Monday, March 13, 2017

DOUBLE REVIEW: 'XX' / 'VooDoo' (2017) Movie Reviews

It's a one-two combination of no-budget indie horror ... but are either of these way off the beaten path genre films actually worth tracking down? 

By: Jimbo X

Alright kids, we've got a problem we gotta' talk about - Social Security. You know, that thing that represents a third of the total federal budget and makes up easily twice what we spend on the military each and every year?

Long story short, we're starting to run out of funding. By 2023, the Social Security disability fund  is supposed to disappear and by 2034 - that's 17 years from now, folks - the general Social Security fund for retirees is expected to go kaput. Which means - despite the feds taking a generous chunk of the pay you rightly earned out of your checks to fund the program - basically, we've all been paying into a system that will NEVER, EVER pay us back.

Factor in a rapidly aging population and an underpaid younger workforce and I suppose you can see the writing on the wall. We've got too many old farts dependent on the puny ass pay stubs of underemployed millennials, and that little boondoggle of an economic equation is only going to get worse from here. According to fake news monolith CNN, to insure Social Security will be a thing 70 years from know, the gubberment is going to either have to raise the Social Security payroll tax rate to 15 percent or slash S.S. benefits by 15 percent - but probably both, and odds are that 15 percent on both ends is going to go up considerably.

Factor in Medicare expenses, and a grand total of 40 percent of the ENTIRE U.S. federal budget today is allocated exclusively for people over the ages of 62 (which is barely 15 percent of the total U.S. national populace, in case you were wondering.) Well, by 2050, retirement-age Americans are expected to make up one-fifth of the national population, if not even more ... and since those decrepit old fucks are living even longer (thanks in no small part to all of that free - read: taxpayer subsidized - health care we're forced to give 'em), that means not only are we going to be spending MORE tax dollars on the AARP Generation in the not-too-distant future, we're going to be economically indentured to fiscally supporting their old, leathery asses for even longer.

For the life of me, I just can't fathom why the media (and ESPECIALLY Millennials and Gen Z kids, in general) are so obsessed with trifling bullshit like trannies in bathrooms and free abortions when we're all riding aboard the Titanic and hurdling headlong into a gigantic economic iceberg. The math is staring us directly in the face - this whole Social Security thing has too many beneficiaries, who are eating up way too many tax dollars, who are going to be gobbling up even more of our wages and making us all poorer as working Americans, and ain't nobody - left, right, communist, socialist, alt-right or Skrull - saying anything about this all but inevitable financial time bomb. With wages doing down and entitlement recipients going up, maintaining the Social Security program - as is - is quite literally impossible. The amount of money coming in to the program is soon (very, very soon) going to be less than the program costs to operate. Either the old fogies take one for the team, or we are going to get taxed out the ass so much we'll never be able to live even remotely comfortable, economically stable lives.

So basically, we're about to become a society of underpaid employees who are forced to live lower-quality lives (to the point that luxuries of modernity all the Baby Bommers and Gen X-ers enjoyed, like home ownership or raising a family, become economic impossibilities) so that the elderly minority can get $3,000 a month from the feds to spend on QVC cookware and Christmas decorations and go to the doctor to have their titties looked at whenever they want somebody to touch their withered, beef jerky-like bodies.

Well, to quote that dead guy from Drowning Pool, "3, something's gotta' give, eeeeyarghhh." Thus, I've taken the time, the effort and the general human decency to drum up three potential solutions to that looming Social Security crisis everybody else is too busy playing with their puds to directly address and rectify. Granted, these ideas may seem a little radical at first, but remember - desperate times clamor for desperate measures, and remarkable questions absolutely goddamn demand remarkable responses... 

SOLUTION ONE - This one's real simple. Next Tuesday, we just stop handing out any Social Security payments. Hell, for that matter, we might as well cancel all the Medicaid, Medicare and food stamp checks, too, and just get the whole guldarn welfare state over and done with in one fell swoop. Naturally, I suppose the good half to two-thirds of the country dependent on at least one kind of government assistance won't take the abrupt news too kindly, but from there, we can just let natural selection take care of things. The smart senior citizens will find a way to keep trucking along, while the ones too feeble to take care of themselves get to march into that wide blue yonder the way God intended man to live out his or her golden years - starving to death on the streets or getting raped and eventually murdered by roving post-apocalyptic youth gangs. But hey, don't worry about them too much ... by the time 95 percent of our nation's inner cities are nothing but democratic-voting tire fires, we pretty much won't even have an entitlement dilemma to worry 'bout no more. 

SOLUTION TWO - Now this one is a little more bureaucratic, insuring a whole lot of federal government workers prolly won't lose their jobs. Right now, we've got about 320 million people living in the U.S., and that's not counting all the people named Jose and Javier who snuck into the country last week and are currently soliciting odd jobs/blow jobs down at your local Home Depot. To preserve our illustrious Social Security safety net, I reckon we need to whittle that number down to about half of what it is now. Now, how could we go about doing so? Two words, folks - motherfuckin' THUNDERDOME. That's right, we put every man, woman and child in the States inside a lottery and, two at a time, force 'em to fight to the death inside a facsimile of The Road Warrior set, complete with chainsaws, scythes and rusty pick axes hanging from the top of a huge-assed jungle gym. We already have the Census in place, and since those people only work three weeks every 10 years, I'm sure they'd champ at the bit for the opportunity to round up everybody for the great human harvest. Now, the beauty here is that everything is totally random: you might get lucky and draw a fight against a paraplegic 80-year-old or a four-year-old with brittle bone disease or you might wind up drawing a Hell's Angel coked up on PCP, or Mike Tyson (prolly also coked up on PCP, but that sorta' goes without saying.) Oh, and if neither competitors want to duel for their right to exist, we'll just open the arena gates and let a whole bunch of starving lions eat both of them. Naturally, this would lend itself well to prime time television; I figure we could put the most intriguing and competitive bouts on PBS, with the really good ones slotted in for State of the Union-style multi-channel broadcast. Hell, this thing might even be worth bringing back the old Olympics Triplecast, complete with that fruity ass remote control nobody could figure out.

SOLUTION THREE - You know, for a nation of people who pride themselves on pragmatism, we don't necessarily have a keen taste for the most pragmatic of solutions no more. Let's cut to the meat of the matter, why don't we? The problem with Social Security is, what, essentially? Not so much that we have this behemoth entitlement program in place that effectively enslaves federal government and all of the nation's taxpayers to be its keeper like the mama in The Babadook, but more the fact that we've got too many damned old people in this country as is. Simply put, the Framers of the Constitution never really intended for a thing such as Social Security to exist, because when America was founded, old people didn't exist. At the time America declared independence, the average life expectancy was barely 35 years old, and even at the beginning of the 20th century most people couldn't expect to live past the age of 50. There was never any need for government subsidized old age care because nobody lived long enough to experience an age old enough that they had to be totally dependent on federally-subsidized services. So if you're a fan of natural law, you'll quickly come to the realization that the problem here isn't Social Security as a national policy, but much more so the fact that people are living far longer than nature ever intended them to. Therefore, I propose we institute a national framework in which every man and woman in the U.S. be involuntarily euthanized at the time of their 65th birthday. Come on, by that point they've pretty much done everything they're going to do professionally and from there on out, their bodies and minds are just going to deteriorate into mush and they're going to spend the next 40 pointless years of their lives doing nothing but gobbling pills like Skittles and watching reruns of Judge Judy. And in that, who in the world could consider sparing millions of people such abject degradation to be an act of "inhumanity?" 

Granted, your mileage may vary on any of the solutions proposed above, but hey, at least I'm trying to do something about this Social Security nightmare nobody else seems to give half a shit about. And if you think making random people fight to the death or offing senior citizens before they can start collecting discounts at Denny's is too ghoulish to consider, just imagine what the consequences would look like if two-thirds or even four-fifths of all U.S. tax dollars went not to defending our borders or promoting domestic industry or achieving energy independence, but to keeping 60 million Golden Girls conked out of their minds on high-powered psychotropic pills while they shit all over themselves 35 years after Alzheimers' transformed their minds into gingivitis-pockmarked pickles. Welcome to America, 2060: an entire nation of severely underpaid workers with 40, and sometimes even 50 percent income tax burdens, forced to live like transient community college students for the entirety of their lives so a bunch of blue-haired old farts can down free prescription drugs like Hungry Hungry Hippos and waste valuable healthcare funding to get their buttholes looked at every time they feel one too many dingleberries. Yeah, some future to look forward to, ain't it

Yeah, you don't know who any of these broads are, and to be honest, you don't really need to know who any of 'em are, either.

Speaking of things better left unseen, the first flick in our double header this week is XX, a horror anthology where all the mini-movies are directed by women. Ever heard of Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin or Karyn Kusama? Well, me neither, and that's for a reason: none of these skirts really know how to make a movie scary, or unsettling, or really, any good for that matter.

This is one of those movies financed by people who think stop-motion porcelain dolls with busted eye sockets and time lapse rotting apples are hip and edgy and horrifying. Granted, that may have been the case when Tool music videos were in heavy rotation on MTV 25 years ago, but today? That kind of stuff just comes off as all kinds of hackneyed and uninspired, and unfortunately, the movie don't really get much better after the opening credits. 

To be fair, the first story - which is actually an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum story - is pretty good, but it still has more flaws than positives. It's about this suburban mom who's riding the subway train with her two kids and they're sitting next to this old creepy pedophile looking dude with a wonky eye and one of the kids asks if he can see what's in his spooky red gift box and he shows it to him and after that, he stops eating altogether. Right then and there you realize this had to be made by some hoity-toity upperclass suburban-weaned post-mallrat broad - prolly  born and raised in some cosmopolitan Yankee hellhole, like Long Island, Boston or, heaven help us, Toronto because if this kinda' thing happened to a family in the Deep South - white or black - the movie would be over in five minutes. The very moment Little Billy would have told his ma he doesn't want a third helping of blueberry cobbler with a double dollop of Cool Whip, she'd reach over the table, slam a plastic funnel down his gullet and force feed him deserts until he weighed as much as a blue ribbon prize pig at the annual FFA convention. But since this is one of those white families, the parents don't do shit except slam their fists on the table and sneak outside to smoke Marlboros because their kid refuses to eat pizza or eggrolls. Strangely enough, it takes them a full four days before they take their kid to a doctor, and even THEY don't do anything for the anorexic little twerp, who then whispers something into his sister's ear that makes her not want to eat, either. And then he tells dad something, and naturally, he stops eating, too. Then there's this dream sequence where mom is laying on a dinner table and the rest of the family is eating bloody chunks of her thighs, but that's not the real ending. By Christmastime everybody in the family except mom weighs approximately 50 pounds and then they all starve to death at the hospital. Now, as to why she didn't get them shipped out to a psychiatric facility for their eating disorders ... or why she waited until they were at death's door before taking 'em to the hospital ... or why she was even cool with her family wasting away to skeletons over the course of two months ... or why the medical personnel couldn't stick an IV in them or force feed them muscle-building milkshakes from GNC until they looked like something other than Auschwitz victims ... well, the movie never tells us. And if you're looking for an explanation for why the family suddenly decided to stop eating, there's no exposition - it just ends with mom riding the subway, hopelessly trying to find the guy with the wonky eye and the gift box. Bad and stupid endings, I can do, but filmmakers who are too lazy to come up with any ending? Next to the film itself exploding and the theater refusing to hand out any refunds, I can't think of anything that infuriates audiences as much

Still, that first vignette is far and away the best thing about XX, seeing how boring and formulaic the other three stories are. The second one isn't even really a horror short - it's basically a re-do of Weekend at Bernie's about a grandma trying to hide her son-in-law's corpse in a giant panda costume so it won't ruin her grandkid's birthday party, where all the kids are dressed up like shrimp and toilets, for some inexplicable reason. The third one is a total ripoff of The Evil Dead (and Scalps and Equinox) about these four hippies that take their RV into the desert and smoke pot and then one of them gets possessed by some Native American demon spirit and turns into a terrible-looking CGI chicken nugget herky-jerky zombie, and the fourth one is a total ripoff of The Omen and The Babadook and even We Need To Talk About Kevin about this single mom who has convinced her son his daddy is some Hollywood movie star, but he's actually the Antichrist and he's running around nailing squirrels to trees and ripping the fingernails off girls at school but he never gets in any trouble because he's (unwittingly) using his devil worship mind control powers on everybody.

So needless to say, after the 22 minute mark, there ain't Jack Shit worth anybody sticking around for. This stuff don't come anywhere close to matching other contemporary horror anthologies - V/H/S and The ABCs of Death and especially Three...Extremes - but I will give it some credit for not being filled to wall-with-wall feminist-propaganda identity-politicking, which is pretty much what all of us expect out of something called XX. It still sucks, but hey - at least it doesn't suck for ideological reasons.

We've got six dead bodies. No breasts (kind of a shocker there, huh?) One dead squirrel. One CGI zombie monster. Gratuitous stop-motion animation baby dolls and grungy teacup sets. Gratuitous rapping panda telegram. Gratuitous slow-motion kids' birthday party reaction shots. Gratuitous devil toenail clipping. One dudebro tossed through a window. One nasty compound fracture. Anorexia fu. Cannibalism fu. And the thing pretty much responsible for this film even existing, obvious-regret-over-pursuing-a-film-career-instead-of-having-children fu.

Starring Natalie Brown as the mama that doesn't really find it odd at all that her kids haven't eaten anything for three weeks and look like gaunt elementary-school-aged heroin addicts; Melanie Lynskey (the other chick in Heavenly Creatures) as the GMILF who thinks zipping her daughter's dead husband into a giant furry costume makes more sense then just telling everybody she found him keeled over on his work desk; Angela Trimbur as the girl who gets possessed by really, really shitty looking Final Cut Pro effects; and Christina Kirk as the mother of the Antichrist, who tries really, really hard to channel the spirits of Essie Davis and Tilda Swinton before a demonic whirlwind makes her puke blood all over her kid's birthday cake.

Eh, I'll give it two stars out of four simply for refusing to lay on the women's lib rhetoric too thick. It still prolly isn't worth your time, though, unless you REALLY need to get out of the house for an hour and half, and even then I'd recommend doing something else with your disposable income and free time, like hitting up an all you can-eat pizza buffet or going mini-golfing.

When Ron Jeremy provides the bulk of your movie's star power, you know you either did something really, really wrong or something inadvertently really, really right.

We do, however, have ourselves a slightly better female-oriented horror flick making the rounds at local arthouse cinemas with really low standards nationwide in the form of the second half of our double feature, Tom Costabile's VooDoo. Now, it is, unfortunately, one of those damned found footage movies, but at least this one has the horse sense to use a steadicam instead of shaky cam so you can actually see what's happening onscreen instead of having to just sorta' guess at what you're looking at like in Blair Witch and Unfriended. We start off with a guy finding a woman with her guts torn out in a kids' sandbox, and then this ebony hoodoo priestess gets possessed by African-American Satan and starts speaking in tongues and stabbing a still living victim with a butcher knife and rubbing blood all over her face before singing the preamble to "Circle of Life." Then we cut to this actress with the worst Southern accent you have ever heard in your life (at times, she sounds more like she's doing an imitation of Katherine Hepburn more than anything else) arriving in California so she can visit her wannabe punk rocker cousin's place and admire the voodoo beads and baby doll masks just laying all over the place.

So they shoot the shit by the pool for awhile and then talk about Mardi Gras and go sightseeing in Hollywood while smoking kush. Then they do shots at The Rainbow and dance with Ron Jeremy (yes, that Ron Jeremy) and the visitor from New Orleans talks about her husband leaving her for his ex, a voodoo queen (uh-oh) and sure as sugar, as soon as she flips on nightvision mode, a whole bunch of invisible shadow demons pop up on camera and two things become quite apparent: one, nobody on the payroll had any idea how to animate anything with a computer, and two, the shit is about to get real crazy in a real hurry.

The next morning they pour Bloody Marys into Gatorade bottles and hit up Venice Beach and this homeless dude won't stop staring at them while they sunbathe and then a fortune teller freaks out on 'em. Then they monkey around on Rodeo Drive then Louisiana Girl gets a phone call from her ex and learns that his crazy-ass ex is in L.A. looking for her. And NOW is the part where Devil-Mania 2017 starts running wild; after a shitty shadowy CGI monster attacks her and crucifixes start spinning around on the wall, our leading lady goes down stairs and - yikes - the whole damn house has turned into Dante's Inferno - a Dante's Inferno built using $20 worth of art supplies from Michaels and the services of part-time community theater actors for half an hour, but Dante's Inferno nonetheless.

We've got disemboweled drummers nailed to the cupboards. We've got the prodigal cousin turning into a really, really bad Evil Dead ripoff demon. And worst of all - or maybe best of all, depending on your sense of humor - a chorus of Satanic minions take over the soundtrack, only they didn't do the audio mixing too good so they either sound like Bill Cosby on autotune or E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. 

But we haven't gotten to the really wacky part yet. Then a whole bunch of imps literally drag the "final girl" into the bowels of hell, and I don't know what it resembles more: that really, really bad port of Doom on the Game Boy Advance or one of those really, really shitty Dungeons & Dragons-ripoff VCR board games from back in the day. The fog machine is turned on ultra-blast, there's red Play-Doh smeared all over the walls and for the demonic statues, I'm pretty sure they just glued some horns on some lawn gnomes and called it good. 

And now we're finally at the part where things get kooky. This guy in a Shriner's cap chains her up so these albino S&M elves can smell her feet, then he brands her with a big old pentagram. Then she walks into a room full of meat hooks and you can just tell they went down to the seasonal Halloween supply shop and just tossed as many plastic arms and heads around the set as possible. THEN she walks into another room (actually, I'm pretty sure they just used the same room over and over again, only with the plastic skeletons arranged differently to create the illusion of a different set) and we get to watch pregnant women choked to death with their own umbilical cords and zombies literally chowing down on newborn infants. Then she watches a priest have his butthole sawed open and she runs into the ghost of the uncle who used to molest her then demons kill her dead mama all over again and for the grand finale? Well, let's just say it involves one of the blunter devil rape scenes in horror history; and, I, for one, never would've guessed the Prince of Darkness would've been that into anal. 

Sure, sure, all of it sucks, but at least it sucks in a refreshingly non-ironic way. Unlike a good 90 percent of the no-budget genre movies getting made nowadays, at least these people TRIED to make a serious movie. Corny, cheesy and shitty on purpose I can't tolerate, but corny, cheesy and shitty because that's literally the best the filmmakers could do, I can't help but admire and appreciate.

We've got 11 dead bodies. Two breasts. Ritual blood drinking. Multiple disembowelments. Zombies. Demons. A Satanic knight that appears to be wearing a suit made out of tinfoil. Fetus chewing. A flaming hot branding iron right to the stomach. Priest torturing. Satanic rape (complete with a Lucifer that looks like an extra from 300 spray-painted red.) Gratuitous demonic cackling. Gratuitous molester uncle. Gratuitous bloody pentagrams. Gratuitous devil worship graffiti. Heads roll. Arms roll. S&M fu. Butcher knife fu. Perverted imp fu. And, the thing responsible for the whole movie ... the world's sturdiest video camera fu. Hey, you have to admire the craftsmanship on anything that has enough battery life to make it sightseeing on the Sunset Strip and going through all nine circles of hell in just one night

Starring veteran TLC dramatic recreation actor Samantha Stewart as Nawlins' vacationer Dani Lamb, whose trip to L.A. involves slightly more contact with slimy sadomasochist sex demons than your average three-day stay in Hollywood; Ruth Reynolds as Stacy Cole, the Louisiana transplant who named her shitty pukola punk band "Rapeseed" and eventually winds up turning into an albino crater-face necro-cannibal; Dominic Matteucci and Daniel Kuzul as the bandmates who spend more of the movie with their guts hanging outside of their body than inside them; Constance Strickland as the child-murdering Santeria practitioner who really can't stand seeing her former lover move on; and Ron Jeremy, who I'm pretty sure wasn't scheduled to appear in the movie, but since he was already on set at the Rainbow, they gave him a few lines anyway.

Directed and written by Tom Costabile, who you can tell is going to have a long and fruitful career making movies like this for a long time to come, as evident by his showstopping dialogue "choke on your mother's bowels, you fucking cunt."

I'll give it two and a half stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out, especially if you ever wondered what a stage production of Hellraiser produced and financed by GWAR would look like.


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