Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: TEXAS CHAINSAW (2013); TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE (2013); and HELLGATE (2012)

(US - 2013)

The latest TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE reboot pretends none of the original's three sequels or the mid-2000s Michael Bay-produced remake and prequel happened, and opens as a direct sequel to the 1974 film, picking up right where it left off for a ten-minute prologue.  In it, the deranged, cannibalistic Sawyer clan are all killed in a fire started by a vigilante mob.  A childless couple among the vigilantes takes a Sawyer infant to raise as their own.  Then it jumps to the present day, with 20-ish Heather (Alexandra Daddario), that grown child, getting news that her biological grandmother has left her a mansion in Texas.  Off she goes with her friends, who are eventually killed one by one by the black sheep still locked in the basement:  Leatherface (Dan Yaeger), who it turns out is Heather's cousin.  TEXAS CHAINSAW gets off to a surprisingly OK start before constructive sloppiness by director John Luessenhop and the screenwriters (JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY director Adam Marcus among them) starts becoming too much of a distraction.  These college-age kids should be in their late 30s at least, as the film takes place 39 years after the 1973-set events of the first film and this film's own prologue.  Yet, Heather and her friends look to be in their early 20s...but the film can't be taking place in the mid-1990s because people are using smartphones.  Maybe that's being nitpicky, but there's other issues, like stacking the deck with a cartoonishly evil Texas he-man mayor (Paul Rae) who's such an asshole that it's easy for the filmmakers to make Leatherface the hero.  And they can't even keep track of their own characters, as a sheriff's deputy played by Scott Eastwood (Clint's lookalike son), a fairly important element of the story, completely vanishes during the climax.  This TEXAS CHAINSAW (even the shorthand title comes across as half-assed), produced by Cannon cover band Millennium/NuImage, is stupid but it isn't completely terrible--it's almost good compared to the Bay productions--but it exerts the bare minimum to get by and does nothing to justify its existence.  Just stick with the first two films that Tobe Hooper directed.  The rest are irrelevant, as are the cred-begging cameos by past CHAINSAW vets Gunnar Hansen, Bill Moseley, John Dugan, and Marilyn Burns.  (R, 92 mins)

(US - 2013)

Is a movie doomed the moment Stephen Dorff is cast in the lead?  That's not to say that Dorff is a bad actor, because he's not, and his bad movies are rarely if ever his fault.  He gave the performance of his career in Sofia Coppola's SOMEWHERE (2010), but that's just it: nobody saw it, and the film wasn't as good as he was in it.  Dorff puts forth effort in serious indies that play to crickets and tumbleweed, but then gets a reputation as a washout hack when he does a random DTV thriller or pitches e-cigs to pay the bills.  The guy had some momentum going in the '90s, but hasn't been able to catch a break since Leonardo DiCaprio started getting all of his roles.  He's turned in some good performances and maybe some day, luck will finally be on his side but, unfortunately for Dorff and the viewer, TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE is not that day.  It's hard to say where the Cleveland-shot TOMORROW went wrong, but it's never a good sign when a film is held in limbo for a couple of years because the filmmakers are filing lawsuits.  Matthew F. Jones adapted his novel Boot Straps, but was so appalled at the end result that he sued the producers and director David Jacobson (2006's DOWN IN THE VALLEY) and tried to prevent it from being released.  It eventually got a token limited release in April 2013 before being dumped on DVD and Blu-ray six weeks later, with no extras whatsoever, unless you count "Scene Selection."  It seems everyone associated with TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE has actively distanced themselves from it.

I haven't read Jones' novel, so I can't compare the book and the film, but Jacobson seems to be going for some blatant David Lynch worship here--I should clarify "Lynch when his films were still coherent"--specifically WILD AT HEART and some of the more grounded-in-reality portions of LOST HIGHWAY.  Dorff is ex-con Charlie, assigned by crime boss The Buddha (Willem Dafoe, who was in WILD AT HEART) to whack someone.  Charlie kills the guy but botches the job by leaving a witness, and then hits the road with bewitching part-time porn actress Florence Jane (Michelle Monaghan--why isn't she getting better roles?) and then...well, not much else. There's a lot of mumbling about trying to find and kill the Buddha.  For a while, Jacobson flirts with the idea that Florence Jane is a figment of Charlie's imagination, and she wears a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig at one point for no apparent reason.  After a potentially intriguing, modern noir set-up (with opening credits accompanied by Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Hear Voices"), Jacobson plants his mouth firmly on Lynch's nutbag and acts like his work is done, stumbling into coast-mode and stranding the audience with two uninteresting characters, lots of open road, and no shortage of Angelo Badalamenti/TWIN PEAKS-styled vibrato in Peter Salett's highly derivative score.  With the game Monaghan providing its only spark, TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE isn't the worst film of 2013 (though it tries to be), but it may very well be the dullest. (Unrated, 92 mins)

(US/Thailand - 2012)

This tired snoozer of a horror movie has some nice location shooting in Thailand but not much else to recommend.  After barely surviving a Bangkok car crash that kills his wife and son, Cary Elwes starts having visions of the usual quick-cut, herky-jerky ghosts and demons.  His nurse (Ploy Jindachot) conveniently has an aunt who knows all there is to know about the Thai spirit world, and she directs him to aging American surfer dude/ghostbuster William Hurt.  Hurt, of course speaking from experience, tells Elwes that the souls of his wife and son are not at rest (Elwes was in a coma for five weeks after the accident and was unable to say goodbye to them) and it's that vulnerability that makes him a magnet for other malevolent spirits that Elwes now has the power to see.  Naturally, Elwes must go on a journey deep into the haunted jungles of Thailand to give these souls closure.  Predictable and ploddingly-paced, with J-horror cliches and embarrassing CGI, HELLGATE squanders a potentially interesting setting with the most rote, cliched story imaginable.  The bland Elwes has demonstrated comic chops in the past, but he's really never been an interesting dramatic actor and that doesn't change here, while Oscar-winner and four-time nominee Hurt is obviously just onboard for the free Thailand vacation.  In a more inspired fright flick, Hurt's character could've been a real hammy crowd-pleaser (the bit where he's just suddenly standing there with a surfboard is amusing and feels like it was improvised by the actor), but everyone from the actors to writer-director John Penney just seem to be taking this far too seriously, as if it's the first horror film to ever deal with the subject of tortured spirits in some purgatorial limbo.  Penney, whose infamous ZYZZYX ROAD made headlines for its $30 box office gross back in 2006, has been involved in enjoyable horror films in the past--he co-wrote the cult favorite THE KINDRED (1987) and scripted RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (1994) and worked with Hurt before, scripting the underrated B-movie CONTAMINATED MAN (2000), which is still in regular night-owl rotation on cable--but HELLGATE, originally titled SHADOWS when it was shot in 2010, is just dead on arrival.  (Unrated, 93 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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