Thursday, July 31, 2014

July Review

Well folks, July was a pretty crazy month with moving back across the Atlantic and catching up with family and friends.  Sorry for the hiatus, but the Horror Blog's summer vacation is officially over.  Back to bringing you more scary stuff!

Special shout out to having been able to join the Horror Bloggers Guild.  If you yourself blog or are interested, check them out!

Onto the review.

For your consideration:

1.  Secuestrados/ Kidnapped (2010): A-
2.  The Fog (2005): B+
3.  House (20080: D/ D-

Hope everybody has been enjoying their summers and filling their free time with some horror.

Stay scary

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Fog (2005)

Director:  Rupert Wainwright
Studios:  Revolutions Studios
Starring:  Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Selma Blair; ft. Rade Šerbedžija
Tagline:  From the makers of "Halloween"; Their PAST Has Come Back to HAUNT Them
MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, ghost, haunting, supernatural, curse
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  B+

Plot overview:  Just as the residents of Antonio Island prepare to celebrate the town's 134th anniversary, a heavy fog comes in from the sea, carrying within in artifacts and terror from the island's secret past.

I'm going to go against the tide here and boldly declare that I did, in fact, enjoy this movie.  Weird to think that it's coming up on 9 years since this film's release, and this is the first time I've seen it.  Nor have I seen John Carpenter's original version from 1980, although I now plan on it.  In fact, this summer I'm planning on having a marathon of watching either the original or remake of films that I've already reviewed.  Keep your eyes peeled!

Back to The Fog.  I didn't know what exactly to expect from this movie, and was frankly surprised to see such famous faces.  Given three huge personalities from 2005 - namely Tom Welling and Selma Blair - I figured the movie would either be really good or really bad.  Funnily enough, it fell into neither extreme, although online reviews may disagree (and go towards the negative).  I enjoy horror movies with big names on the bill, and I enjoy a sense of drama and plot that early-through-mid-2000s horror usually presents us with (think Darkness Falls).  This film gave us both of those things: faces we recognized paired with beautiful shots of Oregonian (read Canadian) landscape, water, islands, lighthouses, carefree young people on boats- and ghosts lurking around every corner.

The plot was a bit confusing for me at first; I wasn't sure if I missed some sort of introduction, or if the sequences taking place 134 year prior to the film's events were just scattered throughout.  First question: the town was celebrating the 134th anniversary and not the 135th, right?  Why in the world would they celebrate that?  Just to make the film's events take place in 2005?  Then why choose 1871?  I was extremely confused by this detail.  Anyway, we quickly become accustomed to seeing shadows lurking around, with a randomly burnt dog at one point.  For a long while, this film could have gone anywhere.  I was not expecting it to be so centered around actual ghosts, but perhaps rather some monster in the fog.  I guess I was confusing it with The Mist the whole time.  I mean the titles are just so different.  Silly me.

Acting is what we expect.  That is to say, not bad, but pretty standard for our young handsome faces of famous actors in 2005.  In fact, I was overall pretty impressed; the acting is good enough to move the plot along without any problems.  Tom Welling is pretty typical as our protagonist Nick: good looking, innocent, and kind-hearted.  Maggie Grace is a beautiful, lovable, eager-to-get-out-of-the-small-town Elizabeth (adventure she will get!).  One of my personal faves Selma Blair graces us with her dark wittiness as the sensual radio DJ and responsible mother Stevie.  In a smaller but still important role of William Blake, we have the familiar face of Rade Šerbedžija.  All do a good job, if not limited by the standard tropes of horror - dumb scares, near-death situations, nervous shouts of "I don't want to calm down!"  All typical, but still well done.

Scare-wise, most internet reviews will tell you that this is one of the least scariest films of all time, that it shouldn't even be under the horror genre, that it's creators and re-creators are spineless cowards that should be burned at the stake, etc.  Horror Buff disagrees.  I'm sitting here on a sunny day with lots of noise coming in from your average Tuesday happenings around town, and I was still surprised by several of the film's moments.  Yes, plenty of suspense that never actually scares us here.  And also yes, some of the scenes that were maybe intended to be scary become rather dumb, or merely interesting as we watch special effects surprise us and kill off cast members.  Still, John Carpenter is not your average over-the-top screams-gore-and-body count kind of guy, even if the Halloween franchise was perverted into that.  Carpenter, as far as I'm concerned, has always loved a good storyline behind his movies, drawing especially from a more old-fashioned interpretation of horrors and thrillers.


The real question as this film moves along (with well-placed action, scares, and events) is: do we buy it?  Sure, there is this dense curtain of fog moving in, drawing some victims in and leaving some treasures out, and that causes plenty of suspense for a good part of the movie.  What is inside?  What was that phantom pirate-esque ship like something out of Scooby Doo?  Are there sea monsters, aliens, or something else?  Once we piece an obviously-presented background together, we realize that the threat is, in fact, vengeful ghosts.  Who doesn't love a ghost, especially one with pretty darn unpleasant leprosy?  History buffs are sure to enjoy a ghost tale regarding the westward expansion of America.  Thus presented with a colorful backstory and even more colorful (well-done) ghosts, is the audience happy?

If you're expecting a ghost story filled with thrills and violence, this isn't the film for you.  Revenge is handled more subtly in this movie, give or take one or two flaming corpses and a ghostly garbage disposal.  That isn't to say that the movie isn't enjoyable, which I think it was.  Sure, it's all very supernatural, but so many horror movies are.  If you let yourself accept this plot and storyline, I really think The Fog is not a bad watch.

Special effects, especially those of the fog and then of the ghosts themselves, were done very well.  That's a huge plus for the movie, which comes to depend so heavily on them.  I don't think we're even used to seeing ghosts have so much action-packed screen time.  This film would have suffered an even worse reputation had it not been for these great effects.

My biggest thing was the ending of the movie.  Like, what was that?  I guess along with the "blood for blood," generations-long-revenge of the film, we have to accept we're in the realm of reincarnation as well.  Was Elizabeth - herself a scion of one of the town's four founders and traitors against Blake's people - always a living version of Blake's uncomfortably young bride?  Or did the upcoming events of horror and revenge somehow spirit her away into a historical plot?  That kiss at the end was both shocking and gross, but what happened next was even more unexpected, at least for me.  Even though we should of course realize during the flashbacks that Elizabeth has an uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Blake, I for one was not expecting her to so suddenly become a part of Blake's ghostly crew.

Final critique:  This movie does not deserve the horrible reputation is has.  Another reason why you can't always trust Rotten Tomatoes.  Myself living in a very foggy region, this film presents a colorful plot, heavy with background as well as historical and present-day small-town drama that makes up plenty of plot for what scares might be lacking.  Decent acting, fun plot, and an easy watch for those who scare easily (although there are some disturbing images).  All in all, not a bad watch.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

100th Movie Review

Say it ain't so.  While Horror Buff tried to plan the Horror Blog's 100th movie review with pomp, circumstance, and fear, it seems that I miscounted, and that my review of House was, in fact, the monumental one-oh-oh.

I wish I had picked a scarier, more well known, or just plain better movie for the event, but what's done is done.  I'm looking forward to a summer of horror blockbusters to spend my nonexistent money on.  Hope that everybody had a fun and safe holiday weekend, and thanks for reading.

Stay scary

Saturday, July 5, 2014

House (2008)

Director:  Robby Henson
Studios:  Lions Gate Entertainment, Namesake Entertainment
Starring:  Reynaldo Rosales, Heidi Dippold, Julie Ann Emery, J.P. Davis, Michael Madsen
Tagline:  The only way out... is in./  The Guilty Cannot Hide.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, supernatural, masked murderer, psychopath, stalker, ghost, surprise ending
Scare score:  C
Rating:  D/D-


Plot overview:  After sustaining a flat tire on the backroads of rural Alabama, quarreling couple Jack (Rosales) and Stephanie (Dippold) make their way to a run-down Victorian inn.  Inside they find another couple, attractive Leslie (Emery) and hot-shot Randy (Temple), as well as the Wayside Inn's creepy owners, strict Betty (Leslie Easterbrook), eerie son Pete (Lew Temple), and rough caretaker Stewart (Bill Moseley).  The couples then find out that they have somehow attracted a masked killer called Tin Man (Madsen) who has come to punish them for their sins.  Thus begins a nightmarish series of haunting events that challenge their sinful reality.

I've seen bits and pieces of this movie on TV over the years, but I think this was the first time I actually forced myself to sit through it.  This movie has absolutely so much going on that sometimes it's hard to understand/ keep track of what's going on.  Pretty early on we should realize that there are supernatural things going on here; never could we really guess to what extent this spiritual, purgatorial experience would go.

Acting stinks.  It stinks.  That is, at least, for the first say 3/5 and final 1/5 of the movie.  There were some parts when I wasn't poking my eyes out with frustration.  Rosales is pretty brutal all around; lots of demanding close-ups, slow reaction shots: things that are hard to deliver on.  Dippold (what a name) redeems herself a few times, but is nothing super special.  Poor Alana Bale is thrown into the confusing and too-important role of Susan, a good ghost trapped in the house, making the young actress seem poorly trained.  The roles in this movie are just so bizarre and oddly written/ conceived that I can't blame actors for being awkward.  Concerning the creepy inn owners, I do like Leslie Easterbrook a lot; the audience hates her immediately after her first cruel lines.  Lew Temple as Pete is creepy (if stereotypical) enough, and very experienced veteran horror actor Bill Moseley is positively evil as Stewart.  I also loved to hate Michael Madsen in his multifaceted role.


The plot is pretty wild in this movie.  People stuck out in the boondocks of the south is not original but always enticing nevertheless.  As soon as the caretakers show up, we should already feel overloaded with horror stereotypes since they are being unmercifully shoved down our throats.  Creepy, strict hosts with uber-religious opinions, a somewhat deformed son lurking around like something out of Scary Movie 2.  Things certainly do get interesting when the so-called Tin Man shows up, wielding a flashlight and shotgun and a creepy, Leatherface-esque mask.  I honestly did like the idea of Tin Man a lot, and felt that the movie could have been a lot scarier had it only focused on him as well as the house's nightmarish memory chambers that haunts the four victims.

The second that the movie starts piling on satanic symbolism, devil worshiping, maze-like chambers everywhere (like one of Freddy's nightmare worlds), things get out of hand.  Even the individual memory/ nightmare sequences are pretty darn confusing and leave the audience to guess at or invent the characters' backstories.

Aside from the confusing nature of this movie, I thought it did deliver a few scares.  I guess I enjoyed the different types of horror in this movie: interpersonal drama, lingering psychological trauma, utter confusion, and of course a masked murderer chasing everybody and demanding a dead body before dawn.  Horrible memories supernaturally reliving themselves to haunt characters is certainly not new in the horror genre, but House handled this with cool effects (Stephanie on thin ice) and dark, disturbing backstories (Leslie dressed up and forced to eat pies).  Random bouts of terror from all over do help this movie to stay somewhat interesting, as otherwise we watch characters run around and around this hellish maze.

The end of the movie will probably split audiences.  I guess I sort of accepted it and then enjoyed the piece as a whole.  The original novel was written by two Christian authors, which gives more sense and even meaning to the test that the film's characters are put through, yadda yadda yadda.

Final critique:  This movie tries fitting too much plot and action from the original book (I assume), and the result is a sometimes scary but otherwise confusing bundle of mess.  Lots of characters running around, chasing or being chased, with plenty of unconvincing acting and plot that forces the audiences to real think about just what is going on here.  Not a high score in my book, but not a total waste of time either.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Secuestrados / Kidnapped (2010)

My second Spanish language film review following El espinazo del diablo.

Director:  Miguel Ángel Vivas
Studios:  Vaca Films, La Fabrique 2, Blur Producciones, Filmax
Starring:  Fernando Cayo, Manuela Vellés, Ana Wagener, Guillermo Barrientos, Martijn Kuiper, Dritan Biba
Tagline:  Hogar Dulce Hogar (Home Sweet Home); Take Your Last Breath
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  foreign film, Spanish language, horror, terror, thriller, drama, family drama, psychological thriller, home invasion, robbers, kidnapping, torture
Scare score:  C+/ B-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  On their first night in their new home, a well-off Spanish family falls victim to a dastardly home invasion.

The plot makes the movie sound easy enough, right?  That's because it is; Secuestrados (meaning "kidnapped") is a straightforward movie that explores the brutality of a violent robbery along with the physical and emotional repercussions of victims and burglars alike - all the while forcing the viewer to participate.  By far, the best thing about this movie is its simplicity: simple, beautiful cinematography; honest acting that the audience can empathize with; and a clean-cut plot that via its voyeuristic nature forces the viewer to partake in the savage happenings, throwing us coldly into the bleak universe of the film.  This universe, as we come to realize, is our own meaningless reality.

If we are willing to assume that we do live in such a cold world (Vivas and the producers wished to stress the reality behind the film's violence), then the terror of the film takes its grip.  Who doesn't love taking the seemingly safe and ideal suburbs and turning them into a sadistic playground for psychological and physical torture (think The People Under the Stairs or even The Strangers)?  The suburbs can be scary, too.  That is the lesson that husband Jaime (Cayo), wife Marta (Wagener), and teenage daughter Isa (Vellés) learn when they move into an upper-middle class suburb of Madrid.  Hoping to escape the stress of the city and bond more as a family, the fairly normal and innocent trio could never imagine what awaits them on their first night.

A father, mother, and child rendered helpless upon the violent intrusion of several foreigners.  The similarity to Funny Games is unmistakable, and I would be a bad blogger if I didn't mention or recommend the latter to you.  Aside from the small difference (there are only two intruders in Funny Games while there are three in Secuestrados, this Spanish film shows the robbers' intent to be monetary while there truly seems to be no reason in the Austrian film, and lastly, Funny Games is much more sadistic), these two films are very much alike in their nihilistic portrayal of home invasion.  Like so many horror movies, the intruders themselves - billed only as Young Thief/ "assailant" in Spanish (Barrientos), Strong Thief (Kuiper), and Head Thief (Biba) - have their own struggles.  Strong Thief is off his rocker, high on cocaine and sexually violent.  Young Thief shows more than a touch of morality and repentance once things start to go awry, and Head Thief is dealt his fair share of unexpected mishaps.  The plot only wavers from a straightforward robbery when we - I mean the family, robbers, and audience alike - are surprised by (un)expected houseguests as well as small measures of resistance taken by the family.  To be totally honest, the film might even border on boring if it weren't for these small variations and complications, not to mention the gripping cinematography and the convincing acting.

I was in love with the way this movie was filmed.  The camera work was masterful; consisting only of 12 long shots leading us around the sprawling house and streets of the neighborhood.  The camera is at times passive and objective, and then suddenly very personal and mobile; not once are we distant from the action or drama.  Whether the shot is up-close to the terror or reactions (beating, crying, bleeding) or spanning in and out of rooms of the house, we as viewers are forced to take an active part in both the savagery and resulting suffering.  The long shots are thrilling; I must say it is a welcome break from the constant cuts and flashing shots of fast-paced horror movies today.

This filming method is only enhanced by the truly wonderful job of the performers.  In the beginning of the film, we have a typical family.  Suit and tie, client call taking father, stressed and detail oriented mother, and rebellious angsty daughter.  Then we have the antagonists who are equally as strong, although given less room to perform.  The worst actor in the film is boyfriend César (Xoel Yáñez), who regrettably gets a decent amount of screen time sniveling and pleading when nothing's even happened yet.  Super static.  As the film progresses, the family delivers so beautifully the agony and fear that you would expect a traumatizing experience such as the one portrayed in the movie to cause.  Perhaps most impressive is the young Manuela Vallés, who plays the terrified and shocked Isa so heart-wrenchingly.  By the end of the film, this was the performance that struck me most.


I think that most of all I enjoyed how realistic the film was.  No, I have never been on either side of a robbery, home invasion, or anything of the sort, but I imagine that a particularly well-planned and violent one would go something like the one in the movie.  The scariest part of the entire movie was when they first break in through the window; I had been waiting for it to happen (so many shots of big glass windows), but when it did it certainly got a reaction from me.  Then I loved how they just began to smash everything, ripping pictures out of frames, taking things without value - in home robberies, invasion of privacy is the cause of true terror.  I was so happy that father Jaime and even mother Marta kept their heads while young Isa began to shake and cry from the get-go; I can't stand a film where everybody goes paranoid and cowardly from the start.  I also enjoyed the dissension between the thieves.  Sure, we've seen that a million times before, but I thought it was realistic.  There was a good balance in the film regarding the violence, equal parts physical and psychological, and not overboard on the sexual (although with some disregard for my cardinal rules).

My problems with the movie were few.  Primarily, I didn't understand the beginning.  Throughout the movie it had me wondering if that was in fact Jaime, or otherwise how this man tied into the plot.  No answer was given, which led me to the conclusion that it was just meant to show that the home invasion had happened before and will happen again, pointlessly, a la The Strangers.  Secondly, it's obvious from the beginning that the movers are going to turn into the robbers.  Still, if our Young Thief was the mover who took the box into Isa's room and the golf clubs into Jaime's study, what happened to the scar on his forehead that Isa asked him about?  Am I wrong in thinking that this was the same man?  Lastly, and this is me being nit-picky but hey, the main events of the film seem to forget that this is their first night in the house.  In the afternoon, we have a house filled floor to ceiling with boxes and clutter; how is it that by the evening every thing has been put in its place?  We're taking little-to-no boxes, stocked kitchen, beds made, even the bathroom drawers organized and the downstairs storage room neatly-kept.  This is 100% unrealistic.  I love the first night idea, especially the misfortune of Isa still being at home before escaping to her party, but nobody on this earth can unpack their stuff and furnish their entire home in a few hours.  It just isn't happening.

Otherwise, I guess I should mention my feelings about whether or not this is truly a horror movie.  Yes, there is horror, more due to the terror of the home invasion and the resulting abuse.  Really this is a psychological thriller that is paired with violence and some gore.  The home invasion idea, more akin to Panic Room, The Strangers, or Funny Games.  The movie isn't so much "scary" as it is unsettling and then shocking.  As I mentioned, the scariest moment was the big *bump* when the first thief breaks through the window.  Later, the violence is disturbing (a broken arm, a gunshot), and on top of that we are surprised (my jaw dropped) by the sudden gore the film gives us.  That scene was truly gross.  Otherwise, the nihilistic, dark approach to the film's commentary regarding violence in our society leaves us feeling sad and upset, contemplating what terror awaits us outside (or even inside) our own homes.

Final critique:  It's been a while since I've had so much to say about a movie.  Secuestrados, while not the scariest movie out there, should be hailed for the mark it will leave upon us after sitting through its purposefully-purposefulless (get it?) violence, brutality, terror, and smattering of gore.  Some of the reviews out there will tell you that this is the best film ever made, but that's just not true. This is a spectacularly filmed, wonderfully acted, and surprising powerful movie that I would recommend to anyone looking for some small scares but otherwise a lasting sense of depression and meaninglessness.  Not recommended for newbies or those who aren't able to handle a little (but strong) gore.  Honestly a really enjoyable film; I would recommend listening in the original Spanish and finding subtitles if you need them, although I did watch a few minutes of the dubbed version and it seemed well done.