Saturday, February 11, 2017

What I Watched in January

I was extremely reluctant to go see the first UNDERWORLD film in 2003. Judging by it's trailer the film smacked of silliness and stupidity wrapped in stylistic excess, but my girlfriend wanted to go so I went. To this day I'm thankful for her insistence because I loved the first film and it's entire universe of vampires and werewolves locked in an ancient war for dominance. Overly stylized? Yes. Blue tinted? Yes. More action film than horror story? Yes. But it worked on me and, to my greater surprise, so did the sequels. Call me a fanboy, I guess.

But now we have the fifth film in the series and I have to report that they have finally  disappointed me. For the first time I didn't get caught up in the story and I wasn't dazzled by the fight scenes. I didn't even give a damn what happened past a certain point. UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS is a dud.

Kate Beckinsale returns as Selene, the vampire warrior currently on the run from both her own kind and the Lycan race. Her daughter Eve from the previous film is quickly written out of the narrative other than as a McGuffin driving part of the story. Things hold together pretty well until about the halfway point when the double and triple crosses of the vampire elders becomes tedious and the Lycan threat begins to feel like where the film should have focused it's energy. As the film creeps along I found myself less and less interested in the events onscreen, merely hoping for things to wrap up already. That's right - for the first time an Underworld film bored me. It might be time to retire the franchise and move on.

It must be my month for films with colons in the their titles because I also went to the second run theater and caught OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. Checking this film out in the theater marks a first for me as I have never watched a prequel movie without having seen the original beforehand. I feared I would be missing vital information necessary to enjoy the story but two things pushed me to see it -  good word of mouth and the fact that it was made by director Mike Flanagan. Flanagan has proven himself to be a solid crafter of horror films in the past few years with ABSENTIA, OCULUS and HUSH all being well done, suspenseful exercises in the genre. I'm glad I chose to see this one too as it once again proves this fellow has the skills to build a career to be admired.

The film takes place in 1967 Los Angeles where a widowed woman and her two girls work a fortune telling scam to earn a living. When the eldest daughter suggests incorporating a Ouija board into their séances the mother agrees but then unknowingly contacts a spirit that takes possession of the younger daughter when she foolishly uses the board alone.

At first the spirit seems benevolent helping the family by revealing a cache of hidden money in the basement and turning their fake medium act into the real thing. But after the young girl is seen to be writing a lengthy document in a language she doesn't know the local priest is asked to intervene. Eventually they learn the dark secret of the family's house, who the possessing spirit really is and why using a Ouija board was a bad idea to begin with. The film is creepy, well paced, scary and very well done on every level. I guess I should see the first film to find out if it measures up to this excellent prequel.


GIRL MISSING (1933) -6 (fast and funny mystery with the great Glenda Farrell)
THE CAREY TREATMENT (1972)- 8 (James Coburn as a murder solving doctor)
UNDERWORLD AWAKENING (2012) -7 (rewatch)
THE SHINING (1980) - 9 (rewatch)
ROOM 237 (2012) - 7 (rewatch)
RUN OF THE ARROW (1957)- 8 (Sam Fuller western)
THE DEVIL MAKES THREE (1953)- 7 (Gene Kelly in post-war Germany drama)
THE PHANTOM PLANET (1961) - 4 (rewatch in colorized form)
HEAVENLY BODIES (1984)- 5 (cheesy, silly and obvious aerobics drama that somehow works)
BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (2016) - 8 (excellent animated adaptation)
STUNTS (1977) - 6 (pretty good on-set mystery)
THE NAKED FACE (1984)- 7 (mystery thriller with Roger Moore)
RESIDENT EVIL RETRIBUTION (2012) - 7 (rewatch)
THE LAST FRONTIER (1955) -6 (Anthony Mann western)
HAWK OF POWDER RIVER (1948) - 4 (standard B-western staring Eddie Dean)
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) - 7 (prequel is solid - guess I need to see the first film)
INQUISITION (1976) - 8 (rewatch)
THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE (1960) - 7 (West German crime film based on an Edgar Wallace novel) 

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