Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

American Horror Story - S3, E7 (2013)

"The Dead"

Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga,  Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Bates, Sara Paulson, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts, Evan Peters, Dennis O'Hare, Danny Huston
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, thriller, drama, witches, magic, ghost, Voodoo
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  Zoe (Farmiga) deals with the confusion and stress of the regenerated Kyle (Peters) and Madison (Roberts), who are struggling to fill the emptiness within themselves.  Fiona (Lange), physically and perhaps emotionally weaker than ever, begins a romance with the recently released spirit of the Axeman (Huston), who admits that he has been watching over her ever since she arrived at Miss Robichaux's.  As the rift between (black) Voodoo practitioners and (white) witches grows stronger and more volatile, confused Queenie (Sidibe) wanders into Marie Laveau's (Bassett) store and later questions her allegiances to her 'sisters' as well as to her 'true friend' Delphine LaLaurie (Bates).

This really wonderful episode was all about revelations and realizations.  Not only were we as an audience treated to some major plot progression (so many questions answered!), but many of the characters themselves were taken out of their darkness and shown the light.

Primarily we have FrankenKyle and Madison, two lost souls filled with indescribable, dull pain and questions that they expresses either through flashbacks and muted fits of rage (Kyle) or very vocally and even, go figure, sexually (Madison).  I thought Madison's soliloquy at the beginning of the episode was extremely beautifully written (reminiscent of Fiona's monologue from several weeks ago) both with connections to young viewers (Generation Y represent) in a very real world, as well as to her own life of witchcraft and vice.  Either way, it put into perspective that some things that seem like life or death to teenagers today really are life and death for the recently revived Madison.  Our starlet reveals to us why she turned to drugs, sex, and alcohol during her lifetime, and why she continues searching for fulfillment in Round 2.  This search leads her to Kyle, who seems to manage to fill that hole.  Zing.


As she continues to grow in power, self confidence, and even wrathful capabilities (apparently murder means nothing to young witches), Zoe simultaneously learns more about herself (and the Coven) while feeling more isolated and alone.  It doesn't help that Madison quickly beds Zoe's unlikely crush, and who knows if all three of them becoming bedfellows together will help anyone.

Fiona continuously realizes her own mortality, what with her hair falling out when she least expects it (or least wants its to).  To be perfectly honest, I must have missed the part where that became a thing; I know she was doing cancer treatments- but why?  If she has cancer, I missed that part.  I remember seeing her in the chair in the clinic, and I thought she was just doing it to get the drugs and enjoy that high, but now she's suffering these consequences.  When she whipped out the razor I was pretty shocked, and even though it seemed weirdly placed within this episode, according to the preview for the next episode, the hair will come off.  Our Supreme also realizes her need for companionship, and strangely enough her pairing with the reembodied spirit of a serial killer seems to be the right guy for her "final love affair" that she expressed a desire for before her time comes to an end.  One thing is for sure, and that's that Fiona is a complex character filled with both good and bad.  Unfortunately, as we the audience begin to see more of that good, it seems her own Coven is discovering the bad and wanting to kill her off for it.

Speaking of which, Laveau and her followers aside, this Coven is undoing itself.  Several witches have said so far that the Coven's biggest threat was right there inside the group, and they were right - only it might not be an individual person but rather a scared, vindictive attitude within each of them.  This frightened and fading democracy that is the Coven is faltering amid their own petty quarrels and differences, therefore allowing the autocracy of Laveau's Voodoo to grow stronger and stronger.

It comes as no surprise to me that Queenie has, for lack of a better term, come over to the dark side.  Queenie has always had an obvious connection to the Voodoo practitioners based on her being a scion of Tituba (read here), exemplified by her power of being a human voodoo doll (in case we weren't already convinced).  Unfortunately, Queenie seems to have showed us her true colors here by turning over her slave-turned-friend Delphine, who we've seen grow and even modernize a little bit since her excavation.  There was a lot of interesting talk about "true friendship" this episode, and a lot of examples of it being broken: e.g. Fiona promising to be a friend to Delia (Paulson) only to have Delia realize just what her mother is and has done; Madison taking Zoe under her wings and Zoe helping bring Madison back to life only for Madison to sleep with Zoe's crush; Delphine coming to create a equal relationship with Queenie, only for Queenie to trade her in to the Voodoo girls for a spot in their clan.  This might superficially be a critique of our own society, about the favors we try to gain with people and the relationships we try to maintain with people for our own gain.  It is also the very foundation of the growing fissure between the bonds of the Coven that will surely bring the sisterhood to its knees or otherwise towards some great change.

Do we think Laveau will fully accept Queenie now?  In terms of realistic horrors, this season has clearly had a lot of emphasis on racism, but not only vocalized and manifested racism, but subtle, unspoken, and ignored racism shown in small ways by the disconnect between Queenie and her white classmates and in big ways by the reminder of Katrina and all the truths it revealed about modern New Orleans and the situation in the 9th Ward.  Horror Buff still doesn't trust the Voodoo Queen, he just admires her beauty and respect-demanding nature.  Angela Bassett is easily one of the coolest actresses to grace this season.  Still, I think Queenie's role in this war between witchcraft and Voodoo has yet to be seen, whether it be as a doll subjected to the pains and horrors of either side or as a strong leader like her ancestor Tituba must have been.

As in the previous episode, Delia continues having her strong and shocking revelations in moments of sight and clarity.  Unfortunately, her sight might just be coming a little to late, and as it only comes in fractions, the whole truth becomes much harder to understand.  Justice may be blind, but the audience of AHS is not, and surely we are all rooting for Fiona to come to terms with her crimes and vices in order to save this Coven.  Delia seems to have embarked on her own witch hunt though, much as her loony hubby (Josh Hamilton) remains engaged in himself.  Who knows where she'll stop?

Are our witches realizing what's truly important in their own stories a little too late?  Where is Nan (Jamie Brewer) to save them all?  Will Myrtle (Frances Conroy) be vengeful and evil when she returns (next episode?)?  Will the unstable Misty Day (Lily Rabe) be an asset or hindrance to the Coven as it undoes itself?  Will Voodoo or witchcraft prove stronger this time around?

Final critique:  I love this show.  The horror has been subtle this time around, unless you're unnerved by things like 'blood' and enchanted, disembodied tongues.  This time around, the true horror seems to lie more within our characters, in their motives, their confusion, their need to fill the very human, very emotional emptiness within themselves in physical and material ways (not surprisingly, there are religious motifs in this season as well).  The biggest threat to the Coven at this moment is the Coven itself, and as tensions mount with Voodoo, it's only a matter of time before these great feminine forces find themselves in a confrontation of epic proportions.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Carrie (1976)

Director:  Brian DePalma
Studios:  United Artists
Starring:  Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, John Travolta, Nancy Allen; ft. P.J. Soles
Tagline:  If You've Got a Taste for Terror… Take Carrie to the Prom
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, drama, supernatural
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  A

Plot overview:  Carrie (Spacek) is a social outcast in the senior class at Bates High School.  When asked to the prom by one of the most popular boys in the grade, Carrie thinks her dreams to fit in might finally be coming true, but her mother (Laurie), an abusive religious fanatic, warns her that she will be the laughing stock of the dance.  When some of the other senior girls pull a prank on Carrie at the prom, she unleashes a wrath that, until now, she had kept hidden inside.

Carrie is easily one of my favorite horror movies.  Ask me to find something wrong with it and I wouldn't know what to tell you.  Ask me to criticize it, and aside from some questions about the (im)balance between the unique exposition and the somewhat abrupt "horror" in the film, there isn't much to pick apart.  Overall, we have a great movie with a fun soundtrack, involved character development, terrific acting, and a sensational plot that will lure in any audience member.

Let's start with music.  This movie is a blast not only because of its pop music (a jazzy mix of rock and roll, soul/pop/Motown, and disco) but also because of the lovely score.  Especially Carrie's theme is a rather beautiful flute tune that mixes beauty and tragedy into some innocent drama that provokes us to question who is good and who is evil here.

Character-wise, we have a large ensemble of big names and even bigger personalities.  First and foremost we have Sissy Spacek (who we'd see down the line in An American Haunting…woof) - a naturally beautiful (but also slightly spectral), pale, freckly girl hidden behind uncombed, waist-length hair and frumpy, modest clothes.  While she plays the cliche victim-turned-offender, Spacek plays the part with a subtle strength, modestly commanding the audience's devout attention, respect, sympathy, and fear all in a very fast 98 minutes.  Piper Laurie made her return to film here as Margaret "Momma" White, and what a comeback it was as Carrie's mother is as iconic a character in pop culture as Carrie is herself.  The God fearing, God faring, overbearing, abusive, and dangerously unstable Mrs. White enthralls and thrills us, keeping us even more on the edge of our seats each time she appears in a scene. We watch this woman's fanatic and repentant beliefs spiral out of control during the film, surprising us with new twists and turns in her mania and adding actual fright to the movie.  Even though I'd seen this movie a handful of times growing up, I was surprised later on to realize that it is, in fact, John Travolta in the role of the boozy, douchey Billy Nolan.  Not surprisingly, Billy Nolan - while more delinquent - is almost identical in character to Danny Zuko, who would be born unto the silver screen two years later.  Speaking of identical characters, my girl P.J. Soles is on the scene wearing funny red hats, obnoxiously chewing gum, and all around having one great senior year (until, you know, prom) in the role of Norma… aka the precursor to Lynda from 1978's Halloween.  They are basically the same person, except Norma has weird bangs and Lynda always says "totally" while chewing like a cow… teenagers!  Lastly, I think Miss Collins (Buckley) is such a great character.  First of all she acts like a boss while slapping around b*tchy students like the thinks-she's-hot-stuff Chris (Allen), and then she shows off her big old heart by truly investing herself in Carrie's social isolation and ostracizing.  Unfortunately, she goes and blows it (and also totally breaks character…) when she laughs during prom.

Ah, prom, a pinnacle of teenage American culture.  While we may not realize it stateside anymore, prom is truly an iconic, coming of age dance that outside cultures see in movies and TV shows and wonder about in not-so-silent awe.  Having lived abroad for a few years, I can account that young and old people alike are always curious about this "end of course dance."  I mean, I'm not from Texas, and my East Coast high school bureaucracy didn't allow for hierarchical popularity contests such as homecoming/ prom king/queen - Horror Buff is all for tradition, but my high school administration didn't want people's feelings to get hurt… that's another story for another time, and another blog - so I don't know if prom is still the highlight of a teenage girl (or boy)'s life in some rural states.  For us it was more about the following weekend in Seaside Heights (#yolo), but hey, prom is prom and at this point why not celebrate four years you think are the most important of your life until you go to college 3 months later only to realize it all meant nothing?  This movie, most likely set somewhere in the Midwest, maybe Cali (although the actors feature a range of southern/ yokel accents with some Jersey accents), captures the feeling of an American high school during our nation's bicentennial (just imagine that while Carrie was getting her revenge at prom, Dazed and Confused was taking place a few states away).  That being said, I love that movies like Carrie and Prom Night play with this cultural icon and turn it into something terrible - blasphemous, even.


This movie is filled with beautiful religious motifs that only enhance the experience of Carrie's transformation.  The first scene of the movie - which is frankly kind of shocking as we don't see that kind of nudity in modern racy films - is a foggy, dreamlike, modern teenage portrayal almost of a Birth of Venus; a high school locker room filled with beautiful, naked sirens, lost amidst their laughter, the steam from the showers, and their own blissful ignorance.  Then we have Carrie, pure and sweet under her shower until her unexpected puberty hits her and frightens her out of her wits.

Carrie's growth as a teenager with telekinesis culminates at the prom when she is taken for a victim for the last time.  Her revenge is almost poetic as she turns prom "among the stars" (Heaven) into a fiery inferno (hell).  This is the most exciting scene of the movie by far, and while it isn't particularly 'scary' compared to what we're used to, it is certainly thrilling and even frightening, especially all the cut scenes of Carrie's eyes matched with striking strings or some other shrill sound as she causes each disaster.

-Quick question: what is the fate of blondie Tommy (William Katt)?  After being knocked unconscious by the bucket (which everyone including faculty laughs at which I don't understand because come on that's pretty serious), his body is taken off the stage but then I don't think we see it again as all the kiddies run from bleachers to doors to walls trying to avoid their imminent deaths.

-Also on the topic of the prank itself: who in the world does that?  Who goes through such crazy lengths to ruin a girl's life just because a teacher gave you detention on behalf of said student?  It's gross enough that Danny and Sandy I mean Chris kill a pig to collect all that blood, but then they try and run her over in Greased Lightning?  Like okay psychopaths.

Back to religious motifs.  Carrie returns home all sulky and bloody after her *disastrous* prom only to take a bath aka baptism and possible forgiveness for her sins.  A word of advice from Horror Buff though, Carrie, you're covered in pig blood.  That merits a shower and certainly not a bath.  Oh well she just gets bloody again shortly afterwards.

Then we have Momma again, who we come to find is experiencing the tragedy of men, herself the victim of all the things she warns Carrie about: temptation, lust, pride, and boys.  I think it's interesting that we learn that Carrie is a product of a little cheeky premarital sex (which is simply against the rules), which automatically makes her, as mother says best, born of sin herself.  Perhaps Mrs. White is right when she says "the devil has come home!"

-My other favorite line here spoken by none other than Momma is "Take that dress off - we'll burn it together and pray for forgiveness!"  Can you think of a better mother-daughter bonding activity?

All of this speculating leads us to one final question: is Carrie evil or is she merely a victim of her own circumstance?  And do we the audience sympathize too much with Carrie?  I know that I for one was rooting for Carrie this entire movie because she is a sweet and innocent girl who is tortured by her classmates simply because she is different (and because her mom is literally the worst person ever).  Not only is Carrie unfairly picked on, but people like Sue (Irving) and Tommy recognize the good in her and treat her like a normal person, and that gives us in the audience more hope for her case.  Then, to top it all off, Carrie has telekinesis which is pretty much the coolest (yet hardest to spell) power ever.  Like how cool is this girl?

Or, conversely, is she evil incarnate?  I would go with the former except for when, you know, the house unexpectedly collapses.  What is that about?  We know they are living in foreclosure of some sort because of a For Sale sign we see in the first scene of the White house (lol).  I could have sworn that in my previous experience with this film I saw some sort of foreshadowing (creaky walls or floors or something), but this time around it really took me by surprise.  Is this some Deus ex machina, proving to us that Carrie was, in fact, evil?  That her mother was somehow right?  This seems like the likely answer, especially considering that in death, Mrs. White looks rather like a martyr, eerily similar in that pose as the Jesus/ St. Sebastian figurine in Carrie's closet.  We'll never look a a round butter knife the same way again.

Basically, if movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th are criticized because they allowed audiences to sympathize with the murderer, I would say in your unhappy bickering, don't forget to add Carrie to the top of the list.

-Final thoughts, imagine if you were Sue Snell and (a) your name was actually Sue Snell and (b) your entire graduating class died at prom.  Just imagine those two things together.

-Fun fact: this was the first screen adaptation of a Stephen King work.

Final critique:  This is an excellently crafted, spooky, and haunting horror movie of the highest caliber.  I would highly recommend this movie for all audiences except for people that don't like blood (I went to high school with a girl who fainted at any sight of blood and one of my closest friends really likes pigs so she probably wouldn't be too happy with Travolta here).  While the movie isn't overly scary, it is both exciting and interesting; the 98 minutes fly by, culminating in an unforgettable prom sequence and a "shock ending" that I'm sure thrilled people at the time but now seems rather passé.  Anyway - go watch Carrie, and enjoy a shining example of the horror genre.

Friday, November 15, 2013

La maschera del demonio / Black Sunday (1960)

Director:  Mario Bava
Studios:  Galatea Film, Jolly Film, Alta Vista Productions
Starring:  Barbara Steele, John Richardson
Tagline:  Stare Into These Eyes…discover deep within them the unspeakable terrifying secret of BLACK SUNDAY… it will paralyze you with fright!
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  foreign film, black and white, horror, terror, thriller, mystery, drama, witch, vampire, curse
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  B+

Plot overview:  In the year 1630, the witch princess Asa (Steele) and her evil lover Javuto (Arturo Dominici) are being putting to death by having satan's mask nailed to their face and then being burnt at the stake.  Moments before her death, Asa vows that her evil will live on through the centuries as she haunts and kills the descendants of her pious brother.  Two hundred years later, Dr. Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his young assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (Richardson) are passing through the Moldavian countryside when their carriage loses a wheel.  As their driver - who is frightened by the supposedly haunted area - makes repairs, the two good doctors enter an old chapel where they find Asa's grave: her face is still covered by satan's mask and a large cross on her tomb is said to keep her evil at bay.  As they leave the crypt, Dr. Kruvajan accidentally disturbs Asa's tomb; meanwhile, Andre encounters the beautiful yet distant Princess Katia (Steele) and is immediately smitten.  As the ghost of Javuto returns to haunt the castle and Katia's brother (Enrico Olivieri) and father (Ivo Garrani), Andre becomes resolute to rescue Katia from her cursed fate.

There was something oddly charming about this movie.  While the American version was almost bewildering at times with the English-dubbed-over-English bit, the mismatched speech and dingy atmosphere of the film became easy to overlook as a beautiful storyline and passionate although melodramatic acting took its course.

I watched this movie over the course of two nights before bed.  The black and white filming gave the whole film a sense of subtle fright with obvious allusions to a classic era of Hollywood horror.  The truth is I didn't take this movie entirely seriously - cheesy script, schmaltzy music, a few bad props, and I can't stress the word 'melodramatic' any more - until I found myself halfway through it and really invested in what was going to happen.  This was quite unlike most horror movies I have seen, with the main antagonist remaining physically dormant for the most part while spiritually and psychologically active.  Beforehand I had read that this movie was banned in the UK for about 8 years, that it was so frightening at its release because of its gore, yadda yadda yadda, so of course in watching this heavily edited American cut I was confused as to how (a) anyone would find this so scary (b) anyone would think this 'too gory.'  Mind you, the American cut did remove several scenes and sequences involving blood and gore.

Speaking of which, I think the whole mask of satan (think mini iron maiden) was a cool prop, but even cooler/ grosser was the mark it left (literally) on Asa's face.  Horror Buff admits he has an irrational fear of fleshy/ gory holes such as those we saw covering Asa's pretty face (as well as on innocent things like  orange navels or pomegranate membranes… yuck), so needless to say that hit close to home.  The whole motif of eyes (big and bright and moist and pierce-able) made Asa's face that much creepier.

I was not familiar with Barbara Steele before this movie (bad Horror Buff!), but she really was an intriguing actress.  I've been staring at pictures of her face now trying to understand why it's oddly beautiful somewhere beyond the full head of dark hair, the wide-set eyes, the delicate features.  While Princess Katia is supposed to be somewhat emo, I still liked her.  I actually liked all the actors in this film, regardless of how silly they were running around castles and whatnot.  Perhaps even scarier than masks and gashes-on-the-face was Javuto as he just strolled around the castle with his pasty face and piercing stare.  Like that was really creepy.

What didn't work for me: I'm pretty sure that they mentioned vampires like a thousand times, but that the whole concept of being a vampire was very different/ nonexistent in this movie.  I have read that originally Asa and Javoots McGoots had fangs when they started filming, but that they were later scrapped.  What I take from this is that Asa got to be a princess, a witch, AND a vampire.  Some people have all the luck.

I hate to say it, but this movie reminded me of The Terror.  As this film from the yesteryears of the Horror Blog is 3 years the senior of Black Sunday, Horror Buff has to wonder if whatever dull team brought us The Terror drew some inspiration from this Italian piece.  I mean, two horror protagonists named Andre within three years?

Lastly, a quick fun thought: is this the first movie to ever take place is Moldavia?  It's so nice to take a break from Transylvania for once, you know?

Final critique:  This is a pleasant watch with few scares but a good amount of scary thrills, if you catch my drift.  It was perfect as a late night movie, one I would love to catch on TV in the early hours of the morning when curled up on a couch.  The American cut really isn't too gory, and it's funny to think that at one time people were afraid of this movie.  Of course this falls under the 'too old to be scary' category, but hey, Black Sunday has got a lot of heart and some artistry in the sets and score (changed in the American cut.. mama mia).  This movie rightfully earns its spot as a cult classic.

American Horror Story - S3, E4, E5, and E6 (2013)

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the first three-for-one entry of the Horror Blog.

"Fearful Pranks Ensue" - "Burn, Witch, Burn!" - "The Axeman Cometh"

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

Plot overview: Madison's (Roberts) disappearance causing a strong sense of discomfort in the witching community, culminating in Nan's (Brewer) summoning of the Council of Witchcraft, headed by the always-suspicious-of-Fiona (Lange) Myrtle Snow (Conroy), to investigate the suspected murder.  The investigation, however, does not go in the pious Myrtle's favor.  Queenie (Sidibe) recovers from her minotaur attack under the care of her schoolmates as well as the socialite-turned-servant Madame LaLaurie (Bates), even as they are plagued by an army of Marie Laveau's (Bassett) zombies on none other than Halloween night.  We learn more about the secret life of Hank Foxx (Hamilton) as well as his true motives as Cordelia's (Paulson) husband.  Meanwhile, Cordelia is attacked during a night out with her mother, and is left blind but with the gift of sight through which she can read the minds of those she makes physical contact with.  Zoe's (Farmiga) powers continue growing as she tries balancing the whims of the regenerated Kyle (Peters) and the marginalized Misty Day (Rabe).  Finally, the young witches [un]intentionally set free the spirit of New Orleans serial killer the Axeman (Huston).

Well fiddle dee dee if I'm not three weeks behind.  Luckily Horror Buff has been jotting down notes while watch the past three episodes of this increasingly interesting yet decreasingly scary season of American Horror Story.  My general thoughts are as follows:

--So.many.questions.  Each episode has thrown more mysteries at us while only resolving some of our questions.  My biggest question at the moment is who was that hooded figure that tossed the acid into the lightweight (I thought maybe pregnant for a second there) Delia's face?  Stature-wise, they were mad short, so unless Murphy and Falchuk are about to introduce dwarves in the AHS scene, a far out suspect might be that warlock from the Council of Witchcraft (yes there are warlocks.. apparently).  Or even Nan!

--Speaking of which, is this witch becoming a bad actress?  Horror Buff is fearing for both Jamie Brewer and Gabourey Sidibe as far as acting goes; Nan sometimes speaks without any emotion (or at least not the correct emotion as she focuses too strongly on good diction); Precious relies on the grumpy sass that she seems to have become famous for… and I'm getting kind of bored of Quennie's negativity.  Can these young actresses step up their game?


--Myrtle Snow is an awesome, kooky, colorful, complex character.  Her scriptwriters are obviously having fun; after all they made her a "Guardian of Language" or something of the sort.  While Fiona is easy to love beyond her evil selfishness - minus that stunt she pulled with the stillborn *magnanimous* - I was a little upset to see Myrtle spurned again and again during the Council's investigation as well as years ago as a student and classmate of young Fiona.  But I guess we'll be seeing more of her...

--Now unlike the rest of the brainwashed world, Horror Buff is not a huge fan of zombies.  Obviously I love Night of the Living Dead and it holds a special place in my horror heart - but otherwise the undead bandwagon is not for me.  As all the zombies started appearing on Halloween ("great costumes" lolz) I got a little worried as to where we were headed regardless of Voodoo's close connection to these beings.  Aside from good makeup and interesting costumes, the return of LaLaurie's daughters, and good guy Luke's (Dreymon) major injury (although he's back at home so I guess he's okay…?) it was a pretty random plot twist, wasn't it?  What it did reveal to us was 2 major things: (a) Zoe is familiar with The Evil Dead and tried reenacting it and (b) our girl Zoe is getting strong!  Developing new powers all the time!  And really useful ones like making dead things die (again) and picking books off bookshelves.  Imagine how easy life would be…

--There's nothing to fear but fear itself, and also regenerated, crispy Myrtle (renewed enemy/ monster?), dangerously marginalized and unstable Misty Day (mind you she's now clad in red *pathetic wardrobe fallacy* and Stevie has been taken from her by that clumsy FrankenKyle), an enraged and Bastian-less Marie Laveau, a serial killer who we're not really sure is dead or not, a witch hunter, and of course Fiona even as she seems to be physically weaker than before.  Personally I think our biggest threats are Squirtle and Misty I mean Myrtle and Misty.

--A giant WHAT THE HORROR regarding Spalding (O'Hare) and Hank.  In just one episode, our perception of both of these 'men' changed entirely in Episode 4, and their back stories have been developing ever since.  The whole involvement of 'muggles' with witches is confusing in the first place - mainly in that these ladies and women have tons of powers but can't see through two schmucks who enjoy murdering or covering up murders, respectively, in their free time.  Really?  My guess is Hank will knock out another student or two before this season is done.

--The new Delia is great.  Earlier in the season I was worried that she might turn into some antagonist, but so far in her physical blindness and otherwise complete clarity has made her a much more mature person.  The makeup is a really cool touch.  Her wardrobe has also seen a change to darker colors.

Final critique: What else is there to say except boil, boil, toil and trouble - the plot is seriously thickening on this season of American Horror Story.  Our characters are each changing (developing, regressing, dying, coming back to life) in their own ways, which aside from the witch hunters and grumpy Voodoo queens is what's truly driving this season forward.  At the rate this show plays with life and death, what can we possibly predict?  Is a witch hunter - or even a good old burning at the stake - useless when Misty Day is around?  How much more important is magical power than common sense and a good heart?  Lots of questions to be answered and problems to be solved in the coming episodes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Would You Rather (2012)

Director:  David Guy Levy
Studios:  Periscope Entertainment, Social Construct
Starring:  Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey; ft. John Heard
Tagline:  Tell Yourself It's Just a Game.
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, thriller, psychological thriller, drama
Scare score:  C
Rating:  B-

Plot overview:  Following their parents' deaths, Iris (Snow) has dedicated her life to supporting herself and her brother Raleigh (Logan Miller) who suffers from terminal leukemia.  Between jobs and out of school, Iris is desperate for help when her brother's physician, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), introduces her to a rich philanthropist named Shepard Lambrick (Combs).  Lambrick invites Iris to a dinner party at which "a game" will be played, and as he explains, the winner of the game will have all of their problems - financial, medical, what have you - taken care of completely.  Although the offer seems too good to be true, Iris attends the party where she meets the other guests who also seem to be suffering from various afflictions and responsibilities.  As soon as the first course is served, however, the game and terror begin, and the bounds of human desperation are pushed to the extreme.

Before I begin, I'd just like to give a shout out to Bloody Brooklynn because I found this title on her blog, and it turned out to be a really fun watch for my Saturday late night flick.

The first thing that's going to catch our attention (or my attention, at least) about this film is Brittany Snow's bill.  Snow is an actress that never ceases to grab my attention because while I always feel like she's such a budding little starlet, is she really doing that much?  Yeah we've all seen Hairspray, Prom Night (which I have to review), and, of course, Pitch Perfect, but I wonder if Snow has quite broken out of her ingenue role in Hollywood.  What I'm trying to say is once you've starred in big name blockbusters, why *regress* to, say, a random horror movie like Would You Rather?  Then again I live abroad and have no idea what publicity for this film's release was like.  Either way, I think she consistently delivers in her movie rolls ranging from horrors to musicals, so I'm absolutely on the lookout for her to bring us bigger and better things in the future.

Continuing on my Snow spiel, her acting seemed pretty much the same to me here as it has been in the other movies I've seen her in.  Not that that's a bad thing, but maybe that explains why she hasn't burst onto the A-list scene yet.  She's cute, innocent (even if this movie pushes her no-more-misses-nice-girl altitudes), desperate, and I guess somehow finds her inner strength/ will here.  Not that her transition and development as a character is the most believable-

In fact, I wasn't sure about the reactions of the various dinner guests throughout the playing of the game, partially due to the script itself.  They all keep talking about "logic" when in several major accounts they don't do anything logical.


Example:  In round 2, each guest is giving a choice to stab their neighbor in the leg with an icepick or beat Travis (Charlie Hofheimer) with a sjambok 3 times.  When it comes round to Cal (Eddie Steeples), he doesn't want to stab anybody so he chooses to whip the down and almost dead Travis.  Everybody reacts as if this were the worst thing he could possibly do, and even though he doesn't necessarily kill Travis, everybody treats him as a murderer.  Cal even gives himself a really poorly acted guilt trip.  But let's look at the facts: Travis was down for the count, as butler Bevans (Jonathan Coyne) informs Lambrick (and I think as the remaining guests can assume).  Basically by choosing to beat Travis again, he is helping put the suffering ex-soldier out of his misery instead of injuring an otherwise healthy contestant.  What's the harm in that?  Logically, it was safer for all of them that he hurt a man who was already down instead of injuring or potentially killing a healthy person.  Come on, people.

Then again, this game isn't fair in general, and I would have walked out at the beginning when given the chance.  What they don't clearly explain while explaining the rules here is that before a contestant even gets a chance to play, he or she might be killed off or made to be considered unfit to play by someone else.  That's not fair at all (like the last round, ugh).  The only reason Iris does well here is because she was taken in by the gentlemanly Cal and Lucas (Gjokaj) who do their best to protect her quite unlike the ferocious, trashy, frustratingly unstable yet sexy Amy (Grey).  The cutie award goes to wheelchair-bound Linda (June Squibb) - who knows how such a dear old lady got tied up in such a dastardly dinner party.

Hands down the most important thing about this movie is the fact that Mr. McCallister, apparently down on his luck perhaps after a messy divorce and his fortune lost through alimony and grievous lawsuits from child wellness lawyers after forgetting his youngest son Kevin not once but twice on family vacations, is here to play the game.  Now a recovering alcoholic, Peter unfortunately leaves the dinner party rather unexpectedly because of his failure to understand the rules.  And to think that 50 g could have been his…. Okay, so I've had my fun, but I love John Heard and Home Alone 1 and 2 are the best movies of all time, 'nuff said.

Otherwise, I thought acting was decent enough to carry us through the movie (that progresses rather quickly).  The obvious star here is Jeffrey Combs who is a face I'm so familiar with but can't quite place (apparently he was in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in a role I don't remember).  He was really fantastic as a quirky and easy-to-hate sadistic rich man with that terrible habit of munching on nuts or whatever he was always chewing on; I wanted to smack the snacks out of his cruel mouth.  I also thought that Robin Taylor in the role of Julian Lambrick was really excellent in an unstable, unpredictable kind of way.  His portrayal was toned-down and just right.

Let's talk about the scares.  I like movies like this because they're not unnecessarily gory (I guess this wasn't actually gory at all) but we're always set up to be made really uncomfortable, as much for the physical as for the psychological.  Now I'm more of a Never Have I Ever guy myself, but Would You Rather is a difficult game as it is (would you rather have sandpaper hands or hot dog fingers?  Impossible!) even without life and death consequences.  We don't like thinking about what we as humans are capable of doing to ourselves or other humans for the sake of a loved one, and this movie rubs it all up in our faces.  What would you do?

As far as the actual questions and rounds of the game went, I was rather surprised and found that the movie played it safe rather than branching into more disgusting things.  The fact that the first two rounds only provided us with two options each really caught me by surprise because I thought that each new question would be different and worse than the last.  In my opinion, the electrocution choice, and later the whip or stab choice made the movie more boring, or at least more tame.  Only the envelop round - which played with the unknown - was interesting to me.  By the end of the film, the only would you rather that was actually disturbing for me was when Lucas has to cut his own eye, which I don't think I would be able to do either.  And is it just Horror Buff, or does Lucas do that rather rashly?  Probably hurt himself a lot more there than he needed to.  Yuck.

The worst thing about this movie is not that people have to hurt or kill each other, but rather that the whole game is conducted under such pretenses of class and good manners - reminiscent of Paul in Funny Games - that really frustrates us as viewers while simultaneously adding to the terrible charm of Shepard and his staff.

Then, of course, we arrive to the end of the movie.  As soon as Iris leaves that place we're all asking ourselves how she's going to live with herself, and if helping her brother or even saving his life is worth what happened in that dining room.  Then given Raleigh's choice (was it on purpose?) kind of spins the whole previous night's events back in her face.  Sure she can live comfortably now - if she can live with herself.

Final critique:  This was a fun movie that flies by pretty quickly while putting it's own terrible twist on a classic party game.  There are plenty of thrills mixed both with drawn out or no suspense whatsoever, leading to plenty of unanticipated emotions and frights.  This is a good movie to watch with a group of friends as public reactions would spice up the various electrocutions, stabbings, shootings, beatings, and drownings.  Not my personal favorite, but definitely an enjoyable watch.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Director:  Steve Miner
Studios:  Paramount Pictures
Starring:  Dana Kimmell, Larry Zerner, Paul Kratka, Jeffrey Rogers, Richard Brooker
Tagline:  A New Dimension in Terror...
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, slasher, stalker, thriller, psychopath, masked murderer, serial killer, teen
Scare score:  D
Rating:  B-/C+

Plot overview:  Picking up on the same day that the last movie left off, Jason (Brooker) is now on the loose, roaming the area around his lake.  Unaware of the recent murders, a group of teens - including the kind but spunky Chris (Kimmell), the goofy Andy (Rogers), his nerdy roommate Shelly (Zerner), Andy's girlfriend Debbie (Tracie Savage), Latina friend Vera (Catherine Parks), and potheads Chili (Rachel Howard) and Chuck (David Katims) - take off for a relaxing weekend at Chris' family's lake house.  Unbeknownst to the group of carefree teenagers, Jason got to the lake cottage first.

So I'm still on my Friday the 13th binge, but I think I might have to take a break from Jason after this movie.  At this point the franchise is still enjoyable, but every movie is… uh… the same?  At least Part 2 and Part III are identical in the way the plot plays out.  It's becoming more and more obvious how horror film stereotypes developed in the '80s.

Before anything- Manfredini, what is with the music in the opening (and closing) credits?  We feel like we're at some '80s club and not at all in a horror movie.  Maybe teenagers liked it at the time, but oh my goodness was that music terrible (and secretly delightful).

One of the best things this installment had to offer was the cinematography that was made to be watched in 3D.  While I watched this on my computer and not in 3D, some of the scenes (like the yo-yo bit and some of the death scenes) really play with the image coming towards the camera/ audience, and it was certainly a lot of fun/ something different.

The characters in this movie really cracked me up, and while most of them were still pretty static as sitting ducks, we saw some more development than in prior movies.  The best thing about this movie - other than the hockey mask - was hands down the Chili and Chuck duo.  Starting with the gang thinking the Mystery Machine - I mean Chris' van - was on fire, the laughs never stopped.  Several scenes throughout the film of these two just sitting or lying comatose in their altered state made me laugh out loud.  Coming from a guy who doesn't typically love the dumb humor in horror movies, that says a lot.

Shelly was also a very interesting character here.  From the first scene where he begins pulling his dumb stunts, rocking that you-know-what-fro and an assorted array of costumes and props (what a weirdo), I practically convinced myself that we were going to have a final boy here due mainly to his virginal innocence and the amount of camera time this sucker got.  A guy with low self confidence like that should be lucky to spend his final day with girls like Chris, Debbie, and Vera (ow oww).  We root for him as he stands up to the biker gang - quick aside: why? why a biker gang? why random leather-clad bullies? that entire plot bit was the most random and frustrating thing.  did random bully gangs exist like that in the '80s? I'm going to say random one more time for good measure. - or wins the apple juggling contest, but even his loser charm isn't enough to save his life from Jayjay.  In fact, is Shelly the most tragic character we've seen in a horror movie?  Dumpy, overweight nerd with not enough self-confidence to accept that Vera has been set up with him for the weekend, doesn't even get a kiss out of her before having his throat slit.  Whoops, spoiler alert.

Chris was easy to fall for.  Although her tiny body and pitchy voice might be the source of annoyance for many viewers, Horror Buff fell for her rather quickly.  This girl was a fierce final girl, like not once did she let her guard down.  Girl played defense the whole game through the fourth quarter in the barn. Dead boyfriend thrown through the window?  No biggie, she grabs any household item and goes lethal on Jason's behind.  Car out of gas and falling through a non-sanctioned bridge while a masked murderer is chasing you?  Like borrringggg, girl runs through the woods expertly until finding safety.  Trapped in a barn about to meet your maker?  Nuh uh, girl grabs all kinds of weapons and axes Jason in the face.  This girl could survive any horror movie, hands down.

This has also been the movie in which we see the most of Jason, who takes on more of a bumbling Michael Myers persona as opposed to the silent, unseen stalker we've been used to up until now.  I guess we can ask ourselves why is Jason no longer confined to hiding in dark spaces and woods, and also has his MO changed?  We get that this new batch of teen victims are in the same area where the previous two films have taken place, but are they even really on Crystal Lake?  Aside from a news broadcast in the beginning of the movie, there's no mention of the camp, previous murders, or Jason Voorhees.  Is our killer still defending his turf here, or has he just been driven to some demented rampage?

Unfortunately, with Jason getting all this new screen time, he's a lot more open to criticism here - and I didn't really like him.  I'll admit that I was most excited to watch this movie to finally see the hockey mask, but otherwise I thought that Brooker portrayed Jason too heavily with a mental disability that we've been led to believe he has/ had as a child.  In earlier films, the scares depended on suspense coming from the killer hiding out in dark corners, throwing bodies through windows, or waiting under beds for some unsuspecting teens (come to think of it, all of those things still happen here).  Any confrontations in previous movies resulted in almost immediate deaths, save for the final girl who consequently engages in a drawn out series of cat-and-mouse where we see that the otherwise invincible Jason can, in fact, be temporarily knocked out by having various lumber and weapons thrown at him, only to watch him rise and attack again… oy this is getting repetitive.


This time around, instead of only hiding in his favorite spots, Jason also lurks and stalks in the open, and we as viewers become much more accustomed to his body language, fighting techniques, strengths, and potential weaknesses.  Not that I'm saying that an unseen killer is that much more interesting movie after movie, but I certainly think that Jason was really dumbed down here.  Especially towards the end of the film with the endless pursuit of Chris, we become aware of how clumsy he is in his brute strength, and the several times that we see his disfigured face we're reminded of a dopey, color version of Lon Chaney's famous monster.  I'm pretty sure there was a grin on his face, right?  Or is it just slanted that way?  Oh well.  Also, what's the mystery bit about Chris and Jason's rendezvous in the woods?  She blacked out after being dragged away by him - what was the point of including that episode and what are we supposed to assume happened there?  Or is it just a loose end?  Not my favorite.

The ended of the movie needs to be discussed.  We've seen the *surprise-dead-murderer-jumps-out-of-the-lake-and-grabs-final-girl-just-as-we-thought-it-was-safe-but-oh-no-wait-that-was-all-a-dream* in the first movie, and a similar on-land sequence in the second movie.  Like OKAY franchise, we get it.  You like the shocking endings (that are no longer shocking).  And this time they even had Momma Vorhees jump out of the water from beyond the dead, just for shocks sake (PS that slow-mo took way too long and made it not scary whatsoever).  But no, wait, it was a dream, AGAIN.  And then - as if Paramount would have ever dropped this franchise so young - we see Jason's body being completely ignored by the police because, hey, he's dead so why should we bother taping off a crime scene?  But no, boys and girls, the nightmare doesn't end here, nor did any other horror franchise of the '80s, so I say viva la teen slashers.

Final critique:  In many outdated ways, this movie begins to remind us of our favorite love-to-hate (or hate-to-love) teen slashers from the '90s and 2000s (think Freddie Prinze and Neve Campbell.. mmm).  While this movie isn't particularly scary (at all), it's the type of film that comes to mind every time we spend a weekend at the lake house, wondering what's lurking upstairs behind all the pine and tacky decorations, or what's creeping outside in the woods.  What this film certainly is is enjoyable.  We have a fun cast of characters getting slain one by one by a not-so-fun demented killer in an iconic mask.  The deaths are creative in their own way, and aside from this movie completing the very cliches its prequels established, it's a good watch, perfect for sleepovers and lazy summer nights.