Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Review

For your consideration:

1.  The Conjuring (2013): A
2.  The Omen (1976): A
3.  The Exorcist (1973): A-
4.  Friday the 13th (1980): A-
5.  Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981): B+
6.  The Mummy (1932): B-
7.  The Invisible Man (1933): C
8.  The Gate (1987): D

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Steve Miner
Studios:  Paramount Pictures
Starring:  Amy Steel, John Furey, Warrington Gillette, Bill Randolph, Marta Kober, Stu Charno; ft. Walt Gorney
Tagline:  The Body Count Continues...
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, slasher, stalker, thriller, psychopath, serial killer, teen
Scare score:  C
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  Five years after the events of the first movie, the woods and waters surrounding Camp Crystal Lake are still said to be haunted by the vengeful spirit of Jason (Gillette).  When a group of teenagers arrive to a Counselor Training center just down the lake from "Camp Blood," will they provoke the wrath of the formidable killer?

While this movie does boast a pleasant change of plot (like thank goodness this wasn't just a new batch of teenagers deciding to go back to the original campground) and cast, it is pretty much your typical horror sequel.  By no means am I trying to say that this was a bad movie, but it was a very easy watch, almost pleasant, with few scares and not that much terror.

Surprisingly, acting wasn't that bad in this movie.  I know what you're thinking, it's a teen horror movie from the '80s, acting has to be horrible, but at no point did I find myself sitting there getting ticked off by bad delivery.  Sure there are some dumb moments, and I think about half the movie relies on flashbacks and plot development before any terror really begins, but I thought the film progressed smoothly.  One thing that does constantly surprise me about these movies is the way the death scenes are filmed and edited - there is about 0 gore in this film.  Zed.  Zilch.  Sure there's some blood, sure we see the murder weapons and occasionally the weapons and bloods combined, but at no point are we subjected to guts or long-lasting deaths.  In fact, most death scenes cut to still frames or that weird 3D effect.  Personally I'd like some more for added terror!

From the beginning we have this sort of cheesy '80s flick filled with your classic "cool" and even "nerdy" characters, tons of short shorts, that odd blend of humor and horror, a heavy dose of teen lust, and just the right amount of '80's fashion.  The large cast of teen characters was actually pretty surprising at the start of the movie when you start asking yourself "are all of these people really going to get killed off?"  We have a pretty wide array of personalities here - from the seemingly uptight but actually chill but general pushover Paul (Furey) to his sweetheart last-to-arrive (foreshadowing) Ginny (Steel) to the sexy but big-hearted Terry (Kirsten Baker) - because why not go skinny dipping when out looking for your lost puppy - as far as even having the handsomely handicapped Mark (Tom McBride).  The most interesting thing here is that none of these characters was mean, or annoying, or even an obvious victim.  We have a generally nice group of people, and aside from some recreational drug use and premarital relations (read the rules, people), these victims were really very innocent.  This calls our attention because Jason especially (along with frenemy Mike Myers) is known for his prophetic slaying of badly behaving teens.  This movie presents us with a group of young people whose only crime is stepping foot on the J-man's turf.  Tough luck, kiddos.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Likewise, a surprising feature of this movie is that our final girl isn't even too virginal herself, although she is the girl that plays devil's advocate when she allows herself to tap into how Jason himself might be a victim.  Speaking of which, I've read some interesting criticism about how these movies are morally wrong because they allow the viewer to sympathize with the insane killer.  If Jason's (among other antagonists) primary motive for discontinuing random teens is that they are breaking other moral and legal codes or that they themselves are the enemies (i.e. premarital sex, drug usage, or grouped into the same type of people that murdered his mother), then perhaps his actions are in the right.  Jehoshaphat forbid the audience side with a killer, right?  A fun twist this movie provides us (we'll see something similar in Halloween V) is when Ginny's survival comes down to her relating directly to the killer through his own mind and memories, even if it does involve putting on a rotting, bloody sweater.  So brave.

This movie isn't very scary, but the scary moments I thought were particularly noteworthy.  The two scares I remember (because they made me jump) came towards the end of the film as I was getting ready for bed and let my guard down.  Those were really good.  Otherwise, this film relies on constant, constant tricks to make us expect we're about to be scared, when in reality nothing happens.  Much like in the first movie, the first person point of view cameraman makes things a lot more exciting in otherwise dull parts.  Is it the killer?  Is it just the camera?  Wait for the next scary shot and you'll find out.

Let's take one final moment to talk about the worst part of this movie.  I think that it wins "worst last 10 minutes of a horror movie", because really it wasn't a bad film and then all of the sudden, the last ten minutes happen.  What?  Why?  Just when we think not only a final girl but her guy survive, we hear a tapping on the door.... to reveal a dumb dog we thought dead - I'm pretty darn sure we saw her/ it dead early on - only to reveal the killer yet again.  And then what happened?  We're not sure because it's not explained to us, but it's immensely frustrating.  Who actually lived?  Who actually died?  And when and where and how in between.

Final critique:  While the first one is probably better, this wasn't a terrible sequel.  There is a fun cast of characters, and although we imagine the Friday the 13th series as headlining the horror stereotypes, I found this movie to be quite unpredictable at times.  I'm pretty pumped for the next installment in this classic franchise, but unfortunately I'm traveling this weekend so I really won't be able to blog until next week.  In any case, have a Happy Halloween, horror fans!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

American Horror Story - S3, E3 (2013)

"The Replacements"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga, Sara Paulson, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates, Gabourey Sidibe, Patti LuPone, Jamie Brewer, Lily Rabe, Dennis O'Hare; ft. Christine Ebersole, Mare Winningham, Alexander Dreymon
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, thriller, drama, witches, magic, Voodoo
Scare score:  D
Rating:  A


(I thought the change of poster was appropriate for this week)

Plot overview:  We learn how Fiona (Lange) gained her title as Supreme after the death of her mentor Anna-Lee Leighton (Ebersole).  Fiona continues in her struggle to remain young and powerful despite suspicions that Madison (Roberts) may be blooming as the next Supreme.  Madame LaLaurie (Bates) continues to accustom herself to the modern world and is punished for her racist antics, building an even rockier relationship with Queenie (Sidibe) who wants only to be loved.  Zoe (Farmiga) reunites regenerated Kyle (Peters) with his hopeless mother (Winningham) unaware of their family secrets.  The rift between witches and voodoo practitioners is firmly established after Delia (Paulson) asks for a guaranteed fertility ritual from Marie Laveau (Bassett), who spurns her on account of her wicked mother.

This episode broke all the rules.  While I generally thought it was a great episode, I couldn't help my mouth from falling open time and time again after I had to ask myself "Did that really just happen?"  I'm surprised that this episode had the same rating (MA LSV) as previous episodes considering the content.  

Before we get into that (half of me doesn't want to), let's talk about what's going on at this point three episodes deep in the season.  I'm worried about Misty (Rabe), who certainly felt a connection with Kyle as she nursed him back to zombie-like health.  It was obvious that she is only reaching out to Zoe, who is uncharacteristically cold towards the Stevie Nicks-blasting bayou girl, and now that Zoe has given her the brush not one but two times, I'm worried she won't stay aloof and friendly for long.  Why not just invite her to Miss Robichaux's?  (Especially now that they're in need of more pupils LOLZ).  I don't get that.  We'll have to keep an eye out for this life-and-death-defying witch.

Another new plot development is the arrival of the uber religious Ramsey's - maniacal mother Joan (LuPone) and strapping son Luke (Dreymon) - in the house next door to Miss Robichaux's.  While Luke seems harmless, his mother seems to already be onto the case of the young witches.  Having this God-faring family right next door is sure to cause some conflict for the school, although they seem to be busy enough with internal struggle that an external lawsuit doesn't seem like much.

Our other big nemesis - Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau - seemed even more wrathful this episode, contrasting her beautiful, sexual side and turning it to what seems like pure anger and dark power.  Will the clash between witches and followers of voodoo become the major conflict of the season?  Will Queenie somehow bridge the gap since we know she descends from Tituba?  Maybe we're more worried about Queenie's immediate fate regarding...

*SPOILER ALERT*

... WHAT was that girl thinking?  This was not the first jaw-dropping gross moment of the episode, but it certainly left its impression.  American Horror Story's message to the public after this episode remains clear: we don't care about rules and norms.  After all, it was pretty clear that our sassy, young, and misguided witch was ready to engage in some bewitched bestiality.  Yup, the other 'B' word.  And that wasn't the only "Oh no they didn't" part of the episode - let's take a quick minute to brush over the incest we were also subjected to.  What won't this show do?  Was it in poor taste?  Was it done for a purpose or only to show some humane terror that we'd rather not acknowledge?  That remains for viewers and critics to decide; I'm sure that people will be vocal about things like this.  I didn't even know we could show these things on TV.  Aside from these more taboo subjects, we are also being force fed a lot of racism via LaLaurie this season, with her comments going so far as to insult the current President.  On some levels this is just a bridge to place this show within our reality, on the other hand it was a surprising insult.  Though I suppose it was no harm, no foul when we were told that Fiona voted for Obama "twice."  A funny touch that the coven's leader swings left.

A guilty pleasure moment for me during the episode was when franken-Kyle bludgeons his mom to death.  The sounds, the blood spatter, and then the image we get when Zoe discovers her body was just perfectly gorey.  Viewers beware!  

Aside from specifics instances that push the button, I was most surprised by this episode's seemingly rapid killing off of characters.  Then again, in a world of witchcraft we never know who's gone for good.  Still, Fiona - who walks such a fine line between pure, unfeeling evil and tragic emotion and defeat - has shown us more of her true colors: red and black.  I love the color motif this anthology always plays upon, and in this episode it was really beautifully played out by Fiona in red and Madison in white.  Like I said in last week's entry, this show pays a lot of attention to art form, imagery, and style.  I think this episode's crowning moment was the imagined fertility ritual, filled with dancing, African-Carribean music, and images of fire, animals, and blood.

Final critique:  Deaths and conflict are increasing rather rapidly as we enter the third season's third episode.  I like that we hear Fiona's inner dialogue and see it contrasted with her outer actions.  The scares still aren't there, at least not in the ways we expect them to be, but there is something very dark about this season.  What trouble lies in store with Marie Laveau and her minotaur, or with Joan Ramsey and her Bible?  So far it's clear that nobody is getting what they want, be it love (romantic, familial, maternal), power, acceptance, youth, or freedom.  If the powerful and magically inclined aren't even powerful enough to get what they want and be happy, what does that say about the rest of us?

Friday the 13th (1980)

GENERAL INFO:
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Studios: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Tagline: They Were Warned... They Are Doomed... And on Friday the 13th, Nothing Will Save Them.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, slasher, stalker, thriller, psychopath, serial killer, teen
Scare score: C+
Rating: A-


Plot overview: As the film begins, two adolescent counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are killed by an unseen murderer wielding a knife and a machete. The film continues in "present day" as a handful of teenagers make their way to Camp Crystal Lake, which is set to reopen despite past tragedies and local rumors, resulting in the townies referring to it as "Camp Blood." The counselors arrive on Friday the 13th, and on their first night they are stalked and murdered by an unseen killer until only one is left to fend for her life.

Ask somebody in America to think about teen slasher movies, or just show them a retro hockey mask, and they will think about the Friday the 13th franchise. These films might just be your most stereotypical, thought-about, and referenced staple horror movies, filled with plenty of teenagers behaving badly and some mysterious killer stalking them in the distance. To me, the character of Jason goes hand in hand with Michael Myers even more so than he does with Freddy, although the latter left his mark rather explicitly on the '80s despite recent remakes. I wish I could have been alive in the 1980s if only to rot my teeth with candy and popcorn while going to the movies to see the constant debuts of these now-retro horror flicks— the iconic masks, the wide array of weapons, and the horrible acting on behalf of the victims.

I was never a big Friday the 13th fan growing up as I was much more partial to Halloween. Last night, however, was the perfect night to re-watch this campy horror classic and really enjoy it for the first time. It's clear that this franchise wanted to soak up some of the success of Halloween, and to me that's really cool. They did their own, good* job, made a new horror menace, had your classic storyline, and left their mark on generations to come.

*I use 'good' here to mean the sort of good that comes from kind of bad things. You know? Anyway, let's get started.

This is a movie of wonderful contradictions. Throughout the whole thing there is a bizarre mix of awful script-writing with strangely natural, effortless acting, but there's also plenty of decent script with acting so bad that you want to pull your hair out. This really surprised me, especially the scenes where the varied ensemble (including Kevin Bacon and one of Bing Crosby's sons... like no big deal I guess) of teens are actually so casual that you think you're looking at candid home footage. These parts are contrasted by everything you imagine teen horror (especially from the '80s) to be: awful. To help the acting, some of the writing is really natural and even enjoyable— and then there are parts that you want to poke your own eyes out because the dialogue is so dumb. What a roller coaster ride with a strangely awesome outcome.

I think most people between the ages of 15 and 60 would at least recognize (although not necessarily know the source of) the "ki ki ki, ma ma ma" sound that this movie made so iconic. Also, I mean, it's clearly more of a "chi chi chi, ha ha ha" with a really guttural emphasis at the beginning of either sound, but movie scorer Harry Manfredini says otherwise. This movie gives us an eerie score (with parts sounding identical to Psycho by the end), with music building us up and making us ready for "bam" moments that rarely come.

The movie poster is awesome. I want it in my bedroom now. Enough said.

My favorite thing about Friday the 13th is how it was filmed. The first person point of view is normally just the cameraman, but in crucial moments it is also the killer— and the lines are often blurred. There are scenes in which we're meant to think we're seeing what the killer sees, and then it turns out that no one was there. I absolutely love that. Sure we've seen what it's like behind Michael Myers's mask (with the two dumb eyeholes, nobody actually sees like that), but we also usually see Michael himself. That's the other thing I love about this movie— killer wise, it does everything Halloween doesn't. We don't know who the killer is this entire film, and this mystery identity keeps us guessing and worrying. Also, where Halloween banks on the shots with the killer made just visible in the background—down the street, in a window, in the backyard (PS I love those shots)—in this movie we never see the killer. The best part is that we are so often set up to expect to see a shadow or silhouette, and we never do. All we ever see is a hand and the weapon. The first person makes this film much more suspenseful.

Next we have the question of the plot itself: this entire film is plausible— why shouldn't some teens left alone at a creepy camp out in the woods be stalked and murdered by some assailant? Nothing fantastic happens here except for the killer's insanely good aim with arrows, knives, and axes. This movie is scary because you're going to think about it the next time you go out camping with friends. So again, the whole movie, you're sitting there and thinking "Uh huh, this is going to happen to me (especially in West Jersey: yikes)"— and then the last ten minutes happen.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The last ten minutes of the movie leave us with questions that cannot be answered. Following a night of scaring and tragic events, why would you just float out into the middle of a lake in the dark on a canoe quite literally without a paddle? Why would Jason still be a boy? Why does Alice (King) suddenly believe that "he's still there" and why would he be a boy (you dope)? Why did the police show up blaring their lights to a camp even though there was no call for help or reason to think anything was wrong? And since when does a machete—which I could have sworn was a broken canoe paddle—cut clean through a neck and spine? While the shot of Jason jumping up out of the water made me jump a little, too, I wonder if the entire falling action of the movie was made purely to introduce Jason and set up the sequel. Still, I've read that the whole Jason sequence was dreamed up only to provide one final scare in the movie. Sell. Outs.

One of the best things about this movie is the mystery identity of the killer. This isn't Michael Myers, who we know is stalking and killing everybody in Illinois. Is it Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney)? Is it the camp's owner, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer)? After the commercial success of this franchise, everyone associates the movies with one thing: Jason. After all, it's all about him, isn't it? Well we return to this first film, and then we're not so sure. Because 21 years after an unnamed child drowns at Camp Crystal Lake, we think we're watching only slightly related events until the last ten minutes of the film when we finally hear the name 'Jason'— and meet his mother, Mrs. Voorhees (Palmer). I absolutely loved that the killer was a woman and a mother, and I loved that through her reverse-Psycho psychosis she provides her own M.O. by switching to "Kill her, mommy. Kill her." While that might be really easy to laugh at in a crowd, by yourself or with a small group it is a truly eerie touch of crazy. Mrs. Voorhees's pursuit of Alice at the end of the film was rather pathetic (I think she gets knocked down, but she gets up again a la Chumbawumba at least 5 times), with the suspense dragging on until ridiculousness climaxes with a decapitation that's so unpredictable we don't know if we can accept it. Then again, I guess the filmmakers didn't really care if we accepted it, because with at least 10 more sequels to follow, this is the highest-grossing horror film franchise of all time.

Final critique: While this is the slasher film franchise that set all the stereotypes, in and of itself it is not the most stereotypical movie. One one hand, we had something creepy, new, and different at the time of the film's release. On the other hand, this movie is pretty much the basis of my second cardinal rule. Characters are at times filled with real teenage emotion, but they are usually very flat with little delivery. Deaths are plentiful and while they are often suspenseful, they are not scary or interesting. Their random occurrences and their random discoveries, however, perhaps add more terror to the film than a movie boasting predictable deaths might have. All in all, this is a campy classic that I'm sure only gets worse as the franchise moves on. For the time being, I highly recommend this first film especially during the Halloween season or at any late night movie viewing. Be warned that there are some gorey scenes, but not too many real scares.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Exorcist (1973)

GENERAL INFO:
Director: William Friedkin
Studios: Warner Bros.
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow
Tagline: The Movie You've Been Waiting For... Without the Wait.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, supernatural thriller, drama, exorcism, possession, religious occult
Scare score: B
Rating: A-


Plot overview: Recently-separated movie actress Chris MacNeil (Burstyn) is living in Georgetown with her friendly, spontaneous 12-year-old daughter Regan (Blair) and some staff. When Regan suddenly begins undergoing extremely drastic personality changes, Chris takes her to several doctors, who can only conclude that Regan should go to a psychiatrist. Chris, however, thinks that there is something much more fantastic and malevolent at hand. When Regan, who is now constrained to her bed due to her violent fits, appears physically altered and her personality has completely changed, Chris enlists the help of Father Damian Karras (Miller), a gifted psychiatrist and priest who is dealing with his faith. After seeking the help of the renown Father Merrin (von Sydow), both men attempt an exorcism to rid Regan of the demon possessing her.

If you ask anybody between the ages of 30 and 60 to name a horror movie, any horror movie, chances are they will name The Exorcist. There is something special about this film that scared—or maybe the word here is fazed—audiences and then stuck with them, something that people today still recount and it sends shivers down their spine. Horror Buff doesn't particularly love hopping on the bandwagon without giving the fad in question a good thinking over, so I have to admit that I was not enamored of The Exorcist after first seeing it when I was little. A coworker was talking to me about it recently while we discussed my love of horror movies, so I decided to revisit this classic. I guess I had to know exactly what it was about this movie that still scares people today.

Even if you're not into overkill, mainstream stuff, The Exorcist is a genre-defining classic. The movie is more artful than scary, relying on a few images that shock you and stick in your mind after the movie has ended. I have to admit, as I started this movie around 1 AM the weather took a turn for the worse outside my window, and I was able to enjoy this film during a pretty crazy wind and rainstorm. As I've said before, the ambience changes the movie-viewing experience entirely. Beyond the few scares this movie tosses our way, there is a general sense of uneasiness, and throughout the rest of the time we have a family struggle of which the drama certainly had me hooked early on.

What's weird about this movie? Nothing scary happens until about an hour into the film. Sure, there are a few subtle moments (I was really into the random flashes of that demon's face; would love to see a monster like that in modern horror), but the plot doesn't even beginning rolling into pretty far into the film. I thought the Ouija board was a fun touch, although I wasn't convinced that it was even important to the plot— is that how Regan first got possessed, or is it introduced as a cultural tool that introduces the possibility that Regan brought this on herself? Same goes for the small medallion that Father Merrin uncovers at the dig in Iraq. The multiple story lines in this movie struck me as being pretty bizarre in the fashion that they were ultimately edited together. It took such a long time to get to Regan's story, which, while everyone knows is the main point of the movie, in reality doesn't even take up too much time. We see practically just as much slow-moving background on Father Merrin (even though we don't know who the heck he is) and Father Karras as we do on the MacNeils.

One thing I did like about all the background was that it makes the characters more real, which I guess has a lot to do with the book on which this movie is based. I haven't read it, but I'm sure that Blatty, Friedkin, and crew knew exactly what they were doing. The dynamics between Burstyn and Blair are so genuine, so spontaneously realistic that you can't help but liking them. Blair is an incredible actress (although later in the movie it's not clear when it's actually her and when it's a doll with Mercedes McCambridge's voice) because you can't even tell she's acting. She just seems like a happy-go-lucky 12-year-old girl. This is one of the biggest challenges to Karras's faith: Why would such an innocent girl become a victim? What does that mean for the rest of humanity? The onset of her possession happens really quickly (hmmm), but the contrast afterwards is great. Out of all the possession movies I've begrudgingly seen, I think that my absolutely favorite possessed person has to be Regan/ Pazuzu.

What else is weird about this film that I wasn't crazy about? Now I certainly don't think that directors need to beat a dead horse, and I really can't stand dialogue for the sake of plot exposition, but you can't always take crazy leaps and expect people to follow. I acknowledge that I haven't read the book, so perhaps the movie was made with the understanding that many viewers wouldn't have as hard a time following along. Example 1: Father Merrin is called to check out the recently discovered dig site, and when he finds a small medallion and a carving he suddenly grows ill, freaks out, and 'has to leave.' And then he disappears for like an hour and a half. Alright. Later, Regan is showing her mom the Ouija board that she 'found in a closet' and we are introduced to this character of Captain Howdy. The Ouija board is a reference to one of America's most famous cases of possession, which Blatty's novel draws inspiration from. While we do see the planchette move by itself, therefore refusing to let Chris play along with Regan, we never see or hear it mentioned again, and even during a preliminary meeting between Father Karras and possessed Regan, when asked "Are you Regan's friend Captain Howdy?" the entity responds no. So is the Ouija board a red herring, or is Pazuzu just a master of deception, lying all over the place? I couldn't help but feel like this movie on several accounts jumps ahead and we miss out. Why are there bumps in the attic? What was there? A physical manifestation of the demon? Something else that ticked me off was the help in the house— did this movie ever explain that Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn) was an assistant, or why she was living with the family? For half the movie I thought this was Regan's sister that Chris oddly didn't treat like a daughter. This was really confusing, but I guess it's in the book.

I think the special effects of the movie were really pretty good. In fact, I'd have to say that in the whole movie—forget the pea soup, the green slime, the mucus-y loogies-from-hell, the twisted necks, and even the crucifix being used as a weapon and other things—the scene that grossed me out the most was when Regan had to go to the hospital for tests and they like stuck that wire into her neck. The shooting blood and then even thicker needle really grossed me out. Perhaps the other memorable part about this particular classic is Pazuzu's use of profanity. Like keep your children away from this movie unless you want them acting like the offspring of a sailor and a truck driver. I think the fact that they filmed Regan's bedroom scenes in a refrigerated set was brilliant, because I hate in movies when it's supposed to be cold and you don't see any breath. I read that Friedkin kinda sorta abused his cast here, leading to some real and true reactions from various actors resulting from surprise or even pain sustained while filming. I also saw the version with the so-called "spider-walk," and I thought that while its placement within the film was awkward, the scene itself was a cool touch.

As far as acting goes this movie had a '70s touch to it, but the acting was both convincing and endearing. Call me crazy, but did anyone else find it ironic that while Burstyn plays an actress, I didn't think her acting in the beginning of the movie was that great? Regardless, she might have been my favorite character, but I found some scenes a little questionable earlier on in the film. I thought Jason Miller was the true main character of the movie (not sure how it is in the book), and while I felt like I was watching The Godfather, he did a good job. Not sure why Father Merrin is treated so importantly in the plot when his importance did not seem established to me, but I liked von Sydow's acting. As you know, I don't think Linda Blair could have done any better. A quick shout out to Reverend William O'Malley in the role of Father Dyer, because we share the same alma mater. You gotta love a good Jesuit-themed horror movie.

Final critique: You should see this movie, especially at this time of year. While I think there's much more to this movie than its horror, the scary scenes are fun and worth the wait. What I don't understand is why people, magazines, and conglomerate sites rate this movie the scariest movie of all time because it's quite simply not. Understandably, at the time of its release it might have been, especially because of the shocking language and gross imagery. What's strange about the 'scary moments' of this movie is that they're very memorable, but not very scary. Sure, you have a few head turns and a lot of slime thrown on people's faces, and the title song is certainly eerie, but these things last a brief amount of time and then the emphasis returns from horror to drama, which seems to me to have been the theme of this movie.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

American Horror Story - S3, E2 (2013)

"Boy Parts"


GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Sara Paulson, Lily Rabe, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, thriller, drama, witches, magic, Voodoo, resurgence
Scare score:  F
Rating:  A-


Plot overview:  Following the [various] tragedies at last episode's frat party, the even more isolated and angry Madison (Roberts) tries to do a dark favor for the grieving, confused Zoe (Farmiga).  Meanwhile, we learn more about headmistress Coredlia's (Paulson) personal life with her husband Hank (Josh Hamilton).  After digging up the immortal yet cursed Madame LaLaurie (Bates), the ruthless Supreme witch Fiona (Lange) searches New Orleans and tracks down Marie Laveau (Bassett) from the rival clan of voodoo practitioners.

This episode dives much further into the dark side of witchcraft without losing an emotional side.  No one ever said being a witch was easy, but the wicked gals of AHS: Coven bring plenty of heart to the story as well.  We saw more relationships form, develop, or end in this episode, and while the episode is titled "Boy Parts" and we are introduced to Delia's husband, the emphasis is still on the females here. Even Fiona shows some emotion towards the end of the episode when sitting on a bench with the bewildered and out-of-place LaLaurie.  Is there perhaps more to our favorite wicked witch?

Let's chat quickly about plot before I movie into spoilers and analysis/ opinions.  "Mommy, where do witches come from?"  That's a question we've all asked at one point or another, right?  Well if we watched Episode 1, chances are we asked ourselves that question last week.  One of my favorite things about horror is the different ways that each film, TV show, or story interprets an evil or specific genre that we think we've already seen done.  Like sure, we've seen a million Draculas, but sometimes he's just a random Eastern European dude with a blood fetish, and sometimes he's Judas, condemned to walk the earth harvesting blood for all time.  A good interpretation makes all the difference.  That's why Horror Buff was excited to get some juicy plot thrown our way this time around in Episode Dos, and it all comes down to one of America's most terrible and true stories: slavery.  If you never fell asleep during a production of The Crucible and you listened closely to the dialogue between Fiona and Laveau, you'd know by now that according to AHS' interpretation, witches first learned their power from Tituba, a slave in Salem and one of the first women to be accused of practicing witchcraft.  Not only was li'l Tituba accused, but she confessed to said witchcraft (after being severely beaten by her master... because a confession after torture is always honest) and then went on to accuse many others, constantly elaborating her story and generally scaring everybody in Salem so much that lots of innocent people were brutally executed in various, terrible ways.  Tituba is of debated descent, but AHS has chosen the belief that she descends from the Arawaks of the "West Indies" (speaking of which, Happy Belated Columbus Day if you're into that), aka the Antilles and the Bahamas, aka one of the tribes most famously annihilated by the Spanish and other gold-hungry Europeans.  Wait for the best part: after causing so much chaos in New England, Tituba was sent to jail, released, and then --- wait for it!! --- she disappeared.  I have to admit that I didn't know this until doing some research just now, but hey, it works great for the plot here!

One more time: as dedicated viewers of AHS, we are to understand that Tituba, a native of the Carribean and alleged practitioner of old, dark magic.  Upon being brought to Salem as a slave, Tituba taught her magic to the white settlers, and witches as we know them in America (and the world? we're not sure) were born.  (Why Delia's scrolls/ spells are in Latin, then, is beyond me...)  Other important plot note: early in the episode we learn that Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) is supposed to be a scion of Tituba.  We'll see if that comes into play later!  All in all, this "passing on" of magical knowledge has since caused a rift between native practitioners, such as those who know observe voodoo including Marie Laveau, and the witches, largely considered to be white (at least according to Queenie).  Riveting stuff.

*SPOILER ALERT*

As if anyone thought that Evan Peters would be crossed off the list of characters after just one episode; he's AHS royalty, people.  The only thing is I'm just not sure how Kyle-y he's going to be this time around as a modern, fratty Frankenstein's monster.  His revival scene was the first real bit of magic that we've seen so far this season, and it wasn't Hocus Pocus (actually that movie is surprisingly dark for kids...)  What I'm trying to say is that this was no white bread magic, this was dark, satanic stuff with blood and salts and candles (matches have been a really beautiful motif so far this season).  It ticked me off that Madison left the morgue as soon as she thought the revival didn't work- what was her plan of action after workers came back to find body parts sewn together in what was clearly some sort of ritual?    Kyle himself was angry, violent, and confused, like any monster recently brought to life, and I'm sure we're in for some complicated little love story here.  I did love how his resurgence caused some sort of ripple that Misty Day (Rabe) was able to sense.

Speaking of which- did those silly humans really think a witch with powers over life and death could be killed so easily?  Silly farmers and their pitchforks (and chewin' tobbacy).  I can't tell yet if I like Misty or if I trust her.  She seems, like her gift itself, unstable and potentially dangerous.  She's clearly lonely and out-of-it, and I was surprised that Zoe didn't try and convince her to come join da crew at Miss Robichaux's- she is a young and gifted witch after all.  Her instability is what worries me most, so we'll see where this season takes her although I assume she'll be more on the positive side considering the events of last season.  Even so, we've certainly seen her dark side in the first few minutes of the episode (if she were with PETA imagine what she could do with fur coats).

I am really thrilled to see where the Fiona-Laveau-LaLaurie plot line goes this season.  It's difficult because we naturally feel pity for LaLaurie, cursed with immortality and suddenly thrusted into modern society where even the ring of a cell phone frightens her.  Then we remember who she is and what she did, and we have to remind ourselves that she shouldn't be invited to our pity parties.  Still, this anthology has been known to push our limits and make us question ourselves.  There is this overwhelming sense of lost love - Laveau's bull beau, LaLaurie's daughters (even the ugly one!), and something about Fiona's past we're still not sure about (is there a man?), my guess is there's still more to see between her and Delia.  Taking these three women, all of which are evil but likable in their own way, we have three types of relationships lost entirely: a woman and her lover (Laveau), a women and her children (LaLaurie), and a woman and herself (the self-absorbed Fiona).  All of these women think themselves great through their powers, accomplishments, and followers, and now each will have to prove just what she's capable of.

At the end of the day, what American Horror Story really comes down to is the beautiful images that it gives us.  This show is a well thought out work of art, and each week it gives us new, terrible, beautiful, frightful, artistic imagery to work with (or deal with) and try and understand (or erase from our memories).  The opening credits this season are so excellent (I didn't really like them in Asylum), filled with spooky and mysterious pictures of women, ceremonies by firelight, blood, hoods, snakes, horns, candles- the list goes on.  Just do a Google image search and you are provided with truly beautiful yet scary pictures and posters, many of which possess a moving symmetry with much deeper meanings (from Connie Brighton and Rubberman to a nun with a contorted patient).  On this episode we saw the 'boy parts' that represented tragedy to Zoe and potential to Madison, and to many viewers it probably just represented a reason to go blow chunks (this show is full of them).  As each new episode comes about, I mainly look forward to plot development and then what new, tragic or inspiring imagery will be introduced to us.  In a show like this, it's easy to be distracted by the disgusting and disturbing elements and then to overlook the artful, beautiful side of horror.

Final critique:  Good episode, good plot development, great acting- but where's the horror?  Methinks it's approaching us subtly and that soon it will take us by storm.  If we see more magic/ ritual scenes, I can only imagine how dark (and hot?) they will be.  Heads are starting to butt, a minotaur is being let loose, and soon we'll have not only a serial killer but a superstar joining our ranks: next week, Miss R's receives some new, religious neighbors (holla' Patti LuPone).  The girls will meet some new love interests and learn how to deal with old (deceased) ones.  Family troubles and old rivalries will not be easily extinguished.  There is so much in store for this season, but Horror Buff says bring on the scares!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  James Wan
Studios:  Warner Bros., New Line Cinema
Starring:  Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston
Tagline:  Based on the True Case Files of the Warrens
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, family drama, haunting, possession, exorcism, witch, ghost
Scare score:  A
Rating:  A



Plot overview:  After moving into a historic home in a small Rhode Island town, the Perron family is hoping for an easy transition and a fresh start.  Shortly after moving into the house, however, strange events begin plaguing the family such as the persistent smell of rotting meat, bruises appearing all over wife Carolyn's (Taylor) body, unexplained sounds, and broken objects throughout the house.  Things become worse when husband Roger (Livingston) has to go away for a few days, as both Carolyn and several of her five daughters witness the horrifying presence of various spirits in the house.  Desperate for help as the haunting worsens, the Perrons call acclaimed paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Wilson) who is a demonologist and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Farmiga) to help them save their house and family.

Now back before my days writing The Horror Blog, I would have considered going to the movies by myself to be an unthinkable act of social embarrassment.  However, this summer helped me prove my dedication to horror movies as I was compelled not once but twice to go see a horror movie alone during its premiere weekend.  It's not my fault if my friends are too scared; it simply had to be done.  You'd think Horror Buff's friends would have thicker-skin.  Alas, that's not the case.

The Conjuring was the first of these movies (the second was Insidious: Chapter 2 so I mean I can't complain about my choices).  Now of course your opinion of any film is going to be influenced by the environment in which you see it.  Unfortunately for me, instead of going to see this movie, say, late at night, or at a private showing, or even with friends, I saw it by myself at 7:30 on a Saturday evening in a completely full movie theater which had several children and one baby in the audience.  Yes, a baby was carried in after the film already started, at which point the family had to sit in the FIRST ROW.  That instance of bad parenting was probably scarier than the movie itself.  Aside from the general situation, this was a talkative audience (the baby, it should be noted, never made a peep).  I however sat behind this couple that loved discussing every happening in the movie - this included the girlfriend trying to constantly guess what was going to happen next (she was never right.  Not once), and when her boyfriend wouldn't respond she'd just try making out with him.  Otherwise the audience laughed too loudly at all the funny moments in the movie, but they'd also laugh at things that weren't funny, which certainly made it less scary.  At scary (or not scary) parts, this talkative audience would also react with screams or jumps, which makes a movie-going experience more positive.  As several months have passed, though, I'm just re-watching the movie now alone in my apartment to get a better feel for the terror.  PS it's working.

My first reaction when I started seeing trailers for this movie last spring was "I need to see this."  My second reaction, however, was that it all seemed a little too over-the-top.  Here we had James Wan and half his cast from Insidious (which I blogged about a year ago today; where does the time go?) thrown together into trailers which looked like somebody went into a horror movie props room in Hollywood and took everything they could carry.  Like seriously, in a 2 minute trailer alone we saw scary dolls (aka the girlfriend of Billy the Puppet), scary witches, pasty dismembered hands, people covered in sheets, a swarm of crows circling the house, women hanged from trees- the list goes on.  That being said, I went into this movie expecting it to be cliche and misguided.

As per usual, let's start at the very beginning.  "Base on a true story."  You know how I feel about these words.  You know that they turn me into a skeptic and put an almost automatic frown onto my face.  While I still really enjoyed this film, I naturally did lots of research on the Warrens immediately following the movie as I stayed to see if anything funky happened in the credits (nothing did), and the whole Perron case is pretty changed here.  According to real accounts from the Perrons, their house was filled with both friendly and malicious spirits, some of which would play with the children and tuck them in at night.  I guess we missed out on those friendly ghouls as the film opted to stick to the pure terror.

Next up: Annabelle.  The allegedly creepy doll.  I want to know if James Wan designed this little lady like he did Billy, the doll on the bike in the Saw movies, who to be fair I think is a creepy looking dude.  Annabelle isn't looking too well herself, but these two definitely have traits in common which makes me wonder.  The prologue to the movie felt random to me, like a B-feature way to scare people/ set the tone for a totally different plot.  Hours later when Annabelle comes back into the storyline I think I let out an audible, unamused "Ha" to welcome her back.  Needless to say, I hate loud pounding, and the prologue was therefore pretty discomforting as far as the physics-defying doll's display, which then led us into a comfy classroom setting to introduce us to this movie's equivalent to Insidious's Elise, the loving and easy-to-love Warren duo.  Then cue the spectacular title sequence - the font, the script, the yellow on black, the whole look of the title sequence was really fantastic and took us back to the '70s.  It reminded me a bit of the look of The Amityville Horror, which this movie pays homage to due to the involvement of the Warrens in both cases.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I like the scene where we first meet the Perron family because the cameras are already inside the house, making the viewer one with the spirits who eagerly wait inside for their new prey.  Still, we have some pretty slow-moving rising action and introduction to the peculiarities of the house such as a cellar filled with haunted I mean beautiful antiques (omg surprise basement!  Plus square footage on our next refinancing!), a totally ominous tree outback with an old abandoned toy, and clocks that stop in the early hours of the morning.  It isn't until about half an hour into the film that we actually start to get scared by the "clap hands" game between Carolyn and youngest daughter April (Kyla Deaver).  Quick side note- who in their right mind lets their children walk around a completely unfamiliar home blindfolded when it is still covered in unpacked furniture and boxes?  Hello safety hazard.  Immediately following that scare is the invisible but pretty convincingly scary night haunting sequence starring middle daughters Christine (future major celeb Joey King) and Nancy (Hayley McFarland).  Immediately following that scare is Caroyln's big intro into the true terrors of her house - including the scene that we were all perhaps most looking forward to from the trailers.  And then, as if we hadn't been scared enough, remaining daughters Cindy (Mackenzie Foy) and Andrea (Shanley Caswell) are witnesses to a malicious demon.  Like enough already!  This haunting is truly a family affair (minus daddy who is away being a trucker).  After that, the movie slows down again to build up the plot behind the terror and draw us into a false sense of safety as we are readied for the oncoming barrage of horror.

I remember the first time I saw this movie I was caught up by the many transitions between normal life and the hauntings that sometimes distract us from the fluidity of the plot, which I guess it pretty typical of haunting movies with the contrast between night and day.  This time around, though, everything felt much more normal.  The way this film is set up, we get a nice balance of crowd-pleasing scares and plot, both of which keep us content.  The scares in this movie are really great and really scary.  There is an older feeling about them, just your classic scares that you know are coming up, yet they still manage to make you jump.  As far as special effects, this film doesn't depend on them like a lot of modern horror does, but what is does do it does well.  I was constantly surprised by the excellent transitions at the end of the film when Carolyn is possessed- her changing face was so disgusting, and then in a second it would be back to normal.  Cool stuff.

Even though this movie relies on old school scares, and even though it might easily remind us of flicks like InsidiousThe Exorcist, and Poltergeist (that brief scene with TV static was not for naught), it really is its own film entirely, and through a strange mixture that's heavy on some cliches, it manages to create an entirely new element.  Mind you, Wan really goes for broke on the whole "sometimes it's not just a house that's haunted" when the Warrens oh so matter-of-factly explain that these dark entities have latched themselves onto the Perrons themselves.  This seems to be a new trend developing in horror, but hey, I'm happy with it.  The ghosts are equally disgusting and frightening (with impeccable timing and makeup), and we have to give a shout out to our main girl Bathsheba who is played by none other than composer Joseph Bishara - who you could tell from the get go with the strings in the opening piece is also the composer of either Insidious film.  Who knew he would make a ghost equally as terrifying as his music?  One concept I ended up liking about this film was the very thing I went in doubting - the seemingly over-the-top use of scary items and motifs.  By the end of the movie, I had come to really appreciate the room in the Warrens' house filled with possessed or otherwise dangerous items.  Not only was Rory's toy a good idea for possible marketing (like either previously mentioned doll), but it was so darn creepy.  Right up until the last second of the film, we were all expecting that music box to show us something horrible.

The acting in this movie is alright.  I didn't really like Lili Taylor in The Haunting, and she's virtually unchanged here.  Her portrayal of a mother possessed is much more convincing than her happy-go-lucky wife and mother.  I like Ron Livingston as a pretty believable American dad, but I liked him better as Lt. Nixon.  You can't win 'em all.  To me, the biggest disappointment was Patrick Wilson who I genuinely liked in the Insidious films.  When it comes to his portrayal of Ed Warren, is he even really acting that well?  I get that these people are intelligent, well-versed, and experienced, but he delivers all of his lines so curtly and coldly as if the things he revealed about demons and paranormal activity were things we should have learned in kindergarten.  On the other hand, I did really enjoy Farmiga's (older sis of Taissa who's our new star in American Horror Story: Coven!) performance as the sincere, kind, and clairvoyant Lorraine.  It's tough when you have a kind of all-powerful character like this, who again is so similar to Insidious' Elise, because they're very easy to like.  Aside from her personality, I thought that Farmiga brought us a very powerful delivery- convincingly showing us her roles as wife, lover, mother, and helper.  As for the 5 daughters, I wasn't convinced that they were actually sisters or a family, but in their various moments in the spotlight they each did a good job.  If you haven't seen the comedy-horror Detention starring Caswell in a role equal in teen angst to that of Andrea, you're in for an impeccably-written treat.  I really didn't like King in the various nighttime sequences when she unconvincingly tried convincing us that she thought her sister was pulling her leg (literally) and passing wind (euphemistically), but by the end when she seemed truly terrified in car she won me back.  To tell you the truth, I thought that Cindy was the one who was going to be possessed because I mean, just watch her throughout the movie- girl is so freaky.  The various scenes of here looking legitimately evil had to be done on purpose as a red herring.  Kyla Deaver as April was simply too young, and while she was a total cutie, her lines sounded, well, like memorized lines.  As for Nancy... uh, E for effort? #middlechild

Final critique:  Ultimately, this movie amounts to scare after scare thrown at us until we can't handle any more.  Naturally, I love that.  To the film's credit, the plot itself is neat, and while I went into this fearing it would be all over the place, everything sort of manages to tie itself together.  After seeing it during its opening weekend this past July, this film immediately shot its way high up on my list of horror favorites, and I would easily recommend it to anybody.  Well- if you scare easily, if you have nightmares after horror movies, or if you have a weak heart, stay away.  This is a truly scary movie for general audiences; it's also well thought out, delivers on its promises, and has heart to boot.

The Invisible Man (1933)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  James Whale
Studios:  Universal Pictures
Starring:  Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart
Tagline:  H.G. Wells' Fantastic Sensation
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, terror, science fiction, mad scientist, classic, Universal Horror, black and white
Scare score:  D-
Rating:  C



Plot overview:  While trying to perfect a chemical concoction causing invisibility, Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) goes beyond the bounds of scientific ethics and winds up an invisible madman.  As the drugs begin to affect him more and more, Griffin wrecks terror around the English countryside and ultimately coerces his coworker Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) to assist him in a plot to become the most powerful man in the world.  Before it's too late, Jack's love interest, Flora Cranley (Stuart) and her father, Jack's employer, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) will try and bring him back to sanity and save him from his own plot.

This is of course a timeless horror and sci-fi classic with dozens of spin offs and references in popular culture, boosting the Invisible Man to the ranks of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, and the rest of the crew.  I think the interesting this about this fast-moving film is the strange mix of humor, madness, and thrills.  While the innkeepers Mr. (Forrester Harvey) and Mrs. Hall (Una O'Connor) partially drove me insane, especially the latter with her uncanny, shrill voice, they also made the movie a lot lighter, considering the plot.  While all of the title characters of Universal Horrors are indeed monsters, audiences have found likable or forgivable traits in many of them (the Phantom and Frankenstein's monster are just lonely, right?)  On the other hand, here we have Dr. Jack Griffin, who as the mean, rude, and crazed Invisible Man is perhaps one of the most annoying main characters in horror.  The effects of the monocane are pretty obvious here considering what a lunatic this guy's become; too bad Cranley never mentions the drug's other side effects include being a huge bully.  The guy is just so dislikable, we can't help but cheer on the ending - or, uh, hope for a happier one.

The other striking thing to me about this movie is all the big names.  You gotta love a Hollywood classic like this simply because of the familiar faces: the Invisible Man?  Oh, you mean that nice but corrupt guy in Casablanca.  The beautiful, forgiving although naive Flora?  No, no, you mean the elderly Rose Dawson Calvert.  Wasn't she a dish?  And who could forget her dad?  Not a single Christmas is complete for Horror Buff without watching Dr. Cranley portray that lovable angel in It's A Wonderful Life.

As far as supporting characters, both the innkeeper man and his wife can be seen in other horror classics such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Wolf Man (both from 1941) as well as the Frankenstein franchise of the 1930s.  If you pay close enough attention to the extras you'll see a future Academy Award winner, the real-life father of Bill from Kill Bill, as well as other familiar faces from other horror classics of the time.

This movie is a really quick watch, and while you'll find yourself simply hating the Invisible Man himself early in the film (learn some manners), it's a classic that will fit right into your afternoon horror movie marathon.  There is a lot of comedy in this film, from the scenes at the inn to all the bumbling police in their attempt to catch a man they cannot see.  I also did enjoy a lot of the special effects of things being thrown around and knocked over by the invisible doctor.

Final critique:  I don't love this film, but it's a harmless classic that I would easily recommend to viewers.  You could honestly squeeze this into an hour with a bowl of popcorn and someone cute cuddled up next to you on the sofa.  If you're looking for scares, The Invisible Man is certainly not the movie you're looking for, but it is a cultural and cinematic icon (with a really great poster!) that's sure to make you smile.

The Mummy (1932)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Karl Freund
Studios:  Universal Studios
Starring:  Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners
Tagline:  It Comes to Life!
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, terror, mummy, thriller, classic, Universal Horror, black and white,
Scare score:  D-
Rating:  B-


Plot overview:  During a tomb excavation in 1921 Egypt, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and assistant Ralph (Bramwell Fletcher) find the mummy of the priest Imhotep (Karloff) who was mummified alive for his insolence.  After reading aloud the ancient Scroll of Thoth, Ralph accidentally resurrects the wrathful Imhotep who then walks out of his tomb, driving Ralph insane.  The mystery of the missing mummy continues for ten years, when a suspicious Egyptian man named Ardath Bey arrives at the home of Sir Joseph, instructing his son Frank (Manners) where he can find the tomb of the princess Ankh-es-en-amun - who, unbeknownst to Frank was Imhotep's great love.  When this new mummy and her treasures are donated to the Cairo Museum, Ardath Bey sets out to resurrect the princess, who he thinks is living reincarnated as the socialite Helen Grosvenor (Johann).  Will Frank, who is also infatuated with the beautiful Helen, be able to save her from the ancient mummy and his murderous plot?

This is a staple in the horror genre, a classic of classics right up there in the ranks of Dracula, The Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein franchise of the 1930s which also stars Karloff as the monster (aka Horror Buff's prof pic).  Of course most of this has to do with the casting of Karloff, who was a mere year out of his best known role as the aforementioned monster, which means here we're catching him in the early stages of his rise to becoming the king of horror.  Lest we forget the shout out for Edward Van Sloan in the role of Dr. Muller - the doctor who won't be fooled by Ardath Bey's scheming.  As you'll read anywhere, he is a well-known contemporary of Karloff, familiar in his various (but similar) roles as a doctor in Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy.  Typecast, much?

The downside of being a staple of classic horror - even if you are from a beautiful and glamorous time in Hollywood that Horror Buff wishes he had been around for - means that you're probably not scary by today's standards.  Like not one bit.  Such is the curse of classic horror.  Just think, in 80 years, the Saw franchise and Human Centipede 2 (which I will not be blogging about because it frustrated me too much to try and watch) will be considered weak and puritanical!

But just because this movie isn't scary doesn't mean that it's not worth watching.  In fact, the best thing about these classics is that they are quick and easy watches such that you could knock out three in an afternoon for a classic horror movie marathon and still go out at night to rage/ trick or treat/ whatever you're into.  There is nothing better on a lazy fall afternoon/night than watching horror movies.  Trust me.  Having a cool social life is a close 2nd.  Fall activities like pumpkins and apples and fall flavored foods and walking around Central Park are also up there on the list.  Sorry, I'm back in Europe and have none of these things, which makes my Halloween season just a little less fun.

Let's start at the beginning.  The poster for this movie is really beautiful.  I would love to have that framed in my room at some point.  Also, this movie is just plain iconic - like who hasn't seen this image of Karloff as the Mummy, even if they didn't know who he was or what movie this was from?  I can't stress enough how movies like this represent a beautiful, golden age when cinema  and horror movies were filled with romance, shocking audiences for the very first time.  The score of the movie was filled with some nice pieces, though I admit being really surprised to find that the opening number was Tchaikovsky (my favorite piece of his, actually, from the finale of Swan Lake).  Later on, however, we're treated to mystical, sweeping pieces of what Hollywood has made us associate with Egypt and the Middle East - there are very few things I like more in movie scores than romantic music such as this.  Throughout the film, the soundtrack is used as a tool to provide suspense when otherwise nothing is happening on screen.

Acting is alright.  Karloff is a little stiff - ho ho ho - but I think he was just taking his role very seriously.  Which is good of him.  I liked Johann a lot, I thought she had this really exotic beauty going for her, and while she was reminiscent of many other Hollywood actresses at the time, I liked her in this role.  The movie's biggest fault is perhaps all the deleted scenes - there are absolute holes in the plot that might be easy to overlook while watching, but as the movie ends we're aware that something or some things were just missing from the fluidity of the film.  These would have showed us a lot more of Johann's skill, and it also would have developed more crucial chemistry between Karloff and Johann's characters that I really thought was absent from the film.

The set was impressive and romantic, and it really took us away to 1920s/30s as well as ancient Egypt. I think honestly that in this time period, film makers were perhaps not as focused on the horror as they were on simply taking the audience away to another place and time, as well as providing a few thrills along the way.  Something that they definitely do in a good, wholesome, old-fashioned way.

Final critique:  This is a standard horror classic.  The thrills aren't comparable by today's standards - they rely more on sudden shots of piercing, angry eyes, or slow shots of the mummy's burial cloth being dragged off screen.  Still, there is a pretty albeit underdeveloped plot that keeps us pretty entertained throughout the course of this short movie.  Perfectly recommendable for a horror movie marathon, for viewers who can't put up with big scares, or for a lazy October afternoon.  Enjoy.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Gate (1987)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Tibor Tak√°cs
Studios:  New Century Entertainment Corporation, Vista Organisation
Starring:  Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp, Christa Denton
Tagline:  There's a Passageway - A Gate Behind Which the Demons Wait to Take Back What Was Once Theirs - Pray it's Not Too Late
MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Genre:  horror, thriller, demons, teen
Scare score:  F
Rating:  D


Plot overview:  After opening up a gateway to hell in his backyard, preteen Glen (Dorff) will have to rely on the quirkiness of his friend Terry (Tripp) and the love of his older sister Al (Denton) to close the portal and save the earth.

This movie came recommended to me during a discussion about horror movie favorites, so needless to say I was surprised that it turned out to be such a corny, '80s horror flick.  Nonstop claymation is one thing, but then the irritating and bizarre Terry casting his negative influence on the likes of the innocent Glen is different.  And even though I don't hate claymation, those stupid demons got really annoying really fast.  The big demon wasn't what I was expecting either - I mean honestly this whole movie by today's standards is just heavily tainted by the advancements we've made in special effects in the past 25 years.

I found that the movie to be too predictable (like that big rocket? It's final purpose was clear to Horror Buff from the first time we saw it), with no depth whatsoever.  Also, the action of the film rose and fell too often and too suddenly without a clear goal.  It was exhausting to sit through all the times we thought things would go horribly wrong, only to return to boring, scare-less sequences.  The only thing that kept me watching this movie was (a) hoping that it would get better and (b) the fact that Stephen Dorff is so darn cute.  His last name is also humorously appropriate given his stature.  The fun, realistic brother/sister relationship was what kept this movie going - it was like seeing a pure, American family prior to the technological revolution of the '90s and 2000s.  Nowadays forget about this kind of stuff - no more model rockets, Al (called Allie) would be at the mall with those horrid but hot/popular sisters, texting and Tweeting away.  Terry would be a drug addict alone in his basement listen to Zeppelin backwards looking for demonic messages.  Where would that leave our Glen?  I'm afraid to know the answer.

*SPOILER ALERT* (not that anyone cares...)

It's always an interesting concept when a horror movie has only teenage characters (save the killer of course), which we've seen done a million times over and cleverly parodied in Cabin in the Woods (which I watched months ago and still haven't blogged about... who am I?).  When the horror movie is all about younger children though, that's a different and difficult task.  Like nobody is going to die here, check my rules regarding children, and it was only a matter of waiting for the demons to come out of the gate and then waiting for them to get sent back in again.  Nothing too special here.  In fact, aside from effects, I was more disappointed that the role of the big demon was so random both in terms of timing and purpose.  What was his purpose?? Did he have one?  That whole sequence was poorly done (the eyeball in Glen's hand?  Why?), although it was pretty awesome seeing the whole house fall apart like that.  That must have been really cool to film.

In terms of scares, I thought the best thing this movie had to offer was the scene in the basement when a zombie breaks out of the wall.  That took me by surprise.  *Finally, something decent.*

Final critique:  This movie is cute and all, and I certainly didn't hate it, but I wish I hadn't stayed up late to watch it and then went to work tired the next day.  I can understand why a kid might like this movie, and that if you had seen it enough times as a kid you might have fond memories of it later in life, but as far as horror goes these days, this movie is far too stuck in the '80s.

American Horror Story - S3, E1 (2013)

"Bitchcraft"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Taissa Farmiga, Jessica Lange, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Jamie Brewer, Gabourey Sidibe, Sara Paulson, Evan Peters; ft. Frances Conroy, Lily Rabe, Angela Bassett, Denis O'Hare
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, thriller, drama, witches, magic, Voodoo
Scare score:  D
Rating:  A


(Still not sure about what poster I want to use...)

Plot overview:  In the premiere of the anthology's third season, we are introduced to Zoe Benson (Farmiga), a normal teenage girl whose life changes when her boyfriend inexplicably dies while they have sex for the first time.  Her mother then reveals to her that she is a witch and that this gene or "affliction" runs in their family.  She is promptly taken away by a quirky escort (Conroy) to the all-girls, New Orleans finishing school Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies - a safe haven and training ground for young witches - where she is introduced to her fellow students: the vengeful and self-centered but lonely movie starlet Madison Montgomery (Roberts), sassy human voodoo doll Queenie (Sidibe), and the kind, clairvoyant Nan (Bower).  The headmistress is the cautious Cordelia Foxx (Paulson), whose attempt to safely develop (or suppress) the girls' powers is challenged by her newly arrived mother Fiona (Lange), the reigning Supreme of all witches, who tells the girls that if they don't fight, they burn.  While the students struggle with their powers, their relationships, and their identities, Cordelia and Fiona will have to deal with their contrasting views of witchcraft as well as their own familial estrangement, which comes second to Fiona's own obsession with trying to regain youth and vitality, an ordeal that will surely take her to the dark sides of witchcraft and New Orleans Voodoo.

I was blown away by the premiere of AHS: Coven, no more effortlessly drawn back into the dark glamour and creative terror of the anthology than the effort it took me to Google "watch american horror story coven online free".  There is so much to talk about, I'm going to have to try to focus myself here.  First and foremost, we can't ignore that Season 1 took place inside the home, Season 2 a church-run asylum, and now Season 3 a school.  Institutions.  America.  Horror.

What should of course captivate the viewer is the strong acting that is already evident.  While American Horror Story is known for wild, winding plots and of course it's famed smorgasbord of horrible, gory images, with snapshots of sex and death, murder and blood, relationships and dismemberment thrown at us like paint in a Jackson Pollock piece, I have to say that the great acting serves somewhat as an anchor, a harbor of sorts that maintains pace throughout the show's twisting and turning plots while simultaneously taking us into darker places of the human spirit.  I am thrilled to have Taissa Farmiga back this season, and while she expertly plays the marginalized, angsty teenager I see her as someone totally different than Violet from Season 1, who I easily got sick of.  Zoe on the other hand is somebody I want to see more of and learn more about, like a kind, sane soul in this wacky world of witchcraft.  The one thing I didn't like was her blunt, anticlimactic "So I'm a witch" bit in her otherwise well-written opening explanation sequence on the train.

Surrounding her is a cast of extremely diverse, talented women.  I was really pleased with the intricate characters of Madison, Queenie, and Nan, who I also hope to see more of, but by reading various pages about the show I see that not all of them are considered to be main characters this season, so we'll have to see how that plays out.  Also, I'm going to call it now, but I really wouldn't be surprised to see one of these young ladies die throughout the course of the season - okay, okay, I get that with this show (which has been known to kill off the entire cast) that calling this prediction isn't a big deal, but we'll just wait and see.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The dynamic between Delia and Fiona adds a different layer to this show.  I think the most obvious motif we've seen so far this season is femininity and feminine identity: the relationship between mothers and daughters, girls and their boyfriends, girls and their girl friends, and the identity of witches within modern as well as (briefly) 17th and 19th century American society.

But really- where are all the guys at?  I know that we're to expect several love interests, and I highly doubt that Evan Peters in the role of good-hearted frat boy on a scholarship is actually dead.  Let's talk about this really quickly: my first question is what the heck is up with his accent?  He and Lange went all out on the Massachusetts/ Boston accent last season and this time around I'm just not even sure what he's throwing at us.  It is certainly similar in some aspects to last season's accent, but then there is I guess a Louisiana drawl added in?  Or not?  I have never been to New Orleans, so I don't know how they talk, but his accent was just wild.  I know he mentions his mom lives/d in the 9th Ward, so I guess we're made to expect he's a local boy.  Anyway, I love that he and Taissa have been reunited.  That's a beautiful thing about this anthology, how characters come back and relationships and loves can be reincarnated across time and space.  While watching the scene where Violet and Tate - I mean Zoe and Kyle - see each other through the ice luge/ sculpture - it reminded me of Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and there was just so much romance.  For a girl who will never know 'true' love, we'll have to see where Zoe goes with this one!  My next question is what's up with Spalding (O'Hare), the creepy butler straight out of Scary Movie 2?  There's definitely more to that story.  I'm not convinced that this is the last we'll see of Lily Rabe either.

Lange is very interesting this season.  While I wasn't 100% convinced by her plentiful pop culture references (the words "Facebook," "Twitter," and "Hogwarts" sounded so odd coming out of her mouth - but the last once cracked me up), she was a blast to watch in her various moods: desperate to attain a youth serum, drugged up and dancing, or glamorous queen-of-the-damned leading the young witches on their field trip.  If she's either good or bad this season, it's too soon to tell.  I love that we see these kind, young witches under close watch and protection, but then the devil-may-care attitude of Lange makes us question: what happens when the Supreme isn't focused on the well-being but rather the survival of her kind (with much more selfish motives)?  I'm also forced to question the role of her withdrawn daughter Delia, a woman who seems friendly for now but could be capable of much more.  Anywho, Lange's outfits and scene entrances were expertly done.  Her Mary Todd Lincoln joke had me laughing out loud.  Where will this mother-daughter duo take us?  Only time will tell.

We've known for a while now that the big star of the season was Oscar-winning Kathy Bates, brought to us as an anachronistic Madame LaLaurie who has somehow achieved eternal (or very long) life.  I thought she had the best delivery in the entire episode; she was crazed, unfeeling, and cruel - and yet somehow entirely different from horror hall of fame character Annie in Stephen King's Misery.  We become witnesses to her based-on-real-life horrors (which AHS has taken some liberty with), and considering that her finals years are unaccounted for, it's a fun twist to pretend that she's been around all this time.  I'm extremely excited to see how evil she remains in the present day, as well as her relationship with Fiona.  Same goes for the storyline we'll see involving the passionate, conniving, and sensual Angela Bassett as New Orleans favorite Marie Laveau.  It's little touches like these real-life characters that make American Horror Story American.

The first episode of the season has already provided us with the show's signature touch of a mix between real and fanciful horror: the true accounts of Madame LaLaurie's mutilation of her slaves, human objectification and revenge, Voodoo, self-discovery and fear of who we are/ might become in society, alienation from parents and families, gang rape and drug/ drinking culture in fraternities and universities, fear of being different, mob psychology, and of course witchcraft.  Before I saw the episode I kept reading how grossed out people were after 'the first five minutes,' so needless to say I was pretty uh disappointed?  This episode wasn't scary.  I mean it's tough for an ongoing, broadcasted show to really be scary, but I guess at least it's making horror more mainstream.  Considering that this was a record-breaker in terms of number of viewers for American Horror Story (congrats!), we can at least rest assured that more and more people are getting into the horror genre.

Lastly but not least, I am in love with the musical theme of this show, the simple "la la lala lala" that follows us throughout.  It's so easy, so good. By the end of last season, I was already sick of the pulsating, static sounds of the opening sequence.

Final critique:  Where will this season take us?  We have so far a compelling story about a multitude of female relationships, and I expect to see more strong female characters as the season adds on old favorites like Frances Conroy and Alex Breckenridge as well as new stars like Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole (should we expect more musical numbers this season?)  I can only expect human resurrection, religious persecution, love, hate, and self discovery in the newest edition of this anthology that is easily winning the horror-loving hearts of Americans and viewers worldwide.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Omen (1976)

Okay, so we're approaching mid-October - acclaimed Month of Horror - and here I am without a single entry.  I've just recently moved abroad again, hence the long period of delay, but that's all soon to change.  After all, it's October.  Soon you'll be sick of me - just kidding, that could never happen.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Richard Donner
Studios:  Twentieth Century Fox
Starring:  Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw
Tagline:  You Have Been Warned.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, suspense, thriller, devil, spawn of satan, religious occult, family drama
Scare Score:  B
Rating:  A


Plot overview:  After Robert Thorn (Peck), the American Ambassador to Rome, learns that his child died at birth, a quirky priest (Martin Benson) urges him to unofficially adopt another newborn whose mother has just died.  Thorn does this without ever telling his wife, Katherine (Remick).  Beginning with the child Damien's (Stephens) 5th birthday party, terrible events begin plaguing the family including the suicide of his nanny, the appearance of a terribly threatening black dog, and overall inexplicable behavioral problems.  Katherine begins to feeling more uneasy around her 'son' as well as the new, intense nanny Mrs. Baylock (Whitelaw).  After a crazed priest (Patrick Troughton) and a well-researched photographer (Warner) begin contacting the Ambassador with religiously-based theories about Damien, a far greater evil than anyone could have expected begins to take its toll upon the world.

This is simply an excellent example of a classic, scary horror movie.  Throw some big names, a good plot, nightmare-inducing music, two or three scenes that make your blood rate go through the roof, and a general sense of pessimism together, and you are guaranteed a spooky sensation.  In fact, if someone were to casually ask me to recommend some good horror movies to them, I bet you that the original The Omen would be one of the first movies I mention.  Known for it's haunting, award-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith (Poltergeist, The Haunting [which I've seen like three times in the past year and still haven't blogged about], and Magic [which is such a good movie and deserves a blog post soon]) as well as that pesky little Damien who's just so easy to hate, The Omen has been scaring young and old horror fans alike for almost 40 years.

The opening credits are scary.  The Latin chants/ yelling that you don't understand yet you somehow know is about the devil are perfect.  Within the first minute, the tone is set for the entire movie.  Seemingly innocent priests and babies turn into men and boy-creatures gone horribly astray in terrible plots to destroy mankind.  A seemingly cute little kid with baby fat suddenly gains all your hatred and breaks the fourth wall like he's some kind of boss.  Like who do you think you are?  The son of satan?  Oh, wait...

The acting in this moving is pretty good, as in I wasn't distracting by the acting, but it wasn't convincing either.  Here we have Greg Peck - a god among actors and men - but is he really that great here?  Are we too hung up on Atticus to realize that the Ambassador is a completely static character this entire movie?  Robert Thorn: impassive, stern, critical, tough-skinned.  Like sure he loves Katherine, but he is never excited, never happy, and never even really sad.  The only time he gets somewhat expressive is on a street in Israel when he supposedly has this moment of clarity and human compassion, shortly before a somewhat unfounded change of heart.  Like really G-Peck?  What's going on here?

Still I love the guy, so I wasn't too critical.  What I really had a problem with, however, was the family dynamic here.  We various 'families' here, not only within the Thorn family of husband and wife vs. 'son,' but I guess a little healthy rivalry between the Big Man and JC vs. the devil and his widdle baby.  Unfortunately, the Robert/Katherine-Damien dynamic is the least believable "family" I've ever seen.  And I'm not just talking about after Katherine begins to have bad dreams and feelings about Damien and then naturally distrusts him - I mean never once does either parent treat this kid like a normal parent would treat a 5-year-old.  They are so cold!  Does the kid even get kissed once?  His nannies are so much more devoted to him (as they both prove) - quick side note: the birthday party scene is just so good.  Like that nanny calling out to Damien before her big act.  Love it.  - back to the dysfunctional family.  At no point does G-Peck convince me that he is the father of this child - okay, okay, so he's not, but don't you think you'd learn to like the kid?  He never actually does anything bad except throw a temper tantrum before mass and like whoops he accidentally rides his trike (ugh, guess it beat The Shining to it) into mommy.  Like sorry my bad, didn't you learn never to stand atop unstable tables?  But seriously- if you watch this movie and you focus on the family dynamics, you will be disappointed.  Call me crazy, but I consider that bad acting.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Switching to a positive point for this film: I think that David Warner's death is one of the best scenes in horror.  Like from early on we know he's going to die, most likely from decapitation.  I personally was expecting it to happen in the cemetery/ dog scene, but then we get this gem of a slow-mo in Israel.  Nothing can beat that.  But really, considering it was only 1976 and there were effects I didn't criticize- well that's just genial.  Lol I just used an adjective that sounds better in Spanish than in English.

Final Critque:  This is an excellent movie that I would recommend to any audience.  There is a terrifying score, acting, and plot- even if it ultimately centers around politics.  What could be more appropriate for our nations 200th anniversary than a horror movie where the spawn of satan is born into the sea of politics and the eventually the family of the President?  Viva la horror.