91 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Outside of video games, animation in horror has been slow to catch fire, in large part due to a dearth of feature-length projects being released.
To Your Last Death certainly hopes to change that, but despite boasting a top-tier array of voice talent, including Morena Baccarin, William Shatner, Ray Wise and Bill Moseley, and featuring splashes of vibrantly colored and gory kills, this new movie unfortunately didn’t do enough to hook me and keep me invested.
For me, the problem was two-fold. The story, about a billionaire military arms developer who decides to exact revenge on his children, who foiled his bid to be president, just isn’t original enough. And the animation, which resembles a scrolling comic book, moving panel to panel, without the fluidity or natural ease of say a Pixar production, felt clunky and cold to me.
That’s not to say other people won’t like, or even love, To Your Last Death. It just isn’t my preferred cup of tea.