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On Blu-ray/DVD: 3 FROM HELL (2019), NIGHT HUNTER (2019) and SPIDER IN THE WEB (2019)

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3 FROM HELL
(US - 2019)



If you thought Rob Zombie shit the bed with 31, then fuckin' hold his motherfuckin' beer because the unwatchable 3 FROM HELL is the kind of career-killer that's so bad that even some of his "gooble gobble, one of us!" fanboy faithful began turning on him after the film's three-night Fathom Events run a month before its Blu-ray/DVD release. The third chapter in what's--fingers crossed--a trilogy that began with 2003's HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and 2005's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, 3 FROM HELL seems like a desperation move after his pointless remake of HALLOWEEN and its disastrous sequel, his ambitious but unsuccessful THE LORDS OF SALEM--which at least tried to do something different before falling apart in the end--and the dismal 31 were all starting to make him look like a hick-horror one-trick pony whose entire filmmaking career was an endless tribute to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2. A brutally intense and absolutely uncompromising throwback to '70s grindhouse at its grittiest, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS remains Zombie's masterpiece, and he's never come close to duplicating it since. Even with 14 years to think about it, he doesn't even seem to have the slightest semblance of a game plan with 3 FROM HELL, which ends up looking like a flimsy excuse for Zombie, his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, and some friends from the convention circuit to hang out under the guise of belatedly continuing the saga of the homicidal, serial-killing Firefly clan, despite the fact that they went out in a Skynyrd-abetted blaze of glory on a desert highway at the end of the 1978-set REJECTS. Turns out they survived the hail of police bullets, spent a year in intensive care, and then ended up in prison. Cut to a decade later: leader Captain Spaulding (the late Sid Haig in his last film) is executed, and Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) orchestrates an escape with his previously unseen half-brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, aka "Foxy," aka "The Midnight Wolfman" (31's insufferable Richard Brake) after killing now-jailed bounty hunter Rondo (Danny Trejo). Meanwhile, at another prison, Baby (Mrs. Zombie) is denied parole (no shit) but gets bounced by the corrupt warden (Jeff Daniel Phillips), whose wife is being held hostage by DESPERATE HOURS superfans Otis and Foxy.





The titular trio head to Mexico and hole up in a sleazy south-of-the-border shithole where they run afoul of Rondo's crime boss son Aquarius (Emilio Rivera), who leads a Mexican wrestler-masked kill squad known as the Black Satans, leading to a long shootout set to Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," as if MANHUNTER doesn't already exist. There's no way to sugarcoat this: 3 FROM HELL is absolutely abysmal. There can't possibly be a script. It's obvious that Zombie's making this up as he goes along and just letting the actors wing it, and improv doesn't appear to be anyone's strong suit. Moseley recycles the same schtick he's been doing since TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 but never finds the sense of terrifying menace that he brought to Otis in the previous film. Here, he just talks a lot of shit. Brake doesn't offer much other than a tired Bill Moseley impression, which leaves him more or less looking like the copy-of-a-copy that the Michael Keaton clones made in MULTIPLICITY, and a grating Sheri Moon Zombie doesn't even seem to be playing the same Baby as before. Remember the "Tutti Fuckin' Frutti" scene in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS? That's where she's at from start-to-finish here, with bonus meows, hisses, and vamping histrionics as Zombie does fuck-all to rein her in lest he be sleeping on the couch. You also get Dee Wallace humiliating herself as a sexually repressed prison guard, Clint Howard as a hacky clown-for-hire who pisses himself, Tom Papa and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13's Austin Stoker as TV news anchors, Daniel Roebuck as a reporter, and Richard Edson as a scheming Mexican pimp.


Sid Haig (1939-2019)

The sole saving grace--aside from the use of three James Gang deep cuts from the neglected Tommy Bolin era and an admittedly amusing scene with Sheri Moon Zombie doing a bad-ass slo-mo walk to Suzi Quatro's "The Wild One"--is the brief appearance of Haig, who's out of the film by the seven-minute mark. Frail-looking and obviously gravely ill, the beloved cult icon, who died just a few days after the Fathom Events screenings in September, nevertheless brings his A-game in his one scene, but when he's gone, it's quickly downhill from there. Tedious, ploddingly-paced, and ridiculously overlong at nearly two hours, the embarrassingly self-indulgent 3 FROM HELL is Rob Zombie hitting rock bottom, and the only thing it accomplishes is providing the final evidence one needs to concretely conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was a fluke. No matter how bad it gets, Zombie will always have a core of apologists who will stand by whatever he does, so best of luck to them going forward. I'm done. (R, 115 mins)



NIGHT HUNTER
(UK/US - 2019)


Shelved for two years before being dumped on VOD, NIGHT HUNTER is a bumbling and often incoherent procedural thriller that's just as formulaic as its title indicates and would've been right at home in the late '90s. In cold, snowy northern Minnesota, a young woman is killed jumping from a highway overpass while fleeing an unknown killer. Meanwhile, Cooper (Ben Kingsley), is a former judge who lost his wife and daughter to a killer who's never been apprehended. He channels his rage into becoming a vigilante who goes around entrapping, extorting, and castrating internet predators with the help of teenage accomplice Lara (Eliana Jones), a ward to whom he was appointed guardian. When Lara, who has a GPS tracker in her earrings, is abducted, the cops not only uncover Cooper's operation but they're also led to her location, where a deaf and mentally-impaired man named Simon (Brendan Fletcher) has several women held captive in cells in the basement. Marshall (Henry Cavill), a hard-nosed, inexplicably British-accented detective who--you guessed it--plays by his own rules, and profiler Rachel Chase (Alexandra Daddario) can't seem to get anywhere with him, and the mayhem doesn't stop even with Simon in custody: an entire forensics team is wiped out by a rigged gas leak in Simon's basement, another cop's baby is stolen, one is killed by a car bomb, and Rachel gets a bomb threat with a crayon-scrawled note reading (what else?) "Tick tock," meaning that someone else is pulling the strings and that Simon can't possibly be the primary culprit.






Writer and debuting director David Raymond corrals a solid cast in what should be a serviceable thriller, but it's so clumsily-edited and haphazardly-assembled that it never really catches fire. No by-the-numbers thriller like NIGHT HUNTER should be this hard to follow, and it ultimately can't even live up to its absurd potential as the next HANGMAN. Of course, there's a ridiculous twist 2/3 of the way through that a cursory glance at someone's medical records would've uncovered, but throwing in the big reveal and subsequently moving the plot forward demands that the cops be total morons. Daddario's Rachel has to be the dumbest profiler in the serial killer genre, and Fletcher obnoxiously overacts with the kind of slobbering, eye-bulging, vein-popping gusto that he brought to Uwe Boll's RAMPAGE franchise, his high point being when he yells "Tick tock, tick tock, who's the silly boo-boo?" while pissing on the walls of his cell. Elsewhere, a constipated-looking Stanley Tucci appears to be getting paid by the scowl as Marshall's irate captain, and Nathan Fillion is completely squandered as a police computer tech in a frivolous supporting role that literally anyone could've played. The Cooper/Lara plot thread is an interesting one that might've made a more entertaining film on its own, but NIGHT HUNTER can't stop tripping over its own feet, leaving Kingsley offscreen for long stretches (a good indication that they probably only had him for a few days) while we get character depth in the form of Cavill's boring, brooding Marshall trying to bond with his teenage daughter (Emma Tremblay) after splitting with his wife (Minka Kelly). Nothing against Henry Cavill, who's a fine actor under better circumstances, but wouldn't you much rather see a gonzo thriller with a vigilante Ben Kingsley going extreme TO CATCH A PREDATOR on some pedophile creeps? (R, 99 mins)



SPIDER IN THE WEB
(UK/Israel/Belgium/Netherlands/Portugal - 2019)


Speaking of Ben Kingsley, he's clearly in one of his frequent "Just pay me and I'll do it" phases, and the tireless 75-year-old Oscar-winner's performance as an aging, weary Mossad agent close to being put out to pasture--whether voluntarily or by more aggressive means--is the chief selling point of the relentlessly talky and glacially-paced espionage thriller SPIDER IN THE WEB. In the latest from Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis (ZAYTOUN, THE SYRIAN BRIDE, SHELTER), Kingsley is Avner Adereth, a spy for the Israeli government who's currently undercover in Antwerp, posing as an antiques dealer named Simon Bell. He's spent two years gathering intel on a Belgian medical supply company that he suspects is secretly involved in chemical weapons sales to Syria. Complicating matters is that his boss Samuel (Itzik Cohen) is losing confidence in him, believing Adereth to be slipping, burned-out, and flat-out making shit up and pocketing big payments designated for a source that he hasn't been meeting nearly as much as he's claimed. As a result, the clock's ticking on Adereth to produce some legitimate results, and Samuel assigns ambitious young agent Daniel (Itay Tiran) to babysit him and make sure the info he's giving them and the leads he's chasing are legit. Of course, Daniel is the son of Adereth's late colleague from back in the day, which brings emotion into play as the two form a hesitant bond. All the while, Adereth finds himself falling for Angela (Monica Bellucci), an environmental activist and doctor who works for the Belgian company and is unaware of their side-involvement in funding terrorism. She's also upset when he shows her how her employer has been polluting the fresh water supply, thus convincing her to get him a secret file called--wait for it--"Spider in the Web," that explicitly details all of their Syrian shenanigans. Convoluted double-crosses ensue, with at least one character not being who they claim to be, and it's all a rather rote imitation of John Le Carre, with Adereth even waxing rhapsodic on the author at one point in case you don't pick up on the influence. The generic SPIDER IN THE WEB is really nothing special, but Kingsley's regal performance single-handedly gives it a boost above the mediocre, making it worth a look on a slow night for his fans who don't mind their night getting even slower. (Unrated, 114 mins)






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