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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE


STATS:
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE
Unreleased
Directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50)
Starring Amber Heard, Anson Mount, a kid from Twilight


WHA’ HAPPENED?
Mandy Lane
and a group of friends engage in all sorts of illegal activities at a secluded ranch house. Of course, they start getting picked off one-by-one. Could it be connected to the accidental death of their friend nine months earlier? Is there some dark secret involving our title vixen and the power she holds over all the men in the film? Is there a bad-ass twist ending? Yes, yes, and hell yes.

ISN’T THAT SPECIAL?
An infamously unreleased horror gem from 2007, this movie has been on my list of movies to see since I saw its first trailer years ago. The trailer was so good, in fact, that I would go to Youtube and rewatch it every few months. Well, the last time I did, I saw that the movie itself had sneaked onto the internet. Needless to say, I was there!

SHIRTS AND SKINS:
Yes. One of the teens is particularly James Dean-y. But why do the cutest ones get murdered first?


BLOOD AND GUTS:
The film maintains its off-kilter, indie tone throughout, slowly doling out sudden, jarring death scenes to keep us on our toes. My favorite involves a knife slash to the eyes. There isn’t a lot of gore in the movie (about half the murdered kids get shot), but there’s certainly enough caked on blood by the end to make this film feel grimy and grindhousey. And did I mention a knife slash to the eyes?


OK. IS IT GAY?
There are possible lesbian undertones about halfway through. In a lesser movie, this would seem exploitative. In this movie, though, it added another layer to our enigmatic teen, coloring the ending in an interesting new light.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I loved this movie. It has the bare bones of a slasher film, but it’s all gussied up and dressed in indie clothes. The music is pure post-Wes-Anderson melancholy, the cinematography is low budget and beautiful, and the plot moseys along in such an unexpected and rambling way.

The non-death-scenes don’t feel obligatory. Instead, they’re filled with little character moments that make even the unlikable characters seem genuine. The bitchy blonde girl, for example, has a wordless scene where she takes off her stuffed bra and gives herself a long, sad look in the mirror. See? Even the nude scenes have something to say about each character.

While I wouldn’t say I was ever truly afraid during this film, I was always enthralled. Some of the best films can have some slow patches, and while this film is often slow, it never feels that way. It’s the kind of movie that sucks you into its groove and carries you along till the end.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

HOUSE


HOUSE
1986
Directed by Steven Miner (Halloween: H20, Friday the 13th Part 2, ABC Family’s Switched at Birth)
Written by Fred Dekker (Monster Squad!), Ethan Wiley (Children of the Cord 5: Fields of Terror Bad CGI)
Starring William Katt and George Wendt, the 80s version of Laurel and Hardy

WHA’ HAPPENED?
The Greatest American Hero™ (William Katt) moves into his aunt’s haunted house so he can have some alone time to write a novel about the Vietnam War. He doesn’t realize the house is infested with a horrible creature that will surely drive him to madness: TV’s George Wendt.

And there are ghosts. Lots of weird-ass ghosts, including the crumbling remains of a former soldier that Katt left to lie in some Vietnamese rice paddy. This skeleton warrior is out for revenge, which is why he kidnapped Katt’s son and whisked him away to an ill-defined realm of darkness and tentacles. Katt must save his son, defeat the zombie, and survive a week living in… The House!

BACKGROUND
This film came in the middle of the mid-80s horror comedy boom, which was arguably jumpstarted by Freddy Krueger and his increasingly zany antics. Two and a half decades later, House has become a well-regarded HBO staple, and people think of it as Fright Night’s doofy younger brother. You know, the one with ADD and George Wendt? I hadn’t seen it in years, but I remember being amused throughout the whole film. So when MOON IS A DEAD WORLD chose this for the latest round of Viewer Vomit, I was ready and willing and check it out one more time.

One of the more harrowing showdowns in the film.
Where's Rhea Pearlman when you need her?

EXPECTATIONS
When I popped my House VHS tape into my dusty old VCR (true story), I had a few very clear images in my mind: William Katt diving through his bathroom mirror, a skeleton super-soldier, a goofy-looking purple ghost thing that impersonates William Katt’s wife. Basically, I remembered all the money shots. But I wasn’t sure how much of a comedy this was.

I’d seen all three House movies (1, 2, and 4, because 3 doesn’t really exist), and I was aware that each one walked the horror/comedy tightrope to varying degrees of success. Was this the one with an Old West shoot-out. Did this have a pizza monster? All the House movies blurred in my brain, and I was curious to see how the first one stood up.

Not since his role in Problem Child 3: Junior's in Love
has William Katt been this terrified.

WHAT I LIKED
After watching this one and the two sequels, I can safely say that this is by far the least comedic, which is definitely a good thing. There’s obvious comedy in this film, particularly physical stuff involving wacky monster body parts and dead bodies. (It’s like Poltergeist on meth, but in a good way.) George Wendt also gets off a few good one-liners (My personal favorite: “Cujo, the raccoon!”). And William Katt has the common sense to play everything with a slight wink to the audience. He’s not the greatest actor around (Hence his role in Problem Child 3), but he comes across as endearing and sympathetic.

That said, the movie isn’t pure slapstick. There are actual stakes involved. Unlike the sequels, which have moments of drama that they utterly botch, this one uses the kidnapped son in a way that seems properly dramatic, but not depressing.

Look what I caught!

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
This film isn’t perfect, and there are a few sour notes. I’m specifically talking about the completely cheesy Vietnam flashbacks. They look like they were filmed in someone’s backyard luau. They come at random times throughout the film and totally disrupt the flow. Most importantly, though, these flashbacks are completely unneccessary. We can get all this information in half the time. William Katt talks about his PTSD more than enough times (he’s writing a freaking book about it!). We don’t need to see any of this happening on the screen.

My other major gripe with this film is that the ghost dimension that his son is trapped in comes across as thoroughly underdeveloped and confusing. Has the boy been treading water in a dark cave for the months that he’s been gone? The movie does not explain where he was this entire time. Maybe if the movie spent less time showing William Katt spout off war movie clich├ęs with that bailiff guy from Night Court… then maybe we’d get half a minute of explanation about where his son was. Just a thought.

FINAL VERDICT
I enjoyed this movie. A lot. I laughed at all the right parts, I thought the comedy didn't take anything away from the legitimate scares, and I enjoyed hanging out with these actors. It's not flawless, but it's good-natured enough that the flaws don't really matter. Now that I've watched it again, I don't think I'll let my VHS copy build up quite so much dust the next time I want to check it out.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

THE ARTIST


Just because I enjoy a good disembowelment or two, doesn’t mean I don’t watch Oscar movies when the timing is right. I’m gay. Of course I follow the Oscar race. It’s the gay Super Bowl. Of course I’m going to be watching the show tonight and rooting for all my favorites. (If the Muppets don’t win for best song…) Of course I’m going to have people over. Of course I’m going to pass out ballots for everyone to fill out. That’s just something my people do.

As such, I’ve seen as many of the best pictures nominees as I possibly could. In one glorious weekend, I caught showings of The Artist, The Descendants, War Horse, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. (I also saw Chronicle, but that won’t get nominated for anything until next year. When it will sweep all categories because of awesomeness.) I saw The Help on a plane. I missed that Woody Allen one (not a fan) and Tree of Life (because holy crap that looked boring). I had no desire to see Moneyball, despite its steady stream of Pitt. I also saw Hugo with my family, because none of my friends wanted to see a kid’s movie.

While I found a little something to like in each of the movies (except Extremely Loud, because that was offensively manipulative), I’m really hoping that The Artist takes as many awards as it can. It’s the whole package. It’s a singular cinematic experience with great acting, a movie story, and style to spare. I wouldn’t be upset if Hugo or Descendants grab a few of the extra awards, but the best picture just HAS to go to Artist. In a movie year without a good Pixar movie, this was hands down the most beautiful and moving thing I saw.


That said, I’m hoping Descendants gets the original screenplay award, because I really want to see Jim Rash win an Oscar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

TALES FROM THE CRYPT: The Man Who Was Death


What I Thought It Was About: A man gets cursed by a gypsy so that everyone he touches ends up dead. At first, he uses his powers to his advantage, but then things get out of hand.

What It Was Actually About: A prison executioner gets laid off because the death penalty is outlawed in his state. So he decides to execute a bunch of people on his own. He gets caught, and then the death penalty is put back in place and he’s electrocuted.


Was It Good? Yeah. It was good, not great. Bill Sadler played a better Death in Bill and Ted than he did in this episode, but he’s still a reliable character actor. A lot of his narration was a little unnecessary, though. And the ending felt really quick. But kudos to the writers of this show (Walter Hill and Robert Reneau) for sandwiching so many murders in a single episode.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2

Get the Breakfast Club reference?

STATS:
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2
1986
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Caroline Williams, Dennis Hopper, and Bill Moseley

WHA’ HAPPENED?
Well, lots of weird and funny things happen, but not a lot of horrific things happen. Honestly, this does not make a good double feature with the original, because the tone is so completely different. It’s like comparing Independence Day and Mars Attacks, except instead of aliens, these two movies are about eating people in chili. (Well, at least the second one is about chili, but the characters from the first one probably ate human chili too.)

The psycho family from Part One has disappeared into a cave system somewhere in Texas to continue their cannibalism. Poor radio personality Caroline Williams has to survive a night in those creepy-ass catacombs, illuminated only by Christmas lights and sparks from a chainsaw.

WHAT YOU SAY?
Peel that pig and slice him thick.

Grandpa’s strict liquid diet keeps him as fresh as a rose.


ISN’T THAT SPECIAL?
I saw this movie as a kid right after renting the first one. (To this day, that first viewing of Chainsaw 1 is the scariest movie experience of my life.) I was all ready to go, expecting something handheld and horrifying. What I got was a whole lot of goofiness and not a lot of horror. I was so disappointed, I hadn’t seen it since. Looking back, I wondered if maybe I was too hard on it because it was so different from the original. Would I change my opinion?

FINAL VERDICT:
Yes and no. Everything I felt about this movie the first time around remains unchanged. Bill Moseley is goofy as hell, Leatherface seems neutered and emasculated, and the kills are wacky (especially the opening murders of the two radio-callers). But I didn’t realize how fun this all was. If you are properly prepared, this movie really is a good time. It doesn’t resemble the original at all, but so what.

There is one pleasant surprise about this rewatch: Dennis Hopper. I had no memory of what a total badass he is in this movie. I mean, the main girl is great (I will always treasure that actress from Leprechaun 3), but the Hopper really owns this film. He’s like the American hillbilly version of Dr. Loomis from Halloween. And if that isn’t enough to recommend this movie, I don’t know what it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

HOUSE 2: The Second Story


House II: The Second Story is a big, overstuffed mess of a movie with at least two plot threads too many, but holy crap is it fun to watch. It basically takes the story and tone of the first House, and adds a bunch more wackiness. It also gets rid of the weird tonal shifts that the first one had (like all those cheesy Vietnam flashbacks). When you think of horror-comedies, you think of movies like this.

Let’s start a checklist of why this movie is a fun experience.

1. First, we have the house itself, which seems much creepier and more Baroque than the first house. One of its rooms is actually a prehistoric jungle, so you know it has some serious square footage.



2. We have our requisite Cheers castmember making the rounds. In the first one, it was George Wendt. In this one, we get Pixar fave John Ratzenberger, who is clearly having a ball.


 
3. We get Amy (Problem Child) Yasbeck in a completely unnecessary role of a pop star wannabe. Why is this storyline even in the movie? No idea. But it’s always good to see Ms. Yasbeck outside of that damn airport.


4. Bill Maher tries to act. Sure, the character of the slimy music agent really fits him, but what’s really cool is the novelty of watching Bill Maher slum it up in a low-budget horror comedy.


5. Royal Dano as a cowboy zombie adjusting to live in Reagan’s America. His cluelessness and regret are alternately funny and touching. And that make-up is very, very good.


6. And finally, this film involves a whole host of weird puppets, including this little guy clutching a magic crystal skull in its beak. You heard me correctly: a magic crystal skull. This is by far the greatest movie involving a magic crystal skull. (Though, admittedly, there isn’t much competition.)


Will you ever get scared by watching this movie? Probably not. Will you laugh out loud? Maybe. But you’ll definitely grin all the way through. And isn’t that a good enough reason to watch?

Friday, February 17, 2012

VALENTINE


Valentine's Day just happened, and you know what that means, ladies and gentlemen. I'm still in a Reese's-induced sugar coma. It also means that I get the chance to talk about one of my least favorite guilty pleasures, the Denise-Richards-getting-harpooned-to-death slashfest Valentine.

Now, full disclosure: I have a soft spot in my heart for this movie, and there are two reasons why: First, it is the only Katherine Heigl movie that I can bother sitting through all the way (besides Bride of Chucky or Wish upon a Star). I enjoy the fact that she gets murdered at the very beginning. Such is my hatred for Katherine Heigl.


And secondly, it was a date movie for me. One of my first. I was in junior high; I was really nervous. It didn’t go well. But… I look back on that memory fondly. And ironically.

Aside from that, Valentine doesn’t have a lot to recommend. It came at the tail end of the late-90s slasher resurgence, and it comes across as stale and perfunctory. The final revelation is really dumb. And the acting (except for dead-eyed superbitch Denise Richards) is subpar. It’s not campy enough to be enjoyable, nor legit enough to be watchable. It’s just sort of there, limping along through wildly implausible death scenes at multi-media art installations and dimly lit mansions. Even David Boreanaz is weirdly charisma-free (and I don’t mean Carpenter).

But considering all that, I still would recommend it. It’s like a time capsule. It’s a quaint little window into the horror trends at the turn of the millennium. It’s basically the perfect distillation of everything that was wrong with horror movies at that time. The bad plotting, the hyper-verbal yet completely unnatural dialog, the long scenes of exposition, the dozens of unnecessary red herrings. Watch this and you’ll remember what it was like in the late-90s, early-2000s. For some people, that’s reason enough to sit through this dreck.

If you don’t, this lady will cut you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

House IV


STATS:
HOUSE IV
1992
Directed by Lewis Abernathy
Written by an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of keyboards
Starring William Katt (barely), Denny Dillon, and Terri Treas (no idea)

House 1 and House 2 are light-hearted horror comedies where everything works out in the end. Sure, the leads have to face down gloopy looking ghosts and pterodactyls (seriously), but they proceed along at a quick pace and are a lot of fun to watch. House 4, on the other hand, doubles down on the wackiness quotient, but ends up paradoxically darker, angrier, and more unpleasant than either of its prequels. (House 3 doesn’t exist, by the way.)

First of all, take a look at the titular house. It’s not a charming fixer-upper like before. This is a horrid little place in the middle of the desert. Why does it even exist out here? Who built it? Should I be paying attention to the stupid Indian burial ground backstory that comes out of nowhere halfway through the film?

Apparently, the property is quite valuable, which is why a midget mob boss wants to kill William Katt and his family so that he could demolish the property and build something-something. I say go for it. I’m sure there are some nice condos nearby. And by nearby, I mean far far away from this deserted hell-hole.

To start things off with a bang, William Katt dies in a car accident, leaving his grieving wife and newly paralyzed daughter behind. That’s a great way to begin a horror-comedy, don’t you think?



Did I mention the midget crime boss? Because holy crap was that character an ill-advised bit of nastiness. He is hooked up to a machine that constantly pumps phlegm from his neck hole. In one lovely scene, he has his goons hold down a business partner and pour the phlegm down his throat. By this point in the movie, I’m really starting to miss the pterodactyls of part 2.

Even the wacky monsters are meant to be goofy but come across as disgusting. Case-in-point: the Pizza Man, who looks like this:



William Katt's widow shoves him in the disposal, getting brownish pizza goo all over herself. The scene was meant to be slapsticky, but comes across as depressing instead. They also make jokes about anchovies, which are God’s gift to pizza lovers everywhere, so I’m a little angry at that, too.


Most of the actual humor comes via SNL alum Denny Dillon. If you don’t remember her from SNL, she was on that show during the early 80s, when no one watched. It was a dark time for late night television, but Denny herself isn’t half bad.

All-in-all, this movie's attempts at comedy come off horrific, and its attempts at horror come off comedic. It is an unpleasant movie full of phlegm and cheap drama. (In one scene, the wheelchair-bound daughter looks longingly at two girls who are jumping in slow motion for no reason whatsoever. Stupid stupid stupid.) Do yourself a favor and rewatch parts 1 or 2 instead. Or part 3, which doesn’t exist.

A random picture. I wanted to cheer myself up.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Arthur’s Quest

I like how the catchphrase at the top is
basically just an explanation of the plot.

1999
Directed by Neil Mandt
Starring Eric Christian Olsen, Arye Gross, Catherine Oxenberg, and Zach Galligan (!)

This guy plays the king of Engliand. He grew a beard for the role.

WHA’ HAPPENED?
Merlin, Arthur, and Morgana travel through time and end up in late-20th-century southern California, where Arthur grows up to be a blonde skater who complains that he never fits in, even though he looks exactly like male model Eric Christian Olsen (Not Another Teen Movie, NCIS: The Other One). Merlin, who is an epic bumbler played by our fourth favorite character actor Arye Gross, tries to get Arthur (aka Artie, har har) to accept his fate and retrieve Excalibur.

Morgana is now the evil sex-bomb principal of the school. You know she’s evil, because she’s the only one who retained her British accent after the time jump. Artie finally comes to his senses and realizes that he’s King Arthur (duh) after his girlfriend gets kidnapped by the principal’s bodyguards. After a ten-second sword fight and a nifty little deus ex machina dispatches Morgana and her ill-defined plan for world domination, Artie and his friends all travel back to Medieval Times (the time period, not the theme restaurant). And the world is once again safe from Morgana and massive plot holes.

ISN’T THAT SPECIAL?
This movie is a late-90s direct-to-video effort aimed directly at children. After sitting through an ill-advised Saw marathon with a few friends (Too many body parts! Too many body parts!), I decided to cleanse my pop culture pallet with something wholesome and stupid.

SHIRTS AND SKINS:
Well, the movie stars Eric Christian Olsen, who grew up to become this…


But right now, he’s supposed to be a little nerdy and a lot underage. So… let’s not be gross here.

RANDOM THOUGHTS:
I hate movies where the villain's plan for world domination makes no sense. I also hate movies that end with a final battle where you don’t quite know the rules, but you assume the bad guy has no way of winning. Both those things are true about this film, but it’s really hard to hate something so doofy and well-meaning. Especially if Clint Howard is in it for no reason whatsoever.





Friday, February 10, 2012

Is This a Horror Movie: CHRONICLE


Watching the movie Chronicle (which I liked very much) made me ponder a few questions. (i.e. Will there be a sequel?) But one question that really stood out is one that I should have asked myself a long time ago: What exactly is a horror movie?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no genre is more contentious than horror movies. If a good horror film comes out (Silence of the Lambs, for example, or The Shining), a sizable chunk of the film's fans will shout from the top of their lungs that it's not a horror movie at all. It's actually a "psychological thriller" or even a, gulp, "action drama." Why? Why do people make such a distinction? The underlying premise is that those movies aren't horror movies because they're TOO GOOD to be horror movies. They couldn't possibly be on the same shelf as Jason X or Leprechaun: Back to da Hood.

People don't say that about other genres. Just because When Harry Met Sally is 1000 times better than the latest Katherine Heigl abomination doesn't mean that When Harry Met Sally is suddenly not a romantic comedy anymore. Why do people say that Silence of the Lambs is suddenly not a horror film because there aren't enough shocks or decapitations? Stop splitting hairs and subdividing genres and accept that the horror umbrella has enough room for Saw VI and Rosemary's Baby, just like the sci-fi umbrella has enough room for both Solaris and Zardoz.

Which brings us back to Chronicle. Clearly, there's some sci-fi element going on, but there's not much actual SCIENCE in this FICTION because everything goes unexplained. So yeah, sure, this movie is arguably science fiction. However, looking at the tone of the movie, and the amount of carnage and death involved (spoiler, I guess), does this count as a horror film too? We don't really see any corpses, and the director doesn't tease us with sudden jumps or scares. But the entire movie is soaking in an ever-increasing dread. We know the main character is sliding more and more into the dark side. We know there will be murders involved. We're watching this train wreck happen in ultra-slo-mo, and it is, for all intents and purposes, horrific. So yeah, despite the sci-fi trappings, I would absolutely group this in the horror camp. It's just as much a horror movie as Carrie, because it uses a similar story structure and accomplishes the same sense of dread. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

CHRONICLE

My new favorite poster. Take that, Precious.

Every few years, you catch a movie that is so perfectly on your wavelength, you half-wonder if it was written by your more talented evil twin. For me, Chronicle is that movie. A found-footage mash-up of teen angst, telekinetic power, unintentional homoeroticism, and high school issues: that is pretty much a comprehensive list of the themes that I would totally write a movie about.

The gay kid from In Treatment stars as a high school senior who gains superpowers and slowly lets them turn him into a power-mad supervillain. This is the superhero movie that Hancock or Kick Ass only wish they were. It's closer in tone and scope to the British show Misfits, except without the raunchiness and time travel.

The acting is extremely naturalistic, so much so that the "home movie" gimmick fades away and you feel like you're watching a trio of normal kids from your hometown. I keep using second person here because I really really want YOU to watch this movie. I won't go so far as to call it our generation's Carrie, but it definitely taps into the wounded teen in all of us, the scared kid that would lash out at the world if he only had the power.





Tuesday, February 7, 2012

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

I am a golden god!

Stop the presses! The famous, unreleased horror film from the director of 50-50, has finally gotten a release date! Actually, no... I made that up.

But if you feel like being a little... creative with copyright laws, you can check the entire movie out on Youtube. It will probably be gone soon. So check it out while you can. And be sure to have an open mind while watching. This movie marches to the beat of its own leisurely pace drum.

Plus, Anson Mount.

Friday, February 3, 2012

SKELETON WARRIORS


The 90s was a strange time for Saturday morning children’s animation. The toy-tie-in wave of He-Mans and Pound Puppies was officially dead. Perennial mainstays like Scooby Doo were quickly losing ground. And live action shows like Power Rangers and Saved by the Bell were taking up a lot of television real estate that was once devoted to cartoons. Pretty much anything that wasn’t part of Disney Afternoon was doomed to be an afterthought of cartoon history. Everything, that is, except Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Then along came Skeleton Warriors, which attempted to be a brave new meld of horror and action with a high-quality, glossy sheen. It even used some computer animation to up the trendiness factor. It seemed like this was the show that preteen boys was waiting for.


And then it was promptly forgotten.

It wasn’t an out-and-out failure. It was mildly successful and lasted a few short seasons, but it didn’t spark a phenomenon like TMNT did. It was just… there. And yet, if you watch any episode from its undistinguished run, the show's ambitions are clearly on display. The animation is detailed and fluid. I mean, look at all those skulls…


The main problem is that the main characters are not nearly as interesting as the complex world that the show sets up. I would not be able to name a single character from the show, let alone the main character. I could name more Captain Planet characters than Skeleton Warriors characters, and the latter show is WAY more in my wheelhouse. All-in-all, a Saturday morning cartoon called Skeleton Warriors was a major missed opportunity.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

SCREAMTIME


SCREAMTIME is a presumably British horror anthology from the 80s that should have been cheesy and forgettable, but somehow rises above its ambitions by interesting plot twists, good acting, and lots of respect for the target audience. The last point is illustrated by the fact that the framing devise involves people hanging out and watching rented VHS videos from a random mom-and-pop store. Brownie points right there!

Just the word CASSETTES makes me happy.

The stories are not particularly revolutionary, especially the killer puppeteer segment that opens the movie. But holy crap did I find myself wrapped up in the story. I thought the old man was very sympathetic, the accents were charming, and the puppet was the requisite amount of creepy.


The level of blood and violence was also way up, so points for that. But by far my favorite moment in the film was the twist ending to the haunted house story. Brutal, unexpected, and so so good. You can check this one out on Netflix Instant. Be patient, though, because each of the three stories (puppets, haunted houses, elves) has something new to offer.

A body. Of course.