Thursday, February 15, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD, Special "OK, Seriously, Enough Already" Edition: HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT (2018) and DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE (2018)

(US - 2018)

Seven years ago, Dimension Films was planning a remake of HELLRAISER that was stalled in development for so long that they realized they were dangerously close to the deadline where they'd lose the rights to the entire franchise if they didn't get something released quickly. The result was the unwatchable sequel HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS, a legal obligation disguised as a movie, and produced under such cynical circumstances (less than two weeks to shoot with a budget of $300,000 on a set that looked like a crew member's barely-redressed garage) that franchise fixture Doug Bradley refused to reprise his iconic role as Pinhead. It's unanimously regarded as the worst film in the series, so bad that even the most forgiving, "Everything is awesome!" horror fanboys have yet to convince themselves that it's an unsung classic that just needs to be appreciated on its own terms. Well, it's 2018, the remake still hasn't happened, and the clock must've been ticking once again for Dimension to release something, because now we've got HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT, the tenth film in the series going back to Clive Barker's original trailblazer from 1987. Other than cashing a check and reportedly contributing to the story development of 2002's HELLRAISER: HELLSEEKER (the sixth entry), Barker hasn't taken an active involvement in these since 1992's HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH. The franchise now seems to be in the hands of Gary J. Tunnicliffe, a veteran special effects guy who's been part of the series since HELLRAISER III and also worked on CANDYMAN and the Barker-directed LORD OF ILLUSIONS. He wrote the script for REVELATIONS and is now the writer and director of JUDGMENT, the promotion to shot-caller apparently his reward for publicly admitting his involvement in REVELATIONS.

Dimension kept the HELLRAISER franchise going in the '00s by essentially taking existing scripts and shoehorning Pinhead into them. With the Oklahoma-shot JUDGMENT, Tunnicliffe is basically going for a do-over, pretending REVELATIONS didn't happen and almost rebooting the series to a degree. That said, it feels just like every other straight-to-video HELLRAISER sequel where Pinhead seems like a post-production addition. After an introduction where Pinhead (now played by Paul T. Taylor, who's no Doug Bradley but he's a definite improvement over REVELATIONS' hapless Stephan Smith Collins) declares "Obsolete...irrelevant!" over the Cenobites' dwindling necessity in an increasingly perverse world but could just as easily be commenting on the current state of the HELLRAISER franchise, the story shifts to two detective brothers after a serial killer known as "The Preceptor." The killer is patterning his murders on the Ten Commandments and has killed 14 people so far, apparently unaware of both the meaning of "Thou shalt not kill," and how to count to ten. There's also a dilapidated house on Ludovico St, a sort-of inter-dimensional, Kafka-meets-William S. Burroughs halfway house where a demonic emissary known as The Auditor (played by Tunnicliffe, who must think he's M. Night Shyamalan) works as a go-between with Pinhead, luring the worst of society to the house to see if they're deserving of Cenobite judgment. But Pinhead is sidelined for most of the movie, with the focus on the boring procedural, with set design and murders straight out of SE7EN (one victim has her live dog--named "Baby"--sewn into her belly) and death traps on loan from SAW. The whole movie plays like a drab homage to '90s horror, starting with the SE7EN ripoff opening credits, somehow still being copied 23 years later. There's also pandering to the fanboys with cameos by FEAST director John Gulager and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET's Heather Langenkamp as a grouchy landlady (what, were Larry Fessenden and Maria Olson unavailable?). HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT pulls numerous dei ex machina out of its ass, like introducing a sultry, echoing angel near the end just so Pinhead can ignore her orders and have The Auditor declare "Did you forget? She's the angel who banished them from the Garden of Eden!" Yeah? And? And why is Pinhead suddenly in a position where he's answering to other figures? Tunnicliffe delivers the gore and the grim atmosphere, but in his quest to create an all-new mythos around the HELLRAISER concept and the figure of Pinhead, he just overwhelms himself and completely loses the plot. On one hand, with its bizarre, surrealistic imagery in the Ludovico house, JUDGMENT deserves a little credit for trying since that's more than REVELATIONS ever did, but you don't get a pass when that ingenuity is quickly jettisoned and the end result is a derivative, convoluted mess that plays like HELLRAISER fan fiction. Maybe Dimension should just let this franchise go, since they clearly have no idea what to do with it. (Unrated, 81 mins)

(US - 2018)

How long do Robert and James Dudelson plan on dining out on the legacy of George A. Romero? The heads of Taurus Entertainment secured the rights to a couple of Romero films via the company's formation in the late '80s, which resulted from a merger that involved what was left of United Film Distribution, the company that produced Romero's films CREEPSHOW (1982) and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Taurus hasn't done much in the last couple of decades other than shamelessly exploit their extremely tenuous connection to Romero's work with all the scrupulous pride of copper wire thieves: 2007's CREEPSHOW 3 was bad enough, but they've gone back for DAY OF THE DEAD scraps three times now, first with a crummy 2005 "sequel" DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM, then a DAY OF THE DEAD remake in 2008, and now another remake titled DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE, which plays like a bad episode of THE WALKING DEAD. They co-produced both DAY remakes with Avi Lerner's Cannon cover band Millennium and managed to secure a few recognizable names for the 2008 travesty (a slumming Steve Miner directed, and the cast was headlined by Mena Suvari, Ving Rhames, and, for some reason, Nick Cannon). All DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE has in the way of star power is Johnathon Scheach in the "Bub" role. This time he goes by Max, and in a prologue, he's a creep with a rare abundance of antibodies in his blood, which is being regularly tested and studied by med school research team. Max is fixated on one student, Zoe (Sophie Skelton), and he's even carved her name into his right arm. He attempts to rape her after a blood draw but he's cock-blocked by a re-animated corpse, which kicks off cinema's umpteenth zombie apocalypse, this time on the unconvincing "normal American city" streets of the Nu Boyana backlot in Bulgaria.

Five years later, Zoe is a doctor at High Rock, a military installation and refugee camp where survivors live under the rule of commander Miguel (Jeff Gum, which may be a secret code word for "Almost Joe Pilato") while the zombie horde--aka "Rotters"--are kept outside behind a massive fence. When a young girl comes down with a new strain of bacterial pneumonia that threatens to infect the entire facility, Zoe and some of Miguel's soldiers--including his younger brother and her boyfriend Baca (Marcus Vanco)--take some Humvees to the abandoned med school for some vaccines and antiobiotics. Why they wouldn't have attempted this five years earlier remains a mystery, but a zombified Max is still at the hospital, and secretly hitches a ride under one of the Humvees. This allows him to easily infiltrate High Rock undetected, hiding in the vent shafts and plotting his pursuit of Zoe. That's right--he's a zombie, but he's still obsessed with Zoe. Once he's discovered, she recalls his rare blood condition and believes he could be useful in developing a Rotter vaccine. Max, meanwhile, just wants Zoe. With the exception of Schaech and Gum, the entire cast sounds dubbed, but aside from that, DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE is plenty gory and, from a tech standpoint, it's professionally put together by Spanish director Hector Hernandez Vicens, whose THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ generated some festival buzz a few years ago. It would just be another dumb and forgettable zombie movie if was simply called BLOODLINE, but the invoking of Romero is cheap and lazy. And if that wasn't offensive enough, the original tag line for this was a LOVE STORY-inspired "Love means never having to say you're zombie," which is pretty tone-deaf considering the rapey nature of Max's obsession. He was a rapist before turning, and in the #MeToo and Time's Up era, maybe now's not the best time for zombies to be committing sexual assault. Of course, we lost George A. Romero in the period between this being shot in 2016 and its release in 2018, and yeah, Romero was more than willing to throw his name on dubious projects during his lifetime for quick and easy cash, as anyone who's seen the two GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS DEADTIME STORIES horror anthologies can attest. That said, maybe now that Romero is gone, it should also be Time's Up for the Dudelsons and their cynical cash-ins on his name and his legend. Considering the Bulgarian locations and crew, Lerner's Millennium gang was probably more involved in the day-to-day operation of this shoot, but the Dudelsons are still getting paid. They own the remake rights. And if that wasn't bad enough, do you really want to know how little these guys care? The fucking name of their company is misspelled "Tauras" in the credits. No one involved in this movie gives a shit. Neither should you. (R, 91 mins)

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