Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
August 1st, 2017

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper
Directed by Michael Feifer
Written by Ellis Walker
Starring Cherish Lee, Benjamin Pitts, Nick Mathis, Brent Fioler
Produced by Michael Feifer
82 mins

Every so often, I find a movie that really tests me. Maybe sometimes it tests my patience, or my cognitive reasoning center, or maybe even my sheer tolerance for insanity. This week was no different, but this time, I faced down the sheer power of a new idea. Executed really, really poorly.

"Grim Reaper" brought what started out as a truly ho-hum familiar storyline; essentially, some stripper was waiting for a cab outside the strip joint in which she shakes the moneymaker and got hit by the aforementioned cab. This launched off a series of strange events--including an admonition to "stay in the light" from a random passerby and spurs her pre-med boyfriend to go hunting her up, and finally finding her again in an insane asylum. Even better, she's seeing a random hooded whatsit armed with a scythe stalking and messily killing anyone that it comes in contact with.

Hence the title.

Now, you're probably already shaking your head and sighing as you run down the list of possible knockoffs: "Final Destination", maybe? "Darkness Falls", with that whole half-assed "stay in the light" business? Maybe even that upcoming "The Invisible"? Maybe you're even digging way, way back for memories of the fourth "Nightmare on Elm Street" installment. And in all honesty, you'd not be wrong to do so. It turns out to have shades of all of these, though it favors "Final Destination" a bit more than it should.

Okay, so maybe it's not all that original an idea, but let's be honest--when's the last time you saw a "Final Destination" knockoff? Not recently, I'll bet.

Sadly, what really might have saved "Grim Reaper" and its vaguely original idea was some good execution, something in very short supply here. I may be wrong on this one, but I think stripping involves a little more than circling a pole dressed as an angel in the midst of a crowd of hooting men and not taking off so much as a wing before walking off stage. Though I have to give them some credit for not using the strip club sequence to set out the canary-in-the-coal-mine tactic of naked chicks in the first few minutes. There is, interestingly, no nudity. Plus, the narrative itself is pretty thin. Events, especially for the first half hour, seem to happen semirandomly with little or no interconnecting dialogue or exposition to explain what we're doing jumping from one thought to the next.

It was a pretty fair idea, in all honesty, and at least they deviated from some of the standard horror movie cliches. They took a pretty good chance on this one--it's a crying shame that it didn't manage to turn out any better than it actually did.

The ending is a bit confused--she's got to stop death, by dying, kind of...but only for a couple minutes? If you think about it a bit, it starts to make some sense, and otherwise isn't a bad ending despite some confusion.

The special features include English and Spanish subtitles, plus trailers for "Saw III", "Crank", "Murder Set Pieces", and "A Dead Calling".

All in all, it was a good idea gone fairly well awry, and thus manages to slot itself firmly into mediocrity by virtue of averages.

Beneath Still Waters

Beneath Still Waters
Directed by Brian Yuzna
Written by Matthew Costello, Mike Hostench, Angel Sala
Starring Michael McKell, Raquel Merono, Charlotte Salt, Patrick Gordon
Produced by Julio Fernandez
100 mins

Okay, everybody remain calm. This is a Brian Yuzna movie, and that means one of two things. It will be either amazing, or it will be godawful. There are no mediocre Brian Yuzna movies that I know of, yet, so brace yourself.

And what Yuzna sets out for us this time looks fairly familiar. The village of Marienbad in northern Spain has had a whole lot of unpleasant stuff going on in it (if you're thinking "Dagon" at this point you're in good company--I sure did, and it scared me half to death). But anyway, the Spanish government is about to flood the village and surrounding valley, sealing the evil away under several million gallons of water.

But as you've probably gathered, it didn't do the job, and now what's haunting the village of Marinbad is poised to get out. And when it does, all hell will break loose. Granted, that sounds way too much like "Dagon" for anyone's comfort, but I've got to admit, they do a pretty solid job of things. They pack just enough vague warnings and ominous signs into things to make you wonder just what, exactly, it is that's coming out of the shadowy depths.

Even better, the explanations are just gradual enough to hold interest. Not so slow as to be boring, and not so fast as to give everything away, but at a decent clip that keeps you watching. Better yet, that keeps you glad you watched.

And as if that weren't good enough, finally, FINALLY, the true value of special effects are shown. Not as a purpose, like the Matrix movies did so often with their burly brawls and such, but as an aside, a little extra spice to add to the narrative. Yuzna uses some incredible effects work from Fantastic Factory to add flavor to his work--just enough, mind you--and the judiciousness with which they are used is just as much a credit to Yuzna's work as their overall quality. They're fantastic, and used only to best effect.

The ending is an excellent display of the celebrating town's descent into madness, followed up by lots of demon-blasting goodness. The loose ends are tied up nicely as well, and that makes for no small satisfaction. Even better, there's a note of suspense here. For once, the ending is not telegraphed, but there is at least one moment when all appears lost.

And even better...a twist ending that comes out of nowhere. Watch the credits to get the whole picture. At least, the last few seconds.

The special features includes English and Spanish subtitles, plus trailers for the After Dark Horrorfest, "Gravedancers", "Unrest", "Diary of a Cannibal", "Gamebox 1.0", "Alien Invasion: Arizona".

All in all, it's another real winner from Brian Yuzna, proving once again that the man is clinically incapable of doing mediocre movies.