Hidden Netflix Gems – House

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is a film for hardcore fans of things like Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King novels, and the more horror-heavy pages of the classic Heavy Metal magazine. In fact, in many ways it is very much like a feature-length Tales from the Crypt episode, one that is especially heavy on the comic relief. Produced by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and directed by Steve Miner, who helmed the first two sequels to that film, this is decidedly campy, deliciously cheesy and immensely satisfying B-movie fun.

Not to be confused with the 1977 Japanese cult movie of the same name, the 1986 film House (aka Ding Dong, You’re Dead, its original video release subtitle) stars William Katt as best-selling horror novelist Roger Cobb, a Vietnam vet who has been struggling with writing about his experiences in the war. One of his problems is that no one else seems particularly interested in this story, preferring he write another horror story instead, but more importantly, he is also dealing with the fact that his wife, popular TV actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), has recently left him. Even more recently, his beloved Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French), committed suicide by hanging herself in her creepy old Victorian mansion, where Roger and Sandy’s young son Jimmy (played alternately by twins Erik and Mark Silver) disappeared some time ago. Roger inherits the house and decides to try and finish his new book there, in solitude, while also dealing with the demons of his past.

Of course, he doesn’t exactly find the solitude he’s looking for, due to a bumbling but well-intentioned neighbor named Harold Gorton (George Wendt), who provides much of the films comedy, and a series of strange monsters that seem to come from another dimension within the house, who provide the rest. Saying the monsters are more funny than scary is not a criticism of the film, however, as this is clearly intentional most of the time. Though the effects will look dated to viewers in the modern CGI era, they are quite well-done; they are not the nightmare creations of other films of the time like John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but they stand up nicely alongside more silly films like Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

As it turns out, Roger’s preoccupation with his Vietnam memories is especially relevant to the literal demons he faces in the strange old house, and though the film takes some rather dead-end narrative turns along the way, its central story is pure pulp horror in the most classic sense. House is not a good horror film to watch if you want something genuinely frightening, but if you’re in the mood for tongue-in-cheek fun that only takes itself seriously enough to deliver a few cheap scares, it’s well worth a look.

  

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“Dead Set” is a delightfully gory zombie satire

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AMC’s premiere of “The Walking Dead” may be the most anticipated horror event of the year, but zombie fans looking for an entertaining appetizer would be wise to check out “Dead Set.” After Stephen King included the British miniseries in his year-end Entertainment Weekly column listing his favorite TV shows of 2009, I’ve been anxious to see what all the buzz is about. And thanks to IFC – which is airing the horror series throughout the week starting on October 25th, as well as showing all five episodes back-to-back on Halloween night – “Dead Set” is finally coming stateside.

Set almost predominantly within the hit TV reality program, “Big Brother,” the series opens on eviction night when a zombie outbreak turns the outside world into a wasteland where the living are vastly outnumbered by flesh-eating undead. Protected inside the walls of the Big Brother house, the fame-seeking contestants are some of the only survivors remaining – and the last to hear about the zombies. But staying alive requires teamwork, and that’s easier said than done when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who have been specifically selected to not get along.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later,” “Dead Set” is still a considerably fresh entry in the zombie subgenre thanks to a few unexpected twists and a solid script that doesn’t shy away from comedy. It’s not exactly funny like “Shaun of the Dead,” but rather a dark satire that plays on the idea of the contestants falling victim one by one in a cruel reflection of the reality show they were cast in. The actors also elevate the material beyond its potentially gimmicky premise – particularly Jaime Winstone as the unlikely heroine and Andy Nyman as the asshole producer in charge of the show – but it’s the amazing zombie effects (the amount of gore packed into each episode is pretty impressive) and the breakneck pacing that make “Dead Set” an absolute must-see.

  

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An end of week movie news dump for one weird and deadly week

It was thundering and lightning today briefly, unusual in Southern California, where we like our rain nice and quiet. Actually, it barely rained at all, which made if feel weirder. Of course, the really weird thing was all the people who died that you’ve been reading about here and we actually left out a few, including the guy who said this…

Anyhow, here are a few more items from this long, strange week of movie news.

* My reaction to the planned 3-D versions of the all six “Star Wars” movies? Let’s just say at first I thought I was reading the Onion, and then the Movie Hell Times.

* As much as I complain about the way Comicon has gone, taking it out of San Diego would only make it worse and even more impersonal. I never really thought it was going to move, but I’m glad I can be sure about that now. I know this is a controversial statement, but I’m going to go out on a limb: San Diego is nice.

* Even though I admit to not knowing the property all that well, I have a hard time imaging Ron Howard pulling off something like the proposed mega movie/TV adaptation of Stephen King’s massive “The Dark Tower” series. The memoir “My Stroke of Insight” with, perhaps, Jodie Foster in the lead seems much more up his alley. I’m all for people getting out of their comfort zones, but sometimes we have comfort zones for a reason.

* Regular readers here know I’m no gorehound, but a PG-13 “Alien” prequel makes as much sense as an R-rated “Mary Poppins” reboot.

* The late Stanley Kubrick’s attempts to forever suppress his first film have, it seems, come to naught. The semi-legendary “Fear and Desire” has been found in a film lab in Puerto Rico and will be making it’s way to DVD. I’ve seen Kubrick’s little known second film, “Killer’s Kiss” and I’m here to tell you, don’t get too excited. It’s gorgeous but, in terms of storytelling, as dull as dishwater. Kubrick’s career as a film great probably started with his third film, the noir-heist classic “The Killing.”

* The foreign language category for the Oscars has been supremely screwed up for decades because the Academy allows each nation to submit one film, and just one film, for consideration. No surprise that the choices tend to be heavily politicized. It’s only October and we already have two controversies.

* I think’s it’s an enormous stretch to characterize “Cast Away” as a classic, as Mike Fleming seems to think. I also think “Back to the Future” is fun but, well, not a classic either. Robert Zemeckis returning to the world of live action and time travel, and thereby having less time for creepy motion-capture, is nevertheless probably a good thing.

* A bit of inside-baseball. Executive Bob Berney caused quite a ruckus with his sudden departure from indie Apparition earlier this year. His new gig, which seems like it’s seeking to help fill the huge gap in middle-brow low-to-mid budget films, interests me.

* A Beach Boys jukebox musical seems to be in all of our futures. I love musicals and I love about half of the Beach Boys catalogue, but the jukeboxers annoy me. I’d almost rather watch this.

  

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Sons of Anarchy 3.3 – Caregiver

So far, this season has been pretty hit and miss for me, with a lot more misses than hits. That’s just the nature of what Kurt Sutter has set up this year, however, and I expect things to really begin picking up by midseason. But for the time being, we’re stuck waiting out SAMCRO’s inevitable journey to the land of potatoes and leprechauns as they’re forced to split time between searching for Abel and dealing with business back in Charming.

After deciding that starting a war with the Mayans was against their best interest, the Sons task the Grim Bastards with getting intel on Mayan activity in their home base of Lodi. The Bastards are short on guns at the moment, though, so Clay sets up a deal with Henry Lin to get them some semi-automatics in exchange for the Cara Cara girls to be party favors at an upcoming blowout for some Hong Kong business partners. Opie isn’t at all pleased about Lyla having sex for money, however, and when he sees her going down on one of the Chinese guys at the party, he flips out, leading to an all-out brawl and their deal with Henry Lin ruined. Clay smoothes things over by offering Henry one of SAMCRO’s gun clients in exchange for the guns intended for the Bastards, but he doesn’t look very happy about the trade. Still, the Mayans pose an immediate threat, and at the moment, that’s more important than the future of their gun trade.

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The bad news just keeps rolling in when a woman from the law office representing the Sons pays them a visit to inform them that City Council has requested a new bail hearing in regards to their assault charges from the church incident. It seems that Jacob Hale is using the recent drive-by as proof that it was retaliation against SAMCRO’s criminal activity, and unless they appear in court at the end of the week, they’ll lose the bail money and incur a longer prison sentence. Not that anyone really cares, because Jax has already decided that he’s heading for Vancouver, and the rest of the guys plan on skipping town to join him. That becomes unnecessary, however, when Juice receives an email from the Belfast VP with a picture of Cameron Hayes left for dead on the streets of Belfast.

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Midweek movie news

You’d think Jewish New Year and Labor Day coming so close together would slow down the pace of movie news a little, but leisure is for suckers and Yahweh is just another bit player in this hard luck town.

* The talk of the geek-o-sphere for some time is going to be the announcement of a massive and potentially trendsetting film/television cross-over adaptation of Stephen King’s multi-volume “The Dark Tower” mega-epic. Universal, which has had some very tough times lately, is taking what I’m guessing could be a make-it-or-break-it gamble on the project, the news of which was broken by Mike Fleming earlier.  I’m not a King reader, but I am intrigued by the fact that it’s a western-science fiction-horror cross-breed. In any case apparently the plan is to start with a movie, go to a 22 episode not-so-mini-series, and then onto another movie, another series, then wrapping it all up with movie. The idea being to provide fans with both the grandeur of theatrical films and the detail and time of a television series.

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It’s intriguing but laden with potential pitfalls. One is that it demands an awful lot of time and people who aren’t following the series may feel shut out of the latter two movies. The other is that, quite frankly, I feel the “A Dangerous Mind” creative team of director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman — who I gather will be writing and directing the first two films and the entire first series at least, which could be some kind of record if that’s what’s really going to happen — simply haven’t indicated they’re up to this kind of material. I hate to say it but winning Oscars can be negative indicator sometimes.

It’s not that I doubt their ability to crank it all out. Howard is obviously a very competent director who knows how to make highly professional material and I have tremendous respect for him as an individual and one of the more positive forces in Big Moviedom. However, he’s always shown a tendency to play it safe and often a bit dull when the chips are really down creatively as a director and none of Goldsman’s movies have been all that inspiring to me either. All I’m saying is that I had a good feeling about Peter Jackson taking on “The Lord of the Rings” and I have a bad feeling about it, though I’d seriously love to be wrong.  Something tells me this project needs a real lunatic and Ron Howard is one of the sanest guys in show business. Huge King fan Quint at AICN has similar misgivings. He has a more riding on this than I.

* Simon Abrams is right re: “Kick-Ass” doing a lot better than people assumed. Even though I cover the weekend grosses here, we all make way too much of those openings and fail to look at the overall picture. Calling a movie a bomb that makes nearly half its budget in its opening weekend is just idiotic anyhow. The actual success of the film may have figured in the ongoing financial struggles between Lionsgate and Carl Icahn.

Aaron Johnson is

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