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New Releases for Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Fantasy Island

Genre: Horror

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow

Run time: 109 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Format: Video-on-Demand

The Lowdown: I will be the first to admit that reimagining Fantasy Island as a horror movie is a brilliant idea.

Growing up watching the original show on ABC, I always secretly wished there would be a horror-themed episode where Mr. Roarke and Tattoo were revealed to be nefarious puppeteers placing unsuspecting tourists at great peril.

There’s a whole lot of real estate between wishful thinking and reality, however, and nothing proves that more than Blumhouse’s woefully inept big-screen result.

Fantasy Island is neither scary nor intelligent. It’s so frustratingly inert that it actually forgets about key characters for long stretches, choosing instead to focus on four of the most redundant, sanitized fantasies possible: A pretty girl seeks retribution against a high school tormentor; a conflicted young man wishes to go back in time to Vietnam to save his older brother, who sacrificed himself to save other soldiers; a woman waxes nostalgic for the missed opportunity that came with a failed proposal; and two uber-nerds dream of the kind of riches and adoration only found in music videos.

Nothing works, starting with Michael Peña’s casting as Roarke. Peña is a great actor, and a very funny one at that, but he’s just wrong for the role, and that’s before you even consider the short shrift that his backstory is given.

What Fantasy Island needed, more than anything, was a well-thought-out mythology to justify and explain how Roarke is able to gift the fantasies that he dispenses.

What horror fans got, instead, was a bland, paint-by-numbers portrait that failed to capitalize on its tantalizing promise.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Maggie Q, we still love you.

Nudity – No. Gore – No.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – I don’t even know, the island, maybe?

Buy/Rent – Neither.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Warner Bros., 109 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Hands down, one of the best comic book adaptations ever made, Birds of Prey completely throws out the rulebook for how Hollywood blockbusters are supposed to be made and dances to its own rhythm with zero regrets and/or fucks given.

This should be a game-changing milestone for DC Comics and its stop-start-sputter-fizzle-stop-start cinematic universe; sadly, Birds of Prey is too good, and ultimately too feminine, to effect the kind of seismic change that it should because comic book movies still refuse to acknowledge the need for, and domination of, kick-ass powerful female characters, both in front and behind the camera.

Now on Video-on-Demand:

Evil Little Things (Uncork’d Entertainment, 85 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Maybe it’s just me, but one subgenre of horror that I’ve just never been able to connect with is killer dolls and/or toys.

Sure, I dig Child’s Play and I appreciate Annabelle, but what I’m talking about is the cottage industry of direct-to-DVD franchises like Puppet Master, Demonic Toys and others that feature tiny playthings come to lie to terrorize grown-ass adults.

Evil Little Things falls squarely into that space.

Really, the only reason I decided to check it out was a too-brief cameo early on by Zach Galligan (Gremlins, Waxwork), but I kept watching, at least to the midpoint, and long enough to know that Evil Little Things, which is an anthology hybrid connected by a curious toymaker spinning tales to a young boy, while competently made, didn’t really have anything original or exciting to add, and certainly nothing shocking enough to make me reconsider my aversion to this particular type of bloody fare.

A Nun’s Curse (Uncork’d Entertainment, 73 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Oh look, it’s a movie, A Nun’s Curse, about two sisters (one a history nerd, the other the B-movie equivalent of a spoiled Instagram influencer) and two goofy dudes who end up stranded in the woods, miles from anyone they know, who wander to an abandoned jail with a ghastly legacy about a nun, Sister Monday, who killed inmates to save their souls.

Oh, sorry, you were expecting a review, not a synopsis. Here you go. Avoid. Repeat. Do not watch.

Proximity (Shout! Studios, 119 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): There really aren’t words to describe Proximity, the latest offering from Shout! Studios.

This Kickstarter-funded science-fiction headscratcher from writer-director Eric Demeusy almost – almost – plays like an intelligent parody of science-fiction films about first contact with extraterrestrial life.

The score is retro-awful. The title credits are ridiculously retro-80’s. The special effects are decidedly not special and inexplicably cheesy.

And that’s just the first 10 minutes.

And we haven’t even gotten to the nefarious quasi-government evil organization that employs truly odd robot henchmen who ride motorcycles and look like they teleported in from an entirely different movie.

In fact, Proximity is so mind-numbingly frustrating, so inscrutably dense, so unnecessarily pious, that I’m going to break the main tenet of movie criticism and actually leave you with the last line of the film, which fittingly is spoken in an unnecessary voiceover:

That’s my story, so far. Later.

Um, okay? Later, Proximity. We will not meet again.

Diablo Rojo (PTY) (The Horror Collective, 80 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The first horror film to hail from Panama, Diablo Rojo (PTY), starts off with a bang, makes solid use of local urban legends and manages to introduce what I think is a first, baby-eating cannibal witches, as the principal monsters.

Still, the film from co-directors Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera lacks the narrative cohesion to rise above its shortcomings or the go-for-broke visual chutzpah to qualify as a must-see cult classic.

It’s mostly good, but only intermittently awesome, which is a problem when you’re trying to convince viewers to go all in on a plot that mixes way too many elements (time travel, witches, Indigenous tribes, some crazy winged cyclops creature) for a movie that’s not even 90 minutes long.

Cry for the Bad Man (Uncork’d Entertainment, 70 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Horror, more than any other genre, has respect for its icons.

It doesn’t matter if you starred in a cult classic that’s more than 40 years old, if your performance anchored a film that’s beloved by fans, you’ll always find work in horror.

And that’s basically the best thing about Cry for the Bad Man, the sophomore feature from writer-director Sam Farmer, who wisely cast Camille Keaton of I Spit on Your Grave in the lead role.

Marsha Kane (Keaton) is an aging widow living in a huge antebellum house. Her property is in the crosshairs of the local criminal kingpin, Bill MacMohan, and his three sons are hellbent to force Marsha to sign it over to their family…or else.

There’s absolutely nothing about Cry for the Bad Man that fans of drive-in entertainment haven’t seen one hundred times before. Regardless of, you know, laws and shit, no one steps up to defend Marsha or tell MacMohan and his brood to back off.

The local sheriff threatens her and scoffs when she tells him the boys threatened to kill her. The local pastor implores her to follow God’s lead and sell.

But Marsha ain’t budging, and she’s got a shotgun and a hand cannon that says she’s more than able to defend what’s hers no matter how many hillbilly bullies descend in the dark of night.

Keaton is good, but not revelatory, in a role that feels wholly familiar. Her entire career has been built on playing women who take a thumping but eventually fight back with bloody success.

The real standout is Scott Peeler, who plays the ringleader of the MacMahon boys, Wayne. Peeler injects the right amount of menace and southern snark to remind viewers of a lesser Boyd Crowder, which for this film is plenty enough.

What the Waters Left Behind (Unearthed Films, 98 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Completed in 2017, and apparently shelved for three years, the latest offering from Unearthed Films is the Argentinian equivalent of The Texas Chainsaw Chernobyl Diaries, and that’s not necessarily meant as a criticism.

Personally, I like horror movies that are based in truth or centered around real places, but there needs to be enough original thought at play to justify fans taking time out of their lives to watch another version of classic films they’ve seen dozens of times before.

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