Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Attack of the Morningside Monster - Film Review

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Recently I watched the 2014 independent horror/thriller Attack of the Morningside Monster and in this post I'll provide you with my spoiler free thoughts on the film.

First, the synopsis. Set in the fictional small town of Morningside, New Jersey, we're immediately introduced to an ominous figure in a black hooded cape whose about to apprehensively cut someone in half with an electric blade.

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After we're acquainted with the central characters, a body is found in the woods. From there, the police force, Sheriff Tom Haulk (Robert Pralgo) and Deputy Klara Austin (Tiffany Shepis), begin to piece together what can only be described as a series of ritualistic murders in their quiet town.

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What's stumping the cops is the symbol of a crossed out eye that's left at the scene of each murder. Deputy Austin offers that it might be a gang sign similar to those she saw during her time working in the Bronx. The killer intentionally leaves this mark at the scene of his crimes in the vein of a '60s Batman villain, which strikes me as silly. Why would the killer go out of their way to draw attention to themselves?

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With the assistance of a university professor, Sheriff Haulk deduces that the killer has stolen a rare Central American ceremonial mask and a tribal mace from their collection and the symbol is a ritualistic mark from this same tribe.

The killers mask itself is almost reminiscent of the Witch Doctor from Scooby-Doo:

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The movie had its quirks, quite a few of them actually. Here's the biggest issue: I figured out the entire plot about 15 minutes in to the film.

The film gave too much away early on. Merely seeing the glimpse into the killers "lair" from the onset reveals that they're in some kind of basement or unfinished area of a house. What the killer is doing to their prey, (removing their body parts and putting them into a bowl), combined with other glaring details, made it easy to figure out the rest of the movie.

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There's a lot of time spent on creating dramatic scenes to divert the viewers attention when there's really no mystery about who the killer is. If you've seen a decent amount of horror or mysteries, you will figured out the plot rather quickly.

More severe than the previous issues I had, is the peculiar drug angle of the film. In contrast with the bit in the summary on the back of the DVD regarding "deadly serious local drug runners," their ring leader and his stereotypical goons are not easy to take seriously. The two street dealers who they supply are not written as if they are everyday weed dealers. In fact, you may know one or more people who buy or sell weed in your daily life and they are pretty much just like anyone else. In this film though, the girl Jamie talks about how she "really needs a hit," as she looks all cracked out and addicted. Judging solely by the content of this film, with lines uttered by her brother like "I know where he grows it," he's definitely referring to smoking weed - a drug that only an extremely low percentage of users get addicted to.

Putting this whole notion over the top is the fact that after she exchanges the bag of weed with Mark (Nicholas Brendon) for his money, (with the typical "you got the money, you got the stuff?" Oh my Lord) she sweetens the deal for him, offering to orally stimulate him for another $20 bucks. BARGAIN. It seems to me that this film assumes that girls who smoke weed A) look and act like crack addicts B) are total whores. I don't know who's worse either, her brother/weed selling confidant, Haws, who's constantly chewing on a match stick. Do you know anyone that does that? I'll take back every criticism I have of this film if they can computer generate that shit right out of his mouth. Clearly, someone thought it was a good idea.

The Sheriff's best friend from childhood, Mark has a wife with a terminal illness, so there's no reason why he would have to go to crazy lengths to procure illegal street weed when he could easily have her signed up for medicinal marijuana. Why does he have to sneak around if his wife has a major medical reason to have it?

I realize how much painstaking work goes into making independent films and my critique of the movie is in no way an affront, since I respect the filmmakers and what they've created here. In fact, the writer of the film, Jayson Palmer, is a fellow Jersey guy. In an interview on the Whatever Works blog, he says that he is "...a Jersey boy, through and through. I was born in Dover and raised in Wharton, which is a small blue collar town in North, central Jersey. I have a lot of love for that small little town. Morningside is based on Wharton. Or at least the town how I remembered it growing up." Palmer went on to mention that he "...wouldn't be surprised if Morningside popped up now and then in some future project."

The main cast was commendable, full of indie and b-movie veteran actors. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Xander, Nicholas Brendon, stars and co-produces the film. His agitated performance as Mark Matthews is easily the highlight of the film. Matthews is a school teacher caring for his wife who's afflicted with cancer and he's doing everything he can to help her, meanwhile trying keep his own life together. His lifelong best friend is Sheriff Haulk played by Robert Pralgo who provides an almost sickeningly sweet turn as the quintessential good cop. Let's just say both of these characters have interesting twists which I won't spoil. And not just the token hottie, we have Tiffany Shepis as the tough Deputy Austin working for the Sheriff.

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Even though the movie was filmed in The Peach State, the visuals of the town evoke the more rural areas of Jersey. Parts of Northwestern and Southwestern Jersey aren't as city-like and overpopulated as what is typically associated on-screen with NJ. The filmmakers were careful to incorporate geographical authenticity. Morningside had all the nice little touches that I expect from a film set in Jersey. All the cars had Jersey license plates, Trenton was name dropped, and one of the guys in the woods sitting around with his friends by a fire even wore a hat that explicitly specified what state they were in! I love it.

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Will you enjoy Attack of the Morningside Monster? It depends. I tend to support independent films, but, in general, horror fanatics will likely feel neutral about it. The film would've benefited from trumping up the scares and dropping a good chunk of the drug dealer subplot. In fact, Mark's wife's cancer issue was better kept as a subplot as well even if that meant making major script alterations. At 93 minutes the movie is pretty lean, but there's still moments where the movie is meandering. It's described on the back of the DVD as a "race against time," but it's not as pulse pounding as it sounds.

The film is worth watching to see how it culminates. Too much is revealed early on to make the ending hit you in the gut, but it's not without merit. The payoff was pretty satisfying and one of the more positive aspects of the movie. One of the reveals toward the end, after we find out the killer's identity, had a slight Twilight Zone feel to it, although I wish the entire film had that same eerie quality.

Without a big scare or a cliffhanger at the end, Morningside succeeds in providing the viewer with the notion that there's a slight possibility that we'll see this killer again...maybe on Netflix? A sequel would be an outstanding way to highlight the masked Shaman killer, thereby creating a new low- budget horror franchise that would likely garner some buzz and thrive amongst the horror-con scene. Ultimately, without some major tweaking, it's limited as a franchise. Technically, you'd be cheering the killer instead of fearing. There's still some hope though, The Morningside Monster has built a nice back story for itself.

Aside from Jigsaw from SAW, it's a challenge to incorporate cancer into horror films because I feel like horror is my escape from the real world. While watching horror movies, I prefer to turn off my brain and just have fun. Attack of the Morningside Monster became more of a horror-drama rather than a horror-thriller. If the sex scene and few moments of gore get cut out, I could totally see this on Lifetime during the Halloween season.

Attack of the Morningside Monster is available on Video on Demand and download from most of the major online providers. On DVD 1/20/15. The movie was produced by Blue Dusk Productions and Making Monster Productions. I was provided with a review copy of this film.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Neighbors Nerdfest Number 2: Merry Crap-Mas

 
An instant holiday classic, The Neighbors episode "Merry Crap-Mas," originally aired on December 5th, 2012. Let's take a look at some of the best stuff from this yuletide episode.

Contained in this episode is the best Christmas morning scene in television history. You may not believe me right now, but by the end of the post I'll make a believer out of you.

The story begins at the end of the episode and then we rewind to see how Merry Crap-Mas came to be. The Weavers roll a wheel barrow full of gifts over to their alien neighbors, The Bird-Kersees, because they need to hide the kids gifts in their house in order to for them not to snoop and find them. Remember, the Neighbors are aliens and they are completely unaware of the Christmas traditions. What Larry Bird does know about Christmas is that he feels it's an "...orgy of commercialism."

DEBBIE WEAVER:
"Christmas is about family and smiles and the joy of being together, the gifts are just one tiny part of it."
LARRY BIRD:
"Oh yes, and there's that fat slovenly burglar you call Santa Claus. Honestly, put on an apron for God's sake fatso!"

Abby, instructing her parents on her letter to Santa:
"You should probably fax it, it's getting pretty late."

"I hated all three of them just now Marty, in that moment I hated all three of our children." - Debbie Weaver, in reference to her "greedy little monsters"

"Can you remind me again why we want to be alone on an island with these children?" - Marty Weaver

"God what the hell? Is this the constitution? Who makes amendments to a Christmas list?" - Debbie Weaver

After being frustrated by their selfish kids who are all about the presents, The Weavers decide that they want to return all the gifts that they purchased and use the money to take the family on a tropical vacation. They decide on a time share in Hawaii. Marty is excited because this specific time share has that "tushy squirting thing." Tushy squirting thing FTW.

 
Throwing a wrench into their new plan are The Bird-Kersees. At first, they just gazed at the tower of Christmas presents that were "hidden" in the middle of their house. It was mere moments before they tried to guess what was in all the wrapped boxes. Curiosity got the best of Larry and he started poking and ripping at one of the presents. Larry was overcome with the exhilaration of unwrapping a gift since he's never done it before. Once he started ripping one open, the whole family joined in and triumphantly started tearing open ALL the gifts without realizing the consequences.

Larry's sentiments of Christmas went into full reversal. Suddenly his feelings were incredibly positive as if he was Scrooge after encountering all the Christmas Ghosts.

LARRY BIRD:
(about little Abby) "...her teeth keep falling out of her face. What's gonna fall off next? Her nose?"
DICK BUTKUS:
"Oh Father, I love when you make fun of children!"

The Weaver's dilemma now is that they can't return the gifts because the neighbors and all the other aliens in their community are playing with the gifts that the Bird-Kersees tore open with glee. They are inadvertently destroying them, doing insane things like tossing a brand new iPad around like its a Frisbee!

JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE:
"So, we really screwed your pooch on this one."
DEBBIE WEAVER:
"Oh Jackie, not only did you screw my pooch but you didn't call her the next day either."

LARRY BIRD:
"I admit it, I was wrong about Christmas. It's a lovely holiday. The things, the trees, the snow...the things."
DICK BUTKUS:
"Christmas is magical father, magical!"

Larry reveals his adoration for The Muppets:
"Tell you what, let's watch The Muppets a Christmas Carol again - The Muppets, I like. I can really get down with The Muppets..." followed by his Kermit impression.

*Heard in the episode is Kermit the Frog singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

"I have never been so wrong about anything in my life, I love Christmas." - Larry Bird

"I'm totally joyous, I have sugar plums in my head..." - Larry Bird

Larry has a change of heart and realizes that The Weavers have been good to him and his family so he sets out to right his wrong and save their Christmas.

 
Larry enlists his son Dick and their mission to rectify the situation is engaged. This entire sequence is so completely haywire and I'm in love with every second of it. Larry and son slow-mo walk to the tune of "Christmas in Hollis." With this kind of build-up you know shit is about to get real. First stop, Larry takes his son Dick to the strip club...to get some girls to play a role in his master plan. Then they buy some pigs and ride home on their golf cart adorned with a Christmas tree and strippers.


Dumbfounded, the Weavers woke up to see this on Christmas morning:


What a scene it was! Larry Bird went all out to make this day special as indicated by the giant Christmas tree he stole from a car dealership, a Tiki statue, Hula dancers, a Polynesian fire dancer and bongo players, some farm animals, Christmas carolers, and Dick Butkus (remember, the whole family is named after famous American sports icons) as Tiny Tim who even delivers the classic line "God Bless Us Everyone."

 
After the initial shock of the visual that the Weavers woke up to, Larry Bird waltzes in dressed as the jolly old elf who he was wise cracking about earlier. I think they had all bases covered here. Larry recreated his neighbors would-be Hawaiian vacation and then some. I'd say he more than made up for what he and his family did.


In one of the funniest scenes, Larry opens a yet unopened package to find an Etch-a-Sketch which he mistakes for "the new iPad." He asks the famous drawing toy, "Siri, did I really ruin their Christmas?" Siri does not respond. Later, after trying to speak to Siri again and growing frustrated, Larry claims that he's "gonna go Kindle."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

New Jersey's Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.83: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve

The holiday rock extravaganza that is the world renowned Trans-Siberian Orchestra left their mark here in New Jersey - Jersey City to be exact. The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, their made for TV concert special that originally aired on the Fox Family Channel on December 14, 1999, was filmed here in Jersey's most famous movie house that opened 70 years prior in 1929.

As we've mentioned many times before here at The Sexy Armpit, the classic Loews Jersey theater, located in Journal Square, is one of our state treasures and it's actually a star of this production in its own right. The beautifully shot special highlights glimpses of the theater's cavernous ceilings, and the rich, finely detailed interior. It's fitting that the concert is titled The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, because I wouldn't be surprised if the Loews Jersey theater has some ghosts of its own.

It's not just you average concert. What makes this stand out is the combination of the thunderous music with striking holiday visuals that help weave in the plot of a runaway girl who wishes she'll be welcomed back into her home by her family. The story begins on Christmas Eve where we join the girl as she hides in an abandoned theater - the legendary Loews Theatre in Jersey City.

The TSO are incredible musicians and it translates into their concerts which often evoke a haunting quality, ultimately they're very uplifting, but there are elements that conjure up memories and emotions, especially during the holidays. This spectacle may give you feelings of inspiration, forgiveness, and in this case, you may recall a lost loved one, like the runaway daughter whose story unfolds during the concert.

Ten songs are blasted through in just under 45 minutes, so there's no time to be bored. Some of the highlights include "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," "Joy to the World," as well as several guest performances, two of which were Jewel and Michael Crawford. I'd forgotten how lovely Jewel is and her version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" was equally as enchanting. Later on, perhaps the key moment in the special is a resounding performance of "O Holy Night," from the former Phantom of the Opera, Michael Crawford. If that didn't awaken the ghosts in the theater nothing else could.

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve is subtle yet bombastic, well crafted, and breathtaking. It will enhance your Christmas Spirit and it will also provide fare different than the typical stuff airing constantly on TV throughout December. It's also perfect to play in the background while you're putting decorations up or you have company over. Bonus if you have surround sound! You don't have to be a huge TSO fan to fully enjoy this, but fans of rock music in general would get the most appreciation out of it, especially those from New Jersey. This special is still available on DVD.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Very Jason Xmas

Christmas gifts don't only arrive on December 25th, they can appear all month long. I'm alluding to the bevy of Friday the 13th related stuff that's coming down the pike. It's an exciting time for us Friday the 13th Fans! Let's take a look at what's popping up from the depths of Crystal Lake...

First, the 9-part fan film series, Jason Xmas, has  been released in installments on YouTube for the past several months over at Scared Stiff TV. As we rapidly approach Christmas, the final parts will start to appear. Although many fans won't be able to stomach Jason as a pseudo-Santa, it's still a lot of fun to watch, and it gives those of us in the Christmas spirit more material to enjoy during the holiday season. Parts of the series were actually filmed in Blairstown, NJ the town where much of the original film was shot.


Also over on Scared Stiff TV you can check out Jason Voorhees vs Santa Claus in a ridiculously awesome "wrestling" attraction match from the HWF (The Horror Wrestling Federation). I would have never expected to see Jason face off against that jolly old elf! I have to hand it to the people over at Scared Stiff for putting out some creative stuff. This video mixes Jason Voorhees, Christmas, and Pro-Wrestling all into one spectacle. Jason's miraculously knows his way around the ring and Santa seems to have slimmed down quite a bit to get into shape for this big match.


NECA's 8-bit style Glowing Jason mask has been released! This baby is actually wearable and I bet it will get snatched up quickly by collectors. You can read more about it at NECAs site.

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2015 has three Friday the 13ths and one of them is in March which also means MONSTER MANIA TIME! The gang from the original F13 will be there to celebrate the 35th birthday of the beloved film. It happens the weekend of March 13th - 15th at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Ultimately, we F13 fans await the brand new Friday the 13th film in 2015 which is insanely exciting for me as it's my favorite horror franchise of all time. Many fans weren't overly fond of the 2009 version, but I thought it was serviceable. Hopefully the rumor is true that the new one takes place in the '80s!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sludgey's Christmas Wish: The Sexy Armpit Christmas Special 2014!



I'm happy to present to you our very first Christmas Special. In it, Sludgey wants nothing more than for me to mail his letter to Santa Claus, but I wouldn't (I had my reasons). Then I made him an offer he couldn't refuse. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Holidays from The Sexy Armpit!

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