Friday, January 31, 2014

January Review

For your consideration:

1.  Scream 2 (1997): A/ A-
2.  Scream (1996): A-
3.  The Evil Dead (1981): B+
4.  The Blob (1958): C+/ B-
5.  Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011): C

Thursday, January 30, 2014

American Horror Story - S3, E13 (2014)

"The Seven Wonders"

I really have no idea what happened to my write up about E12.

Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Sarah Paulson,  Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga, Lily Rabe, Gabourey Sidibe, Jessica Lange, Evan Peters; ft. Stevie Nicks
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, terror, drama, witches, magic
Scare score:  F
Rating:  A

Plot overview:  To assure the survival of the Coven, the remaining witches at Miss Robichaux's must compete to perform each of the Seven Wonders so that the true Supreme may claim her throne.

What a way to end.  I will first say that my general, honest impression is that I liked the episode a lot and loved the season, and furthermore that this has been my favorite season so far.  Let's get down to brass tacks.


Just oh my gosh I guess is what I have to say first of all.  Can't believe it's all over, as soon as it started. Is it me, or did this season fly by?  Let's start at the beginning.

There goes Stevie Nicks again just singing her heart out.  I thought it was a groovy albeit overly stylized way to begin the final episode; regardless it was appropriate.  By this point I was just ready to get started with the Seven Wonders, as I think we can all agree that this season did unfortunately lack in magic - the very thing it was all about… or was it?

Feminism.  Motherhood.  Sisterhood.  (Unfortunately, themes of racism sizzled out this season) Between the remaining young women at the school, it was a competition to the death to determine who could lead the Coven forward.  It was interesting to see the [surprise?] return of Fiona (Lange), her sudden death, and the conclusion or not of her story.  What does she then die representing?  Horror Buff dares to say that she in her prime, Supreme glory represents a powerful, uninhibited, and unrestrained woman.  Not only does she have magic, but she has looks, money, charm, smarts - and freedom.  That's not to say she doesn't have vain desires of external beauty and the want of a man's affection.  Unfortunately for her, she cannot keep these things forever.  Her hell?  The married, domestic life (and knotty pine).  Is there commentary about women here?  I think so, at least to the extent of freedom and marriage/ domesticity.

Anywho.  Do the Seven Wonders deliver?  Maybe not as much as we hope they might, but they are still entertain, with a few untimely deaths scattered about.  Speaking of which: Misty Day (Rabe) - what was her point ever except to bring everyone back to life and link us to Stevie Nicks?  One critique I most certainly have about this season was that it was too filled with enticing details that distracted us from the characters themselves - what makes them tick?  And what ever happened to all those random plot lines, like Delia's (Paulson) attempt to conceive, way back when?  Why is Madison (Roberts) so heartless and one dimensional?  Does Zoe (Farmiga) still kill boys when they… you know what?  Why was everyone so willing to let Queenie (Sidibe) back into the club after she ditched them in the first place?  Was Delia really not an obvious choice for leader from long ago?

Speaking of Delia - severe kudos need to be given to whoever does her costume and make up because Sarah Paulson was absolutely stunning all season long with and without peepers.  Never do I remember an AHS character looking so glamorous and hot regardless of the despair surrounding them.  Delia was a character I admit to have doubted at more than one point this season, but now that Coven is done with, I will be the first to admit how happy I am and yet still shocked: a happy ending?  Did American Horror Story really just have its first truly happy ending?  Sure, sure Fiona is stuck in her own little hell, as are several other characters, but Zoe is still safe (I don't see why her little accident took her out of the running for Supreme once she was revived).  Was anyone else expecting Fiona to kill Delia in that last reunion?  Or for Myrtle (Conroy) to suddenly go berserk and destroy the Coven?  I admit I am guilty of both of these things as I spent the entire episode waiting for everything to go wrong, as previous seasons have taught us to do.  And yet - the silver lining at the end of Salem's cloud.

I'm going to take a second hear to voice my unpopular opinion about something, or someone.  I don't think Emma Roberts is all that great.  She played exactly the same character in "Coven" as she did in We're the Millers - and that simply shouldn't be so, but why is it?  Because this young actress relies on her 'looks' and attitude… like okay, we've seen that before.  I don't think she's a bad actress, but I don't see what everyone is obsessed with her.  I'm certainly expecting to see more of her though, so I can only assume her skills and characters will improve along with her!

Final critique:  Well, another year, another season done.  Another multitude of witches out of the closet.  While this season certainly had a few plot holes, unnecessary zombies, and a lack of magic and character depth - it was really magical from day one.  Perhaps the worst thing about this season is that it was not scary- like, ever.  I remember when it premiered and everyone on social media set their 140 characters to caps lock to express their horror and shock at the show's debut.  Nope, not here.  Secondly, this season really did tend to drift all over the place (not unlike the previous two seasons, though, I guess).  There were good times, and there was plenty of down time, but this was another fantastic season delivered to us by Murphy and Falchuk, filled with plenty of Lange's graceful diva ability, along with hearty amounts of ingenuity by Farmiga (who I loved - and who is starring in the recently released thriller Mindscape) and Paulson.  How much longer can AHS keep it up?

100th Post

…but not my 100th movie.

In honor of The Horror Blog's 100th entry, Horror Buff would like to announce that from now on, on the last day of each month, I will write a concise list that expressly lists the rating (from highest to lowest) of each reviewed movie from that month.

I hope that this makes it easier to look up a good movie without having to browse through commentary or spoilers.

Stay scary.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Director:  Troy Nixey
Studios:  Miramax Films, Necropia, Gran Via
Starring:  Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce
Tagline:  Fear Is Never Just Make Believe
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, fantasy, terror, thriller, mystery, drama, suspense, haunted house, monsters
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  C

Plot overview:  After being sent to live with her father (Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes), the precocious Sally (Madison) feels more distraught and misunderstood than ever.  This starts to change when what she imagines to be small fairies begin coaxing her from inside the walls and out of sight.  As Sally grows more determined to learn more about these creatures and prove that they exist, terrible things start happening to the house and its inhabitants.  Will anyone else believe Sally about the creatures before it's too late?

I stumbled upon this film because its impressive score was written by Marco Beltrami, the same composer who orchestrated many other well known horror films such as The Woman in Black and the Scream franchise.  By the short summary I read about the movie's plot, it seemed like the type of story I would really enjoy.  Normally I love what Guillermo del Toro does to films (The Devil's Backbone), fully aware that he heavily mixes fantasy with horror a la Brothers Grimm, but I suppose I should have known that shortly after Don't Be Afraid of the Dark began that I was perhaps seeing a piece with too much of the former and not enough of (my preferred) latter.  That is to say from Beltrami's sweeping score to the heavy dependence on cartoonish CGI, the movie feels like an animated, fantastic story from the beginning, sorely taking away from tons of horror potential.

That's not to say that there weren't some scares, just that this isn't my preferred style of horror.  I admit I haven't yet seen the 1973 made-for-TV original version, which I hear delivers more than this remake.  Regardless, the prologue to the film was pretty disturbing if overdone, and I guess I thought that the last sequence in the basement sort of grossed me out by surprise for about a split second.  Otherwise this was like a less historical and perhaps more malevolent Pan's Labyrinth.

What was good?  I thought the acting was on spot.  Of course we have a surprisingly demanding role in the hands of a child, and Bailee Madison (whose name sounds too much like Billy Madison) delivers, even if we don't like her because the entire character of Sally is dark and disturbed and whiny and annoying.  Though to clarify: I was sick of Sally, and not Bailee.  Are we ever really worried about Sally's well-being, though?  Not if we've studied the rules - which generally makes the film all the more [predictably] anticlimactic whenever we are presented with a child in peril.  The gardener Harris (Jack Thompson) delivers a cliche but eerie role mainly due to his raspy voice.  For me, he really stuck out from the rest of the cast, at least earlier on in the movie.  Katie Holmes was Katie Holmes, and while her character Kim doesn't ever really reach that level of deep believability that a complete character hopefully achieves, I thought she was still convincingly caring and patient and concerned.  Guy Pearce almost convinced me with his American accent, almost as much as Alex convinces us that he is a responsible father.  Whoops just kidding you're shallow although I can respect that the man is driven.  Alex represents a good point in fantasy plots such as this one, that being the realistic side of the story, the practicality that balances Sally's fantasy and Kim's willingness to believe.

Like in other del Toro works, the viewer here is a presented with the dilemma of whether or not he or she chooses to accept the fantasy within the film.  The characters are often faced with this decision as well, resulting in some that accept the fantasy and others that remain firmly in reality.  Is Sally a medicated, depressed child who invents these creatures to keep her company during her lonely experience in a new, unfamiliar, and frightening place?  Are they her imaginary friends helping comfort her from life with her estranged father and her replacement mother?  While I think the movie makes it pretty clear that these monsters do exist, stranger things have happened.

This movie moved along pretty slowly, with plenty of build up and plenty of unnecessary plot - I was most ticked off by the totally irrelevant inclusion of a tooth fairy plot - resulting in not much delivery.  And good acting aside, our big names like Holmes and Pearce are clearly limited at times by the script/ plot.  At times this really didn't feel like a horror movie at all, which irked me while watching because I was really in the mood for a good movie.  Well you can't win 'em all.


One thing that certainly bothered me about the movie was the monsters themselves.  I can understand how hard it must be to sort of dream up and create a new monster that we haven't seen done before.  That's not to say that these things weren't creepy (I've always thought that creatures of precisely that size and height - like not quite above your shin - are especially discomforting).  I just don't really think they were scary.  Also, they're locked behind this old coal chute which seems to keep them at bay - only isn't the coal chute directly attached to the house's ventilation system which they then travel through for the rest of the movie?  Were they already traveling through the vents before Sally opens the chute door?  I don't remember at this point, and I'm not sure I can enough to go back and look.

Final critique:  This film really lies more in the dark fantasy realm than in the horror realm, though I'd give it 'terror' at its scariest scenes.  There seems to have been a lot of ideas put into this that maybe were more important before filming but never were fully carried out/ completed in the film's final cut (aka loose ends).  Basically we have a lot of cliches, a lot of build up, some suspense, and not tons of delivery.  Still not a terrible watch, filled with plenty of fairy tale charm as far as the mansion, gardens, and music go.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Scream 2 (1997)

  Wes Craven
Studios:  Konrad Pictures, Craven-Maddalena Films
Starring:  Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jerry O'Connell, Jamie Kennedy, Elise Neal; ft. Liev Schreiber, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia de Rossi, Jada Pinkett[-Smith], Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, Heather Graham, Lewis Arquette
Tagline:  Someone has taken their love of sequels one step too far.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, sequel, drama, mystery, slasher, stalker, serial killer, masked murderer, college, teen
Scare score:  B
Rating:  A/A-

Plot overview:  Two years after the events of the first movie, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) and fellow survivor Randy Meeks (Kennedy) have put the past behind them and moved onto new life at Windsor College.  Unfortunately, it seems the past is not as willing to let them go as a copycat Ghostface begins a new killing spree at Windsor, attracting plenty of media attention as well as renewed coverage by the now well-known Gale Weathers (Cox).  One by one, the new Ghostface attempts to finish what the first Ghostface started.  Will Sidney and friends be able to survive a second time?

As much as the first movie played on the tropes of teen slasher films, Scream 2 satirizes your stereotypical [horror] sequel, going so far as to dedicating decent amounts of plot time to character discussions about movie sequels.  Lolzz inception.  That being said, while the film adds some novelties and plot twists, it ultimately adds few real nuances to the genre or to the plot of the previous film.  That is not to say, however, that this movie is not a really fun ride, because I think it is just as enjoyable as the first one.  And while in WBAI Radio's (?) boast that this sequel is "twice as hip, scary, and entertaining!" - well normally I would tend to discard any acclaim that uses the word 'hip' in a non-ironic way, but this time around I might just agree.

We are presented with an impressive cast of celebrities in roles both large and small.  Drew Barrymore inspired legitimate actors to take horror movies more seriously after her cameo in Scream, leading to similar cameos by Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, and Heather Graham in "Stab" the movie-within-a-movie that we see in theaters at the beginning of the film.  Viewers playing close attention will perhaps catch the relation between Spelling's role in "Stab" and a joke made by Sidney in Scream saying that if a movie were made about Woodsboro she'd probably be played by Spelling.  Fictitious reality meets reality meets fiction within fictitious reality?  Again, inception.  We are treated to a sort of prologue starring Jada Pinkett (pre Will) in a sequence that makes us question our own security at places like movie theaters or other gatherings involving large crowds of masked people.

Cameos aside, the supporting cast here is surprisingly filled with stars as well.  Alongside his son and future daughter-in-law we have Lewis Arquette as police Chief Hartley.  In two of the best and somehow obnoxiously-subtle roles of Sorority Sisters Lois and Murphy we have Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend) and Portia de Rossi, respectively.  These two girls crack me up every time I see the movie.  Lastly, how could I forget Sarah Michelle Gellar ('modern' scream queen, I Know What You Did Last Summer) as sorority girl Cici, who for some reasons unbeknownst to us viewers stars in a rather large sequence of the film.  Still, she's ditzy, resilient, and puts up a good fight.  Gotta' love her.

Then, in the top-billed cast, aside from our old friends from Scream, we have a big, boyish performance by Jerry O'Connell aka an older and muscular version of Vern from Stand by Me, which if you haven't seen I'm going to need to you x-out of this blog now and go watch.  Immediately.  Go watch Stand By Me.  If you're still reading this you're doing something wrong.

Now that we've narrowed down dedicated readers from those who have never seen Stand By Me, we can move on.  Acting in the film is good, if not always believable it's certainly enjoyable.  We have our standard 'college' film here although thankfully not every over-the-top stereotypical character is included, so that's a breath of fresh air.  We again become deeply involved in the plight of Sidney who is a pretty fantastic heroine although I'll say again my one complaint is that I think she is somehow too tough and considering the amount of people dying around her and even because of her, I think she becomes a little less realistic.  But hey, she's fun to root for.  Liev Schreiber makes an actual appearance in this film as the recently exonerated but still not entirely sane Cotton (that's not actually a first name, right?) Weary, and personally I think he receives an A+ for creepiness although he is too obvious to be guilty.

Much like the previous film, in Scream 2, pretty much everybody is suspicious at one point or another.  After all, so many characters involved with the first set of murders have returned either to protect Sidney or even to profit on the new crimes.  Aren't they likely suspects to continue Ghostface's legacy? Or perhaps it's a newbie, such as seemingly perfect and caring boyfriend Derek (O'Connell)?  Unfortunately, this time around, Ghostface's identity is even more difficult to guess than it was last time.

Scare-wise, this isn't the scariest movie out there, but much like the first installment in the franchise, there are a few good moments.  This mainly revolves around Ghostface creeping around in the background (Horror Buff loves shots like that) or rapidly pursuing his prey.  Again, it is Ghostface's speed that truly freaks me out.  Even more so than in the first film, we see Ghostface's iconic wipe-victim's-blood-off-knife-after-kill plus his violently-wave-knife-in-the-air-when-you-can't-fit-through-the-door that bothers me so much.  Sometimes, the desperate attempt is more unnerving than a silent approach to murder.  Sometimes.

Fun fact: Upon completing a large portion of the script, screenwriter Kevin Williamson found that his work had accidentally (?) leaked all over the internet - damn pre-Y2K technology!  This led to major setbacks in development as many of the film's secrets were now public.  Williamson and Craven had to change a lot of the movie's plot, including the identity of Ghostface, and they even resorted to only distributing the script to actors of specific days of filming to prevent another situation.

Final critique:  This is another great installment in the Scream franchise; think "Ghostface: The College Years".  Complete with good acting, an enticing although heavily emphasized and satirized plot, and an incredible ensemble of celebrities, this movie is among the crowd favorite to go with a late night snack or a high school sleepover.  Don't let the teen label distract you, though, there is real merit to this film.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Blob (1958)

Director:  Irvin Yeaworth
Studios:  Paramount Pictures, Umbrella Entertainment
Starring:  Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut
Tagline:  Indescribable… Indestructible!  Nothing Can Stop It!; It Crawls... It Creeps... It Eats You Alive!
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, thriller, science fiction, drama, mystery, alien, monster, teen
Scare score:  D
Rating:  C+/B-

Plot overview:  While spending an evening at lover's lane, smooth-talking Steve (McQueen) and the innocent Jane (Corsaut) see a meteorite crash over a nearby hill.  What they don't know is that the meteorite contains a seemingly unstoppable, blob-like alien that consumes any living organism that crosses its path.  Steve, Jane, and their friends find themselves in a race against the clock to stop the growing monster as it continues to claim its victims, but will the teenagers be able to convince the adults in town about the impending danger before it's too late?

We have a true classic of American horror here; regardless of reception and success, I like to think that people have at least heard of the blob or a similar monster that creeps, crawls, and consumes.  Young Horror Buff saw what he realizes now to be the 1988 remake of this movie and to this day remembers suffering from a recurring nightmare afterwards which involved my neighborhood being attacked by the eponymous monster from the film.  Well having watched this original version (for the first time?) I admit that this film couldn't possibly give nightmares to anybody, and that as the years go on I think this movie is slowly slipping into the "too old to be scary" category.

Nevertheless I admit that there were a few scenes, especially at the beginning of the movie, that did make me a little uncomfortable hence the D for scare score.  Honestly I wish I watched more monster movies, so I think watching this eerie glob of goo got me excited enough to allow myself to be frightened by several sequences in which it moves rather rapidly towards its next victim.

Unfortunately, after those principle scares I'm sorry to say that the film just starts to drag on and on with very little monster screen time and an awful lot of mediocre, naive 1950s acting.  It was almost painful at times to just watch these actors recite their lines or react to 'scary' sequences - worst shout outs go to Jane's parents, the blond member of the 'bad boy' trio (his facial reactions are the worst), and an extra special 'you're awful' award to whatever actor was the main fireman.  If I ever, ever encounter a firefighter who talks back to me in rhetorical questions during a fire- just grant me patience.  Even Mr. McQueen ends up getting so much screen time often filled with just reactions via face or gestures (rubbing his mouth or nose) that it begins to grow very old very fast.

In general, this movie is filled with a large amount of plot, and by the end of the 82 minutes we have seen the large majority of this time consisting solely of cantankerous adults complaining about and fighting with eager teenagers.  Let's not forget that there is also plenty of erroneous fluff such as a backwards car race, an old man (who appropriately sleeps in a twin bed next to his wife's twin bed) who isn't sure whether to wear fall-out clothes or fire clothes, and a(n admittedly adorable) little boy with no common sense but with a whole lotta lisp complete with cowboy gun - because, hey, it's the '50s.

Soon I will go back and watch the remake, which I'm sure will be filled with more monster time, deaths, and gore than this one (hopefully).  Then again, the fact that it's from 1988 is not too promising.

Final critique:  All in all, this is the type of movie I'd prefer to watch late at night on TV before (or while) falling asleep.  I would recommend this movie for most people, except I think realistically it would bore a modern audience.  Either way, The Blob has a lot of heart and a really good idea of a terrifying alien force coming to earth and attacking a small town.  I thought it was very interesting that they chose to set this movie in a real town - Downingtown, PA - where you can even go visit places such as the movie theater and the diner (in and around the area of filming).  Lastly, I read a really interesting piece about how the blob represents communism attacking small town America.  While it seems creators of the film deny this - I think it's a cool angle!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Scream (1996)

Director:  Wes Craven
Studios:  Woods Entertainment, Dimension Films
Starring:  Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard; ft. Drew Barrymore, Henry Winkler, Liev Schreiber, Matthew Lillard's tongue
Tagline:  Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far.  Solving this mystery is going to be murder.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, slasher, stalker, drama, mystery, serial killer, masked murderer, teen
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  A year after the rape and murder of wife and mother Maureen Prescott, the small town of Woodsboro is once again haunted by the onset of a new string of murders.  Maureen's daughter Sidney (Campbell) soon becomes the center of the masked serial killer Ghostface's plot, and everybody is a suspect.

I love this movie.  Love it.  One of my favorites, hands down, just because of what it represents.  The Scream movies were heavily influential in Horror Buff's adolescent years, so they bring back good memories.  I mean, how can you beat Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm StreetThe People Under the Stairs, Wishmaster) plus a full cast of celebs in a film that brought the dying horror genre back to life?  Answer: you can't.

Scream is the beginning of a whole new boom for horror movies (and parodies), especially those from the late '90s through the mid 2000s that I especially love so much.  The best thing about this movie, though, is that it's still scarier and takes itself more seriously than, say, the I Know What You Did Last Summer franchise.  Sure we have a few laughs in this one, and sure Matthew Lillard's tongue seems to fall out of his mouth every time he speaks, but I think mainly due to Neve Campbell (swoon) and Courtney Cox's (swoon harder) ability to stay serious and focused through the film (not to mention a psychotic killer who doesn't make a fool of himself and just a hint of gore), we actually have something scary on our hands.

Originally titled "Scary Movie" (ohh the parodies to ensue), Scream very cleverly plays upon the tropes of your standard horror film.  In fact, for young Horror Buff, this movie was very influential in summarizing ideas that would later influence my rules for horror flicks.  I absolutely love how screenwriter Kevin Williamson manages to pay homage to some of his own favorite movies, such as Halloween (twins!!) through allusions in the script, music, and even film within the film.  The quick sequence with the Woodsboro High School custodian "Fred"sporting Freddy's sweater (and job) from Wes Craven's own Nightmare on Elm Street franchise deserves a special shout out.  Somehow, Williamson found a sweet spot in horror after cliches had become cliche but before they had become sour, and he played on those to make a brand new iconic murderer, who in this film has both a scary, complicated, and twisted motive in mind.  In 1996, audiences were probably fed up with the teenagers being slashed concept - but Scream presents it to us in a whole new way, with new speed and fear, without forgetting its own roots.

Ghostface is wonderfully frightening, with a sickening balance of craft and creepiness, sanity and total psychosis.  Just as much as Michael Myers scares me for being slow and impassive, so Ghostface freaks me out because of how fast he is!  One of my biggest fears is the feeling of someone or something following me - so while I always like to convince myself that I could hide from or outrun Michael Myers (laughs ensue), watching Ghostface just sprint around all over Woodsboro, tackling plenty of furniture along the way - and especially that little move of not being able to fit through a door but wildly waving his knife-wielding arm around inside the room - frankly scares me.  While perfectly human, Ghostface conveys a superhuman sense of durability, stamina, and stealth.  I think it is so genius that the makers of the film used a regular, actual mask sold at stores.  Like reality meets merchandising?  Yes please.

The acting is good in this movie.  Neve Campbell as Sidney is cool and calm (maybe too calm towards the end) and kicks ass as our typical final girl.  Monica Geller is spunky, fun, tough, and wears a neon yellow skirt suit.  What more is there to say?  While the dopey character of Deputy Dewey (Arquette) puzzles me and to this day I think that in this movie he's actually his parodied version from Scary Movie, it's cute to watch him and later real-life wife crush on each other amidst a spree of teenage murders.  Matthew Lillard and his tongue in the role of hyper teenager Stu Macher is crazy and frankly pretty weird, but he's also fun and carefree as I imagine all teenagers in Cali to be.  While boyfriend Billy Loomis (Ulrich) is brooding and often insensitive, he is suave and believable.  Even Sidney's blonde bestie Tatum (Rose McGowan) - a role often left victim to every stereotype of ditzy - seems like a normal teenager.  All of these believable teens plus both scary and humorous scenes starring Drew Barrymore, The Fonz, and Liev Schreiber (why don't I like him?  Probably because he played Lyndon B. Johnson in The Butler) can only result in a big billed horror success.

The plot is good in this movie.  The motives are questionable and everybody is suspicious.  Ghostface seems to be in two places at once, and one by one we find ourselves questioning Sidney's friends and perhaps even Sid herself.  Where is her dad?  Is her mom really dead?  What about that meddling reporter?  All of these teens in Woodsboro seem highly knowledgable about horror movies - have they just been doing research?  The phone call sequences are creepy and I admit that I am guilty of reenacting them upon unsuspecting friends.  Basically this movie stays fast-paced right up until the very end- managing to use, build upon, and then even break horror stereotypes along the way.

Final critique:  Not much else to say except watch this movie.  This is one of my top recommendations to any variety of audience looking for a good but fun horror movie.  Gather around the TV with friends late at night, or cuddle up with a special someone (or a bowl of popcorn).  Be advised that there is the slightest amount of actual gore but a decent amount of corn syrupy-looking blood, as well as plenty of scares and things that go bump in the night.  Regardless, Horror Buff will tell you to toughen up, and get this movie on VHS… I mean… whatever it is folks use these days, and allow Scream to take you back, back to the last millennium and the good old days of splendid teen horror movies.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi
Studios: Renaissance Pictures
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Derich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Tagline: The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror; The Most Ferociously Original Horror Film of the Year
MPAA Rating: NC-17
Genre: horror, supernatural thriller, slapstick, black comedy, drama, action, gore
Scare score: B
Rating: B+

Plot overview: Five friends venture into a lonely cabin in the woods for spring break where they find an ancient text that awakens a terrible evil.

A cult classic in every sense of the word, this is the film that launched Sam Raimi (and Bruce Campbell)'s career as well as the first installment of the iconic franchise (of the same name). The story behind this hit horror franchise is really pretty interesting: Basically, producer Robert Tapert (married to Lucy Laweless) was roommates with Sam Raimi's brother in college, and over time the two became friends with a mutual interest in film and ultimately horror.  Match made in Michigan State heaven am I right? Two broke guys with useless degrees (or no degree at all) meet up with Campbell who has recently quit his job driving cabs, and the three young minds come together to write and produce this incredibly low-budget movie (~$375k) with a smash result.

Anyway, the gritty, difficult conditions the cast and crew had to suffer while filming this movie are what create the believable sense of dread and horror the movie boasts. In my opinion, it is a combination of this dirty, creepy cabin in Tennessee (where the whole cast and crew had to live and sleep during filming) plus the dangling, creeping, crawling, slanted camera shots that most unnerve us, leading to an overall uncomfortable and actually scary feeling while watching the film. Any time you have a small set to work in (aka a creepy, concrete, wooden, dirty, old cabin), small shots around doorways and hallways and cellars become your best friend to create a true atmosphere of horror and claustrophobia. Much like Ash (Campbell), the entire audience feels trapped during the movie, truly doomed with nowhere to escape to as the evil was just as much inside the cabin as without.

As far as plot goes, this movie follows some of the protocol of our well-known '80s flicks (this movie came out in the same year as both Halloween II and Friday the 13th Part 2) while simultaneously going so far as to truly coin the cabin in the woods as a horrifying and typical setting for the genre (perhaps with some kudos and inspiration going to Friday the 13th which was released a year earlier in 1980. Let's talk for a second about said cabin. Much like in other movies pertaining to the genre (Cabin Fever, Cabin in the Woods), the claustrophobic, old, and even grimy setting of such movies manage to play with our nerves from the very beginning. At least for me, being stuck in a small space that has already had the windows and doors broken down, unsure of where your assailant might enter through is one of the scariest situations— aka just about every scene of this movie.

The first installment of The Evil Dead has not yet entered into the overly absurd slapstick feeling that the sequels seem to rely on. I agree with the use of "black comedy" to describe this movie because at times you can't help but laugh, even if it is during a particularly gory scene. Speaking of which, one thing this movie certainly does and very much so is gore. Gore, fake blood, crazy (great!) makeup, puss/ milk, gore, ooze, goo, slime, muck, fake blood again, plus all other sorts of generally disgusting and disturbing substances (think Dead Alive at times)—cleverly paired with ('80s) humor, plenty of action, and a hero we find ourselves rooting for—was what put this movie on the map.

Fun fact: The now frequently used tagline "The Most Ferociously Original Horror Film of the Year" was coined by Stephen King when he saw this movie at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. In an interview, King considered The Evil Dead his fifth favorite horror movie, resulting promotion and support from King propelled the low-budget film to great box office success worldwide.


The acting really isn't that bad here. We have the whole 'teenagers on break' thing going on, but without the typical sleaziness associated with those plots. While the acting in the beginning of the movie is pretty normal (random lines, small talk), the most impressive acting comes later from the possessed characters. I thought that the most unnerving (and equally most annoying) thing about this movie was the three girls—especially Cheryl (Sandweiss) and Linda (Baker)—when they were possessed. From the moment of their gruesome transformations, they do not ever stop shrieking and screaming, and their shrill noises frankly bug and upset the audience to the point that we, too, feel the psychological pressure that Ash and Scotty (Delrich) are dealing with. Campbell conveys a great sense of balance between true fear, emotional concern for his friends/ the loss of his girlfriend, and just the right amount of comic gestures.

The special effects are honestly not bad until the final scene. I was highly, highly impressed with the masks and makeup that characters had to wear especially after begin injured/ possessed. Unfortunately the climactic final scene becomes a bit hokey by modern standards when toiling claymation hurts the great progress that was made up until that point. Luckily, that same final sequence contains so much disgusting 'gore' (think various purees, goos, and bodily fluids) that we find ourselves squeamish enough to perhaps by distracted from the claymation (or not).

I'll briefly touch upon the infamous scene with Cheryl and the possessed, demonic tree branches and roots in the woods. That was a fairly weird sequence that disturbs a lot of viewers to this day. It makes us question was it necessary? Admittedly the scene was creepy and sensual, we're not sure of what we're seeing until it's too late maybe. It is perhaps the darkest scene in an otherwise not so dark (just bloody and creepy) horror movie.

Final critique: This movie is a fun and even disturbing watch. It is filled with plenty of action, screaming dead girls, pureed vegetables seeping from dismembered bodies, and a claustrophobic sense of doom. Then again, there's the pretty frequent one-liner or laugh that confuses us in our fear, making us question whether this is a comic book or true terror that we're witnessing. With just the perfect touch of literary inspiration stemming from H.P. Lovecraft, The Evil Dead explores both the teen and cabin in the woods genres of time period while drawing from hyper-hyper-animated Romero-esque zombie roots, all brought together with that uniquely '80s feeling. The result? An equally frightening and funny film sure to creep and gross you out no matter how many times you watch it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

American Horror Story - S3, E10 and E11 (2014)

"The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks" and "Protect the Coven"

Before I get started: hello and Happy New Year, horror fans.  Please excuse my month-long hiatus from blogging as I was back stateside for the holidays.  While I continued watching horror movies/ shows and put a lot of thought into blogging about them, the laziness and distractions that come with being home during the most wonderful time of the year proved too strong and I barely touched my laptop.  Now I'm back to my relaxed Euro lifestyle and eager to continue with The Horror Blog at full force.  New Year's Resolution?  Not to leave the blog behind for so long as I did last spring and summer.

Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Emma Roberts, Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Jamie Brewer, Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters; ft. Stevie Nicks, Patti LuPone, Danny Huston, Denis O'Hare, Michael Cristofer
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, terror, drama, witches, magic, voodoo, serial killer
Scare score:  C+
Rating:  A-

Plot overview: Considering the imminent danger of the witch hunters and accepting that no magical woman is safe, Fiona (Lange) and Marie Laveau (Bassett) form a pact that seems to be more between the two of them than between their respective clans.  Laveau's presence as a welcome guest at Miss Robichaux's, however, widens the rift that continues splitting apart the Coven based on feelings of distrust and suspicion as well as on personal vendettas.  Practically all of the young witches in the household believe themselves to be the next Supreme, which leads to more bitterness between the girls - especially Madison (Roberts) and Misty Day (Rabe) - who begin to turn violent.  Several of the girls mysteriously disappear.
Queenie (Sidibe) and LaLaurie (Bates) return, shocking Laveau and the Coven by returning not only alive but in one piece (literally).  Tensions between Laveau and LaLaurie are as high as ever, and each makes attempts on the other's life.  Delia (Paulson) makes a sacrifice in order to regain her gift of sight and help the Coven.  Fiona and Laveau meet with the witch hunters headed by Harrison Renard (Cristofer) to reach a peace pact or other ultimatum.  One witch leaves the Coven for her own protection.

These two episodes have been really satisfying: filled with action and plot development.  In general, I'd have to say my least favorite thing that is continuously happening (and leading the Coven in a downward spiral) is the rapidly growing distrust and hate between the various witches (as well as Marie Laveau).  Not that the young and gifted ladies of Miss Robichaux's were ever besties, but still.  How do you discipline a hoard of young, powerful, hormonal girls?  Fiona does nothing, Delia has been all but totally absent, and we saw how Madison affronted Myrtle (Conroy) when she tried to lay down a firm hand.  This lack of discipline and increasing acceptance of the usage of violent magic might be the end of the Coven.


Is the Coven itself all I care about at this point?  Characters keep changing (a little too rapidly and without any basis, says me [I'm watching you, screenwriters]), and everyone is becoming too negative. This makes me prematurely conclude that the Coven will self destruct, save for one or two diva witches (Fiona…?)  I still like Fiona although we even saw from the creepy doorman of voodoo gods, Papa Legba (Lance Reddick) - who we should be expecting to see more from - that the woman has no soul.  Lange looks like she's really having fun this season, especially in the big bloodbath scene on E11.

Taissa Farmiga charmed me from E1, and Zoe is a character I think it's easy for us to root for.  We have the zombie Romeo & Juliet going on with her and and Kyle (Peters) who are now escaping for Disney World.  Questions Horror Buff- Will they live out their days in a separate peace?  Could there be a little zombie/ witch baby on the way or does Zoe's "curse" affect even those who have already died?  And did Myrtle send them away for their own good, as she said?  Or is this some plot to get them out of the house for unknown reasons?  Myrtle is still unstable at this point, although Conroy portrays a fascinatingly abstract and bizarre, colorful woman reborn.

Part of me still roots for Delia - if she regains the sight will they use her as some sort of arbiter to see who is worthy and honest within the Coven (not too many of those)?  Bassett continues her magnificent performance as a sassy, wizened black woman and queen of her dying race.  

Otherwise, I'm not loving anybody right now.  I never really liked Queenie or Nan (Brewer) this season and as I believe I called, both of them have been killed off at this point (or not, but you know how this season loves to play with necromancy and reanimation).  I hated Nan's random evil bender shortly before she died, even if she was reenacting revenge upon the wicked.  What is with all these moral-less witches?  Also I think the fact that each one of them seems to be gaining new powers ten-fold is a red herring that doesn't necessarily imply budding supremacy.  I cannot wait to see the Seven Wonders if the final episode does, as it seems, show them being performed.  

I suppose I have to comment on Stevie Nick's cameo on the show, playing herself but as a witch.  It has been an ongoing thing all season, and I've read about how big a fan the creators of the show are of her, etc etc etc.  While I don't know how I feel about bridging this real life fantasy with plot, she was really great on the program and her whole episode turned into something beautiful, musical, and nostalgic that we hadn't seen until now.  Her performances were great both on piano and vocally.

The entire exchange between Delphine and Spalding (O'Hare) was a bit bizarre this week; I'm still waiting to see what the whole deal with this kidnapped baby is; we're looking at the possibility of a witch and a voodoo queen being buried alive on the next episode; Papa Legba still has to come back and that is so creepy; and most importantly - there's only two episodes left.  So much to yet to happen.

Final critique:  This season is great.  Horror Buff is a big fan of witchcraft, and this season continuously delivers with fantastic spells and magic that enchants the audience just as much as its victims on the show.  For the final two episodes, I can only expect tons of treachery, a few more deaths,  some gore, and hopefully some beautiful displays of magic.  As I mentioned, I don't think it's likely that too many witches are going to walk out of this season alive, or at least not united in a Coven.  I do perhaps see the rise of a new Supreme in her glory, or perhaps the humble rise of one who has, for example, escaped to Florida.  A lot of revenge and witch-bitchiness remains to be seen, and I think the question on everyone's mind is: will Fiona maintain her order?