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The Bib-iest of Nickels

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I canít say I had high expectations for Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Iíd call myself a fan of both, but itís very rare when crossovers succeed beyond achieving a mild level of enjoyment. DC Animated fare is often hit and miss, as well, with every Batman: Under the Red Hood followed by a Son of Batman or The Killing Joke. I was curious about how Nickelodeonís involvement would change things, and whether itís because of them or not, I can say the film has a higher production-value and attention to detail than the average DC fare, which is usually aesthetically appealing but has limitations with certain aspects like character movement and often has trouble with how stilted or stiff characters come off. That, and the warm critical reception from critics and audiences alike helped my enthusiasm. I always intended to watch it, but I soon let myself actively become interested. Does Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles provide the cross-over fans deserve, or is it a cash-in with little to say for itself? Here are my thoughts Ö

As I think everyone would anticipate, the animated film has a simple, straightforward narrative that mixes up characters from Batman and the Turtlesí rogues-gallery. Shredder and the Foot Clan align with Raís Al Ghul and the League of Assassins to bringdown Gotham City, other notable villains who appear include Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, Mr. Freeze and The Joker. In other words, they donít shy away from stuffing the film with as many baddies as they can. The Turtles arrive in Gotham City and shortly find themselves thrown into the mix. Likewise, the film sees a lot of heroes brought in for the occasion, including Damien Wayneís Robin, Barbara Gordonís Batgirl, and, of course, our caped crusader. Troy Baker has become a mainstay for the Batman series, in Arkham City, he voiced Two-Face, in Arkham Origins, he voiced The Joker, then, in Batman: The Telltale Series, he took up the voice-role of Batman, in this film, Troy Baker does his best impression of Kevin Conroyís Batman and Mark Hamillís The Joker, and, although it might feel like an insult to call it an impression, he does both of them very well; itís uncanny, really. Other familiar voice-actors include John DiMaggio (Gears of War, Bender from Futurama), Tom Kenny (SpongeBob), and Tara Strong (everything), and together, all of them deliver admirable contributions.

Something I hadnít expected early-on is how many times I smiled or even laughed while I watched. I mean, if I had to absolutely be a stickler, Iíd say Michelangelo jumps-the-shark once or twice, but, for the most part, I enjoyed the zaniness and how humorous he was. I donít think I can think of any other film in DCís animated catalogue Iíd describe as a ďsuccessful comedy,Ē instead, I usually find enjoyment through the animation and narrative depth. This film, however, blends it well throughout.

The fight-scenes are enjoyable as well. I think the film feels consistent to its own world, which has been a difficult task for a lot of films when they try to blend comedy and any level of dramatic depth. One scene involving Scarecrow and one of the Turtles in-particular stuck out as having a certain depth I hadnít anticipated. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might have involvement from Nickelodeon, but it isnít the type of film youíd ever see shown on their channel. If youíve watched DCís later movies like Batman: The Killing Joke or Batman: Assault on Arkham, youíve seen how theyíve begun allowing darker, more mature themes to bleed into their animated features (often, literally). This film sees a certain uptick in violence and word-choice, but it isnít as gratuitous as what weíve seen. I donít have an issue with either violence or profanity, but I find that it can often be used as a crutch or the fact the movie-company is trying to be ďhip, cool, and edgy,Ē becomes transparent. This film, it feels more natural than that, and, like I said, feels consistent with what the film is.

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isnít a high-brow film by anyoneís imagination, nor does it reinvent the wheel. Instead, itís exactly what you (or, ďI,Ē at least) would want from a film seeing the Turtles and Batman cross-over. Itís a film that doesnít attempt grandiose, epic-scale depth, but also doesnít coast off fan-service and its own novelty, willing to deliver a film thatís fun and adventurous for its own sake. Itís one of my favorite DC animated features, and Iíd recommend it.





House of 1,000 Corpses
Review originally written in 2019

I haven't seen this since about 2006/2007, I think that it was in my DVD collection, can't be sure. Pretty good horror, I also recommend The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, equally as good. Back then the "captain spauldings death ride" was the baddest trip ever.

I'd have rated it higher than you but I guess maybe I should re-watch it sometime.



When I was a kid this movie marked that big turning point in popculture and the transition from 80s/90s. It was the Crow, The X-Files, Alien Autopsy, goth culture, Mallrats. This weird post grunge goth stuff and in the beginning there this movie was sort of the unspoken center of it and with the death of Brandon Lee that sort added to the legend. Personally, I didnt really get it. I saw it in theaters and then many times on video. There was a dark mysteriousness about it but at the time I would much rather watch a comedy or action film. And truthfully, the soundtrack became more popular than the movie in the following years. It was like everyone had the soundtrack in their collection but nobody had the movie.




The Last House on the Left
A friend of mine mentioned this movie numerous times when we discussed horror and then one day it happened to be on TV at his house, so we watched it, but I wasn't that impressed and thought meh another gratuitous sex/violence thrillscare and it seemed to be more about shock value and pushing boundaries.



The Bib-iest of Nickels
I haven't seen this since about 2006/2007, I think that it was in my DVD collection, can't be sure. Pretty good horror, I also recommend The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, equally as good. Back then the "captain spauldings death ride" was the baddest trip ever.

I'd have rated it higher than you but I guess maybe I should re-watch it sometime.
I prefer The Devil's Rejects over it, personally.



The Bib-iest of Nickels
When I was a kid this movie marked that big turning point in popculture and the transition from 80s/90s. It was the Crow, The X-Files, Alien Autopsy, goth culture, Mallrats. This weird post grunge goth stuff and in the beginning there this movie was sort of the unspoken center of it and with the death of Brandon Lee that sort added to the legend. Personally, I didnt really get it. I saw it in theaters and then many times on video. There was a dark mysteriousness about it but at the time I would much rather watch a comedy or action film. And truthfully, the soundtrack became more popular than the movie in the following years. It was like everyone had the soundtrack in their collection but nobody had the movie.
Don't feel that way at all. I know a lot of guys who love The Crow, don't hear a lot about the soundtrack. But, to each their own. I'm also a wrestling fan, which meant The Crow (via Sting) was always a prevalent part of my social circle.



The Bib-iest of Nickels
A friend of mine mentioned this movie numerous times when we discussed horror and then one day it happened to be on TV at his house, so we watched it, but I wasn't that impressed and thought meh another gratuitous sex/violence thrillscare and it seemed to be more about shock value and pushing boundaries.
It isn't without its faults (I hardly gave it a glowing review), but I liked it more than his follow-up film The Hills Have Eyes and I admired what I thought was a unique approach.



Don't feel that way at all. I know a lot of guys who love The Crow, don't hear a lot about the soundtrack. But, to each their own. I'm also a wrestling fan, which meant The Crow (via Sting) was always a prevalent part of my social circle.
I found this fun fact on Google search.



The Bib-iest of Nickels

Influencer

On the outside looking in, I felt confident that I knew what to expect from Influencer. Directed by the capable hands of Kurtis David Harder, with a script he co-wrote alongside Tesh Guttikonda, Influencer struck me as another of the Shudder streaming servicesí more modest, but solid horror offerings.

That isnít meant as a knock, but, rather, how I adjusted my expectations and prepared myself for what I was signing up for. For the most part, I really like Shudder and I consider myself mostly satisfied with the context they put out. The strongest works I can think of, off the top of my head, being Unlucky, The Boy Behind the Door, and Spiral, respectively. As fate would have it, the director of this film also just so happened to have directed Spiral, hence why I said this film was made by his Ďcapableí hands.

The most significant comparison I made to this film, and the one I think holds the strongest, is Shudderís film Shook. Both filmís content and subject matter parallel in numerous ways, offering a twisty, fun handling of social media influencers and the culture it evokes (compared to a film like Spree, which was a found-footage horror with a more harsh, almost American Psycho-esque approach).

Influencer follows a social influencer named Madison who has been staying at a luxury hotel in Thailand. Her life seems perfect for all intents and purposes, but when the camera is off, we are let in on the deeper emptiness she feels, brought on largely by her boyfriend not accompanying her to the resort. She befriends a young woman named CW and, from there, the horrors of our story truly start to unfold. The description for Shudder reads that ďCWís interest in Madison takes a darker turn.Ē, thus, I wouldnít consider it a spoiler to say she is largely the main-antagonist of the film.

Although, by closing, I wasnít left with a whole lot to say about Influencer overall, it is an enjoyable, and, even, solid film. That is my closing summation I have for it. The story itself doesnít have anything particularly profound or original to say about social media or the influencers who bank off of it, other than reasserting the phoniness of it all, which is more fitting as the foundation of any real commentary than it is the single thought.

The film is nicely shot and aesthetical appeasing, carrying an efficient production-value that may or may not seem a little rudimentary to single out, but whose absence would be sorely missed were the film to be without it.

The acting is decent throughout, with Cassandra Naud receiving the most screen time and doing what she can with it. None of the characters have a whole lot of depth or substance to work with, and so it really comes down to the basics of memorizing your lines and making it seem like youíre not reciting them from memory. Everyone pretty much does. The characters are decent as well, with the biggest ailment being that none of them are propped up or developed enough to be invested into them.

The film feels a little like a busybody in how it is conducted. Although it is contained in a brisk, concise 92 minutes, I canít help but feel like it had one too many subplots packed snugly inside itself. I believe this could have been a film solely about the relationship between Madison and CW, with little else in-between, and yet, that isnít even the main course of the film.

The filmís main course is, effectively, CW and everybody else, and, while fine, means you find yourself a main conflict without a strong combatant.

Likewise, too, they make the boyfriend seem unlikable, yet try to elevate his role to someplace where heíd be expected to be likable, and he isnít.

It is neither a scary film nor a gory film, nor is it a lot of other things, rather it is a more-mechanized, old-school helping of terror. It isnít a whodunnit, but it stills right at home with something you would dust off from the bookshelf and read. It calls for you to enjoy the ride, and I think it does appropriately well at that.

Influencer is a film I would recommend, but I would keep expectations reasonably in-check. It has some neat ideas, but it doesnít explore them beyond a surface-level. I would have been on-board with certain threads being strung along further, as I was genuinely curious where they could lead, but the film simply had different aspirations. Taken for what it is, itís a decent film and I donít walk away with a whole lot of criticisms, only what-ifís and wish-itís.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Phantasm

Phantasm is a film I felt like I would never watch. For all intents and purposes, it lands exactly in my ballpark. I love goofy, absurd horror films (they are a majority of what I review on Nickelbib.com, after all). I am even more interested when I know the film is a part of a franchise, which Phantasm just so happens to be (for better or for worse, the jury is still out). And yet, in spite of having known about the series for as long as I can remember, it has always precluded the archives of the ĎBib. Well, no more!

Directed, written, photographed, and edited by Don Coscarelli, Phantasm is a 1979 science fantasy horror film. The film stars the late-Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, a supernatural and malevolent undertaker who gathers up the deceased from Earth to be turned into dwarf zombies meant to be used as slaves on his home-planet. If youíre like me, that description was enough to make me do a Michael Myers head tilt.

I was aware of Phantasm, but I didnít actually know much about it heading in. All I knew was to keep my expectations in check (as I always try to do for some of the lesser known cult horror), and prepare for an unorthodox, peculiar film.

Attempting to thwart the Tall Man, we have a young boy named Mike, played by Michael Baldwin, who attempts to convince everyone that the threat is real.

Straightaway, I am taken in by how aesthetically pleasing Phantasm is to look at. This is because I am watching Phantasm: Remastered, a neat-and-tidy restoration of the film done by Bad Robot, J.J. Abramsí production company. Good on them for bringing the film up to code as it were.

Something else I am relieved to see is how narratively coherent the film actually is. I will be honest, although I always knew I needed to watch the Phantasm series as a horror fan, a lot of what made me apprehensive was how fearful I was of its quality. Frankly, when a film has so much riding on one man (the director, writer, photographer, and editor), I usually expect a surrealist, experimental, and perhaps, incohesive final product.

Although Phantasm is certainly surreal and weird, it is also conventional and easy to follow along with. A young boy sees something weird, he goes looking for answers about that something weird, and weirdly enough, he finds them. It is a classic story formula and I was happy to see that. This isnít to say the film wonít leave you scratching your head in its closing minutes, however, because it absolutely will.

The acting admittedly leaves a little to be desired. It isnít putrid or godawful, but it is clear we are dealing with a cast still honing their craft. I would call it par for the course. The actors range from over-acting to a more stilted, underplayed approach, creating a certain thematic dissonance. Both approaches can be a little off-putting throughout the film, but neither ultimately damages the film beyond repair. Our lead protagonist is satiable, especially for a young-actor, and while the Tall Man is over-the-top and cartoony, I believe it is suitably so.

The violence is mostly scarce, and when it does happen, itís bloody and absurd. The film didnít strike me as so much scary as it was shrouded in mystique (although I am desensitized enough I havenít the faintest idea what affects the average person these days).

The antagonist and the filmís conflict are unique and a welcome change of pace from a lot of the horror we often get. I equate it as similar to Hellraiser, where we donít have a slasher villain, but a character close enough to a slasher villain that it scratches a similar itch.

I wasnít sold on the end of the film. I can see what it means to say on grief and mourning, and I am all for a film that is up for interpretation, but the end opens up a whole can of worms for a payoff that is a little more nonsensical than it is profound. There are too many cogs in motion for the payoff to land, and I believe the film wouldíve ultimately benefited from a conventional, normal end, Iíd say.

The film has a ďdream-likeĒ quality to it, and it was something I appreciated more in-retrospect than I did as I watched the film. It has a bit of a Ďfractured dream logicí throughout, with characters drawing conclusions and making sense out of things they shouldnít. According to my research, this was halfway intentional and halfway an outcome of a lot of post-production decisions and backstory ending up on the cutting room floor.

My favorite aspect of this film is, ironically, one of the only aspects the director didnít create himself. The score is mesmeric and was a real highlight for me. It has a familiar, classical late-seventies / early-eighties horror vibe to it, akin to a lot of what was released in the time-period. It has a fairly thematic and distinct core sound, but, pleasantly, they modify it and diversify it throughout, adding new instruments and tone, rather than pasting the same loop over each scene ad nauseum.*

In summation, I liked Phantasm a lot more than I thought I would. It isnít without its warts, mind you. The acting is a mixed-bag and I really could have done without its ending (of which, the film had multiple made), but I loved the score and I enjoyed the oddball premise, which I think was executed well. Considering its limited resources, itís a real feather in the cap of everyone involved, especially Coscarelli. Itís an old-school horror gem and I recommend it to anybody who hasnít seen it - donít wait as long as I did!




The Bib-iest of Nickels
It is appropriate I am writing my review of Last Night in Soho immediately after writing my review of The Menu, not only because I watched them back-to-back, and not only because they both feature Anya Taylor-Klaus, but because I had a similar attitude about both of them prior to.

Despite the names and talent attached to Last Night in Soho, which includes the talented Thomasin McKenzie (who I last saw in the very good film Jojo Rabbit) and director Edgar Wright (who directed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a film I positively reviewed, amongst other well-received features) at the helm, I have spent the better part of two years actively ignoring this film like the plague.

This film received a positive reception from audiences, but failed to light up the box office the way I am certain Universal Studios would have hoped, with Edgar hot off the success of his film Baby Driver.

Last Night in Soho is a peculiar film, which is something I am always enthusiastic about. Anytime a filmmaker tries to do something different than what is expected, especially a made-man like Edgar Wright, it is something I fully commend.

The film follows an aspiring fashion designer named Eloise as she moves to London to begin her pursuit at a fashion career. The film portrays the character as having a romanticized perception of what it was like in 1960s London, visualizing it with a glitz and glammed tinted lens, glamorizing what the film reveals wasnít actually a great time for everyone involved. This bodes true particularly for a dazzling singer named Sandie, and the many hardships she faces in pursuit of fame and notoriety. As Eloise discovers herself able to mysteriously enter the 1960s, or, at least, immerse herself into Sandieís perspective, she discovers the dark underbelly lying beneath.

I went into this film mildly intrigued and walked away from it very impressed. If nothing beyond what I am about to go in depth on, it is very unique from what is usually released, especially at a mainstream level.

Last Night in Soho plays out as an old-fashioned, twisty-turvy ghost story. If stripped to the bare essentials, I could almost imagine this type of film marketed toward a younger crowd. It feels sweet and sentimental, and yet vicious and mean-spirited. As a film, it has a sort of tonal mishmash that feels like it shouldnít work and yet, it does. Thomasin McKenzieís portrayal of Eloise has a child-like naivety to it that feels like it radiates through the entire film, a hopeful radiance that always feels present in the darkest of times. Even when the film goes off its rocker and starts to deal with much darker subject matter, like rape and murder, or features drug use and profanity, it never fully shakes off that radiance. I believe a lot of credit goes to McKenzie for helping instill that feeling of enchantment.


It captures a nostalgic depiction of the 60s nightlife district, that sours into ugly hard truths, making for a spellbinding, unique blend of elements. The cinematography in this film is fantastic, and enough credit can not be afforded to Edgar Write and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung for the sheer about of flash and style the film carries from start to finish. There is an argument to be able made style and substance in this film, whether it tries to do Ďtooí much in a Ďman of all trades, master of noneí type way, but I would commend it as managing to knock many of what it does out of the park. The film is a highlight reel of genuinely neat visuals and creative camerawork.

On the subject of substance, neither Eloise nor Sandie has a whole lot of depth. Whether it be the relationships they cultivate, their pasts (Eloise has a deceased mother that is vaguely touched on, but never really developed beyond the initial fact Ė there is also a history of mental illness that could likely have been expanded on), or some of the other character smaller characters that are established but donít ultimately play as big a part as one might expected. This is a film where the style is heavy and the emotion is there, but the smarts and heavy-lifting to earn that emotion isnít always apparent. The storyline is simple, in retrospect, but can feel a little unnecessarily convoluted and messy in its execution, verging a little on absurdity.

I believe all of what I said is a fair and reasonable criticism to levy against the film. Regardless, I will say I found myself enthralled with the film from start to finish. McKenzie dazzles as the ďnew in townĒ, doughy-eyed girl whose hopes and dreams are brutally stomped out, whereas Anya Taylor-Klaus delivers a strong performance as the starlet met by misogyny and hatefulness, feeling both effectively glamorous and larger than life and sympathetic when bad people make her feel small. They arenít necessarily fleshed out characters, but they are both characters that Klaus and McKenzie are natural fits for.

Last Night in Soho is an absolute feast, bolstered by strong actors and a thematically powerful narrative. Even when it may not be Ďearnedí, per se, itís so damn-good it is hard to tell the difference. It is so refreshing to see a film with so much vision behind it, and I think in this instance, that was enough to carry the film. If you step back and look at it, a lot of it may start to feel disproportionate or uneven narratively, but I found the film so fun and watchable that I never felt compelled to do that.




The Bib-iest of Nickels
The Menu is a film I had heard a lot about, but couldnít say I was particularly interested in. I knew the reviews were positive, and I recognized the pedigree of those involved, the largest standout amongst them being Anya Taylor-Joy, whose resume includes notable horror fare like The Witch (which I saw in theaters and enjoyed, although unfortunately not nearly as much of some of you may have), Split (which I enjoyed a fair amount), and superhero horror film The New Mutants (which I didnít particularly enjoy). Yes, every time my wife and I browsed the Max streaming service, we would briefly consider the film, and then, subsequently decide on a different film, leaving The Menu forever in the dreaded queue.

If I am honest with myself, I believe the reason I kept second-guessing myself about the film was to do with its trailer Ė a lot of artsy-fartsy food aficionados preparing themselves for an exquisitely prepared feast. How, oh how, would this become a horror film? In retrospect, I believe the trailer may, in fact, be intentionally deceptive about the filmís actual story, meant to surprise the viewer when it doesnít head in the obvious direction. What I expected from the film Ė that it would be an artsy-fartsy film that eventually ends up with them all partaking in cannibalism, isnít actually what the film is about.

Instead, the film heads in a different, fairly unique direction, and I believe it is best I leave it at that. I could try to unravel its tangled web for you and offer you a proper summary of what it is actually about, but I believe The Menuís mystery meat is best enjoyed as such.

Directed by Mark Mylod (a director whose prior credentials might surprise you Ė a lot of goofy, light-heart comedies that didnít do very well critically) and written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, The Menu doesnít reinvent the wheel, per se. Although it doesnít ultimately become what my preconceived notions envisioned, it does work with a lot of the same ingredients (aha, see what I did there? Ingredients? ĎCause itís about food! Haha, professional film critic.) that I originally expected. A lot of the film is, in fact, spent with pretentious people gawking over fancy food, either worshipping the head chef as a God or trying to find ways to criticize every dish. This means that a large part of the film is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak Ė waiting for the horror component of it all to factor in.

Thankfully, this isnít as dull as it could have been, benefited by a largely entertaining performance by Nicholas Hoult, whose character plays the snooty food smarty-pants to sometimes hilarious effect (in which case, maybe it does make sense that the directorís previous efforts were in comedy). This leaves Anya Taylor-Klaus to play an everyman type, reacting to the absurdity of everyone around her.


The cinematography is stylish, benefited by its luscious cuisines that help set the table in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way (still not about cannibalism though!), along with some other comedic choices that play well into its concept.

When the horror comes, although it subverted my initial prediction, its largely conventional fare, building off simple, rather superficial social commentary and outcomes that are easy to predict.

Thankfully though, The Menu benefits from its cast and the charming, witty absurdity of itself. Ironically, I came here to see Anya Taylor-Klaus (who does very well, mind you), but it is Nicholas Hoult and, especially, Ralph Fiennes, as the proud and obsessive chef, that really work to sell the film. The film is filled to the brim with sassy quips and one-liners, and although they may not make the film add up to anything wholly substantial, their dedication to their roles and the general charm of the film makes the 107 minute runtime go down easy.

I would identify The Menu as a black comedy first and foremost, that leans heavily on its concept more than it does the depth of its characters or any particular horror component. The horror is there, absolutely, but it isnít the main course being served (no pun intended). It wants you to take everything it throws at you with a wink and a nod, stuffing itself full of gags and goofy moments, but never quite going beyond the point of no return with them.


I would recommend The Menu as a solid film, and a solid feather in the cap of everybody involved.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

It might sound peculiar, but I feel like I may actually like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles even more as an adult than I did as a kid. Back then, I certainly liked the Ninja Turtles, in fact, I liked them a fair amount. I missed the cutoff age for the original animated series and Turtles in Time (but I did experience and enjoy the SNES classic later on in life), but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2003 cartoon (which is personally my favorite representation of the Turtles aesthetically) and I watched the original 1990 film more times than I can count.

I believe my appreciation for the series has deepened the more I started to realize the audacity of its existence and the sheer fun of its absurdity. All of us know the story by now.

Four turtles were altered by a radioactive chemical that spilled into the sewer, they were then adopted by a rat who trained them in the ways of ninjutsu.

That in itself is a concept so beautifully goofy that you canít help but smile at it.

As I have gotten older, I can appreciate even more how absurd their backstory is. The Ooze was (kind of) officially (but unofficially) the same chemical that blinded Marvelís superhero Daredevil. Not only that, but the series is filled to the brim with references and parodies of Daredevil. The main bad-guys are the Foot Clan (instead of the Hand) and they were trained by a rat named Splinter (instead of Stick). If you take a step back, it can really be seen how ludicrously bonkers everything about the series is. Similar to Deadpool, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really feels like a series that was never meant to break into mainstream culture the way it has. That, in and of itself, makes the joke only that much more enjoyable.

They skateboard in the sewer. They love pizza. Theyíre named after famous painters. Itís a wacky time and I am all for it. Cowabunga!

Adaptations beyond the animated seriesí and Turtles in Time have left a lot to be desired, however.

I loved the original 1990s film as a kid, but when I went back and re-watched it, I couldnít help but believe it left a lot to be desired. I still enjoyed it. I still largely prefer the cheesy-looking rubber suits over the ugly CGI-laden representations shown in the more recent duology. However, I will admit that the characters and how they are developed, and how certain things were portrayed, werenít as realized as they could have been. What I think it comes down to, for me, is that they simply didnít capture the sense of personality for the Turtles and the world they were in as well as best case scenario. The best case scenario being the animated seriesí, which I may talk about one of these days on Nickelbib.

After the 1990s film, I can more or less take or leave everything afterward. I didnít care for Secret of the Ooze or Ninja Turtles III, and although I firmly believe the characters are best suited in the animated medium, the 2007 film was a swing and a miss. The Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a beautiful disaster. It was a disaster in the sense that I thought it was a terrible film, but it was beautiful in the sense that it managed to make nearly half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Meanwhile, while its sequel Out of the Shadows, while a considerable improvement over its predecessor, was too little too late in my opinion. As strange as it may sound, in spite the hundreds of millions of dollars being thrown at it, the best film to be made about the Ninja Turtles since the 90s original is actually the Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film that was released a few years ago.

What I am trying to say in a meandering, dithering kind of way is that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a whole, across all mediums has a lot of untapped potential. It is one of the things that makes me love the series as much as I do. Before watching the latest film Mutant Mayhem, I was excited about two projects on the horizon for Ninja Turtles. This film and an adaptation of The Last Ronan graphic novel. Both could land either way, and I have no misconceptions about THQ Nordic and its shoddy track record, but what also excites me is out completely, utterly different both are. The Last Ronan is a story of dark subject matter, looking like a white-knuckle, gritty story for the Turtles, akin to Samurai Jack or a classic revenge-story. The comparisons to God of War: Ragnarok are a little too ambitious for a company like Nordic, but I still think it could a lot of fun. Likewise, it could lead to further developments for the characters. Sometimes, unexpected properties can be the source of new, groundbreaking developments in established intellectual properties. In 2010, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was released and helped to lay the groundwork for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, which helped lay the groundwork for Spider-Man: No Way Home, with the most recent Across the Spider-Verse seeing some of the most ambitious developments to the Spider-Man canon in ages.

To me, it is always exciting when old seriesí can find facelifts or fresh developments, so I am exciting and hopeful The Last Ronan videogame will be able to usher new developments into popular canon, the new Turtles, for instance, would be very cool.

With Mutant Mayhem, we find ourselves on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. This isnít uncharted territory for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the least, instead, it is a new reimagining of the characters. Although some of us may have to shake off the initial cynicism of having to turn the clock on yet another interpretation of TMNT, I was very excited about it.

I believe that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse may have changed the game for animated superhero in a dramatic fashion, as you can clearly see the heavy inspiration and influence with Mutant Mayhem. The blend of different styles and that sense of kinetic, frantic animation Across the Spider-Verse had bleeds into Mutant Mayhem and sticks the landing with flying colors.

I know I heard some mixed responses about the Turtles re-design, with some purists criticizing new developments to the characters and some simply not liking the approach. For me though, I had a fairly unanimous affection for the new approach and I would call it the best visual depiction I have seen on film, but not overtaking my affection for the 2003 series. I am all for the different ways the artists went about making each Turtles have his own personality and identity to them. The only thing I am a little mixed on is certain ones having braces, but I might retroactively warm up to it if the film receives sequels showing the characters age and grow out of them.

As a film, I was excited at the prospect of being able to bring things back to the basics for the Ninja Turtles. As a personal observation, after watching Mutant Mayhem shortly after seeing Across the Spider-Verse, I feel they provide a compelling argument that superhero films were always better suited for animation. The medium simply allows the characters and their personality to pop off the screen in a way live-action is usually incapable. For a long time, it always felt like there was this stigma about animation, this perception that something isnít real or mature enough when it is an animated film. It is a stigma we should have bucked off a long time ago. These films work great as animated films and I find it so weird that we have allowed ourselves to ever believe it is some kind of handicap or detractor when the opposite is true.

Mutant Mayhem has style to spare. The soundtrack is composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and the art style is fun and filled with personality. It feels like a labor of love, at a time when, for as long as I can remember, Ninja Turtles movies have let like they are made on a conveyor belt.

The approach to make the characters actual teenagers was an inspired decision. It certainly creates a unique effect for the film overall. At the same time, I do believe the film has a rapid-fire, million-words-a-minute feeling to it, with character development sometimes left by the way side in favor of overstuffing the film with as many name-drops and cultural references as its runtime can contain.

Iím not criticizing it. Not really. I can appreciate it. I can appreciate the fact that, for the first time, the Turtles act and talk like actual teenagers (and, by teenager, I mean thirteen), but, perhaps, I wasnít ready for what that entailed. The film doesnít go for a grandiose or big-time villain for the Turtles first go-around, which is both a common sense decision, given the prospect of many sequels, and a logical decision.

For me, this is a simple, straightforward film, largely benefited by the technique and behind-the-scene talent hard at work. As a story, as a portrayal of its characters, and as a film overall, however, I canít help but believe it is only a good film. Which isnít anything to be ashamed of. This is, in my opinion, the best portrayal of the Turtles ever brought to film, simply because of how it accomplishes having the charm and lovability of a good, fun superhero film. However, I did leave the film thinking to myself that the best, in theory, is what comes afterward.

As much as I am interested in the journey to the Turtles becoming the characters they eventually become, of establishing its roguesí gallery, and the fun that will ensue, the biggest steps toward that are what will come after this film. We can only hope that Mutant Mayhem has a healthy run at the box office and is allowed to lay the foundation for the series to come.

I would recommend it.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Terror Train

In 1978, Jamie Lee Curtis became a horror mainstay after her breakthrough performance in John CarpenterĎs slasher film Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis has become so synonymous with her portrayal of Laurie Strode that it can sometimes be forgotten her legacy goes far beyond that. In 1980 alone, she starred in both Carpenterís The Fog and a new horror franchise in the shape of Paul LynchĎs slasher film Prom Night. She also starred in another slasher film Ė an independently produced film called Terror Train.

Terror Train isnít as revered as Halloween or even Prom Night, but it was a modest, appreciated addition to Jamie Lee Curtisí filmography, boasting middling reviews and a subpar return at the box office. In the grander scheme, the film was mostly forgotten by the average horror casual. It wasnít revered a classic like Halloween nor did it attain a cult like following on the order of, say, Chopping Mall. The film fell someplace, somewhere with Tourist Trap, as a film released in that same period, with familiar young talent involved, but not a lot else to say about it.

This is the reason it might be a surprise to many of you that Terror Train actually received a remake this year Ė released exclusively on the Tubi streaming service. I have championed the Tubi streaming service a lot in the last few years. It may not have the more intimate touch of a more horror centered service like Shudder, but, pound for pound, it is a platform rich in lesser known, low-budget horror cinema Ė Iíd highly recommend it.

As for whether Tubi has a future as a connoisseur in the fine art of original horror, that is something I am less sold on.

Early on, 2022ís Terror Train can feel a little jarring to look at.

Although I havenít seen the original Terror Train in ages, I have seen enough eighties horror to understand the playbook Ė the concept is one weíve seen a lot. In a hazing prank gone wrong, a man is seriously traumatized and now finds himself donning a mask to seek revenge (if not him, then somebody else Ė like his mother or a close friend). Itís a classic middleweight slasher film premise and Iím open to it.

Terror Trainís characters often come off as sleazy in a way that is insincere, a little like they are trying too hard to capture an edgy, party vibe to them. Chances are, you know what I mean by that. Itís a difficult needle to thread. How do you succeed at displaying something thatís, ultimately, obnoxious, without it feeling obnoxious on-screen? If you were to equate it to a camp slasher film, like, say Friday the 13th or The Burning, a similar plight would be how to capture the camp vibe without it feeling like youíre watching an hour of counselors tying knots or rowing canoes? You donít want to feel like youíre merely padding the runtime out til your masked antagonist can wreak havoc.

This film struggles with that key obstacle, tackling it not through interesting character development or witty banter, but, instead, through what feels like a double edged sword. Itís sensory overload and yet it feels like nothing happens Ė it calls to mind the age old refrain of having so much that you have less as a result.

Observe that I said Terror Train lacks interesting character development. Given its due, the film does have a story line at play and characters that are at least somewhat fleshed out and work off each other. Primarily, this is two characters Ė you see, one character is the voice of reason (that is, the one who feels most guilty about the prank gone awry), the other is the instigator (the one who takes no responsibility and shows no guilt). These characters play off each other throughout the film, butting heads and spearheading all the conflicts that arise in the film. It exists, but it isnít interesting to watch.

Youíll notice on Nightmare Shift, I donít scrape from the bottom of the barrel very often. When I seek out a film, it is because, ideally, I want to like that film. Any time I highlight a lesser seen film, Iíd rather it be a recommendation. Thus, when I canít finish a movie, I donít review the movie. I finished Terror Train, but, I have to say, it was a bit of a slog to get through.

Terror Train feels both predictable and melodramatic, like watching a cheaply made-for-TV (made-for-Tubi) impersonation of better, more fun horror fare. The film houses no interesting deaths to speak of, all straightforward and basic, and the cinematography does nothing to heighten the suspense or intrigue. The score, early on, harks back to the glory days of old eighties fare, with scenes backed by a string of notes, but it is superficial and forgotten before it is even a quarter of the way through.

I always try to be considerate when I write reviews for any film. Even if a film is Ďbadí (in my opinion), I often can find merit (even films everyone hates Ė if I find a sense of ambition / a desire to do something unique, Iíll write about it). However, Terror Train doesnít feel like a love letter shy a proper editor, or an ambitious idea stretched beyond the means of its creator.

Have you ever bought a cheap t-shirt on Amazon? Letís say you find a shirt with a cool looking image and buy it on a whim. A few days later, the shirt arrives and you take a look at it. The image looks blurry and faded, just a low-quality t-shirt. This is because what happened was, there is a factory that has all these shirts for print-on-demand. What the seller did was, he took a photo he ripped off Shutterstock and pasted a stretched out image over that black shirt. All of that aside, youíre not that mad about it. You didnít pay a lot, you didnít expect a lot. Take it for what you will, but thatís 2022ís Terror Train.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

ďPrisonĒ

Our journey with director Renny Harlin begins in 1987 when he directed the film Prison. Incidentally, although I wouldnít be surprised if many of you havenít heard of or arenít familiar with this film, horror aficionados will be familiar with a lot of the talent involved.

The film was produced by Charles Band and distributed by his Empire Pictures brand. As of now, we havenít put together a series for Full Moon Features, but you can bet that it will be regularly mentioned and will be a subject of praise and ire for more than a handful of seriesí before it is all said and over with. For now, I will simply say that a lot of my formative years as a horror fan were spent experiencing some of Charles Bandsí movies, and while I donít revere many of them as necessarily great films, I do have several I hold of high regard, and, for the most part, I find Bandsí work in the eighties and nineties to carry a certain charm that I look back on fondly.

The film was written by C. Courtney Joyner, which doesnít at all surprise me. He has been involved in a lot of the writing for Full Moon Features, including Puppet Master III, which I consider to be, not only the best Puppet Master film, but one of the best Full Moon Features ever made. The film also written by Irwin Yablans, a producer who had a very prolific part in the creation of John Carpenterís Halloween film.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen, an actor either associated with the Lord of the Rings or a few of Cronenbergís later directorial efforts, as well as horror legend Kane Hodder as our antagonist Ė a role that predates his debut as Jason Voorhees by about a year.

After the first fifteen minutes of the film, I am already a little perplexed. As I prefaced earlier, I am very familiar with Empire Pictures and Full Moon Features, and if I had to wager a guess, I would say I have seen close to one-hundred movies from the company by now. That in mind, after watching their more recent fare like Evil Bong vs. Gingerdeadman, it is easy to forget that Empire Pictures once used to be capable of making a real, honest effort. I am also perplexed because I had watched the trailer for Prison before watching the film, and what I saw there was a much hammier, blatantly campy experience than what I am witnessing early on. As said, I know the production company I am dealing with here and I can hear the hum of Richard Bandís musical score in the background, and so I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thus far, itís much more subdued and patient than I would have previously expected.

I am a half hour in, and I canít believe how competently made this film is, and how it still has managed to play things on the straight and narrow. I am actually flabbergasted to tell you the truth. Again, this has nothing to do with any preconceived notion I have about director Renny Harlin and has everything to do with what I have come to expect from Empire Pictures and what I was led to believe by the trailers. I like Empire Pictures, and I like them especially when they have a good director at the helm. For me, and I think a lot of other people, when I think of the best director Empire or Full Moon has to offer, I think of Stuart Gordon for his efforts on films like Dolls and Re-Animator. Even he, however, never clashed with the flavor of what they were though. He was good, but he did a lot of camp and a lot of goofy humor, and he did it usually right out of the gate.

This film feels different. It feels more restrained and is allowing the story and the characters to breathe a little bit more. It is building the general vibe of the prison, establishing it as an unruly, unkempt, and ultimately harsh place. The lighting is atmospheric, the score and sound are both thematic and being put to good use, and it almost feels like I could be watching a pretty alright rendition of The Green Mile. Color me surprised, but I am actually a little bit impressed by that.

The story is straightforward enough.

Basically, the warden, a hard-ass named Ethan Sharpe stood by while an inmate named Charlie Forsythe was killed in the electric chair for a crime that he did not commit. Now, thirty years later, the prison is being reopened and Charlie Forsythe has returned from the afterlife to exact revenge against those who wronged him. Sharpeís character is a little jumpy in the first half hour, which is the only aspect thus far that I would actually describe as a little over-the-top Ė he is startled by an officer and literally points his handgun at him and threatens to blow his head off. It makes sense within the context of the film. Ethan is haunted by nightmares about Charlie coming after him. Still though, thatís a little much and I donít think the average person would shrug off their boss nearly blowing their head off with a handgun.

All in all, it is going well so far Ė I am buying what they are selling.

The depiction of prison feels realized, although I canít say for sure how accurate it is. I could see everyone being able to smuggle in cigarettes, and, of course, we all know about the creative ways inmates find ways to make things like toilet wine and tattooing equipment. In fact, if we can take a step back, aside from all the bad things, prison provides a neat little microcosm of how improvisational and resourceful a person can be under certain circumstances. With that said, I havenít the faintest idea how someone managed to smuggle a guitar in that jail cell. Surely, you wouldnít be allowed to just have that on the cell block. Imagine what you could do with that? Think of the possibilities! Youíd be able to use that as a garrote and strangle somebody if you wanted.

By about the half hour mark, they begin to roll out the supernatural elements of the film. It is important to observe that, for all intents and purposes, New Line Cinema must have seen this film and observed that Renny Harlin would be capable of directing a larger property like A Nightmare on Elm Street. Frankly, it doesnít take very long once the horror starts to break in that I found myself nodding my head and thinking, ďI can see it.Ē The special effects certainly show their age and their budget. The biggest technical snafu this film commits are the zippy zaps it incorporates, little thunderbolts that very much look like they were overlain over the film. I feel like a lot of films from the eighties have zippy zaps in them that havenít aged well, even A Nightmare on Elm Street III, for that matter. This is the eighties and this Empire, and the weight of their ambition often outweighs their resources or technical prowess. Certain scenes feel exactly like something I would expect from A Nightmare on Elm Street, with inanimate objects personifying themselves and inflicting themselves on unsuspecting victims. There is a scene where a prison guard is massacred by, like, Rebar, electricals, and then, his brutalized corpse spills out from the ceiling into the cafeteria, and it feels exactly like the kind of thing I would expect to see in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It is also just a distinct, memorable scene in its own right. Kudos to the practical work here by William Butler.

All in all, what does 1987ís Prison add up to? First and foremost, I want to say that I like the concept of the film. I canít name a lot of horror movies that happen inside of a prison. Also, I did a little research for the film, and it was actually filmed inside of a real life penitentiary that had been vacated, and the filmmakers more or less had free rein to ransack the place if it meant for a cool shot. The acting is alright. I wouldnít say anyone had a star making performance in this film, but I did, honestly and truly, like Viggo Mortensenís subdued, quiet portrayal of the lead protagonist Burke. Likewise, Lane Smith delivers a solid, Nixon-esque performance as the prisonís warden. He does a lot of the narrativeís heavy-lifting and acts as a polar opposite to the more quiet Burke. The special effects, at times, are a little hokey, but there were a couple cool and creative scenes like the one I mentioned. I also appreciated the approach, which I thought was fairly restrained and disciplined. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and, while it does have its hokier moments, a lot of them can be chalked up to cheesy special effects and not because the film itself lost its game of chicken.

At the same time, I will admit that the ghost story itself was fairly unimaginative on a narrative front, and for a film with this thin of a story, it is difficult to justify its runtime of an hour and forty-two minutes. That isnít an ungodly amount of time for a film, but itís a good length for a horror film, and an incredibly long length for an Empire film, and Iíll be frank, I felt it pretty hard by the end. A lot of my appreciation for the filmís more slow burned approach comes because of how antithetical it is to the approach usually implored by Empire, and that appreciation may not lend itself to you.

In summation though, I was genuinely surprised by how much I came away appreciating Prison. It succeeds as both a halfway decent horror film and a halfway decent prison movie, and feels very much like Renny Harlinís audition for his next film.



The Bib-iest of Nickels

A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master

With his 1987ís film Prison behind him, Renny Harlinís directorial career advances forward with the 1988 film A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, released only a year after his freshman horror effort. Renny Harlin had the honors of following A Nightmare on Elm Street III, a film that is largely considered as the best in the series since Wes Cravenís original classic, and some even outright prefer it. This is with good reason Ė the third film was a highlight reel of memorable, visually arresting and creative scenes of Freddy Krueger wreaking havoc on the children of Springwood. Granted, I do have some hang ups that I will one day tackle directly in a review later on, but I do agree it is imaginatively one of the strongest entries in the Elm Street series up to that point and overall. The film was a strong sequel and a worthy follow-up to the original.

There is an immediate charm to the early A Nightmare on Elm Street films. After all these years, I am still drawn to the opening credits, the stylized logo, and the overall look and sound that is A Nightmare on Elm Street. The twinkly score and the classic nursery rhymes are obviously hand-me-downs from the original classic, but it is a testament to the value that the A Nightmare on Elm Street brand has. Although I think there is an argument to be made about the quality of the sequels in the horror franchise, they all inherently add something to the franchisesí tapestry. This is for better and for worse, as it can argued whether certain increments are an example of addition by subtraction, or, put better, whether they ultimately cause the series to lose integrity or if they feel like worthy additions.

Thus, I suppose the argument can be made that if ever a director was offered a major opportunity to make a splash in the horror genre and score points with a horror fan like myself, they would never be presented with more an opportunity to do so than with the opportunity to direct the fourth A Nightmare on Elm Street. At the same time, there is a heavy lies the crown expectation to a director offered the chance to helm such a beloved franchise.

Something I wanted to touch on before we dig into the nitty-gritty is the production of this film and the concept of the The ĎBib and the seriesí I do. In an interview, director Tom McLoughlin said that he was offered the opportunity to direct Elm Street 4, but turned it down. Why did he turn it down? Well, he wanted full creative control, similar to what he had when he directed the sixth Friday the 13th film. The producers declined, saying they couldnít adhere to that. As a matter of fact, they had already begun filming Ė shooting specific special-effect scenes without a director, citing that they basically knew what they wanted from the films by then. Thus, in some respects, I would equate Renny Harlinís participation to the film as, perhaps, akin to a directorís participation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is obviously at a much smaller scale comparatively, but, what I mean is, a film director isnít really allotted a whole, whole lot of wiggle room. Quentin Tarantino equates directing Marvel films as being a hired hand, which I think is appropriate to how I imagine directing The Dream Child mustíve been. This isnít inherently an issue, but, rather, I wanted to specify that with the The Bib, I choose to use a directorís filmography as a framing device for the seriesí, and that the series isnít inherently all about them.

Brian Helgeland and Scott Pierce wrote the script for this film, Steven Fierberg did the cinematography, and so on and so forth. As with every film, it is a team effort. This, I think is important, because of how much of what works with The Dream Child hinges on things like the special effects and the murder sequences portrayed.

Here, for example, are some of what I would single-out Ė the waterbed scene was creative, taking the core concept of them dying in their sleep and a unique visual aesthetic of the blood of his victim pooling in. I will admit it does show an early indication of how the franchise can play fast and loose with the rules of Freddy Kruegerís abilities, given how the body mysteriously found itself submerged inside the water bed, but I believe Elm Street is a series that is liberating enough to play fast and loose with its concepts, especially if it makes for a cool visual. The scene with Debbyís missed bench press was an amazing, gruesome scene, and the insect bit that followed was both very inspired and very weird. There is a scene set on a beach, likely most recognized for the meme-before-memeís shot of Freddy Krueger in sunglasses, but, before that, we see Freddyís claws surfing through the waves like shark fins, in what I thought was a really cool moment. By A Nightmare on Elm Street III, the approach to how these films were made really became less about the whole overall product, and more about making a visually arresting and fun film.

I know there is a lot of debate about where the series went, whether there was a sharp decline in quality and whether Freddy Krueger would have been better off sticking to a more serious presentation. Personally, my opinion has changed over the years. There have been times where I have honestly and truly been on both sides of the argument. Nowadays though, I have really come to love it all. It would be different if I felt the series became reduced to nothing more than lazy, uninspired cash-ins, but that isnít what I think. If you want to see an uninspired, lazy cash-in, I would look no further than the Elm Street remake in 2010, but, right now, at this point, the films are still churning out creative, unique scenes like no other franchise before it or since. The mentality has certainly changed Ė the approach to Freddy as a dark antagonist has changed, and now, he has become the series front man. You see the film because you want to see Freddy Krueger do what he does and not inherently because you want to see a horror film. Do I think this film or its approach is as good as the original film? No, I do not, but I do like it.

The story line carries on from the aftermath of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, which is a smart way to keep horror fans invested year to year as they keep cranking the films out at a rapid speed, but does do a level of damage to how the film is able to stand on its own as a self-contained film. Likewise, too, although the main actress does an amicable job in her role as Alice, the character herself doesnít have a whole lot of depth beyond a couple of the standard cookie-cutter traits expected for a horror final girl. She isnít problematic, and she is likable enough that she is par for the course for what the film is asking for, but there isnít a lot of depth to pull the characters from scene to scene. I think, in some ways, that is likely the biggest criticism that I can levy at this film is that, no matter how many times I have seen it, by the end of the film, it feels like most of what happens spilled out of my head like a turned over cup. I remember the special-effects and I remember the cool scenes, like the visual of all of Freddy Kruegerís victimsí souls pressing up from against his burnt stomach, trying to break free, but I donít remember very much of happens in between although those moments.

Not all of the special effects and dream sequences have aged well, for instance, one scene of a robotic arm coming out from a classroom desk is corny above all else.

The explanation for how Freddy Krueger is defeated in this film is ultimately plot convenient and feels a little unearned in how it is implemented. At the same time though, it is a fantastic visual, a very neat idea, and among the best shots in the series, even if it is a little cheesy looking back nowadays. I also appreciate that the series obviously found new ways to thwart Freddy, rather than always falling back on one specific idea or method.

I like the film. I know that much, I knew that, as I was watching it, if I wrote anything, I had to say, specifically, that I like this movie. At first, I was thinking that if I took the film and I separated it from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as a whole, I would be more critical of it. I actually think the opposite could just as well be true, however. If I took A Nightmare on Elm Street IVís scenes and thought of it as, perhaps, a re-worked sequel to, say, the Wishmasher series, for instance, I am certain it would be my favorite Wishmaster film. At the same time, I can recognize that it has certain faults in terms of characterization, storytelling, and pacing, and what tone it exactly is. Comparing Renny Harlinís film Prison to A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, I believe you can make the argument that his prior film shows more of his directorial chops. It also has a stronger narrative structure than this film. At the same time, this film is just so much more fun than that film, benefited by the special-effects and nightmare sequences, and a consistently fantastic performance by Robert Englund in the role of Freddy Krueger.

As it stands, Renny Harlin has maybe not had what I would call a breakout horror film, or a film that I would single-out as particularly great, but what I will say is that he is two-for-two on modestly decent, and solid horror fare. The story isnít great, and that is putting it generously, but there is enough finesse and pedigree to every ďkill sceneĒ or ďnightmare sequenceĒ that it amounts to a respectable increment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Deep Blue Sea
Before talking about our next film, letís reflect a little bit on Renny Harlinís directorial career thus far up to this moment. Although Prison was the first film I talked about from his filmography, it was not his actual directorial debut. Rather, his directorial debut was a Finnish film called Born American. Likewise, too, after A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Renny Harlin went in a different direction with his career than what I choose to talk about on the Nightmare Shift. This isnít because he didnít have a lot of success, because he did.

In 1990, he directed Die Hard 2, which was not only largely well received and financially successful, but is arguably the film he is most known for. Frankly, I donít want to watch Die Hard 2, and so, I am not going to. I havenít seen it and, in fact, I can barely remember anything about the first Die Hard. That in mind, maybe there is a chance I will one day go off track and talk about all the Die Hard movies on The ĎBib. It wouldnít fit the general vibe of a series, but I do intend to divert off the set path every now and again if I have enough interest in the subject matter involved.

The reason I mention it is because I wanted to preface that I am only talking about the horror or horror adjacent films on Renny Harlinís filmography, but I wanted to be forthcoming about some of the other noteworthy films he has been a part of. Something I will mention about Die Hard II is that it had a rather interesting development that I think fits the overall narrative forming about Renny Harlin. Die Hard II took a repurposed script based on a thriller novel called 58 Minutes, and did so because it wanted to strike while the iron was hot with their new fledgling Die Hard franchise. That, coupled with his experience with Elm Street, sort-of creates this feeling that Renny Harlin is seen as a capable director, capable of rolling up his sleeves and doing workman-like directorial duties. That, in and of itself, may not sound like the most flattering thing to say about a filmmaker, and we usually like to think of directors as visionaries who helm films and blaze a unique trail, but, stepping in like he did with Elm Street 4 (which went onto become the most financially successful film of the series to that point) and Die Hard 2, which had the tall order of following one of the most critically revered action movies of all time, and not only did that, but made over one-hundred million more at the box office than the original, thatís commendable and shows a level of competence that shouldnít be overlooked.

Renny Harlin didnít return to horror again until 1999 with the science fiction horror film Deep Blue Sea. This is a shark film, for all intents and purposes. I canít really say I am a particular fan of shark films, per se, but that has more to do with my lack of exposure to them than it does my actual dislike of them. I donít have the nostalgia for Jaws, still havenít seen The Meg or The Shallows, and I donít think I will ever be caught dead watching the low-effort, low-budget shark movies that can be found strewn around the SyFy channel. When stripped away of any preconceived notion, I can understand the concept of a shark movie and while it might make for an appealing horror film. The ocean is a largely unexplored explored body of water and, above the surface, who knows of the unknowns that hide beneath? Itís a novel concept and I am open to it, and, if nothing else, for this exercise, Renny Harlin is two-for-two in his horror filmography, so whoís to say his body of work shouldnít lend trust to the story he can tell with a body of water?

The film was written by Duncan Kennedy, whose resume includes this and the 2012 shark film Bait, so clearly he is a writer that has taken a liking to aquatic horror. It was also written by Donna and Wayne Powers, whose names can also be seen attached to the 2001 slasher film Valentine. This film sparked something of a film series, receiving two sequels, granted both were released direct-to-video. Curiously, both films were released long after the original, coming out in 2018 and 2020, respectively, so they didnít particularly strike while the iron was hot with either of them. Deep Blue Sea was a decent box office success story. We talked about how A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Child was the highest-grossing film of the Elm Street franchise at the time of its release, whereas Empire Pictures isnít particularly known for its theatrical releases, so it shouldnít surprise you I have little to write home about our first film Prison and its theatrical fortune. Deep Blue Sea made 165 million worldwide off a reported budget ranging from 60 to 82 million. How successful a film is can be complicated. A production budget doesnít account for the amount of money spent on marketing and promotion which can sometimes be considerably high. Likewise, theaters do receive a healthy cut of the ticket sales, and although some will say otherwise, it isnít a set in stone, cut in dry amount. Domestic profit is more lucrative than foreign sum, for example. Territories such as China can take as much as seventy-five percent of a filmís box office gross from studios. At any rate, and not to bore you too much with technicalities and homework, I would surmise that Deep Blue Sea was at least a modest success for those involved.

At first, I wasnít certain about exactly what kind of film this would be. Would this be like Piranha 3-D, where it feels like a spin-off of American Pie with a horror twist, would it feel like a slasher that swaps Michael Myers for a shark, or would it feel like something more grounded and subdued? The opening scenes of the film bring us on a boat with young, pretty people drinking and having sex, and I feel like my question is pretty well answered. This will be a stupid fun movie, and I am okay with that! A straightforward, cold open that brings us into the fray with nameless characters so we can unabashedly watch them be torn to shreds. It is simple, but it is almost always a winner in the fun-horror genre. As it ends, however, I am not met by hot people torn limb from limb, and I am confused. Less than five minutes into the film, I am met by scientists giving heart felt speeches about the agonizing struggles of Alzheimerís and I am once more on the hunt for what exactly this film will be.

About twenty minutes in, and I have a deeper understanding Ė the humor is playful, but isnít sharp or pointed, with a lot of the character development being based on charm. The sentimentality of their goal being to end Alzheimerís is an easy way to pull at the heart strings without having to do a lot of heavy lifting Ė like cancer, Alzheimerís is just something we immediately know to wince at and feel sympathetic about. This is not a slasher film at all. This is an action monster movie for a mainstream audience, like Kong: Skull Island or the American Godzilla movies.

Fortunately, they have Samuel L. Jackson in the film, an actor who was incidentally in Kong: Skull Island, and he is the type of naturally charismatic and likable actor who can do this type of film in their sleep if he wanted to.

So, basically, there is this testing facility that is trying to learn more about sharks, specifically about how their brains function and whether that information can be applied to our own brains Ė like, for example, whether it can stop us from being stricken by things like Alzheimerís or dementia. The way they explain it walks the fine line of sounding logical enough to seem plausible and being vague enough that my stupid brain doesnít try to poke holes in it.

Samuel L. Jacksonís character is this rich executive who is sent down to the testing facility after a shark is able to escape the compound and nearly kill a group of people Ė those hot young people that we talked about earlier. Meanwhile, we have him, but we also have the doctor Susan McAlester who is willing to risk anything if it means moving forward with her work, and Carter Blake, an ex-con who helps take care of and train the sharks. All three have a dynamic that both makes them likable and unlikable. Carter is more of an every man, a person who made a mistake and will judgment and persecution for that mistake, but heís also cocky and has a chip on his shoulder. Samuel L. Jacksonís character Russell seems like a sweetheart as far as I am concerned, but he is an executive with a lot of money, and so, heís also inherently a little unlikable. Meanwhile, Susanís unlikable versus likable trait comes from her noble desire to help people clashing with her disregard for what it takes to get there.

This is, in some ways, the fullest movie I have talked about of Renny Harlinís so far, but that in itself brings on a mixed-bag of emotions. The characters are decent enough. Like I said, this is an action blockbuster-y kind of film, and a lot of the time with those you see actors coasting on charm and charisma. This isnít a knock on him, but this is the exactly the reason you see Dwayne ďThe RockĒ Johnson in so many of these movies. He is good in them! The man is naturally likable and has a kinetic energy that makes it so you can effectively copy-and-paste him into about any action scenario and you will come away with a halfway decent action film every time. This film has that same sensibility, but there is this feeling that they wanted to wedge in as many tropes and sentimentalism as they could in the filmís runtime.

LL Cool J is in this film. Heís a rapper and sometimes, apparently, an actor. He will be in the next film I talk about on this Podcast, so we might as well accept it. For what itís worth, he himself isnít awful. Rather, itís what the film has him doing that makes him feel superfluous and unnecessary. Real quick, whatís your least performance by an actor who isnít traditionally known for their acting? Got it? Good. Mineís Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element. LL Cool J isnít that. Heís, for the most part, pretty basic and inoffensive. At first, it seems they have the character for comedic brevity with his pet parrot, then he has a bad-ass action hero moment that came off as unintentionally comedic, then, they try to have him be serious. He himself isnít particularly bad in any of it, it itself is just kind of bad. This is a ridiculous comparison, but it reminds me of Tom Greenís role in that movie Road Trip, where there is this entirely different movie happening, and then, every now and again, it just randomly shows Tom Green ****ing with a snake. All of LL Cool Jís scenes before he joins the main-group, feel tacked on and unwarranted, and like the film could have shaved off a bunch from its budget and runtime without them.

I wanted to like this film. I can see myself liking a film like it (and, in fact, I do like other films like it). I like Samuel L. Jackson. Early on, the film carries a kind of light-heart charm that made me feel like I would at least have a fun time with it. Unfortunately, I found myself bored by it more often than not. This might have something to do with the fact I am not particularly a fan of shark movies. The film has a lot of yada yada in it before it is time for the shark movie to shark movie, and I found that it took away from my overall enjoyment. I can appreciate a slow burn. I can appreciate buildup and suspense, and how less can sometimes be more. But hearing a bunch of busywork dialogue with scientific gibberish that I know will ultimately not play a key role in the film Ė along with the tonal mishmash of hearing them talk about curing brain degenerative diseases, then, saying ďThe sharks are smart now!Ē doesnít do a whole lot for me. When the time finally does come for the movie to unwind, the payoff is pretty uninteresting. A lot of water swishing and swashing in places, a lot of moving from one room to the other, but not a whole lot of interesting scenes with the shark. Thatís what I want. This doesnít have that.

I will say Ė right after the first hour ends Ė there is a scene with Samuel L. Jacksonís character that involves him doing a rah rah speech, trying to rally everyone up against the opposition, and itís hilarious and, by far, my favorite part about the film. If you donít see this film, I would recommend you at least take a few minutes out of your time to seek out that scene.

I found myself unable to become invested in this film. Part of that, you might say, is on me. As prefaced, shark movies have never been my cup of tea, but, also, the film definitely plays more as a mainstream blockbuster than it does a sci-fi horror film. The other part, however, is the one I am willing to fight for. The film has some elements of better films, like Alien, has a couple of moments that brought out a laugh or two, but is a fairly standard popcorn movie youíd expect around the turn of the millennium. The movie is so indistinct that it blurs together with other movies, to where, even though I was mighty confident this was my first-time viewing of Deep Blue Sea about half an hour in, by the end, I was fairly certain I had seen it well over a decade ago and completely forgot about it. It isnít horrible. It functions, for what it is, but it personally did little to nothing for me.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Mindhunters

Our fourth and final film for this edition of the series is the 2004 film Mindhunters. This is not the Hannibal Lecter film Manhunter nor is this the fantastic crime series from director David Fincher called Mind Hunter, this is Mindhunters. Mindhunters is a crime slasher film. I am not entirely certain what to expect from this film, but I am interested. I know what a crime film is. I know what a slasher film is. I do not know exactly what to imagine from a crime slasher, however. The closest thing I can think of to that is, perhaps, maybe, the Saw franchise, kind-of, maybe, I mean, I know it is a stretch to call Jigsaw a slasher villain, so you can understand my plight. Is it a whodunnit akin to Scream but with detectives? I am uncertain, but I am intrigued. The film received negative reviews from critics and was a box office failure, receiving a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes and a box office return of 21.1 million off a budget of 27 million, which means you can likely assume it still hasnít broken even yet. This is a bit of a droll way to end the series, isnít it? Did I mention it stars LL Cool J? I was looking forward to it from the moment I decided I was talking about Renny Harlin, personally.

Written by Wayne Kramer, who has writing credentials in several other lesser known crime films, and Kevin Brodbin, who wrote the screenplay for that Constantine with Keanu Reeves.

Not to enter a tangent, but I have to say that going through Renny Harlinís filmography for this series was a real reminder of how much I hate the film industries shift from physical media to streaming services and how much of a burden something that was once unbroken, if, at times, inconvenient has since become. Before Netflix, we went to our local video store like Family Video or Blockbuster, but, nowadays, all those companies have gone out of business. I can accept that. Personally, I had a vested, emotional attachment to Family Video and was sad when I watched my local store close down, but I understood why it had to happen. Things are expensive, and when you have the opportunity to stream things for a much cheaper cost, I would still make the same mistake twice if I could do it all over again. As much as I like the idea of a physical building for renting movies, the cost and return on investment as a consumer simply wasnít there. Even now, I had the option to rent a digital copy of Deep Blue Sea for $3.99 and I laughed, instead buying a combo pack of the first three movies for $7.99 on DVD. It would have been easier could I have simply watched it on the Max streaming service, but, as of today, it isnít in rotation. It was a few months ago, not this month. Same with Mindhunters, I could have watched it on Paramount Plus a few months ago, canít watch it now. Used to be on Tubi TV! Isnít anymore. Fortunately, I found Prison for free on YouTube and I already own four different A Nightmare on Elm Street box sets.

I donít know what the point to what I am yammering on about is, maybe this is my old man screaming at clouds moment, I just wish digital rentals were $0.99 or that I didnít currently have five or six different streaming services being charged to my debit card every month.

Anyways, I found Mindhunters streaming on the Brown Sugar streaming service (one week free trial!).

If you are director Renny Harlin, what is Mindhunters for you? He is about five years removed from Deep Blue Sea, and things arenít particularly going all that well. Whereas, we came to an understanding that Deep Blue Sea was at least a modest success, his 2001 film Driven making 55 million from a budget of almost one-hundred million was absolutely not. History serves to remind us that sometimes even the best filmmakers fizzle out. We all love John Carpenter, but his only contributions to cinema since the turn of the millennium were The Ward and Ghosts of Mars, both critically hated and ultimately forgotten. Tobe Hooper broke out strongly with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, but the Toolbox Murders remake or Djinn didnít exactly receive a lot of love. I donít know if itís what happens when a filmmaker gets washed up or has too many expensive misfires to warrant second-chances, or gets given the short-end, but sometimes filmmakers get dug into a hole that is hard to dig onesí way out of.

For all intents and purposes, Renny Harlin is doing fine. He has since directed some modest hits in China, his home-country of Finland, and has, of course, a trilogy for The Strangers series coming out. For all we know, Harlin may even be in for a career renaissance.

However, for this exercise, where I only focus on the horror and horror adjacent films, things may look a little bleak. Every film leading up to The Strangers will either be a horror film I had never heard of, or, in the case of the Exorcist: The Beginning, a retooled version of someone elseís film already completed film. As crazy as it sounds, I am actually looking forward to it.

Whereas Deep Blue Sea feels like it did not play to my particular wheelhouse, Mindhunters, on the other hand, is exactly that. If there is anything at all I love, it is a moody, melancholic crime-thriller, a glib, gritty film about serial-killers? Sign me up!

Early on, I am met by some familiar faces. Christian Slater is in this, so is Val Kilmer. The guy who played Jordan Chase in Dexter? Heís in this. So, this isnít some kind of no-budget film. The film cost $27 million to make, adjusted for inflation, that is about what they spent on making It Chapter One.

The cinematography in the opening scene is on point, if a little stylized. The music is moody, the sky is gray, and everything feels thematic. Turns out, this is on purpose! As we now discover that the events unfolding, which include a shootout, are actually a part of mock crime scene, with dry ice and moody music actually playing in the background. The film follows a group of FBI profilers in training that are tasked with tracking a serial killer in-order to pass their exams. As you can likely surmise, things become a little too real for them by the end.

After the first half hour, I am buying what the filmís selling. The initial scene was fun and different, and although, nothing of whatís come so far has been groundbreaking, all of it has been enjoyable. Val Kilmer plays the grizzled, cynical teacher really well, and I can appreciate all the effort going into the score and cinematography. This is a movieís movie, so to speak, and I donít mean that in a derogatory fashion. It feels like what youíd expect when you put in a detective film, albeit, with the added twist of it happening under the guise of an exam. It feels glossy and polished, with a high-production, manufactured Ďgrit,í and although that doesnít sound good when I say it like that, Iím enjoying it.

The setup of having the characters intermingling on a deserted island filled with props and mannequins is a horror filmís wet dream, and it does nice to accomplish this House of Wax meets Seven style vibe to it.

Thirty-two minutes in, the film offers what is, frankly, one of the most ridiculous death scenes I have seen in a serious film in a long time. Two minutes later, it offers a ridiculous slow-motion explosion. For me, these back-to-back moments were like the filmís promise depleting out of it like air from a balloon. They were so sudden and so cheesy looking that I had whiplash. So, okay, the execution in those moments wasnít ideal, but the buildup to them and the ramifications of what happened are good. Basically, this is the filmís way of thrusting us into the main story conflict. They went from investigating a faux serial killer and, now, they are on an island with a serial killer wreaking havoc. Iím good, weíre good, itís good, weíre back.

The dialogue is, at its best, decent, and, at worst, when LL Cool J says ďEenie, Meanie, Minie, Moe, whoís the next mother****er to go?Ē Sometimes the reactions from characters feel too understated, sometimes they feel too unhinged and over-the-top for a group that youíd think would have more ability at staying composed under high pressure situations.

Something I have come to learn, now fifty minutes into the film, is that it is once again starting to feel like an action film. At its core, this is a junk food interpretation of serial killers. Although, in some form, presented as such, this isnít meant as a realistic depiction. Mindhunters isnít David Fincherís Mind Hunter, looking at real-life serial killers. I compared it to Seven earlier, but Iíd actually say a better comparison would be to say that it is comparable to a film comparable to Seven, as in the Saw films. Thatís what Saw, and frankly, Seven, ultimately are, is junk food serial killers. They arenít depictions of what serial killers actually are, but, rather, what weíd like serial killers to be for cinematic purposes. If you want realistic serial killers, Iíd recommend Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The House that Jack Built, or The Golden Glove. This is more your super genius madman style of cinematic killer. The onesí who can turn everything into a Rube Goldberg machine or are always thinking eleven steps ahead. Couple that in with the guy who made Die Hard 2 or Twelve Rounds (which is, incidentally, a film this reminds me a lot of), and you have an idea of what to expect. This isnít a crime slasher horror film. This isnít a slasher film anymore than the Saw films are. Although it is bloody and grotesque, it shares as much DNA with an action-thriller as it does the average film out of the horror genre.

As the credits roll for Mindhunters, I will concede that it wasnít without more than a handful of problems, in-terms of dialogue and certain less than stellar special effects. Likewise, the story is a little self-indulgent, predictable, and thinks it is smarter than it actually is. That in mind, I did enjoy it a fair bit. The cinematography is decent, the setting is a cool idea for a horror film, and it has a couple of entertaining moments to boot. This feels, honestly and truly, like it came from the Book of Saw, for better and for worse, and I would argue that, pound for pound, it is likely the best overall film that I have talked about across this entire Podcast in my opinion.

I still definitely liked and will remember the fourth A Nightmare on Elm Street more than I will this film, but a lot of that is because it happens to have a character I am already enamored with. This tried to do something twisty, fun, and a little different, and I enjoyed that.

So, where does that leave us on The ĎBib?

Renny Harlin started his career by directing the modest, but enjoyable film Prison, a film that deservedly earned him the opportunity to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, a box-office success and a worthy entry in the Elm Street franchise. After, he went onto direct a rather middling shark movie called Deep Blue Sea, one that I may not have enjoyed, but was successful enough to warrant a couple sequels and a certain level of reverence. In 2004, he directed Mindhunters, a box-office misfire and critical failure that I would actually wager is his best horror or horror adjacent film so far. Obviously, I still like the fourth Elm Street more, but, in this exercise, knowing that a large portion of the death scenes in Elm Street were filmed before Harlin was hired on, how can I not argue that Mindhunters is a better display of ability? Although I wouldnít call any of these films great or necessarily above average, I did legitimately like three of the four and that isnít too shabby.