The Wolf of Snow Hollow

 

2020 | dir: Jim Cummings | 85 m

When I first saw a preview for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I was immediately invested. Everything seemed to check off this unknown list within my mind: werewolves, small towns, snow, mountains, dark humour, comedy, and horror, to name a few. I had seen Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road last year and enjoyed it enough that I often think about it and was intrigued with what Jim would come up with next. He has a way of writing his characters that straddle the line between likeability and distaste, and I would say that Snow Hollow tests those boundaries to a point that has me questioning my enjoyment of the movie. The plot is familiar as werewolf movies go: on each full moon bodies are found, and our local small-town police force struggles to find any compelling evidence or follow any leads. The difference here between any similarly-plotted movie is the characters, who are the central focus of Snow Hollow.

The Fly II

 

1989 | dir: Chris Walas | 105 m

I was quite taken aback with how captivating this film was; it probably helps that I entered into the viewing with fairly low expectations. I had just listened to a podcast about Cronenberg’s remake of the Fly, and they talked briefly about its sequel (of which Cronenberg had no involvement). While it’s easy to agree that this sequel is miles behind, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss it entirely. There are some incredibly fun creature effects and grotesque deaths on screen to grab your attention, although most of them come in final act of the film. The first couple of acts are still fascinating, as we watch Marin Brundle (Eric Stoltz) rapidly age through the first five years of his life as a result of the human/fly hybrid genetics of his father. Although he’s supremely intelligent, he’s regularly picked on and treated poorly by his foster family of lab techs and a particularly surly security guard, resulting in quite a bit of sympathy for the child-turn-man at five years old, and this investment in his character is deepened as he falls in love with Daphne (Beth Logan), another employee in his corporate/lab home.

With that, The Fly II makes me forget for a moment that I’m watching a horror film and that a slew of Really Bad Things are about to happen, but damn if I wanted to see Martin succeed in recreating his late father’s experiments. The greedy corporation feels a bit cliché, including the obviously false sincerity of the head of the corporation, who of course wants to utilize the transporter for profit in the face of bettering humanity. These are easy things to get over: I can appreciate that the film plays things a bit more safely in regards to plot, focusing instead on the characters and some fun creature design.

The New Mutants

 

 2020 | dir: Josh Boone | 94 m

It would be impossible to begin talking about The New Mutants without touching on the abhorrent delays and release schedule woes that the film underwent. Originally slated to be released in the spring of 2018, the movie would be pushed back until late summer of 2020, which feels unprecedented for a superhero film in our climate, but alas, here we are. You could blame a few things, including the Disney acquisition of Fox, higher priority films and of course the COVID pandemic, but behind all that would loom the quality of the film: surely, this entry in the Fox mutant pantheon was SO bad that releasing it could do more harm than good. The issue is that I could believe it: the last two films in the X-Men series were pretty awful, and I was ready for a reboot (although I’m not necessarily looking forward to a Disney/Marvel reboot, but that’s another topic). The New Mutants dropped a trailer, and I was heavily intrigued, but I still had no choice but to enter into the film with the lowest of expectations. 

Wouldn’t you know it: the film wasn’t bad.

Hannibal

2001 | dir: Ridley Scott | 131 m

Though Hannibal is an abysmal failure of a film, I'm incredibly grateful that it exists if only as proof positive that Ridley Scott is fallible and therefore mortal. Much like Ready Player One, it humanizes one of my favourite directors and demonstrates that we don't have to be defined by our failures. Which is good in Mr. Scott's case, because it is, as the kids say these days, a whopper. (Unlike Vincent Vega who probably wouldn't be inclined to use the same terminology, knowing his disdain for Burger King.) Hannibal is a direct sequel to the iconic The Silence of the Lambs, and while I didn't expect it to reach the same heights as its predecessor, I also didn't anticipate the depths to which it would plunge.

Like all of the Hannibal Lector movies, this one was based on a book by Thomas Harris. I have yet to read any of the books in the Hannibal Lector series, but immediately after watching Hannibal, I felt compelled to look up an outline of the novel online, breaking one of my unwritten rules about indulging in spoilers for texts which I have not read/watched/listened to yet. But in this case my curiosity overcame me. There was no way that the story and plot of the Hannibal novel was this bad. This had to have been the work of Hollywood hacks hired by a secret cabal dedicated to destroying the life's work of Thomas Harris by transforming his stories into nonsensical garbage for the screen.

How wrong I turned out to be.

After reading the synopsis of the Hannibal novel, I sat in stunned silence for some time, then read it again. And again. And again. To my growing dismay, the words didn't change. Had I not known any better, I would have suspected that the summary of the plot of Harris' original novel was a work of fan fiction by a rabid fan of The Silence of the Lambs who had failed every English class they'd ever been in. But, unfortunately, I am burdened with terrible knowledge. This was not the fever dream of some random fan with no understanding of character, story, or plot far removed from a basic understanding of the original characters; this was a professional author who spent eight years writing a sequel to a popular book he himself had written. I was in shock not just at how terrible the concept of the Hannibal novel was, but that despite how bad the movie version had turned out, from the sound of things, it actually improved on the book (if only marginally). To be fair, not having read Harris' work, I can't critique the deftness of his prose, but thanks to the Internet, I can now actively avoid the chance to do so. 

The Incredible Hulk

2008 | dir: Louis Leterrier | 112 m

Just a few short months passing after Marvel Studios unleashed the well-crafted Iron Man on an unsuspecting public in 2008, Universal would – with the involvement of Marvel Studios – drop another entry into a newly reimagined Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the form of The Incredible Hulk. This was truly a turbelunt time for comic book films, as we faced a deluge of poorly executed adaptations and some experiments that left studios cautious about how to proceed, which is nowhere more apparently than in this Hulk film. Doing away with everything from Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, The Incredible Hulk was a reboot of sorts whose sole purpose seemed to be avoiding any kind of artistic depth while navigating the “safe passage” of mediocrity and tip-toeing around anything that Ang Lee had done before. As a film and comic book enthusiast, I was excited for another Hulk film, but incredibly wary of how the next iteration of the character was going to turn out on screen. To be fair, I loved the first Hulk film and my expectations were low for The Incredible Hulk, which would see a complete cast replacement and a shift in tone.  

As it happens, my expectations were on point: The Incredible Hulk is perfectly mediocre in every way. 

The Silence of the Lambs

1991 | Dir: Jonathan Demme | 118 m

There's a good reason why The Silence of the Lambs is widely regarded as one of the best horror/thrillers of all time, and that's because it is. It's one of those rare movies that was able to capture that lighting in a bottle, that rare confluence of puzzle pieces that meshed together perfectly to create a singular vision that left an indelible mark on film history. Everything from the writing to the casting to the editing to the set and costume design is so on point it could be used by a vicious serial killer as a murder weapon. The Silence of the Lambs has become one of the most iconic and most-parodied films of all time to the point where even people who have never seen the movie will understand the reference "Hello, Clarice" or instantly recognize Hannibal Lector's famous face restraints. Director Jonathan Demme demonstrates a mastery of the source material that doesn't lean so far into its conceits to be self-indulgent but at the same time doesn't shy away from the more fantastical and macabre elements of the story.

The Silence of the Lambs features career-defining performances from Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector, Jodie Foster as rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling, and Ted Levine as the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. From the very first shot, the world the audience is sucked into is moody and brooding and doesn't allow viewers to get comfortable for a second. Everything about the film is perfectly designed to make the viewer completely unsettled in the best possible way. The Silence of the Lambs does have its gory moments, to be sure, but the true horror of the film is the kind that lands less like the shock of a flash of lightning and more like the dampness that settles into your bones on a rainy day leaving you with a chill that you can't shake and underwear you can't dry. 

Red Dragon

2002 | Dir: Brett Ratner | 124 m

If you were to tell me that there was a universe where not only did Brett Ratner and Ridley Scott direct entries in the same film franchise, but that Brett Ratner's film was the better one, I would never have suspected for one minute that the universe you were talking about was the one I was currently living in. There are those who might think I'm being uncharitable to Mr. Ratner, to which I would reply by directing people to the filmographies of both Brett Ratner and Ridley Scott. There's simply no comparison, with the curious exception of their respective entries into The Silence of the Lambs series. Red Dragon was the third entry in the series and the first of two prequels after Hannibal effectively killed off any possibility of moving forward with its characters in any way that made a lick of sense. The cinematic powers that be made the correct choice of going back to a simpler time when Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) was a psychopath locked in a cage who could serve as an asset to help profile and catch other serial killers and Edward Norton could still pull off frosted tips and be taken seriously.

Red Dragon, like all of the Hannibal Lector movies, is based on a novel by Thomas Harris and falls short the high bar set by The Silence of the Lambs. Although not quite as great as The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon is saved by how closely it hews to the winning formula of its predecessor. Well, I guess technically since the Red Dragon novel was actually published first, it's The Silence of the Lambs that actually maintains that same, comforting formula, even though the movie did it first, and by first I mean later, because the movie came after the novels. Listen, the point is, that all of the elements that make a decent Hannibal Lector flick are there in Red Dragon. The movie, not the book. Well, I guess the book too. Either way, the blueprint for success is there:

Hannibal Rising

2007 | dir: Peter Webber | 121 m

I don't think I'll ever understand the urge to try and turn horror icons into badass antiheroes, but I believe I've pinpointed the mistake that serves as the catalyst for that sort of storytelling. Hannibal Rising is the second prequel to Jonathan Demme's seminal The Silence of the Lambs and the fourth - and hopefully last - movie in that particular horror franchise. I had only ever seen The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon, so I figured that for my annual October horror movie marathon, I'd give the entire series a watch in the chronological order in which the events of the films took place rather than their release dates to watch the Grand Vision unfold. Like all of the movies featuring the iconic serial killer Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector, Hannibal Rising was based on a book by Thomas Harris, though to what degree this movie - or any of the other Hannibal Lector movies - remained faithful to the books I haven't much of a clue, as I have yet to read any of them. Harris seems to have carved out a financially lucrative literary niche for himself, for which I fault him not one iota. Maybe someday I will delve into the novels, but for now, all I know of the Lector-verse is what I've seen on screen, and well, let's just say that Hannibal Rising was nowhere near the calibre of The Silence of the Lambs and the amazing Hannibal TV show.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

 

2016 | dir: Paul W. S. Anderson | 107 m

I feel a tiny bit betrayed by last instalment of Resident Evil: the series has built itself up as an action series with a hint of being held together by a thin storyline about the evil Umbrella Corporation and Alice’s (Milla Jovovich) quest to dismantle it. I was disappointed that this movie would go ahead and retcon so many things from the previous films but I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised as Paul WS Anderson has prioritized The Action Scene above all other elements of the films, but it still hurts nonetheless. While the story here does feel tightly focused, I found myself a bit confused on the actions of some characters based on the previous films and left wondering where others disappeared. Killing favourite characters off-screen comes across as disrespectful to the viewer at the sixth entry in the series but shouldn’t surprise me at this point either. The series has always been light on story and The Final Chapter is no different, with the main difference being that you know how this movie is going to end.

The action scenes are actually a step down from the previous Retribution, which was probably a height for the series in those terms; The Final Chapter suffers from too many rapid cuts to the point that the action is nearly incomprehensible and I immediately feel bad for the film because of it.

If there was on bright spot here, is the return of Iain Glen as the delightfully evil Dr. Isaacs. Extinction might be my favourite of the series (I’m not making that official yet though) and I loved seeing Isaacs come back – Wesker felt like a square block being smashed into a round hole, while Isaac slipped through the villain role perfectly from the beginning. Of course, with the return of Dr. Isaacs is the return of the killer laser grid, which had me in hysterics: the laser grid WAS in fact one of the most memorable elements of the first film and to see it come back not once, but twice, throughout the series is telling me that either Anderson is giving the fans what they want or lacks the creativity to come up with something original. The real answer is that he is most likely pretty pleased with himself with that death trap and is practicing some form of self-indulgence by continuing to feature it again and again.

While I was feeling bitter at the beginning of the film, I was coming around near the end: you just can’t take these movies seriously. You’ve got Milla, over the top sci-fi, action, a brisk runtime and an excuse to turn off your brain and just when you thought this would be the final chapter, Anderson can’t help himself by leaving the door open a crack for more.

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