Vampires, demons, exploding heads, and a cult with the hots for a pretty boy in the latest foursome of films I checked out. Let’s see what makes each one worth a watch.
BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL (2020)
I always find it weird when a movie is entertaining and fun, with playful humor, some scares, cool monster makeup, a dose of blood, likable characters…and yet is also a little boring. That’s the case with Irish film Boys From County Hell.
This charming vampire comedy has plenty of great moments, but it is really slow in its delivery following an intriguing opening scene.
The focus is on a group of friends living in a town known for its history with Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. They hang out at a bar named after the writer, and in a field nearby there’s a pile of stones that is believed to mark the burial plot of a legendary vampire.
Wouldn’t you know the friends are doing a construction job that involves knocking down the stack of stones?
The events that unfold leading up to that moment are notably somber and serious, so for a while I was thinking this film was either mismarketed as a horror comedy or was going to suddenly make a not so smooth transition, which is exactly what happened. As soon as the demolition takes place, the film totally shifts tone, the comedy kicks in, and the group suddenly faces the realization that they’ve brought the fictional concept of vampirism to…um…life. Not only do they have to fend off bloodthirsty versions of those they know and love, but they also have to take on the freaky master vampire they dug up.
Despite its slow pacing issues between the thrilling sequences, the film is still a satisfying horror comedy that it dares to add some unique concepts to the mix instead of relying solely on the traditional rules of vampirism. In a way, the final act sort of reminded me of the final act of the equally cool film The Shed.
SMILEY FACE KILLERS (2020)
Don’t go into Smiley Face Killers expecting a typical teen slasher, especially considering it’s written by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, and the chip that’s been steadily growing on his shoulder over the decades would never let him stoop to my level of 80s horror entertainment.
Instead, he gives us a “based on a true story” tale of…a gang of occult creeps in robes driving around in a white van with an erotic hard-on for a college pretty boy?
The general info we are given at the beginning is that there was a rash of drownings of young men across college campuses, and in each case, a smiley face marking was drawn nearby. This fictionalized movie appears to be based on a questionable theory crafted by two detectives that looked into the cases. Rather than being “based” on a true story, I get the sense it was is inspired by unfounded claims by some hacks.
Most of the movie comes across like a David DeCoteau film, with the camera making love to our main specimen as he swims, bike rides, hangs with friends, showers, has sex with his girlfriend, strips down to his tighty-whities, strips down to nothing, etc. So this one does land on the stud stalking page.
We learn he’s been on medication and seeing a therapist but is resistant to both. We also see someone stalking him and often watching him from his closet. Is this stalker living in there? I don’t know. Are we supposed to think he’s delusional because there’s a weak seed planted in our head that he’s messed in the head?
He believes someone is fucking with him, but that concept doesn’t quite translate to the most suspenseful slow burn. To keep us interested, there’s a gory kill at 53 minutes in, and then the final act delivers all the crazy cult shit, which is homoerotic, gory, and a rather disturbing, total fabrication not based on any evidence as far as I can tell. However, it does definitely give the film some horror cred at last.
BEAST MODE (2020)
This silly indie has plenty of bright spots, but it is often unfocused with way too many characters, so sticking with it for the good parts is a bit of a challenge.
The cast is loaded with horror veterans in both major roles and cameos, including Thomas Downey, Leslie Easterbrook, Ray Wise, and James Hong.
C. Thomas Howell is the leading man, a Hollywood agent who accidentally kills his big star, played by indie fave James Duval. Conveniently, Howell scores a special potion that will bring Duval back to life.
But there’s a side effect. The potion also turns those who consume it into demons. And Howell makes the mistake of leaving it somewhere accessible.
Considering the fun premise, it’s a bit of a disappointment that there aren’t more people in rubber demon masks running around throughout the course of the film. However, the demon moments we get are a lot of fun, and C. Thomas Howell reminds us why he was so popular in the 80s, because he is still quite charismatic and funny.
The cameos are fun, some of them are unnecessary and forced, and I was distracted by all the excess nonsense going on and taking us away from the main plot. If you’re going to toss loads of irrelevant characters at us, the point should be to kill them off and raise the body count, and that just doesn’t happen here. But the final act kind of makes up for it.
In the dark teen comedy tradition of edgy films like Heathers and Jawbreaker, Spontaneous is a story of a teen girl and boy finding love when their high school is struck by a bizarre epidemic…students are randomly exploding in a burst of blood and gore.
At times a lot of gooey fun, at other times this quirky film is a little too soft and romantic, and also tries way too hard to be what it’s going for–“philosophical”. It often gets too heavy and literal instead of getting its points across smartly through its twisted subject matter.
As a result, the film does drag at times while we wait for the next juicy explosion. The cast of kids is mostly likable and funny, but we only really get to know a few of them, namely the main girl, her best friend, and her boyfriend, which is unfortunate, because there are some other interesting characters teased, including a funny girl who will pretty much bang anyone and a gay guy we don’t even find out is gay until he’s dead. Sigh.
The main problem for me was that this was in large part a romance, and I simply wasn’t into the couple as a couple. I found their connection bland, and quite honestly, thought the guy was just boring. Sweet and pleasant just wasn’t cutting it, and he looked like a reject from 90s teen band Hanson. Not even his various references to the 80s, including dancing to the 1985 hit “And We Danced” by The Hooters with her in a barn, could win me over.
While the explosions are at first mostly off screen, that changes as the film progresses, and we get plenty of Scanners style gore and a couple of awesome death sequences, leading up to an ultimate, mind-blowing massacre in school that clearly gives some nods to Carrie.
The down side is that it isn’t the big climax, and the film keeps going after that for another fricking 40 minutes, offering very little beyond loads of “deep thought” in the form of dialogue. Blech.