3 A.M. (2012)

Made in Thailand by directors Patchanon Tummajira, Kirati Nakintanon and Isara Nadee, this film takes its title from the time that the supernatural happens.

In “The Wig,” sisters May and Mint are running the family wig business while their parents travel. They unknowingly buy the hair of a dead woman whose spirit begins to haunt May as she makes it into a new hairpiece. Meanwhile, Mint’s friends are acting up and are all killed by the ghost in various ways, including a harrowing scene where one of their heads has been moved to the wig shelf. For some reason, this section totally hit all of the right notes with me.

The “Corpse Bride” presents a mortician willing to aardvark the dead to save them from an abusive ghost in the afterlife. I mean, I guess that’s what he was trying to do, but it turns out that the dead woman isn’t the angel that she seems to be, no matter how gorgeous her corpse is.

In “O.T.,” two bosses delight in playing pranks on their employees involving fake ghosts, but when they go too far and two of their workforce die…well perhaps they shouldn’t have ever gotten on that elevator.

This movie was successful and had two sequels, 3 AM: Part 2 and 3 AM: Part 3, which also is known as Aftershock. I assume that this movie would have been much more frightening if I saw it in 3D, as it played in theaters with that technology.

You can watch this on YouTube.

John Carter (2012)

Sure, everyone knows Tarzan, but how many people were clamouring for a movie all about Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other hero, the Earthman gone to Mars John Carter? Well, me. But I’m also the same guy who went nuts when Valerian came out.

The first book in the adventures of this character — A Princess of Mars — came out in 1917 and was followed by a total of eleven novels. As early as 1931, Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett got Burroughs’ approval to make a John Carter movie and worked with teh writer’s son John Coleman Burroughs to create rotoscoped animation that was quite realistic. After showing the test footage to film exhibitors in 1936, the movie was cancelled as they believed that the idea of men on Mars was too outlandish for small town audiences. Keep in mind that the very next year saw Flash Gordon play theaters and become a huge success. If Clampett had succeeded, he would have beat Snow White and become the first full-length animated film.

Ray Harryhausen wanted to make this film in the 50s and John McTiernan and Tom Cruise tried in the 80s, but technology was never at the right level to make a movie that could capture the look and feel that the novels promised. There was an attempt to make the movie with Robert Rodriguez and John Favreau as well; when the latter fell apart, Favreau moved on to start the MCU with Iron Man. He did voice a Tharg bookie in this film, as he was excited that it was getting made.

Andrew Stanton, who directed the Pixar films Finding Nemo and WALL-E was able to convince Disney to get the right back from Paramount and that he could make John Carter into a franchise. Stanton then went on to pretty much shoot the movie twice, consulted animation experts instead of those who made live action movies and ignored marketing advice. There was no way he could have won, however. The movie needed to make $600 million worldwide to just break even, an amazing number that only sixty-three movies have been able to achieve.

The movie lost Disney more than $200 million and cost the studio’s head Rich Ross his job. He’d already cancelled a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake and cut the budget on The Lone Ranger, yet gave this movie all the money it wanted and a $100 million budget on top of that.

How could a movie like this fail? Was it because using Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” in the trailers made it seem old fashioned? Did the original Star Wars like ads not reach moviegoers? Did fans of Burroughs even know this was in theaters? Or are properties like The ShadowGreen Hornet and The Phantom — and John Carter — no longer well-known?

The actual movie is, charitably, a mess. It’s a gorgeous looking one, though, with fully realized Tharks and the world of Barsoom. It also strangely has Burroughs himself in the film as a character and starts with the bad guy getting a superweapon instead of introducing us to its hero.

We’ll never get to see Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars, sadly. This film bombed on such a nuclear level that probably no studio will ever make another John Carter film. Don’t tell the Burroughs estate, who got the rights back and want to make another go of it. Hey — it took 79 years of development to make the first one.

Girl vs. Monster (2012)

Olivia Holt played Dagger in the adaption of the Marvel Comic Cloak and Dagger. She stars in this series — which is a little like Elsa Bloodstone from the Marvel Universe — as Skylar Lewis, the daughter of two monster hunters who must deal with Deimata, the demon that haunted her grandfather and now is making her life horrible.

Seeing as how this is a Disney Channel TV movie, this is closer to a song and dance teen dramedy than the slam bang monster mash that you may be hoping for. That said, there’s fun here for younger viewers and solid direction from Stuart Gillard, whose career stretches from the Willie Aames and Phoebe Cates adventure film Paradise and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III to the remake of The Initiation of Sarah, the sequel WarGames: The Dead Code and plenty of episodic television.

What I liked most was the design of the weaponry, which really feels steampunk in the best of ways, and the fact that every main character had their very own fear demon that can only be defeated in very specific ways.

Jurassic Shark (2012)

Honestly, it doesn’t matter how good this movie is. It’s already won with a title like Jurassic Shark. I mean, that’s some Jerry Gross-level ingenuity at play.

A megalodon is unleashed by an oil rig after it goes too far into the earth. Well, we all knew fracking was going to lead to this. And by this, I mean a movie where a prehistoric shark goes after a gang of art thieves.

This movie employs one of the greatest tools in the exploitation arsenal: long, meaningless stretches of walking that pad the film out and add to its running time. For a movie about sharks and the ocean, even I was astounded by just how much walking there was in this movie.

Also, I feel kind of bad telling you just how horrendous the shark looks in this movie. I think thats a foregone conclusion that a direct to streaming shark movie is going to have horrible CGI, so I feel like you should come in with low expectations and then see if you can go lower than that.

This movie also uses another weapon in the low budget filmmakers arsenal. It has twelve minutes of credits and fifty minutes of actual movie, meaning that 19% of this movie is devoted to watching the names of the people who made it.

At one point, this was the lowest rated movie on IMDB, which I feel is being somewhat unfair. There’s bad and then there’s boring bad and this is just bad, which is a nice thing to say.

Does director Brett Kelly like sharks? Well, your answer is in the fact that he also made Ouija Shark and Raiders of the Lost Shark. You have to give him credit for knowing how to come up with a good title.

You can watch this on Tubi or get the DVD from Wild Eye Releasing.

Dredd (2012)

12-year-old me loved Judge Dredd perhaps more than I can convey in words. So you can imagine my excitement when they decided to make a Hollywood blockbuster out of it. What was once a property that existed only in 2000 AD and in songs by Anthrax suddenly had Mattel action figures and a pinball machine in arcades. And then, well, Judge Dredd came out and the only people who cared about it any longer were the ones like me that know what the Cursed Earth is (not to mention stuff like the ABC Warriors and Strontium Dog; I’m not bragging, trust me).

Dredd is everything that movie should have been.

Directed by Pete Travers (Vantage Point) and starring Karl Urban as a Dredd who never takes his  helmet off or shows mercy — so he’s pretty much the Judge Dredd we know and love — the film takes place in Mega City One, which is pretty much the East Coast of what’s left of the United States. There, 800 million residents commit 17,000 crimes every single day and only the Judges can keep law and order.

Dredd and new recruit Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) have come to the Peach Trees block, which is run by drug dealer Madeline “Ma-Ma” Madrigal (Lena Headey), the supplier of Slo-Mo, a drug that makes time move at a crawl for its users. She has rogue Judges on her payroll and an entire building in her employ, but Dredd is relentless in his pursuit of justice.

Written by Alex Garland (The Beach, the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine), this is a film that doesn’t just understand its subject matter, but completely gets how Dredd is less always meaning more. Dredd co-creator John Wagner also wrote a lot of the dialogue, so that definitely made this movie better.

While this has become a cult classic, it deserved so much better. Urban told Den of Geek that the issue was “zero audience awareness. Nobody knew the movie was being released. Dredd represents a failure in marketing, not filmmaking.”

So many of us hold out hope that a sequel or series will happen one day. Watch it and you’ll be one of us.

Complacent (2012)

Two sisters, Myah Sanderson and Beth Wilkensen, struggle with their differences but have settled in to whatever life is going to be, just trying to get through another day of life. Finally, one of them can no longer take it and tries to break out of the rat race, the day to day drudgery, and it sets up a chain reaction that everyone must deal with.

Complacent is a movie that attempts to do what Crash — no, not the one with the automobile crash obsession — and Magnolia did so well. So does it succeed?

This was written and directed by Steven R. Monroe, who usually delivers fare such as It Waits, the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave (as well as the 2013 sequel) and, as we’ve realized by now, holiday movies, which seems to be the twin genre to scary movies. He’s made A Bramble House ChristmasChristmas ConnectionChristmas In HomesteadChristmas Tree LaneReunited at Christmas and The 12 Disasters of Christmas.

Speaking of horror, leads Celina Vincent and Joey Kern were also in Cabin Fever. You may have also seen her in Not Another Teen Movie and as Maya the Yellow Ranger in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. And oh yeah — big for all horror fans, Adrienne Barbeau is also on hand!

If you love eighties films, this is Kerri Green’s (LucasThe Goonies) first acting role in over a decade. Nineties movies? Elisa Donovan from Clueless and A Night at the Roxbury is in the cast.

Other actors and actresses appearing include Keir O’Donnel (who was in the TV show Project Blue Book, as well as Wedding CrashersAmerican Sniper and played Ben Schmidt on the Fargo TV series), Michael Worth, Christopher Showerman (who played George of the Jungle in the 2003 direct to video sequel), Melanie Monroe, Tate Berney (a child actor who I think I auditioned for a paint commercial a few years back), Dean Alioto (who directed The McPherson Tape, which AGFA just re-released), Carson Durham, Leif Gantvoort, McLean McGown, Allie Smith and Jan Munroe.

There are moments of long silence and just staring as music plays over the film, like some icy break people the dialogue. These types of drama movies usually don’t work for me — if you read our site, you know that my heart lies in the blood soaked films of foreign countries, but if you enjoy family drama and lives caught in the balance, perhaps you will enjoy this. As for me, it just reminds me of extended family dinners that feel as if a stick of TNT has been lit and we all either attempt to blow out the fuse or relight it, depending on our temperment.

It has a decent budget and, as we mentioned above, several actors and actresses that you’ll recognize from the past.

Complacent is available on demand from Amazon, Apple, Google, Mtonomy, VUDU and other platforms. It was on Netflix for a period of time, so if you think you may have seen this before, that may be where it was.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 31: Halloween Revenge of the Sandman (2012)

31. I REMEMBER HALLOWEEN: Something from the Halloween franchise or anything with trick or treating in it. You did it! Another successful challenge achieved. Now you can stuff yourself with candy and listen to The Misfits.

We’ve watched every Halloween movie in this house so many times that sometimes, I just play the soundtrack album from the second and Becca does the dialogue while I chase her around and scream things like, “An hour ago I fired six bullets into him and he just walked away. I am talking about the real possibility that he is still out there!”

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes with me knows how I feel about the series (one great, two both better and worse yet more giallo, three should have had a different title but still great, four has a good opening, five has some interesting idea, six is lovable for how it takes the series in an occult direction, then you can just stop watching), so when this challenge came up, I decided to take a look at a fan film of the series.

Fan films are interesting to me. I remember when I first started watching them at Star Trek conventions in my youth and they looked amateurish, shot on video and filled with hammy acting and bad effects. However, today’s iPhones and free editing tools — not to mention consumer-available tech — enable anyone to make a movie that looks as good or better than the genre films streaming online.

Written and directed by Ron McLellen, who also made 2009’s The Return of the Sandman and 2013’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The New Blood, this is a polished reimagining of the Michael Myers mythos. The film begins with exactly what happened when the young Michael was taken to the emergency room by cops, then wisely takes a riff on the autumn farmland opening visuals of the fourth film before settling in to tell another side of the story.

Adding more authenticity to the film is the location. Shot at The Myers House NC, a life-size replica of the infamous house, located in rural Hillsborough, North Carolina. Several other films have been made there, including  Judith: The Night She Stayed HomeScarecrow at Midnight and Honeyspider.

I remember someone once saying of comic books, “Everybody is somebody’s favorite character, so writers should be careful with them.” That’s how I feel about this movie. There are numerous people who only enjoy the first film in this series, while others pick and choose favorites and folks like Becca love each and every one of them. It also all depends on when you were born, as for many, the fourth through six entries may have been the first ones they could experience first-hand. This movie feels like it was made for those that really came in the series in that era, but want to see more of side characters like Ben Tramer and Brady Brackett.

Your enjoyment of fan films will depend on how much you tie the characters into the actor’s playing them. Obviously, no one is ever going to be better than Donald Pleasance. But if you can get past that — and have sixty minutes or so of free time and have seen all the other movies inthis series — you can at least have a few new Halloween films to watch this year while waiting for the pandemic to end and Halloween Kills to be released.

You can watch this on YouTube and learn more at the official Facebook page.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 12: These Walls (2012)

DAY 12. THE FIRST WAVE: One by an indigenous filmmaker or indigenous cast members. 

Doreen Manuel is the sixth child of Grand Chief Dr. George Manuel and Marceline Manuel. From perusing her official site, I’ve learned that she’s a graduate of the Aboriginal Film and Television Diploma Program (AFTP) at Capilano University and earned her Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from UBC.

This film is informed by her extensive background working in First Nations education and community development in both rural and urban centers. And beyond that, she comes from a long line of oral historians and factual storytellers.

This is a short film with a big story behind it. The heroine, Mary (Grace Dove, an indigenous actress based in Vancouver, BC and Los Angeles, CA who appeared in The Revenant) and her mother Claire (Andrea Menard) discover the skeletons of children and babies at what is claimed to be a Catholic reservation school but what may as well be a concentration camp.

Despite her mother’s warnings, now Mary must confront the past that Claire has worked so hard to escape. Can the bones being taken away from the school destroy so much pain?

I was shocked just how much story fit into only nine minutes of running time. This deserves to be a much longer — and much more widely seen — story.

You can watch this movie on YouTube.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 6: The Campaign (2012)

DAY 6. POLL PLOT: One that involves elections and/or voting.* Government not required.

While the election is something I try to avoid every single morning, I do have to say that The Election is a movie that continually makes me happy. Sure, it’s a big dumb Hollywood comedy, but it’s filled with just enough abject stupidity to make me laugh. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a five-time North Carolina Congressman, running unopposed when he leaves an explicit message for one of his supporters on her family’s answering machine, throwing his candidacy into question. Soon, he has an opponent — Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who is the tourism director for the town of Hammond. Marty isn’t really made for the political machine, but thanks to the nefarious Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) and their ruthless campaign expert Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), soon the race is on.

Cam is a mess, either drunk driving or punching babies while Marty is a hapless fool. At heart, they’re both good men who have been pulled through the political machine, forced to become things that they don’t want to be.

Jay Roach went from films like Austin Powers to this and finally Bombshell, which takes the humor of this and adds it to a true — well, mostly — story. The script, taken from a story by Adam McKay and written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, is on the right side of clever versus stupid, which is continually the finest of barriers.

A native of North Carolina, Galifianakis’ uncle Nick had been a State Representative, yet lost the 1972 Senate election to Jesse Helms. Much of this comedy comes from truth, which is always the right place.

I also find it fascinating that Dan Aykroyd’s career has taken him from playing Louis Winthorpe III to now basically being one of the Duke brothers.

Triple Fisher: The Lethal Lolitas of Long Island (2012)

Back in 1992, the news cycle was dominated by Amy Fisher, a sixteen-year-old girl who had an affair with auto mechanic Joey Buttafuoco, the auto mechanic who had continually fixed her car. As their affair reached its close, she ended up heading to his wife’s house and shot her in the head twice.

Somehow, Mary Jo Buttafuoco survived and Fisher was named as the suspect, serving seven years in prison. In the pre-Twitter era, this was all people talked about in person, in the papers and on the relatively new idea of 24/7 news.

Back then — 28 years ago feels like a lifetime — three TV movies were made telling the story. This is what happened back then — news didn’t burn out in hours and we got to watch made-for-TV versions of stories ripped from the headlines. The three films were Amy Fisher: My Story with Noelle Parker in the lead (NBC, December 28, 1992); Casualties of Love: The “Long Island Lolita” Story had Alyssa Milano as Fisher and Lawrence Tierney as Joey’s father (CBS, January 3, 1993) and The Amy Fisher Story with Drew Barrymore (airing the same night on ABC). Of the three, the Barrymore version was considered the best — all things considered — and earned the highest ratings.

Now, writer and director Dan Kapelovitz (The Three Geniuses: The Re-Death of Psychedelia, the short Amazing Angelyne and the upcoming 48 Hrs. Literally) has taken all three films and remixed them into one overlapping narrative. Much like trying to combine the story of Fisher from The National EnquirerThe ExaminerThe New York PostInside EditionHard Copy and Star Magazine and creating your own version of what really happened inside your head, the Rashomon-esque overlayering of these films.

What is the real story of Amy, Joey and Mary Jo? Is it the one that played out in the media, including brutal back and forth moments on The Howard Stern Show? Was it in the tabloids that I devoured? Or did these movies tell the right story? Is there a right story? Can multiple people play multiple roles in multiple movies and all combine to tell one story that has numerous touchpoints that are told through multiple lenses and points of view?

I don’t have the answers, I just like watching movies.

As someone who has never been a sixteen-year-old girl in love with a Zubaz wearing older man — confession time! — I can’t really understand why Amy did what she did. But I do know that love makes you do things that money, obligation and duty can never match. I’ve also never had a woman eat a pizza in a sexual way while looking at me. And I have no idea if that’s actually possible.

This movie makes me happy for repetitive drug tracks, for protagonists doing blow while cops trail them then a race through a cemetery pausing only to kneel on your mothers grave, for beepers, for fake Long Island accents, for Le Barons, for dudes swept up in killing the wives of boyfriends because they’re also having sex with the girl, for made-up movies that aren’t nearly this convoluted and for the fact that this exists at all, while hair metal ballads blaring while three different Amys shoot three different Mary Jos and three different Joeys have no idea what to do. That doorbell keeps on ringing over and over and over and as all three wives approach all three doors to confront all three mistresses, I find myself asking myself, “What is truth?”

The answer? As Joey tells Amy when she asks what their future is going to be, “It’s whatever you want it to be.”

I got to see this via AGFA and Fantastic Fest, which presented it in a limited edition stream through the Alamo Drafthouse. It was worth every minute. To learn where it may play some day again, you can learn more at the official site or read more about the film at AGFA’s site.