A Million Ways to Die Hard is the Sequel That Fans Deserve

By Bob Freville

There’s an inherent problem with the Die Hard series—it hasn’t been good since 1995. Sure, 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard had its dim charms, such as Maggie Q in black leather and the scenery-chewing fan boy Kevin Smith’s cameo as a basement-dwelling hacker. But there was an insufficient amount of awesome to sustain the otherwise laughable installment.

What the franchise lost when Underworld director Len Wiseman came aboard was any semblance of grit or reality, even hyper-reality. One could argue that what made Die Hard appealing in the first place was its very human anti-hero.

Far from the Steven Seagals of the world who can take a machine gun to their windshield and drive away without a scratch, Bruce Willis played John McClane as a flawed and vulnerable man, one whose blood leaves a trail throughout the fated Nakatomi Plaza.

This was not the McClane of 2007 who was able to survive a brush with a fighter jet and a collapsing bridge without so much as rupturing his ball sack. This was the flesh and blood homosapien of 1988 who had to struggle to make his way through an air vent without burning his thumb off on a hot Zippo.

Instead of the honest, soft-spoken family men typified by Charles Bronson, McClane was a divorced alcoholic mess who had to grapple with a hangover while battling the bad guys. Rather than puffing out his chest and making heroic declarations, McClane was a babbling disaster who cussed at his assailants and offered up sarcastic barbs in lieu of the expected police negotiation tactics.

The last two iterations of Die Hard don’t even seem like they were written for the same character, largely because of the obscene time gap between them. 1995 saw the release of Die Hard: With a Vengeance, arguably the last worthwhile entry in the series.

In it, McClane is back where he started, nursing a headache and navigating the seemingly impossible terrain laid out for him by yet another psychopath. The threequel doesn’t waste our time with any of the self-improvement saccharine audiences had come to expect from things like the Lethal Weapon films.

On the contrary, we are afforded a potential sidekick in Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carter, a small business owner who is cajoled into assisting McClane in the villain’s game of riddles. Zeus is there not only to transform Die Hard 3 into a buddy comedy but to reinforce just how little has changed in McClane’s universe. The Harlem native is like a one-man Greek chorus, incessantly lamenting what a shitty trainwreck John McClane is.

Compare this to the forced surrogate father-and-son camaraderie that develops between McClane and Justin Long’s Matt Farrell (Live Free or Die Hard) and it’s blatantly obvious that the franchise has gone off the rails. What Wiseman brought to the table in the last two egregious installments was a cartoonish superhero style of action and a series-defying form of bloodless violence.

From the parkour-practicing bad guys whose stunts look like a rehearsal for Spiderman to the lame expository dialogue of its goofy villains, both Live Free or Die Hard and 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard represent a reinvention of the wheel that nobody asked for, especially not the die hard fans of the Die Hard series.

The last movie oddly ignored the plot developments and character arcs of its predecessor, opting instead to add an estranged and, indeed, extraneous son (Jai Courtney) character to McClane’s life. The good money said that Die Hard had died flaccidly and was likely dead for good.

Cut to six years later and now yet another sequel has been officially announced. Except it’s not just a sequel, it’s also a prequel.


Yep, the project formerly titled Die Hard: Year One will be released as, simply, McClane. The title change is no doubt motivated by two mitigating factors: 1) Fans did not react well to news of ‘Year One,’ fearing that the one ingredient essential to the series (Bruce Willis) would be in absentia. And 2) Bruce’s former-Planet Hollywood partner-in-crime Sly Stallone made an ass-load of cash by directing himself in a Rocky reboot entitled Rocky Balboa, to say nothing of the success he’s had with Creed.

Details about the sequel and its plot have been kept close to the vest, but the producers have assured the public that Willis will feature prominently in the flick which will flash back and forth from McClane’s younger days as a rookie cop in New York City to his current life as…Bruce Willis.

That’s the one thing the fans and the media have seemed to neglect when it comes to latter day Die Hard movies. Those who would get pissed off at the prospect of a Willis-free Die Hard are very obviously operating on nostalgia mode.

Were they to go back and re-watch either Live Free or Die Hard or its abysmal follow-up, they would see that the John McClane we all know and love is barely recognizable within the bald pate and squinty eyes of Willis’s whispery twilight persona.

It’s no surprise since Willis has long forgotten how to play anyone other than himself. The balding wife beater-wearing John McClane from the first two pictures is long gone, so why keep Willis around to phone in what could be a bad ass performance by a more game actor?

But I digress.

The real question is why bother with a prequel when a better sequel already exists?

I’m talking about A Million Ways to Die Hard, the hardcover graphic novel by Wolverine veteran Frank Tieri and artist Mark Texeira. The book’s plot takes place on the eve of the first film’s anniversary and it is made for the Post-Tarantino Age, revolving as it does around the rather contemporary concept of a movie-obsessed maniac taking hostages at the storied Nakatomi Plaza.

Die Hard is an action franchise desperately in need of a good bad guy. Ever since Wiseman took the helm, the series has been drained of anything approaching the slimy malevolence of Hans Gruber (the late Alan Rickman) or the inspired iniquity of his poofy brother (Jeremy Irons in ‘With a Vengeance‘).

A Million Ways… delivers the sinister skeleton of the perfect post-modern villain. Mr. Moviefone is equal parts Ghostface (Scream) and Internet troll, a madman who could be quite memorable in the right hands (Think Sam Rockwell or Michael Shannon).

The evidence available suggests that McClane will be yet another sequel by committee (hence the years of development and title changes) and not the Die Hard that fans have been hoping for. On the other hand, A Million Ways… has the raw potential to be just that.

Instead of some franchise-bastardizing quasi-prequel, it is a blueprint for a balls-out meta-sequel to the original, one that retcons all but the first two entries. At just four short chapters, the graphic novel is a brisk read that leaves plenty of room for improvement.

As a sequel in its own right, it isn’t all that incredible (Tieri’s dialogue is often cheesy and derivative), but that doesn’t matter. What the book does is serve as a concise guide that a solid screenwriter could follow when setting it into type.

A sort of gorgeously-rendered storyboard for how to make a proper return to the brash, potty-mouthed action classic we all grew up on, A Million Ways to Die Hard is everything that die hard Die Hard fans deserve. Shit, it even gives us Sgt. Al Powell’s son. You remember Sgt. Al Powell, he was TV’s Carl Winslow on Family Matters. Well, he also happened to be the ballsy cop who helped McClane communicate with the ground in part one.

Are we still set to nostalgia mode? You bet.

The studio should scrap McClane like they scrapped countless drafts of the script before it and pay attention to what Tieri and company have going on. The right wit and some nimble fingers could crank out a worthy movie using the pages of this above average graphic novel. So what are you waiting for, Hollywood? Yippie ki yay, motherfucker!

Films That Fell Through the Cracks: Easter Bunny Kill! Kill!

By Bob Freville

The following review originally appeared in Kotori Magazine on June 27th, 2010. It is included here as part of our Films That Fell Through the Cracks column due to its relative obscurity. Like many of director Chad Ferrin’s delightfully warped grindhouse features, it has not been given the attention it deserves. 

Easter Bunny Kill! Kill! is one of those glorious gruefests that leaves you to your own emotional/moral devices, unaware of whether you should laugh or cringe or both. Director Chad Ferrin is a cat who likes to press the buttons of the sensitive. He is an adept at it. And it is that expert flourish that makes EBKK more than a horror movie, more than mere shock cinema–something seriously fucking spectacular and every bit as seldom as a lunar eclipse.

The story concerns a single mother and her mentally-retarded son Nicholas, who suffers from cerebral palsy and flights of furry fancy in which he believes a caged bunny rabbit to be the Easter Bunny incarnate. Nicholas’s mother has fallen, quite inexplicably, for a greasy brusque criminal with mutton chops by the name of Remington Rashkor (and appropriately purulent name for the bilious character played with gusto by Ferrin regular Timothy Muskatell).

When Remington coerces Nicholas into telling his mother they should all live together (with threats that he will break the easter bunny’s neck), Mom decides to leave Nicholas in Rem’s care while she scampers off to work as a candy stripe nurse. And this is where the demented whirlwind of craziness begins, having its end only when a series of sickos have met their maker at the hands of an apparent guardian angel in a bunny mask, a guardian angel with a serious axe to grind. Well, not an axe. More like power tools, ball peen hammers and anything other household item that can be wielded as a weapon.

As mentioned before, EBKK is a hoot, a really fun cinematic experience despite the touchy subject matter and gristly scenarios that play out. Remington’s song about hookers and cocaine is a tour-de-force, to be sure. And so, too, is the third act revelation. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Every review or interview I’ve come across regarding this little gem hoists major accolades at Timothy Muskatell for his hilariously perverted portrayal of Rem. But, strangely, nobody seems to have mentioned the Peter Lorre-worthy turn by David Z. Stamp as handi-capable sex toy-wielding child molestor Ray.

His labored breathing, Max Shreck fingernails and satchel of sex swag provide the first truly threatening moment in the film. It is Ray, not the equally menacing but already well-publicized Remington, who acts as the true catalyst that kickstarts the Hare from Hell’s battery of bloody outbursts.

There I said it. Props to Mr. Z. Stamp!

EBKK is a flick suitable for a drinking game. Take a shot every time something ribald is said or an eyeball is shed. You’ll probably be stone drunk by the time you hear Mr. Rashkor’s hilarious demand of, “Hey, keep the tops off! I got coke!”

The buzz saw scene is a tasty triumph of flawless editing and grue-oozing expressionism that will go down as one of the gnarliest kills of the decade.

The atmosphere when the hookers (you’ll see) are in the house is classic Carpenter, but Ferrin ups the ante with an awesome dose of absurdity as Remington beats the heck out of a man who has already suffered a similarly fatal bastinato at the hands of the Easter Bunny. And the unharmed whore makes an off-color and idiotic inquiry that will have you counting down to when, hopefully, she’ll just fucking die already.

Like the golden age of the slasher film each kill in EBKK is more fun than the last, with one in particular giving new meaning to the phrase, “Deep throat.”

EBKK is one of those flicks that words just can’t do justice (though we still try). When you refer it to a friend and they ask you what it’s about you tell ’em, “Just see the damn thing, it’s fucking nuts!” This flick is sure to satiate your funny bone, your blood lust and your thirst for wholesome good old-fangled midnight madness.

From Charlotte Marie as the hottest mom to ever don a nurse’s outfit, to Remington Rashkor’s ultimate handlebar mustache, Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! is a killer cult film experience that revels in the kind of unorthodox irreverence that is beyond refreshing in these P.C. times.

Films That Fell Through the Cracks: The Frightening

The Frightening (2002)

Film Review by Zakary McGaha

What you need to know going in: there’s a new kid at a weird high school, people start dying, and there are ghosts…sort of.

The Frightening, directed by David DeCoteau, is a mixed bag, to put it delicately. Still, it has a swath of charm that makes it memorable. With this whole “Films That Fell Through the Cracks” series, we want to focus on movies that aren’t viewed as classics by anyone’s standards, but, at the end of the day, prove a point most genre fans are well aware of: not every movie needs to be a fucking classic.

Some movies are mediocre when viewed separately, but if you add them all together, they create a genre of trash that imprints itself on your soul. The Frightening certainly fits in this category.

I was unfamiliar with David DeCoteau before stumbling upon The Frightening, but it has since come to my attention that he has a pretty strong cult following. His ‘Brotherhood’ films, which I haven’t seen, are said to contain a strong homoerotic pulse. The Frightening has the same pulse; it definitely fits into the sub-genre of homoerotic horror films, along with the infamous Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (I seriously love that one, by the way; always have).

Learning of this homoerotic through line in his work after watching the movie confirmed my suspicions about DeCoteau. He has a distinctive style and isn’t just one of the many directors of straight-to-video horror flicks who work on things without consistent vision. You’re probably thinking, “Come on, you’re just saying that to make yourself seem more observant.”

To that, I would say: No, once you watch The Frightening, you’ll realize it has that certain type of charm that indicates the people working behind the scenes had a passion for the genre they found themselves in.

Still, though, I can see why people wouldn’t like this flick. It fails miserably in a couple areas. First off, the deaths, save for one in which a cowboy-looking fella gets his face melted, are lame. They’re all laughable and fun, but tiresome at the same time.

Basically, a group of elite-ish type teens is running around dressed like burglars with the sole purpose of offing the “different” kids at the high school (there’s more to it than this, but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory). Needless to say, all of these kills come off as clumsy and stupid. Nothing scary to see here, folks! Just bumbling preppies trying to be FBI-like assassins.

Secondly, the dialogue is horrible, but this is to be expected in a lot of low budget horror. It wasn’t so bad that I felt compelled to write down notes of horrible word exchanges, however I’m unable to decide at this moment if it all adds to the film’s charm or detracts from it.

The last area of concern is the half-formed explanation or “mythology”, perhaps. It was fun in a Twilight Zone way, but it could have been handled better. It’s never a good sign when a character has to spend a long time explaining the “why” of supernatural occurrences.

Despite those things, The Frightening deserves a 3/5. It’s got problems, sure, but that it was a labor of love is apparent. It’s a gleefully bad genre film that’s never boring, continually hilarious…and its singular cool kill is pretty wicked. Not necessarily ultra-gory, but wicked.

If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for anything that mixes “school” culture and horror. This film delivers on that, although it could’ve been better. This is no Heathers, certainly, but it’s pretty good if you want to catch a brain-numbing flick before bedtime.

Zakary McGaha is a dog lover, film buff, and horror hound living in Tennessee. His horror-comedy novella Locker Arms is available from Kensington Gore Publishing. Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast is forthcoming from JournalStone/Bizarro Pulp Press.

Why Mainstream Horror is Still Dead: Part II

By Zakary McGaha

This tiny article isn’t really a continuation of my last write-up on mainstream horror, because there won’t be many (if any) new points. It’s more of a response to an article debunking some Vogue piece, in which my article was referenced (in said debunking article; not the Vogue piece).

Anyway, it was said, incorrectly, that I claimed horror was dead. I was then excused for the claim which I didn’t make.

In Why Mainstream Horror is Dead, I said just that “mainstream” horror is dead. I mentioned that the indie front was awesome and wasn’t slowing down, and I said that mainstream horror movies are still being made, but I pointed out that the mid-list for horror fiction went belly-up forever ago.

I also said that the token blockbuster horror movies don’t signal prosperity for the genre as a whole, but, instead, show what little demand for it there is. Your typical theatergoer is apt to say, “Halloween, that was a good horror movie! But that’s enough for one year.”

Horror is kept alive by fans, these days, and is pretty much a niche genre. Sure, it’s giant compared to super niche genres, and it has many sub-genres, but it’s still not thriving like it was in the 70s, 80s, and early -90s when publishers were churning out mass-market horror left and right…by authors who weren’t just named Stephen King. Back then, you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing something Friday the 13th related or turn on the TV without seeing a ton of lesser-known horror movies that were still holding their own.

Perhaps there’s one thing I should clear up: by today’s standards, the lesser-known and indie horror books and movies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s were mainstream as hell. The audience was much larger; there was prosperity to be had for all. However, that changed once mass-market horror died. Sure, small things stayed around…niche presses, which pretty much describes the small-press scene today, kept the ball rolling for the people who wanted it kept rolling, but it was no longer EVERYWHERE. Horror went the way of Metallica; what was edgy way back when is “Dad Rock” today.

Another thing I should clear up: I thought the new Halloween ruled, and believe it’s the second best sequel of the franchise, and I’m well aware that it made tons of money, but I still think mainstream horror is dead because Halloween was the token horror movie of this year, along with The Nun.

What do they both have in common besides money? They were franchise flicks. The vast majority of original horror films were, as usual, direct to VOD and DVD. The other in-theater examples were the exceptions, but they deserve a look.

Hell Fest was awesome, but it wasn’t nearly as successful as Halloween or The Nun, nor was Strangers: Prey at Night, although it wasn’t necessarily a failure. As far as Overlord, it’s too early to tell. And I won’t even talk about The Meg, because it was awful and didn’t do the book justice.

Still, though: despite the movies listed above, we’re not seeing the plethora of awesome material genre fans were used to in the golden days, that have since gone on to become classics today. Instead, we’re still seeing continuations and reboots of those classics!

Most indie, direct-to-video horror today is clearly targeted at horror fans who need their appetites whetted, while the other in-theater horror films of the year were successful because of horror fans and the convenience of the theater, which drew some of the mainstream folks in (which is why they had smaller box-office numbers).

In other words, the token mainstream horror franchise films did well because everyone needs at least one bender a year, while the other ones achieved what they did only because of hardcore horror fans and their normal family members they drug to the theaters.

Just because there are a couple big, token hits along with some smaller, already-forgotten films isn’t enough to convince me that horror is thriving today. Am I saying this to be negative and all FUCK THE MAINSTREAM-like? Nope. I’ve been pleased with what the studios have given us this year, and I’ve been pleased with the indie stuff I’ve seen.

I’m not a hard horror fan to please, as I love it all.

However, I do feel that horror is not in a healthy state.

A Blumhouse sticker stuck over horror’s wound like a bandage isn’t going to keep it from bleeding out. If you recall, some of the highest-grossing horror films as of recent all have the same aforementioned production company: Get Out, Happy Death Day, HALLOWEEN, and The Purge.

I’m not gonna debate the quality of these films, because some of them I like and some of them I loathe, but the point is this: we’re seeing a lot of stuff from the same people, and not enough from new people, at least not in theaters. The indie front, however, is where it’s at. Too many examples of great films abound. If you know where to find the good stuff, stream it (or buy the DVD)!

There aren’t enough horror films in theaters from different people to justify mainstream horror being a thriving industry. Yes, certain people are thriving, but their “industry” is quite small, and the doors aren’t necessarily always open for new talent.

The people who saw Halloween aren’t going to fund legions of horror production companies, publishers, etc. They’re going to jump on whatever bandwagon comes along next, and that bandwagon is probably gonna be started by the same people.

Meanwhile, horror fans everywhere will gladly be enjoying a genre that is still very much alive, although it’s definitely not in a “boom” period. Its mainstream appeal lasts for all of about ten seconds at a time, while the indie front runs continuously in the background, with films like The Devil’s Candy, Hold the Dark (who some may classify as a thriller, but I say it’s horrifying as fuck, and it’s my favorite new movie as of recent), and Jug Face, as well as extreme flicks like American Guinea Pig: Song of Solomon keeping people satisfied.

Perhaps it’s not a popularity thing so much as a question of medium. I already mentioned streaming: long-form horror is on FIRE here, with shows like The Haunting of Hill House and Stranger Things dominating Netflix. Maybe that’s where the true “mainstream” horror lies these days, but one thing’s for sure: horror films are moving away from the big screen, and it seems to be getting worse each year. Maybe it’s a failure on theaters’ part (as in, specifically the venue, not Hollywood)? It would take statistics and whatnot to answer this question, which isn’t what this article is about.

This article is about taking notice of the culture. As someone who gorges on horror every day, I try to pay attention to everything: from indie to mainstream, new to old…and I can say with certainty that the majority of the “mainstream” stuff I get into is from years past, while the majority of new stuff is indie.

Mainstream horror today is dead, but horror is still as alive as it’s ever been: the way in which we consume horror is simply growing radically different, which is draining the blood from the concept of mainstream, theatrically-released horror.

Alternative Cinema Goes Bye-Bye: A Final Farewell to Tempe Video

By Bob Freville

Tempe Entertainment was founded in 1991, but I didn’t hear about them until the mid-90s when I happened upon an enthralling profile of Tempe founder J.R. Bookwalter in Fangoria magazine. The article in question painted a picture of DIY innovation before DIY was part of the pop culture lexicon.

Upon reading about Bookwalter’s debut film, The Dead Next Door, and the bloody shoestring production of his next movie, Ozone, it became clear that this Akron, OH resident was at the vanguard of a new microbudget horror movement, one that was making movies for peanuts and pubic hair.

After making a dynamic debut with The Dead Next Door, a unique take on the zombie genre that was partially funded by Sam Raimi, Bookwalter churned out a series of passionless no-budget quickies for producer David DeCoteau before turning his frustration with this thankless work into a goal – create a company that can do more with less.

Founded in 1991 during post-production on ‘Dead Next Door,’  Tempe Video’s ethos was simple; as Bookwalter told Michael Scrutchin of Flipside Movie Emporium, “Whatever some guy in his backyard comes up with will be infinitely more passionate and honest than the crap Hollywood churns out on a weekly basis! I say get out there and do it! Now there is no excuse.”

Tempe Entertainment wasn’t waiting for some hotshot honcho to stick millions of dollars in escrow and assign executives to lob a flurry of notes at Bookwalter’s scripts. Instead, the Tempe team were turning their backs on the silver screen machine and building the direct-to-video market into a prosperous new avenue for indie talent.

Over the ensuing three plus decades, that talent has brought us fabulous cheapy features like the batshit psychological drama Eddie Presley and the fiendishly funny Filthy McNasty quadrilogy, to say nothing of Bookwalter’s own brilliant drug scourge thriller Ozone. Their catalog reflects the full width and breadth of no-budget horror, warts and all.

A lot of their titles are excruciatingly bad, but their egregiousness is part of their charm. Like other indie houses, such as Troma Team Releasing and Full Moon, the videos of Tempe Video are either shockingly well-crafted or so poorly crafted that the fun is in imagining the filmmakers’ state of mind during production.

Recently J.R. Bookwalter took to social media to announce that the company would no longer be producing motion pictures. In a Facebook post, Bookwalter writes, “All good things must come to an end, which is why we’re announcing today that Tempe Entertainment will be packing our bags and heading to that great indie retirement home in the sky on January 1, 2019.”

The news was a blow to those of us who place importance on indie film distribution. With streaming platforms fast replacing traditional distribution paradigms, it is unnerving to see a legendary studio like Tempe turning out the lights.

Like Crystal Pepsi, Tempe Video may be back one day, but it will never be the same again.

It would be all too easy to say that this spells the end for indie horror, but Tempe Video has served as a guidepost for innumerable indie houses to sprout up all across the country and today horror production companies number in the hundreds.

Outfits like Blumhouse, Brain Damage, Breaking Glass Pictures, Darclight, Dark Sky Films, Glass Eye Pix and Unearthed Films are rolling out a king’s ransom of cool titles that stretch the boundaries of what is possible with the kitchen sink approach.

The last ten years have given us modern macabre classics like Chad Ferrin’s mindfuck slasher Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009), Adam Wingard’s genre-bending DXM trip/ghost story Pop Skull (2008), the Trent Haaga-penned cumming-of-age flick Deadgirl (2008), Ti West’s old school Satanic panic film The House of the Devil (2009) and the slippery sci-fi cringer Honeymoon (2014).

We’ve also seen genre exercises like You’re Next propel directors like Wingard into the mainstream where they were given the opportunity to make exceptional genre films (The Guest, Blair Witch) with a slightly grander scope.

These videos and films owe much to the Tempe Video model of frugal, makeshift innovation. It’s hard to imagine directors like Kevin Smith (Red State, Tusk) being able to successfully stage movie road shows or directors like Rob Zombie (31) being able to raise post-production monies using crowdsourcing had it not been for companies like Tempe Video paving the way.

Many great filmmakers are shooting feature-length flicks in 30 days or less and finding creative solutions to problems that present themselves on the day. And there are a lot of little production houses out there who are able to write, produce, direct and release their own pictures on little more than a prayer.

But Tempe did it first and they did it the best. Indie horror—Esto Perpetua.