High Tension [2003]

This one was quite the roller coaster ride, for reasons both good and bad.

I remember hearing mostly good things about Alexandre Aja’s French thriller/horror movie High Tension when it was released in the US in 2005. I didn’t know much about it, but the title and the image on the poster of a young woman with a power saw always stuck in my brain, so when I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime, I decided to jump in.

The movie starts innocently enough, as almost all slasher type movies do, with a pair of friends, Alex and Marie, driving to the French countryside to visit Alex’s family for a long weekend. Once they’re almost to their destination, we’re introduced to the film’s antagonist. We can tell he’s a bad guy because we see him fellating himself with a severed head, which he disposes of when he’s finished by tossing out the window of his dilapidated truck. Still with me? If you are, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy at least 90% of this movie.

As the title suggests, there is plenty of tension to go around, with nail-biting scene after scene. The bad man follows the girls to Alex’s house and kills her parents and little brother, and kidnaps Alex. Marie avoids detection, but ends up in the killer’s truck with Marie, determined to save her. I enjoyed this part of the movie thoroughly, until…the twist ending ruined it.

Doing a little research before writing this, I found out that High Tension largely plagiarizes the Dean Koontz novel (which was also adapted into a TV movie) Intensity—a point director Aja practically admitted in an interview around the time of the film’s release. For Koontz’s part, he put out a statement advising he was aware of the comparison but would not sue “because he found the film so puerile, so disgusting, and so intellectually bankrupt that he didn’t want the association with it that would inevitably come if he pursued an action against the filmmaker.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the level of violence (and graphic violence at that) is quite high. I would assume most people would not be phased by that if they’re wanting to watch a slasher-style movie, but just in case, take that info and do with it what you will.

Now, back to that twist ending. Jesus, what a way to crap all over the largely good film you’ve put down up to that point. In reading on the internet, I did encounter a few people who actually liked and appreciated the twist, but I (and the majority of people, apparently) found it utterly ridiculous. It was completely unnecessary, and part of me wonders if they did it just to avoid having the film be even more similar to Koontz’s novel.

Is it so bad that it makes the movie not worth watching? That depends on you. If you’re a slasher fan, I would probably still recommend checking it out, if you don’t mind a bit of a let down at the end. Still, with some of the duds I’ve watched so far this month, this is in the top two or three, although I suppose that’s not really saying much.

Advertisements

Await Further Instructions [2018]

While I’ve never claimed to be a huge fan of Sci-Fi, there are always exceptions, especially when it crosses genres and blends with one of my favorites, horror.

I knew virtually nothing about Await Further Instructions when I stumbled across it on Netflix. The description seemed vaguely ominous—it sounded like some sort of low budget take on the Saw franchise. It turned out to be something much different altogether. As with all movies (and horror movies in particular), your mileage may vary, so once you’ve read my write up be sure to set your standards accordingly.

Await Further Instructions begins with British Nick and his Indian girlfriend Annji coming to Nick’s family home to visit over the Christmas holiday. We get to meet, in quick succession, Nick’s somewhat racist and quite pregnant sister Kate and her doofus baby daddy Scott, his downright batty mother Beth, lifelong military man and ultra-authoritarian dad Tony, and not-as-senile-as-he-appears, very racist grandpa.

None of the characters are fully developed—they seem more like caricatures than actual characters. Luckily, the plot moves along quickly enough that we don’t spend too much time on their thinly veiled racist comments to Annji, or the bad blood between Tony and Nick that led to Nick not coming home to visit for a few years. Soon enough, we are treated to the meat of the story, which to my surprise turned out to be more Twilight Zone (or, perhaps more accurately, weak Black Mirror) than Saw.

Nick and Annji decide to go back home early one morning, and discover they can’t. The front door—and as they soon discover, the entire house—is covered with…well, something, that is blocking anyone from getting into or out of the house. Not long after their discovery, the television goes black and displays the following message:

This is where the fun, and best part of the movie, begins. The family argue and hypothesize about who could be sending the message, then argue more as the messages change and become more and more outlandish as time goes on. The pacing is good, keeping things moving before it gets too redundant, and despite the lack of depth of the characters, some of the scenarios that play out seem painfully realistic.

That is, until, the final act.

I won’t spoil anything, other than to say the climax is when things go full bore Sci-Fi, and the actual premise behind it is not bad—the real problem is that the ideas behind it exceed the movie’s apparent special effects budget. What could’ve worked with a bigger budget instead comes off as cartoony and lame. The climax isn’t totally ruined, and I kind of liked the closing shots, but my enjoyment definitely dipped during the film’s last 15-20 minutes.

Like some of my other picks so far this month, you could do worse than Await Further Instructions, but you could also do better.

The Basement [2018]

‘A serial killer with multiple personalities kidnaps and tortures a poor hapless soul’ sounds like a decent premise for a horror movie, doesn’t it? You’d think so, if you haven’t seen The Basement, now on Netflix.

This poster and all the promotional material is misleading. Mischa Barton is not one of the leads in this movie.

The less said about this one the better, honestly. I finished it without skipping ahead, which is more than I can say for In the Tall Grass, but that’s not a very high bar.

The story is derivative, the acting is weak, the plot twist at the end is kind of lame, and the writing is borderline awful. Most of the serial killer/victim interactions feel like a second rate episode of Criminal Minds.

There are a couple scenes of cringey gore if you’re into that, and the actor who plays The Gemini Killer gives a decent performance(s), considering how ridiculous some of the scenarios are. My guess is that this movie may have gotten made solely because they landed a name actress (Mischa Barton) for one of the roles.

You could do worse than The Basement, but lord knows you could do better. This will be the last horror movie I watch for a few days, here’s hoping my picks for next week fare a little better.

In the Tall Grass [Netflix, 2019]

Unless you happen to be stumbling across this blog for the first time (and if you are, welcome!), you know how I revere Stephen King. I’ve written before about how much of his earlier work shaped me into the rather odd duck I am today. To this day I regret not going to the reading he did here in Wichita a few years ago. He is one of the only people I can think of that would leave me utterly starstruck.

Still, he’s not perfect. Any prolific artist is bound to have some misfires—he’s cranked out some notoriously bad books in his career. There’s also been a longstanding problem with filmmakers adapting his work in a way that works. Many directors can’t seem to figure out how to make a King story translate from the page to the screen (Frank Darabont and Mike Flanagan being the notable exceptions). So, with that said, and as someone who hasn’t read the Stephen King/Joe Hill co-written novella upon which it’s based, it’s hard to know why Netflix’s new film adaptation of In the Tall Grass doesn’t work—whether it’s merely another poor adaptation of the master’s work or it was based on subpar source material and therefore doomed from the start. One thing is for sure, though: In the Tall Grass doesn’t work.

The premise sounds silly on its face: a horror story about some sort of malevolent grass that traps people with no hope for escape. Throw in some bizarre time travel aspects and an all-knowing, all-seeing rock, and it all sounds absolutely ludicrous. But here’s the funny part—for the first thirty minutes or so, it’s actually pretty compelling.

I was completely on board as siblings Cal and Becky stopped on their trek to San Diego so the expecting Becky could puke on the side of the road. Soon after, they hear a boy in the roadside field of tall grass calling for help. He tells them he’s lost and asks if they can help him. The pair decide to help, and enter the grass to their (obvious to us) peril. Things quickly grow confusing as the pair get separated and can’t seem to find each other no matter what they do. The confusion grows as the boy’s mother is heard yelling at him to stop asking for help, and dead animals are found among the grass. Becky ends up encountering the boy’s father, then things begin to go a little sideways.

I won’t spoil anything in case anyone wants to actually give the movie a shot, but In the Tall Grass goes from sixty to zero alarmingly fast. In the span of maybe 20 minutes, I went from fully engaged to completely uninterested. I started checking my phone, leaving the room without pausing it, and then I did something I almost never do: with about 25 minutes left in the movie, I started fast-forwarding to just get the godforsaken movie over with. I was invested enough to want to know how it ended, but not invested enough to actually watch it to find out.

The highlight of the movie is Patrick Wilson’s (The Conjuring) performance as Ross, the father who may or may not be who he seems. He gives it his all, but he can’t save this dud. If you’ve read the book and are genuinely curious I can understand wanting to check it out, but there are far better scary movies out there to be checking out this October, so my advice is to skip it and don’t waste your precious time.

Hell House LLC. [2015]

As I did last October, I’m trying to immerse myself in as many horror movies as humanly possible before Halloween. Last year, I condensed all my mini-reviews into one post around the 31st, but that seemed counter intuitive since it would leave less time for anyone wanting to check the movies out before All Hallow’s Eve to actually see them. So now, I’m going to shoot out an individual review for each movie I watch—that way if I gush about something or you’re curious about one, you can check it out with plenty of time to get in the spooky spirit!

Kicking things off for me this month is Hell House LLC, currently on Amazon Prime.

To say I was skeptical about this one is putting it mildly, because a) it’s a ‘found footage’ horror movie in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project, and b) that cornball title. Luckily, this turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

A group of (mostly) friends who have been running a haunted house for the past few years move locations, finding an abandoned hotel for the new year. Of course, the hotel has some secrets…

As the friends go about setting up the haunted house, odd things start to happen—things being moved, strange noises, etc. The friends begin blaming each other, one goes missing, one refuses to call it all off, and on opening night disaster ensues.

The story is told as a documentary after the fact. A film crew goes through YouTube videos and interviews people who were there the night of the disaster, trying to figure out exactly what happened. Then, as luck would have it, a member of the crew shows up and provides them with film that had been hidden so as not to be confiscated by police.

The film does an excellent job of getting creative to provide scares and a big creep factor despite it’s obviously low budget. They use pretty much the standard haunted house fare (masks, creepy clowns and the like) to escalate the tension, and the acting, while not great, is just good enough to sell it.

While definitely not a masterpiece, Hell House LLC is way better than I expected, and better than it really has any right to be. A perfect movie to get you in the mood for Halloween.

The Perks of Being a Tear-Harvesting Deity

The past week has been…interesting.

For those that may not know, along with writing and photography, my other passion project is a music website and podcast I handle with my friend in California (you can visit Kill Boring Music to read reviews, check out our concert photos, and listen to episodes of the show, or pull up The Ringing Ear Podcast on the podcast delivery system of your choice).

We talk about all types of music, and at the end of every episode we feature an unsigned artist. This means we’re constantly on the lookout for new bands to play, and last week I found a band in Pennsylvania that gave me a little more than I bargained for.

Sleepsculptor is a mathcore-influenced metalcore band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They just released their debut full-length LP Entry: Dispersal, available for sale on Bandcamp and streaming on all major services. I found the band on Twitter and followed the links to check out the album. If you like metal, you’ll probably like it. I sure did, and I wanted to play them on the show. I also did what I always do when I find a band I like (unsigned or not)—followed them on Twitter and liked their Facebook page. A day or so later, I got an invite to a Facebook group called Sleepsculptor: Oasisposting. This is where things get interesting.

If you’ve never heard the term “shitposting”, here’s a quick explanation: the point of shitposting is, as the name implies, to post large amounts of pretty much the dumbest stuff you can find. Memes, terrible jokes, gifs, etc. Now, I’m not entirely new to shitposting—I’m actually in a couple of shitposting groups on Facebook. But I’ve never seen the level of idiocy that I encountered in the Sleepsculptor group. It was actually pretty amazing. A flood of awful (but still mostly funny) content deluged my phone to the point where Sleepsculpor: Oasisposting had nearly overshadowed all my other activity on Facebook. I was so impressed that I decided to publish a simple post declaring my admiration, ending with the sentence, “I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into.”

FELLOW OLD PEOPLE, YOU ARE HEREBY WARNED.

Apparently, “I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into” is akin to “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” or “Goodness, it’s already almost 10, I have to get ready for bed”. These idiots (and I mean that as a term of endearment) proceeded to utilize photo manipulation to plaster my face all over things related to the band. The amount of content they created in such a short amount of time was staggering.

I can’t deny that even though I knew they were clowning me I found it utterly hilarious. Besides, I remember what I was like when I was their age (which I assume to be early-to-mid 20s). Hell, I remember being 23 and mercilessly teasing a 27 year old for being old. So I did what came naturally—I leaned into the whole Kenneth Movement, telling them they were right to create all this content on my behalf, because as we all know, I’m awesome.

This led to an evolution of the memes being made, and honestly I’m not even sure how it came about. One of the guys in the group would have to explain it, although that would almost certainly make it considerably less funny. The point is, once I started playing along, somehow my image started being placed on religious imagery and I was declared some type of all-knowing, all-seeing deity that fed on tears. Behold:

“All Hail Kenneth” became their new mantra. Nearly every post included the phrase at some point, and they demanded that everyone react to posts and comments with the sad emoji—so I could harvest the tears, naturally.

Things have cooled down just a little bit now, as I assumed they would; this kind of thing usually runs its course pretty quickly. There has been some talk, however, of Sleepsculptor merchandise emblazoned with my smiling, lovely face, and they did decide to create Kennethkoin, a me-branded cryptocurrency that as of yet is completely worthless, though that could change at any time.

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride, and I’m happy to be the defacto mascot/deity for a band this good. Seriously, hijinks aside, there’s no reason Sleepsculptor can’t be huge on the metal scene. All that’s stopping them is visibility—they have the chops and their music is on point.

So, again, if you like chaotic metal with plenty of groove and heavy riffs, and being fronted by two vocalists to boot, check out Entry: Dispersal by Sleepsculptor. They probably won’t anoint you a religious figure, but maybe I can name you a disciple in the Cult of Kenneth. Then you’ll be the one saying, “I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.”

Click the photo or click here to buy Entry: Dispersal

It’s Time for Me to Come Clean About My Porn Addiction

Relax, it’s not what you think.  🙂

Life is full of stressors. Work, school, kids, money, politics, waiting for the new season of Bojack Horseman—it’ll drive you mad if you’re not careful. That’s why the concept of self care has become more important than ever. You have to find time to do things for yourself, for both your mental and physical well-being.

Some people do spa days. Some go to the gym or take up running. Some turn to drugs or alcohol, which while certainly not recommended, is unfortunately a fairly common type of self care. Personally, I like getting out with my camera (be it on the street or out in nature) and taking photos, or maybe dusting off the ol’ guit-fiddle to bang out a few bars to an old classic, like Love Me Do or Dead Skin Mask (if you don’t know that second one, by all means look it up).

Lately, though, free time has become more and more scarce; there are simply not enough hours in the day to work, write, run errands, keep a toddler alive, and still find time for myself. So, when I found something new that calmed my frazzled nerves, I took to it like a duck to water. The only problem is…it’s a little awkward to talk about.

Porn.

Wait, hold on. Not like regular porn.

Internet porn.

Come back! Let me explain.

On Reddit, that bastion of good taste and decorum, many of the subreddits on the site end with the word ‘porn‘. It’s just kind of a wink to people who get the joke. For example, the sub featuring stunningly beautiful landscape photos is called r/EarthPorn. Astro photography is in the sub r/SpacePorn. But my favorite? You’ll never guess.

Here’s a hint.

r/PowerWashingPorn has over 770,000 members. Popular videos in the sub routinely get upwards of 15,000 upvotes (the Reddit equivalent of ‘liking’ something). As the name implies, the vast majority of the videos are of people using power washers to clean…well, anything and everything they can.

Stone walkways are popular, as are concrete driveways, all types of vehicles, brick steps, wooden decks, patio furniture…the list goes on. And I know what some of you are thinking: “How can watching someone hose something off be enjoyable?” In response, I present Exhibit A—watch this guy spray off this filthy Alpha Romeo and tell me it doesn’t give you just a bit of satisfaction.

If that doesn’t do anything for you, let me give you another. This guy cleaning this brick driveway is a thing of absolute beauty. Watching this is almost like popping a Xanax for me. It soothes my soul!

Look, I know it might seem silly, but these vids are so satisfying that I’m just about ready to seriously declare them part of my self care regimen. Life can be ugly, messy, dirty business. If I find solace in someone blasting shit off a dirty sidewalk, then why the hell not, you know?

So give it a shot—spend some time on r/PowerWashingPorn and see if maybe it does the same for you., and for once you can have a porn addiction that doesn’t require your credit card number.