Monthly Archives: October 2015

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Re-Animator

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Reanimator_posterRe-Animator is a movie I so desperately want to like and recommend. There is no other movie I can think of that is a twisted take on the Frankenstein myth with such a devoted fan base. For the small budget of $900,000, it was a hit grossing over $2 million and was respected by critics like Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin of the New York Times. Being one who is big on horror from the 1980s, the premise alone sounds like something I really should enjoy. A man makes a serum that can bring things back to life but the living corpse does more damage than possible. Already that is a hint of interest so why in the end did I find myself not liking this movie?

Jeffrey Combs plays the lead scientists that creates the serum named Herbert West and as always, Combs is going to be good in any role he is in. I remember him playing the FBI agent in Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners and loving just how over the top/crazy he got. Here, he uses that manic energy but there is something very disliking to the character. Herbert is so bent on his formula that he comes off as naive of his work or just too obsessed. He rents a room with a couple and all he cares about his work while treating them like pure trash. Maybe I’m used to the traditional Frankenstein stories but there’s something very unwelcoming here. I can understand the demented insanity over making this serum but just how insane do you have to be? Hell, he doesn’t even question morale values when he tests it on their cat he kills. Yeah, he kills their pet cat and uses the formula as a test subject. What a generous house guest he turns out to be.

The rest of movie is very hit and miss for me. Bruce Abbott is Dan Cain, the owner of the house Herbert stays at and he seems more like a doormat than someone to root for. Granted, he does participate in Herbert’s experiments and reluctantly assists like a basic Igor with personality. But I don’t remember him doing much outside of assisting the experiments. I kept thinking if this crazy man was raising this form of hell around my house, I would have kicked him out in a heartbeat. And of course, his wife played by Barbara Crampton only serves to be the damsel in distress for later on but again, that’s really I remember about these side characters. They only appear to be plot elements and outside of that barley do anything I remember them which resembles an importance outside of being crucial to the story.

David Gale does have a chilling performance as a rival doctor named Carl Hill who is aware of Herbert’s experiments and tries to use the formula to his advantage. But he only serves to be a small conflict for later on when Herbert kills him and then injects his dead body with the serum. Why? Does Herbert realizes this is his enemy and bringing him back to life will cause more problems? There is a fine line between insanity and stupid. And this is sort of a problem I have with this film. Most of the characters only exist to be cogs in the story. Outside of maybe an interesting quirk or two, there’s nothing really that interesting about them.

re-animator_34Re-Animator came out around the same time as horror movies like Day of the Dead and Fright Night. And those two movies were able to take cliches and tropes while doing something interesting and unique. Romero’s zombie epic was a dark commentary on the zombification of humanity and Fright Night was a fun tongue-in-cheek flick about the vampires mythos.  Re-Animator does have an interesting concept but the story and characters just didn’t come to life for me. The only thing I do remember being unique was the special effects. Gory as they are, director Stuart Gordan really paid attention to detail in things like talking severed heads and how a rotted corpse should look. The special effects are unique considering the low budget and succeed in giving a believable quality. But even that gives the movie sort of an uncomfortable tone to me.

Photo-1-re-animator-movies-34572414-1200-782I know I shouldn’t let reality get in the way, but you reading a review of someone who will vomit at the sight of seeing someone’s insides or an autopsy. For something like a zombie movie, I’m fine seeing corpses walk about with organs hanging out. But when its done in a medical manner that is when it gets under my skin a bit. Maybe my personal preferences got in the way but even without that, Re-Animator still didn’t do anything for me. The characters are too crazy or dull, the special effects are good but perhaps too good and there is sort of this cold feeling I get whenever I think about the walking bodies and moving parts in the movie. But to its credit, it does salvage itself near the end with a finale that I won’t run for newcomers but then it ends on a open hook so large that it sort of left me feeling disappointed. Again, without spoiling the ending, I sort of felt like nothing was wrapped up or left open too much for a sequel. But at the end of the day, there is nothing I can do to adjust my feelings that much. Part of me is curious to re-watch this and see if my feelings are the same but every time I keep thinking about Re-Animator, I just keep going back to the flaws that just flat-out annoyed and bothered me. Maybe you will find some enjoyment in this and I can see why. But honestly, I’d rather stick with the classic Frankenstein films thank you very much.

“Goosebumps” is ghoulish fun

Viewer beware, your in for something adequately scary

Viewer beware, your in for something adequately scary

I often find R. L. Stein interesting as a person. He’s constantly writing books, exploring the world once in a while and always carries a unique story to tell. In his recent biography for kids, named “It Came from Ohio,” he often wrote comedic magazines pioneered independently, had an interesting sense of humor and all around fun guy. From teaching seals to dance and work on Eureeka’s Castle,  “Jovial” Bob Stein will be better remembered for his work on the book series Goosebumps. Sort of Tales from the Crypt for kids, I recall reading these in middle school and enjoying them. While they weren’t scary to me, I fondly thrilled at Monster Blood and taking a day in Horrorland. To make a movie based on the nostalgic property alone is a challenge but they tried. In the end, what we get is a film that probably should have come out 20 years ago but still better late then never.

Dylan Minnette is Zach, a high schooler that moves into Delaware after his mother gets a job as a vice principal at his new school. As with this kind of character, we go through the whole phase of him being new in the area even if its brief and add some baggage with a deceased father. This is fine alone and does give some development but it feels like a typical teenager with problems. Not to say it’s a bad thing but I do wish more was written better. You still get to sympathize and thankfully that material is not forced in so I can’t complain.

R. L. Stein (Jack Black) along with his daughter and two friends set out to stop the evil forces while making for good chemistry

R. L. Stein (Jack Black) along with his daughter and two friends set out to stop the evil forces while making for good chemistry

Zach finds that he is neighbors with a girl his age named Hannah, whose not that bad either. Odeya Rush’s performance is thankfully a step up after last year’s The Giver where she was cold and flat. Here, Rush is given more to work with especially in the later half when a huge twist about the character comes up. Like the character Zack, Hannah is written as a teenager with a simple motive to break out and not be boxed in. The characterization is very simple without too much depth tossed which is good and bad at the same time. You do get chemistry thanks to the performances but wish these people were written with more depth at times.

What stands in the way of Hannah being more social is her dad who is revealed to be R.L. Stein played by Jack Black. Ironic how the real Stein is a fan of Black and even got to work with him a bit behind the scenes to get a variation of Black’s take. The film version of Stein is more sinister and comes off as a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Dr. Loomis from the Halloween films. Black’s take adds a level of fun and thrills without overdoing it. At times, he does get a little “over the top” but you know this comedian will give it his all no matter what he will be in.

The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena who may look like Harry Henderson really packs more bite than you expect

The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena who may look like Harry Henderson really packs more bite than you expect

The reason why Stein is locked up in the house is because of how powerful his Goosebumps manuscripts are. Apparently if one were to open then, said monster would pop out and raise havoc. This is evident when the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena appears setting up the rules and tone of the film. The only way to get the creature is to simply get the thing back in the books. Simple enough, but it gets complicated when an evil ventriloquist dummy named Slappy (also voiced by Jack Black) escapes and plans to raise chaos on the small town with all the Goosebumps monsters. Not only does he steal the manuscripts and opens them, but also burns each one ensuring the monsters can’t be sucked back into the pages they came from.

Already the premise sounds familiar and I’m positive you can figure out if you will enjoy this movie or not. Personally, I liked it even when the humor did get awkward or the story got predictable. Once the town gets overrun by lawn gnomes, werewolves, a giant mantis, zombies and many other things, that is when Goosebumps was engaging to me. Sure the stuff in the first third had decent build up but it felt standard and simple. On the other hand, that is what Goosebumps is. The stories of the books never got too in-depth or too complex. They were simple stories that existed to entertain as oppose to frighten and shock.

Villian of the movie, Slappy the dummy (also voiced by Jack Black) as he plans to unleash the monsters in surprisingly convincing effects showing how great puppetry can be

Villian of the movie, Slappy the dummy (also voiced by Jack Black) as he plans to unleash the monsters in surprisingly convincing effects showing how great puppetry can be

For what it was, I got what I expected and enjoyed it. However, this isn’t a perfect movie by any means. Some of the special effects can be a tad mediocre and the comedy of characters like a cool wannabe named Champ as well as an aunt that has a strange obsession for bedazzling clothes. Though I can’t think of a time when the humor felt too forced (as I did chuckle at how lame Champ was) and there isn’t any bad messages that is being said. Even effects like the puppetry work on Slappy the evil dummy is surprisingly good considering the low $58 million budget this movie has.  In a sense, I do wish there was more edgy as it could have been a great family film but I’m glad I enjoyed what I saw. There are times when it does feel like a tribute to R. L. Stein paying homage to not only his books but even his style as well. Little facts like how he always used a typewriter for his work and the placement of bear traps in the basement add to what kind of person Stein was. A man who never wanted to be taken seriously and just wanted to let his readers have fun with his work.

Now if silly, goofy and campy is not your cup of tea or if your not a fan of the books, then Goosebumps might be the movie your looking for. I’d say this is more like a Disney movie along the lines of Hocus Pocus or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids without the edginess. In fact, much of the film does get thrilling but misses out on the scares. Had this been harder along the lines of Gremlins or Coraline, I do wonder if it would have been a better movie or play it off as too frightening. Seeing these kinds of movies as a kid, I was fine with that I saw but wish there was more to it. Its not that bad to say its the worst but its not perfect either. I just feel it was a good family film that I know kids will enjoy and might be split with the older crowd. If you want to play it safe, rent it. But for anyone else curious, I’m sure you will be fine. There’s plenty of thrills and twists that will keep you engaged and a great watch for the Halloween season. A modest recommendation at best. Just keep in mind to beware, because your in for some ghoulish fun.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Christine

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A killer car movie...that is actually better than you expect it to be

A killer car movie…that is actually better than you expect it to be

Leave it to director John Carpenter to bring you a movie that has such a ridiculous premise but somehow makes it truly frightening and enjoyable. And not to mention horror author Stephen King for taking such a basic idea and flying with it. Granted not all of King’s work will be blockbuster material but you do get certain stories that can make such a chilling yet interesting flick. This is where Christine comes in. Probably the only killer car movie I can think of that is flat out absurd on paper but when watching it, makes for a very well made and if not near masterpiece. I know this isn’t Criterion material but man, a huge part of me feels like this movie should.

Keith Gordon plays a nerdy teen named Arnold who obviously doesn’t fit in with school. And yeah, this is sort of a minor problem of the movie. If you know King’s work, you will come across a character once in a while that does have similar qualities. Or even stories like this. The nerd that keeps getting picked on, the bullies that hassle him, the one best friend that is a jock but tries to stand up for him and the overzealous parents that want what is best for him but obviously show no sign of freedom for their kid. Cliched and predicable but even King’s channeling of these cliches can make for something interesting. In the vein of horror, you know something will happen to these tropes and cliches while curious to see where it goes.

Anrold looks over the rusted Christine pre-transformation

Anrold looks over the rusted Christine pre-transformation

And it just so happens, Arnold pines over not a girl but a car. That’s right! A 1958 Plymouth Belvedere that is believed to be cursed seeing the previous owner died in it. But he doesn’t care as the kid fixes her up like new and starts to have a huge obsession over it. So much so that Arnold starts to have a complete transformation and sees his hot rod as a girlfriend (ironically much less like the girl he tries to date.) Now he becomes rebellious, demented and all out insane. Here is where Christine gets really interesting.

Its not the car or even the other characters. Its Arnold’s obsession and how it consumes. It was almost like he made a deal with the devil just to have this new personality just to get the car of his dreams. Keith Gordon does a surprisingly good job channeling from the shy and geeky to suddenly turning into the greaser from Hell. Every time he’s on screen, you feel like he’s a time bomb waiting to explode considering what lies behind that jet black hair and devilish smug is something dark and demented. Viewers always have this fascination with dark characters as well as villains and this kid fits the bill if your looking for something like that. The transformation Arnold goes through is engaging while also frightening to watch. As you see him seep into madness, you wonder if there is any humanity left and horrify at how much control he gets over his parents while also how insane he becomes.

One of the many bullies Christine chases down in this iconic scene

One of the many bullies Christine chases down in this iconic scene

But of course, the real star of the movie is Christine herself. Lord knows how many Belvedere cars they had to dig up in order to make this automobile alive. Its never explained but the car has a mind of its own as it manages to kill the bullies that taunt Arnold and anyone who gets in the way of her relationship. The movie could have removed this supernatural element and it would have been standard. But the idea of a living car killing people is crazy but this movie really makes it scary at times. One such highlight is when Christine destroys a gas station and emerges covered in flames while chasing down another bully. The imagery and sight of a car on fire meshed with the electronic score by John Carpenter himself and collaborator Alan Howarth really make for an intense scene like this.

Can Christine be destroyed? Maybe. There are rules to this metallic beast which makes for great suspense. If you even try to smash or break the car, it simply unbends itself and regenerates like it was off the assembly line. Again, another get testament to how amazing practical effects can be. In today’s world, CGI would be an easy thing. But the fact they went through 20 cars just to make an elaborate special effect like that is astounding. If it wasn’t for the special effects, this would have been a run of the mile horror. But seeing how much effort they put into making you believe this car is alive really works.

Truly manufactured from Hell!!!!

Truly manufactured from Hell!!!!

Now is it a perfect movie? Not completely. As said, there are stock characters that are sort of uninteresting and the pace can be a tad slow. But with most of Carpenter’s films, there’s something interesting about the main characters he crafts with themes of isolation that are common in Escape from New York or his remake of The Thing. What works best is the special effects and the main character. Without these two elements, it would have been a basic teenager story about sex and stuff.

What Christine becomes is a psychological thrill ride that really delivers on entertainment and scares. Half of the time, we do get moments when we wonder if it is the car killing these people or perhaps Arnold is behind the wheel. We never know that until the very last minute when they pull a small double twist that really leaves a lot of thinking to the viewer. Was Arnold controlling Christine or was Christine really controlling Arnold? At the end of the day, there never is a clear answer and perhaps that is good. The important element of horror is the unknown. And when you have something you can’t answer for find a solution to, that is when things get really frightening. And who would think something that could have been goofy and stupid could make for amazing popcorn entertainment. Thankfully, Sony decided to release this on official Blu-Ray nationwide(after a limited run with the Twilight Time label sold out fast). I don’t just give this a high recommendation but a personal “buy it” just to have something around the house in case of a slow night. Full of thrills and dark atmosphere, don’t just watch Christine but own it.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Jaws

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MV5BNDcxODkyMjY4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTk5NTc5MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_There is no real reason to describe what makes Jaws so good. And not to mention the amount of history it left behind. This came out in 1975 when the term “blockbuster” started to mean something and launched the career of director Steven Spielberg. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, it took a simple concept and ran with it. In fact, it almost feels like two movies in one; a basic slasher and a fishing movie. Man vs. nature while we question if this is a basic act of nature or just an normal occurrence over exposed.

The story is a very simple one and not too hard to follow. A small town named Amity Beach is prepping for a big 4th of July celebration when a shark attack changes all that. At first, the mayor (Murray Hamilton) tries to cover it up but sadly it fails seeing more attacks occur. Things get heated to the point someone has to stop the shark and it get left in the hands of Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). Thankfully, he isn’t alone as by his side are the quirky oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and the spiritual yet sinister Captain Quint (Robert Shaw).

From the scene when the first shark attack happens, it has you hooked. The idea of something simple as anything happening in the big ocean reaches a connection. We all love to visit the ocean and yet we fear it. Jaws plays on these two consciousness knowing that an attack from a big fish couldn’t be possible but yet opens that possibility. This is mostly because a lot of the time you never see the shark. A clever idea and came from an accident when the mechanical shark puppet wouldn’t work. It resorted to Spielberg using point-of-view shots and music to give a basic cue to audience when the shark appears. It works because it allows the imagination of the viewer to play out as terror from the deep surfaces on the swimmers for lunch.

jaws-1And when we do see the shark, its satisfying. Again, we don’t see much and I feel that is a huge strength for the movie. Once Brody and the gang are out on the ocean, anything goes in the world of the shark. Knowing how powerful this beast can be, we wonder just how well this thing could be stopped while each of the shark hunting trio take turns in trying to use their expertise to destroy the water beast. It’s this section of the film that really gets engaging. After teasing and showing how destructive this sea monster can be, we let our heroes come in and save the day.

Jaws also has a great cast too with so many great performances that are too much to mention. Roy Scheider is great as the every man hero Brody as we connect with his family life and ethics. He fears for the safety of the people while trying to question his ethics. This comes into play later when he is at sea and tries to fit in with Quint and Hooper. At first, he tries to be rational despite having his ideas ignored. Without giving too much away, it appears the pay off at the end is that any given person will come forth with a simple solution that might work. And in some cases, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how deadly a shark can be.

jaws_primaryI also love how Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss play off each other as Hooper and Quint. It feels like student vs. mentor but not in a cliched way. Hooper at first appears to be cocky and really plays up the comic relief. But during his stay at Amity Beach and in the final moments, he proves to be a reliable source seeing his knowledge of sharks comes into play at the right time. Quint, on the other hand, believes that science needs to take a back seat considering his view of ocean life and seeing it his way. He almost has a spiritual sense to it even when he recounts his time on the Indianapolis. A scene that will go down as one of the best in cinema history hearing Quint’s horrifying tale of the secret mission gone wrong.

Jaws as a whole feels like two movies in one. We get the typical slasher film as the shark stalks and kills its victims while the final half plays off like a fishing trip gone wrong. Your so embedded into these characters that you want to see them put an end to the terror of the sea and beaches. For as long as this movie has been around, surprisingly it does manage to scare people away from swimming in the ocean. And its not hard to see why considering something simple as the open sea can be a deadly creature to deal with. I also have full bragging rights to say I was able to see this on a drive-in theater screen this summer and can say this movie still packs punch, laughs and thrills. The experience alone of seeing a classic on a nostalgic favorite screen is enough for me to give this a high recommendation and remind viewers that even the most basic concept can make for an effective and unique motion picture.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Tusk

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TuskMovieThere is no other movie I can think of that gained so much attention toward its “word of mouth” negative reception like Tusk. During its debut last year, there was rarely a person I knew that actually stood in pure defense against it. Granted, there were at least one or two people but most the talk I came across was largely negative and harsh. So much so, that it almost felt like a warning to “not-see” this movie. Avoid at all costs. Abandon all fate ye who view it. Considering this is the Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, I decided to see what the fuss was about, watched Tusk with an open-mind and….yeah, I don’t think I need the build up to admit that this movie is probably one of the worst I’ve seen. It’s probably in the top 10 as we speak. Instead of going over the story and such, let me break down what doesn’t work for me seeing all the movie’s problems unravel from start to finish.

In this strange horror-comedy, Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton who hosts a podcast that specializes in exploiting viral videos and mocking them but not in a fun way. I guess this is supposed to be a commentary on things like public mocking shows like Tosh.0 but it comes off feeling mean spirited. Aside from the fact that the podcast is called the “Not-See Party” (seriously, how is it popular with a name like THAT?), I found the Wallace character to be highly unlikable. You could argue they do that to make him sympathetic when bad stuff happens but most of the stuff he does is downright mean.

Tusk_1088.dng

Tusk_1088.dng

He is vicious on his comedy, he’s a jerk to his best friend (surprisingly played by Haley Joel Osment who is not that bad here) and cheats on his own wife. Not to mention, the motivation for him to get the story going is to interview this kid in Canada that severed his leg when doing a viral sword play video. First off, those kinds of videos where a kid is fooling with a lightsaber ordeal is very outdated to joke about. Second, Wallace treats this as a golden opportunity but why? What sense is there in interviewing someone young that got brutally injured just for extra mockery? I know they are making him very jerky so we see him have this change of heart but it just doesn’t work seeing how much baggage this guy has against. Even worse is when he discovers the kid somehow committed suicide and he’s still focused on trying to find someone weird and bizarre to fill that spot. I’m sorry but what’s the joke here? Kid injures himself and makes a video, podcast host wants to do an interview and said kid kills himself. That’s just harsh.

Anyway, a saving grace comes in the form of Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who advertises that he has stories to tell with fliers around town. Wallace becomes interested but soon finds it to be a trap. And again, the movie tries to do this horror comedy angle and here is where it becomes very obvious at how unbalanced it feels. You see, Howard was once lost at sea but somehow got saved by a walrus. And because of this, he has this huge obsession with walruses to the point he wants to turn Wallace into one. With such a paper thin motive, you wonder just what was going through Howard’s head about this whole walrus thing. And right from that point, you can tell if this movie will be enjoyable or not.

Now, surprisingly something like this could work but what hampers Tusk from being a good movie (or at least some form of entertainment) is the delivery and tone. Kevin Smith wrote and directed this and his films have this very interesting style narrative wise. Instead of visuals motivating the story, its the dialogue and ideology of these characters. His movies like Clerks and Mallrats work because we connect to the conversations these characters have. Their simple, usual potpourri talks often connect to ths story or at least are simple to understand like Star Wars Vs. Lord of the Rings or Jay talking about the Bible and its wonders (see Clerks 2). But here, this is a horror. Visuals and dialogue motivate the story and unfortunately, this movie gets to be interested in being wordy than visual.

Tusk-Movie-Still-1Again, long blocks of dialogue can move the story but it has to be done right. And here, we get so much talking and so much conversation that it really drags the movie down. The longer these discussions and arguments go on for, feels like an eternity when things should have been cut out or trimmed. It even goes against the phrase “don’t tell, show” by having key scenes where a character mentions a past moment when it would have been easier just to show it. Sometimes, that can work for something like The Shining or Jaws. Dialogue can make a creepy atmosphere and move the story to where it wants to go to. In Tusk, it just feels like filler.

After what feels like an eternity of discussion, we finally get to see Wallace get horribly transformed into a human walrus by means of human skin and disgusting restructure. The sight and description alone is so horrifying that it’s not worth describing (or showing a picture of for that matter). With the weight of Tusk centered on talking and discussing as the main focus, it really drags the pace down to an uncomfortable level. So much so that when we see the beast in its glory, we can’t relish in the cheesy and ridiculous because of how unpleasant of an experience we had. Even the design itself is too gruesome to comprehend that scenes of Wallace being taught how to eat and swim like a walrus feel grueling to watch. Even the motivation behind this act is so bizarre that it feels like an excuse than a legit reason which I can’t spoil.

Not even Johnny Depp as a laid back detective can’t save this movie. I will admit, the make-up job is not bad and you barley recognize him. There is an essence of a character here that I could get by. But what bogs down is again the amount of dialogue and exposition they throw at you. Depp’s character doesn’t even appear until near the last third of the picture and yet his introduction is very daunting to sit through. After so much scenes with talk and discuss, you think the pain would end. But no, we get an introduction to this new character and then followed by a flashback that lasts for 5 minutes too long to the point it feels like you wasted three hours of your time.

There’s only two things I remotely liked to be honest. One is a pair of convenience store clerks played by Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughters. The scenes are short but somehow they are at least far more interesting to watch. The second is one small scene when Wallace is trying to call his wife and friend but they don’t answer. Call it cliche but the way it is shot is very clever as see Wallace’s wife not notice the phone ringing and its done from a far wide shot. In a sense, it feels very Hitchcocky and it makes me wish the rest of the movie had this feeling.

Dialogue is a necessity to a story. I understand that but so are visuals and pace. Tusk is so wrapped up in talking about things that it proves to be a dull experience than it should considering its absurd premise. I should be interested in this but the overall execution and amount of talk and talk hammer the enjoyment down. This is probably one of the few movies I have sit through where pace and talk hamper on what could have been a fun film. But as it stands, Tusk is certainly in my top 10 worst films I ever had the misfortune to sit through. Consider this a public service to those curious about this movie; don’t. Just don’t.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Cabin in the Woods

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And now, the most beloved one of the bunch

And now, the most beloved one of the bunch

After the streak of films presented here, you think I would finally come across a gem among the bunch. Well, today is your lucky day because I get to go over what makes The Cabin in the Woods such a delight. Writer Joss Whedon has a very interesting style that feels like a near parody while playing it as a straight forward narrative. At times, his material can get self-aware but not to the point it becomes painfully obvious. Cabin was also directed by Drew Goddard who worked previously with Whedon on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and its spin-off Angel. You think these two talents would make a match made in horror. And surprisingly, that’s what this movie is. A great send off to all the traditional horror tropes and cliches we come to expect from scary movies.

The plot follows a group of teenagers who drive off to the middle of nowhere in the forest just to booze up, drug up and party. Its the typical kind of schlock you would find in The Evil Dead. And within the group are people that feel like basic stock characters like the virgin (Kristen Connolly), the sultry one (Anna Hutchinson), the jock (a surprisingly young Chris Helmsworth), the drug addict (Fran Kranz) and the smart one (Jesse Williams). As one would expect, it becomes the ultimate guessing game to who is going to die and who is going to live. And sadly, I wish I could talk about what makes this movie work but there’s a reason why.

Dare to know what lies within the cabin...

Dare to know what lies within the cabin…

Surprisingly, a lot of fans tend to be very hush-hush about the “secrets” and twists that happen. And honestly, I agree. Why spoil something good in a movie when someone is going to see it? I remember learning that one the hard way when I ruined the ending to Borat to a friend of mine. He never forgave me or even talked to me after that. It was that kind of moment. A movie tends to play with your expectations and when it goes down a path your uncertain of, that is when it gets interesting. What starts as a basic teen horror becomes more of an a homage to the genre along with a send off to the viewers that respect it.

If we know the cliches so well, why now twist them around? Why not have the druggie suddenly get smart or the jock be less of an arse and try to be nobel? That’s just scraping the surface and dare do I ruin the monster(s) that lurk about the place. Trust me when I say less said the better, because this one is worth checking out. While its not a masterpiece by any means, there is one huge element that makes Cabin stand out. A twist so good that you have to find out for yourself.

OR IF YOU ARE DYING TO KNOW, READ PAST THIS POINT. ALL ELSE WHO WISH TO LET THE MYSTERY OF THE CABIN BE SOLVED UNTO THEM, DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER AND PLEASE WATCH THE MOVIE!

LONG STORY SHORT,

SPOILER ALERT IF YOUR THAT DESPERATE TO KNOW…

If you read past this point and what to know what happens…then your in for such a treat. Its revealed that cabin is part of a scientific experiment to please a set of strange gods that rest underneath them. As each of the stock characters die, it fills to be a sacrifice to keep the gods pleased and not bring on the end of the world. This here is what makes Cabin stand out. In fact, every scene with the scientists are the best part. As they control the environment above ground, we see how things can be motivated with the push of a button and what can be used to meet their demise.

SPOILER ALERT! Monsters gone amuck!

SPOILER ALERT! Monsters gone amuck!

But it gets better. Further in, we see that they have a huge collection of monsters they use to unleash to the places they created. It almost feels like a complete ode to nearly every horror movie out there with creepy clowns, werewolves, giant snakes and much more that inhabit these odd cells. But even describing this is still scraping the surface. I dare not ruin anymore or else the whole game is given away. But I will say the magnitude of monsters gives for a great opportunity in the climax when hell breaks loose as we are giving the ultimate monster mash ever depicted on film. Its an entertaining sight that will make any creature fan pleased.

Even so, The Cabin in the Woods has probably one of the most interesting commentary that I don’t think any horror movie has attempted. This might be stretching it but I have my own interpretation that I think describes what makes this movie so good. The stock characters are the ingredients of a horror movie being controlled as the scientists are sort of like filmmakers that want to make the film their way. They know people will go for the same old and rarely break the mold. This is in part because of the gods who feel more like film critics waiting to be awarded something they want. And if they don’t get what they wish, then its them who has the last say as the movie is killed by the mighty blow of their hands. Its an out there theory but I feel it fits for a fun film like this. Oh, as a nitpick, if your not for bleak endings, the way it concludes might turn you off…just saying…

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Phantasm

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Well, I wasn't scare by this one....should I worry?

Well, I wasn’t scare by this one….should I worry?

There are movies today that really have a strange cult following that we keep questioning yet we understand why. The Saw franchise, for one example, puts the victim in such dangerous situations that engages the audience. The Paranormal Activity franchise seems to be going downhill after taking such minimal scares and trying to increase the terror by showing its fears instead of letting the audience use their imagination. The gimmick of a movie can lead to viewers getting interest. But for something like Phantasm, I never really understood why it got that big of an audience.

Half of me understands why while the other part of me is still left uncertain. There’s portions that work and some of it that really feels jarring and off. The parts that work are when it gets dark and psychological. It really gets your attention when we see the surreal set of a morgue with different rooms and shelves of bodies. The look alone feels very unique as if it was a dark nightmare. But then we get the story and it depends on what kind of person you are to know if you will enjoy this.

Two brothers bond together very well but the younger one named Mike is suspicious of the morgue that his older brother Jody works at. The mortician there, credited as the Tall Man, has an evil plan to take all the dead bodies and convert them into weird dwarf zombies that look like rejected Jawas from Star Wars. Of course, they go through that whole thing where no one believes Mike and he tries to help out his brother. And they eventually find out and have to defeat the evil. On top of that, we have to sit through a lot of podding scenes with wooden dialogue and campy acting collide in the weirdest form.

Mike looks about for his brother in one of the most interesting morgues ever crafted

Mike looks about for his brother in one of the most interesting morgues ever crafted

I feel bad for saying that because I can sense a lot of potential. I saw this movie without any knowledge of the plot thinking it was going to be one of those haunted house scares like Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse. You know, group of teens break into a place that is forbidden and try to survive. I thought THAT was the movie I was going to get. Instead, it tries to be more of a physiological scare fest but half of the time, we spend way too much on the humor and character development which drags the film down. I think it wasn’t until 30 minutes in when things finally got interesting but then it dips back to the boring and silly stuff that really detracts.

For example, there’s a scene when Jody gets a girl from a bar and they try to have sex in the graveyard. His little brother Mike tries to spy on them until he notices a creature and darts off. He runs right past the two and Jody tells the girl he’ll be back while her panties are in his mouth. Yeah, that really sums up the level of camp here. I find it strange how this was during a period when horror was getting serious with movies like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and yet campy stuff like this was still being churned out. There are even weird things too like it will start on a high moment like Mike having a nightmare where his bed is transported to the graveyard as zombies surface and grab him. And then it cuts to the next day as Jody goes to the bar to find out what happened to the girl he met. Talk about inconsistency.

The famous "Killer Silver Balls"

The famous “Killer Silver Balls”

The stuff between the brothers is uninteresting, the whole master plan doesn’t make a whole lot sense or even have a motive and when it does make an impacting scare, its very brief and doesn’t make much of an impact. Or go absolutely nowhere. For example, there is a clever scare when the lights go out and all you hear is them talking and sound effects. Now that is a great idea. Letting the audio add to the viewer’s imagination. But then, it cuts to Jody outside the morgue when we have no clue or hint as to how he was able to escape. How weird is that?

The only thing that nearly saves the movie is Angus Scrimm’s performace as the Tall Man. He doesn’t have too many scenes but every time the character is on screen, you can’t help but delight at how over-the-top he plays it. That grim expression, the hammy acting when he calls out “BOY!” at Mike and not to mention that slow walking which is awkward but hypnotic in a sense. My favorite scene is when he is walking down the street as Mike watches from afar. The Tall Man stops in front of an open ice cream truck, smells the chilly fog roaming from the doors and makes a growl sound. Something about that just feels funny to me the way he does that.

One of the few effective scares as Mike has a nightmare of the Tall Guy

One of the few effective scares as Mike has a nightmare of the Tall Guy

But is this enjoyable performance enough to save Phantasm? No and how it ended up getting so many sequels is a mystery to me. My only guess is that because everything is left so ambiguous (trust me, less said about the ending the better. I still don’t understand it) that it leaves viewers replaying it and trying to make their own interpretation of what happened. I do admit there are times when it can be great to look at especially in the morgue scenes which look twisted and distorted. When it tries to be scary, its interesting. But when it tries to be funny/campy, it looses my interest. I want to say this is one of those movies that deserves a remake seeing how weird and clunky it feels. But with a fifth movie on the way, it seems impossible to me. Maybe if Phantasm focused more on the scares and less on the cheese, their could have been this really deep psychological thriller. But as it stands, its an odd film with some interesting visuals that don’t hold together. If you like films with a campy yet eerie tone, this is for you. But if want something deeper and intense like the Nightmare on Elm Street movies or The Twilight Zone, then I have to say this is an unfortunate skip.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: It Follows

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THERE BE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD! LOOK OUT!

 

They say its one of the best...but is that true?

They say its one of the best…but is that true?

Horror movies come far and few in-between these days. It makes me wonder why studios aren’t making good horror anymore. Maybe its the choice of film or simply the genre is not big as it once was. However, the true realm seems to be more within independent productions. And to be fair, tons of horror movies like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were independent films that became surprise hits. So it makes sense to see how much a filmmaker can do on limited resources. Sometimes the results are rather surprising making for a suspenseful entry.

So far, 2015 has seen tons of independent horror films get the limelight of success and that’s in part because of how effort one has with what they got. It leaves more imagination to the viewer and creative control on how to deliver the frights. But of all the movies that came out this year, I can’t remember a time when something like It Follows got so much praise. Critics hailed as the best and original scary movie of the year while audiences appeared to agree to an extent. But with all that hype and praise, is it really worth it?

The plot centers around a college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) who has sex with her boyfriend. But as it turns out, a night with him turns deadly as he passes on a strange curse to her. Apparently, anyone who has sex with this “cursed person” has a demented stalker named “IT” who will keep on walking towards the cursed victim until “IT” finally makes contact and kills it. The stakes are raised when they reveal “IT” can only be seen by those who are cursed and invisible to others. And no matter how far Jay runs, “IT” always seems to track her down and takes many different forms of certain people. The only other option she has is to pass the curse. But even that gets more complex when the movie reveals that once “IT” kills the next person the curse was passed to, “IT” will go down the line and kill everyone who has the curse until it gets passed on to another.

Jay seeing "IT" for the first time

Jay seeing “IT” for the first time

Already, I’m very open to the idea. “IT” is not an alien or a creature and in fact, has no true form. How scary would that be to have a stalker that looks like someone you know slowly go after you? I know its a little weird with the slow moving killer but it tries to take it in different angles. It gets tedious at first but then reveals that “IT” is invisible to others but alive and well to the cursed person. Killing “IT,” however, is very problematic. Already they set up the rules of this movie and sometimes they get contradicted in the weirdest way. In one scene, Jay shoots a bullet at “IT” but it proves not to be very effective. Yet in the climax, “IT” gets shot at multiple times and succumbs to its death. However, they do leave the possibility open that “IT” could be alive but the execution makes this very unclear. Ambiguous stuff like that is fine but when you already set up something early on that doesn’t defeat the monster and yet does later has me scratching my head in confusion.

Even more weird is the environment this movie is set in. I guess the filmmakers wanted to go for a timeless approach but there are elements here and there that really feel out of place. One minute, we see old-fashioned television sets mixed with ones from the 1990s. Then, we see a mixture of automobiles from the 1970s and modern times which is fine. A movie theater that shows Alfred Hitchcock films and has a pipe organist from the silent film ear. And strange of all is one character who has a make-up mirror that works as a tablet. You heard me right! A small mirror is used as some form of Kindle. This throws me off seeing setting and visuals help paint what kind of world your movie is in. Here, I have no idea what to make of this. With so much weird stuff, its hard to pinpoint if this movie is set during a different era or just placed in its own reality.

The acting I also can’t say is the best either. I had a hard time trying to connect with these characters because of how wooden the performances are. I don’t know if it was intentional but most of the characters just feel one-note and cliche. If there was a point to this and be some form of parody, that would be fine but when real tension is added, it feels hard to care for someone with really awkward lines like “When I was a little girl my parents would not allow me to go south of 8th mile.”

IT and one the many forms this creature takes

IT and one the many forms this creature takes

In fact, where are the parents in this film? Most of the time we do some adults but the world is more focused on the adolescent characters. It would have helped to have an older person to give some clarity to the world and who knows about “IT” but it comes off feeling like a weird Charlie Brown special. Even most the teenager characters don’t have much witt or clever sense to them. Again, if this was meant to be a parody, that would have been fine. But it seems the more logical choice to avoid “IT” is to keep hopping from one abandoned house to the next. Couldn’t they check for weaknesses or at least have a better idea than just keep running away all the time?

More curious is how critics sated It Follows as a commentary on teen sex and sexual diseases. Yet director David Robert Mitchell stated that the movie was meant to have a dream like quality on how we can’t avoid the nightmare as sex and love are the only things that push it away for a short amount of time. I can at least understand some of that but if it would have made more sense if the whole movie was a dream. However, It Follows sets itself up in such a strange environment giving us rules that don’t get respected much and people that are uninteresting as toast. Maybe if David Lynch directed this, he would have had a better handle seeing he knows how to blend reality and the surreal nature of our dreams and dark desires to the point it could happen. Overall, I like the concept and the idea seeing both are unique and fresh. But what keeps me from giving a solid recommendation is just how bizarre the execution is; even for my taste. I appreciate the scary atmosphere at times but it tends to slow down the pace and enjoyment a bit too much. If your curious, give this one a rental and judge for yourself.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: It Came From Outer Space

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It Came To Theaters....In 3-D!!!!!

It Came To Theaters….In 3-D!!!!!

In the 1950s, it was common practice that invaders from other worlds would be the ultimate enemy. While many were over the fear of war with another nation, movies reflected that with films about aliens trying to take over our world. There are so many to count and so few that reflect outer space monsters are good people. And here is where our good friend Jack Arnold comes in. You can give him any script and he would know how to work with the idea. And next to The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon, I feel It Came From Outer Space ranks very high among one his best to date.

The premise is very simple. An alien spacecraft crash lands in the Arizonan desert and the inhabitants inside have to make some repairs. While that goes on, an author named John Putname (Richard Carlson) is the only one who knows about it and tries to warn the town that strange beings are among us. And rightfully so, some people get kidnapped and the creatures disguise themselves as duplicates to avoid any suspicion. But once John catches on, he at first thinks the creatures are pure evil but later sympathizes when he finds their true purpose.

Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush watch the skies...

Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush watch the skies…

Here is where things get clever. Like movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, the fear of beings from another world is kept but not hit over the head. We understand that humans have a fear for aliens while the other worldly creatures know this too. Its a great commentary on xenophobia and how afraid we were of other nations at the time. The scene that will always stick out in my mind is when John meets one of the creatures disguised as a human in a mine shaft and have a basic conversation at where they stand. It all concludes when the alien reveals his true self reluctantly making for a chilling yet powerful scene.

Credit goes to Ray Bradburry for the story even though the screenplay was written by Harry Essex. Some say Harry took a lot of Bradbury’s material from his screen treatment but changed the dialogue. Regardless, one can tell it has that subtle and poetic touch that normally is a crucial part of Ray Bradbury’s writing style. Even Bradbury himself stated he wanted to treat the alien creatures as beings that were not dangerous which was unusual at the time. Supposedly, he offered two different story outlines; one with the aliens as being malicious and another when the aliens acting benign. Apparently, Universal went with the right decision.

Take notes Hollywood! THIS is an alien!

Take notes Hollywood! THIS is an alien!

The alien design is also very different from the others at the time. We don’t see their true form that often. Most of the time, we get a point-of-view shot that was achieved by blowing a bubble onto the lens which is very creative. And when we do, its a very brief shot which I feel adds to the mystery.  And Its described as a giant floating eye with a bizarre mass of furry bits that almost look like tentacles. We don’t see legs or arms. Just a giant mass floating around and that to me is pure imagination right there. We get something so bizarre that we’ve never seen before and yet question how it can be peaceful. For something that looks so menacing, its a wonder how it can be seen as gentle and that’s how clever this movie is. Originally, another monster design was made but it was eventually used as the Mutants in This Island Earth and certainly it was for the best.

Well, if its bigger on the outside....

Well, if its bigger on the outside….

Another notable highlight was that this was Universal’s first foray into 3-D movies which were all the rave. Sadly, I was only able to see this move in 2-D seeing there has yet to be an official release. Its a shame seeing I am curious to see how certain scenes would work like the falling rocks and the “bubble-vision” shots of the alien. Either way, its still stunning to watch no matter what version. The last thing to address is that there are other humans in this movie that think otherwise about our outer space visitors as a sheriff (Charles Drake) grows paranoid over the creature’s ambiguous nature and plans to hunt them down. Instead of the cliche “man hate alien” motif, we understand why. There is no good or bad side. Just basic paranoia. And for a B-movie to address those heavy themes while still being fun and enjoyable is a wonder to me. Don’t let this one gather dust on the shelf. Check out this underrated sci-fi classic for what its worth.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Frankenweenie

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The original classic

The original classic

Tim Burton is a very interesting name to discuss these days. Regardless on if you like or dislike his films, his style is certain different from anyone else. That Gothic twisted look to his films and the dark color palette presents an other worldly feel to his movies that appear like demented fairy tales. Surprisingly, his style didn’t start that way as being well-known. He worked as an animator for Disney and had highly mixed feelings about it. However, he was giving the opportunity to create some short films under his personal creative control. One of these shorts was a movie about a boy and his dog called Frankenweenie. This short gained some infamy with Disney studios for being too dark and Tim wasting their efforts financially. It was never released to US theaters but thankfully made its way to home video.

Victor’s mom puts the final touches on Sparky in one of the short’s many comedic touches.

Barret Oliver plays young Victor whose dog Sparky gets tragically killed in a car accident. After feeling low, he gets the inspiration to resurrect his dead dog through the power of electricity just like in the Frankenstein story. And much like in the story, the resurrected dog causes much trouble in the neighborhood leading people to think Victor made a monster. As one would guess, this was a straight-up parody and homage to the original Frankenstein movies and takes plenty of creative liberties.

Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern confront the neighbors about a monster on the loose

Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern confront the neighbors about a monster on the loose

Instead of setting it in a period piece setting, Burton cleverly sets it during a 1950s style that almost looks akin to the suburban town in Edward Scissorhands. At close to a half hour length, the story was simple and easy to follow. Despite being a tad dark at times, the short knew when to inject some humor in the right places like when milk leaks out of Sparky’s stitches. Another great scene is when the Frankenstein family invites the neighbors to see the resurrected Sparky. The dad, played by a surprisingly unrecognizable Daniel Stern, tries to joke around with the nervous patrons but only gets deep stares. There’s a lot of emotion riding here when Sparky has to prove he isn’t evil to the people and sure enough, we do get a happy ending. The moral is basic that something you love is never lost. I can connect highly to that seeing how big of a dog lover I am and understand Victor’s sadness. It’s certainly one of Tim’s best that shows how much a small story can impact you.

The remake

The remake

Now, let’s talk about the 2012 remake. First off, I’m glad to see Tim Burton was able to helm this one and make his own vision. I know the case “don’t fix what isn’t broken” is tossed around but this movie had potential. I loved the boy and dog aspect from the short and figured that is what would be the main focus. When I heard it would be in stop-motion animation, I was floored. I love stop-motion and how rare films are using it these days. Even when it was announced it would be in black and white, I was still intrigued. I thought maybe this could be that one movie that could help return Burton back to his roots like Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I know he didn’t direct but was a huge influence behind it). Then I saw the movie. Where do I begin?

I should off the bat that I don’t hate this new take. There are aspects of it I do admire. I’m glad they kept the boy and his dog angle. That was the main focus of the short. Scenes where Victor interacts with his resurrected dog are cute and the animation allows more to do like a funny running gag where some of Sparky’s parts fall off. The character designs are interesting too with some of the class mates resembling classic monsters or Frankenstein archetypes. There’s a kid how looks like Igor and another who feels modeled after Boris Karloff.

The "interesting" cast of Frankenweenie (2012)

The “interesting” cast of Frankenweenie (2012)

So the look of the movie is fine and the basic story is there. The stuff they add in tries to have some relevance to the plot. A new character named Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) is unique being the wise mentor while showing kids the dangers and thrills of experimenting in science class. He may look creepy but has a soul in a later scene when he explains to Victor how crafting from the heart is more important. The character is nice but the message they add in feels too syrupy even for Burton’s standards. I get the message is that creating something from your own self is more important but it comes off feeling weird. I thought the idea of the short was to show those you loss are never gone. I think that is a more stronger morale than something they try here.

The last half of Frankenweenie is a doozy to discuss. All the kids find out about Victor’s secret and try to make their own dead pets come to life. It makes for one heck of a climax but something doesn’t feel right. How did we go from a boy and the appreciate of his dog to this? I guess the finale when the creatures they make attack a fair is fun but it feels bloated and goes on for a bit too long. And while I know its a movie, I do question the disturbing nature of kids attempting to resurrect their dead pets. I know the short made a clear point about dealing with loss but this takes that idea into a different context that leads me feeling unsettled.

A boy and his undead dog

A boy and his undead dog

In fact, this subplot is what makes a good bulk of the movie feel unpleasant for me to watch.  I know Frankenweenie is trying to pass off as entertainment for all ages but it just leaves me wondering what kids will make of it. I’m sure they will like the idea of a boy bring his dead dog back to life that he loves so dearly. But the elements with the class bringing back their pets or making new monsters out of them leaves me feeling disturbed. I know family films tend to have a dark edge but feels way too much. Maybe its the animal lover in me being defensive but I can’t say this movie is all-out bad. But my thoughts overall are just really a mixed bag. There are some elements I do admire like the animation and the design. I just wish the heart of the story had more focus on what it wants to be. Not one of Burton’s worst but certainly not one of best. My recommendation is to stick with the 1984 live-action short. I feel its heart is in the right place there.