6WH: Week 4 – Now Playing

Alrighty then, enough with the obscure historical horror. Out with the old, in with the new. This week, we look at some current horror flicks. Two are still in the theater, one just came out on Netflix Instant (it was apparently in theaters a month or two ago), and all are worth watching.

  • Frankenstein (1931 trailer)
  • Frankenstein’s Fiancee (Robot Chicken)
  • The Thing Goes Zombie (short)
  • Frankenweenie – A surprising return to form from Tim Burton, this is an excellent, loving homage to all those old Universal horror movies. Obviously the Frankenstein movies are referenced extensively, but it’s clearly got a more general love for the genre. The story concerns young Victor Frankenstein and his dog Sparky. Victor is a bit of a loner, and when Sparky unexpectedly passes on, he vows to bring back his beloved pet. He is, of course, successful in his endeavors, drawing the attention and ire of his competition in the school science fair.

    Victor and Frankenweenie

    The tale of Frankenstein has always been one of caution against meddling, but this film attempts to modernize the idea, indicating that science is basically value neutral and can be used for good or ill. The movie stumbles a bit in the ridiculous town hall scene, but is otherwise pretty successful at stressing these themes. It’s beautifully shot in black and white and the stop motion animation and production design are top notch. Ultimately, though, it’s a movie with a heart, and I’ll admit, the theater got a little dusty in the end. Ok, so this isn’t really a scary movie, but it will still appeal to horror fans and is a must see for just about anyone. ***1/2

  • Paranormal Activity 4 (trailer)
  • The Ring Video Dating (Robot Chicken)
  • Insidious (trailer)
  • Sinister – This movie was written by C. Robert Cargill, perhaps better known as Massawyrm, who made his name writing about films at Ain’t It Cool News. In short, he’s done well for himself. The movie is somewhat derivative of the current trend in found footage and passive-aggressive demon possession (popularized by the Paranormal Activity movies and stuff like Insidious), but it puts an interesting twist in both, making this a worthy effort. The found footage portion is exactly that – a character in the movie finds a bunch of old movies and watches them as research for a book he’s writing. And the films, chronicling a series of bizarre ritualized murders, are intensely creepy and unsettling. This film might dip into that well a bit too often, but they did such a great job with those in-film home movies that I didn’t really mind. There are some typical horror movie tropes going on here too (apparently no one’s heard of light switches – this is a dark movie) and there’s some clumsy exposition courtesy of a college professor, but I don’t know, all of this stuff ended up hitting the right note for me. And the demon at the heart of the mystery is indeed creepy and well done. It’s an effective film, if not a perfect one. ***
  • The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (short)
  • Phantasm (trailer)
  • Martyrs (trailer)
  • The Tall Man – Writer/director Pascal Laugier is perhaps best known for 2008’s Martyrs, pretty much the end-all-and-be-all of torture porn. It’s a movie I have a lot of respect for, even if it was an aggressively (and intentionally) unpleasant watch. This movie is the follow up, and no, it has nothing to do with the Phantasm films. Instead we get a twisty exploration of child abducting Urban Legend, starring Jessica Biel as a mother trying to catch up with her abducted child. Or is she? The movie shifts gears early and often, consistently keeping me off balance. This is a good thing, although some of the twists do rely on obscure side characters that I didn’t notice much earlier in the film, which added a little confusion at times, but for the most part, the twists worked out well enough. Unfortunately, I don’t quite know what to make of the “truth” of what’s going on here. I don’t really buy it, though it’s reasonably well constructed. This is nowhere near as intense or disturbing as Martyrs, but there are some similarities when it comes to the whole secret societies and conspiracy angles. It’s certainly well shot and visually interesting, and the acting is fine (music is a bit lackluster, but not distractingly bad or anything). And the movie is gripping and tense enough as you watch, it’s just, again, once you learn the full idea behind the premise, I don’t know how convincing it really is… A worthy effort, and I’d be curious to see what else Laugier does. **1/2

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned, next week is Italian horror week. Got a couple Argento films lined up, along with some other stuff…