Halloween Scene: Red State (2011)

I’m a Kevin Smith fan, which I’ve written about before on UnitedMonkee. In addition to his flicks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and enjoying the podcasts on his Smodcast network. As such, I’ve been hearing a lot about Red State over the past few years. In brief, Smith wrote the movie around the same time as Zack and Miri Make A Porno, but the Weinsteins wouldn’t go for it. He went on to make Zack & Miri, then directed his first bigger budget flick, Cop Out, which didn’t live up to expectations. Eventually after some airline incidents and the introduction of copious amounts of weed into his system, the writer/director decided to get private funding and make the movie himself for a few million bucks. He then decided to distribute the film himself after a goofy stunt at a film festival, took the movie on tour and just this week released the movie wide on DVD, VOD and whatnot. Overall, I think it’s a pretty amazing way to go about making flicks and getting them out there. Of course, it won’t work for just anyone as Smith has just under 2 million followers on Twitter thanks to amassing an audience for so many years. Still, I think it’s the wave of the future, people just making movies, you know? The whole thing is kind of inspiring and makes me want to dig my woods-based slasher script out of a pile and start filming. But, I digress.

I was excited when I heard via Twitter that Red State would be on Netflix Instant starting yesterday (I watched it yesterday, just didn’t get around to blogging about it). I knew going in–from hearing Smith talk on his various podcasts, including Red State Of The Union, which documented the film’s production with interviews galore–that it was about three kids trying to get laid and running afoul of a group of religious extremists. Some bad stuff happens to them and then John Goodman comes in at the end. That’s about it. If you haven’t seen the movie, it might be best to go in with just those thoughts, I’ll be getting into SPOILER territory soon.

The movie starts out very Smithian with lots of dialogue and exposition, but I thought it was handled pretty well, even if the idea of the dumb girl in class not knowing about the religious extremists who live a half hour away is very unlikely. I really enjoyed the performances by the three young male leads (Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michale Angarano) even though their desperate and gross Porky’s 2-like plan to get laid by the same old lady in a trailer reeks of awful desperation. Shit hits the fan pretty early on after that and the spotlight gets less stolen and more absorbed by Michael Parks who plays the charismatic, yet bigoted (and evil) preacher of this extremist group. There’s this sermon scene that would seem incredibly dry on paper, but the dude just demands that you watch and listen to him, even if he’s spouting off the most hateful shit imaginable. There’s a build-up to the awfulness that almost makes you think he might not be such a bad guy, then you remember there’s kids being held captive.

Let’s call the rest of this SPOILER TERRITORY until the  last paragraph. I watched the review of this movie on The Totally Rad Show and one of the guys mentioned something that I felt while watching: it really plays up on the fear of being publicly denigrated with no one reaching out to help you. It’s something that I think Wicker Man was going for, but didn’t really achieve (for me at least). Between the dude in the cage, the guy on the cross and the two boys trapped in the underground hatch, there’s all kinds of that going on. I also liked how one of the boys completely abandons his friend when he realizes he’s got a chance to escape. You already know that these three boys aren’t the most upstanding of citizens, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but is still a realistic moment that a lot of horror flicks either don’t attempt or don’t succeed at.

And then there’s the John Goodman stuff. I love that guy and he kills in this movie as a DEA agent sent out to check out the reports of gun possession at the group’s compound. From listening to the podcasts, I had thought this would happen in the last 10 or so minutes of the movie, but it actually takes up the last third as things turn into a moral drama with lots of gunplay. I liked that my assumptions about the movie were wrong and that I could still be surprised after hearing so much about it. And then you’ve got the just-before-the-end part where Parks thinks he’s hearing a sign that God is actually on his side but we later find out was just some kids playing a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It reminds me of this arc in the Daredevil comics where Matt Murdock is on trial and then some guy who happened to have dressed up as DD swoops into the courtroom. It was a little to happenstancial then and that’s how I felt this time around. The timing is just too good, even if there was a reason for the joke to be played.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler danger zone. I think any horror or thriller fan would dig this movie, even if they’re not fans of Smith’s, though you will have to be okay with some pretty intense scenes and the common-for-Kevin slathering of profanity and sex talk. These things don’t bother me, but I figure there should be some fair warning. It really is a taught, intriguing and scary flick that’s so set in the real world that it makes it even more spooky. Zealots, man, they’re just too much.

Halloween Scene: Monkey Shines (1988)

I really didn’t know what to think when I started watching Monkey Shines last night. I had added it to the top of my Netflix Instant queue, but it got bumped back a few places. I don’t know about you but sometimes anything past the first five slots on there become white noise. Like a piece of luggage you haven’t put away since that summer trip, it just becomes part of the virtual room instead of something on your to do list. Anyway, I made a concerted effort to check out some of that luggage and came to this flick. I remember seeing the cover of the VHS as a kid and it freaked me out. How could it not? In fact, when I read Stephen King’s short story “The Monkey” last year, this is the image I couldn’t get out of my head.

I didn’t even know that George Romero directed it! After reading the description about a quadriplegic with a helper monkey I figured this wouldn’t be that scary of a movie and that it might make for some good background noise while I got some posts ready for the blog this week. It turned out to be surprisingly engrossing and holds a very distinct spot in my recent movie watching career: I actually turned it off at the end. Not because it was bad, but because I didn’t want to watch what was happening.

See, the movie is quite tricky. Even though the premise sounds like it might be silly, it does a great job of making you feel for all the people you’re supposed to. You feel for Allan, the man who used to run a lot and now can’t move anything except his head because not only can’t he do the most simple of tasks, but he has essentially become a prisoner to people like his mean/crazy nurse and later his mother. You’re automatically on his side. Then, you bring in the monkey who goes by Ella. Not only does she do a great job of helping Allan, but she’s also a victim because his friend Geoffrey is secretly experimenting on her because he doesn’t have access to monkeys anymore (or something). Allan and Ella become pretty tight, so tight that it seems like Ella starts wreaking vengeance on Allan’s enemies. The problem I had with the movie, even though the turn was pretty obvious, is that it wound up pitting Allan and Ella against each other for a pretty intense scene. Man vs. monkey doesn’t sound all that scary on people but when it’s a man who can’t move and a monkey enhanced by whatever Geoffrey had been injecting him with who ALSO has a blade on him, it turns out pretty intense. I guess I’m getting too soft because I had to turn it off when SPOILER Allan bit down on Ella to, presumably kill her. Netflix told me there was only 5% of the movie left, but I was spent by then and removed it from my queue. Anyone remember what happens after that?

Overall, I was impressed with what Romero did. I think this only the second non-zombie movie of his I’ve seen. I saw the original The Crazies a while back but remember almost nothing about it. There’s masks or something? Didn’t really stick with me. I think Monkey Shines with it’s ridiculous poster and trailer and surprisingly intense ending will definitely stick with me though. That poor monkey…