Monday, December 17, 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Philip Kaufman
Studios:  United Artists, Solofilm
Starring:  Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy
Tagline:  Get Some Sleep
MPAA Rating:  PG
Genre:  thriller, horror, drama, science-fiction, psychological thriller, alien invasion, aliens
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  A


Plot overview:  After an alien species lands in San Francisco, many strange flowers begin to rapidly sprout up across the city.  Soon after, coworkers from the Department of Public Health Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams) and Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) begin noting strange changes in the actions and attitudes of people around them.  Growing increasingly concerned that a serious health concern has fallen upon the people of San Francisco, they team up with friends Jack (Goldblum) and Nancy Bellicec (Cartwright) to combat the aliens taking the forms of the city's habitants.

I saw the 1956 original a few years ago, and I just realized I saw the 2007 remake in theaters, but tonight I felt like watching this remake.  After the fact, I must say I'm really pleased with my choice, as this selection was both enjoyable, pleasantly scary, and simply impressive.

The first thing I noticed was several familiar faces, from previous movies I've blogged about, namely with Art Hindle of 1979's The Brood in the role of Driscoll's partner Geoffrey and then of course Veronica Cartwright who played the memorable Cathy Brenner in Hitchcock's 1963 The Birds.  We're just starting to develop a little horror film family here, aren't we?

As major plusses for the movie, we have good acting and good special effects.  The rapid growth of alien flowers on plants in one of the first scenes looked both realistic and interesting.  Later on we contrast the beauty of a flower with the growth of the large pods, which will both disturb and gross out the audience as they pulsate and 'give birth' to alien clones.  Throughout the film we are also treated to images of bodies covered in sinews and veins, as well as some blood, which are sure to make viewers uneasy.  Fun stuff, especially since I've seen worst effects in movies that have been released more recently.

As is typical in most horrors, during the whole film we are forced to follow the plight of the small group of protagonists as it seems the world turns against them.  Luckily we are following a group of likable actors and characters, which not only makes the film more interesting, but it also allows us to establish an almost emotional bond with these people and their situation, thereby causing us to stress over the final outcome and root for human victory (for the most part) up through the movie's final seconds.  The beautiful Brooke Adams provides us with a fun and easily likable Elizabeth Driscoll, who is both smart and aware much sooner than the other protagonists concerning the alien invasion.  She is nicely complimented by Sutherland, who portrays Bennell both with humor and drama.  Smaller performances by Goldblum and Cartwright as man and wife add more dramatics and mystery, and the presence of Nimoy disconcerts us further as we debate who is good and who is bad.

What I probably liked most about the film is the psychological aspect.  From the get go we aren't even really sure who is human and who the aliens have already got to.  I must give a big shout out to the extras in this movie, who made it silently terrifying as their presence of San Fran citizens is both omnipresent and threatening.  Even when they are still normal they seem off, odd, and potentially dangerous.  The mere plot of this invasion is a very scary concept: "my boyfriend isn't himself; my wife isn't herself; it's my husband- but it's not."  We keep hearing this coming from panicked people, including our protagonists, throughout the movie, but it seems as though everyone else is ignoring them.  Could it be that the majority is already under alien influence?  We find ourselves questioning who is human and who isn't every time we see or meet a new character: the uncertainty of this silent terror is brilliant.  Furthermore, towards the end, we even begin to question if it is worth fighting an innumerable foe, or is it easier to just peacefully give in?  You must decide.

As the alien invasion becomes more complete, terror grows even stronger for our protagonists and suspense grows even higher for us viewers.   This movie is sure to keep us entertained until the last seconds, without many dull moments to complain about.  The mystery persists long enough that, although we piece bits and pieces together ourselves, we don't get major answers or gross, revealing images until far into the film.  With this tactic, the plot grows more complex, and victory seems just as possible as defeat.

Lastly, this film is enhanced by the eerie and suspenseful tunes of Danny Zeitlin.  Without remaining overly '70s, it adds suspense and drama to many scenes of the film, starting in the first scene.

Final critique:  There isn't much more I can think of to say about this film except that I really genuinely enjoyed it.  The terror is both subtle and outright, and the fear is both physical and psychological.  Good acting enhances a creative and always-questionably-possible plot that is sure to get audiences thinking, "what if?"  I recommend this remake for most crowds, though while only a PG film, there are several scenes that are sure to scare you, or at least disturb you a little bit *cue the high pitch noise the aliens make when alarming others*

Friday, December 14, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E9 - (2012)


"The Coat Hanger"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes, Sara Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto; ft. Ian McShane, Dylan McDermott
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, serial killer, aliens
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-


Plot overview:  Around present day, a troubled man named Johnny (McDermott) reveals to a therapist (Brooke Smith) that he has murderous impulses, which happen to run in the family.  Back in 1964, Lana (Paulson) learns that she is pregnant and uses this information to trick the restrained Dr. Thredson (Quinto) into confessing that he is Bloody Face.  Dr. Arden (Cromwell) begins to believe that extraterrestrials might be involved in Kit's (Peters) case, and he concocts a dangerous plan to have them show up again.   Sister Jude (Lange) has been admitted to Briarcliff as a patient, and must begin working on her redemption.  Lastly, Monsignor Howard (Fiennes) reaches out to help straighten the path of patient Leigh (McShane), but the baptism doesn't quite go as planned.

Lots to talk about.  First off, I found this episode to be pretty fulfilling.  I mean there was nothing new or bold about it, and in fact it had some of that old familiar American Horror Story: Season One feel to it, but I like that we were finally caught up in various subplots.  It wasn't really too scary, and I acknowledge that my scare score seems a bit high.  Nonetheless, I felt that the episode was fulfilling.

Not that it's a shocker to anybody, but ex-Sister Jude has joined the loonies and is now a patient in the very institution she once ran with an iron fist and wooden switch.  I didn't think I would like this turning of the tables, but now Lange can really show off how bada** she is and how much trouble she might now cause the administration that has turned against her.  Unfortunately, given our knowledge of this series, while it's nice to think she might beat the system and help Lana... chances are slim.  Especially since Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe) is, uh, Lucifer?

Lana came so far tonight.  Is it sad that in today's world, as soon as I heard that the name of the episode was "The Coat Hanger" I knew exactly what was going to happen?  Gross stuff; classic AMH playing with day to day horror along with aliens and the like.  Lana said it best when she called her unwanted pregnancy the biggest cosmic joke of all.  While we would like to think she is ultimately going to escape, both Thredson's disappearance from bondage and the fact that we see baby Johnny Thredson all grow up makes me think the absolute worst.

I'm still warming up to the whole aliens bit, and this episode certainly helped.  They're so mysterious!  Bravo Arden for wanting to embrace this theory and see why Kit is so interesting for this species from outer space.  The drugs and needles to the heart bit was reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, and I'm sure when the next episode picks up it will be another rush for time to see if Kit gets the drugs and pressure to the heart that he needs to be revived!

*SPOILER ALERT*

Two things I was a little iffy about.  First: Grace?  Like, you died lady.  And for what I think is less than a week, or certainly less than a month, that's a big belly!  *Aliens*  Looking forward to learning more about what this third kind will be like!  Second thing:  I'm happy Monsignor is getting killed off.  I wanted it the whole episode.  But the crucifixion was more than a little cliché.  Oh well, happy to see Frances Conroy show her face again and happy to see him go!  

Final critique:  Great midseason finale which simultaneously answered many questions and left us with more questions to be answered!  Our shot into present day Bloody Face seems to wind up several of the 1964 subplot, but who knows how the show will resolve itself.  Everyone will probably getting up abducted.  Biggest question now is if evil (Sister Mary Eunice) will be overcome by good.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Salem's Lot (1979)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Tobe Hooper
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Starring:  David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Reggie Nalder
Tagline:  The Ultimate in Terror!
MPAA Rating:  PG
Genre:  TV miniseries, vampire, haunted house
Scare score:  B
Rating:  B


Plot overview:  Upon returning to his hometown of Salem's Lot, Maine, author Ben Mears (Soul) begins noticing weird events plaguing the townspeople.  The occurrences seem to be centered around the old Marsten House - where Ben had a traumatic event as a child - and its new owners the mysterious Mr. Straker (Mason) and the talked-about-but-never-seen Mr. Barlow (Nalder).  As a strange sickness starts coming over more people - marked by strange bites on the neck - it comes down to Ben and the brave but young Mark Petrie (Kerwin) to fight off the evil lurking in the Marsten House.

This was a fun storyline for a creative and well-executed miniseries.  No surprise that it was enjoyable coming from the Stephen King novel of the same name (the protagonist is a writer from Maine... like duh).  '70s aside, it was enjoyable although not the most original plot (vampires invading small town America) - then again, that plot is overkilled throughout the '80s, so if this is the first time it was really done, please let me know.

The characters in this miniseries kept me really interested, and they added a sense of depth such that you might find in a novel.  At first I felt some reservations about Ben, but I grew to like him pretty quickly.  This isn't the only time we've seen a torn or troubled writer in a King novel/ adaptation, nor is it the first time we've seen the theme of a return (to a childhood home, memories, fears).  Mark - acted very well I thought by the young Lance Kerwin - was an interesting character as well, who due to his odd obsession with monsters and horror (!!!) may come off as strange, but ultimately it helps him fight the evil vampires invading Salem's Lot.  Lastly, I found Bonnie Bedelia's performance as love interest Susan Norton to be a breath of fresh air throughout the two-part production.

On the evil side, I think James Mason did just about as well as he could in the role of the creepy, nervous, and often quiet Mr. Straker.  I enjoyed the dynamic approach he employed of not only being evil, heartless, and dangerous, but also perhaps scared of his own partner/ master.  And then we have the face of evil himself: Mr. Barlow.  I really am happy with the Nosferatu approach they took on his makeup and actions.  The various vampires throughout the miniseries were pretty impressive to me, altogether avoiding the almost cheesiness we see in '80s vampires flicks.  The yellow eyes were honestly creepy for me to watch.  The pairing of vampire scenes with good, classic, and basic scary music was well done, resulting in a few frightening sequences.  Again, nothing we haven't seen in other movies, but still just nicely done.  I love the eerie, bald, pale, creepily-fanged vampires.  Enough with the romantic Eastern European guy.  This is scary stuff.  Great makeup; good scenes.

My complaint about Salem's Lot has to do with some awkward or hasty actions in the script/ acting.  First off, I don't understand how (or why) Ben and Susan start dating.  He seemed to be looking for somebody in the park, except they had never met, so I don't get why he stumbled upon her (but seemingly with purpose) in a park, struck up a conversation (about his book), and by the end of the day they are hooking up at ~the lake~.  Like what?  There are just some strange character interactions throughout which left me unconvinced about the final product.  I understand that this is an adaption of the book, which means that a lot of details, plot, and character development had to be left out or modified but still.

*SPOILER ALERT*

My biggest problem comes shortly before the end of the film.  After Ben and Mark successfully kill of the head honcho vampires, I understand that Ben wants to 'purge' the town and completely destroy the house of 'inherent' evil that has affected him since he was a kid.  Now I honestly don't know if I blinked for too long, or maybe I fell asleep for a minute, but as far as I'm concerned Ben broke into the house, saw how all the vampires were locked in that closet in the basement, but he never once saw Susan - am I right?  Then as soon as Barlow is dead he burns down the house and says to himself something like "Sorry, Susan, but it has to be done."  Yeah but like, did he even see her?  Did he even search the house for her?  I for one did not see Susan locked in the basement or turned into a vampire, so I don't know why he burned down the house with her in it.  As soon as the fire started I realized we were about to return to Guatemala and see Susan again, but in the moment I just do not see why he gave up on her so easily.  I hope I missed something, because otherwise that is a huge flaw.

Final critique:  This two part miniseries provides an interesting though somewhat typical vampire plot, and it is only hurt by the inability to develop its characters and plot as much as a novel can.  The acting keeps us locked to the screen pretty much the whole time, and we eagerly anticipate the fun scares and creepy thrills throughout.  Great makeup and good pairing with music results in a well executed thriller.  Recommended for all audiences - I mean heck, it's only PG.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deliverance (1972)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  John Boorman
Studios:  Warner Bros.
Starring:  Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Tagline:  What Did Happen on the Cahulawassee River?; This is the Weekend they Didn't Play Golf
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  drama, thriller, adventure, hillbillies
Scare score:  C+
Rating:  B


Plot overview:  Planning to embrace a rough, manly weekend on the white waters of the Cahulawassee River in the Georgia backwoods, city boys Ed (Voight), Lewis (Reynolds), Ned (Beatty), and Drew (Cox) and their two canoes head out for adventure.  Shortly after setting off, however, the men learn that neither the river nor its inbred and violent inhabitants are easy obstacles to overcome.  The men must soon fight to survive both nature and the locals while simultaneously questioning the defense tactics used for and against them.

This movie started out and I liked where it was headed.  Immediately I found myself wondering if this was one of the first major films that explored the American boondocks to team the basic concept of getting lost with the horrible idea of violent, inbred, and ill-mannered locals to terrorize modern, gentrified audiences.  In many ways I couldn't help but feel like it was a grown up, more scary and sexual version of Stand By Me.  Well shame on me for expecting any intense, fast-paced horror/action as this is a '70s film and ended up being much more of an adventure with a few thrills than a true horror.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy the film, but I did feel a bit underwhelmed after it ended.  I can enjoy a slow-paced movie, but I feel that this flick really would have been enhanced by some more action.

This movie is pretty well known for its music, or should we say the lack thereof.  In fact, about halfway through the movie I found myself awing at the lack of additional sounds besides the running water and animalistic wilderness.  I loved it.  Also, who doesn't love a little banjo every now at then?  Sound is usually what makes the scariest moments of a horror movie, well, scary.  I have to say that this film did a wonderful job of building up suspense and delivering a few thrills without unnecessary sounds and musical pieces.

This was a very masculine piece of work, stressing not only the varying levels of manliness among the four protagonists, but also the general sense of masculinity that defines, in my opinion, manifest destiny, rough explorations, camping, the outdoors, and America in general (specifically the less-tamed parts).  The River itself is treated as a powerful, merciless, and dynamic character throughout the movie.  Lewis especially has some great lines dealing with this topic, regarding "beating" the river or winning some great "game."  Thus, I think the violation scene in the woods is important because it strips one protagonist of the masculinity which seems so important.  Even though I thought it was really obvious which character would be the victim, and even though at least 3 of the 4 men were already viewed by the locals as emasculated since they are just city folk.

Speaking of, Reynolds did an interesting job as the bulky, brave, and macho Lewis.  The role might be a bit over the top but still important for his attempted connection with nature and role as guide for the group.  I liked the part when he thinks he hears something in the darkness, but upon returning to camp he simply does not know.  Deep.

I liked Voight as Ed, the more quiet and passive but still manly protagonist of the film.  I found this character more easy to relate to as he was usually an easygoing guy - until of course the whole life or death situation springs up and he must hunt humans.  The role is honestly very complex especially since we see most into his conscience during the film's events.  His passivity but ability to act in times of need, plus his hinted drinking bouts, troubles with concentration, and ultimately haunting guilt was all very interesting to me.

I did not like the character Drew and I'm not sure if it was more or less the fault of Ronny Cox.  Drew from the get go was very strange to me; an oddly feminine member of the group (not because of his musical skills, but simply because of Cox's delivery) with very poorly delivered lines.  In fact I found myself getting angry at the awkwardness of his lines.  I'm never a big fan of the character that can't keep his wits about him in a film, so that plus odd, unbelievable lines and a general chickening-out just made me not a big fan!

My other problem with the film comes from awkward script writing both in lines and the general reactions of the characters.  Obviously I've never had to fight my way through a wilderness/ canoe weekend gone wrong, but I didn't think the characters' reactions to sexual assault, murder, digging a shallow grave, burying three bodies, crashing their canoes, and enduring other injuries seemed natural.  There were also too many scenes in which the actors randomly yelled their lines or repeated (while yelling) what the other characters were saying even though no one was far enough away from anyone else to merit the volume or unnecessary repetition.  Okay, so that is just one scene, but I hated it.

Otherwise, I found an especially intense amount of suspense building up towards the film's end, when were are left torn between whether or not the men would be caught or let off.  It wasn't exactly exciting, but it kept me interested beyond the film's major action.  Another good theme I found myself looking for (obviously based off the film's religiously directed title) was religious imagery and symbolism regarding the characters and their deeds.  This added a great depth to the work.

Final critique:  Although this film is slow, it does see some pretty interesting action or at least suspense during its 110 minutes.  The characters are strong and worth following although the acting is not always there and perhaps the script should have been looked at again.  A modern remake that closely maintains the action of this film without adding too much unnecessary gore or drama - yes, I'm talking about a perfect balance of plot maintenance with only some tasteful action - would be really great to watch.  All in all, this film has a lot more than it appears to on its surface.  Imagine how far back this set the South's image!  Count me out of any boys' weekend in the backwoods of America's South or West.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E8 - (2012)

"Unholy Night"


GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Lily Rabe, Sara Paulson, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto; ft. Ian McShane
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, serial killer, holiday
Scare score:  B
Rating:  B+



Plot overview:  The featured inmate on this week's episode is a mentally disturbed former thief (McShane) who landed himself in Briarcliff after murdering several families while dressed up as Santa Claus several years earlier.  During Briarcliff's previously banned Christmas party, possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe) urges him to don a Santa costume once again and release his anger as he did years ago.  Sister Jude (Lange) becomes involved in a dangerous game of loyalty between Dr. Arden (Cromwell) and Sister Mary Eunice.  Lastly, Lana (Paulson) and Kit (Peters) figure out how to handle their knowledge about the true identity of Bloody Face.

It took me a while to realize I liked this episode.  I must say the Christmas stuff was almost overkill, but then I realized it was freaking me out and my normal reaction was to brush it off as nonsense.  Aside from a bangin Christmas music soundtrack, this episode had fun with the perversion of Christmas traditions: decorating the tree, hanging the star, giving gifts, and the Santa costume in general.  I specifically thought the flashback scene of when McShane first uses the costume and breaks into that one house was really disturbing.  Playing with Christmas, turning it psychological and dark, was uncomfortable and downright scary at times.  Classic American Horror Story, taking things we care about and making them potentially horrifying.  And while I don't agree with it, I really loved the line "There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus."  Ho ho ho, that was a good one.

Otherwise, what made me really like this episode (once I started putting the pieces together) was how deep it was, especially in the script, and how rich it was in symbolism.  Something about the Christmas theme certainly helped, as well as all the exploration into religion that went on - overall, this exploration of faith, the meaning of belief, and the presence of God and/or the devil clearly seems to be a major theme of the whole season.  In some weird way, between the alien abductions and talk of the Holocaust, there was something deep about this episode.

A problem I've been having so far with this season is the almost randomness and definite frustration involving each of the various subplots happening within Briarcliff.  We have the pact between Dr. Arden and the Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) that we don't entirely understand yet.  The dangerous and questionably romantic game between Dr. Arden and Sister Mary Eunice/ the devil inside her.  The internal and spiritual struggle of Sister Jude as well as her desire to help free Sister Mary Eunice.  Lana's experience with Bloody Face and general presence in Briarcliff.  Kit's innocence, search for Alma, feelings for Grace.  Kit and Lana's imprisonment of Dr. Thredson.  The mutants outside of Briarcliff.  The aliens abducting everybody.  The fact that we know Briarcliff gets shut down.  The fact that there's still a malicious spirit lurking in solitary confinement, as well as an equally malicious Bloody Face roaming Briarcliff in 2012.  Like need I go on?

It was a breath of fresh air after this episode to see Kit and Lana take some action, not that it resolves anything but at least Lana didn't fall back into Thredson's clutches.  I enjoyed Sister Jude's plight throughout the episode, and I enjoy that she is finally receiving this big calling from above.  There was some poetic justice in the abuse suffered at the hands of "Santa Claus" as well as her own switch.  Maybe this baptism by blood will only help her on her mission.

Final critique:  I understand that this is a TV show and the writers need to make it last a few more episodes.  Still- I'm getting restless and I need answers.  The plot has been pretty interesting, so what is left in the season had better be satisfying.  The terror in this episode wasn't the jumpy, screaming type, but more so a deeper, darker, psychological horror you had to think about and then accept.  The perversion of Christmas, the murder and abuse of innocents, the victory of evil over good: these are the situations we were shown today under the tunes of pleasant Christmas music.  Good acting all around, specifically for the characters who were allowed to explore a little bit outside of their standard selves.  Not a fan of that little girl's "Massachusetts" accent in the beginning... like literally, start setting movies and shows in nondescript places with simple accents.  Sorry that I get hung up on these things.  Looking forward to next week.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E7 - (2012)

"Dark Cousin"


GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Sara Paulson, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe; ft. Lizzie Brocheré, Frances Conroy
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, serial killer, supernatural
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-



Plot overview:  In this installment, various characters are visited by the Angel of Death (Conroy) who gives them the difficult choice of whether or not they are ready to die.  The possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe) demonstrates more of her dark power, and she hints that she still has a lot of work to accomplish at Briarcliff.  Sister Jude (Lange) continues struggling with the skeletons in her closet, but we learn that some of these were never actually skeletons to begin with.  Lana (Paulson) valiantly attempts to escape from Bloody Face, and Kit (Peters) tries to rescue Grace (Brocheré) from her dark fate at Briarcliff.

This was certainly an action-packed episode, and while I ultimately enjoyed it it made me angry for a few reasons.  I will get to those towards the end.

I think the action in this episode was great.  It was a powerful episode that demanded a lot from various characters experiencing different extremes of pain, sadness, and momentary happiness or release.  That being said, good acting made the episode enjoyable even beyond the gripping action that kept us on the edge of our seats throughout (actually I was standing up ironing the whole time).

About all that action.  I understand that American Horror Story is not a 'happy' series by any means (neither for the 'good' nor 'bad' guys).  While characters in Season 1 may have ultimately found peace, it certainly wasn't what I would consider a happy ending.  What I'm trying to say is at no point during this exciting episode did I ever expect any character to escape from their predicament, blow open Briarcliff's dark secrets, and live happily ever after.  Still, this episode came very cross to crossing a dangerous line about what was actually important for the plot and what was happening just for the sake of happening.  At least I feel this way.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Specifically, I love that we recently learned Bloody Face's true identity and that Lana found herself the prisoner of his sick mental dilemma.  I think her imprisonment in the cellar was chilling and exciting EVEN THOUGH one of my Cardinal Rules is broken in this episode (although it was handled well and Quinto as an actor is professional and easy to respect, so I found the violation was more poetic for a criminally insane psychopath more than perverted garnish) AND even though she was stuck in one spot - which, as we've learned from shows like The Walking Dead on AMC, can never last too long without being frustrating and stupid.  Whoops.  Back to my point: Lana's time in Bloody Face's cellar was impermanent and ephemeral from the beginning.  Still, the fact that this episode saw her escape, really have a chance at freedom, shortly thereafter witness more violence and anger of the male sex, and then wind up probably in worse condition than before in good ole Briarcliff - well it happened so suddenly and resulted in massive frustration.  Same with Kit, who only manages to escape for a short time before getting cornered again.  I enjoyed the fast-paced action of this episode, but I didn't enjoy that we're back where we started.  This week's episode will be really important in determining what's in store for our characters who almost escaped.

Also, did I miss how "Raspers" managed to randomly escape from his/ her/ its spot in the woods and enter the asylum?  At least we finally get to see what was lurking behind those trees the whole time.  I'm assuming we'll finally learn more about its identity/ purpose/ Dr. Arden's and Sister Mary Eunice's bigger plans in this week's episode.  At least I hope.

Does anyone else think Lily Rabe is doing an awesome job this season?  Sister Mary Eunice must be such a fun character to portray, and I think Rabe does the 'no nonsense, tacitly evil' possessed part even better than the sweet and repentant nun bit.  She is entertaining and interesting.  I am waiting for more of her mystery and 'mission' to be revealed.

This episode was also very important for Lange.  I think we see how important Sister Jude is now, even so far as having a mission from God to right the wrongs of Briarcliff... or something.  Her character should certainly gain more faith and strength now that a massive guilt has been lifted from her.  Her immediate fate, however, does not seem so certain as this episode ends with the waitresses at the diner discussing calling Briarcliff to take her in, if only for the night.  Well we know Briarcliff by now and we know things don't work out so nicely 'overnight.'  If Sister Jude gets admitted to Briarcliff I will probably go crazy myself.  Maybe I'm dumb, but I have so much faith for this season, even though we know American Horror Story isn't your typical Hollywood product with a happy ending.

Final critique:  While action-packed, this episode found several characters - as well as the viewer - winding back up at the beginning of a long and treacherous circle.  So many questions are left to be answered now, especially since we were in the middle of an intense scene when the episode ended.  At this point, I am hoping for more answers and less mysteries - but knowing this series that might not happen soon!

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Review

For your consideration:

1.  El espinazo del diablo/ The Devil's Backbone (2001): A
2.  The People Under the Stairs (1991): B+
3.  The Brood (1979): B
4.  The Devil Inside (2012): D
5.  Halloween II (2009): F

El espinazo del diablo (2001)

"The Devil's Backbone" (Horror Buff is putting his Bachelor's degree in Spanish to good use!!)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Guillermo del Toro
Studios:  Canal+ España, Good Machine
Starring:  Fernando Tielve, Federico Luppi, Marisa Paredes
Tagline:  ¿Qué es un fantasma? (What is a ghost?)
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  foreign film, Spanish language, mystery, drama, horror, ghost, haunting, orphanage
Scare score:  B
Rating:  A





Plot overview:  In 1939 Spain, the Civil War that has ravished every aspect of life and society for Spaniards across the nation is finally coming to a close as the Nationalist troops have Republican troops on the run.  In the midst of the war, an isolated orphanage for young boys of leftist parents is trying not to draw any unwanted attention from the outside while dealing with its own secrets.  Our story begins as young Carlos (Tielve) arrives at the orphanage, still unaware that his Republican father has died.  He starts off on the wrong foot with older orphan and bully Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) but befriends boys Gálvez (Adrián Lamana) and Búho (Javier Bódalo).  The orphanage is run by the dedicated Dr. Casares (Luppi) and the amputee Carmen (Paredes), and it is maintained by former orphan Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega).  In the middle of the courtyard, serving as a constant reminder of the war outside, is a supposedly disarmed bomb that was dropped by Nationalist forces but never exploded.  Shortly after his arrival, Carlos begins to see the image of a young boy and hear an eerie warning voice which the boys refer to as "el susurro" or "the whisper."  Both real and supernatural danger ensue as the war outside finally blows open the dark secrets of the orphanage.

I loved this film.  Watching it one time wasn't enough, especially because I couldn't find any versions online with subtitles, so while I was able to enjoy the beautifully written original Spanish script, I am sure I missed out on a few of the smaller details.  The Spanish Civil War is a fascinating subject that I always enjoy learning more about; perhaps even more fascinating is the abundant collection of art, literature, and film that have come out since those three dark years - a vast and varied collection of creative media rich in poetic language, symbolism, and raw emotion.  El espinazo del diablo is no exception.  Fans of Pan's Labyrinth will certainly see similarities between del Toro's two works, and although the characters in this film serve as archetypes of the Spanish Civil War, they develop and retain an astounding amount of endearing uniqueness and personality.

Leading us through the bulk of the film is the talented and easily likable Fernando Tielve.  His portrayal of Carlos - the innocent child yet orphan and victim of the war, as many child protagonists are in resulting Civil War literature - is acceptable as though we were watching a dramatic (and supernatural) yet true tale of a young boy.  I think it's easy to see that Carlos is representative of Spain's future: orphaned, young, damaged though still innocent in many ways and with many tough times to come.  Though perhaps braver than your typical 12-year-old might be, Carlos ultimately serves as a positive protagonist who leads us through the plot's ordeals through a child's point of view.

I also enjoyed the performances of the other orphan boys.  It was enjoyable watching tiny, individual coming-of-age stories (in a way), whether it was hearing them share ghost stories, laughing at their excessive and "typically Spanish" cursing habits, or warmheartedly listening to them discuss the unfamiliar topic of women, these young actors did a great job.

Dr. Casares and Carmen were both likable adults (from Carlos' young point of view) as well as rich archetypes for the Spanish Civil War.  While productive and hard-working, they are each wounded and handicapped in their own way: the Doctor is impotent and Carmen has lost both her legs and must move around on prosthetics.  Although the attraction between them is clear, neither of them ever admit in words their true feelings.  Both of them are [formerly involved] leftist sympathizers, and the Doctor's strict belief in science and almost Enlightenment era, rational explanations is a standard concept of the Republicans of the time, whereas Nationalists were typically strict Catholics.  Still, faith (in a sense of the word) as well as supernatural occurrences protect the protagonists in this film, showing us perhaps a deeper and different message than what we gather from our Republican protagonists.  Faith protects the orphanage as they are disguised as a Catholic institution due to varied Nativity and Calvary decor.  Faith protects Carlos as he learns to overcome his fear and learn if the ghost is trying to help.  Even the strictly scientific Doctor will ultimately learn a personal lesson about the supernatural.  Back to the Doctor's impotence - while he may try to pass on his Republican beliefs, at the end of the day he is a childless father trying to teach fatherless children.  This might represent how the Second Republic was doomed even before the war had ended.

On the other hand we have the violent and repressive Jacinto.  While this young man comes from the same start as these other boys, he represents the other side of the ordeal (and therefore the 'brother against brother' motif of this Civil War): brute force, aggression, and selfishness that we can understand as being the Nationalist side of the war.  While both sides committed no small amount of atrocities, Franco's Nationalist troops were often merciless in their fighting, bomb-dropping, and especially punishment.  Jacinto therefore comes to stand for the young and strong modern generation that goes against the efforts of its elders.

Alrighty, enough about politics.  This was a beautifully done, even personal film, so I can understand del Toro's dedication to it.  I really enjoyed the balance between real danger and supernatural danger.  I thought the ghost was dealt with beautifully.  I love real hauntings - okay, so sure, our protagonist is a new and frightened child who's dealing with sudden abandonment by his caretakers and a la Pan's Labyrinth we might have to fight to distinguish between fantasy and reality - especially because it gives the ghost so much more purpose.  Carlos' nighttime adventures were intriguing and frightening.  I loved the ghost scenes because they did make me a little uncomfortable, playing with shadows and the classic eye-through-a-keyhole.  I thought the special effects for our young ghost were well-executed and also touching; there was something sad about the blood-in-water bit he had going on.

Final critique: Beyond the scary scenes, this film is truly more of a drama-mystery with gothic horror elements.  The script was really excellent and even poetic from what the narrator had to say and even what the characters had to say to each other.  I wonder if the English translation does justice to the original Spanish - I will have to look into buying this little gem.  Also, it is simultaneously the tale of a country torn apart and of a young boy left alone to deal with his own fears and present reality.  I thought this film dealt with the concept of ghosts beautifully, and it was set very nicely against the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War.  I recommend this film to any viewers, although those who scare easily will certainly be uncomfortable in several scenes throughout the movie.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Brood (1979)

Delivers in the end.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  David Cronenberg
Studios:  Canadian Film Development Corporation
Starring:  Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Cindy Hinds
Tagline:  They're Waiting... For You!
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, sci-fi, psychological thriller, children
Scare score:  B
Rating:  B


Plot overview:  Frank Carveth (Hindle) and his wife Nola (Eggar) deal with a custody battle for their five-year-old daughter Candice (Hinds) while Nola undergoes radical and intensive therapy - called psychoplasmics - under the care of Dr. Hal Raglan (Reed).  As Frank begins to question the legitimacy and safety of psychoplasmics, a series of strange attacks begin on his in-laws and friends at the hands of small, mutant-like children.  For Candice's sake, Frank and Dr. Raglan must search for answers by digging further into Nola's therapy and condition.

I must say that it took me a while to get into this movie.  It certainly starts rather slowly, making me angrier at the potentially evil characters and creeped out by the general silence and slow movement, as well as the reserved nature of Candy.  Creepy, blonde children will always have a place in the horror enterprise.

The acting was not the most attention-grabbing aspect of the film, but I did enjoy several performances. I thought Miss Hinds did very well for a young child in a demanding role.  I was never bored with Candy even though the only emotions she really goes through in the film are quiet, sleepy, scared, or terrified.  Although Hindle retains this cool, collected, masculine attitude throughout the majority of the film, I didn't think he performed poorly.  He did feel distant, but not completely disconnected.  Maybe a little too calm considering what was happening to him and his family.  I really hated Dr. Raglan's character throughout.  Reed's manner of speaking was so irritating, and while I heard him annunciating and salivating, I had to crank up my volume all the way to actually understand his lines.  Still, I think he did a good job.  Lastly, I enjoyed the creepy, built up anger on behalf of Miss Eggar.  She portrays the troubled Nola very well.

*SPOILER ALERT*

As I mentioned before, I really thought this movie began too slowly.  Then again, these days we are accustomed to the constant jumps and screams that modern horrors throw at us.  Any who, I thought the whole bit in the kitchen was one of the scariest scenes I've seen in recent memory.  Primarily because I was so confused at who was breaking into the house, and then I had so many theories running through my head.  Once we see that creepy little face, I felt so much better about where the movie was headed.  The disturbing, violent, and disturbingly violent psychosomatic children were such a great idea.  I loved their face make up, and now I'm expecting to picture that face lurking in the dark corners of my apartment.  When Frank confronts Nola towards the end, I was pleasantly surprised at how gruesome her revelation to him is.  I was laughing so hard but with pleasure when we see what she's unconsciously (?) been up to and how the whole plot ties together.  The birth scene was really clever, and I think it was so awesome that she begins to lick the bloody creature all over.  So funny.  All I could do was picture my queasy and easily scared friends and how they might react to that scene.  Loved it.

I also appreciated the whole idea about psychosomatic products from the bizarre therapy.  It was a cool idea that toyed with the popularity of psychology in the '70s, or so I imagine.  Furthermore, the idea of an asexual, external birth for humans was equally disturbing and intriguing.  Some lizards do it - why can't we?  Am I right?  Gross.  Either way, I appreciated what the creative team was able to do with psychology without the need to shove it down our throats, as psychological thrillers often beat the dead horse with these explanations.

Final critique:  There's not much more I can think of to say except that I was pleasantly surprised.  I think they're making a sequel, which I feel like they're going to ruin, but heck I'll see it anyway.  This is a pretty relaxed movie and the scenes that will get you uptight and nervous come toward the end.  Recommended for all viewers, but those who scare easily might walk off with some nightmares - and maybe even a fear of little blond children.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Wes Craven
Studios:  Alive Films, Universal Pictures
Starring:  Brandon Adams, Wendy Robie, Everett McGill, A.J. Langer
Tagline:  In every neighborhood there is that one house that adults whisper about and that children cross the street to avoid.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, mystery
Scare score:  B
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  After learning that he and his family have been evicted from their home in the ghetto, young Poindexter "Fool" Williams (Adams) sets out to rob the large house of his eccentric landlords who only refer to themselves as Mommy (Robie) and Daddy (McGill).  After successfully breaking into the heavily fortified house, Fool realizes that the landlords seem to be more preoccupied with keeping someone - or something - locked in the house.  With the help of the couple's imperiled daughter Alice (Langer), Fool must expose the secret that lurks in the walls and under the stairs of the couple's house.

All day I have been in the mood for a good, old fashioned '80s-style horror.  You know the kind I'm talking about, that mixes real terror with real humor, and sometimes we're not sure whether we should laugh or scream.  In fact, the only thing better than an over-the-top '80s horror is probably a '90s teen slasher.

The People Under the Stairs answered my prayers.  The first thing that really stands out about this movie is the script - these writers must have had so much fun balancing the mystery and terror with a pleasant splash of off-color racial and social commentary.  If I ever had to pick favorite quotes from horror movies (*lightbulb flicks on*), this movie would have at least 5, hands down.  This is one of the reasons we find ourselves coming back to '80s (okay, so this is 1991... same difference) horror, no matter how terrible the makeup or how implausible the deaths: the bigger conflict in this film, aside from all the, uh, mutant-like little boys living in the cellar, is the basic struggle between the ghetto and the burbs (another film I find myself craving to watch after this one) - a tale as old as time.  Or the Industrial Revolution.  Either way, audiences are sure to chuckle throughout this film as one-liners are delivered in perfect doses just before we get our fills of thrills and scares.

The acting keeps us thoroughly entertained throughout, as well.  Many props go to young Adams in the charming role of Fool, a young boy struggling to balance his life and follow the right path.  Obviously with a kid protagonist we should never be scared that he is going to die, so from the get-go we're looking at a relatively happy movie.  The boy's point of view adds a lot of humor to the messed-up adult world he finds himself trapped in, so that along with his one-liners really make for an enjoyable character.  On the other hand, with our crazy and questionably incestuous villains, we are introduced to two characters we love to hate.  Robie is perfect in her role as the strict, unstable, and psychotic Mommy.  I like how uptight she is, and especially how crazed she gets with those bugging eyes during action scenes.  She is wonderfully complimented by the imposing yet apparently submissive Daddy, who McGill portrays as both scary and funny, even in a slapstick manner.  What gets me most about Daddy is his almost singsong way of yelling "I'm going to get you!" etc through the walls.  Creepy stuff.

The set of the big, old house along with its nooks and crannies is pretty neat.  I honestly didn't understand how there seemed to be a second half of the house that was almost closed off, used specifically for Daddy's hunting of Roach (Sean Whalen).  And I know this next criticism is stupid, but it has always irked me that the first entrance Fool finds to get behind the walls is all by itself at this random dead end in a hallway - architecturally it's just such a random space that doesn't make any sense except to serve for providing a neat hiding spot/ escape to be filmed in a movie with the vantage point of the entire hallway in the background.  Either way, the set provides for a fun adventure filled with many chase scenes and narrow escapes.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I enjoy the plot of this movie, more or less.  It's far-fetched, but hey, this is horror.  Apparently Wes Craven read that parents somewhere had locked their kids in the house for long periods of time, and we've heard equally crazy and bizarre stories coming from Austria only a few years ago.  Basically we have a fun mix here of a crazy family, kidnapping, abuse, murder, hidden treasure, and class struggles.  What's there not to love?  The 'people under the stairs,' a group of boys who failed to be perfect children to Mommy and Daddy, are pretty creepy although at the end of the day their makeup is too '80s (think corny) to truly frighten veteran horror moviegoers.  That bit when Roach shows his tongue grosses me out every time, though.

Admittedly, the ending of the film is pretty silly, to say the least.  We go out high on '80s music watching a crowd of evicted, former residents of the ghetto dancing around as it literally rains money - don't forget the abused and mutilated kidnapping victims are escaping through them while they're distracted.  Literally what do these kids think is going to happen to them out in the real world?  Like sorry to say it, but good luck; you're gonna' need it.

Final critique:  I recommend this film to anybody looking to have a good time while also exploring the silent terrors of suburbia.  You really shouldn't be scared by this movie, but that's not to say it doesn't have it's moments.  It's generally a creepy comedy - but even while laughing we find ourselves apprehensive as to what will happen next.  With insane, relentless villains and a young black protagonist with an attitude, this is a little horror gem that came two years too late for the decade in which it truly belongs.

Friday, November 23, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E6 - (2012)

"The Origins of Monstrosity"


GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Sara Paulson, Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe; ft. Joseph Fiennes
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, serial killer, possession
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A


Plot overview:  Now kidnapped by Bloody Face, Lana (Paulson) learns about the motives behind the serial killer's rampage and psychosis.  A small girl (Nikki Hanh) arrives at Briarcliff albeit briefly, and she is inspired by the quirky Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe), claiming to be the devil, to act on her evil instincts.  Sister Mary Eunice further eavesdrops into Sister Jude's (Lange) business even after she is informed of her official transfer from the Monsignor (Fiennes) and confronts Dr. Arden (Cromwell) about his real identity.  The dangerous relationship behind the Monsignor's desires for progress and Dr. Arden's experiments is further revealed.  

Another great episode with a lot more uncomfortable, satisfying terror.  I was really pleased with the acting all around, even with the young Miss Hanh, who I was expecting to dislike since I am usually critical of child actors.  I am starting to dislike the Monsignor more and more, but Fiennes is doing a pretty commendable job acting as a pious man with a guilty conscience.  Also, the whole bit of the "possessed Sister Mary Eunice" needs to become something bigger than a quirky and evil nun - and soon.  She can't keep getting away with all the bad things she does without anyone being suspicious.  It's just getting weird and repetitive.  

A bravo and a brava are in order for Quinto and Paulson, respectively.  I am not the biggest fan of Quinto, and some of his sassy attitude in this episode was reminiscent of last season's Chad - but this episode gave him more freedom as an actor to explore the fun and also challenging realms of psychosis.  I think it's easy to say he channeled quite a bit of Psycho's Norman Bates, informing Lana in a rather gruesome, incestuous way that "a mother is a boy's best friend."  I'm still feeling good about Paulson given her situation, and maybe we'll even see a happy ending here.  Although that is rather unlikely.  

Final critique:  At this point, the ball is really rolling in the season and the episodes are more satisfying than mysterious.  There is still a lot to find out, a lot of problems to resolve, and even more danger to come.  I, for one, am very excited.  

American Horror Story, S2, E5 - (2012)

"I Am Anne Frank (Part 2)"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Sara Paulson, Zachary Quinto; ft. Franka Potente
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, alien abduction, mutants, serial killer
Scare score:  C+
Rating:  A-


Plot overview:  Following her instinct as well as the claims made by the woman claiming to be Anne Frank (Potente), Sister Jude (Lange) goes to a Nazi hunter and asks him to pursue the case of Dr. Arden (Cromwell).  To her dismay, that same week, Frank's husband shows up at Briarcliff demanding that his troubled wife, in reality named Charlotte Brown, come home to be reunited with their baby.  After her release, Arden threatens Sister Jude that he will finally have her dismissed from Briarcliff due to her poor management, and Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) plots with him so that they may run Briarcliff together and thereby continue with his bizarre experiments.  Meanwhile, Dr. Thredson (Quinto) finally helps the innocent Lana (Paulson) escape, but she is not free from her plight yet.

First off, I want you to know that I haven't died (or been murder, abducted, or anything exciting like that).  I apologize for neglecting The Horror Blog for such a long time, but things have been crazy lately with early bedtimes and lots of traveling.  I hope that this weekend will be more filled with horror.

Back to the important stuff.  This was a great episode, and I'm excited to be so far behind, because immediately following this post I get to watch the next episode and continue with the excitement!  Finally, 5 episodes into the season we have been thrown a bloody bone from the writers and several mysteries have been solved... or at least expounded upon.  The mysteries I refer to are namely the experiment with mutants, the alien abductions, and the identity of Bloody Face.

I think Potente did a pretty tremendous job this week as Anne Frank/ Charlotte Brown (like Charlie Brown?).  All of the home video-ish sequences of Charlotte and her husband (David Chisum) were simultaneously eerie as well as reminiscent of the now retro time period in which the show takes place. In many ways her mystery and identity are not fully resolved, and the end of the episode hints that Arden may still be as sinister (or more so) than we are expecting.  I'm really starting to hate that guy.

This was also a big episode for Lange although in a very different way, as we see her once again on the outside instead of as the pious Sister Jude.  I'm not quite sure why she suddenly decides to leave Briarcliff, assuming that she will indeed lose her job; I'm not a monsignor and I don't know how bureaucracy works in insane asylums, but I really think she still had a chance as Briarcliff's director.  Old habits die hard, I suppose.  The actress was nicely featured, specifically with attention grabbing camera angles and shots, as well as a rather nice monologue that was only slightly tarnished by the fact that she was talking about a dead baby squirrel.

The strange mutants made by Arden's experiments are real!  At least Shelley (Chloë Sevigny) has become like Raspers, and much to my delight she was dumped next to a school playground.  Tell me there has rarely been anything funnier in American Horror Story than a schoolyard full of screaming children.  That scene was awesome, and to the show's credit, so was her make up.

*SPOILER ALERT*

When I say 'bloody,' you say 'face' - Bloody Face!  Bloody Face!  I think something along those lines is the cheer we're hearing all across the air these past two weeks with the true identity of our terrifyingly gruesome serial killer finally being revealed.  Woozy and lustful fans of Kit (Peters) rejoice in his innocence (and the fact that Briarcliff didn't have him sterilized) and other fans that was as suspicious of Quinto as Horror Buff has been are patting themselves on the back.  The good doctor - turned serial killer.  These past few episodes, Thredson has been creepy to say the least, so it only makes sense that Quinto's change of character was leading up to something big.  Since the Doctor's introduction this season he was either going to kill or be killed, so the surprise isn't really too great, although I admit I still was somehow wishing that Lana would escape.  Thredson's home decor was so eerie, and I like the fact that some of these ideas are taken from real-life murderers like Gein.  The worst part is when he wants to continue with Lana's therapy- bring on the horror!

You know by now I'm skeptic of alien abduction plots.  This episode, however, really started warming me up to the idea of what has been going on.  I like that we see Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) back aboard the ship, along with the surprise presence of Alma (Britne Oldford) who seems to have been eating too much during her abduction - just kidding she's pregnant!  Omg never saw that coming!  Just kidding again.  Grace's brief and bright abduction sequence was vaguely reminiscent of this summer's Prometheus as far as uncomfortable cutting and operation tables go.  I saw this bit as a sign of hope yet for Alma, Grace, and Kit.

Final critique:  This was a good, nicely paced episode that introduced us to some different and playful camera angles and the old side of Sister Jude; it also gave us much-wanted answers, which will help push the plot along and keep viewers coming back for more.  I am pleased with how the Anne Frank bit was resolved (or not), as well as with how Arden's identity is left open.  Really good acting, good script writing, and good, juicy content this week.  Looking forward to more, coming at you right now!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Devil Inside (2012)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  William Brent Bell
Studios:  Insurge Pictures, Prototype
Starring:  Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley
Tagline:  No Soul Is Safe
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  thriller, possession, found footage, documentary, religious occult
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  D


Plot overview:  Isabella Rossi (Andrade) has decided to find out the circumstances surrounding what led to the death of three clergy members twenty years earlier during an exorcism that was being performed on her mother, Maria (Crowley).  Enlisting the help of cameraman Michael (Ionut Grama), Isabella begins to make a documentary about exorcisms, which she explains have virtually controlled her life since her mother was taken to a hospital in Rome and her father died only three days after revealing to her that her mother had been involved in an attempted exorcism.  In Rome, Isabella is reunited with her distant and oddly behaving mother as well as two priests, Ben (Quarterman) and David (Helmuth) who have been performing exorcisms without the Church's approval in order to help the possessed victims.  Together, the group of four will work to try and help cure Isabella's mother.

I wasn't crazy about this movie.  It was more boring than exciting throughout the majority of it, filled with easily foreseen scares and stock ideas from standard exorcism plots.  Actually I guess I'm not crazy about most exorcism movies because there is only so much you can do, or perhaps I'm better off saying there's only so much we've seen done.  This movie barely moves away from the dozens of exorcisms-seem-to-have-gone-right-but-actually-went-wrong storyline we've seen in the past.

The acting isn't great in this film.  I couldn't get interested in Isabella's situation because she seemed like a distant and prude character who was trying too hard to be Mila Kunis.  Whenever she or Ionut Grama as Michael had confessionals I felt like I was watching freshman projects for Acting 101.  Our two priests on the other hand were more dynamic, although all four of these central characters barely showed any skills outside of basic acting emotions; their roles seemed highly constrained.  I think Suzan Crowley deserves a lot of credit - I can't say what was her and what was special effects, but the lady's looks are enough to give you chills.

All of the commentary on the Church in this film seemed confusing, confused, and purposeless.  I think writers tried harder to make any conspiring, critical sort of commentary than to clearly develop one problem and stick with it.  Every time a character asked about the Church and its policies on exorcisms, one of the various priests in the film would respond with a grunt, something along the lines of "The Church doesn't want to help," and then an angst-y dismissal of the question.  Uh, alright?  The result is a shallow reason as to why two devout men of the Church are performing illegal exorcisms, which forces us to raise an eyebrow as to whether or not they are endangering people.

The exorcism scenes were interesting enough that I found myself tensing up a bit.  The various camera angles had us paying closer attention to what might possibly happen next.  Other than several entertaining bits, however, I found myself watching a stereotypical and non-innovative exorcism such as I might in any other movie.  We can only watch a young girl with a demonic, deep voice insult a priest with sexual remarks so many times.  I did enjoy the more complex theory (developed by Father Ben) regarding Maria's possession; thankfully that provided some action and originality.

I'm still trying to decide whether the plot was week or just boring; I think it's a combination of both.  Isabella is hard to relate to, Michael is perfectly correct to assume everyone thinks he's the annoying guy with a camera (because that's precisely what he is), and the two priests are all over the place.  There was an idea behind this film, but ultimately that idea seems to be "How can we make the most profit on a cheap budget?"  The mockumentary/ found footage business will hands down automatically open up your film to a lot of criticism.  Once you pair that with a relatively short and relatively uneventful plot, you have a problem.  Forget about the ending that everyone seems to hate, I was so detached from the film by the time that we finally arrived there that, while surprised at the abruptness of it all, I can't say I was surprised to not have any of my questions answered.  I guess I am most disappointed because they did a really great job marketing this baby.  I remember before it came out that it looked really good in trailers and commercials.  Tricky ad campaigns.

Final critique:  We've seen this before.  The Devil Inside is a poorly done rehash of any given exorcism movie meets any given found footage film.  Expect to feel a little queasy by the end, not only because of the woozy camera movement, but - to the movie's credit - some gore and blood (specific types of blood considered) as well.  If you're in the mood for a slow-paced film with a few good thrills, certainly watch this movie, but don't go in with huge expectations.  Otherwise, very few parts are scary or uncomfortable for audiences that scare easily.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E4 - (2012)

"I Am Anne Frank (Part 1)"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto; ft. Lizzie Brocheré, Franka Potente
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, psychological thriller, insane asylum
Scare score:  D
Rating:  B


Plot overview:  A new patient claiming to be Anne Frank (Potente) arrives at Briarcliff.  Upon seeing Dr. Arden (Cromwell), Frank claims that he is an escaped Nazi war criminal named Dr. Hans Grüper who committed unspeakable and secretive medical acts at Auschwitz.  Aside from this accusation - which Sister Jude (Lange) begins to believe - there are detectives investigating Arden regarding his treatment of a 'woman of the night' (from a previous episode) and the peculiar things she saw in his house.  The relationship that has been growing between Kit (Peters) and Grace (Brocheré) is tested as Kit questions his own innocence and we learn why Grace is in Briarcliff.  While Dr. Thredson (Quinto) and Lana (Paulson) try and fail with therapy to "cure" the latter, we learn just how far the former is willing to go to help Lana.

This episode was certainly more slowly paced than the previous, exchanging jumps and scares for explanation and suspense.  I'll try and make this short, because I don't have much to say aside from my feelings about the several plots this episode focused on.

Dr. Thredson's therapy with Lana - both the methods and the fact that Thredson is even making her go through it instead of lying - was really strange and made me uncomfortable.  By uncomfortable I mean that I feel really suspicious about the good Doctor and his intentions with Lana.  Quinto seemed different in this episode; I think the difference in character was obvious, and for that I'm also thinking it was done on purpose.  I can't tell if the writers are using this subplot to explore systematic, psychological horror - perhaps the fear we find from the power and influence of established social systems (as Lana talks about psychological and professional guidelines in the moment; the fact that being a lesbian was seen as an illness or crime) - or if it is also serving as some layered message since advocate Quinto is the character dealing with Lana's situation.  Either way I found that these scenes mainly resulted in uncomfortable and bizarre segments.

I really liked Sister Jude in this episode.  We saw so much more clearly where her heart is, and even though she clearly has issues with power and [self] control, I think that she is still a good character (more so than truly bad).  I was never the biggest Lange fan, but this season with each new episode I find myself joining that crowd.  She has been a tremendous actress so far.

On a similar note, I keep realizing how much more I like Evan Peters this season than I did last season. Obviously his character is different which changes things (never was the biggest fan of mentally troubled kids turned school shooters turned meddling ghosts).  It was fun in this episode exploring his guilt and his mind: how the mind deals with stressors, how the mind covers its tracks in cases of reality it can't accept, etc.  Again, the interactions between Kit and Thredson made me uncomfortable, mainly due to the Doctor's determination on fixing his case and dealing with the moral question in his situation.

I guess I have to bring up the whole, uh, Anne Frank thing at some point?  Aside from even questioning whether or not Anne Frank is a personality that can be brought to life in a given TV show, I think the general concept of suddenly introducing any historical figure into a TV show (not for comic reasons), and thereby changing accepted history, is a risky move.  Potente does an alright job, but there are a lot of questions.  Is she lying?  After all, she is an unidentified woman that ended up in a mental institution.  There were a lot of smaller questions having to do with the story of her past, why she stayed silent, why she didn't try to contact her family, etc.  Unfortunately I think the idea ended up more than a bit cheesy.  I understand the writers are wanting to pursue this bit about Arden as a Nazi (pssst- anyone else think he aged too much between the youthful actor in Anne's flashbacks versus Cromwell in the present?  It's only a 20 year difference, mind you), but the plot felt forced and just plain awkward.  Introducing an innocent, famed, teenage girl from history - one who represents more deeply emotional and hugely profound human concepts than Horror Buff is eloquent enough to expound upon - into your program that simultaneously deals with possession, mutant science experiments, and aliens is a bit offensive, to Anne more than anyone.  I would have understood with historic personalities such as Amelia Earhart - about whom it would be easy to pretend they were still alive - but when you take a delicate character such as Anne Frank you are involving yourself in something very big.  What I'm trying to say is that it really fictionalized the show, and it left a lot of questions regarding what is done in good taste.

On the other hand, this subplot really helped to push forward a lot of the suspended action that has been building up in the previous episodes.  I'm really excited for this week's episode, so that we can see what happens regarding the investigations pending around Arden, the experiments being conducted on Shelley, among others, and just what that Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) is up to.  More than anything else, this episode dealt with heavy religious themes and questions, which can also be dangerous for any TV show.  I think this episode handled things well, and it's fun to see the dark side of faith: no one at Briarcliff thinks there is something clearly wrong with Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe)?; the aforementioned suspicious Monsignor - as well as the good side of faith, the ongoing struggles and successes of Sister Jude, her visit to Mother Superior, and Kit's wanting forgiveness.  We'll have to see just where this season takes us.

Final critique:  While this episode wasn't scary except for maybe 3 short scenes/ shots, it was interesting.  As any "Part 1" will do, I am very excited now to see "Part 2."  I find myself rooting for Sister Jude, suspicious of Thredson and Monsignor, and more than anything else, begging for some explanation - what are those creatures in the woods? who is Bloody Face? - which I understand we will be receiving this week.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E3 - (2012)

"Nor'easter"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox Television
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto; ft. Chloë Sevingy, Lizzie Brocheré, Lily Rabe
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, psychological thriller, insane asylum, aliens, mutants
Scare score:  A-
Rating:  A


Plot overview:  In present day, horror honeymooners Teresa (Jenna Dewan) and Leo (Adam Levine) and pursued and killed by multiple men dressed as Bloody Face.  Just as it is revealed that these are teenagers wearing masks, another Bloody Face turns the corner and begins to attack them.
Back in 1964, Sister Jude (Lange) begins to lose her senses as someone is clearly blackmailing her about the young girl she killed while drunk driving before her days as a devout nun.  Through the kind Doctor Thredson (Quinto), Lana (Paulson) learns that her girlfriend on the outside might be in grave danger.  Due to this threat, Lana finally trusts alleged murderer Kit (Peters) who is plotting with close friend Grace (Brocheré) and also nymphomaniac Shelley (Sevigny) to escape during a scheduled movie night which is meant to distract the patients from the oncoming nor'easter.  The once-innocent Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe) has clearly been affected by last episode's failed exorcism and is now showing demonic qualities.  Lastly, the troubled Dr. Arden (Cromwell) continues his sick and sadistic medical practices on various patients.

Sorry this is a bit delayed, but wow!  What an episode.  I was pretty much on the edge of my seat during the whole thing, finding myself both thrilled by all of the action that was thrown at us as well as the fact that these various plots actually had things in common.  Before I start, let's take a moment to give kudos where kudos are due, namely to me, Horror Buff, for correctly identifying the characters' accents and pinpointing the location of Briarcliff to 'rural' Massachusetts, namely somewhere near Framingham as we saw in the newspaper left on Sister Jude's desk.  Maybe I should leave this blog behind and start up a life as a dialectologist.  Then again maybe not.  Onto the horror.

This episode allowed us to settle down a bit, exploring the psychological depth of different characters further while still tossing us some thrills (such as Bloody Face, some sort of mutant human monsters, and - oh yeah - an alien).  We've been presented with the new mystery of who could possibly be blackmailing Sister Jude - could it be the newly possessed Sister Mary Eunice, or is it perhaps all in Sister Jude's mind?  Either way I think it's safe to say we are finding more pity in our hearts for Lange, for while she isn't necessarily likable she certainly is getting what was coming to her and then some.

This was a huge episode for Cromwell, who had to do some interesting and difficult things as an actor. I'm not quite sure why he felt the need to deface the statue of Mary (which they make really creepy in the opening credits), but I guess he had some stressful events leading up to that point.  Primarily we see that he is also being played with by Mary Eunice, therefore becoming equally caught up in a psychological puppet game with Jude.  Furthermore, maybe some of his sadism comes from his own inadequacies?

Well it's another failed escape attempt for Kit, Grace, Lana, and especially Shelley (too soon?).  I sense that their plight is turning into a sort of hellish One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, am I right?  Hopefully they find some better way out that doesn't lead them through the forest of cannibalistic mutants.  Speaking of which, I'm assuming it's only a matter of time before we learn more about them.  Creepy, and props to the makeup crew.

Is anyone else starting to worry about Dr. Thredson?  I watched enough Scooby-Doo as a kid to know that a body can only meddle too far into something before it really gets serious.  Quinto is a big-billed name this season, apparently almost as much as Lange, so while I don't think he'll be killed off very simply, I am concerned about what his fate will be.

I am really happy with the acting this season.  While the plot is still young, and the various subplots are getting more complicated and bizarre (again, that alien), I'm generally a fan of the different characters.  I always enjoy when we are made to sympathize for people who might very well be murderous, terrible people (what do we know about Grace, really?)  And while Lily Rabe's Spanish accent isn't the best attempt we've ever seen from a demon, she does seem to be having a lot of fun portraying a possessed nun!  Really, I think we are watching all of these actors enjoy doing this show, which always makes me wonder how scary it feels while filming compared to the final product.

Final critique:  Before this week's episode starts introducing some Holocaust plots, let me say I am very happy with where this season is going thus far.  The horror itself is still a bit all over the place, but I guess that still gives the writers lots of directions to take the upcoming episodes - so long as they cover any loose ends.  I enjoyed the light/ dark contrasts in this episode as well as several striking camera angles that utilized some interesting diagonal shots.  Aside from providing lots of thrills, this episode honestly just got me excited for more.  Keep it coming.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween II (2009)

Extended Cut

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Rob Zombie
Studios:  Dimension Films
Starring:  Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris
Tagline:  Family is Forever
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer
Scare score:  C
Rating:  F


Plot overview:  Two years after the happenings of the first film, Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) is still coping with trauma induced stress, moments of panic, and depression.  She now lives with best friend Annie (Harris) and Annie's father Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), even though her relationship with both of them is strained.  Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (McDowell) has capitalized on the tragic events of Michael's (Tyler Mane) attacks by writing a new book, exploiting both the killer as well as the victims in Haddonfield.  As Michael's body was never recovered, the general populace is torn as to whether or not he is still alive.  On Halloween night, all of their questions will be answered as Michael, Laurie, and Loomis are reunited once and for all.

I hated this movie.  I hated it and I wanted to turn it off the whole time, but I kept on going because I knew I had to blog about it.  I saw that the producers of the series told Zombie to make his own version without feeling inhibited, but I truly feel that he disgraced the series; in fact, this movie shouldn't be considered a member of the Halloween movies, but more so a Rob Zombie fantasy that happens to include some characters with the same names as the John Carpenter original.  The only other redeeming factor was that at one point on a talk show, someone makes a reference to Mike Meyers from Austin Powers.  I'm glad that was finally done.  It was also nice to see Margot Kidder briefly as Laurie's psychiatrist.

Otherwise this film was some sick Zombie perversion, with characters representing the baseness of human society in their disgusting jokes and perverted ideas, excessive use of curse words, unprovoked anger, and generally terrible attitudes.  The script writing is often fake and cliche, especially for Laurie and Annie which was tough for me to watch.  The only word I can think of to describe how this movie made me feel was dirty.  There was a glorified role invented for Sheri Moon Zombie, which might have been a good idea until shallow textbook psychology was forced into every second of the movie.  Also, I understand the movie was largely filmed in Georgia, but the fact that many actors had and used Southern accents made no sense as the film takes place in Illinois.

Loomis was so frustratingly annoying and fake.  This was a combination of a poorly written/ thought out role, and a poor delivery on behalf of McDowell - but really we can't blame him because the idea for this 'cool, chauvinistic, money-driven' Loomis was so stupid.  The result is some unnatural figure with awful lines and forced, uncomfortable dialogue.

*SPOILER ALERT*

This post-traumatic, pill popping, 'eff it' attitude Laurie was disturbing and upsetting, especially since Laurie Strode is one of my favorite horror movie characters, and also because Scout-Compton did a really good job portraying her in the first film.  I understand that in this movie Zombie wanted to explore how the events of the first film would affect the innocent and happy-go-lucky Laurie, and I think that's a good idea.  Unfortunately the result was a protagonist who we couldn't relate to, who was distant, and who was flat out annoying in her depression and sometimes her mania.  I didn't love the sassy Danielle Harris either.  And her over-the-top death scene didn't make any sense given the role of her character in this movie, so I can only assume it is an homage to Danielle herself and the role she has played for the Halloween franchise.

At first I thought I liked this version of Michael, even though he rarely wears his mask.  And then he made noises while killing victims.  And then later on he spoke.  I think this is such an insult to the Halloween franchise, to the fans of the series, and to Michael Meyers himself.  I mean seriously, what is that?  You don't take a character who has never made a sound except in exhaling since his debut in 1978 and then 31 years later have him begin to grunt (uncharacteristically - PS those blood splatters didn't make any sense in the first hospital scene) and then talk.  It's so stupid, childish, and offensive to the integrity of the concept of Michael Meyers.

If you do decide to watch this movie, which I don't recommend, you'll only be able to hear how stupid it is, because it is so constantly dark that it's almost impossible to see.  Half the murder scenes were beyond my comprehension as to how they were occurring, only that they sounded painful and gory.

I understand that I watched the extended cut which is supposed to be very different from the theatrical cut.  Maybe I would have disliked the theatrical cut less.

Final critique:  I can't say I went into this with expectations, because in reality I'd never heard anything about this film.  Now I know it is some strange perversion of Halloween's concepts, ideas, and characters, and that it is a strange and shallow retelling according to Rob Zombie, taking place completely within his dark and twisted universe of excessive gore and some perverted dialogue, jokes, and scenes that people would be better off never hearing or seeing.  It is unfortunate that the producers like Akkad let this slide.  The film was frustrating to start and frustrating to get through, with very, very few redeeming factors.  I can respect that Zombie had an idea, but I can't say it was done well or with much care.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October Review

For your consideration:

1.  Halloween (1978): A
2.  Psycho (1960): A
3.  Night of the Living Dead (1968): A-
4.  Seven (1995): A-
5.  The Woman in Black (2012): A-
6.  Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998): A-
7.  Halloween (2007): A-
8.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925): A-
9.  Halloween IV (1988): B+
10.  Halloween V (1989): B+
11.  Hellraiser (1987): B+
12.  Halloween II (1981): B+
13.  Insidious (2011): B
14.  Halloween: Resurrection (2002): B
15.  Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995): B
16.  Silent Hill (2006): B
17.  Nosferatu (1922): B-
18.  Halloween III (1982): C+
19.  House on Haunted Hill (1959): C
20.  Absentia (2011): C
21.  Creep (2004): C