Sunday, October 27, 2013
6WH: Week 6 - The Eighties Were Weird
Coming down the homestretch, this week's theme was a serendipitous one, as I didn't realize until I was near finished that these were all 1980s movies, and that their batshit insanity quotient compared favorably with the rest of this year's marathon. Score. Otherwise, there's not much to tie these movies together, but still, it was an interesting one.
- Big Horror Brother (Robot Chicken)
- Halloween Hugs (short)
- Evil Dead II (trailer)
- Children of the Corn - Adapted from a Stephen King short story, this is an odd duck of a movie. It clearly strikes a nerve with audiences, and to be sure, there are some really creepy aspects to the story. The kids who've taken over the town and murdered all their parents at the behest of some sort of creature pretending to be God is an interesting idea, and some of that stuff lands effectively in this movie. The casting, for instance, works really well. Often movies like this will crumble under the weight of the many adorable moppets required by the story, but this cast is solid.
In particular, Isaac and Malachai are great, as are our heros, Peter Horton and Sarah Conner herself, Linda Hamilton are doing what they can with a poorly conceived character. On the other hand, it's an interminably silly movie that never really delivers on its premise. Most aspects of the production are functional at best, and some stuff doesn't work at all. Its hard to really bag on this movie though, because it is a bit on the fun side. It's got a sorta campy, so-bad-it's-good vibe that clearly works for folks, as they've made a crapton of sequels to this sucker (which I have a mild curiosity about, perhaps we'll revisit next year). **
- The Sleepover (short)
- The Monster Squad (trailer)
- Slaughter High (trailer)
- Alone in the Dark - This year's batshit quotient was a bit lacking, but this movie puts us well on our way. It's the strangest movie of this year's 6WH marathon, and it's a fair amount of fun, even if it's not particularly accomplished. It's definitely got the most unexpected cast of the year, with folks like Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, and Jack Palance all hamming it up. But Dwight Schultz (you may know him as Howling Mad Murdock from The A-Team or the weenietastic Barclay from Star Trek:TNG) is the lead, a psychologist who comes to a new hospital to help treat a bunch of psychopaths. Donald Pleasence runs the place, and has installed a fancy new "electric" security system. Naturally, a mysterious power outage lets the pyschopaths, led by Palance, escape. This is a bizarre movie. The opening non sequitur scene is fantastic, but I have no idea why its there. Pleasence seems to be just about as insane as the inmates, and the whole situations is rather strange. When the psychos escape, they immediately head to the general store to stock up on civilian clothes and weaponry, putting on hockey masks and using gardening implements to rip out a cop's throat (I'm pretty sure that guy heads off screen, never to be seen again). From there, the movie turns towards a more home invasion type scenario. And the ending, well, I don't know what to make of that either. It's an interesting movie. It's not something that will work for any but the most devoted genre hounds, but for us cuckoo nutsos, it's kinda fun.**1/2
- Chopping Mall (trailer)
- One Last Dive (short)
- Phantasm 2 (trailer)
- Angel Heart - A marked departure from the rather silly two movies above, this one is a much more serious effort. A sorta neo noir movie that only really approaches horror towards the end, though it's pretty clear from the very start that something is awry. A private detective named Harry Angel (played by Mickey Rourke) is hired through a law firm by a mysterious man named Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find another mysterious man named Johnny Favourite. Of course, things are not what they appear to be, and everyone Angel interviews seems to wind up dead. In case you can't tell from the character names, this movie lays on the symbolism with a shovel, and not just with the names. De Niro is just chomping scenery, and his character's look is perfect, if a bit on the nose (there's a scene where he's peeling a hard boiled egg that is utterly fantastic).
There's all sorts of visual motifs as well (the fan, the elevator to hell, etc...) and director Alan Parker is not shy about laying this stuff on. Parker also has a keen visual sense, and the movie is well composed and gorgeously photographed (this really stood out against the above two movies!) Great supporting performances by Robert De Niro and even Lisa Bonet, and actually, all the performances in the movie are pretty good. The movie does have a sorta languid pace, and could perhaps use some pruning, but it's otherwise a pretty good little film. I can't say as though the revelations towards the end are particularly brilliant or well executed (I mean, if you can't figure out who De Niro really is from the first scene...), but they work well enough, and the movie did manage to get under my skin a bit towards the end. It's a solid little film, perhaps not for everyone, but it works. ***
Stay tuned for the usual Speed Round on Wednesday, which will finish off this year's marathon. It's been a good one, and I'm already looking forward to next year!
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
6WH: Week 5.5 - Finishing Saw
Back in Week 2, we watched a few of the Saw sequels
, ending on the rather uninspired Saw V
. While I don't particularly love these movies, Saw V
was the series' first clear misfire. Given the rather complicated (and actually pretty impressive) continuity between each film, I thought it would probably be better to finish off the series than to forget all the details and try and come back up to speed next year. So, will the final two installments represent a return to form, or was Saw V
the beginning of a downward spiral?
- Saw VI - Of course, this movie picks up right where Saw V left off, with Hoffman (aka Jigsaw Jr.) having triumphed over Agent Strahm and continuing Jigsaw's work. This time, the target is a health insurance executive, one who finds loopholes to avoid paying out claims. Yep, the Saw series' attempt to get relevant, I guess. And what's more, he's even relevant to the rest of the story(he apparently denied an experimental procedure for Jigsaw a while back). Meanwhile, Jill (Jigsaw's former wife) gets a box willed to her from Jigsaw, and proceeds to execute Jigsaw's final request. The police are also beginning to suspect that maybe all is not what it seems. There's a lot going on here, including a lot of flashbacks, but it holds together much better than the previous installment, and even starts to make a little sense. For his part, Hoffman is really emerging as a good villain, and Jigsaw's well laid plans allow us to root against Hoffman (not that we weren't before, but the series seemed content with him taking over for Jigsaw, rather than being a pawn, which is what he really is). The insurance executive is a good subject, and the film mines his story well. Of course, there are lots of traps here, and they're actually pretty well done. In the end, this isn't the best film in the series by a long shot, but at least the series is back on track.
- Saw 3D - While I'm sure we'll see the series reemerge at some point in the future, this was billed as The Final Chapter, and it may be the only film series to reach seven installments in just seven years. Add in the complex and intricate mythology and continuity, and the series does have a certain charm, even if the gore and torture might be over the top. Fortunately, the series manages to go out on a strong note too. This is the best installment since at least IV, and maybe even going back to the original. Part VI ended in a way that set up a bit of a confrontation between Hoffman and Jill, but that doesn't quite turn out as fun as I thought it might. On the other hand, Hoffman does get what's coming to him, so there is that. There's another good Jigsaw target in this one: a guy who faked having survived a Jigsaw trap, and is parlaying that into a book deal and fame (we get a nice flashback of Jigsaw getting his book signed by the fraud, too). There's even a Jigsaw Survivor's Support Group, and thus we get to see a bunch of familiar faces... including this guy:
Man, I had really wondered if they'd ever get back to Cary Elwes' character, and I like what they did with him in this movie, even if it is a tad obvious what his role will turn out to be. I obviously didn't see this in 3D, and I generally hate that treatment, but in this case, it seems like it forced the filmmakers to come up with more creative traps and less camera jiggling and whatnot, which actually is a good thing. It's certainly not a perfect film, but it's actually a fun one, and it ends the series on a high note.
Once again, I can't say as though I particularly love the series. I like the continuity and puzzle-like nature of most of the plot, but a lot of it seems to be steeped a bit too much in misery for misery's sake, especially when Hoffman takes over for Jigsaw. Still, I'm impressed with how well the series holds together, and it never devolved into anything really cheap or gimmicky, like making something supernatural or psychic (or, uh, sending Jigsaw into space). This is impressive for a series done on the cheap in short timeframes (seven movies in seven years has to be a record of some kind).
I do think the series and I suppose the sub-genre as a whole, deserves a closer look. There are a lot of things about these movies that could benefit from a deeper dive, both from a series perspective but also from a thematic perspective. I'm not claiming these are particularly enlightened movies, but hey, if people could do it for slashers, it can be done for torture porn. As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject
, I love the idea that in 20 years, some dork like me is going to look back on these films from his or her youth and marathon them (like I did with slashers), and then someone smarter than me will contextualize it into our post-9/11 angst or something like that. One can only hope.
In the meantime, we're running out of runway here. We've got one weekend left (no idea what the theme will be, if any) and then the Speed Round and the big day. I think there will be some bleedover into the following weeks as I finish off a few books and whatnot, but it's been a good year folks. Stay tuned.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
6WH: Week 5 - Anthologies
By their very nature, anthology films are a challenge. Anthology television series are more forgiving, as each story is meant to be taken on its own merits. An anthology film, though, is comprised of multiple stories that are meant to be watched together. This presents a few big issues. One is that some stories are better than others, leading to a perceived inconsistency in quality. Similarly, tonal shifts between stories can be jarring, though you could argue that this comes back to inconsistency. Finally, what is it about these stories that warrants being grouped together in a single viewing experience? It is this question that ultimately defines the film. In most cases, the talent behind the film is the reason for the anthology. Indeed, all three of this week's films are like that (more below). Unfortunately, this often leads to those quality or tonal inconsistency issues mentioned earlier, especially if the talent is spread out amongst the segments.
The best anthologies, though, seem to have a purpose, they add up to one larger experience. We've already talked about one of these during this year's Six Weeks of Halloween, back in week 3 - Trick 'r Treat
. It is comprised of smaller stories, but they are interlocking and share the holiday theme. This is, naturally, a more difficult feat to pull off, and a lot of films will use some sort of framing devices to try and tie the stories together somehow, though this is often not very convincing. Trick 'r Treat
also benefited from the fact that it was the product of a singular vision rather than a collaboration (as two of the below are). Ultimately, everything comes down to the typical horror movie measurements. Sometimes a mediocre collection can contain a gem that will stick with you far longer than most full-length features. So let's dive into a few of these and see what happens.
- Hell No (fake trailer)
- Creepshow (trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror
- Creepshow 2 - I did not realize this until I started watching, but I'd seen this before, many moons ago... but the only segment that I really remembered was the second one. This may very well have been because I only saw the second one. Here in the on-demand digital future, it's hard to remember stumbling onto a movie on cable late at night, watching for 30 minutes, and then stumbling away. Anywho, this is the second installment of the series in which Stephen King supplies all the stories. George A. Romero remains involved, but as a screenwriter adapting the stories (rather than as director). The three stories are completely unrelated, and have a loose framing device about a child reading a horror comic supplied by a crypt-keeper-like, uh, creature? Whatever. The first story is about a wooden Native American statue that comes to life in order to avenge some injustice that was perpetrated on its owner. Entertaining enough, and very typical anthology story (bad people receive supernatural comeuppance, usually in ironic way). The second tale is the one that I remember, and it follows a group of kids who want to hang out at a lake. After swimming out to the little raft anchored in the middle of the lake, they notice a oily looking blob in the water... and it slowly proceeds to devour our hapless teenage heroes. I was terrified of this segment when I was a youngin, and it actually is a pretty effective setup. The blob in the water is a simple, elegant monster that really struck a nerve with my younger self. Unfortunately, there's not really anywhere for this story to go, and it ends in typical fashion. The third segment features a hitchhiker that simply won't die. Like the rest of the film, there's a base level of competence here that comports itself well enough, I guess. Ultimately, it's fine, if not really anything special. It's on Netflix Instant right now, so the effort to see this is minimal, so it's an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour and a half. **
- Horror Movie Daycare (short)
- Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II
- V/H/S/2 - I liked the first installment of this movie, though there were a few nagging complaints - notably the framing device, which was filled with annoying dudebros and made no real sense. This movie has a slightly better framing device, a PI and his assistant go to this house looking for a missing kid, only to find a bunch of VHS tapes and TVs and stuff, which they naturally start watching. This is mostly unrelated to the framing device from the first film, but the circumstances are similar enough that there might be some overarching reason for these framing devices that won't become clear until a later installment (I'm not holding my breath on that one, though!) Anyway, the gimmick here is found footage on said VHS tapes (wondering how obviously digital footage ended up on an analog tape is probably missing the point), and each segment is done by a different director (or 2 in some cases).
"Phase I Clinical Trials" is directed by Adam Wingard (of You're Next fame) and features a guy getting a digital eye, which has a built in recorder. Of course, this new technology also allows him to see... things. This segment certainly has the best jump scares of the weekend, and some otherwise effective imagery too, though it ultimately isn't something that sticks with you. "A Ride in the Park" comes to us from Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (of Blair Witch fame) and details a zombie outbreak in a unique way. This is clever, and very gory, and reasonably effective, though again, the follow through on these tales isn't that great. "Safe Haven" is maybe the most effective of the bunch, and it features a lot of really disturbing stuff. It's directed by Gareth Evans (of The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto, and it follows a film crew making a documentary about a cult of some kind. Naturally, while they're their, some weird apocalyptic shit goes down. Now this is one that I did find very unsettling and I have a feeling it will stay with me a bit. Finally, we've got "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" from director Jason Eisener (of Hobo with a Shotgun), which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a little more difficult to follow this one, and while I found the events effective, something about it never quite congealed into something that I particularly enjoyed. Tonally effective, but not my favorite of the bunch. One point of order here, the theme in these stories appears to be that, well, everyone dies. This gets a bit tiresome, and may explain why I wasn't as invested in the last segment - I knew exactly what would happen to all these characters and didn't really care. Overall, well, it's a decent collection, about on par with the first movie. **1/2
- Trick 'r Treat (trailer)
- It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III
- Three... Extremes - A cross-cultural anthology from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean directors, this one doesn't even bother with a framing device, simply presenting each story, one after the other (which, honestly, is fine, as framing devices often come off as being sorta tacked on). First up is "Dumplings" from Fruit Chan, a filmmaker I'm unfamiliar with. And this one is a doozy. It's almost as if he's daring you to walk out on this movie in disgust, and yes, I had some severe reservations with this segment once I realized what was going on. But it ultimately boils down to an old story, someone seeking to prolong their life by any means. On that front, it really is effective, if hard to watch (that sound design, ugh). Next, we've got Chan-wook Park's segment, called "Cut", which follows a director as he's confronted by a stranger. I won't ruin the segment, but it is probably the most traditional of the three, while still being somewhat harrowing. It bears a fleeting resemblance to that reviled torture porn genre, though it's far from the worst on that front. It's well done, and if you've seen his "Vengeance" films, this will strike a familiar note with you. Also worth noting is that the camera is much more dynamic here than in the first segment, and it fits well with this story (which could get a bit static in lesser hands). Finally, we've got "Box" from Takashi Miike, the most artistic of the bunch, and the most abstract. There's a lot of open questions here, but it basically amounts to a writer trying to cope with a tragedy in her past.
Ironically, while this movie has no framing device and none of the three segments are related, it holds together well as one viewing experience (maybe even better than the above two). Furthermore, the themes explored here are deeper and more mature. Attempting to defy the ravages of time, money and class issues, and coping with tragedy; these are not shorts for the faint of heart. On the other hand, this is the longest anthology by far, and I think perhaps even too long. Each segment is around 40 minutes or so, which isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, but the content didn't really need that much time. Still, it's an interesting watch, and I'm glad I got to it. **1/2
Holy crap, I can't believe we're already 5 weeks into the Six Weeks of Halloween. I'm betting you'll be seeing some more horror related posts after the high holiday of horror has come and gone... Anyway, no idea what I'm going to do next week, but stay tuned for the last two Saw films on Wednesday.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
6WH: The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
I can't believe we're already coming down the homestretch of the Six Weeks of Halloween
horror movie marathon, but here we are... Tonight, we play along with the Final Girl Film Club
and their selection of 2012's The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." - Anton Chekhov
This concept is known as Chekhov's Gun
. These days, people often refer to it in the context of narrative twist endings, where some object or character, innocuously introduced early on in the story, turns out to be a key to the narrative. This being the internet, calling something a Chekhov's Gun is usually meant as a pejorative because, like, dude, I totally noticed it for what it was and wasn't surprised by the twist ending at all
. But Chekhov's point wasn't necessarily to conceal the importance of the gun, just that you shouldn't be spending time on something if it's not essential to the story. I'm betting that Chekhov would hate The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
The plot here is that this guy Leon inherits his estranged mother's creepy old house, spends the night, and then leaves. Spoilers, I guess. The titular Will and Testament is mostly played in voiceover and not something that Leon directly interacts with or hears, but it seems that Rosalind Leigh liked her communications to be oblique and weird. Leon's parents were apparently part of a religious cult that worshiped Angels, and after the father died mysteriously when Leon was just a wee lad, Leon stopped believing and eventually left the house, never looking back (hence the estrangement). Until now! Will Rosalind Leigh save Leon's soul with her elaborate figurine collection?
More importantly, do we really care? Leon's kinda a melancholy turd. Aaron Poole plays Leon well enough, and he looks like a sorta cross between Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad
) and Rob McElhenney (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
), which I found amusing. And this movie is an actor's dream. It's all in one house, and you don't really see anyone else (there are some phone calls, off screen voices, audio cassettes, etc...), so he has to carry the movie on his shoulders. He's given plenty to work with, but it's all so vague that the character never really worked for me.
On the bright side, the film is absolutely gorgeous, and even when nothing is happening, the camera is always moving. I was never bored watching the movie, and I love the atmosphere this movie evokes. Amazing production design, and the cinematography is first rate. There's a great long take towards the beginning that takes you on a sort of short tour of the house, which is quite creepily appointed with all sorts of baroque figurines and humanoid figures, amongst all sorts of other melancholy stuff. The camera lingers over everything, even as it is constantly roaming through the household. It's as if the filmmakers are daring you to pick out the Chekhov's guns. Will all these figurines come to life? Will the organ pipes start playing a tune?
And to be sure, many Chekhov's Guns go off as you might expect. There's some knitted sayings on the wall, like this ominous one: "If you drop a knife on the floor a man will knock on the door, a spoon and a woman will knock, if a fork it will be neither." Naturally, whilst eating dinner, Leon drops his fork, which is followed by an immediate knock on the door. Spooky! We never see the person at the door, but we hear him and they have a nice conversation. Now, this was well executed, but not exactly earth shattering. Other Chekhov Guns are not nearly as successful. Another saying on the wall indicates that if the faucet is dripping, it will rain, and ZOMG, it does! A locked door with a missing key? I wonder what's behind it? We do get to find out, but it turns out to be nothing particularly important. There's a book called Communicating With the Dead, and Leon has a semi-relevant dream. Wow.
There's some hokum about a wolf-like creature inhabiting the backyard and the house, and there's a great big Angel statue that has an unsettling backstory, but nothing really comes of any of this. There's a ton of stuff that is alluded to or foreshadowed, but those guns never go off. And, to be fair, Chekhov was a short story writer. A masterful one, but given that context, you can see why he advises keeping only essential elements in the story. So red herrings can be fine if employed in the service of a great story, and it can be commendable not to hit up the obvious horror movie tropes where the statues and suits of armor come alive and attack our hero. There's a theme here about losing the faith, regret, and loneliness, and maybe some unreliable narration spiked with mommy issues for spice, but it never quite congeals into something that really connected with me. I will admit that I was a little surprised at the conclusion, not wholly in a bad way, but this movie at least sticks to its guns.
I can see why this movie has a following. It's impeccably made and again, gorgeous. While I'm sure it's a low budget film, in never feels that way, and it never goes for cheap thrills, which I can totally respect. Something this well made and mature also has to appeal to genre hounds who get sick of all the cheap, crappy horror out there. It is very ambitious and thoughtful and one could probably spend a lot of time parsing out what everything means... but on the other hand, why would you want to do that? I feel like this is a movie that could easily be cut in half (at least) and still work just as well (if not better), which is odd considering the running time is a relatively svelt 80 minutes. So it's not a total waste of time and I appreciate slow burn movies as much as the next guy, but this did not work for me. I guess I'm coming down on Chekhov's side here. If it's not essential, don't put it on screen. Alas, there's a lot of unessential stuff in this movie.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
6WH: Week 4 - Netflix of the Undead
Not much of a planned theme this week except to say that I was going to clean out my Netflix Instant queue and watch some stuff that's been lingering on "My List" for far too long. These three are also somewhat recent films, all from the the past 5 years or so. And as it turns out, all three films were somewhat uncommon takes on the undead, whether they be ghosts or zombies. Many quibbles to be had about that sort of theme (especially given the "uncommon" nature and twists on familiar tropes of the first two of these), but hey, I'm going with it, and you should too.
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning (sorry, no vid online)
- Shining (fake trailer)
- Session 9 (trailer)
- The Ward - Has there been a director who has fallen so far as John Carpenter? He went from genre-defining classics like Halloween and The Thing to worthless duds like Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. True, this happened over a long period of time, and Carpenter had a fantastic run in the late 70s and early 80s that only really tapered off in the mid 90s (with his last great film, In the Mouth of Madness (which is flawed, to be sure, but still wonderful). He's been largely absent from the filmmaking scene in this current century, turning in a couple episodes of Masters of Horror (of which only one, Cigarette Burns, is worth watching) and... this 2010 movie, his first in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite feel like a Carpenter movie; it's more like a traditional horror film that's going through the motions, and while there's no dramatic issues with the movie, it never quite congeals into something fantastic either. But if you're in the mood, it will get the job done, which is normally fine, but less than what we expect from Carpenter, you know what I mean? There's not much here that is indelibly Carpenter. Perhaps its the lack of Carpenter soundtrack, or the general cinematography, but it never quite gets that Carpenter ball rolling.
The story is a typical one, set in an asylum where girls have been mysteriously disappearing. New girl Kristen (played by Amber Heard, who also played the titular character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane from last week) quickly figures out what's going on and tries to protect some of the other girls. In a refreshing development, the orderlies and doctors are not completely evil rapist abusers (typical of this setup), though they clearly know something that Kristen does not. There is a twist at the end of this story, something that may not make complete sense (especially given the visual treatment) and is definitely not original, but works well enough so long as you're willing to go with it. Between the intro and the twist, though, the meat of the movie has a nice atmosphere and is reasonably well done. It leans too heavily on the "boo" moments and jump scares, while oddly eschewing a lot of opportunity for tension building. There are many sequences that could have been excellent stalk-and-kill scenes, but you get no inkling of the ghostly presence until it happens (as signified by a screech on the sountrack and a quick cut). As these things go, it's still reasonably well executed, and I actually kinda liked the ending (the last shot, in particular, is great), but this is no classic. Worth a watch for the Carpenter faithful, and it's fine, I guess, but perhaps Carpenter's early success is doing him no favors now. **1/2
- The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (short)
- Hardly Working: Slasher (short)
- Werewolf Women of the S.S. (fake trailer - extended edition)
- Pontypool - The premise sounds a bit suspect: it's a zombie outbreak, but it's mostly set in a radio station where three people are simply trying to make sense of what's going on outside and broadcast that to the rest of the world. A "bottle" story certainly befits the horror genre's low budget roots, of course, and as we find out how the infection spreads, it quickly becomes clear that this is actually the perfect setting for the story.
The first act plays out as a great thriller. You've got no direct contact with zombies, you're just hearing first hand and second hand accounts from folks calling in, and the producers are trying their best to piece together a coherent story. Things start to escalate in the second act, with zombies actually showing up at the station. Some of these scenes are terrifying. Just very tense stuff going on then. We start to find out what's causing all this, and it's a novel take on the typical zombie fare. There's a lot of interesting discussion to be had about all of this, and the movie does a great job positing this sort of metaphorical tie to the real world without getting preachy or overly didactic. Unfortunately, I feel like the third act falters a bit. Basically, there's not much resolution here, it just sorta ends. Oh, there's an attempt at resolution, and I guess you could call it ambiguous, but it doesn't quite work as well as it could. This is apparently based on a book, so I wonder if it's more clear there than in the movie. Its origins in literature makes sense though, as a lot of the dialog feels, er, writerly (and I mean that in a good way, it's really well done) and Stephen McHattie (typically cast as a villain, but making an excellent lead protagonist here) has a great voice and delivers it all with aplomb (Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly also do well in supporting roles, but their dialog isn't as meaty). Regardless, despite the ending, I think this is very much worth watching and it actually might be one of my favorites of this 6WH... Definitely worth checking out, even if you're not a big zombie person (and for the record, I'm not). ***
- The Hitchhiker's Guide To Murder (short)
- Shaun of the Dead (trailer)
- Slither (trailer)
- Dead Snow - This movie can be summed up in two words: Nazi zombies. What else do you need, amirite? Alright, so we've got a typical horror movie setup: a bunch of kids (in this case, early 20 something grad students) head to a remote cabin for partying... and death! Other tropes are hit hard too. A creepy old man shows up to drop history on our unsuspecting heroes, plenty of slasher-like stalking sequences, and so on. The setting is great, all wintery snow and visible breath, but the tone is a bit all over the place. It's definitely got a goofy streak that I suspect would play well in a crowded theater, but watching it alone makes it seem a bit odd. Still, Nazi zombies.
Some amazing gore and the all out battle towards the end is great fun. Alas, the ultimate motivation of the Nazi zombies is a bit hokey (gold!) and inconsistent (there are folks who bite it that don't seemingly warrant Nazi zombie attention), and the ending leaves a bit to be desired (though the last shots are good). So yeah, I had fun with this, but it's not really pretending to be anything more than a movie with Nazi zombies in it. As gimmicks go, that's a good one, so I'd say it's worth checking out. **1/2
So there you have it. Three films down, 171 left in the queue. So much for cleaning out my list, heh. Stay tuned for a Final Girl film club review, moar Saw movies, and some feminist discourse on horror. Lots to come.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
6WH: Link Dump: Other Halloween Movie Marathons
Apparently I'm not the only nutbar watching crazy horror movies and generally partaking in Halloween festivities. I know, right? These people are awesome, check them out:
- Six Weeks of Halloween - The man, the myth, the legend - kernunrex invented the six weeks of Halloween because those 31 dayers are just slacking for any real horror fan. As per usual, lots of interesting stuff over there, and he posts almost every day (definitely putting my horror movie intake volume to shame).
- Final Girl SHOCKtober 2013 - As per usual, the awesome Stacie Ponder is doing her thing. This year's list is based on reader submissions of "movies that scared you the most", as such, lots of idiosyncratic choices, especially in the early going (323 movies were submitted, and we're only a hundred movies in at this point - all with a single vote so far).
- Film Thoughts Halloween 2013 - So this Bonehead (that's what he calls himself, for reals, though I think his name is Zack) is doing a pretty great job covering horror movies this season, and he also puts out a quasi-podcast on Youtube called Bangers n' Mash that is totally worth checking out (personally, I just use listentoyoutube.com to convert those videos to mp3s and listen to them like any other podcast)
- NeedCoffee 32 Days of Halloween - Widge tries, and surpasses the pedestrian 31 day marathon, but only by one day. That's kinda like bidding $1 in Price is Right, right? Anyway, always interesting stuff going on over there.
- Hey Look Behind You 31 Days of Halloween - So I've given short shrift to the "normal" 31 day marathons, but in reality, those people are still awesome. Like Nikki! Who somehow always manages to find new and interesting short films as well as covering general horror stuff. Plus, she does this year round, so maybe it should be the 365 days of Halloween or something.
There are tons of other blogs doing their own Halloween marathon, but I like these ones, so you should to. Special mention to Horror Movie a Day
, which, after 6 years and 2500 reviews, has finally slowed down to a 1-2 post a week pace. So while he doesn't seem to be marathoning for the holiday this year, his site is still an invaluable resource of horror movie reviews. That's all for now. Still have no idea what I'm watching next weekend. Tune in on Sunday to find out!
Sunday, October 06, 2013
6WH: Week 3 - Shelf Sitters
Movie releases can be delayed for any number of reasons. The obvious explanation for the delay is if the movie is terrible, but for a surprising number of films, that's not the case at all. For instance, sometimes a movie gets made and everyone from studio execs to the audience loves it, but it still sits on a shelf for a year or two because the distributor or studio went out of business, or the rights were sold, or something along those lines. Other times, movies get shelved because clueless studio execs want a sure thing, so movies without big name stars that aren't remakes or sequels or blatant ripoffs of existing success get dumped. This seems to be a particularly trenchant problem when it comes to the horror genre, so let's take a look at some of the recent shelf sitters that have been (finally) making their way to audiences:
- Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (trailer)
- Halloween Rare Deleted Scene 1978 (short)
- All the Boys Love Mandy Lane - You guys, this movie was ready in 2006. It's been 7 years! What's more, while the film has its detractors, it's often cited as one of the better horror movies of the past decade. It's the directorial debut of Jonathan Levine and it's had a pretty tortured existence, enduring studio and distributor failures (it was owned by the Weinsteins at least twice) until someone finally managed to secure a short release this Halloween season. Having heard about this movie for so long, expectations were pretty high and one thing about shelved films like this is that you really, really want to root for them.
Fortunately, it's a pretty good movie. It's not perfect, and the hype derived from the extreme delay is not really warranted, but it's a solid flick and well worth your time. It's your typical horror movie premise: a bunch of high-schoolers take a trip to a secluded ranch to party... and die! Invited along is Mandy Lane, a strange combination of shy and popular, she's an outsider that everyone wants to know. Or something like that. So this is your typical slasher movie setup, but things don't quite follow the formula exactly either. Indeed, the horror elements are barely hinted at for the first third of the movie, and the body count surprisingly low until we get to the last 20 minutes or so. For instance, the "killer" is revealed pretty quickly, and it's not your typical masked costume sort of thing that people will dress up like for Halloween (perhaps another reason for the studio waffling). This might make for some slightly weird pacing issues, but it all comes together well in the end. It's definitely a movie that is self-aware, but not in a winking, Scream-like way. There are a few big twists on the formula as well, and it's the ending that ties it all together. I don't want to ruin anything so I'll just say that it's a very good movie. If you're a slasher fan, you might enjoy some of the twists, but it's also something that would appeal to non-slasher fanatics. I don't think the lenghty stay on the shelf does it any favors, but I'm glad it's finally available! ***
- Creepshow (trailer)
- Jack Chop (short)
- Season's Greetings (short)
- Trick 'r Treat - This one was ready in 2007, but "only" sat on the shelf for 2 years, garnering a series of festival showings, culminating in a craptacular direct to DVD release in 2009. It has subsequently built up a pretty solid reputation, though I really think this would have made a great movie to see in the theater (supposedly director Michael Dougherty was hoping for this to be a series that would have one entry every year, utilizing different creative teams - alas, that was not to be). I actually reviewed it during the 2009 Six Weeks of Halloween, noting that I liked it a lot even if I wasn't sure it lived up to the hype. After a few years and a few rewatchings, I have to say that it's a film that's really grown on me, to the point of becoming an annual tradition. And that is the greatest thing about this: it's a celebration of the season. They didn't just throw some pumpkins and dead leaves in the background, they made this movie about Halloween, and every segment of the movie uses the holiday as much more than just setting or window dressing.
It hits those nostalgic notes too, reminding you of Halloweens gone by and making you want to dress up and go Trick 'r Treating. Like all anthology films, there are some segments that work better than others, but the seamless connective tissue and general excellence on display here put it far above your typical horror anthologies. So yeah, this is a fantastic movie, perfect for the season. ***1/2
- Grindhouse: Don't (fake trailer)
- The Cabin in the Woods (trailer)
- The Strangers (trailer)
- You're Next - And here I cheat a little, as this movie is spiraling its way out of theaters as I type. This movie was actually playing at the 2011 Fantastic Fest when I attended. I had tentatively penciled it in for its second showing, but after it premiered, Lionsgate picked it up and immediately canceled that second showing. Those that did manage to see it raved about it, and if I remember correctly, it took home the audience award at the end of the fest. Why Lionsgate sat on it for so long only to unceremoniously dump it in August is beyond me, as this is a real crowd-pleaser of a film.
One of the things I find really interesting about this movie was how much I didn't like the opening. After a short, promising pre-credits sequence we settle into the film proper, following various family members as they arrive at the (remote) country home for an old-fashioned family get-together. Naturally, they're a dysfunctional family, and while there are some laughs to be had at that (Ti West plays a pretentious documentary filmmaker that's dating one of the daughters and is pure gold), it gets really grating really fast. Luckily, someone starts shooting arrows into the house and people start dying. At first, this leads to a lot of arguments and screaming and crying and annoying but at this point, the movie turned it all around for me as we see the initially mild-mannered Erin (played by Sharni Vinson) take charge and kick some major ass.
I find that a lot of movies have a great hook, a great first 20 minutes, but then peter out at the end. This movie does the opposite. The first 20 minutes or so are a bit rough, but then it just keeps getting stronger. I don't want to ruin anything, so I'll leave it at that, but I really had a ton of fun with this movie and judging from the Box Office, you haven't seen it, so give it a shot when it hits video (and give it a half hour to warm up). It puts the "Fun" back in Home Invasion movies! ***
Another successful week. Stay tuned for, heck, I'm not sure what's happening next weekend. Perhaps a long-overdue Netflix queue cleaning? Maybe a no-discernable theme week? We shall see!
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
6WH: Televised Miracles, Havens, and more
I love The X-Files
. I revisited the series
last year, mostly focusing
on the one-off creature-of-the-week type episodes (someday, I will go back and revisit the continuity episodes, but that day is not today). Now, we could quibble about it, but to me, The X-Files
is a horror show, and it's probably my favorite horror TV show of all time. Sure, there are plenty of Twilight Zone
or Tales From the Crypt
episodes that I think are great, but they're anthologies and are more uneven experiences than The X-Files
, where I generally enjoy spending time with Mulder and Scully, even in lackluster episodes. Since the X-Files
has gone off the air, I have often found myself jonesing for this type of show. There are, in fact, many pretenders to the throne, but they never seem to scratch that itch perfectly. This is partly just the nature of the beast: the show I think I want would be seen as derivative and probably very boring. These pretenders, shows like Fringe
, Warehouse 13
(which has the added bonus of also being a sorta reprise of that old Friday the 13th
series (you remember that, right? The one without Jason?)), and Supernatural
(amongst many others), all have their merits and indeed have carved out an identity of their own (as well they should), but they just can't seem to hit that sweet spot the X-Files
so consistently targeted. Despite that, I do still find myself checking out shows, new and old, in the hopes that they'll fill the X-Files
shaped hole in my media consumption. And what better time to try this out than during the 6 Weeks of Halloween? Here's a few shows/episodes I've watched recently:
- Miracles - Episode 101 "The Ferguson Syndrome" - Described by the series creators as a "spiritual version of The X-Files", which sounds promising. The premise is interesting too. Paul Callan (played by Skeet Ulrich) is a modern-day investigator of alleged miracles for the Catholic Church. The only problem: Callan is so good at his job that he finds mundane explanations for every supposed "miracle" that comes his way. He gets burnt out and goes on a sabbatical, but it isn't long before his mentor, father "Poppi" Calero (played by Hector Elizondo) calls him and asks him to look into a local kid who may have healing powers. Spoiler alert: the kid's for real, but when he heals someone, he only hurts himself. Convinced that he's witnessed a true miracle, he excitedly reports back to the Church, who brushes the whole incident aside for lack of evidence. Well screw that noise, Callan quits and starts up with Sodalitas Quaerito ("brotherhood in search of truth") who look into all sorts of wacky crap. Yay! Suffers from typical pilot episode issues, but it's all promising enough. And creepy too!
- Miracles - Episode 102 "The Friendly Skies" - Ah, now we get into real X-Files territory. A plane on approach disappears right in front of the tower's eyes. About a minute later it reappears. The authorities are baffled, and the passengers are all telling weird stories and displaying weird symptoms. Who you gonna call? Sodalitas Quaerito! So it doesn't roll off the tongue like "Ghostbusters" but I guess it's good enough. Decent enough episode, with a bunch of hokey aspects, but it works well.
- Miracles - Episode 103 "The Patient" - Another very X-Filesy premise here, a doctor working with totally paralyzed patients starts to see signs of intelligence. Is his treatment working, or is it the work of... a demon!? I'll give you one guess. For the first time, the series tries to show a sense of humor (it's been very stoic so far), and it's not quite as effective as it wants to be. There's also a "twist" that you can see coming, oh, within the first 10 minutes. Still, it's fine, if not a prized episode. Thus ended disc 1, and I'm on the fence as to whether or not I'll move disc 2 up in the Netflix queue. It's certainly not a home run, but it ain't bad and there's some potential here. Of course, there's only 13 episodes and this thing got canceled after 6, but it might be worth burning through the rest of them.
- Haven - Episode 1 "Welcome to Haven" - Based (perhaps loosely so) on a Stephen King novel (The Colorado Kid), this seems to start very much like the X-Files, it even follows an FBI agent! Special Agent Audrey Parker gets sent to the small town called Haven in Maine. Naturally, all sorts of weird crap is going on, like oddly specific weather patterns and whatnot. It's a bit loose, but as a first episode, I think they've set up the main players and it seems fun enough, if not particularly horrific. It's on Netflix Instant, so I'll probably check out at least a few more episodes.
- Hemlock Grove - Episode 1 "Jellyfish in the Sky" - Hoo boy, this Netflix Original series from Eli Roth is pretty horrible. This first episode is damn near unwatchable. There are some interesting elements, but on the other hand, there are a lot of pointless elements. There's some sort of werewolf thing going on right now, but I get the impression that there's lots of other supernatural junk going on. And gypsies! Again, it's no Netflix Instant, so it's possible that I'll check out another episode... but not likely!
And that's all for now. Stay tuned for some long-shelved movies on Sunday!