Archive for Reviews

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 14: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

There is only so much you can show on TV in the US, and sometimes it is that very limitation that can result in something that truly rises above. Originally aired on October 10, 1973 – exactly one year before my birth – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark tells the story of a woman who inherits a house from her grandmother, and in that house is a locked room, and in that locked room is a bricked up fireplace, and in that bricked up fireplace are a bunch of goblins.

Of course, she opens the fireplace and the goblins start to stalk her, hiding in the shadows and trying to bring her into their realm beyond the fireplace. And those little bastards are creepy looking.

Guillermo del Toro apparently saw this movie as a kid, and it stuck with him enough that he remade the film in 2011. His remake had a number of changes, introducing a child and revealing a lot more of the mystery behind the monsters than the original. And while I think those reveals are really cool, I do think that it also lost a lot of the creepiness and charm of the 1973 version by swapping out people in make-up for CGI goblins. The originals almost sad and forlorn, while the remakes are going directly for fright.

Both versions, in my opinion are worth watching, but I would probably suggest watching the original first and letting it sit a while before experiencing the remake.

Anyway, there are a lot of parallels between the two films, but for me I think the remake is less scary because it introduces the kid. Kids are supposed to see monsters in their closets and under their beds, so having the monsters be real for a kid is a tired trope of horror films. With the original, it’s all happening to an adult and so there is a bigger level of disbelief from the other characters. Grown ups aren’t supposed to see creatures in the shadows, so is she having a mental break-down? It would almost be acceptable if the movie ended with everything being in her head. That it doesn’t is a sharper twist than in the remake.

Along with the changes in look for the goblins, the original monsters – being people in costumes – move more regularly, and lend more credibility to the idea that these are all former humans who have been trapped and transformed. In the remake, the goblins bound around the room the way most CGI creatures do in films, which to me makes them so much more easy to disbelieve.

Both films end equally bleak, which is good for a horror film. Watch them both and judge for yourself which one is better.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 13: Left Bank (2008)

Left Bank is a classic tale of girl meets boy, girl loses chance to become a running champion, girl moves in with boy, girl befalls a great evil. Okay, so maybe not so classic.

The movie is served with several extra helpings of mood. It’s a sluggish tale told in muted tones and melancholy. Don’t try to watch in when you are tired or it’ll take you two or three times as long to watch, like it did for me. I kept falling asleep.

That’s not a very good endorsement. Let the Right One In was similar in this fashion, very moody, very slow, very quiet. In the end, worth watching, but it is such a slog to get to the stuff that makes the film worth it. At least the aforementioned vampire film had a sense of foreboding, that things were building within the characters. Here, there is some idea that something odd is going on, like that apparently dirt is coming out of her vagina, but it is very slight, until nearly an hour in when the movie punches you in the face with the history of the land the building rests on, at which point the vast majority of its wad is blown and the film proceeds exactly as planned to its inevitable conclusion. And it proceeds to that end slowly and methodically, somberly and in shades of drab colors. I kept falling asleep.

I’ll have to keep Left Bank in mind for the next time I’m having trouble sleeping. I haven’t had this much trouble staying awake for a movie since the ironically named Insomnia – which I’ve still never fully seen because just a few minutes of that movie sends me off to slumber land.

Despite the slowness and frequent bouts of unconsciousness, I found the movie to be very well shot. The cinematography was often beautiful, and the acting was good. Everything about the film was well crafted, it was just extremely unexciting. Well, it did pick up a little in the final fifteen minutes. It’s just the previous hour and twenty that was so slow.

The ending of the film will probably be a bit of a head scratcher for most folks, it even had be confused for a little while…

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten CottonLife Between Frames

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 12: Shivers (1975)

I’m just going to come right out and say the best thing about Shivers is that it was David Cronenberg’s first feature directing gig and he would go on to make incredible movies like The Dead Zone, The Fly and so much more. Shivers, on the other hand, is fairly terrible.

Oh, I suppose there is some sort of subtext here about the dangers of promiscuity. I mean, the movie opens with a juxtaposition of scenes, a young couple looking to move into the swank building and inside the building James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio is raping and killing a school girl. It turns out that James, or rather Dr. Emil Hobbes, is part of a team working on using parasites as organ replacements, or something. Anyway, he’s been testing it on this girl, who it turns out is very popular among the other tenants. James Emil has discovered that the parasite is winning or taking over, so he isn’t really killing her but killing the parasite. Her sleeping around has passed the parasite on to others, and before long we’ve got an outbreak.

People die, sometimes grossly, and others are just hosts for parasites, such as the one that crawls into a bathing woman’s vajayjay.

Despite all that, the acting is bad and the special effects often look… well… special. Imagine that the second time I wrote “special” is was done in a very condescending and yet gentle manner.

Look, they can’t all be winners, and Cronenberg has plenty of those, this just isn’t one. If for some reason you feel like tracking down a copy to watch, you might find it under one of its alternate titles: The Parasite Murders, They Came from Within, or Frissons.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, Money and a Half

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 11: Pulse (2001)

Have you ever been so lonely that you turned into an immortal black smudge on the wall that will never die but will also never do anything? Me neither.

I’ve been on the Internet so long and made so many friend, many of whom I interact with daily, that it is completely alien to me the concept which people worried about for so long and worry about still, that people will just sit and stare at the PC screen, surfing the web, talking to no one, completely isolated. I suppose there is a certain kernel of truth to it, but I think it’s extremely rare.

Even so, as Pulse paints a picture of people becoming separated by the world they live in and literally fading to ash it is unnerving. Although nothing is ever said for certain, it appears that wherever ghosts go when people die is full or for some other reason ghosts are pushing through into our world. After death is eternal loneliness, and the ghosts share that with people, who get super lonely and either kill themselves or become listless and eventually fade to ash. It’s happening all over the world, and, the film posits, the only people who remain are those who are okay with being alone or with being surrounded by ghosts.

I guess that means if this were to happen I’d probably be okay.

For a ghost story, Pulse lacks any sudden jumps or freak out scares. When ghosts appear they slowly float toward people, though occasionally they do that weird “stand in a way that people don’t stand” thing that is common to Japanese horror films. It’s like a shortcut that says, “What you are seeing isn’t a person.” It works too. A silhouette breaks from the shadows and moves toward someone. It could be anything, and then, bang! that’s not a person!! For most of its length, Pulse is a more subtle sort of film. Totally not for everyone, but I think some people will really… not “enjoy it” exactly, but will get something from watching it.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between FramesScarina’s Scary Vault of Scariness, Money and a Half

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 10: Possession (1981)

I first met Sam Neill on a submarine. While his captain stormed around the boat speaking English with a Scottish accent, Sam wanted only to see Montana. Keeping a nautical theme, we met again as he took his wife sailing only to be accosted by a madman. Next, he was a member of the CIA. Of course, he really came to the forefront as a man fighting for survival against dinosaurs.

But for me, there were really two roles that stuck in my head, and as which I always think of Sam Neill. The first was In The Mouth of Madness and the second was Event Horizon, both of which could easily fit onto a list of horror films to watch during the month of October. Both of which are crazy supernatural films.

Until recently, I was unaware that he’d done crazy supernatural before. 1981’s Possession is just such a film. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Sam plays Mark, who is a spy – but that’s really unimportant – and has just returned home from a secret mission to find out his wife wants to divorce him. Hindsight being what it is, he should have just let her go. Instead, he wants things to work out but decides to give her some space. Oh, and their son. He just kind of walks out and gets a new place for himself. Rather than getting on with his life like he should, he becomes obsessed, calling all the time, and finally going back home to discover everything is a mess and their son is home alone. Mark moves back in to take care of the kid, and Anna moves out. Mark gets a call from Heinrich, Anna’s lover, who says Anna is staying with him. Mark, despite being a spy and having access to other stuff, gets info about Heinrich from one of Anna’s friends, and then Mark meets Helen, his son’s teacher, who is played by the same actress as his wife.

It’s important to notice this, and the movie hits you in the face with it, having Mark freak out a little and bring up that Anna and Helen look so much alike.

So Mark goes to meet Heinrich and learns that Anna isn’t there. In fact, Heinrich has been out of town and didn’t call Mark before. He hasn’t seen Anna in a while. Anna comes home but won’t talk about where she’s living. He beats her and she leaves. Mark, who once again I will point out is a SPY, hires a common private investigator to follow his wife. Then goes home and possibly has sex with Anna’s friend who gave him the info on Heinrich. The next day, Mark and Anna have a fight, Anna cuts her neck with an electric carving knife, he bandages her up and then sits listlessly cutting his own arm with the same electric carving knife. She leaves.

The private investigator follows her to a squalid apartment. He pretends to be the building manager to gain access, and finds some sort of ugly creature in the bathroom. Anna kills him with a broken bottle. Meanwhile, since his wife left Mark has only one option open to him… start dating the woman who looks exactly like his wife, because that’s going to end well. The private investigator’s lover shows up looking for the private investigator. Mark gives him the address for his wife’s new apartment, which the private investigator never gave him, probably because Mark is a SPY and got it himself anyway… did he just get someone killed for no reason? Anyway, the lover goes looking for the P.I. Anna attacks him, he tries to shoot her then she takes his gun and shoots him a bunch, but not before admitting that she’s been having sex with the creature in the bathroom.

Anna comes home again and starts putting food in the bedroom and clothes in the fridge. She admits to Mark that she had a miscarriage and we are treated to a flashback that looks nothing like a miscarriage but instead like someone having a flailing seizure and then bleeding profusely. She doesn’t appear to have seen a doctor.

Heinrich goes to see Anna at her new place. Or rather, Mark calls him and says, “Hey, why don’t you go see my wife?” He does, he sees the creature, she shows him a collection of body parts she has in the fridge, and Anna stabs him but he gets away. Hmm… first the address, now this, maybe Mark isn’t just a spy, maybe he’s an assassin of some sort. Heinrich calls Mark says, “Hey buddy, your wife is messed up and stuff.” Mark goes to the apartment, sees the body parts, then goes to meet Heinrich and murders him. At this point, Heinrich’s mom calls Mark, because for some reason she has the phone number for her son’s lover’s husband, looking for her son, whose body has been found but she’s looking for his soul.

Mark finally catches up to his wife at her apartment, where he watches her has sex with the monster. Let me restate that, Mark walks by the camera and WE watch her have sex with the monster.

Heinrich’s mom comes to visit, poisons herself and dies.

Mark’s employers show up and ask him to do a job. He refuses, runs away and kills a police officer. Then he wrecks his motorcycle and runs into a building where Anna follows him, because she’s there. Anna reveals the creature, which is now “finished”, and it looks exactly like Mark. Then cops shoot them all in a hail of gunfire. Monster-Mark isn’t hurt.

Anna shoots herself with Mark’s gun and dies. Mark jumps to his death in the open stairwell. Monster-Mark escapes.

Later, at home, Helen – the teacher who looks like Anna – is with the son. The doorbell rings and the kid starts repeating “Don’t Open” while running through the apartment and finally diving into a full bathtub. We close in on Helen’s face as she gives us a “What’s going on?” look. In the background you can see Monster-Mark writhing against the glass door. Sirens and plane noises are heard. Light illuminates her eyes.

So… now that that’s over… what the hell did I just see? Is Helen a Monster-Anna? Was the light in her eyes explosions and the kid was actually super smart to dive into the tub for protection? Why was all this even happening? I have no idea! I love it! I will probably never ever EVER watch it again, but I love it!

You might be thinking, “Jason, you totally just spoiled the whole movie!” and you’d be right, but you would also be so very wrong. It really does have to be seen to be believed. However, if you wish to see it, you might have to .. um.. find a copy. If you know what I mean. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, Money and a Half, nijomu, Creatures of Light and Darkness

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 9: Dead Alive (1992)

Peter Jackson became a household name with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But before he got into large budget sprawling epics he made a few splatter horror films, Dead Alive – or Braindead – being his third feature-length film.

The film concerns a man, Lionel, who lives with his domineering mother. While he’s on a date with a woman his mother doesn’t approve of, his mother – who is spying on him – is bitten at the zoo by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey. From the bite she slowly turns into a zombie. But Lionel is a dutiful son, and tries to keep his mother under control by keeping her locked in the house and drugged. Of course, if he kept her separate from the world, this would be a pretty boring movie, so she starts murdering people, who turn into zombies, which Lionel tries to keep locked in the house.

It’s an odd reversal on the old zombie movie trope. Rather than people trapped in a house surrounded by the undead, Dead Alive offers up a house full of zombies surrounded by an unsuspecting world.

Peter Jackson and his special effects team unleash buckets of buckets of buckets of blood. It’s quite possibly the goriest film I’ve ever seen. “Splatter” doesn’t really begin to describe it. There’s this scene with a lawn mower… wow. The blood and guts is tempered a little with comedy, but if you are the squeamish sort, this movie is definitely not for you.

Personally, though, if I have to pick a favorite Peter Jackson film, despite the awesomeness of the Lord of the Rings films and how much I do enjoy King Kong, until The Hobbit movie drops this December, my favorite has to be The Frighteners. There is just something about that movie, I can watch it over and over.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Creatures of Light and Darkness

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 8: Tenebre (1982)

I got my hands on a copy on Tenebre. Unfortunately, it was in Italian and lacked subtitles. It supposedly had an English language track, but my player didn’t want to allow me to switch. Luckily Amazon had available a copy of Unsane, the edited widely panned American release of the film. It’s a full 10 minutes shorter than the director’s cut of the film, and 20 minutes shorter than the original.

Peter Neal is an author, and he’s touring with his new book. Upon arriving in Italy, he is contact by police concerning a murder. A woman was killed in a manner similar to a murder in his latest book, plus she had pages of the book stuffed in her mouth – but we already knew this as we got to see her killed. We get to see everyone killed, often from the point of view of the killer. Anyway, lots of people die, and there are buckets of blood, and the author is trying to track down the killer, and eventually we find out who the killer is, and the movie comes to an end.

In certain circles, Dario Argento, writer and director of Tenebre, is spoken of with great reverence. But I don’t know. I liked Suspiria and Inferno well enough I guess, and his episodes of Masters of Horror, but of his other films I’ve seen, I could really take them or leave them. Tenebre wasn’t a bad film, though perhaps I’ve just seen too many, because I figured out what was going on early in the film. Maybe the missing 10 minutes, or 20 minutes depending on the version, makes the movie better.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 7: Cat People (1942)

Ode to the Cat People

Drawing your sketches
of panthers at the zoo
You meet a young man
and take him home with you

He brings you a kitty
which hisses as your approach
You exchange it for a canary
which I guessed as a joke

This man loves you so
he asks you to wed
But for fear of transforming
you skip the marital bed

Spurned of your affections
he seeks love that’s more deep
Jealous, you follow her
then you slaughter some sheep

She goes for a swim
and you stalk her some more
But it is far too late
he has filed for divorce

Your psychiatrist loves you
which proves a fatal mistake
Wounded you flee to the zoo
your life you let the panther take

-fin

Being an older film, it plays out at a much slower pace than more modern fare. Until late in the film it could easily just be a dramatic piece with no horror or terror at all. Still, it has a certain charm. However, I think I’d rather watch the remake instead.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Final Girl

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 6: Slither (2006)

There is a long tradition in horror films of things falling to Earth from space and unleashing monsters upon the populace. In Slither, it’s a meteor. The monster inside gets into a local who then proceeds to kill a bunch of small animals, impregnates a lady who isn’t his wife and moves up to killing livestock to keep her fed, all while slowly turning into a giant slug. The pregnant lady… um… gives birth, in a manner of speaking, and her little slug babies head into town to begin taking over hosts.

At this point, the movie becomes a sort of pseudo-zombie movie as the infected… infested people stumble around town trying to get everyone else, either to put a slug in them or to eat them. The town sheriff, played by Nathan Fillion, and a few survivors fight to save humanity.

Like all movies of this sort, it’s a fun romp and a little gross, but it’s not torture and it’s not happening to me. Besides, I like to imagine that I would be on the side of the survivors, not the slugs. I mean, nobody wants to be a slug, but in order for me to be a hero some of you are just going to have to be slugs. I’m sorry.

Is it wrong for me to say that I’ve seen enough movies that I feel like in real life if a friend or family member were to have, for example, just had a slug enter their mouth and now they are acting a little weird, I’m pretty sure there would be little to no hesitation from me in going on the offensive? I’ve tried to explain to people I know, “Hey, look, if the zombie apocalypse comes, you don’t have to worry that you’ll be shambling around for all eternity, because if you turn anywhere near me, I’ll put you down.” They seem to take it wrong, like I want to kill them or something, they get upset and say things like “But what if it’s curable?” And I’m like, “It’s never curable.” “But what if it was?” I’ll put a hand on their shoulder, give in a comforting squeeze and say, “Well, sometimes, some people just have to take one for the team, you know, just to be safe.”

I think I understand why it is that I don’t have more friends…

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, Money and a Half, nijomu, Final Girl

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 5: Nosferatu (1922)

I could be wrong, but Nosferatu may be the first depiction of a vampire on film. And despite whether or not you’ve seen it, you know it from its iconic imagery that echoes through the history of horror films (gallery below). When it was made, F.W. Murnau couldn’t obtain the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so he simply changed all the names of the characters to try to avoid the copyright. Later, Stoker’s widow would sue and win, with the court ordering all the copies of Nosferatu to be burned.

But vampires are notoriously hard to kill and copies survived. That’s right MPAA, movie piracy saved a piece of history that lawyers would have destroyed! I’m joking… piracy is bad, m’kay? Luckily for us, we no longer care and with this movie being made in 1922 it has passed into the realm of the public domain, which is why, if you want, you can watch the entire movie, for free, on YouTube.

The vast majority of the versions you’ll find today actually credit Bram Stoker and have the names (and all the text cards) altered to reflect Stoker’s original. Still, the story of Nosferatu differs from the book in a few significant ways, which I won’t spoil for you.

The real thing you want to watch out for when picking a copy of the film to watch is the soundtrack. Seeing as it’s a silent film, the music is important, but much of the original score – which was played by live musicians in the theater – has been lost. To that end, a number of versions are floating around, some better than others. It is apparently even a thing in some music circles for composers to craft their own soundtrack for this seminal work. Here are a few you can buy from Amazon. I might have to track down a few in the future once I research which are the ones worth listening to.

Immediately after watching Nosferatu, I felt I needed to watch Shadow of the Vampire, a horror film about the making of Nosferatu that supposes Murnau hired an actual vampire to play the role of Count Orlok in order to attain the level of realism he desired for his film. It is so good.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Final Girl, Life Between Frames, It’s Dark in the Dark, Money and a Half, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Creatures of Light and Darkness