REVIEW: The Stepfather (Nelson McCormick, 2009)

So, your mother has a new man in her life, and you're not so sure about him. Oh my, he must be a serial killer! It's not a bad concept, really, and even carries some inherent dysfunctional family humor if handled effectively. With direction from television veteran Nelson McCormick (who took on four episodes of star Dylan Walsh's Nip/Tuck), let's see how it goes...

This remake of Joseph Ruben's 1987 cult classic takes a surprising approach, eliminating any mystery from the first scene - we are introduced to the titular daddy as a cold-blooded killer. The opening also ushers in the first detrimental issue in that the filmmaking team can't seem to decide who their protagonist is. The only character with a goal is the stepfather himself, who we center around. Sure, his goal, the motivation for which is disappointingly unexplored, may be killing his new family, but that's the thrust and anyone getting in the way is doing just that - getting in the way - even if we're supposed to sympathize with them.

The would-be sympathetic characters also suffer from subpar and typically inconsistent writing riddled with blatant contrivances. Where one has conveniently selective super-hearing (but not very super grey matter to accompany it), two others can apparently turn invisible as they inexplicably disappear from the proceedings about midway through. Then there's the constantly bikini-clad girlfriend serving no purpose other than over-frequent injection of juvenile sex appeal.

The surface of these flaws can be scratched concisely. It's tough to do the same with some of the most massive, unbelievable gaps in logic ever seen. For instance, how did this killer manage to slice through two families before moving on to the depicted events if he's as clumsy in his plot as we see? At the same time, how are the FBI not knocking down his door while he's turning an oddly hippie-free portrayal of a Portland, Oregon neighborhood into Wysteria Lane? Oh, he doesn't use a driver's license or credit cards. That explains it. Yeah. I'll stop myself now or we'll be here all day.

Why the focus on typically inconsequential problems? I mean, it's called 'suspension of disbelief,' right? Thing is, these problems absolutely dominate The Stepfather, making it extremely difficult to regard anything else. Rendering things even more difficult is a dreadfully boring, almost desaturated look, not assisted whatsoever by a relentlessly horrendous and often misplaced soundtrack.

Venture forth if you dare (or if you're a die-hard Dylan Walsh fan), but pack a stress ball so you'll have something more interesting to do than pay attention. At least there's an unintentional laugh or two during the impotent finale. I can't personally recommend the original, having not seen it yet (naughty, naughty, I know), but I can only imagine it's superior to this garbage.


REVIEW: Ercole al centro della terra (Mario Bava, 1961)

As posted in The Corrierino's Alphabetically Binding Cinema thread.

After discovering his lover is being held captive, Hercules must face the trials of the underworld to topple a mysterious foe. Carting along his friend Theseus, he stirs up even more trouble than might be expected from the sinister sub-terrain. Mario Bava directs the muscle-bound Reg Park along with an over-dubbed Christopher Lee for this installment in Italy's series of romanticized Hercules films.

Although I had never taken in so much as a screencap of Ercole al centro della terra, I had a vivid image of what I was likely getting in to by popping the DVD in my player. These expectations were relatively high, telling of a dark yet colorful world with set pieces lavish in their decrepitness and actors whose most obvious features would be gratuitously exploited. The picture quality on the DVD may have been unfortunately pixelated, but much to my pleasure, the unfounded expectations were met and surpassed. From beginning to end Bava employs reds, blues and greens to dazzling effect as the on-screen talent hams it up.

Never boring for a moment, Ercole takes us from a seemingly idyllic land of oily muscles and otherworldly beauty to a dark and deadly pit of illusion and temptation. As opposed to a straight forward journey through this underworld, we are treated to compelling plot points that move the story in unpredictable directions. While much of the proceedings can be taken very seriously, they never let go of their somewhat playful nature as even some of the more treacherous trespasses yield well-woven notes of humor. The horror genre's inherent presence in the surroundings also sees success with a spattering of truly chilling moments.

Not to be missed by any fan of Italy's trademark entertainment from the 60s and 70s or anyone keen on swords, sandals and mythology, Ercole al centro della terra demands repeat viewings. It is indeed gorgeousness and gorgeosity made celluloid with a large helping of merry abandon.