Lux Æterna (2015)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Perry writes for the film websites Gruesome Magazine, The Scariest Things, Horror Fuel and Diabolique Magazine; for the film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope and Drive-In Asylum; and for the pop culture websites When It Was Cool and Uphill Both Ways. He is also one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast and can occasionally be heard as a cohost on Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast.

Lux Æterna may well be director Gaspar Noé’s most accessible film so far, but it still demands much of its viewers, including — warning to those prone to seizures — a long and intense strobe light sequence, the use of split screen technique that heightens the story’s chaos, and the barrage of stress it puts on its two lead characters. The film also leads to a great deal of reflection on how women are treated in the film industry.

Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg portray fictional versions of themselves, with Dalle directing a film about witches and Gainsbourg starring in the project. These two top-notch French actors are terrific here, and their first appearance together in Lux Æterna sees the pair reflecting on past roles and experiences on film sets, including some jarring revelations. As the fictitious film’s producer becomes nervous about Dalle directing, he begins undermining her and bringing in crew members to override her, leading to her becoming increasingly agitated and unhinged. Meanwhile, no one on the set seems to care that Gainsbourg is also becoming steadily more upset after receiving some frightening news over the phone from her young daughter. This all leads to a hypnotic climax using the aforementioned strobe effects. 

Lux Æterna is part meta behind-the-scenes filmmaking peek, part horror movie, part social commentary film, part scathing indictment of the film industry, part meditation on art vs. commerce, and all Noé. It’s a discomfiting watch that is not for everyone, but it’s well worth giving a watch.  

Yellow Veil Pictures will release Gaspar Noé’s LUX ÆTERNA on digital platforms including Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and more from Friday, June 10th in North America, followed by a 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray available summer 2022. LUX ÆTERNA is currently available for digital preorder on Vimeo on Demand

You can see the trailer here.

DEATH GAME: Knock Knock (2015)

I’m really not sure how I feel about Eli Roth. I’ve never fully enjoyed a movie he’s done and that was before he basically started remaking movies or doing his own versions of them like The Green InfernoDeath Wish and this remake of Death Game that was retitled Knock Knock. And then when I hear him on a podcast or watch his doc shows, I hear that he’s an intelligent person who is pretty well-versed in horror and I want that same person to make his movies. I think the version of Roth that writes liner notes and can speak to so many great moments in film would be a great person to hang out with but like when your friend has a substandard band, you just don’t want to talk about their last show, you know?

I don’t know who Knock Knock is for, to be honest. We already have four other versions of Death Game and while this adds a social media element, there’s so much of the movie that feels like anything but a $10 million dollar film — literally the same amount of cash if you added all four of the other movie’s costs together.

The set-up is the same: Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) has the house to himself and his dog Monkey while he works over Father’s Day and his wife and kids go to the beach. All he has to do is ensure that her new sculpture gets to the gallery.

Then Genesis (Lorenza Izzo, Roth’s wife at the time) and Bel (Ana de Armas) show up in a rainstorm and basically destroy his life, slowly seducing the older man into a threesome and never seeming to leave, despite his pleas of having them never come back. They’re underage and start to torment him with threats and he’s gradually reduced to a tied-up, belittled and battered husk by the end of the film, buried up to his neck in the back garden.

The weird thing is that while the tone for this story has already been set, this take on it has no idea if it’s a comedy, a tragedy, a telenovela or just some strange take on a film that doesn’t seem to put its own stamp on the film. The one positive that I can say is that — spoiler warning — it doesn’t seek to punish Genesis and Bel for their crimes like Death Game did Donna and Agatha or Viciosas al Desnudo had happen to Hippie 1 and 2.

It’s nice to see Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp’s names in the credits as executive producers and even better to see Camp show up in a cameo. I just wish they had a better movie to put their names on — Death Game is such a striking film and yes, I realize that all remakes have to succeed on their own merits, but when the innovations are social media and profanity-laced walls, not to mention an opening that feels as poorly acted as an episode on ABC TGIF in the early 90s, well…

Maybe you’ll enjoy hearing Keanu say filthy stuff and you know, we’ve all watched movies for less.

Presagio (2015)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Perry writes for the film websites Gruesome Magazine, The Scariest Things, Horror Fuel and Diabolique Magazine; for the film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope and Drive-In Asylum; and for the pop culture websites When It Was Cool and Uphill Both Ways. He is also one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast and can occasionally be heard as a cohost on Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast.

Sometimes a two-hander works for psychological thrillers and horror films, and sometimes the approach doesn’t. Argentinian feature Presagio walks the tightrope between both sides, offering enough to keep viewers invested but delivering little in the way of anything new. 

Camilo Rensi (Javier Solis) is a writer who lost his wife and young son when they perished in a car accident. Much of Presagio finds him agonizing over his loss with his psychiatrist (Carlos Piñeiro) with flashback scenes aplenty. Camilo works on finishing an autobiographical book at his beach house, with a mysterious man holding an umbrella (Julian Lánderreche) watching from a distance.

It’s all meant to be puzzling, and writer/director Matías Salinas keeps it so as much as possible but seasoned viewers of this type of film will probably find themselves on pace with or ahead of the proceedings. There’s some hinting at diabolical forces and some eerie sequences to liven things up.  

IndiePix Films presents Presagio on DVD and digital from May 24, 2022.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 18: Fantastic Four (2015)

For all the power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no one has been able to translate the first Marvel superhero film properly to the screen.

First there was the 1994 Roger Corman-produced film, one made simply to secure a copyright and never intended to be seen. Then, there were two films made in 2005 and 2007, Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, that had some star power but ultimately didn’t do well. The creators should have taken a note from the cartoon versions, as both the 1994-96 series and the 2006-07 Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes captured much of what makes these heroes so special. Unlike the Avengers, they are two things, a family and also adventure scientists, not truly superheroes.

Despite the first two trailers building big excitement for the movie, it failed at the box office, earning only $120 million on a budget of $167.9 million. Why?

Well, first off, no one could line up on what movie they were making.

Let’s start with Josh Trank, who became the youngest director to have a number one at the box office with his first movie, the superhero found footage film Chronicle. He had a fresh new take on heroes and all seemed great.

Right?

X-Men: First Class was another well-regarded superhero movie and the writers, Zack Stentz and Ashley Edward Miller, started writing the script. Sounds awesome!

Right?

Except that their script followed Avengers as the way and had Dr. Doom as a herald of Galactus and was very comic book-oriented, which Trank did not like. So he wrote his own script.

Remember when comic book movies didn’t pay attention to the source material?

Trank left Slater out of discussions with Fox Studios and withheld certain studio notes. Slater added “I never saw 95% of those notes,” and left after six months and was replaced by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter writer Seth Grahame-Smith, with a final script written by Dark Phoenix (oh no, I have to watch that one soon, huh?) director Simon Kinberg.

And then, some stuff went really wrong.

During filming, producers Hutch Parker and Simon Kinberg rewrote Trank’s original script and gave the film a different ending. Despite this, execs demanded reshoots, saying that this movie felt more like a sequel to Chronicle than Fantastic Four.

To compound matters, Fox ordered their own changes to the film without Trank’s supervision, changing and omitting certain major plot points from his movie. Now, that’s usually where movies go wrong, but there was also reports that Trank was erratic on set. I tend not to believe these things and then he posted on Twitter days before the release.

“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”

How did a movie with a budget like this one get so far into filming that the studio was blindsided by how dark the film was? How could a movie be that close to release and not have an ending decided on or filmed? How bad was the movie before Avatar editor Stephen E. Rivkin was hired to fix it in post with Trank referring to him as the director of the new cut? Were comic book fans so angry that Johnny Storm was black that they made death threats and Trank had to sleep with a gun under his pillow?

Look, I haven’t made a big budget Hollywood movie, but I have some theories.

Indulge me.

The biggest problem is that we’ve already seen the origin of the Fantastic Four. We want to see them in action, we want to see the drama between Dr. Doom (Tony Kebbell) and Reed Richards (Miles Teller), we want to see the Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan) and the Thing (Jamie Bell) pick at each other, we want to see Sue Storm (Kate Mara) prove that she’s the real heart of the team.

The original origin of the FF doesn’t make sense today, with them needing to go into space before Russia, but that’s an easy fix. And as pushed out of the spotlight as Sue was in the 1960s comics, she’s not even on their first flight. Doom is. She gets called in at the last minute.

In fact, the movie is an hour and twenty minutes past when the conflict between Doom and the heroes kicks off. Until then, we see Reed, Doom and Johnny get drunk and petulant after learning that they won’t be the ones going into the Negative Zone — never referred to as such — so they take the trip without telling anyone and chaos (and powers) ensue.

Not really the stuff of heroes.

You know when a movie is bad? When Marvel kills off its actors — except Michael B. Jordan, who redeemed himself by playing Erik Killmonger in Black Panther — in a comic.

You can’t really blame Kate Mara. She wanted to read the comics to prepare and Trank explained to the cast that it was unnecessary as the film was an original story not based directly on the comics. Well, at least she met Jamie Bell on set and they got married. She was also allegedly bullied by the director on set, which isn’t as bad as getting into a fistfight with him, as Miles Teller discovered.

It’s sad because this movie had every chance to succeed. I still can’t fathom how a script isn’t locked down on projects with this much money and so much on the line. But hey — I just write about movies. I don’t write movies.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 18: Jupiter Ascending (2015)

When you look at a movie that bombs, you need to separate whether it’s a bad movie versus just a movie that lost money. But let’s face it, Jupiter Ascending is in no way a good movie. It kind of makes movies like Valerian look like they make sense. And after years of proof, we can just finally admit that The Wachowskis did a decent movie in Bound and ran out of ideas after Grant Morrison spoke up about how much The Matrix took from The Invisibles. Well, that’s somewhat wrong because, if anything, this movie has too many ideas and bombards them into your eyes. Maybe ran out of good ideas is the right term to use.

I love that this movie was an attempt at whole new mythology and that it has some grandiose effects. But despite my incessant love for the very worst in cinema, it didn’t even move me. And trust me, I’m never a so bad it’s good fan. I want my bad movies entertaining works of missed-the-mark secret success oddball greatness. This misses even that mark.

If you told me that Jupiter Ascending was an adaption of an existing piece of media, it’d all make more sense. But I really feel like I got Leonard Part 6-ed here, being asked to care about something that has no reason to be cared about.

Lana Wachowski’s favorite book, The Odyssey, was one inspiration, with her saying “It was making me super-emotional. The whole concept of these almost spiritual journeys and you’re changed.” She also brought up The Wizard of Oz yet misrepresented the narrative by stating “Dorothy is pretty much the same at the end as she is at the beginning. Whereas Odysseus goes through such an epic shift in his identity.” I would argue that Dorothy, although she can go home at any time, needed to find the confidence, growth and friendship she’d need in Oz to succeed back in Kansas. Also, if all of these narratives seem to suggest that Jupiter Rising will have the same normal person is the messiah in a conflict they never knew about as The Matrix, you may have seen one of the Wachowskis’ films.

One of the statements the filmmakers made was “We were, like, “Can we bring a different kind of female character like Dorothy or Alice? Characters who negotiate conflict and complex situations with intelligence and empathy?'” Yes, Dorothy has a protector, Toto, who’s always barking at everyone. And that was sort of the origin of Caine.”

The problem is, they created a female character who seemingly only allows the world to carry them through the story instead of being a dynamic and fully-agented part of it.

This time, our would-be heroine is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who is a maid so poor that to get the telescope of her dreams, she must sell her eggs. And, of course, when she sells said eggs, that’s when aliens known as Keepers realize that she’s the heriditary Queen of Earth, named for her father’s favorite planet. But he wasn’t Russian, but you probably guessed that.

Yes, Earth is really just a petri dish, a place where elite aliens can harvesting the organs they need to produce a youth serum called ReGenX-E, which sounds like a Rob Liefeld character. There’s been a death in the House of Abrasax, the most powerful of elite alien houses — think Dune — and the rich kids are battling over their inheritence. Those kids would be Balem (Eddie Redmayne), who has inherited the refineries of — irony — Jupiter and is threatened by our heroine; Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), who has more mysterious motives and Titus (Douglas Booth), who has spent his inheritance on a spaceship that is a combination of a Gothic cathedral and the Playboy mansion and you know, why isn’t this movie just about that?

As the aliens go to harvest Jupiter’s eggs, they really want to kill her before she’s saved by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a half-human, half-dog with a nose so good it can smell someone across the universe. No, really. He’s been hired by Titus to take Jupiter, who also controls the Keepers, so immediately he’s suspicious. There’s also another alien on Earth, Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), who is half-human and half-bee in case you didn’t catch on. At this point, this feels like the worst RPG I’ve ever had to play and everybody in the party would probably be rules lawyers and I’m getting bummed out. But hey — Jupiter suddenly rolls for intuiton and learns that she can control bees.

Just writing this next part makes me giggle. She’s soon captured by hunters working for Balem who have been bribed by Kalique to bring Jupiter to her palace where she explains that our heroine is Earth’s rightful owner. Then, Titus’s henchmen capture Jupiter — again — and send Caine into deep space but not before Titus becomes all Republic serial villain and revealing his plan to marry Jupiter, kill her and take Earth. Luckily, Caine cosplays Flash Gordon and saves her at the altar, but now she has to get home because Balem has taken her entire family hostage.

So anyways, everyone lives, Jupiter’s family is returned home with no memory of their disappearance — think Men In Black — and Jupiter owns the Earth. Her family then gives her a telescope and she’s like, “Oh you guys,” except you know, she literally is richer than anyone and could just go to any planet now. Such is the happy ending. Oh yeah, and she can now date the dog man, who already told her, ” I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.”

She replies, “I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs.”

This line was in the ad campaign and that’s when I realized that someday I was going to write a few thousand words about this movie.

I love that someone on Reddit, while Tatum was promoting the movie, asked what it was about. He replied, “Good question. I have the same one myself.”

This is a movie with a dog man who has a gun that barks. Where Terry Gilliam shows up in a scene straight out of Brazil that grinds the movie to a halt. Where a chase scene through Chicago demanded the moment between day and night when the sky is a certain blue, which meant that they could only shoot for six minutes a day for six months to get that scene and man, that feels like some kind of occult practice more than moviemaking and were that true I’d love this movie instead of wondering why it’s over two hours long.

Much like many of the box office bombs I’ve written about, this made a lot of money. But even $184 million worldwide isn’t much when the movie cost $210 million to make, much less even more to market.

Conspiracy theorists went nuts on this, as it raises so many Illuminati and New Age — read that as Satanic to those folks — ideas, like how Earth isn’t the center of the universe, genetic manipulation, fallen angels, the repitlian character of Greeghan being disinformation, the ideas of Madame Blavatsky being spoonfed to audiences and even a title which inverts Lucifer Rising.

It’s also a movie where the lead asks 105 questions, which is way less questions than I have about what I just watched.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 4: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (2015)

What does Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai mean?

Rain the Color of Blue with A Little Red In It.

And even though Prince asked us to “reach out for something new,” this movie — based on the life of famous musician Mdou Moctar — is also a homage to Prince’s first movie. But yet it emerges as a truly unique piece of cinema all its own.

The amazing book How the World Remade Hollywood explains how the music of Sub-Saharan Africa moved from one phone at a time via MP3 and bluetooth, including the fusion of traditional Tuareg guitar music with modern amplification. In Niger, where this movie was made, this so-called desert blues found a home.

Christopher Kirkley, who traveled this region to discover its music found parallels between Moctar and Prince. This allowed him to imagine a Purple Rain that retains the family struggles while also understanding that the audience was mostly Muslim, so Prince’s sexuality would be toned down.

Made with no trained actors, this film is truly all about the music. Moctar started playing on a guitar he built out of wood and bicycle cables. If music is truly universal — I believe that it is — the sheer fact that this film can transplant Minnesota to Agadez should make you realize that we aren’t all that different.

After all, Prince also sang:

“Make believe U’re a hero, make believe U’re a star
Make believe that U’re somebody instead of who U really are
Make believe
It’s only a movie.”

The Mildew from Planet Xondar (2015)

Ah, Necrostorm. What have you brought us this time?

Let’s go back to 1984, thanks to Hotel Inferno director Giulio De Santi and Neil Meschino (whose movie Mold! was retrofitted into this revamped gorefest). Bentan Labs has just created a mildew that can spread and consume any form of vegetation with the goal of deploying it to destroy the food sources of enemy armies. But to their surprise, they soon learn that the midew is actually a sentient alien being devoted to destroying human beings through the grossest and goopiest ways possible.

The scientists that have survived join with the mstyerious mercenary Toxic to try to escape. But trust me — it’s not going to be easy.

Less its own movie that a remix, it’s still got something for the folks who love to see bodies destroyed in geysers of gore and gristle. You know who you are, there’s no self help group for you and all you can do is just watch more of these things. So here’s one more, albeit one that is self-aware and realizes exactly what it is.

Freddy vs Dylan (2015)

So while we may have gotten Cemetery Man and Dylan Dog here in the United States, Italian horror fans like Denis Frison didn’t get enough and made their own movies like 2012’s La morte puttana and this 2015 mashup of Freddy Krueger and the Dylan Dog comics.

Dylan Dog is, after all, a “nightmare investigator.” So who better to seek out when you’re being hunted by “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs,” Freddy Krueger? But what if Freddy realizes who Dylan is and sees him as an arch enemy that needs to be destroyed so that he can keep on killing?

When you read the words “fan film,” don’t turn up your nose. This looks better than so many movies that have been sent to us as actual films for review. And the concept is absolutely perfect.

You can watch the entire movie here.

Southbound (2015)

Made by filmmakers who worked together on V/H/SSouthbound doesn’t always work, but at least its stories have a thematic tie to one another and a vision, unlike so many modern horror anthologies.

Radio Silence — Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella– who made Ready or Not, V/H/S, and Devil’s Due directed the first segment, in which two men are pursued by demons down a highway as well as the demons of their past failures. “The Way Out” starts the film on a high note.

“Siren” continues the strangeness, as the three members of The White Tights wreck their van and are accosted by both hospitality and odd behavior in the homes they find in the aftermath. This segment effectively uses comic actors like Susan Burke and Dana Gould while the direction by Roxanne Benjamin (who wrote this with Burke) keeps the story moving.

“The Accident,” directed by David Bruckner, is one dark tale, in which a man is brought to a facility where he’s instructed in how to operate on Sadie, the character from the last story, who he hits with his car. He cannot save her and their instructions lead to her death; he’s haunted by their voices on the phone. The creatures from “The Way Out” keep showing up and haunting the characters.

One of the voices on the phone is Sandy, who leads us to a bar called The Trap and the story called “Jailbreak,” which is directed by Patrick Horvath. Beyond David Yow from the band The Jesus Lizard, this one is filled with demonic violence. However, it stumbles compared to the other segments.

“The Way In” is also by Radio Silence and shows us where the two main characters came from in the first story but not in any way that you’d expect. This one flips the narrative, showing us that perhaps everyone in this story is trapped in the same purgatory and on the way to hell, as well as featuring Larry Fessenden as the DJ whose voice intones that these people might just be making the same mistakes for eternity.

It’s no accident that Carnival of Souls — well, maybe the public domain status has a little to do with it — is playing at the beginning of this movie.

I was really opposed to this movie the first time I saw it, but after a few years — and the quick erosion in quality of horror anthologies — I’ve come around to liking it a lot more than I did the first time I saw it. Perhaps I’m the one trapped on the highway to hell, watching this again and again until I absolutely adore it?

SHARK WEAK: Mega Shark Versus Kolossus (2015)

Between Mega Shark, Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, Mega Shark Versus CrocosaurusMega Shark Versus Mecha Shark and the rumored Mega Shark Versus Moby Dick, The Asylum has really gotten plenty of nautical miles out of the Mega Shark story.

Yet how can we explain the fact that Illeana Douglas appears in this movie as Dr. Alison Gray? I mean, Douglas is an incredible actress, but I guess everyone needs work. And yet she brings such gravitas to her role that you wonder, does she realize that she’s in a movie where an unearthed Cold War Russian giant robot battles a monstrous shark?

This was directed by Christopher Ray, who is also Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray, who is Fred’s son and now it all makes so much more sense. Hey — I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I wish there were more movies where soldiers fought to free mechanical monsters who can pick up a megalodon and throw it at a satellite that’s shooting a laser.

If you like your jetfighters as stock footage, your monsters rubbery yet made in CGI and great posters, well, this movie is for you. Actually, it’s for me, because this is exactly the kind of movie I revel in. If only we couldn’t find a secret Italian lab that has the robotic form of Bruno Mattei hidden away so that he could make so many more of these shark movies. Let’s Go Fund that!

You can watch this on Tubi.