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!!)

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.

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.


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)

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.


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"

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)"

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.


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)

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)"

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)


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

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.


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.