(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s entry takes a bite out of a sequel to one of the best vampire movies of the past two decades.)

Vampires are something of a ubiquitous presence in horror films, and while there are more than a few brilliant examples both celebrated and more obscure the bulk seem content with offering basic thrills from head to fangs – they suck your blood, they hate Christian iconography, they can multiply with a bite, etc. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (through its numerous incarnations on the screen) cemented the idea of alluring and debonair vampires wooing the unlucky to their sexy doom, and that remains the most common iteration up through the likes of Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Twilight (2008). Plenty of others have gone different routes from the comedic (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992) to the artistic (The Hunger, 1983) and the exploitative (Blacula, 1972) to the metaphorical (The Addiction, 1995).

What we don’t get nearly enough of, though, are vampire movies that treat the bloodsucking beasts like the straight-up monsters they are. Forget cool, sexy, and beguiling – sometimes you just want a vampire movie that embraces their visceral nature and delivers sequences of full-on carnage and horror. The best movie to answer that call is David Slade’s 30 Days of Night (2007).

It’s bloody as hell, beautifully shot – that overhead tracking shot is an all-timer – and emotionally horrifying, and if you haven’t seen it (at all or recently) you should probably remedy that. It also received a direct-to-video sequel in 2010 with the redundantly titled 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. Does it live up to the original’s high standards or does it crumble to dust before our eyes?

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The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance and Jim Henson's Vision

1982’s The Dark Crystal makes its intentions and credentials clear from the very start. Narration sets up a dense history of a fractured world as we’re treated to grand visuals of an ominous landscape and a group of villainous creatures out of step with the planet around them. The wizards at Jim Henson’s studio create the unfolding world through painstakingly detailed artistry, and every living thing on the screen is brought to wondrous life with puppetry. The film wasn’t the hit it deserved to be, but the thirty-seven years since have seen it become a beloved cult favorite.

A follow-up of some kind has been in various stages of development for years now, but it took Netflix being an interested party to see it become a reality. Both the streaming giant and The Jim Henson Company toyed with its return being a CG animated experience (both in part and in full) before making the brilliant but incredibly risky decision to honor the original film and complete their own project – a ten-episode prequel series called The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – using puppets and practical effects (with minimal CG assists).

The risk paid off, and the series is a glorious success capturing both the tone and content of Henson’s original film while telling its own story with characters new and old. Its desire and effort to revisit the overall feeling of The Dark Crystal was a big gamble across the board, but the risk is most evident in three areas – the series employs a dense narrative that both challenges and respects the audience, it doubles down on its embrace of darkness and death, and it commits to prioritizing puppetry and practical effects.

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Sequels aren’t a new invention, but more than a century after what was probably the very first one (Is the Elephant Still Dead?, 1904, Edison Studios) they’ve grown to become fairly reliable sources of profit. They frequently get a bad reputation even before release, but as with remakes and mother-in-laws they’re rarely as terrible as some people suggest. 2019 has already seen the theatrical release of twenty-nine sequels, and a whopping twenty of them came out this summer.

That’s twenty sequels opening across the four months from May 3rd through August 30th, and if that seems like a lot that’s because it is. Studios and distributors may have thought there was safety in numbers, but even a cursory glance at the end of summer results reveals that sometimes the only sure things in life are Disney and John Wick. Quite a few of the sequels that don’t fall under one of those umbrellas left Hollywood accountants sweating this summer for reasons that don’t involve the heat.

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The second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter may have taken two years to arrive, but those of us who’ve already burned through all nine episodes know that it was well worth the wait. Sure, the subplot involving Bill Tench’s (Holt McCallany) adopted hellspawn feels out of place, and yes, Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) gets shafted on screen time and relevance, but the series as a whole remains a mesmerizing watch. Sharp writing and fantastic performances are a big part of the show’s success, but as is often the case with visual mediums the direction is key.

David Fincher returns as one of the show’s driving forces – he directed four episodes of the first season, three this time around, and is responsible for setting the show’s precise late 70s tone – and he’s joined by Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) who helms two. The season’s final four episodes, though, are directed by Carl Franklin, and while his work aligns with Fincher’s (and show creator Joe Penhall’s) series vision, it also shows a filmmaker working with concepts and conceits already well established within his filmography.

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The Hunt Betty Gilpin

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column is a response to the recent shelving of a movie that’s been made previously many, many times before.)

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, a studio film scheduled for nation-wide release was recently pulled from Universal’s schedule in response to a tweet by the president and a vocal outcry by conservative pundits and followers. The detractors are misinformed as to the point of The Hunt (2019?) – and they seem to be equally oblivious as to how these films end (ie the intended targets defeat the merciless killers) – but the bigger head-scratcher is their general obliviousness that the film is just the latest variation in a long line of adaptations of “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Richard Connell’s acclaimed short story was published in 1924, and its tale of a man captured by a mad aristocratic sportsman and hunted as the most challenging prey quickly caught the public’s attention. The first adaptation for the screen arrived eight years later, and many more followed both official and unofficial including John Woo’s ridiculously fun Hard Target (1993), the soft-ish-core porn of The Suckers (1972), the Rutger Hauer-starring Surviving the Game (1994), and the gloriously bonkers Turkey Shoot (1982).

You know those, though, so I’m here to introduce some entertaining and/or engaging examples that you’ve probably missed over the years. The connective line between them is that, unlike a slasher where a killer stalks and kills unknowing victims, these Game riffs see people target and alert their prey for the clear intention of enjoying a hunt. So keep reading for the best “adaptations” of The Most Dangerous Game that you’ve probably never seen.

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(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s entry goes looking for fun in the sun in the form of skin, murder, and sunken treasure.)

It’s usually hit films that earn the pleasure of direct to video sequels, but sometimes a movie that failed at the box-office proves too tempting a marketing opportunity to pass by. Such is the case with 2005’s Into the Blue and its 2009 DTV sequel, Into the Blue 2: The Reef.

These DTV follow-ups typically take a while to show up on virtual shelves, but the four-year span between films here is a relatively quick turnaround. You might assume that’s because the folks at MGM knew they had a hot property, but as mentioned, the original sank fairly quickly in theaters. So maybe they had a fantastic script that simply had to get made sooner rather than later? Don’t be so naive.

No, there’s no artistic or altruistic motive behind this sequel in name only, but we’re still going to give it a fair shot. Keep reading for a look at the DTV sequel to Into the Blue. Is it worth a watch? Don’t hold your breath…

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(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column shines a light on films featuring actors whose careers have become equally obscure and forgotten.)

Quentin Tarantino’s 10th film is currently in theaters, and its inexplicable attitude towards Bruce Lee aside, it’s a warm, affectionate, and extremely entertaining Hollywood daydream. It’s an ensemble film, but at its center sits a character named Rick Dalton — an aging actor a few years past his greatest success, still struggling as both a person and an artist. Actors are a fairly common character-type in movies, and Rick belongs in the subset of washed-up has-beens desperately hanging on in pursuit of relevance.

He’s in good company too as Hollywood and its cousins have gifted film fans with numerous gems on the subject. From Sunset Boulevard (1950) to Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), and from Theatre of Blood (1973) to JCVD (2008), it’s a character and a story we never tire of seeing brought to life on the screen. Movie stars are icons beyond our reach, but people struggling in their everyday lives and careers? Why, they’re just like us!

All of the films mentioned above are worth seeing or re-watching, but I’m here to recommend some great examples you probably missed. Keep reading for a look at six great lesser-known movies about washed-up actors.

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Alligator II Review

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s journey can be blamed on the new movie Crawl which left me with a hankering for more alligator fun.)

This past weekend saw the wide-release arrival of a creature feature, and we’re all better off for it. All. Of. Us. They’re good fun and a nice break for horror fans from the ghost stories that typically make it to theaters. Crawl is a killer alligator flick, and a pretty great one at that, but while it’s the latest it’s far from the first.

Sergio Martino’s The Great Alligator (1979) probably has that honor, but it’s 1980’s Alligator that set a high bar for gator fun. It’s one of the best stabs at piggy-backing on the Jaws (1975) formula, and as is befitting of its greatness the film earned a sequel. Unfortunately, but necessarily for the purpose of this column, Alligator II: The Mutation went straight to DVD.

Did it deserve a better fate, or does it belong in the sewers? Keep reading as this week’s descent into the world of direct-to-video sequels pits a modern-day dinosaur against Joseph Bologna.

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(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column offers up a primer on the varied complications that arise when you attempt to overthrow the government.)

The United States just celebrated this year’s Fourth of July holiday, and for many it’s a day off from work and for others it’s an excuse to placate their inner pyromaniac, but the historical backdrop involves one of the world’s most important coup d’état… of sorts. Obviously those of us in the US view it as a fight for independence, and sure, the Revolutionary War wasn’t technically a coup d’état as the Americans didn’t seek to overthrow and replace the British government, but they did act with the express purpose of unseating those in power here in what would become the US.

Is it semantics? Maybe. But it’s enough of a reason to jump-start this week’s look at underseen movies about coups d’état both successful and attempted. Some of the best known include John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964), the Tom Cruise-starring Valkyrie (2008), and Costa-Gavras’ heartbreaking and true Missing (1982). One of my personal favorites is 2015’s No Escape which takes an entertainingly Cannon Films-like approach to its near xenophobia and over-the-top violence. You know the drill by now, though, meaning that while those are the popular ones we’re here to talk about ones far less appreciated.

Keep reading for a look at the best movies you’ve never seen about coups d’état!

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Annabelle Comes Home trailer

Dolls can be inherently creepy, particularly ones made to resemble us. From their glass eyes and rictus grins to their stubby fingers and obvious maliciousness, dolls suggest a soulless reproduction simply biding their time until they can strike at our kneecaps or steal our breath while we sleep. They’re empty vessels, and while we can ostensibly fill that hollow void with the emotion or action of our choosing – aggressive combat tactics for our Barbies, deciding what tactical gear to pack for our G.I. Joes – each of us has thought at one point or another that our dolls might have ambitions of their own. The movies have been confirming that theory for years.

Some horror fans enjoy slashers, others love creature features, and a small contingent like seeing pint-sized inanimate dolls come to life and begin slaughtering anyone within reach of their tiny hands. Okay, maybe the contingent isn’t that small as movies about killer dolls are often good fun and occasionally creepy. This month is a big one as two of the sub-genre’s heavy hitters are returning to theaters – Child’s Play is a reboot of the popular seven-film Chucky franchise, and Annabelle Comes Home is the third film about the dead-eyed doll that was first introduced to viewers in The Conjuring (2013).

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