Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

For F*** Magazine

SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

Director : Christopher Landon
Cast : Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joseph Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner, Halston Sage, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Cloris Leachman, Niki Koss, Blake Anderson
Genre : Comedy/Horror
Run Time : 93 mins
Opens : 12 November 2015
Rating : M18 (Nudity and Violence)

Simple guidelines for any scout to follow in case of a zombie outbreak: be prepared in body, be prepared in mind and try to keep said mind from being devoured when the undead invade. In this horror comedy, Ben (Sheridan) and his friend Carter (Miller) are tired of being scouts, earning the mockery of their peers. Scout Leader Rogers (Koechner), clearly already dead inside, is the leader of their little group. The only reason they’re still scouts is to humour their friend Augie (Morgan). During a camp out, Carter convinces Ben to ditch Augie to head for a secret party which all the cool kids, including Carter’s sister Kendall (Sage) and jock Jeff (Schwarzenegger), are attending. On their way to the party, Ben and Carter realise something is amiss, when they’re attacked by hordes of zombies following an accident at a genetics lab. Strip club waitress Denise (Dumont), handy with a shotgun, helps get Carter, Ben and Augie to safety as they fight for their lives against the savage infected.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is one of those movies where you know what you’re getting into based on the title: there’ll be wanton goofiness, lots of gooey viscera and gratuitous nudity for good measure. Director/co-writer Christopher Landon, who’s penned multiple Paranormal Activity films and directed one, turns his attention to a more gleefully exploitative brand of horror, reminiscent of the low-budget splatter flicks of the 80s. However, the fact that Scouts Guide isn’t aiming particularly high doesn’t mean it’s exempt from criticism for stooping so low. Aimed squarely at easily-amused, libidinous, and perhaps not especially bright teenagers, the movie is painfully lowbrow and often vulgar, packed with gross-out gags that are intended to be shocking but come off as awkwardly unfunny instead. Interestingly, co-writers Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuki wrote the very G-rated College Road Trip, and Scouts Guide was initially conceived as a kid-friendly PG-13 film. It’s quite possible it would have been even worse.

The way that Scouts Guide panders to its intended demographic is extremely cynical, in a flailing “hey, this is what the teenagers wanna see, right?” sort of way. We’re certainly not asking for high art, and this reviewer will admit that he was amused by a bizarre scene in which someone sings a Britney Spears ditty with a zombie, but being constantly pelted with crass silliness isn’t our idea of a good time. There is no invention, no reworking the formula, no witty commentary, just lazy regurgitation of the type of violence and sex you’d try to get a get a glimpse of behind your parents’ back. The most worthwhile element of the film is the old-fashioned, tactile and supremely gory makeup effects, devised by Tony Gardner. Gardner was nominated for an Oscar for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and his first professional gig was assisting Rick Baker on the set of the Thriller music video, so he brings some pedigree to the otherwise embarrassing enterprise.

Sheridan is earnest in as bland as possible a manner, playing the straight-arrow default leader protagonist. This suggests he’ll do just fine as Cyclops in next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Miller plays the stereotype to the hilt as the slacker best friend, coming off far more annoying than funny at every turn. Morgan, who’s supposed the put-upon loser who tags along in films of this sort, does manage to be sympathetic. Dumont’s Denise is this idealised fantasy girl, plucky, badass and smoking hot. It’s empowerment as envisioned by a 13 year old – Dumont spends the whole movie in a tight white tank top and tiny denim shorts as the camera leers. Dumont doesn’t quite have the chops to pull it off, but at least she looks like she’s having fun. Patrick Schwarzenegger, scion of Arnold, is a passable condescending jock. Koechner had more to do in Piranha 3DD and we’ve got to feel sorry for American national treasure Cloris Leachman. The 89-year-old veteran actress really didn’t have to say yes to this dreck, but at least she’s sporting.

There is a place in the cinematic firmament for dumb movies packed with blood, guts and boobs to cater to post-pubescent male audiences, but they don’t have to be quite as pointless as this. Zombieland treaded similar territory, albeit with more wit and verve. The animated film ParaNorman, with its gang of kids battling a zombie uprising, was far funnier and managed to be genuinely poignant without pandering to the basest instincts. If you’re a gore-hound, the grisly effects work will hold your interest, but you’ll have seen it done better elsewhere. If you go in for juvenile gross-out gags and excessive ribaldry, then we’re not stopping you from leaving your brain (and any sense of taste) at the door.        

Summary: This sophomoric horror comedy panders to the lowest common denominator instead of displaying any genuine affection for or clever self-awareness of the genre.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Goosebumps

For F*** Magazine

GOOSEBUMPS

Director : Rob Letterman
Cast : Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee, Ken Marino, Halston Sage
Genre : Horror/Adventure
Opens : 29 October 2015
Rating : PG (Frightening Scenes)
A malicious menagerie of monsters is tearing free of the confines of the written page in this comedy-horror adventure. Zach (Minnette) and his mother Gale (Ryan) move from New York to Madison, Delaware, where his mother is taking up a position as the new vice-principal at the local high school. Zach befriends his neighbour Hannah (Rush), daughter of the secretive children’s horror author R.L. Stine (Black). Stine makes it clear that he wants Zach to stay away from Hannah, but Zach suspects that Hannah might be in danger from her father. Together with his new friend from school, goofy misfit Champ (Lee), Zach breaks into Stine’s house and unlocking the original Goosebumps manuscripts, unwittingly unleashes sheer havoc. It turns out that the creatures Stine has written about actually exist, with the sinister ventriloquist’s dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) leading the charge. It is up to Stine, Hannah, Zach and Champ to re-capture them and save the town from supernatural devastation. 
Robert Lawrence Stine’s Goosebumps series is massively successful and something of a cultural touchstone, spanning 62 books, numerous spin-offs and a TV show. Combining the spooky and the funny, many kids who were in middle school in the 90s regard Goosebumps as a nostalgic favourite. After a feature film adaptation failed to materialise in the late 90s with Tim Burton attached to produce, we finally have a Goosebumps movie. The screenplay, re-written by Darren Lemke from a draft by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, takes a tongue-in-cheek meta-fictional approach. The germ of the idea, with a fictionalised Stine trying to wrangle his creations after they’ve run amok, is a clever starting point and also lets the filmmakers cram all the fan-favourite characters, from the Mummy of Prince Kho-Ru to Murder the Clown to the giant praying mantis, into the movie. 
Apart from a pretty neat central twist, things go very predictably indeed. Goosebumps does what it says on the tin: there are laughs and tame scares and an okay, if not great, time is to be had by all. It does feel like a Disney Channel original movie with marginally better production values, and despite some moments of meta humour, it’s very formulaic. The visual effects lack polish and many of the CGI-created creatures are far from convincing. Perhaps the reasoning is that kids won’t be too picky about that sort of thing, but then again, kids today are used to the level of visual effects seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The most effectively creepy monster is Slappy the Dummy himself, and it is a good move to have him as the evil mastermind. This is due in no small part to the fact that Slappy is a physical puppet instead of a synthetic digital critter. Presumably a vestige of Burton’s involvement, there’s composer Danny Elfman doing a spot of self-parody with a very Elfman-y score indeed.
The cast of characters is as standard for a kid-aimed adventure flick as they come: there’s the new kid, the girl he has a crush on, the goofy best friend, the well-meaning, sometimes-embarrassing mum, the adult with a mysterious secret that the kids uncover, etc. Minnette is not spectacularly interesting to watch, but he doesn’t project that self-conscious “I’m so cool” vibe most teen actors have. Rush is very appealing, looking more and more like Mila Kunis each time she appears in a new movie. Lee has been typecast as the dorky kid, but we’ll be darned if he isn’t the complete embodiment of that trope. 
Of course, the big draw is Black, whose Stine starts out creepy but eventually becomes more sympathetic as we root for him to regain control over the terrifying denizens that populate his books. Stine’s contempt for another famous horror author is the source of some of the movie’s funniest jokes. Goosebumps reunites Black with director Rob Letterman, who also helmed Gulliver’s Travels. Thankfully, Goosebumps is less cringe-worthy than Gulliver’s Travels. Black’s having fun, but doesn’t go too over the top. Black also voices Slappy and the Invisible Boy – his delivery as Slappy is a cross between the Crypt-Keeper and Mark Hamill’s Joker, distinctive and entertaining. 
Genuinely enjoyable kids’ adventure flicks such as The Goonies, Monster Squad and of course E.T.: The Extraterrestrial have kind of gone out of fashion, with young adult novel adaptations taking their place. Super 8, in which Lee also had a role, is probably the closest we’ve come to that in recent years. Goosebumps falls short of that magic, but it’s evident that the filmmakers do have a fondness for the source material and with this premise, they manage to wrap their arms around the vast number of stories in the book series and capture that overall spirit amiably. It’s hard to argue with the appeal of Jack Black trying to wrest a killer gnome off his face. Look out for the R(ea)L Stine himself in a cameo towards the end of the movie. 
Summary: Goosebumps is largely an unremarkable, generic kids’ adventure, but the target demographic will be entertained and the meta-fictional approach does work. 
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong