Sunday, September 30, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

True Terror: The Amityville Horror

While I was bored and temporarily separated from access to horror movies, I started thinking about some of the films I've seen that are based on true stories, or so they say.  So I decided to start a short series that I can update from time to time on movies that are (dramatic music) true terror.

The Amityville Horror (and all of its dozens of remakes and sequels). 
The terror: Basically, this movie (which I'll review down the line, no doubt) , based off of a "true" novel takes place in the quiet, bayside town of Amityville, NY, and recounts the story of a young Lutz family that moves into a charming, old home (to this day those wedge-shaped windows next to chimneys on houses terrify me), but the father slowly goes mad as the entire family is haunted and harrassed by a series of paranormal happenings.  Various versions include an entrance to hell in the basement, while others more midly solve the dilemma with a simple burial ground located on the grounds where the house now stands.  Classic!  Throw in a priest, creepy effects, the whole "true story" bit, and you have yourself a great film.  I especially like the "catch 'em, kill 'em" bit utilized in some versions.

The truth: In 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr. of Amityville, NY burst into a local bar screaming that his parents had been shot.  When a group of townspeople came with him back to his home, his parents had indeed been shot, along with 4 of his siblings.  All dead in their beds, lying face down on their stomachs.  The police caught on pretty quickly that Ronald Jr.'s story wasn't adding up, and that he was guilty for the murders.  I'm not sure how the case turned out, but I do know that they tried pleading insanity... or possession
Anywho, a few years later the actual Lutz family moves into the house (at a bargain price!!) and shortly thereafter claim to begin experiencing supernatural phenomena.  In some versions they have a priest come bless the house, and he senses an evil spirit, but even this is up for debate.  The whole family claims to have experienced various problems, injuries, hauntings, fly infestations, and ooze dripping from doors/ walls/ ceilings.  I don't know that any proof exists to their stories, but they did move out pretty quickly, and it is their "true" story that the book and then multiple movies recount.
I do know that my friend's mom was growing up in a nearby town on Long Island at the time, and she said that all the local kids would go to the property, try to break in, pull pranks, and get scared.  According to her, though, it wasn't scary at all and they didn't believe anything supernatural really happened.  (Cue more dramatic music!)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Birds (1963)

For any of you old school horror fans out there, you hopefully knew that today (one day only!) was a nation-wide showing of one of Hitchcock's most memorable masterpieces, The Birds. While admittedly I sat across the aisle from some Chatty Cathies and sat behind an older man who apparently found the entire film quite laughable, seeing this horror classic on the silver screen was truly impressive... and pretty freaky.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Studio: Universal Pictures
Starring: Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, (introducing) Tippi Hedren
Tagline: The Birds is coming!
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: suspense, thriller, animals, unexplained phenomenon 
Scare score: B
Rating: A

Plot overview:  The young, attractive, and scandalous socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) bumps into Mitch Brenner (Taylor), a charming lawyer, while in a San Francisco - wait for it - bird shop. Brenner, who is shopping for lovebirds to gift to his kid sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), manages to insult the effortlessly flirtatious Daniels after revealing that he knows she has been to court for her crude playgirl behavior. Hoping to learn more about Brenner, Daniels embarks on a long, scenic drive up the California coast to Bodega Bay to deliver two lovebirds ("I see") to Brenner's family home, where the lawyer spends his weekends with his sister and hard-to-please mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). Upon Miss Daniels's arrival to the tiny hamlet, however, freak bird attacks begin plaguing the town and its residents. While the attacks start small, hundreds upon hundreds of birds begin to amass, attacking individuals, then children, then the entire town in vicious bouts of winged violence. Soon, Melanie and the Brenners find themselves in an all-out battle for survival against the birds.

It's only appropriate that Hitch is the Master of Suspense since the first bird attack doesn't actually occur until about an hour into the film. In fact, aside from the whole, you know, bird attack thing, this could be a pretty sweet '50s/'60s drama/romance film. Rod Taylor reminded me exactly of Cary Grant throughout most of the movie. But back to the horror: Once the good birds go bad, I found myself physically squirming in my seat and biting my nails during the attack scenes. While the special effects are very outdated, a lot of the scenes were filmed with real birds which, combined with the constant blood, do make for some pretty thrilling, panicked sequences. Hitch's masterful camera angles add such suspense to some scenes, especially the all-out bird barrage against the Brenner home. I loved the different shots of each character in the bottom quarter of the screen with the ceiling taking up the upper 3/4s as we soon learn the birds have broken in through the roof upstairs. Lastly, the first scene of true terror that we see is when Lydia discovers the dead neighbor with his eyes pecked out—which is creepy—and then Hitchcock zooms in 3 TIMES straight into his bloody eye sockets. Excellent.

The scene in the restaurant before and while the birds amass their first large-scale attack on the town is excellent. There is mob psychology; frantic, accusative mothers; panicked townies; and even a village drunk— "It's the end of the world!" There is a very human aspect to this scene as suspense and fear simultaneously rise via discussion about the cause and solution of the town's winged dilemma. This is also the first scene in the film that verbally brings to the audience's attention that the bird attacks started the very afternoon that Melanie arrived to Bodega Bay. Is Melanie the cause of the attacks? Is Melanie, as she is publicly accused, evil? Are the various species of birds in the area reacting to the caged lovebirds that Melanie brought to Cathy? Or is there no natural, logical explanation? This question is never answered, which leaves the suspense unresolved and the film pretty awesome. It kind of reminded me of The Happening, only not terrible.

The acting in the film is extremely impressive. As I learned in TCM's preview before the movie actually started, Alfred Hitchcock literally saw model Tippi Hedren in an ad and had the studio call her to arrange a meeting. This was her first professional acting gig, which might explain why, the first time I saw this film, I thought Melanie seemed pretty aloof. Upon a more thorough viewing, I think she was really great for a debut role: Miss Daniels is both active and reactive, naturally flirtatious and pleasant with a slight edginess, and even towards the end when she goes into shock she plays that very well. I need to give a special shout out to the very young Veronica Cartwright in the role of Cathy, who in both solemn, scary, and pleasant scenes (a combination of all three would be her 'birthday party from hell') is a tremendous actress. The other characters are also believable with much more depth than you will probably find in a modern horror. Like I said, even without all the bad birdies there is still a big film going on here, with creepy silence, plenty of build up, and a fulfilling amount of terror added in. That's suspense at its best.

Final critique:  This is a freaky film. Unpredictable, unexplained, unending terror at the hands, er, claws of a crazed, scary-sized, fast-moving, numerous, and so natural enemy. This film kind of has a Jaws affect to it, but in the air instead of the sea. We've all seen the people that scream when a pigeon flies by about a yard away from them in the city— just picture them if forced to watch The Birds. The acting is great, the setting is charming but creepy in its own way (that old victorian school, the church always in the background), and even with the outdated effects, all of the bird attacks are still scary (although the occasional giggle is still permissible). I recommend this film for all audiences who aren't looking for a simple slasher or screamfest of a movie. For those who scare really easily, I think this flick will provide more than a few jumps and reasons to cover your eyes, but it will only help toughen you up. The world should appreciate Hitchcock for all that he brought to the horror industry, so naturally one of his most famous films is fine by me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Terror (1963)

Director: Roger Corman (collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola, among others)
Studio: Filmgroup
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Boris Karloff
Tagline: "DRACULA"... "FRANKENSTEIN"... "HOUSE of WAX"... "PIT and the PENDULUM"... and now The TERROR
MPAA Rating: unrated
Genre: suspense, mystery, ghost, haunting, witchcraft
Scare score: C-
Rating: C-

Late on a Sunday night after an exhausting weekend was the perfect time to watch this horror 'classic', a hefty title for a film that doesn't quite stand out in memory as much as, say, Dracula or Frankenstein.  It was difficult rating this film given its production in 1963 and one's automatic expectations of modern horror films, so I tried to take a step back, put myself in my 1960's horror shoes, and enjoy the ride.

Plot overview: Set in an undetermined European coastal country (French Empire? Modern-day Bulgaria? Romania?) in 1806, French lieutenant Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) has been separated from his regiment and is found "weary and disillusioned" on the beach.  Here he first meets mysterious beauty Helene (Sandra Knight) and becomes enraptured by her looks.  After she inexplicably disappears (she does this a lot throughout the film) into the water, Andre is attacked by a very angry hawk (a la The Birds) and passes out for the second time in the first 10 minutes of the movie.  When he comes to, he is in the care of an old woman (Dorothy Neumann) who nurses him back to health with a homemade potion from her sketchy lab-setup.  She is also mysterious (as is every single character in the movie, except for the flat, 1-dimensional Andre), leaving our protagonist with more questions than answers, specifically centered around the whereabouts and disputed existence of Helene, and a now mild-mannered hawk under the witch's, er, old woman's care.  At this point the plot takes a turn down the road of The Wicker Man as Andre searches the area, following clues to discover the truth about Helene, who he has now seen [mysteriously] on several occasions.  His search leads him to the spooky, run-down castle of the elderly Baron von Leppe (Karloff), who lives in a self-sentenced solitude with his hot tempered servant, Stefan (Dick Miller).  Andre quickly learns that the visions of Helene he has been seeing is the ghost of the Baron's wife Ilsa, who has been dead for 20 years.  Her brutal murder took place at the hands of her own husband, who returned from war to find her with another man, Eric, who we are told was killed by Stefan alongside the unfaithful Baroness.  The Baron admits that Ilsa's ghost has been haunting him for two years, urging him to commit suicide and join her eternally.


Little by little, with Andre's meddling and all of the other creepy characters' mysterious revealings, we learn that Ilsa's spirit has been brought back (questionably in Helene's body) by the local witch (Eric's mom!) to lure the guilty and self-loathing Baron into death and avenge Eric's murder as well.  Drama, confusion, and scares wait around every corner.

Again, the quality of this un-remastered movie made it a bit difficult for me to get into, so I had to keep reminding myself to float back to 1963.  While the plot itself is pretty understandable with lots of little twists, I found the movie to be generally confusing, filled with too many scenes of characters running around in the dark, in the woods, in the castle, in the crypt, on the beach, and too many mysterious characters popping in and out, leaving us with more questions than answers until the very end.  The effects are not great (1963, Horror Buff, 1963!), including some presumably animated background drops that took me straight back to the good old days of Scooby Doo.  I did rather enjoy the make up of the corpse we see in the middle of the film, the bloody-and-blinded-by-the-hawk minor character shortly before his convincing fall off a cliff, and the gruesomely decaying face at the end of the film.  These provided some small scares that were certainly entertaining, and I can only imagine were very frightful for audiences at its debut.

I can't say I was a fan of Jack Nicholson in this movie.  Everybody else in the film is a convincing actor and an interesting character, except for our boring and even annoying protagonist, Andre.  Nicholson takes on one mode the entire time as a rather angry and unfazed military officer trying to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the mysterious beauty he has his eyes on.  His lines are delivered poorly, his acting is unconvincing, and his reactions to the twists and turns of the plot are non-existent.

From the moment Stefan, devoted servant to the Baron, begins to have long lines, I immediately found myself guessing what borough of New York City the actor Dick Miller was from.  Not to my surprise in the least, this Bronx native brings his very Bronx-y persona to this character, again, a peasant in Europe in 1806.  Hmm.  I wonder, however, if this was on purpose because Dick Miller was such a personality at the time.  Other than his quick-talking, short-tempered Bronx flare, Miller did a great job, and any viewer can relate to his character, who would do anything to protect his old master...including dying for him.

Karloff is excellent in his role, as we are led to believe, of the Baron Victor Frederick von Leppe, an old man of questionable mental fortitude, haunted by his personal ghosts and a very real one as well.  An absolute icon to the classic horror film industry, Karloff's Baron is both a character we can sympathize with and suspect of any and all wrong-doing that surrounds the plot of this film until we learn more about his true identity towards the end, and by that point, salvation from damnation is just too late.

Final critique: To appreciate this film, you need to be okay with the poor quality and sometimes kitschy set, plot, and overall feel of the production.  In the movie's defense, I will beat the dead horse and mention again that some 60's films tend to have a cheesy feeling about them anyway.  A modern remake, even one retaining the time period of Napoleon's Europe, of this movie could be really frightening.  I can't get over my disappointment with Nicholson's acting or lack thereof, but luckily he is more so a tool that helps unravel the plot for us to enjoy.  The ghost aspect of the film: a will-less, vengeful spirit under the control of an even more vengeful witch, was pretty cool since I wasn't even expecting the ghost to turn out to be real in the end.  Some of the confusion could have been easily eliminated via clearer scenes and small changes to simplify the plot.  The period was fun and different as far as most horror films go, sets were impressive overall, and all the characters (besides Lieutenant Devalier) were interesting and tragic in their own ways, adding depth and credit to the film.  To bring up the movie poster (seen above) for a second, I really have no idea how all those people in a web apply to this movie at all... very random.  The tagline, as well, isn't very creative, and in fact I'm not reminded of Dracula et all after having watched this film.  But that type of tagline does evoke thoughts of cinema in the 50's, and we must remember that this was advertisement in the 60's (Don Draper, even).  Lastly, the title of the film kind of sucks.  When I hear 'the terror' I imagine some devilish force, not just an attractive ghost commanded by a witch who in reality is pretty friendly, and in that case I'm still assuming that the 'terror' refers to Ilsa/ Helene.  Why not "The Baroness' Ghost" or "The Haunting of Castle von Leppe: Eternal Love, Eternal Damnation" (by now you've guessed I'm not in Hollywood writing movie scripts), or anything that gives us some preview as to what the film is actually about?  Anywho, I appreciated the small scares throughout the movie, although they were certainly not too scary for me watching this alone late at night in a dark house.  That being said, I'd recommend this movie to anybody, especially to those who scare easily, if they find the time to sit back and watch this somewhat suspenseful, somewhat grainy horror classic.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

American Psycho (1991) - novel

Horror Buff reads, too!

Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Vintage Books, New York
Caption: Patrick Bateman is handsome, well educated, intelligent.  He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with.  His nights he spends in ways we cannot begin to fathom.  He is twenty-six years old and living his own American Dream.
Genre: novel, psychopath, serial killer, gore
Gore score: A+
Scare score: C
Rating: B+

It's so hard for me to rate this book because of how equally creative, accurate, thought provoking - and just plain disturbing - it is.  I usually deal well with gore in horror movies, although I admit I'm getting more squeamish as the years move on and the Saw franchise gets more disgusting, but this novel was something else.

Plot Overview: In the late 1980's, Patrick Bateman is a 26-year-old investment banker living in Manhattan.  He is extremely wealthy, cultured, attractive, chiseled, and psychopathic.  The novel progresses over the course of a year or so in chapters that recount various social gatherings, dinners, drinks; discussions about fashion, art and financial accounts; nihilistic rants; lots of sex and drugs; and extremely graphic murder episodes that Patrick commits for no reason except to try (and fail) to gain pleasure or fill the void inside of himself.

This novel is a fascinating critique of the yuppie culture and of general American materialism in the 1980's.  Bret Easton Ellis' fine attention to detail makes the work remarkable, so precise in recounting even the tiniest opinions and criticism of culture at the time, from Manhattan's sky scrapers, to business cards, to restaurants and dishes, female bodies, and cold blooded killing.  Regardless of how you feel about the murder content of this novel, you have to appreciate Ellis' style and how much depth - or not - it adds to Bateman's character.  At the end of the day, this book isn't so much about murder as it is about death in general: the death of love, the death of society, the death of meaning and purpose.

Onto the gorey stuff.  I hate to admit it, but while reading this book a few summers ago I almost passed out on two separate occasions due to the gore.  The murder scenes are so chilling, so disgusting and so descriptive, I don't think it's fair to say that anyone can really enjoy them, although I appreciate the creativity (the rat scene - need I say more?) and Ellis' boldness in publishing them.  If you love blood and guts, impress your friends and pick up this book: it will look like you're reading a somewhat hefty novel, but little do they know...  Each murder scene is different and even more disturbing than the previous one.  Bateman never fails to amaze us with pocket knives, bigger knives, chainsaws, axes, broken glass, nails, power drills... the list goes on.  You may never want to go home with a stranger in Manhattan again.


Not that you really can spoil American Psycho - he kills people, all the time - but this novel does break one of my cardinal rules of horror.  I'm assuming that based on the chapter title "Killing Child at the Zoo" you can guess which rule it breaks.  However, I will say that my rules really apply to movies, which I think are made for a more general audiences and have stricter rules to follow than literature does.  I will furthermore say that Bateman almost regrets, not that psychopaths possess the ability to feel as we do, killing the child because it "has no real history, no worthwhile past, nothing is really lost."

That being said, I think this book is important because of the lines it crosses to show us how the line between sane and psychotic is a very fine one.  Some of the most famous psychopaths in history have gotten away with their crimes, or would have except they always seem to get sloppy in the end.  Like I've said in previous posts, to me, one of the scariest kinds of horror is when there is no reason, no cause, no warning, no cure.  There probably is a Patrick Bateman, or several, walking around somewhere in the world right now.  Bateman's psychosis is a human version of the decay and emptiness of American society that Ellis critiques excellently throughout the novel in more material ways.

Oh, the movie version?  Don't get me started.  I'm sure I'll rate it further on down the line, but I can tell you now that my rating will not be a good one.

And remember, with all of today's modern hustle and bustle, all of the people constantly coming and going, maybe we all know a Patrick Bateman.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Studios: Peregrine Productions, Producers Circle
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Tagline: A Masterpiece of Modern Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, psychological thriller, ghosts, haunting, possession, family drama
Scare score: B+
Rating: A-

While buckling down for the possible tornadoes last weekend, my cousin, her roommate, and I took advantage of the gloomy weather and overall creepy atmosphere to watch this gem.  I accepted the opportunity graciously, as it is rare for me to find friends who will sit through a horror movie.

Plot overview: Recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his wife, Wendy (Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), to the remote Overlook Hotel after being hired as the caretaker of the building and grounds while they are closed during the winter season.  We already know Danny has an "imaginary friend"/ psychic power that he does not fully understand; he believes the Overlook to house evil spirits.  As complete isolation and cabin fever begin setting in, Jack begins to hallucinate, seeing ghosts around the hotel.  He also begins to drink again, quickly turning into an unstable and violent alcoholic.  After Danny is hurt by a ghost (Room 237=scary), Wendy thinks that Jack has become abusive and/or they are not alone in the massive hotel.  This accusation causes Jack to finally crack, and he sets out to kill his family.  Cue all the evil spirits in the hotel breaking lose, elevators full of blood, dining rooms full of corpses, and the ever-iconic "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" scene.

Fun facts: The term "shining" refers to the psychic ability that Danny posses to see into the future and communicate with other 'shiners' without speaking.  He learns about it from the hotel's head chef, who comes back to try and help the family after sensing Danny's calls for help.
King chose 217 as the evil room because he and his wife were staying in room 217 at the hotel that helped him create the idea for The Shining.  In the movie, this was changed to 237.

Adapted, of course, from the novel of the same name by the untouchable Stephen King, I think The Shining has become much more successful than anyone could have predicted at the time.  I did some research on this classic a few months ago, and from what I understand, Kubrick was so meticulous in his filming that it even caused Shelley Duvall to become physically ill and lose some hair!  Talk about scary.  Still, there's something to be said about all the fine details, which do add a great deal to this film which, in my opinion, moves rather slowly until all the events begin to culminate towards the end.

One of my favorite small details in the film, which I think really helps set in the nail-biting suspense, comes from all the scenes of Danny riding his trike around the hotel.  The change from the silence of the wheels on carpet to the sudden lull of the wheels on the hardwood is pretty unnerving.  Also, Danny's little-voice-inside-his-mouth-friend, Tony, is really frightening, and causes us to examine the line between cute imaginary friends from childhood and more real, psychological problems - or in Danny's case, a psychic power.  For a young, new child actor, Lloyd does an awesome job.  I almost forgot to mention how scary the changes between "chapters" at the beginning of the movie are.  Up until cabin fever starts setting in, the movie moves relatively slowly, but each time they change from, say, "The Job Interview" to the next section, there is a terrifying crash of music.  The suspense is really building up the whole movie.

I have always loved Shelley Duvall.  While I don't think she's ugly, she certainly has very creepy aspects about her demeanor that add a lot to her character even before her husband goes crazy.  She has a perfect face- wide eyes, spaced-out-teeth, pale skin, dark hair- when she has to act terrified.  Her voice is also pretty creepy: innocent and almost annoying with a high pitch and slight southern/midwestern twang, and there is certainly something slightly off about it.

Jack Nicholson is brilliant in this role.  He is so creepy looking, and the late 70's attire, lower middle class in a Colorado winter look does a lot.  I think one of the scariest scenes is when he is zoning out at his typewriter, with his chin down at his chest, his mouth hanging open, and his eyes fixed upward, out of his skull.  His quick temper is rather frightening and all-too-human up until the point we understand that he seems to be possessed.  He becomes, in his murderous state, a brute, masculine force, representing abuse and rage, that has to scare us as we watch him run around the hotel with an axe.

Final critique: Overall, this is a must-see horror movie.  The psychological aspect should be what gets us the most.  The ghosts are very scary and the makeup helps with that.  The two twins are terrifying even before we see the image of them covered in blood with an axe in their head.  The young/old woman evil spirit in Room 237 turns out to be so foul: just as Jack thinks he's about to get some it's revealed how she is actually a corpse with wet, rotting flesh *grossest scene in the film*.  The Overlook is just as important a character as any Torrance family member.  Her ugly, 70's decor; long, seemingly endless corridors; restricting and claustrophobic bedroom scenes; twisting kitchen and boiler room; and even wide open main spaces- the general emptiness of it all, is certainly an aspect we take away with us after seeing the movie.  Bound to give you nightmares, or you will otherwise find yourself thinking of the ghosts next time you're in a ski lodge, hotel, or home alone.  Definitely recommended for all horror movie watchers; those who scare easily should be able to handle this film if aptly warned before any scary scenes.

And, of course, who could forget that very last scene and all the questions it provokes?

The Rules

Rules?  Since when did horror movies have to abide by rules?  That's a pretty good question, but after a lifetime of watching countless horror flicks, I have established a small list of general rules that most films abide by.  That being said, I have noticed as of late that more violent and progressive horror movies, specifically certain directors such as Rob Zombie and Alexandre Aja, are beginning to break these tacit truisms of terror.

Again, these are just the basic rules that I personally have picked up on most horror movies following.  Not all rules hold true for all movies.  Nothing is ever 100% true, especially not in a world of ghosts, demons, witchcraft, and psycho killers behind every corner.

Horror Buff's List of Rules:

1.  The kids are alright.  Going into any basic plot where a family gets lost in the wilderness or enters a strange town, house, etc, I am always reassured that although everybody may suffer a terrible fate, the children will come out alive - not necessarily sane, or well - but alive.  This rule is especially true for babies, and then still very true for children under the age of 15.  Even in the movies where the child or gang of children is the bad guy, spawn of satan, possessed by aliens/ evil spirits, etc they are pretty hard to kill themselves, and may come out cured in the end, or merely having disappeared.

2.  Premarital sex for adolescents is a no-no.  If horror in the '80s taught us anything, it is this simple rule.  Jason, Freddy, and all their friends pretty much wait around their creepy joints for some drunk/ high teenagers to come in and get it on.  They are almost 100% as good as dead.  Likewise, the virginal character has much higher chances of living.  The [female] virgin archetype in horror movies is usually smarter, friendlier, and generally purer, which gives her a much better shot at surviving once the sun rises at the end of the movie.  In fact, more often than not the virginal character is wanted/ needed by the bad guys for a ritual, sacrifice, partnership, etc., so their survival is essential, at least for the time being.

3.  No sexual violation.  This is the one rule I hate to see broken most of all.  Any inclusion of this in a "scary movie" before the late 90's early 2000's would have been a huge no from [American] society and the MPAA.  Unfortunately, as horror movies progress over time I think they are beginning to take on a more actually-terrifying approach, that is to say, what actually scares us to our core as humans.  I guess I can respect that, as it was handled in the first season of American Horror Story, but I have to fully disapprove of any sexual violation simply being thrown into a movie to disturb us, such as in Rob Zombie's remake of the original Halloween.

4.  Wait for the happy ending... kind of.  Even most horror movies still need to do well financially, which means they can't completely depress and disturb 100% of critics and movie-goers.  That being said, in your typical horror movie at least 1 innocent will usually survive the terrors of the night, and the bad guys will typically pay the price.  OBVIOUSLY this isn't always true, and innocent and guilty mean nothing given a knife-wielding psychopath, but nobody likes a movie where everyone ends up dead in the end.  It's too boring.  Either we'll be led to think a good guy is dead until their triumphant return in the last scene, or we can expect a surprise twist in which everything seems okay until the final second of the film - horror movies especially love that tactic.  Then again, evil murderers are just as likely to pop up in the last instant.  Remember: horror movies are all about franchises.  They are shameless.  So just remember, don't give up all hope.

5.  Don't do stupid.  This is my final rule for now, and outside of the realm of horror I hope you adapt it into your every day life.  We all know the stereotypical plot for a trashy horror film: dumb kids enter 'abandoned' house and start poking around, big shot developers begin building on an old cemetery, teenage girl in a creepy situation decides to go into the dark basement to find her friends (because obviously that's where they all are).  If characters just stopped doing dumb things, they would have a peaceful night's sleep and be on their way in the morning.  If that really happened, however, the horror movies business would be dunzo.  Stupid characters never stand a chance in horror movies.

Along the same note, I think the scariest form of horror is when something truly terrifying happens to people who are completely undeserving, who have a chance at stopping whatever is haunting, attacking, or plaguing them, but have to fight for their lives to do so.  When people follow my rules for horror movies, but the bad things still happen.  Now that is scary stuff.

So follow these rules, and soon, understanding horror movies will be a piece of bloody cake.  You'll know who's good, who's bad, who's alive, who's dead, and even when to expect a big scary "jump" moment.  Good luck and feel free to share any other rules you may have picked up over time!  I'll post more if they come to mind.

Stay scary.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Reaping (2007)

Director: Stephen Hopkins
Studios: Warner Bros., Dark Castle Entertainment
Starring: Hilary Swank, AnnaSophia Robb
Tagline: What hath God wrought?
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: suspense, supernatural, religious occult, surprise ending
Scare score: D+
Rating: B-

So I'm not starting with The Reaping for any other reason than I saw it on TV this morning.  I have to say, I was surprised I've never seen it before, not that it was a huge success in theaters.  I also have to say I was surprised to see Hilary Swank playing the lead role of a paranormal investigator, miracle explainer, and overall skeptic - don't you love when big name actors cross over into the genre of horror?

Let's talk about the plot: Ex-minister Katherine Winter (Swank) has taken up a life of disproving miracles, believing that all supernatural and miraculous occurrences can be logically explained.  This adamant support of logic is put to the test when a teacher from a small Louisiana town out in the bayou, aptly named Haven (can you sense the irony yet and do you love it?), comes around asking for her expertise so as to explain why their 2 mile stretch of river and swamp has turned - wait for it - red as blood. *Bible!* As the plot thickens, Katherine learns that the town believes one little girl, Loren McConnell (Robb) is responsible for the onset of these Biblical plagues, which continue progressing, in order, as they once did in ancient Egypt.  Throw in small town secrets, a satanic cult, the subplot of a prophecy revolving around the spawn of satan, Katherine's inability to distinguish dreams/ nightmares from reality, and some convincing special effects of plagues, and you have yourself a nice little movie.

I did like this movie and appreciate the religious-based plot.  Let's talk about the general rule for horror movies that try and tie in religious themes: protagonist was once faithful but lost touch with their faith due to a traumatic event (death of a loved one, etc), protagonist's lack of faith is tested, protagonist usually reestablishes faith.  Shockingly, all of these are true in this film. The special effects of a river of blood, swarms of locusts, dangerous and dying cattle, and even the lightning (fire raining from the sky) were pretty impressive considering this was 2007.

This movie had a few twists.  We are set up to think that in the face of the oncoming arrival of the spawn of satan, believed to be the young and innocently scary McConnell, God may send an angel (loosely used as a term that also refers to those ordained in their religion - omg! Hilary!) to combat the evil at hand.  I absolutely loved when we realize that McConnell is the innocent offspring in a town full of satanists, and that Katherine is not the angel but rather one returned to faith to help the young girl. The teacher seeking Katherine's help was obviously evil all along- I'll have to think of a nickname for that kind of archetypal character- so it came as no surprise to me to see he was in charge of the whole cult.  The final twist in the last scene of the movie I WILL NOT spoil for you, but I can say that this isn't the first horror movie to pop in the whole Rosemary's Baby technique right in the last scene.  Whoops, spoiled it!

Final critique: Again, I liked this movie and it was a perfect level of scary (...or not) for 11 AM.  It's more of a suspense, so the scare score should be pretty low anyway.  Even still, I think this film could have used more scare.  There were plenty of times when a shadow in the window could have worked wonders.  I didn't love the whole background plot of the death of Katherine's family: tribal sacrifice in the Sudan was a little far-fetched for me.  I think small town Louisiana could have been a little more, well, small town Louisiana in accents, costumes, etc, but it still had that southern feel.  Lastly, the tagline, while a quote from the Bible, is kind of stupid. This is a good movie for a relaxing but suspenseful watch, recommended for those who scare easily.


Hey hey horror fans,

I wanted to explain a few things before I begin with my movie reviews.  This is your preliminary warning for any and all SPOILER ALERTS.  If they're not essential to my post, then I will try and avoid them.  But if you know horror movies you know how a good twist can make all the difference, so always be wary of the *SPOILER ALERT* warning I will put in my post before revealing any major information.

Secondly, I'm a critical person when it comes to my horror movies: predictable plots from the outset, overly stereotypical characters, bad effects.  That being said, I'm no 'Rotten Tomatoes' either.  (Have you ever seen a movie with a passing score on that site?  Didn't think so.)  I'll try to even be more critical for this blog so that it can be more reputable, but if I like a movie that didn't do well in the box office, I'm not going to lie about it.  All movies deserve a second chance (well, almost all of them).

How to read: My entries will generally follow this format:
        -director/ author
        -studios/ publisher
        -MPAA rating (for movies)
        -genre - to help  you get an overview of psychopaths, vampires, zombies, etc
        -scare score - my personal rating of how actually frightening the piece is
        -rating - my personal rating of the piece overall

        -Then I'll have a general plot summary, my personal critiques of things I loved
         or loathed, fun facts, and sometimes even a gore score if the work permits.

If I think of more things to say, I'll post them later on.  Enjoy the reviews for now; I hope it helps you choose a good horror movie to watch, late at night, home alone (or so you think).

Stay scary.

Getting Started

Okay, so no, I didn't go to school for film or production, theater or even literature, but I am a huge fan of horror, and an equally huge critic.  I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog to discuss, critique, and ultimately rate horror movies for a while now, so the process of going back through all the countless flicks I've seen will probably take a while as well.  Still, I hope you enjoy what I happen to think about some of the creepiest, craziest, most stress inducing, frightful, fearful, funky, freaky, and just plain scariest movies of all time.

--Horror Buff