Monday, March 31, 2014

March Review

March was a truly successful month in terms of horror.  Hope to have more months like it in the future.

For your consideration:

1.  The Cabin in the Woods (2012): A
2.  An American Werewolf in London (1981): A/A-
3.  Fright Night (1985): A-
4.  The Innkeepers (2011): A-/B+
5.  The House of the Devil (2009): A-
6.  It (1990): B+
7.  The Bone Collector (1999): B+
8.  Darkness Falls (2003): C+
9.  Friday the 13: The Final Chapter (1984): C+

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Director:  Joseph Zito
Studios:  Paramount Pictures
Starring:  Corey Feldman, Kimberly Beck, Lawrence Monoson, Crispin Glover, Peter Barton, Barbara Howard; ft. Joan Freeman, Ted White
Tagline:  Friday April 13th is Jason's Unlucky Day
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, slasher, stalker, serial killer, psychopath, masked murderer, teen
Scare score:  D+
Rating:  C+

Plot overview:  Immediately following the events of the previous film, we are introduced to the Jarvis family, consisting of the recently separated mother (Freeman), blonde bombshell daughter Trish (Beck), and oddball son Tommy (Feldman).  Trying to enjoy a peaceful getaway at the lake, they have mixed reactions to the arrival of a group of teenagers at the house next door.  This time around, we have the big talker but poor performer Ted (Monoson), his best bud and recently single Jimmy (Glover), on-and-off sweethearts Sam (Judie Aronson) and Paul (Clyde Hayes), the shy Sara (Howard) and her crush Doug (Barton).  After escaping from the hospital where he was believed to be dead, Jason (uncredited White) returns to Crystal Lake and is very unhappy to find so many intruders.

It's really a wonder to me that the franchise didn't end, or come to a terrible, crashing halt, after this film.  Already by Part III, we are used to the blood bath Jason makes out of any unsuspecting weekenders at the lake (beware of West Jersey).  We were also already used to a lack of plot as well as kills that made it seem like screenwriters were crossing names off a list rather than creatively, purposefully murdering characters (and people think modern horror is bad with boobs and body counts... Friday the 13th doesn't hold back).  I'm not sure, then, just what we were expecting from Part IV - "the final chapter" HA big laugh 30 years later - because, with no plot and many senseless kills, this movie just brought us more of the same.

More stupid introduction.  Why is it that the creators of this franchise love using the first 5-10 minutes of each movie to recap practically all of the events of the previous movies?  It's so unnecessary.

More dopey teenagers.  Our cast of victims is colorful and fun as always, and this time around they might even just be sexier with teen idol Peter Barton (who talks like four times in the whole movie), beautiful yet annoying yet incredibly resilient big sis Kimberly Beck, and the unforgettable More twins Camilla and Carey as the shockingly uninhibited Tina and Terri; aka any teenage boy's dream multiplied by two.  Then hunky Rob Dier (Erich Anderson) shows up with a ridiculous backpack, a gun, and a machete, supposedly to 'hunt bears' although we know he has a bone to pick with Jason.  Our familiar, overdone archetypal 'horn dog' Ted is like any other big mouthed, self-proclaimed 'ladies man' in horror, Jimmy is pretty bizarre and possibly capable of murder himself since he's wound so tight, and then to round out our cast we have the completely one-dimensional Samantha who is cute but jealous, and finally Sara who's shy so her only way to acclimate to the social scene is to put out.  For Pete's sake, the girls' names are Tina, Terri, Sam, and Sara, and I think we see all of them at least partially naked.  There was certainly a lot of heart put into creating the female characters in this movie...

More kills that are swift and kind of scary but severely lacking in suspense.  Although we see a lot of Jason in this movie (more about that later), it seems we only don't see him right before a kill.  With our highest body count yet in the franchise, that's a lot of highly anticipated, totally expected kills that  average maybe 5-7 seconds of screen time each.  What I'm trying to say is boo, boring.  Sure there's a little bit of gore, but honestly each kill seems to be done with one cut to the leg or head, one impalement through the abdomen, one squeeze by an ugly deformed hand.  While they may momentarily startle us, the kills are not thrilling, and I think they're less creative than what we've seen in earlier installments.  So much pressure for screenwriters!  Seems like they just couldn't handle it.  The absolute best kill in the film, however, goes to Sara.  That was awesome.  Worst death?  Easy.  Rob's death was one of the stupidest things I've seen in a horror flick, more attune to a parody.  Who narrates their death while it's happening?

More teens breaking the rules.  Since Friday the 13th was one of the leading franchises in establishing the basis of these rules, I guess I shouldn't be surprised or bored given the amount of teen baseness here.  If I had to retitle this movie, I'd probably call it "The Short-Shorts Slasher".  This movie is literally a showcase of short shorts and boobs.  If that's your thing, I mean go for it, have a good time.  But does anybody live in a world where hot blonde twins just show up on the side of the road, only to suggest skinny dipping moments later - AND everyone complies?  Why weren't my teenage years like that?  I mean they were at times, but... well, that's another story for another time.  Yet still, in spite of all the horror movies I've seen, this one still surprised me with the sheer amount of spur-of-the-moment nudity, showering together, and towel-clad victims.  One of my least favorite scenes in this movie had to be the dance sequence, and no, I didn't mind when Crispin aka Jimmy (can't believe his name is Crispin) started rocking out to some typically '80s tunes, but then when all the mushy lovebirds put on like '50s dance music... what was that?  Like I'll be honest, I'm listening to a Big Band station right now on Pandora, but come on, why that boring slow dancing scene?  And so soon before their lives are cut short; what a tragedy.

More bumbling Jason.  Although I read that a lot of fans praise White for his Jason portrayal in this movie, all I could think while watching was that our number one nemesis just seemed a little too... I don't know... dumb?  I mentioned before that while slaughtering every teen at the one house we don't even seen too much of him (maybe a nod towards the style of the first film), but then he sort of stars in the whole sequence at the Jarvis household.  During this time, we see that although he is inhumanly strong and difficult to stop, he is also somewhat goofy, running around all over the place, slowing down after getting hit in the head time and time again.  Taking into account that Jason is supposed to be a sort of demented little boy in a (large) grown man's body, I get that he might not be the sharpest tool/ murder weapon in the shed, but still, aside from his gross blue hands that are in dire need of a manicure, the J-man just isn't too scary.


What was good about Jason?  When his mask comes off, the makeup is really great.  I remember complaining about his face in an earlier movie, and it seems that the creative team here knew that 30 years down the line, Horror Buff would be complaining, because in this movie they really delivered.  I felt equally as shocked and horrified as Trish when the hockey mask falls to the floor, because boy is this guy ugly.  His 'death' scene towards the very end of the movie was also pretty horrific.

Something else I like about Jason is that he doesn't discriminate.  Sure, we've all seen a bunch of ruthless killers in our time, but every so often, an unstoppable killer turns out to have an Achilles' Heel which makes them not as scary.  Let's be honest, what is it that we want in a killer?  Someone or something ruthless, terrible, imaginative, totally insane yet calculated, and entertaining (is that so much to ask?)  Jason, technically a human, doesn't necessarily have a weakness other than the fact that he can only maintain a certain amount of injury before temporarily collapsing.  This is, however, the second time we've seen Jason sort of confused by visions of either his 'mother' or 'himself' before being subdued.  While this film pegs itself as the true end of Jason, we know that it didn't stay that way, and I think at this point Jason only gets crazier and less human.  Looking forward to that...

Until this point, Jason has stuck to teenage victims, give or take a few adults.  The good thing about this is that it doesn't matter if the victim is a jock or popular girl, innocent camp counselor or nerdy best friend, pothead or handicapped person, white or... just kidding, there is absolutely no diversity in these movies.  Regarding the no-victim-left-behind-act, take for instance the very, very random fat hippie hitchhiker (Bonnie Hellman) - yup that's a real thing.  Seemingly for no reason at all, BAM she's dead.  Was she even that close to the lake?  Methinks not on account the teens passed her in the daytime but didn't arrive to the house until after nightfall.  As the series movies away from Crystal Lake, I suppose the variety of Jason's victims will only grow.

Perhaps the biggest step forward that this film makes is the introduction of a child, a child that just so happens to be Corey Feldman.  Luckily it seems that Mr. Feldman received this role before developing his own famous, wise-guy personality, therefore leaving the character of Tommy Jarvis untainted.  Tommy represents a sort of innocence in the film although he is no saint as he is subjected happily to the debauchery of the teens next door several times.  Still, his youth and ingenuity allows him to tackle the whole Jason plight with a different angle - sympathy.  Weirdly skilled with mask-making, a certain homage to the hardworking makeup and special effects departments, Tommy effortlessly gives himself a makeover from heck in order to confuse Jason into thinking that he is seeing his younger, tortured self.  This gives the brother-sister Jarvis duo just enough time to stop Jason's rampage once and for all! ... or not.

Final critique:  This movie is pretty silly, and the negatives are more than apparent.  Still, if this couldn't kill the franchise from continuing, it must be for a reason.  I don't dislike this movie, it just simply wouldn't be my first pick from out of the Friday the 13th's I've seen to date.  This movie is filled with plenty of action even though it misses ample opportunities to create even more suspense and horror.  In its unintended farce, this installment epitomizes the B-movies of '80s horror and teen slashers.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of other ones out there that do the job better.  The Final Chapter boasts some gore, a few scares, a multitude of deaths that aren't milked enough to be memorable, and plenty of teen shenanigans.  It's pretty much exactly what you expect 4 movies deep in this iconic franchise.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Director: Drew Goddard
Studios: Mutant Enemy Productions, Lionsgate
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins; ft. Sigourney Weaver
Tagline: You think you know the story.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, supernatural terror, thriller, satire
Scare score: B/B+
Rating: A

Plot overview: A group of five friends heads to a lonely cabin to spend a long, relaxing weekend. They could never imagine the horror awaiting them there.

This movie is great. I watched it for the first time last spring, but I never got around to blogging about it. Luckily I had plenty of free time this week to watch and enjoy it again.

I think that horror fans will find themselves pretty evenly split between loving and loathing this movie; obviously I'm one of the former just because I appreciate everything put into this movie. Cabin in the Woods flips horror on its head, putting an entirely new twist on the genre simply by recycling just about every archetype and trope they could think of, making stereotypes brand new.

While the audience is generally appeased with the right amount of college students having fun and then being terrorized and slaughtered, there are also some moments that we are treated as rather dumb viewers when 'the rules' need to be explained to us. I mean I get it, the egos of some horror buffs might just not be able to handle that— I'm not saying this Horror Buff can't, I'm just saying there might be some more sensitive fans out there. The fun thing about this movie, though, is that you're never entirely sure just what exactly is going on, and when you find out, you can't help but smile at this tongue-in-cheek approach to a horror movie.

The first time I saw Cabin in the Woods I thought I had made a big mistake when we were immediately introduced to two obvious archetypes— Dana (Connolly) and Jules (Hutchison). When smart jock Curt (Hemsworth) throws that football through a window but intellectual jock Holden (Williams) makes a perfect reception in the street, I almost couldn't handle it. This can't be so, I thought, so naive to the satire I was in store for. The small scares and the eerie atmosphere surrounding the cabin (which is, by the way, almost straight out of The Evil Dead) start quickly as we try to guess what exactly is the relation between the comic-relief scientists (Whitford and Jenkins) down in the lab, and our victims up in the cabin.

Given the fact that we are working with rehashed, reproduced, over-the-top tropes, each of our five principle characters still manage to charm and surprise us. Leading the way is our 'virgin' Dana, who is intelligent and rational. She is a heroine we root for and enjoy following throughout the entire film. Studly jock Curt surprises us with his extensive knowledge of Russian economics early in the film, and as time goes on (and runs out), we only become more familiar with what a great guy he is. His girlfriend is a beautiful if dumb, fun and endearing if loose, not-natural blonde. Then we have newbie Holden, who is also more than just muscle. Finally, rounding out the group, we have pothead and conspiracy theorist Marty (Kranz), who in his altered state also brings a large amount of sense to the film.

The plot, which is a new take on a hundred old plots, is intriguing and entertaining. The writers here were anything but afraid to play with everything horror fans love: bewitched items, creepy basements, conspiracy, sacrifice, and the end of the world, to name a few. As the initial horror at the cabin expands into something much larger, the apt horror fan should be fascinated at the sheer variety the movie then treats us to. One of my favorite things about this movie is absolutely this creativity (although not necessarily novelty) when we get to witness attacks and murders carried out by an army of nightmares. Some of the allusions in this film are to Hellraiser, The Strangers, Night of the Living Dead, Thir13n Ghosts, It, Alien, maybe Poltergeist, plus any werewolf movie, and then a general feeling of Friday the 13th throughout with a touch of Deliverance and Texas Chain Saw Massacre at the beginning. It's actually awesome.


Some qualms I had with this movie came directly from the satirical humor. All in all, sure, I liked the scientists down below. I didn't necessarily love the whole idea that some prehistoric gods under the Earth's crust depend on a very specific ritual of human sacrifice in order to not destroy the planet. That being said, I admit I'm a bad Horror Buff insofar as I've only had a very basic introduction to Lovecraftian themes and works. Also, when that very fact comes from the direct explanation by workers or especially Madam Director (Weaver), it frankly resulted as... well, almost stupid (those are tough lines to deliver seriously, even for Weaver). Still, the general idea of playing with the rules of horror movies makes this film both charming and fun to watch.

The scares are plentiful and pleasing, ranging from your standard surprises in the dark and things that go bump in the night to much more modern, high-paced monster kills. There's honestly a little bit of everything for everybody in this movie.

Final critique: I realize I don't have tons to say about this movie even though I think highly of it. It's not the best horror movie out there, but it's a pretty wonderful nod towards all of its predecessors in the genre. The acting is good, and the plot is really fun; in fact, I think fun is the best way to describe this movie. Audiences that easily scare certainly may not want to watch this film, but anybody looking for a good time with a movie that gives the horror genre a good name, spicing up old, worn-out plots and using them in a new recipe of horror, should definitely move this to the top of their list.

It (1990)

From the director who brought you Halloween III (you know, the one without Michael Myers)...

Director:  Tommy Lee Wallace
Studios:  Warner Bros. Television
Starring:  Tim Curry, Tim Reid, Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O'Toole, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Emily Perkins, Adam Faraizl, Seth Green, Marlon Taylor, Ben Heller
Tagline:  The Master of Horror unleashes everything you were ever afraid of.
MPAA Rating:  TV-MA
Genre:  TV, horror, thriller, mystery, drama, alien
Scare score:  D/D+
Rating:  B+

Plot overview:  A group of misfit children are terrorized by an evil being that appears as to be a cruel, knee-slapping clown (Curry) that can also manifest itself into their biggest fears.  After thinking they have destroyed It, each of the children moves on to live a privileged, successful life.  But when they are called back 30 years later when It returns, will the 'Lucky 7' be strong enough to defeat It once and for all?

Who doesn't know the image of the clawed clown with razor sharp teeth and bloodshot eyes?  Unlike most children, Horror Buff always liked clowns, although Stephen King and the creative team behind this two-part miniseries clearly played on one of the most common fears or dislikes in American society.  Yet It is so much more than Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It is everything you were ever afraid of; It is your worst fear... a concept that works much better in writing than in film, I'm afraid to say.  Regardless, that doesn't mean that this slamming '90s adaptation weakens the entertainment or creepiness behind King's novel, just that the scare factor itself isn't really there.

This movie boasts great acting all around, babies and grownups alike.  Starring Bastian Bux (Brandis), Hollywood's sweetheart of the late '80s, Seth Green already showing off his natural humor, and a pretty fantastic Emily Perkins and Brandon Crane, we are introduced to the plight of the children of Derry.  The flashbacks in the movie feel a whole lot like Stand By Me (which you should go watch), which is also based off of a work of King, giving us an idyllic, '50s-americana undertone that is contrasted by the rapidly increasing creepiness.  

Then we have the action taking place in 1990, which is the time period that maybe the majority of the film takes place in.  While the second half is less popular with fans and critics, there is still some good acting and an occasional scare; admittedly, the adult half of this film depends much more on emotions and relations than the kid half.  Starring in this half we have some smooth jobs by Tim Reid, Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O'Toole, Harry Anderson, and Dennis Christopher.

Something fun that each actor had to work with was his or her distinct character.  In both time periods, we have Bill Denbrough (Brandis/ Thomas), a suave yet geeky boy who has lost his brother and subsequently endures a difficult home life (aka Gordie from Stand By Me).  Then there's Ben Hanscom  (Crane/ Ritter), a big boy with an even bigger heart dealing with his father's death in the war.  The resident female, Beverly Marsh (Perkins/ O'Toole) is a bright and beautiful young woman with an abusive, alcoholic father.  Eddie Kaspbrak (Faraizl/ Christopher) is a momma's boy and debatably asthmatic hypochondriac, but when the time comes, he finds his courage.  One of my favorite characters, Richie Tozier (Green/ Anderson) is a red-head and natural comedian who makes dorky look cool.  To draw on racial tensions from the '50s and '60s, although I imagine they're stronger in the book than they are in this miniseries, we have Mike Hanlon (Taylor/ Reid)- the only one of the Lucky 7 that doesn't get out of Derry in his adult years.  Finally, to round out the group, we have devout Jewish boy scout and obsessive empirical cataloger Stanley Uris (Heller/ Richard Masur).  This cast of distinct, colorful characters - topped off with Tim Curry as a lasting Pennywise - make for a film that, while not the scariest, has depth and heart.

What's good about this movie:  everything Tim Curry.  The scary horror isn't there, but the creepiness is.  The hard contrast between his slapstick humor (and incredible physical acting) and the fact that he is a psychopathic killer is so satisfying.  His yellowed teeth, his red and dry eyes with their continuous shifty glances, his voice, and, of course, his strange exclamation that 'down here, they all float' make for a memorable and actually scary nemesis.  And no, this isn't Michael Myers or Leatherface scary, it's a more subtle, creepy terror that stays with you after watching.  It's ability to manifest itself into It's victims biggest fears also adds color to the movie (werewolves, clowns, mummies, etc).  I also like the dual nature of the film, with major action taking place both in 1960 and in 1990.  One of my absolutely favorite details in this movie is the balloons filled with blood.  I love the scenes where the seemingly unaware people are showered in blood.  The fact that Pennywise can appear to terrorize his victims and no one else can see leads for some fantastic scenes: older Richie in the library, young Beverly in her bathroom.  It's fantastic.

What's bad about this movie:  single-handedly, Richard Thomas' mole and ponytail ruin the movie for me.  Horror Buff isn't afraid of too many things, but men with ponytails is high on that short list.  Just can't handle 'em.  That being said, from the time we're introduced to older Bill, the whole thing is just unsettling.  Did Stephen King ever have a ponytail?  As we see when showed Bill's book titles, Bill is certainly a sort of fictional version of King.  The fact that it was made as a two-part TV movie also results in a lengthy final product, so if you're watching it all at once you'll need 192 minutes to do so. Then, finally, the general feeling of a '90s made-for-TV-movie does inevitably leak into the feeling of the film - we're talking mushy background music, excessive fade-outs, the works.


The concept of a timeless, dimension-less, shape-shifting, omniscient foe is great and scary.  In writing.  That being said, sometimes the true terror of It is difficult to convey on screen.  Ultimately, and this is just my opinion (but hey, it's just my blog), the idea that It is an alien, topped with the whole concept of 'dead lights' is just not my favorite resolution.  I like that if somebody doesn't let It scare them that they can then imagine ways to hurt it ("this is battery acid, slime!") because then they're playing It's game.  However, in the scene that It reveals it is a devourer of worlds ... and of children- yeah, that is just kind of dumb to me.  Why children?  The final battle scenes in the caves underneath Derry (lol) have bad effects, and the spider/alien monster doesn't deliver.  It is much creepier in his other forms.

Final critique:  This is a fun, enjoyable movie.  I think the true reason that It has remained so relevant and entertaining - aside from it being an invention of Stephen King who we love and adore - is Tim Curry, 100 percent.  His Pennywise character and admirable acting skills make for a ride that is simultaneously funny and creepy.  There are a lot of little scares in this movie, but nothing should shake you too much except for Pennywise's general sadism mixed with a corny sense of humor.  Still, I wouldn't recommend this movie for audiences that scare too easily or that don't like the general concept of a multitude of terrors materializing in order to eat children.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Bone Collector (1999)

Director:  Phillip Noyce
Studios:  Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures
Starring:  Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah
Tagline:  Two cops on the trail of a brutal killer.  They must see as one, they must act as one, they must think as one, before the next victim falls.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  thriller, crime, drama, mystery, suspense, serial killer
Scare score:  C/C+
Rating:  B+

Plot overview:  NYPD cop Amelia Donaghy (Jolie) is the first responder to a disturbing crime scene where a homicide victim has been buried near some old railroad tracks.  Taking note of her instinctual documentation of the forensic evidence at the scene, famous forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme (Washington), who was left paraplegic after investigating a crime scene years earlier, chooses the novice Amelia to become his physical eyes and ears when the serial killer strikes again.  The killer, who surgically removes a bone from each of his victims, is imitating crimes from turn of the century New York City, but can Rhyme and Donaghy find out his true intentions before it's too late?

During the same lazy, adolescent summers when Horror Buff watched Darkness Falls about twice a week, The Bone Collector was also an obvious choice for a scary movie given the selection of VHS tapes on hand.  Aside from the big-billed names, this movie gives us an intriguing, gory, and gothic mystery that viewers can't help but try and solve before Rhyme's brain and Donaghy's brawn (and beauty... hey Angelina) do the job.  What is perhaps most fun about this movie, aside from the creative kills and the mystery that rapidly gains momentum, is just the horror behind the crimes- the lack of motives, the innocence of the victims, the seemingly random nature of it all.  Who knew the big apple could be so seedy?

In my opinion there's a pretty obvious touch of Seven here, and considering any crime driven, film noir movie, The Bone Collector doesn't give us anything stupendously new, except for one too many shots of Queen Latifah perplexing over puzzles or the given crime at hand that she either blatantly ignores or blatantly eavesdrops on.  Where would Rhyme be without Thelma (Latifah)?

Speaking of big names, who doesn't love some bed-stricken Denzel and the ingenue Angelina, still gorgeous with her debatable Brooklyn accent and manly disposition before making it big in Hollywood and across borders.  Both actors are cool in this movie although Miss Jolie seems young (Amelia is supposed to be nervous and hesitant in her demanding forensic task work as she simultaneously overcomes personal obstacles regarding love and acceptance.... ugh).  While no one delivers a poor performance, I found that this movie depends more upon action and mystery than serious acting.

That being the case, the kills are cool.  The amount of detail left in the clues, in the elaboration of the crime scenes, and in the murderer's general plot is creative and intriguing, even if what the Bone Collector is pulling off is pretty much outside the capacity of a human being.  Oh well, this isn't the first thriller that exists outside the realm of strict reality.

Final critique:  Not much more to say I guess; this is a new spin on otherwise old - but classic - film noir.  An able bodied novice, a paraplegic professional, some sexual tension, and an anonymous madman with too much time on his hands and a very useful taxi - this is the recipe that keeps the drama and mystery of this crime film cooking.  An enjoyable watch for most audiences; stay away if you're not into mild gore or thinking about the chilling possibility of what could happen any time you get into a cab.  Stick to Uber, kids.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Innkeepers (2011)

Director:  Ti West
Studios:  Dark Sky Films, Glass Eye Pix
Starring:  Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis; ft. Lena Dunham
Tagline:  Some guests never check out.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, suspense, ghost, haunting, paranormal, paranormal investigation
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-/ B+

Plot overview:  College dropouts Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy) are the last workers left at the Yankee Pedlar Inn before its imminent closing.  With plenty of free time and only several guests to attend to, the young coworkers decide to investigate the hotel's haunted past.  But are they too eager to dig up the inn's legendary ghosts?

After enjoying the style and heart put into The House of the Devil, I decided to check out more Ti West, and I'm glad I did.  While this movie shared a similar, suspenseful structure regarding heavy build up over a long introduction, saving the action and delivery for the end of the movie, there were certainly more mature, well-played scares throughout.

I like the sense of reality that I have seen so far in West's movies.  By reality I don't mean that I believe in eclipse-worshiping satanic cults, but what I do mean is that Mr. West is young and when it comes to screenwriting he keeps his ears open to the real world: how people talk, phrases people use, modern jokes, and cultural relevance.  It's a breath of fresh air in any genre, but especially in horror.  On the other hand, given his characters' sense of actuality, there is also an undeniable nod to older horror movies, which West has clearly tried to achieve by means of cinematography and by establishing plots and characters that go deeper than exposed breasts and sharp kitchen knives.

Let's talk about the realism in The Innkeepers.  The combination of West's script and the acting here just had me feeling very happy, very in-tune with what was going on in this movie.  People love the paranormal, and a lot of amateurs and "professionals" alike spend tons of money on equipment just to go record white noise and sounds they can't explain (or, rather, choose not to).  People like Luke with too much time on their hands start up websites dedicated totally to horror that people probably don't even read.  I mean could you imagine.....?

More about Luke: maybe it was Pat Healy's appearance or the costume, but I'm sure I've met people just like him before (at least in aspect and attitude).  Otherwise, he was a very believable college dropout, faking paranormal sightings, sort of drifting through life with no purpose.

I'm wasn't sure how I felt about Sara Paxton at all times.  My initial reaction was that I had seen her before (no I don't mean in Aquamarine); she reminded me an awful lot of Nicholle Tom who is ten years her senior.  I was inclined to like her - and ultimately I did - although her overall performance as Claire felt a little too animated for me.  While I thought she was believable at first, little by little she became too naive, like a Disney character who also happens to be a teenage girl.  Luckily, even given her slightly exaggerated portrayal, good writing helps make Claire more realistic and enjoyable to follow throughout the film - and we get a lot of her.

Horror Fan doesn't watch Girls, but he was surprised to see a Lena Dunham cameo as the stereotypically realistic barista.  I'm not sure if she and Ti West are friends, but I did read an interview she conducted with him a few years back, so there's some professional history there.

Finally, as the only other actor that is really present in the film, we have Kelly McGillis as actress-turned-psychic Leanne Rease-Jones.  Her more mysterious role permits the audience to accept that the supernatural is something approved by the plot and not just concocted in the minds of Claire and Luke.

Like many a horror movie, The Innkeepers walks the line between what is real and what is imaginary without ever clearly showing truth from hysterical fiction.  Naturally, this can be a smart move because the audience then controls the power to decide, based on the movie's actions, whether or not the ghosts are real.


The horror in this movie was very interesting.  Again, it takes a while to begin, but then there are some truly pleasant scares.  First of all, the character of the Madeline O'Malley bride is a cute idea; who hasn't heard of the legend of so-and-so, who died because of you-know-what way back you-know-when?  It's an urban legend like every town in America probably has.  As she begins to appear, she isn't the most terrifying ghost we've ever seen and personally I think the whole bride bit is overdone.  Her scares are nice though; I liked the sit-up-straight-in-bed thing.  Spooky!

Much creepier than the bride is the old man.  Even when he first appears he is utterly eerie: his pale, flabby skin, his slow, awkward speech, and especially his black eyes.  Once we see him as a ghost it's even worse.

What I liked most about the concept of ghosts in this movie is whether or not they were in Claire's head.  Given the state of their indecisiveness, their dropping out of college, their dead-end jobs, and their general stagnation in life, it could be said that the true ghosts in this movie are Claire and Luke themselves.  As Leanne herself says, real ghosts - much like humans - just want to live.  That is what Claire wants although she is unsure of where to begin, and that's what Luke wants although he, too, has regrettably reached a temporary dead-end.  Both of these characters want to do something - create a hit website, record ghost sightings, maybe fall in love - but, much like many 20-year-olds, they are having a hard time taking that first step.  As for Madeline and the old man, or as for any ghost trying to make contact with humans, what do they want?  To be noticed.  To be important.  To truly live.  Leanne serves as a medium between the living and the dead here, showing to us that it's very much possible to be like dead when still alive, and still like alive when dead.

Final critique:  I liked this movie.  It's paced more slowly than the movies we're used to seeing today, but if you're into a realistic script and more developed characters instead of just slamming doors and ghosts sightings, then this might also be a movie for you.  As I read in an interview with Ti West, he isn't necessarily trying to make one big movie that will change a genre forever, rather he would consider a successful career as consisting of 50 decent movies that people will at least see and talk about, regardless of whether or not they liked them.  Well so far, I've seen two of his smart, based-in-reality horror movies, and I must say that so far, so good.  With a few big bangs, some creepy imagery, and masterful suspense, I'd recommend this movie to general audiences who think they can handle pretty scary ghosts.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The House of the Devil (2009)

Director:  Ti West
Studios:  MPI Media Group, Dark Sky Films
Starring:  Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Greta Gerwig, A.J. Bowen, Mary Woronov; ft. Dee Wallace
Tagline:  Talk on the Phone.  Finish Your Homework. Watch TV.  Die.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, suspense, spawn of satan, religious occult
Scare score:  D
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  Broke college student Samantha (Donahue) has just settled on a new apartment with her understanding landlady (Wallace).  The welcome change from her dingy, uninviting dorm room and roommate, however, will require extra cash that Samantha doesn't have.  Almost miraculously, Samantha manages to set up a babysitting gig for one night during a lunar eclipse that has the entire town - except for Sam's best friend Megan (Gerwig) - excited.  That night, Megan drives Sam out to the impressive yet isolated home where they meet the awkward Mr. Ulman (Noonan) and his somewhat bizarre wife (Woronov).  When Mr. Ulman explains that Sam will actually be watching his mother-in-law, Megan urges her to leave, but at the rate of $400 for 4 hours, the deal is too good for Sam to pass up.  Will the mysterious job end up being more responsibility than Sam bargained for?

I really pleasantly enjoyed this film.  From the second I saw the poster, I knew I liked the retro feeling about it, probably one of the nicest things director Ti West could have decided to do.  If you've read this blog before, you'll probably know that I love period pieces, be it 19th century England or the 1980s.  The opening credits, the costumes, the props, the soundtrack - that dance scene - the cinematography: it was all so great, such an interesting vintage feeling that reminds us of the 80s horror we so love.  The script especially was a breath of fresh air.  In a brief but nice homage to the ghosts of horror past, we have Dee Wallace (an acclaimed horror actress although the only movie I've reviewed that she's in is the 2007 remake of Halloween) welcoming us into the film in the role of a landlady.

That being said, we have a lot of time to focus on these details because this film sure as heck takes its time to start the scares.  I believe that it wasn't until the 35 minute mark that we witnessed some real horror instead of just suspense and interactions that give us the creeps.  I'll say it now and I'll say it again later, but if you're looking for constant thrills, gore, and physical horror - this isn't the movie for you.

Even after we know that there is trouble afoot, most likely heading towards our babysitter, the film returns to a calm (but never too slow) pace, following Sam around the dark, winding Victorian home, at times making us aware both of the evil lurking out in the eclipsed night as well as the evil still dwelling within the house.

Speaking of the house itself, is this an adequate title for the film?  I mean, sure, a lot of the movie's action takes place inside a house, but when we hear this title (or see the movie poster) our minds jump to The People Under the Stairs, to name one, and as soon as babysitting for strangers becomes the obvious plot, seasoned horror movie lovers will know we're headed towards a spawn of satan deal.  That being said, if it really isn't the devil's house, and the satanic rituals here have more to do with the people themselves, I just think the title becomes a little distant from the plot.

Nowadays, you can't do spawn of satan without thinking of The Omen or Rosemary's Baby (which this film made a multitude of allusions to), but The House of the Devil - and I'm still surprised it came out in 2009 because I have no idea where I was since I seem to have missed its publicity and theatrical release - added its own touches and excitement to the genre.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about the whole 'babysitter in peril' plot line, especially considering that Babysitter Wanted (which I saw on TV once upon a time) came out in 2008, just one year earlier.  Can you say awkward?

This movie doesn't have a lot of scares, but when it does scare it scares well.  We have some jumps (hey, AJ Bowen), and then just some real discomfort - I was very impressed with the makeup choices for the character we can assume to be Mr. Ulman's "mother-in-law."


Not surprisingly, as far as spawn of satan movies go, there isn't a very happy ending for our heroine here.  Also, staying true to some retro movies we know and love, the motive here is never made 100% clear, just some satanists doing their thang.

Final critique:  Here we have a fun, modern take on vintage horror.  From the 16mm footage to the heavy usage of low camera angles and dramatic zoom, the cinematography transports us from the onslaught of amateur, unoriginal slashers of today back to a time when suspense and terror were more important than blood and body counts (which this film also has).  This is a nice movie to watch when you have the time to sit and enjoy a horror movie.  This is not the right film to watch if you are looking for a fast-moving, gory, scream-filled ride on the horror train.  Impressive acting matched with a fun plot and a believable script lead to one good horror movie in The House of the Devil.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Darkness Falls (2003)

Director:  Jonathan Liebesman
Studios:  Revolution Studios, Distant Corner Entertainment Group Inc.
Starring:  Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Lee Cormie; ft. Emily Browning
Tagline:  Every Legend Has Its Dark Side.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, suspense, ghost, mythical
Scare score:  D+
Rating:  C+

Plot overview:  In the small town of Darkness Falls, there is a local legend about a woman named Matilda Dixon.  A hundred years ago, she used to take children's baby teeth in exchange for a gold coin, earning herself the nickname "the Tooth Fairy."  But after sustaining horrible injuries in a fire, Matilda became an outcast, and following the disappearance of local children, she was hanged by a suspecting mob.  In her last breath, she placed a curse upon the town, swearing vengeance upon children losing their final baby tooth.
A hundred years later, young Kyle Walsh (Joshua Anderson) has just lost his final baby tooth.  When the legend of the Tooth Fairy turns out to be true, will older Kyle (Kley) ever be able to return home and face his fear of the dark?

My relationship with this movie is complicated and forces me to be somewhat biased.  13 and 14-year-old Horror Buff probably watched this movie about a hundred times with friends throughout the summer before freshman year.  The memories made during the hot summer days and nights with the AC at full blast while Horror Buff & Crew got scared (or didn't) has always left me very fond of this movie, although after recently re-watching I am now fully aware that Darkness Falls is amateur hour.

Let's start with the positive.  This movie poster is pretty sick, and I do like the tagline "Darkness Falls, Evil Rises."  Clever!  Furthermore, it's not that this movie isn't scary or that it has a bad plot, because, while there certainly are a lot of plot holes or just random advancements in action, plus a whole lotta' the stupidity principle ("Stay in the light!" "Okay but let me just step in the dark for a seco--"), the concept of this ghost strikes a chord with humans from all cultures: fear of the dark.  During the film itself, there are some pretty entertaining scenes and scares that take place between the growing shadows and shrinking sources of light.  This leads to some very suspenseful moments that many audiences are sure to enjoy.  Lastly, I do enjoy the ghost in this film, even if that guttural noise she makes is unnerving.  The creative team here had their fun playing with the mask trope - which admittedly in its contrasting, porcelain white, was pretty eerie - as well as her horrid, burnt face, which I was impressed by as far as the concept of a monster, ghost, or killer's face goes in the horror genre.  Hers may not be the most memorable face, but I think it's a good one.

Moving along... the progressing action in this movie is awkward at times.  Sometimes a kill is needed to spice up a dull moment, and then we're not even sure why we ended up there in the first place, other than to take up in more time in what is still an extremely short film.  Because of the lacking length of the movie, there is a noticeable speed that careful viewers will pick up on and question.  The script could have used more work, although it still manages to be entertaining in babble between various, even unnecessary characters.

What I liked least about this movie was that the character of Michael Greene (Cormie), while cute and important as a sort of modern-generation version of Kyle, had some sort of power of omniscience.  This kid should not have any special power; he simply suffers from night terrors ("or so they say.")  It makes no sense, then, that Michael knows so much about Kyle's past with the Tooth Fairy.  The fact that this is never explained and serves only to make Michael a bit creepier really irks me.  Horror Buff likes purpose and not cliches.

(Not so) Fun Fact: The star of this film, Chaney Kley, died of sleep apnea.  Or so they say.

Final critique:  This movie has a smeared rep as far as horror films go, but Horror Buff will still recommend Darkness Falls.  It's a great example of fun, playful, early 2000s horror, and in fact, to its own discredit, this movie takes itself a little too seriously.  While the scares are not overly scary, they still pack a punch that is sure to entertain and even frighten general audiences.  This is a nice choice for an evening in with a significant other on the couch, or for a group of young friends to watch at a late night horror movie session.  With a creative and pretty freaky ghost leading the thrills, this movie will at least put a toothy smile on your face.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fright Night (1985)

Director:  Tom Holland
Studios:  Columbia Pictures
Starring:  William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse
Tagline:  There are some very good reasons to be afraid of the dark.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, drama, teen, vampire
Scare score:  C-/D+
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  Charlie Brewster (Ragsdale) is your average teenager, dividing his time between school, his girlfriend Amy (Bearse), and old horror movie marathons on TV hosted by Charlie's hero, the vampire hunter Peter Vincent (McDowall).  But when a mysterious (Sarandon) moves in next door and a rash of murders begin in town, will Charlie's love of vampire movies get the better of him?

This is one a true treat of a horror movie.  While it certainly isn't in the running for 'scariest,' the original Fright Night is a film I find myself going back to time and time again.  At face value you have your standard (although modernized for the time) tropes of a vampire flick, but aside from garlic, crucifixes, and holy water, this movie really does its own thing.  What's my favorite part about this movie?  It's not afraid to use humor, and no, I don't mean that corny humor that '80s horror made so infamous, but rather humor that we in the audience find ourselves laughing along to, even 30 years later.

The acting in this film, while perhaps a little slow at times, is interesting enough that we want to keep watching and entertaining enough that we enjoy watching.  One of the best things about this cast of characters is the diversity we're given: normal teenage girls and boys; formidable, supernatural adversaries; cowardly, aging TV personalities; aloof suburban mothers; and even nerdy underdogs turned demon.  William Ragsdale in the role of Charlie is pretty great, and aside from occasional hysteria, he's both an actor and a character that we find ourselves identifying with and supporting throughout the ordeal.  Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige is tall, dark, handsome, and perfectly evil.  There is a sinister attitude and manner he carries with him at all times, both when charming the ladies or fighting the men.  From the first time I saw this movie years ago until now, one thing I haven't forgotten is Stephen Geoffreys as 'Evil' Ed.


There is something about this young actor's awkward face, sort of crazy laugh, and cracking voice that makes him hard to forget.  To me, Ed represents this sort of underdog; pushed aside by his 'friend' Charlie who is more handsome and more successful with girls (although that still may not be very successful).  Ed is perhaps dealing with a transition from childhood to adolescence, with his short stature, way of dressing, and the toys we see on the shelves of his bedroom.  After being bitten by Dandrige, Ed is given the opportunity to be more powerful, to become something greater than himself.  He is an easy target and welcoming victim, looking to improve his own situation by becoming a vampire himself.

I also really like Miss Bearse as Charlie's girlfriend Amy.  Amy is this pretty, hip, driven, and dependable teenager, and while she isn't very realistic (who would pay a stranger $500 to help out their [on the rocks] boyfriend who believes in vampires?).  Either way, I like her character and I like her acting.

This film is fun to watch.  We're not sure at all times where we're headed, but we're generally happy with where it ends up.  Aside from the extreme overuse of fog machines, the special effects are pretty great.  I personally think the brief scene with a werewolf gives us a better depiction of the mythical beast than An American Werewolf in London does (blasphemy??).  I'm not a fan of the sort of monster bat we see a few times, but other features (goo, slime, blood, bones, etc) are decent and in fact better than your typical '80s movie.  Speaking of which, I guess I watched some remastered version last night because the quality was actually fantastic.  Didn't look like an '80s movie at all... except for the spaceship of a motorcycle Amanda rolls up in at one point.

A couple brief things that surprise me: sure, Charlie's car gets wrecked (off camera), his fist gets squeezed tight a few times, there's some brief strangulation, and maybe one bat bite- but he doesn't get hurt that much otherwise.  Do we want to see him fight more or get beat up a bit more before saving the day?  Secondly, I am just so surprised that Peter Vincent doesn't dramatically die in this movie.  Am I a sucker for stereotypes, or does everybody get away just a little too smoothly in this movie?

Underneath our 'how to kill the vampires' plot, we have this really romantic, sexual subplot revolving around Charlie, Amy, and Dandrige.  One of my favorite scenes in this movie is the dance break - yes, you read right - at the club.  With a special '80s touch, not only are we treated to music and some tricky mirrors-without-reflections work, but there is this powerfully sensual exchange between the characters of Amy and Dandrige that leaves us loving the latter's evil just a little bit.  Historically, vampires have a certain power or control over women (especially the virginal ones), and the same is true in Fright Night.  At the beginning of the film, during a rather unromantic make out session (even Horror Buff doesn't leave horror marathons on while with his hypothetical girlfriend), we learn that Amy and Charlie still haven't slept together because Amy is nervous.  That is to say we can check off 'The Virgin' on our horror movie checklist.  Dandrige's interest in Amy, aside from spiting Charlie and aside from her unexplained similarity to the woman in a portrait at Dandrige's house, is pure vampire-on-virgin seduction.  Hot stuff.  Furthermore, this leads to a sort of masculinity crisis between the young Charlie and the suave older man.  So much sexual angst packed into these teenagers' lives!

Final critique:  This movie has something for everybody.  While rated R for your standard reasons, this movie practically has no gore or even scares, which makes it great to watch with friends who don't deal well with horror movies.  The likable characters, good acting, and fun plot line - not to mention '80s music and the terribly catchy "Fright Night" song that plays over the credits - makes for a charming, witty favorite in the horror genre.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director:  John Landis
Studios:  PolyGram Filled Entertainment
Starring:  David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne; ft. Frank Oz
Tagline:  Beware the Moon.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, tragicomedy, thriller, werewolf
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  A/ A-

Plot overview:  While backpacking through the English moorland, American friends David Kessler (Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Dunne) stop at a pub full of morose locals who warn them to keep off the moors and "beware the moon."  Laughing off the townspeople's hostility and lack of hospitality, the two friends continue trekking through the night.  When the full moon comes out from behind the clouds, however, David and Jack find themselves lost, off the road, and being pursued by some animal in the darkness.  Despite their attempts to escape, they boys are chased and attacked by a large wolf, which manages to bite David before being killed by the locals.  When David wakes up in a London hospital three weeks later, he suffers from strange nightmares and visions of his dead friend who warns him that he is a danger to society.  Could Jack's warnings be right, and is David himself turning into a werewolf?

I watched this movie about three weeks ago, so my memory is a little rusty.  Most importantly, I thought this movie was surprisingly fantastic (although I guess it's not a surprise to all the millions of people who have seen it before Horror Buff and given it critical acclaim).  While there is a definite late '70s/ early '80s feel to the movie, it is by no mean dated, especially in terms of the expertly convincing and terrifying makeup and special effects.


The plot is fun, different, and easily fools us in a false sense of comfort because of the tragicomic nature of the film.  While our protagonists are almost always light-hearted and joking (in life and in death), the situations revolving around werewolf attacks are cold blooded, gory murders.  Basically we have the exposition and first attack in the moors, then a sort of flatline of "rising" action during David's time in the hospital, followed by the third set of more exciting rising action as David begins to feel the effect of the werewolf bite during the following full moon.  The climax of the movie perhaps comes with David's transformation in Piccadilly (my favorite word in the English language) Circus, resulting in one of the most chaotic (and awesome) scenes I have ever seen, followed by an almost absent denouement and an ending that leaves us wanting more.

Much of the movie's action in otherwise relaxed parts are driven by nightmarish sequences that take us by surprise and scare us in a confusing, unexpected way.  I absolutely loved the scene where David is back home with his family before nightmarish, futuristic stormtroopers break in and wreak havoc.  My other favorite touch had to be the incredible makeup used on the reanimated dead, the various victims of the werewolf.  I was surprised the first time we see Jack in the hospital, and each time he returned I was even more pleased with his decomposing self.  The realistic makeup that kept these characters as they might have been at the time of their murder added a strangely personal and colorful touch to the film.

While commenting on makeup and effects, I do have one criticism.  Although a lot of the effects from this film are still believable and enjoyable today, I was disappointed by the transformation sequence and the wolf in general.  The first wolf to attack the boys was fine (not that we see all that much of it), but when it's David's turn later on, the gremlin-esque, oddly proportioned werewolf and his stunted snout seemed far too animated and prop-ish to keep up with the calibre of the rest of the movie.  To clarify, I enjoyed the transformation itself (morphing hands and feet, etc), but the result was a bit disappointing.  Perhaps it was the proportions that bothered me most.  Oh well, one some problem in an otherwise grand movie.

The final climactic scene in the movie, revolving around David's transformation in Piccadilly Circus, is now officially one of my favorite sequences in horror.  The sheer chaos caused by a werewolf, police, citizens and tourists, and traffic had me cringing and laughing at the same time: it was horror entertainment at its best.  What exactly was the death toll here?  I'm not sure, but this was a fascinating final sequence filled with plenty of action, scares, gore, and pure delightful chaos.

Final critique:  Since happening upon this movie late one night, An American Werewolf in London has quickly risen towards the top of my favorite horror movies list (which I should consider actually making one day).  After 30 years and change, this film has delighted horror-going audiences with its expert makeup, captivating plot, and well-delivered scares and thrills.  This is certainly a movie I'll find myself going back to.  Recommended for any audience looking for good horror that also has a sense of humor.