Thursday 4 March 2021

Supermarket Sweep #20: Reviews of The Call (USA 2020), Gags the Clown (USA 2018), Wolves (France/Canada 2014), Charlotte (USA 2017), Ghosthunters (USA 2016) and Yeti aka Abominable (USA 2021)

The Call (USA 2020: Dir Timothy Woodward Jr): It's 1987 and new kid Chris (Chester Rushing) arrives feeling out of place at Willow High school, after his mum’s separation relocates them. He’s shown around by plucky Tanya (Erin Sanders); we know it’s the 80s because Chris wears Walkman headphones, Tanya has blue eye shadow and lycra workout gear, and they’ve got Pacman at the arcade. Tanya takes Chris to the fairground to introduce him to her friends, cocky Zack (Mike Manning) and his brother Brett (Sloane Morgan Siegel).

We learn that Laura, Tanya’s little sister, went missing while attending a day care centre run by Edith Cranston (Lin Shaye in her 6th genre title of the year; not bad for 77); Cranston was in the frame but hired a clever lawyer and got off scot free. Ever since then the three have made an annual pilgrimage to the Cranstons to cause trouble and remind Edith of the truth; and this year Chris is tagging along.

Edith lives with her husband Edward (another veteran genre regular, Tobin Bell – great to see Shaye and Bell team up at last); this year’s pranking gets a bit out of hand, leading to Edith hanging herself. The kids find out that she’s dead but not the circumstances, or that they might have contributed to her demise.

But things are about to get weirder. The gang are summoned to the Cranstons and given a very ‘Twilight Zone’ style offer: Edward has rigged up a telephone which can communicate directly with Edith in the grave; all they have to do is each make a call in turn and stay on the line for a minute; success in the task will net them $100,000. Failure to do this will result in Edward telling the police what the kids have been up to.

The remainder of the movie takes us on a rather mind-bending journey of what happens after the calls are made, and while these scenes are well mounted they make events rather baffling. Shaye gets a real chance to shine as Edith (it’s probably not a massive spoiler to mention that she doesn’t stay in the grave) and Bell gets to reprise his role in 2004’s Saw as the architect of chaos.

I preferred the more subtly weird first half of the movie rather than the more abstract second part; the set designs are very impressive for a low budget film, and a good 80s vibe is established early on. It’s impressive stuff, but honestly The Call feels like a movie that gets dressed up with nowhere to go.

Gags the Clown (USA 2018: Dir Adam Krause)
Developed from his short film of 2016, Gags, Krause's exuberant debut feature cashes in on the 'great clown hoax of 2016' (in fact the publicity for his short enigmatically traded on the phenomenon). The clown who stalks the streets of Green Bay is seen by residents as little more than a prankster in a creepy outfit; in fact he has his fair share of fans and imitators, which keeps the local TV stations WGRB - and the more slick rival WBSC - interested. Gags also comes to the attention of Charles Wright (Aaorn Christensen), big mouth right wing local podcaster, who lays down a challenge to net the greasepainted celebrity himself.

On the spot WGRB reporter Heather Durey (Lauren Ashley Carter) thinks that she can make a bit of a name for herself by tracking Wright's vigilante mission to catch the clown. Elsewhere the police, led by Chrissy Renard (Tracy Perez), come across some real life slayings that they initially fail to connect to Gags. Meanwhile, in found footage style, Renard's stepdaughter Sara (Halley Sharp) and her pals Chris (Squall Charlson) and Tyler (Michael Gideon Sherry) set out to prank Wright, with Chris being filmed wearing his own clown costume, and Rebecca Chambers (Zarai Perez), WBSC's rival reporter, is also looking for a scoop. All paths lead to a nearby abandoned mill, where the real Gags has some tricks in store.

Gags the Clown spends most of its running time dealing with everybody but the killer clown, and derives most of its action from the interplay between the different parties. While this isn't in itself problematic, it doesn't leave much room for the real Gags, particularly as his shtick may be of a supernatural bent (according to a local resident who has a photo of Gags all the way from 1974).  Billed as a horror comedy, the laughs come courtesy of the characters rather than the script, and are all fairly broadly drawn. The movie works best as a satire on small town behaviour, and its restless capturing of local voices, who all have their own take on the Gags phenomenon; as a horror movie it's a little tepid.

Wolves (France/Canada 2014: Dir David Hayter) 
Actor Hayter, a veteran of TV and video game voices, turns his hand to the lycanthrope in his first feature, a kind of YA vehicle with added gore. 

Adopted quaterback Cayden (Lucas Till) is in his senior year at school and regularly has frightening dreams. Fouled during a football game, he shows his true colours, lashing out at his opponent in a savage way rather unusual for a mild mannered lad of his age. And when he makes out with his girlfriend he gets a bit savage. Things are about to get worse; he comes to at home, his adoptive parents are dead - mutilated - and the police turn up. Yes, Cayden's a werewolf, so he hot foots it out of town and lives off the grid.

As a wolf he tries to do the right thing, but once Cayden turns wolfy he tends to lose it. He hooks up with fellow lycanthrope Wild Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson) who tells him that they are both of a kind; a form of werewoldf born that way rather than bitten. Joe gives him a tipoff that he may find what he's looking for in the town of Lupine Ridge, so off he trots, on his stolen boss hog, where he meets others like him; specifically crazy eyed Connor (Jason Momoa) and his band of misfits.

He's offered work on the farm by John Tollerman (Stephen McHattie) and settles into a routine, meeting and falling for bar owner Angel (Merritt Patterson) with whom he has wolfy sex. But into his settled life comes Connor and the gang; Cayden discovers that he's some kind of high bred wolf, and that his life, and those around him, are in jepoardy. 

Wolves very much follows the soapy clan intrigue of the Twilight films; even the bad guys and girls look attractive. It's bland and uninvolving, leavened by some good fight scenes and creative makeup, and while it's well made it's just terribly dull; the supporting cast are pleasantly nargled but Till, with his youthful looks and gravelly voice (a pretty weird combination) is pretty leaden.

Charlotte (USA 2017: Dir Various)
The 'various' director credit is a heavy clue that what we have here is an anthology movie, a recent trend that pulls together random, previously made short films within a 'wraparound' sequence. Here the link story involves a babysitter who minds a child while being stared at by an ugly doll. The babysitter snoozes and when she wakes she's tied up and gagged, the doll is sitting next to her, and she's forced to watch a series of short films. 

The eight shorts comprise: a clever revenge tale in which three sisters benefit from a voodoo curse; a weird trick or treater who leads a couple to an abandoned shop, who realise that they're just the latest people to be imprisoned; a babysitter who tells her sittee the story of Tic-Tac the troll, which comes true (a surprisingly gory entry in what is a largely bloodless movie); an old man who makes a pact with some demons who, when they arrive, are given a couple of his fingers as a welcome gift; pushy girl scouts who hassle a guy into buying some cookies, and they won't take no for an answer; a woman trapped in a basement with a child-rapist and murderer, who gets a choice to take revenge on the man who killed her daughter; a bratty girl who gets given a doll which bumps off her loose living mum's boyfriend and then mum; and in the last story, another bratty girl who sneaks into a horror movie festival at the local cinema, whose concession counter has run out of meat products, angering the werewolf audience, and who finds herself on the menu.

The short films here, as ever with these movies, range in quality; here they start off strong and gradually lose momentum. The wraparound story is loose, to say the least, but I've seen a lot worse of this type of thing, and one or two of the shorts are really clever.

Ghosthunters (USA 2016: Dir Pearry Reginald Teo)
I reviewed the movie Teo made after this one, 2019's The Assent, in a previous Supermarket Sweep round up, and was a bit luke warm about it. 

A pair of ghosthunters, Henry (Stephen Manley) and Neal (David O'Donnell) together with tech person Jessica (Liz Fenning), Neal's girlfriend, freelance journalist Amy (Francesca Santoro) and friend Devon (Crystal Web), who as a black person obviously knows the more esoteric side of things, have set up their experimental ghost hunting machine, which generates ectoplasm (a kind of ghost DNA), in a house which was the site of a serial killer, the Night Stalker: the murderer's last two victims were Henry's wife and daughter, Martha and Gabby. Henry's aim is to try and reach his dead wife and daughter via the machine, but his challenge is that ectoplasm, once materialised, only lasts for a short time on which to carry out tests. He also has some pimped up binoculars, which act as ghost viewers (surely a reference to William Castle's 1960 movie 13 Ghosts ?). But Henry's mission to connect with his loved ones is frustrated by another presence in the building; the spirit of The Night Stalker and his victims also haunt the place, and the killer's attentions focus on Amy.

"Keep an open mind; constant scepticism can be unhealthy" advises Henry, which is sound advice, as this is a movie from The Asylum, and as such borrows liberally from other fright flicks for its jumps; empty rocking chairs, poltergeist attacks, spirits doing the spider walk, bloodied disembodied dolls; it's all here. 

Ghosthunters' fusion of science and the supernatural, the ample hardware and its central conceit of a machine that can trap ghosts, also strongly connects with another movie from the same year of a similar title (itself a re-boot of a 1984 original): the retro feel and serial killer storyline also recalls the 1993 computer trapped serial killer flick Ghost in the Machine. But despite its obviousness, Ghosthunters builds up quite a head of atmosphere, despite the rather distatseful violence to women subtext. It's well acted and put together; sure the budget is minimal and the climax suffers as a result, but this was a reasonably enjoyable romp, and Manley's over the top performance is note perfect.

Yeti aka Abominable (USA 2021: Dir Jamaal Burden)
I have now seen both films directed by Burden and reader, I'm here to tell you that I survived them. In my review of his first, 2018's Evil Elves aka Elves for the fifth Supermarket Sweep, I wrote "we must pray that this man never makes another film again." Well that didn't work because he's back. 

This one revolves around the search for a Yeti plant, which we first see being carried across the snowy wastes, in a jar, by a Doctor Martin (Magdaln Smus) who gets taken down by an unseen beast. Martin is, sorry was the last of a group of scientists who originally discovered the plant, which is believed to hold the cure for cancer and indeed to prevent the death of cells.

A SEAL team arrive at Dr Martin's research lab, headed by Dr Smith (Sharleen Spiteri a-like Amy Gordon) who has inoperable brain cancer, yet is still on duty. Her team are unable to send or receive comms, so while Pete (Justin Prince Moy) stays behind, the rest of the team move on to a potential extraction point, armed with Martin's handwritten journal, with the intention of 'triangularising' the signal.

Smith and her number two, Robert (Robert Berlin) both confess to wanting to obtain the plant for their own ends (Robert's wife has a life threatning illness although later it turns out that he has no wife and is in it for himself). Meanwhile the Yeti, holding one of the plants for protection (it can use the thing to regenerate itself when wounded), guards the precious crop, taking out the team one by one.

Yeti takes in the depths of human emotion, time travel (a plot element which is brought out to explain how the Triassic era plant can exist in the 21st century), hi tech tension (one scene has an operative working to repair a mainframe with everything out of shot) and occasional bursts of colourful gore. Filmed in Poland and Russia (so proper snow then, unlike the foam of Burden's first movie), Yeti at least looks convincingly cold, and Joe Castro's yeti suit (worn by someone called Timothy Shultz, somewhat confusingly credited as 'the Abominal') and effects are pretty good for the budget. but otherwise this is as much a stinker as Evil Elves, and brace yourselves, because Burden (a fitting surname if ever I heard one) warns that he'll be back with a sequel (?) called 'The Mummy Revenge' (sic).

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