The Horror Honeys: Every Family Has Its Secrets...

Every Family Has Its Secrets...

A Revenge Honey "Vampire Month" Review by Linnie

The Hamiltons (2006) & The Thompsons (2012)

"What does it mean to be happy? To be content in the world around you? Mom used to say it was family. That family was the heart of everything, even existence. Without it, there's nothing. She would always have these simple answers that somehow would sound so brilliant. And then she died. My father died along with her. Shortly after that, my brother David had to sell the farm where we grew up. Now we're just trying to be an ordinary family. Trying to figure out where we fit in the world. And for me, I'm trying to figure out where I belong, right now in this exact moment."

Wasted potential is a frustrating thing. When a movie is just awful, it's easy enough to just write it off and never think about it again unless you're in the mood to light something on fire. But when there is a nugget of a good film in something you don't fully enjoy otherwise, you might find yourself returning to that movie again and again, hoping to be re-inspired by the story that intrigued you in the first place.

The Hamiltons is that movie for me. And because I only just became aware that the film has a sequel, I'll be reviewing them separately.

First up: The Hamiltons...

The Story: The Hamilton siblings have just suffered the loss of their beloved parents, and oldest brother David (Samuel Child) has to step up and take care of twins Wendell (Joseph McKelheer) and Darlene (Mackenzie Firgens), youngest brother Francis (Cory Knauf) and... well... whatever it is that is living in the basement. On top of being typical pain-in-the-ass teenagers, The Hamilton kids have a strange habit that involves abducting and torturing people. The question is... why? (However, as this movie is being featured during Vampire Month, "why" is probably not much of a spoiler). As Francis questions his place in the family and whether or not he is interested in taking up the family hobby, David is just trying to keep his fracturing family together.

Remember when Brittany Daniels was a thing? Yeah. Me neither.
As I said, there is a lot to like about The Butcher Brothers' movie (these men wrote/directed Holy Ghost People, a film I REALLY enjoyed). Even if you figure out early what the Hamiltons' secret is, it doesn't take away from the intrigue present at every turn. While I would have preferred that the film left out the scenes of needless torture, which were likely included due to the boom of horror violence at the time, you are still engaged by the strange relationship between the siblings, as well Francis' connection to one of the abducted women. What makes The Hamiltons an interesting film isn't the gore and brutality; it's the characterization.

But twincest... Could have done without the twincest.
But if you're like me, you'll have trouble overlooking a lot of things that are wrong with The Hamiltons. The acting is alllllll over the place. For every solid performance (Knauf), there is one that may make you giggle uncontrollably (Child's delivery is, I think at least, often unintentionally hilarious). Additionally, because the film moves back and forth between traditional filming and being shot through Francis' hand-held camera, the movie often looks cheap and flat. The Hamiltons was a an early film for Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores, and you can see a marked difference between this film and Holy Ghost People. The former is just not a well-shot film. 

Rarely a good sign.
Now, while The Hamiltons is set up for a sequel, once five years had passed, I just assumed it wasn't happening and stopped keeping track. So imagine my surprise when I discovered The Thompsons, which featured all of the original cast and was released in 2012. Did it improve on what was lacking in The Hamiltons? Or was it all just that much worse? Let's find out as we dive into The Thompsons...

The Story: The family is on the run from the law after a (surprisingly justifiable) bar room massacre is caught on tape. But littlest brother Lenny (Ryan Hartwig... yes, he was also in the first film, but I'll leave it to you to figure out how) is hurt, and the family, now going by the name Thompson, need help. Oldest brother David hears that there may be others of their kind in Europe, so they head for England and France respectively, with Francis sent to small English town of Ludlow in search of an ancient vampire clan. But what he finds is a family even more fucked up than his own, with deeply nefarious intentions.

I'm not sure I've ever used the following sentence a single time in my life, so queue up those overreaction gifs... The sequel is 100% better than the original. I know, I know. I find it hard to believe too. But not only did Altieri and Flores fix up everything that was lacking in The Hamiltons, but the actors all improved by leaps and bounds, and the story was ratcheted up with real conflict that made every moment fraught with tension.

Also, Cory Knauf grew up to look like Dan Stevens' little brother. But that's neither here nor there.

Seriously. How did that... How... GAH!
To begin with, The Thompsons looks spectacular. It is obvious that The Butcher Brothers grew as filmmakers in the six years between the movies, and frankly, I'm glad it took them that long to make the sequel. While sequels tend to be a factory farm kind of business, because Altieri and Flores cooled their heels and took their time producing and writing (with Knauf this time) The Thompsons, it proves worth the wait. There are no gimmicks, no handheld cameras, no pandering gore... Just a film that makes total logical sense and looks great.

I anticipate your Devil's Rejects comparisons and find them wanting.
Which isn't to say there isn't blood, because it's there in buckets. But as opposed to the moderately senseless torture scenes in The Hamiltons, here we get gore and violence that is purposeful, and sets to draw the lines of decorum between our family, and the Stuart vampire clan of Ludlow. We still see twins Wendell and Darlene being lusty and blood drunk, but they are never cruel, unlike the Stuart brothers, who we meet reenacting some Texas Chainsaw bullshit and essentially playing with their food. It's unsettling, and it's brutal, but it makes sense, and that is what matters.

One of many lovely shots...
I was also pleasantly surprised at how much the actors' skill improved in the six years between films. Samuel Child, who damn near tanked the original film with his random goofy delivery, is fierce and measured. Knauf is serious and sensual, strong and furious, and while he still seems nervous at times, he is significantly more capable as a leading man. McKelheer and Firgens, who play the twins, are less broad, twincestuous caricatures, and more loyal and clever. If only all actors could improve this much in so little time, maybe Tara Reid wouldn't still be so painful to watch "act."

Twice the fangs, twice the "I want to punch you's"
It helps that in The Thompsons, there is some deeply real conflict this time, outside of just the family issues that were present in The Hamiltons. The Stuart vampire clan are frightening and vicious, and obviously not at all what they seem, which leads to some interesting confrontations. The addition of Elizabeth Henstridge as Riley Stuart, and Francis' love interest, was a smart decision, because her motivations are questionable. This ambiguity makes her role a layered one, and something we didn't really get from any of the women in The Hamiltons.

All of this is to say, that most shocking of phrases, The Thompsons is a sequel that surpasses its source material in every way.

RH Rating for The Hamiltons: 3 "mystery" diseases out of 5
RH Rating for The Thompsons: 4.5 "mystery" diseases out of 5

The Hamiltons is available via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube VOD
Google Play, & blu-ray/DVD

The Thompsons is available via iTunesAmazon Instant VideoVuduYouTube
Google Play, & blu-ray/DVD

Have you ever watched a sequel that was better than the original?
Tell me which on Twitter: @linnieloowho