Archive | March 2015

Toy Review: Baymax (with Mochi), and Baymax (v 1.0), from Bandai Toys

Since its release in November of 2014, Big Hero 6 has continued Walt Disney Feature Animation’s climb back into theatrical prominence, and mainstream consciousness. It also embellished on the Marvel Comics title of the same name, re-imagining its characters, into a team of nerds-turned-superheroes. Though there was one of its members who was not actually human, and that would be Baymax.

His appearance brought forth another round of sidekick-love from Disney fans, with numerous plush of his non-armored self selling out in stores. His absence on store shelves mimicked such sidekick popularity as we saw with the likes of Olaf, and Vanellope Von Schweetz.

Though the majority of Baymax’s toys were of him in his shiny red supersuit, I and many others were more interested in his earlier incarnations. In recent months, Bandai Toys quietly expanded on their action figure line that came out in the fall, adding two more versions of Baymax.

I had seen images online of the normal Baymax, but did not expect his first armored incarnation to be made as well. Given I’d probably never see them on a store shelf again, I snatched them up, and have brought them forth for this toy review. __________

Baymax (with Mochi)

"Hello! I am Baymax...your personal, healthcare, companion!"

“Hello! I am Baymax…your personal, healthcare, companion!”

And with that simple phrase, we were introduced to Tadashi Hamada’s personal project: a soft-bodied nurse-robot. Baymax has been a part of much of the film’s advertising campaign, with even his soft plush figures selling out of the Disney Stores over the Holidays.

I must say that Bandai Toys has done a pretty good job of rendering Baymax in action figure form. From his chest-drive plate, to the darker-colored points of his elbow and ankle areas, and even the way his forearms are a little thicker in size.

While I would have loved him to have elbow-joints, I can understand the toymakers wanting to make sure his arms kept their basic shape in his standard pose.

A minor design nitpick for me, is Baymax’s head. It looks a little ‘deflated,’ compared to the many images we’ve seen since the film first came out, or it could also be that the ‘face’ portion of his head, is a little larger than in the film.

As well, given his body shape, he can’t be posed beyond simply standing straight. So, if you hoped to have him cuddling Mochi like in the previews, you’re out of luck.

"Meow."

“Meow.”

Speaking of Mochi, Hiro’s cat also comes with this iteration of Baymax. Mochi himself is depicted as a normal cat, with some small rocket-powered boots on his paws. This may seem weird to those who saw the film, but in the original opening, this is explained (and which can be seen on the home video release of Big Hero 6, in the deleted scenes section).

A storyboard from the unused opening for “Big Hero 6,” showing Tadashi and Hiro working on a project, with Mochi.

On the deleted scenes included with the recent home video release, one segment showed how a younger Tadashi and Hiro had conceived of these rocket boots…sending poor Mochi rocketing out of the house and down the street! It is a cute and fun little addition to Baymax, and a fun easter egg for those of us who recognize it. However, the filmmakers didn’t completely abandon the rocket boots, as one inventor at San Fransokyo’s Institute of Technology was testing a similar invention on another cat.

It is nice to see this iteration of Baymax. However, it does straddle that fine line between being a poseable figure, but also staying true to the original design. As well, it does make it a little difficult to pose Baymax. I feel it would have also been good to have given him a ball-jointed neck, to give a little more articulation to Baymax’s head, since it was one of the most expressive points of his body in the film.

Mochi is a nice little accessory, though I do wish he could have maybe had the rocket boots as removable rubber pieces (though that means they probably would have gotten lost pretty easily).

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Baymax (aka ‘Baymax 1.0’)

"This may undermine my non-threatening, huggable design."

“This may undermine my non-threatening, huggable design.”

After finding out that some masked entity had begun producing microbots similar to the ones he made, Hiro decided to figure out what was going on. Much like how he’d prepare his botfight robots for the unknown, Hiro suited up Baymax using 3-D printed, carbon-fiber components.

This iteration of Baymax (which I dub “1.0,” since his red armor is considered “2.0”), is the only toy/figure I’ve seen of this particular version.

The sculpt definitely captures several great details on the figure. His “shin guard” portions are actually raised, and the ribbing and rivets on his central body portion are well-done. As well, there’s a back-hatch indent that they didn’t need to add, but did anyways!

A downside to this figure, is that unlike the wider ‘feet’ on the “nurse” Baymax, this one has small feet, limiting how he can be posed (aka, “only one way”). i was hoping he’d have pegholes in his feet so I could pose him with an action figure stand I have. Strangely enough, the main line of Big Hero 6 figures did have pegholes in their feet. As to why this and even the non-suited Baymax do not, remains a mystery.

Much like my comments on the other Baymax figure, this one I feel could have also benefitted from a ball-jointed neck as well.

Unlike the nicely-hidden elbow joints on Hiro Hamada’s figure, Baymax’s arms have a very prominent elbow hinge. Also a low point, is that I was hoping for wrist-rotation…but, I can settle for an angled fist-bump.

The good regarding this figure, is it’s nice to get all iterations of Baymax through the film, but the downside, is that the figure doesn’t live up to my expectations. Limited posing, and the inability to have him do much but stand on two feet work against it. I had hoped that with pegholes, I could use one of the pegdiscs from my Star Wars figures, and pose him in one of the action poses he was doing when Hiro tested out his new programming moves.

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Aside from some online internet auctions, I’ve only seen both of these figures at a local Target store, with each one retailing for $8.99 each. However, if you are looking for these guys, the unfortunate method may be the wonderful world of the internet (with a few dollars extra mark-up).

So far, Baymax (with Mochi) and Baymax (1.0) are the only other action figure iterations beyond what originally came out from Bandai Toys in the fall.  There’s been no further word about more figures for the toyline, or even of ‘nerd’ figures of each of the film’s human counterparts. That was where I was hoping the line could go, given that I think it’d be great to have a set of both normal, and superhuman figures to display.

Disney has the unfortunate habit of only continuing merchandising if the film seems to hit impossible heights of popularity (which explains why Frozen has had almost everything in it merchandised). The boys market for toys seems to be currently relegated to Marvel and Star Wars products, with a hint of the Cars and Planes product still being released.

As for merchandise for the more boy-oriented marketplace, films like Wreck-It-Ralph and Big Hero 6 have not seen the bulk of their merchandise piles grow beyond just their Fall openings. Recently, Big Hero 6’s worldwide grosses actually turned out better than expected, making it the most profitable animated feature of 2014. Of course, whether or not this could lead to more merchandise, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Movie Review: It Follows

(Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, including graphic nudity, and language)

I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again: the Horror genre is a tough one for me to love. Much like Action, the genre is often full of so many of the same tired cliches, that it’s hard for me to want to see one of these films. But every once in awhile, some ‘odd’ little entity of a film can catch my eye, and in the last few weeks, the previews for It Follows did just that.

Aint It Cool News had some ads on their site, but it was when I saw a preview before a midnight showing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit a week ago, did this film really excite me. Why? Because, their horror-movie trailer, was the first one I had seen in forever…that didn’t end with a lame jump-scare. Admit it: any Hollywood-funded Horror film seems to have a clause that their horror trailers must have one. But It Follows was an independent production that broke the spell, and I found myself sitting down to watch this film.

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It Follows takes place in a suburban neighborhood in Michigan. Late one evening, a girl in her late teens named Jay (Maika Monroe), makes love to a guy she knows named Hugh (Jake Weary). However, the evening then takes an unexpected turn, when he drugs her, and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair.

Hugh then explains that he has passed something on to her. It is an unknown presence that Hugh only describes as “It,” and that can only be seen by those that are “cursed.” The only way to get rid of It, is to pass the “curse” onto someone else, which Hugh has done to Jay through intercourse. However, he does warn her, that It can take on the form of anyone, be it random, or someone you know. It cannot pass through walls, and though you can run away from it, It will eventually catch up to you. Those that are cursed can pass the curse onto someone else through intercourse, but if that person dies from It, It will then come back to kill you, and proceed back on down the chain.

Of course, like a rational teenager, Jay realizes she can’t tell the adults or authorities, and instead confides in her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and several of their friends. Fortunately, they are willing to believe her, and try to do what they can to help her against this unseen entity.

From L to R: Jay (Maika Monroe), Kelly (Lili Sepe), Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto)

I went into It Follows not placing it on a pedestal given all the hype…but I will say it surprised me (and most of the audience) with what it did! Most of what you would normally expect from horror films, really gets thrown out the window with this. It’s like your BS-meter for horror films got stuck in the Bermuda Triangle, and pretty soon, you’re unable to just watch the film calmly. After awhile, my eyes were darting all over the screen.

That’s part of the fun of this film: much like you don’t know the form of what It will take, you can’t trust the camera (are we looking at It coming at Jay?), or even the music, which throws out plenty of red herrings.

Speaking of the music, the score is largely synth-music, composed by a group called Disasterpiece. There’s not a lot of major melodies, but the way the composer raises and lowers the pitch on even a few notes, is enough to really toy with the audience. I’m sure many will be thinking of the scores to several of John Carpenter’s productions once they hear it too.

Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay (Maika Monroe), and Kelly (Lili Sepe), decide on their next move against It.

It helps that the characters in the film never reach the level of repulsion in most horror films, where you can’t wait to see them offed one-by-one. None of them are perfect, but they never reach “stereotype” levels of behavior that one is used to. There are no major drama queens, and heck, even given what he does, Hugh doesn’t become a typical one-note villain. Another big shocker is Jay. She does not spend most of the time as a babbling mess of anxiety and worry, but maybe that’s because she actually has reliable friends in this film.

The best I could describe what the “It” is, is as some sort of Boogeyman-like Terminator. Heck, normally when it comes at you, it’s often at a slow-and-steady pace almost akin to the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Plus, just what It can do…well, you have to see it to believe it. In one scene, I had no idea what to expect…and when It happened, a ripple of shock rolled through the auditorium!

David Robert Mitchell’s film feels like a breath of fresh air for something new, and it’s not often I can say that about a film. This is the kind of film that it feels you can sit down with your friends afterwards, and actually have a discussion regarding what you saw. Heck, I walked with a friend a few blocks to a nearby supermarket afterwards, and we were discussing certain things we both saw, and some revelations I had missed!

As well, Mitchell’s style of less-is-more, reminded me a little of director Ti West. West’s films are of the horror/suspense type, and work to really set a mood and scene. If you have an open mind, I’d recommend West’s In The House of the Devil, and The Innkeepers, which might be of interest if you like It Follows.

It can get a little confusing regarding some of the smaller details. For example, though we see Jay and her friends hanging out, we don’t see Jay’s parents for much of the film. It does seem odd that an adult/family presence is missing for much of the film. Then again, it could be the filmmakers playing on those older films wherein the situation is largely the problem of the young.

Sisters Kelly (Lili Sepe) & Jay (Maika Monroe) go for a walk.

Just what year or time everyone is in is hard to say. The environment and soundtrack make one think it could be the 1980’s, but the vehicles seem modern day. As well, I don’t recall the use of cellular (or even rotary) phones. One oddity is a little clamshell reader that one girl named Yara (Olivia Luccardi) reads from, but it’s the only piece of “future-tech” we seem to see.

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In conclusion, It Follows has already earned the spot in my personal category, of Great Film(s) that noone saw in theaters. These are usually reserved for those smaller-release pictures that will never get as big of a notice as the bigger budget films. It’s also the first film I’ve seen in a long time that actually lives up to its hype.

It is being released to Video On Demand soon, but I’d recommend seeing it in an actual theater if you can. This was one of those experiences where being in a room with several hundred other people, actually brought about a much different atmosphere than in one’s home. Then again, I could just imagine someone getting so into this film, watching it in their apartment…when suddenly…there’s a knock at the door.

Final Grade: A- (Final Thoughts: Those who go into this expecting the norm for horror, prepare to be disappointed. For everyone else, I have a feeling you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise)

Movie Review: Cinderella ( with animated short, Frozen Fever )

When one says the words “Fairy Tales,” the name Walt Disney springs readily to mind for millions of people. Several generations have been touched by the animated adaptations of popular fairy tales from his studio, that have resulted in millions of merchandised items, let alone billions of dollars in retail sales.

2015 marks the first official foray of The Walt Disney Studios retelling fairy tales in live-action, with Cinderella hitting the big-screen. Of note, is that this isn’t some low-key film. With the likes of Kenneth Branagh directing, and Cate Blanchett playing Lady Tremaine, it didn’t seem like they were going to low-ball this film like some studios would.

The film begins by showing a happy life for young Ella (Eloise Webb), whose world is soon beset by tragedy, after her mother becomes ill. In her final moments, Ella’s mother (played by Hayley Atwell) tells her daughter to “have courage, and be kind,” which young Ella takes to heart.

Some time later, Ella (Lily James) is happy for her father (Ben Chaplin) when he remarries,  introducing the widowed Lady Tremaine and her two daughters into their house. However, when Ella’s father dies on one of his business trips, the family is soon beset by poverty.

Ella (Lily James) and Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett)

Ella (Lily James) and Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett)

It doesn’t take long before Tremaine and her daughters slowly begin to take advantage of Ella’s kind nature, quietly turning her into their housemaid. When one stepsister notes some ash and soot on her face, she mockingly calls Ella “Cinderella,” and the others soon call her nothing but this.

This film had been under my radar even since I first heard about it a few years ago. A few clips in the previews had me rolling my eyes, but once I saw the film, I was surprised how emotionally it hit me at times. It also helped that it seemed a tad more serious than what a standard PG-rated film could bring to the table (The PG rating is to films these days, what the G rating was back in my day).

I will admit, I didn’t know what to expect from a Branagh-directed Fairy Tale…but then again, he did impress me with what he was able to do with Thor back in 2011. Branagh definitely brings a sense of class to this tale, shooting it almost like he was directing a Shakespearean drama (which isn’t a bad thing). That ability to treat the material seriously definitely helps (at times).

Lily James brings a nice characterization to the role that may charm some, but irritate others. Instead of the animated film’s ‘a dream is a wish your heart makes,’ this film gives Cinderella a deeper resolve to stay true to her parent’s memory. Even in the face of adversity that would cause many anonymous persons to claim they’d put the stepmother and the stepsisters in their place, James’ Ella keeps pushing through. That to me is where the true beauty of her character lies: it’s not in a picture-perfect vision of beauty, but “who” she is, as opposed to “what.”

Cinderella (Lily James) tends to her chores

Ella (Lily James) tends to her chores

Cate Blanchett also does some understated acting in the role of Lady Tremaine. One positive, is that her actions have a little more grounding in the reality of the times. Though she is deplorable in several moments, the story manages to keep her in a grey area that not many retellings would ever consider.

The film does get a little silly when it gets to the animals, the stepsisters, and a few members of the royal staff, but it feels moreso like they are a minor distractions to keep the kids from nodding off. It almost put me in mind of the addition of Flit and Meeko to Pocahontas.  And just like those characters, you won’t find any of Ella’s animal friends talking (except in their own ‘animal speak’).

Probably one great addition, is that the Prince (Richard Madden) is given more time to be a character, though he also has the added urgency of trying to become his own man, as his father the King (Derek Jacobi) wishes him to take the throne soon.

Ella (Lily James) and her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)

Ella (Lily James) and her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)

The film even gets its own “Jack Sparrow,” in the form of Helena Bonham Carter’s brief appearance as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. From her scatter-brained demeanor, to her bulging pupils lined with eye-shadow, one can’t help but feel she’s channeling Johnny Depp in a big way here.

Branagh also works once again with composer Patrick Doyle, who brings a wonderful regality and simplicity to the film’s score. He doesn’t recycle the animated film’s music in the overall film, but he does create a nice little theme for Ella, that stayed with me even after leaving the theater.

A couple downsides to the film, were that several moments that should be more emotional, just didn’t quite connect. I can take some syrupy stuff, but I will admit, the opening ‘happy family’ montage did feel like it got a bit too sappy for me. As well, the final third feels like they were rushing to layer in some last-minute story points, let-alone tie up the loose ends that were still dangling. Some may also notice some uneven editing, such as in a rather abrupt ‘smash cut’ near the end of the film’s second act.

Cinderella is definitely not the same as the Disney animated film we’ve almost all known since our youth, and for that, I greatly applaud the filmmaker’s efforts for not giving us a tired rehash. Instead, it’s a grand attempt to make the story a little larger, adding some more layers to a somewhat black-and-white story that generations have known for a long time, only from the animated film.

It’s already been confirmed that the studio will be giving us a live-action Beauty and the Beast adaptation next year. Much like how Iron Man ushered in a new era of superhero films, Cinderella feels like it could be the start of a new chapter in the studio’s live-action division. So far, the only live-action films they’ve made that have met with major success, start with the words, Pirates of the Caribbean.

On a personal note, I think if you enjoy this film, you might also find the story The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye, to be quite entertaining. I was surprised how several story points in Cinderella, reminded me of those in that story.

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“…Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the theaters…”

If you weren’t planning to see Cinderella, chances are you will be seeing it if your children or young relations beg to see it, so they can see the animated short Frozen Fever that plays before the start of the film.

Taking place on Anna’s birthday, Elsa wants to make this a great event for her sister, as it is the first birthday the two will have been together for in a long time! And besides, it’s just a birthday party…what could possibly go wrong?

Frozen Fever follows the same type of epilogue storytelling as Tangled Ever After, returning us to a Kingdom where familiar faces abound…let alone little easter eggs for those who can find them.

Fever won’t bring world peace, but I think for many, it will have a few scenes that will delight (and one that I could imagine several theaters breaking out in applause to!).

Luckily for the adults, a certain song does not rear its head, and instead, we get a new one sung by both Anna and Elsa, and written by Robert & Kristen-Anderson Lopez. It almost sounds like they borrowed a little of the melody from their demo piece Life’s Too Short from their work on Frozen, but as it goes along, it becomes its own little thing (and much like Let It Go, I did wonder afterwards, how soon I could buy the single!).

The downside to the short, is that I could easily imagine kids getting restless after it is over, and demanding to their parents that they wanted to see more Frozen instead of Cinderella. As well, there’s a few new additions that are sure to make them want to hit the nearest Disney Store afterwards.

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FINAL GRADE

Cinderella – B (Final thoughts: care and effort was put into making this production something new, but it gets a little muddled at times in its editing, and final act. Some humorous moments may also seem a little hammy)

Frozen Fever – B (Final thoughts: a nice little return to the Kingdom of Arendelle, though some may find fault in that it’s more of a taste than a meal regarding these animated characters)

Movie Review: Forget Me Not

(Rated R for violence/terror, teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content and language)

Most people know that when it comes to horror or slasher films, I’m not a big fan. I wasn’t indoctrinated into them at an early age like a few of my cousins, and I didn’t go crazy for Scream (or its myriad copycats) in the late 90’s.

However, much like how I’d find “strange films” playing on The USA Network in my teens that intrigued me, Netflix has done the same for me in recent years. I’ve found myself exploring some of these films, and while none have made me a horror fan (they never give me enough people to care about), some have caught my eye with their intriguing premises.

Case in point: the 2009 film, Forget Me Not.

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The film centers around a group of 8 teenagers, who have just graduated from high school. While the majority of them are your typical ‘teen-slasher cannon fodder,’ The slight exceptions to the rule, are siblings Sandy Channing (Carly Schroeder), and her brother Eli (Cody Linley). With both headed to Stanford, their future looks bright, so it’s time to do what most teenagers do in these films: celebrate by going to a friend’s place, with scantily-clad girls, booze, drugs, and lots of fooling around.

However, after over-indulging a bit, one of the group gets the crazy idea, to play an old game at a cemetery in town. The group is soon surprised when an unknown girl shows up there as well, wanting to play their game. The others dismiss her request, but Sandy takes pity on her, and lets her play. Before they start, the group recites a chant:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, release the one ignored by heaven…
8, 9, 10, Now run and hide, or join her at the devil’s side…
11 comes, the clocks will chime, forgotten souls erased by time…
Midnight comes, it’s not too late, so kill the ghost, or seal your fate!

The game has one person as ‘the ghost,’ and the others rush off into the cemetery. The ghost has to find the others, and if the ghost touches you, you become one too, and are sent to hunt the others down. The one left who is still ‘alive,’ is the winner.

In the end, The unknown girl is untouched, and Sandy congratulates her on winning. However, the girl then asks Sandy if she remembers her, her face taking on a pleading look.

When Sandy doesn’t respond with an answer, the unknown girl quietly says, “you will,” and falls backwards…over the side of the cliff on which the cemetery is (!!?). Sandy and her friends then call for the Police, but the search in the wooded area below, turns up nothing.

The others decide to hang out the next day, but when they all decide to meet up, Sandy notices their friend Layla (Chloe Bridges) isn’t there. When she asks her friends where she could be, they can’t recall ever knowing anyone named Layla.

…and so, it begins…

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Most movies with teenagers, would have me already rooting for this group to be offed quickly, but that cemetery scene seemed to put my eye-rolling on hold, even if I did question why no one would put up warning signs or railings near the edge of a cliff.

Tyler Oliver’s feature-film debut is definitely trying to change up what we expect with teenage horror films. The best I could say about the film, is that it combines elements of teen-horror, with The Twilight Zone. In fact, there’s a certain episode in the Twilight Zone’s first season that is eerily similar to some of what goes on in this film, but that’s all I’ll say.

The structure of the story also reminded me of several Asian horror films I’d seen. The concept seemed like it could have easily been adapted from something in Japan, given that the horror elements almost seem more mental than physical at times…and in Asia, they love to play those mind games (I’m still not sure what was going on in their controversial film, The Suicide Club).

Also of interest, is that Oliver layers the film in a way, that it actually invites you to watch it again, and pick up on little things here and there.

Once the ball starts rolling, I found myself as quizzical as Sandy was in what was going on, but as the film started wrapping itself up in its third act, that’s where (like most films) it started to fall apart. Maybe it was the limits of the film’s budget, or they ran out of time in developing a proper ending.

The adults in this film are largely kept out of the main story, and provide very little by way of support. In a sense, this almost goes back to those 80’s films in which the kids were largely on their own.

The main teen cast (who are largely early-20’s actors playing younger) doesn’t do a terrible job, but pretty soon, you almost get a sense on who is more easily expendable, regarding their dialogue and personalities.

There are some odd character moments as well. One revolves around one girl named Lex (Jillian Murphy), whose father (Dan Gauthier) is the town Sheriff.  Though in bucking typical trends, Lex is fine slinking around in front of her father, making him one of the most lax parents I’ve ever seen in one of these films. I didn’t know there could be father-figures who’d have no problems with their daughter being slutty, let-alone letting their boyfriends drink beer around him.

When it comes to the horror mode of things in this film, the concepts start out intriguing, but once we start seeing more, the less scary it becomes.  We do get the typical skittering/herky-jerky motion we’ve come to see in a lot of films these days. It works well a few times, but after awhile, it may become tiresome.

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In the end, Tyler Oliver’s directorial debut is intriguing enough, that I’d recommend giving it a look. It’s entrancing in how it gives a new slant to the teen-horror genre, but if you start thinking a little too hard, the holes become more prominent. It’s a strange film in that way: it wants you to use your brain…but not too much.

Some may be upset that it isn’t super-scary, and just seems to titillate with some scenes. Then again, that could have been Oliver’s film ultimatum: lure you in with what you think you know, then redirect you down a different path.

At the very least, it beats the tired formulas in teen horror films that date back to the heyday of writer, Kevin Williamson.

Final Grade: C+