DEAD SET

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SHOULD I? Status: Would Watch

Availability: On Netflix

Zombies + Big Brother. British accents, a collection of cads. Who’ll be killed off next?

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • No CGI, moderate jump scares
  • Zombie genre, NOT found footage, surprisingly
  • Zombie Deets: moderate speed, not daylight sensitive, drawn to ?? energy??, life??, not sound-oriented
  • Black humor

Bechdel? NOT SURE Blackdel? YES

THOTS

I really liked the concept of Dead Set; it’s about what happens on the Big Brother set when a zombie outbreak infects England. When I saw that, I started the miniseries immediately. That’s right – Dead Set isn’t a movie but a 5-part miniseries. Don’t let Netflix fool you with its “1 season” garbage. The series was released in 2005 and besides, Episode 5 doesn’t leave much room for hope.

Overall, I think Dead Set is a success. There’s a wide variety of personalities across the characters, who are complex while also believable. The unfolding zombie drama is interspersed with enough short flashes of comedy to lighten the tone, at times, somewhat. That’s a needful thing in this grim scenario, where nearly all our surviving characters are trapped on a set with no outside world contact and no knowledge or hope that anyone else is alive out there.

Because the characters have such strong personalities, the audience gets a nice glimpse into several possible reactions and different characters’ attempts to come to grips with their new situation. This is pretty satisfying, as it provides multiple options for any internal “What would I do?” which might be happening.

However, Dead Set isn’t a total home run. The major problem is, simply, time. Over the series’ first two hours(4 episodes), a lot of care is given to characterization, development, and connecting with the audience. This is successful; the first four episodes are genuinely interesting, build on each other, and increase their hold on our attention. Unfortunately, that leaves 30 minutes to deliver the whole of a satisfying conclusion, and that just doesn’t happen here. It’s a tall order, to be sure. Instead, the 5th episode devolves into shrieks and conflict noises so quickly as to become shrill, and the dialogue devolves until you might as well spare your ears and turn the volume down. Watch it if you’re want to, if you’re really really curious, but I found it a total turn-off.

If you like Big Brother, you’ll get a kick out of Dead Set.

A CHRISTMAS HORROR ANTHOLOGY

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

Watch William Shatner return to his roots in this surprising holiday anthology.

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Moderate jump scares, moderate-high CGI
  • Surprisingly large cast in this expansive, multi-genre collection
  • Blackdel: Y / Bechdel: N

THOTS

Join William Shatner as the appealing “Dangerous Dan,” a local radio station DJ, as he broadcasts his way through Christmas in annual tradition. While Dan drinks, opines, and keeps those classics coming, A Christmas Horror Anthology cycles through four concurrent small-town tales. Basically, the film provides a peep into several lives, as their stories progress over 12 hours or so from Christmas Eve into Christmas. Admittedly, it doesn’t help to consider this construct too hard: it’s difficult to believe anyone with a kid would wait until Christmas Eve to obtain a tree; maybe less so, yet still specious, imagining that 3 teenagers would use the day to finish a school project. Surely, they’re on holiday. But I speak this on removal. In the movie universe, small errors such as these are easy to gloss over. They don’t impair the film.

Many of the horror anthologies I’ve seen have stories which are barely, if at all, interrelated: V/H/S, V/H/S 2, The ABCs of Death 1 (and 2?), Holidays, and The Theatre Bizarre are all evidence. Sometimes there’s a frame narrative to explain this; sometimes there isn’t. When there is, the strength of that narrative tends to vary. A Christmas Anthology provides a pleasant variance from these traits. Including the frame, the movie presents five related narratives using a small-town, everyone-knows-everyone herringbone weave. It gives the collection a very “jes’ folks” feel I enjoyed.

It’s always fun with anthologies to try to kind of crunch some numbers and see if there are any common themes or genres or sort of general bents among the stories. In this film’s established universe, everyone is deeply flawed. Even happy endings have a cost. This seems to imply that, when bad things happen to people, they tend to deserve it – except for the frame tale, which ponders the randomness of fate’s pain. It’s fun to look a little too deep like this. Just keep a little skepticism about planning and intent.

If you’re going to watch a holiday horror movie, A Christmas Horror Anthology’s a pleasant use of your time.

KRAMPUS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available for Comcast or Verizon OnDemand Rental (Verizon’s cheaper)

This moral tale’s more like Black Christmas than the Nightmare Before, despite its apparent family-friendly vibe.

I guess I may be a little late to the game on this one; Krampus came out for the holiday season last year. I remember my little sister was positively amped for its theatrical release. I’d been intrigued by the trailers as well. However, we neither managed to watch it until this last week, spurred on by Thanksgiving and the fresh set of winter holidays. 

Krampus turned out pleasantly worth the watch.

Here’s an “I’ll be honest:” I expected a more lighthearted affair. Indeed, Krampus’ first 30 minutes strongly echo the bumbling, comedic feel one can find in seasonal classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, maybe a little The Grinch minus its Whoville trappings – you know, that sort of innocent evil story-for-all-ages vibe. The multifold family members which constitute the film’s cast effectively elicit its audience’s empathy and rueful chagrin in addition to a healthy dusting of chuckles. And boy, what an intelligent approach this is to these despicable twelve, Krampus’ consanguineous dirty dozen: here’s a bunch of humans with spades of conflict between them, plus enough off-putting personality traits to count on both hands (and none may need share), but the director still needs to make us, the audience, like them. We need to root for these petty savages. They win us over in two equal parts; with the relatable aggravations that dog all mid-size families, colored in just-broad-enough cartoonish strokes. Paint strife funny and no one will scapegoat anyone for it too much.

Once we get to know everybody, and kind of like ‘em even if we hate ‘em, Krampus reveals it has gloves on beneath the cheer. With one hard hook, this film gets its shit real real, real quick.

Turns out this isn’t National Lampoon after all: no one’s lives are at stake in that holiday comedy. Same with The Grinch and sure, Nightmare Before Christmas, even – since both of these deal in fairy tales, the mind begs to compare and equate Krampus with such fluff. I was frankly shocked at the film’s first character death/disappearance. “I didn’t think this was that sort of movie,” I commented to a friend. “I didn’t think, you know, they’d actually kill anyone.”

From that point, Krampus doesn’t let up. While the serious horror treatment was a surprise, initially, and maybe just to me (maybe I forgot the tone of the trailers, or something), I have to applaud it. I didn’t expect Krampus to put anything real at stake. After all, it was a horror movie, but it was a Christmas movie, too. In my experience horror-Christmas movies tend to 15% horror, 85% gingerbread, tinsel, and loads of at-the-end, good-feels. Not so, Krampus, and it’s both the surprising of my expectation and the serious-ness of its scare which, at the end of the day, have won me over. I have no reservations. I recommend Krampus to you utterly.

If you feel in need of an antidote to angels, cherubs, carolers with rosy cheeks and Auld Lang Syne anytime in the next six weeks, then I say cue Krampus right on up.

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Official Red Flag

Available on Netflix (Netflix Original) 

The good news? Only idiots and invalids are susceptible to specters in this flick.

The bad news? Now you have to watch it. 

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Subgenre: Haunted House; Paranormal Activity
  • What the fuck era is this in? Some ancient one
  • Low on story, low on scares, low on everything
  • See In Real Life: Bechdel pass not actual indicator of quality

THOTS

Wow, I hated this movie. I hated this movie so much I turned it off halfway in and was going to “let it rot” (a phrase the film repeats over and over) forever.. Then, after a day and half’s worth of levelheaded thought I realized I hated PYT (as the movie shall be dismissively termed henceforth in this review) so much that a) I had an obligation to the public to save them, and b) I had a lot to say about it. Very heatedly. That, in itself, merited a review. On a side note, you should see my notes for this movie. They’re hilarious, or, at least, hilariously frustrated.

I’m disappointed. With its arsenal of wildly popular original productions, Netflix should be able to churn out at least an average horror movie. Instead, someone somewhere greenlit a script which features a protagonist who, at one point, is too scared to learn more about her slightly spooky living situations to read a book that would explain them. If that weren’t enraging enough, the fact is that the only character “development” the film exhibits, in any way, is the development of a living character into a dead one. I guess not everyone was paying attention in 6th grade Reading class when we learned about dynamic characters and story progression.

This is a film that focuses on two characters who are so alone that, when they die, it is weeks before anyone thinks to check on them. If no one in the movie cares about the two main characters, why in God’s name would the audience? PYT asks us to care but gives us nothing to care about.

To get real honest, right from the start there’s no reason for us, the audience, to hear the story PYT churns out. We open with a first-person monologue told by a woman who, it’s established, is too afraid to read a book; leave her job; leave the house, even; or do anything. Why would this frightened creature talk to us? Are we in her house? What’s prompting her to speak to an audience?

And even if PYT offered some frail explanation for all of this, which it doesn’t – why would we, the audience, decide to listen? There is nothing compelling on sale.

Not only is our main character boring, she is dumb. She is reportedly uneasy living in the house but she never tries to leave it. Books are so frightening she would rather be scared and ignorant in real life than attempt to learn more about her situation. She had paranormal visions but does not acknowledge them. Things happen around her and over and over again she does nothing.

Even if this might be realistic, in that there may be a person out there like this idiot, that does not make it interesting, and in order for a movie to succeed it is more important it be interesting than believable.

For the sake of my time wasted, please – don’t waste yours.


Everything I Love That PYT Ruins (Special Closing Feature):

– Haunted house genre

– Minimalist script (2 MCs, 3 characters total, limited setting)

– Feminist horror genre