Showing posts with label masked murderer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label masked murderer. Show all posts

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Happy Death Day (2017)

Director: Christopher Landon
Studios: Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard
Tagline: Get up. Live your day. Get Killed. Again.; Make Every Death Count.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: horror, thriller, slasher, masked murderer, serial killer, mystery, black comedy
Scare score: C+
Rating: B+

Plot overview: College student Tree (Rothe) wakes up in a strange dorm to an even stranger birthday. That night, she is stalked and killed by an ominous hooded figure wearing the mask of the school's mascot— a very unnerving baby face. Suddenly, Tree wakes back up in the same dorm room on the same morning her birthday. After several more horrifying encounters and deaths, Tree realizes she is trapped in a bloody time loop and must stop her own murder before it can happen again.

Critics have described this movie as Groundhog Day meets Scream, and truly that is the best way to sum it up. The creative team clearly had a fun time mixing a classic slasher film with some more lighthearted '80s influences, and the result really was an enjoyable movie. I wanted to see this really badly when it first came out, but never got around to it for whatever reason, so here we are two years later. Of course, that's nothing compared to how long this movie actually took to get off the ground:

Fun fact: The idea for this movie was first announced in 2007. It was called Half to Death and was set to be produced by Michael Bay and star Megan Fox (oh, the early aughts). I'm glad it took so long to get green-lighted.

Happy Death Day toes the line between serving the audience a fairly engaging mystery/slasher/thriller and also having a lot of fun with itself while introducing us to the overtly stereotypical Bayfield University and exploring new ways to kill off Tree. I will quickly say that I don't personally know any Theresas, and I've never heard of a Theresa going by "Tree" so I thought that from the start I was distracted by our leading lady's name because I was trying to figure out what they were saying. Kind of felt like they were really going out on a limb (Sorry).

One thing that immediately caught me off guard as we got into the swing of things was the similarity between this movie and the fantastic Netflix original Russian Doll starring an incomparable Natasha Lyonne. If you haven't seen that yet, I highly recommend it because it's an artistic, quirky, and beautiful metaphysical exploration of mental illness, relationships, and meaning. At the time, I thought it was so original, a darker turn on Groundhog Day to be certain, but while watching Happy Death Day it became clear to me that Russian Doll must have taken a few pointers from this movie as well. Still really worth a watch if you are looking for an easy show to binge. Moving along...

I really found myself enjoying this film. While it did not live up to the expectations I had for it, I thought it was easy to watch, with its fair share of thrills and scares mostly concentrated in the first third of the movie while the rest of the film becomes more focused on Tree solving the mystery of her own repeating and impending murder. By the point, the scares dwindle rapidly and the true action of the movie sets in.

Like most other films and shows about time loops, this becomes a movie about character agency and personal growth. For whatever reason we choose to believe, Tree is given a chance to save not only herself but to mend some broken relationships along the way. I thought Jessica Rothe did a nice job as Tree, turning a fairly one-dimensional role into a more entertaining and strong lead. We've seen 'bitchy popular sorority sister' done a million times, typically as a victim, so it was refreshing to see a slasher film turn that on its head as she overcame fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and—you know—murder. She refused to become a victim, unless it was for somebody else's sake. That being said, we see Tree in neglige countless times while every male in the film remains completely covered, there is a subplot of a closeted gay guy who is ultimately reduced from being a potential threat to being "cute"— as one might treat a pet—and finally there is a murder scene staged as an allusion to sexual assault in fraternity culture. Some of these felt a little too cheap to me in a movie that is otherwise about empowerment.

I thought the creative team did a great job with the Baby Face killer. Horror Buff loves a good masked murderer, and this mask really found a good balance that mirrored the movie's comedic lightness while still being a horror film. It was irritating and eerie at the same time.

Fun fact: The mask in this movie was created by Tony Gardner, who also designed one of the most famous faces in horror: the Ghostface mask from the Scream franchise. He was inspired to use the image of a baby because his wife was carrying their first child at the time of production.

There was also some nice filming going on here, which is especially important to slashers. I was happy to see the lovely campus of Loyola University down in New Orleans: It helped set the scene of your typical southern college experience, which was further enriched by all the shots from the quads (filled with potential suspects!) as well as that great sorority house. I enjoyed most of the chase scenes, even when they became a little ridiculous, and perhaps one of the most fun things this movie was able to do was reinvent Tree's perpetual death in new and wild ways. My favorite shot from the film was towards the end of the movie when we see Tree blow out the candle on her birthday cupcake, and that gorgeous red candle drips a little wax like blood while the smoke still lingers in the air. Really nice.


I liked that this movie offered up so many suspects as we joined Tree in her nightmarish birthday whodunnit. I personally was more suspicious of Dr. Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken) and/or his wife Stephanie (Laura Clifton), so while I didn't even like roommate Lori's (Ruby Modine) look from the start, I didn't really see it coming. In retrospect, there were a ton of clues, from the promotional material of the cupcake all the way through her sketchy way of finding out Tree's birthday and even her questionable overtime at the hospital. All in all, it was a neat way for the entire plot to come together and add that twist at the end.

Final critique: This movie asks us to buy into a very curated and stereotypical college experience, but it advances the slasher tropes slightly by giving our final girl the agency to save herself. The movie is a mix of black comedy and thriller with some added unexplained phenomenon and lots of action, so it's definitely going to be appealing to a wider range of audiences than a horror movie alone might be. (This thing KILLED at the box office. 2017 was a huge year for Blumhouse between this movie, Split, and Get Out.) Now that I've finally seen it, I guess I can look forward to the sequel, although I've heard it's even less scary. Overall, this was an enjoyable watch, easy for anyone looking for a few scares but otherwise a genuinely fun film.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween (2007)

Happy October. In the world of horror movies this is a pretty big month, so I'm going to try to make an effort to post pretty frequently. Unfortunately I won't be able to watch AMC's usually fantastic (but fading) Fear Fest—my favorite time of year —so I will have to rate whatever horror movies I can get my hands on. If you have access, I highly recommend Fear Fest, though what was once several weeks of terror, 24/7 has dwindled down to 2 weeks, and probably now less, filled with repeats of mainly mediocre thrillers. Regardless, watch it. It's a [trick or] treat.

Halloween may just be my favorite horror movie series, not to mention one of my top favorite movie franchises of all time. Growing up, I remember constantly watching as many of the films as I could whenever they were on TV. To this day I admit I'm still a little confused about the exact number of Halloween films total (I think we're at 10), but I can recommend almost all of them to horror movie watchers everywhere.

That being said, I've got a lot to say about this remake (sorry for not rating the original first), so hold on to your horror horses.

Director: Rob Zombie
Studios: The Weinstein Company, Alliance Films
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Danielle Harris (!!)
Tagline: Evil Has A Destiny; Evil, Unmasked
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating: A-

Plot overview: In this version, one Halloween night, 10-year-old Michael Mysers (Daeg Faerch) acts on his psychopathic desires and brutally murders the school bully, his sister's boyfriend, and his whole family except for his loving mother (Moon Zombie) and innocent baby sister. Claiming to be unaware of these crimes, Michael is nonetheless placed into a mental health institution where he is put under the careful watch of Dr. Samuel Loomis (McDowell). As his mental state steadily deteriorates, Michael's mother commits suicide, Loomis abandons the case, and Michael is considered hopeless. 15 years later, Michael (Mane) has grown into a very large and still dangerous inmate. On a particularly gory night approaching Halloween, Michael escapes and makes his way back to his home to find his baby sister and complete what he began so many years ago. Meanwhile, in Haddonfield, Illinois, Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) is a typical senior in high school. Typical, that is, until Halloween night comes around and she finds herself the target of "the boogeyman," the masked Michael Meyers himself. Before the night is through, Laurie must do anything she can to save her own life, including trying to end his.

I remember seeing this movie in theaters and enjoying it, even to the point where I was laughing with delight during some of the murder scenes and my friends refused to talk to me afterwards. It was a pleasure to see a Halloween film in theaters, especially one that mainly stayed true to the original series in plot, script, and even soundtrack. Let's start at the beginning.

I appreciate Zombie's attempt to give a clearer backstory to Michael, helping the audience almost to sympathize with him (Zombie would) while still showing his clearly ruthless, psychopathic side. Regardless of what we personally think, this film forces us to question: Nature or nurture?, not only in terms of Michael, but perhaps in the cases of actual serial killers. Zombie slightly overdoes the anything-but-healthy home environment that the young Michael comes from, what with a kind hearted stripper for a mother; an abusive, chauvinistic, recently handicapped, alcoholic stepfather-boyfriend-jerk figure; and a sexed-up, taunting, sleazy sister. The movie is [overly] chock-full of cursing, sexual references, and nudity— though I suppose that's where the horror movie might be headed today.

The soundtrack of this movie is pretty fantastic. While half of it seems straight out of Dazed and Confused (setting the '70s mood right from the start), there is also a modern feeling about the majority of the film; still, who could do without John Carpenter's haunting original musical theme?  Moreover, the inclusion of "Mr. Sandman" is a beautiful touch, taking careful viewers back to the original series.

I am so happy, as I was when I saw this in theaters, that Zombie kept many secondary characters the same as they were in the original. Laurie's friends always cracked me up, and while in this remake they are modernized and even more sexed-up (remember, premarital sex = death), the astute viewer will note, for example, things such as Lynda's constant usage of the word "totally," a beautiful homage to the original film's script and characterization. Also, what a treat it is to see Danielle Harris (from several of the original films) come back to the series all grown up. For all this and "Sandman," I would love to say thank you thank you thank you to Rob Zombie.

The whole mask motif is another way that Zombie attempts to add depth to our unstoppable killer, who, in his silence and behind a plain, emotionless face mask, is often left without emotions. Open a psychology textbook and you will see the whole development of young Michael feeling more comfortable "hidden" behind his masks gives the audience a clearer understanding of his psychosis as well as his choice of costume for the rest of the film. I did enjoy that the mask he wears when escaping from the mental hospital as it seems to resemble a jack-o-lantern. Very Halloween slasher-chic. Furthermore, the introduction of his iconic mask is done pretty nicely earlier in the film on the night that he kills his family.

Let's talk about the iconic mask. It's okay in this remake. It's not the best mask we've seen, but it certainly isn't the worst one either (think H20). I found myself able to accept how it was dirty, worn, cracked, and almost veiny. Still, I think it showed too much emotion for Michael, as compared to the original film. This wasn't helped by how much more sadistic Michael is made in this movie— lots of new, ingenious ways to kill people, and what was with him letting seemingly everybody keep crawling away? Since when did Michael Myers do that? I guess Zombie wanted to further demonstrate how Michael enjoys watching his prey suffer, but I can't say this is the true nature of the Michael we have come to know and love (in a terrified way, of course). Unfortunately, for all the time we are left watching Michael watch his victim's slowly crawl away (some even survive…), we have to deal with the fact that Michael's mask sometimes makes him look too contemplative or even confused, especially when he does that little cocked-neck thing. On a whole, the mask is still great.

More on Michael. He is pretty creepy in this film. I love how he lingers and lurks: outside windows, across the street, in dark hallways, and especially behind doors. I think some of the scariest scenes in horror movies are when we know the killer is just feet away from the next victim, waiting there, but the characters know nothing. Showing the killer in the background of a shot is one of the most thrilling tactics a horror movie can do. Very well done.

Unfortunately, I did not love Dr. Loomis in this movie. Throughout the original series I think Donald Pleasance does a pretty great job (minus the whiney "No! No! Noo!"s at the end of Halloween 4).  In this film, McDowell sheds a more negative light on Loomis, though this is certainly intentional on behalf of the creative team as we see the 'good' Doctor is also corrupted in his own ways: failed marriages, failure with Michael, receiving "blood money" from publishing a book about his work with Michael, etc. I think all the lines are there, but unfortunately McDowell just does not deliver.  

18-year-old Scout Taylor-Compton is pretty great as Laurie Strode. We watch as the young, virginal Laurie turns into a terrified and powerless yet willful female protagonist who must learn to fight back and perhaps even kill in order to survive. Obviously Zombie also wanted to explore more of her psyche, the interesting and no doubt scarring effects such an ordeal must have on its survivors…  I hate to admit I haven't seen the 2009 sequel, but I have heard that this film further explores not only Michael's, but also Laurie's mind after the events of this first film are over.

There was an interesting recurring theme I couldn't help but notice throughout this film that I wonder if Zombie was trying to stress. Michael Myers is an unstoppable killing machine, a masked catastrophe waiting to happen every year come October 31st, and although in some films we see him as a poor, even trapped soul ("Uncle!"), we can know no more about him. Since we know Zombie was exploring his background, psyche, and psychosis further in this film, I couldn't help but ignore the theme of homophobia. Michael grows up in a home where his abusive step-father-figure insinuates he's gay, his overly promiscuous sister taunts his sexuality, and only his mother is there to comfort him. At school he meets a similar fate, with the bullies constantly calling him gay through their own derogatory terms. Michael's vulnerability in the homophobic society he lives in is certainly a key factor in his ultimately snapping, as he first beats the bully to death (speak softly and carry a big stick), and then moves on to the members of his family who mocked him (and then some). Even as an adult, Michael's sexuality and potency are mocked first by the graveyard shift hospital guards, and then again by the extremely masculine trucker at the truck stop (none of whom meets a happy ending). When Michael is not killing, and especially when we see him as a patient, he does seem to be a confused, even gentle soul. Perhaps the stick, aluminum bat, and of course the iconic butcher knife each becomes the phallic source that allows him to demonstrate his own power over those who get in his way. Or perhaps Horror Buff is overanalyzing the situation and contexts.


I enjoy the more widespread panic and general killings in the original film, but the subtle terror (only known to the immediate victims, Loomis, Laurie, and the children—who are awesome child actors, by the way—is also moving. This film has a beautiful motif of contrast: The brutality of the inside hiding from the seemingly calm outside. Not only do we see this through the mask theme (Michael hiding his rage behind his mask), but until the very end of the film we fail to see any terror outside of the walls of any house or hospital. There are several terrific scenes in which, in the midst of sheer panic and murder inside a house, a character tries to escape outside, but Michael drags them back in and the door is slammed shut, leaving the viewer in the cold, quiet darkness of the street. The resulting inside vs. outside theme is brilliant. 

I can't say I'm happy about this film breaking one of my cardinal rules. The whole "rape hospital patients who can't defend themselves" thing was done in Kill Bill and it was disturbing then. I hate to say I think Zombie merely threw it in to this film for the sake of sexual brutality, perhaps to show the wickedness of the two male perpetrators who Michael proceeds to kill. We do not know what happens to the female patient, but I for one do not think Michael kills her. Furthermore I hold a personal vendetta against this film for breaking my cardinal rule, because I once promised a room full of friends that there would be no rape in any horror movie we watched, so as soon as this scene passed they had had enough, leaving the room (and probably horror movies in general) behind them.

Fun fact: Co-writer of the original film, Debra Hill, was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, thus giving the Halloween franchise its classic location of Haddonfield, Illinois.  

Final critique: As far as remakes go, this one did its job and then some. There was great gore throughout the movie, even to the point that Horror Buff had to cringe (I will never look at aluminum baseball bats the same way again). The deaths are realistic, as far as I can only imagine certain deaths might go (twitching, etc), and this shows great progress since the cheap-o fake deaths of the '70s/'80s. With a scary and sturdy plot already set, Zombie was wise to not make any major changes but instead to add background to the story we have all come to know. The acting is great all around, except for Dr. Loomis, which I found to be a great let down as he is such a key figure in his Van Helsing-esque position. Overall, those who are squeamish or easily frightened should stay away. Stick to the original series for a good scare, and only once your stomach is stronger should you attempt to watch this remake (even then, consider keeping the lights on, windows closed, and friends close). Coming pretty highly recommended, this film was an excellent start to The Horror Blog's "Halloween" season.