Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Midsommar (2019)

Director: Ari Aster
Studios: A24
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren; ft. Will Poulter
Tagline: Let the Festivities Begin.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: thriller, drama, psychological thriller, folk horror, Americans abroad, cult
Scare score: D+
Rating: A-

Plot overview: Following a terrible family tragedy, grieving Dani (Pugh) tags along with distant boyfriend Josh (Reynor) and his fellow anthropology graduate students on trip to partake in a once-in-a-lifetime traditional Swedish solstice festival at the invitation of their friend Pelle (Blomgren). Upon arriving to Hårga, Pelle's isolated commune in northern Sweden, a mix of psychedelic drugs and the delirious effects of the midnight sun soon turn the visitors' search for unique folk traditions into a bad trip of much darker pagan rituals.

This film was gorgeous. I rushed to see it in theaters on opening day, which means that I saw it in a much more crowded theater than I am used to attending. Being surrounded by teenagers took away from much of the film's mastery— especially in the more mature (read: nude) scenes. In many ways, this is a subtle film, filled with stunning shots, quiet beauty, and a storyline that allows you to slowly settle in and experience the characters' pain. In other ways, the film is not subtle and gives the audience all the tools we could possibly need to know exactly what to expect (mostly through the illustrated exposition in the jaw-dropping murals and folk art we see throughout the movie). I was reminded of Hereditary in this sense, which was filled with more than a fair share of Easter eggs, often in the form of small visuals and art that becomes easier to pay attention to and feast upon in second or third watchings. Some of my favorite bits included how the audience is invited to take place in the mushroom trips, including some funky camera work (such as the aerial shots when the larger group first heads to the commune) where the twisting camera makes us lose our own balance for a moment. I would love to watch it again as soon as possible in a deserted theater where I can get lost in the film's artful cinematography and careful details in order to keep reliving what I saw tonight.

Aside from the shots and excellent editing—I will never be over these rich visuals—the acting was fantastic. Florence Pugh was perfect for the role of Dani, especially early on when we get to experience those animalistic groans coming from her. There was something very important in this film about how bereft she often was, how heavy her depression weighs on us—much like Toni Collette's character in Hereditary—as well as the relationship dynamics that play out in the first third of the movie. Is Dani just an overly sensitive, overbearing girlfriend? Jack Reynor as the one-foot-in, one-foot-out boyfriend adds fun dynamics to the movie, especially towards the end as his character experiences a climax and denouement more typically assigned to females in horror. I have long said that I enjoy few things more than well-placed nudity in horror films, and Midsommar, like Hereditary, has it in spades, including plenty of Reynor such that a modern audience is bound to react to this perversion of mainstream movie "rules" and tropes. I also very much enjoyed the aesthetics and performance of Isabelle Grill as Maja, a younger adolescent in the commune who has been selected to take part in a very special ritual during the nine-day solstice celebration.


This movie is gorgeous but it is not scary. It is a slow-burning movie that makes us often forget we are in a "horror" movie because, aside from some moments of tension and some flashes of disturbing imagery (so well done), there is no extreme suspense such as we encountered in Hereditary, or even in an older film like The Wicker Man from which this movie so clearly pulls (including a nod at the end with the character of the fool... even Dani's floral gown reminded me of that large horse costume). I usually love horror movies about travelers in the abroad, and while I wonder if Midsommar will have the effect on Sweden that something like Hostel had on Eastern Europe, this movie was not as frightening as as the Netflix's wonderful The Ritual. Many of the "scary" scenes are presented so fantastically that we, too, become students of anthropology, more interested in the culture and in what is going to happen next than in the inevitable darkness of it all. I knew the movie felt long—rarely dragging, however—but I was shocked that I didn't know about the film's near-two-and-a-half-hour run time. That said, I just want to watch it again and again. I think the gore was surprisingly fine, not nearly as jarring as my fellow audience members made it out to be, and in fact I was surprised as how many major deaths happen offscreen without explanation or closure, and with fairly little emphasis given to the body discoveries that so often shape the third act of horror films. What sticks with me most is the murder-suicide from the beginning, which we are unwilling shown flashbacks to throughout the film in the most excellent ways. I think those are the most purely disturbing images that will stick with me, so painful, so contrasted in a cool palette set in midvinter (ha ha) from the rest of the film's near-blinding white and florals.

Some of my other favorite moments were the shared emotions among the members of the commune. The importance of a collectivist expression of pain, suffering, sorrow, and also joy morphed into such fantastic moments in this movie, especially during the ättestupa suicide ritual, Dani's final breakdown after the brilliant keyhole moment, and the emotionally whelming ending. As far as critiques go, I suppose we always knew where the movie was headed, so it was more of a matter of how we were going to get there.

Horror Hot Take: Midsommar is not a horror movie. Sure, some horrible things happen and there is fantastically beautiful and often gory imagery that we typically see in horror films, but this second feature from Ari Aster is not as steeped in the horror genre as its predecessor. Aster himself made it clear that while he was approached by producer Patrik Andersson to make a Swedish slasher film, he ultimately decided to make a movie about a breakup filled with as much pain and sorrow as the one he was then experiencing in real life.

That said, Midsommar (like Hereditary) is a movie about grief. There is a process, an arc, a journey that we ride along for as Dani grieves not only the shocking murder-suicide of her sister and parents but of her dying relationship and dying (and soon to be reborn) sense of self. A student of psychology herself, Dani's care-taking tendencies are obvious as she puts everyone else before herself to the point of having no ego strength, no boundaries, and no identity that is not in relation to others. Her relationship with Josh—himself a coward on many levels—is the definition of codependency as they shy away from fights and often apologize for each other's misgivings. Dani even gaslights herself and questions her own reality (forcing the audience to question our reality throughout the film). Truly it is a pitiful sight to watch: We feel sorry for Dani and her trauma, but foreshadowing already tips us off early on about the changes waiting to take place inside of her. Often dependent in nature, does Dani even exist if alone? This question explains her choice to find a new community, one that supports her unlike other people in her life, others who are now all gone.

Final critique: This is a visually stunning and emotionally gripping movie. It does not rely on musical cues or cheap scares by any means but rather uses striking visual after visual after visual to sink its way into the viewer's brain, pairing beautiful sights with more disturbing images and testing the audience insofar as what they are able to sit and watch. In the case of my crowded and mostly adolescent audience, the desire to react vocally to express even adjacent discomfort at some of the scenes and themes helped show just how rare and powerful Aster's critique of modern American masculinity vis a vis his inclusion of full frontal male nudity is in mainstream film. It was such a fun treat to watch a horror film that takes place primarily in bright—often blinding—light and does not rely on nighttime and shadows to show us the darker sides of humanity (especially following a film like Hereditary and its dark palette).

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hostel (2005)

Director: Eli Roth
Studios: Next Entertainment, Raw Nerve, Lionsgate, Screen Gems
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eypór Gu∂jónsson
Tagline: Welcome To Your Worst Nightmare.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, thriller, psychological horror, body horror, torture, drama
Scare score: C+/B-
Rating: B+

Plot overview: Three friends are traveling Europe in search of forgettable girls and unforgettable adventure. When they're promised the best parties and hottest women, they travel farther east on their hunt for hookups. When they arrive to Slovakia, however, they unwillingly wind up in an international scheme where they become the hunted.

Who hasn't seen or heard of Hostel? This was released a year after Saw and in many ways the two films heralded in a new era of body horror and, more specifically, torture porn, which I feel many modern audiences most heavily associate with the horror genre today. Eli Roth made a name for himself several years earlier with the enjoyably bloody Cabin Fever— a movie which perhaps better bridges the gap from early 2000s horror into more body-centric terror. I would argue it's also no coincidence that the teen comedy EuroTrip was released in 2004, because in many ways Hostel is a perverted and nightmarish version of that film, complete with Josh (Richardson) moping over an ex-girlfriend, Amsterdam nightclubs, feisty strangers on a train, and winding up in Bratislava. Tell me that's a coincidence. Which leads me to my next point...

Above all else, Hostel is an exploration of the role of America (and Americans) in a post-9/11 world. The Bush era was a time when American backpackers were not welcome many places, when Americans abroad posed as Canadians to avoid the recently-marred reputation on the world stage. While it exploits some of the stereotypically obtuse nature of American tourists, it also serves as a commentary of American violence when we meet the fantastically creepy Rick Hoffman as the American client later in the film. In general, setting the majority of the film in an impoverished and third-world-looking version of the Slovakian capital of Bratislava drew major backlash from government and audiences in that country, which went on to invite Roth for an all-expenses-paid trip to show him their true beauty and culture. Roth explained that the film was not meant as an insult to the country or its people, but rather to make a point that most Americans wouldn't know Slovakia was a country, or at least that they wouldn't be able to place it on a map. While our main characters are fairly bright, this ignorance and the ensuing loss of innocence are explored in the film.

It's not a coincidence that the victims we see explicitly in the film are American and Japanese, or that German plays a large role, because I feel that this, too, is a commentary on power: Taking citizens of the world's most powerful and industrialized nations and subverting them into victims in a nightmarish pay-per-victim business in what is clearly portrayed as a developing country. Since the Cold War, Eastern Europe has long been viewed in the American imagination as some broken down and eternally foreign place lost in the past. I can see how this film certainly would have perpetuated those feelings. A major moment in the film comes when the formerly cocky and ignorant Paxton (Hernandez) begins speaking in fluent German to his torturer, thus tapping into the masked butcher's humane side and allowing Paxton to buy himself some more time to formulate a plan. To me, this represented the importance of culture and multicultural/ multilingual education as a path to salvation for Americans, who are stereotypically monolingual and ignorant of cultures other than their own state/ city/ family.

I really enjoy this film. I remember the first time I rented it with a friend back in high school and we just sat there half laughing half terrified at what was happening before us. The first half of the movie plays almost as an adult film until we are ushered into a dark transition. I absolutely adore the juxtaposition of these young men looking for sex and speaking poorly of sex workers, only to then find themselves as the meat or merchandise being sold to wealthy international clients. Natalya (Barbara Nedeljáková) explicitly points this out with a great line to Paxton later on: "I get a lot of money for you, and that makes you my bitch." There is something so crucial to the genre about this subversion of independence and agency into total obedience— and then enter the body horror as their physical forms get slowly mutilated. I think that is what differentiates body horror from splatter films: There is a larger focus on the physical mutilation than simply on the bodily fluids to follow. Hostel offers plenty of that as well, and if there was one scene most representative of the movie, it would probably be the infamous bit with the eyeball. Another great sequence is when Paxton is being dragged past the doors of different rooms in the factory (why are the doors open?) and we get brief glimpses into various snapshots of torture. My favorite scene may have been when Paxton is in his torture room and his vomit starts erupting around the ball gag that has just been put into his mouth. So excellent.

Another interesting theme the movie touches on not-so-shyly is that of a gay subtext. I recently listened to the Hostel episode of the usually fun and insightful Horror Queers podcast that brought this back to my attention since I had not seen the movie in years. Going back to American relations, I think another major stereotype/ reality we have is that European men are more "feminine," as we have come to understand that word in Western societies, meaning they are more openly sensual or comfortable with their bodies or in expressing themselves. Óli (Gu∂jónsson) shows off his butt more times than I can count and is openly interested in heterosexual couples copulating, as well as other kinks. Horror movies in the early 2000s are usually ripe with overt homophobia, and Hostel is no different. Our three brochachos are galavanting around Europe looking for "poosay," and it's primarily Josh who becomes a target for Paxton and Óli's homophobic remarks regarding Josh's use of a fanny pack (trendsetter!) or his reluctance to try and sleep with every single girl they encounter. One of the most interesting bits from the film is when the Dutch Businessman (Jan Vlasák) places his hand on Josh's thigh during the train ride, and Josh immediately freaks out. When they meet each other again, Josh tries to atone for his outburst by buying the businessman a drink at a bar, and he reciprocates the man's original gesture by placing his own hand on the man's thigh. This prompts the man to admit that he had to ignore his urges and start a family, but that Josh still has time to do what is right for him. There is really no other way to read this except that the man is admitting he is not heterosexual, but was forced into a heteronormative lifestyle, and that he acknowledges homosexual feelings in Josh and wants the adolescent to follow his own path (AKA telling Josh 'Gay is okay.') Josh seems confused by this exchange, and we don't really see too much more of it because at that point it's already too late for him anyway. While Paxton starts off the film as a pretty unrepentant homophobe, part of his arc is to get more in touch with his feelings as becomes more human and tries to survive his ordeal. The idea of these men tied up and made subservient is one aspect of that, as well as some of the general torture/ BDSM equipment we see in the factory, including the ball gag used on Paxton. At the end of the film, the bathroom kill scene is also heavy on the gay allusions as cruising in bathrooms was historically (and still remains) a way to rendezvous with or meet other men. (We have seen this touched upon in other horror movies, such as the 2007 Halloween remake or even the latest installment from 2018.)

In general, I think the acting is pretty solid in this movie, more so in specific scenes than in general. I do like the hunky Hernandez as our final boy Paxton— bet you didn't see that coming when the movie started. Surviving the ordeal becomes fairly ridiculous, especially when he's an inch away from escape and hears screams coming from inside the factory (how?), triggering him to rescue Kana (Jennifer Lim) as redemption for the little girl he didn't stop from drowning in that minor backstory you might have missed in the first place. Facing the trauma of the moment, it's wild that his brain even allowed him to process that, whereas most of us would be in full-on flight, fight, or freeze. I feel so-so about Derek Richardson as the more empathetic Josh, but he has perhaps the biggest standout moment of the movie when he first comes to in his torture cell. This is our first introduction to the reality of the movie as well, and his realization/ begging for mercy/ suffering is one of the best sequences in the entire film.

Overall, this movie is not very scary. Violence and gore are very separate from actual scares to me, so while they are certainly heavy in those departments, the film itself is more terrifying psychologically in the reality of what is happening with the Elite Hunting organization. That name also cracked me up, what with an ego-boosting suggestion that these butchers were "hunters," when in reality their prey is being handed to them. Maybe some commentary on big game hunting there as well. The first half of the movie is all setting us up for the second half, and there is really very little horror in the beginning at all, which is interesting. A few scenes end up fairly silly, like the most dramatic low-speed hit and run we've ever witnessed (RIP Eastern European accomplices) or that other classic scene on the train platform at the end. (AMAZING blood splatter on random women. LOVE that.) The movie also ends on a really weird note, I was almost surprised that that was it.

I also picked up on some great Shining references throughout the movie, from the presence of the number 237, to the camera angles approaching the factory (similar to approaching the Overlook), even to the string-heavy music in some scenes. That was fun to see throughout. The music, however, is pretty corny, and I think that hurts the scares in otherwise dark scenes. There is a great soundtrack in the beginning of the movie, but by the time the terror kicks in, the score sounds very outdated and overdramatic. Was a bit turned off by that as well.

Final critique: This movie is a wild ride that many audiences are sure to enjoy. This came early on in the years of modern body horror and torture porn, with just a few explicit scenes but plenty of special effects, makeup, props, and bodily fluids to add to the overall feel. If you can't do gore, there is no reason why you should even attempt this movie. Otherwise, it's quirky in its own ways, but mostly a quick and enjoyable watch with plenty of deeper subtexts that helped boost Eli Roth to major fame in the genre.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Director: Robert Hiltzik
Studios: American Eagle Films, United Film Distribution Company
Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Christopher Collet, Karen Fields; ft. Mike Kellin, Robert Earl Jones
Tagline: won't be coming home!
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, thriller, slasher, serial killer, mystery, teen, surprise ending
Scare score: C+
Rating: B 

Plot overview: Years after watching her family die in a tragic boating accident, the incredibly shy Angela (Rose) is sent to summer camp with her popular cousin Ricky (Tiersten). Although she begins to grow comfortable with Ricky's best friend Paul (Collet), most of the other kids at camp insist on bullying her. Unfortunately for them, there's a killer on the loose. Can these kids survive sleep-away camp?

All I wanted before bed tonight was to cuddle up to some classic '80s horror, and I'm so glad I found this movie. Reviews online about "that twist ending" piqued my interest, so I decided to give it a shot. You can't beat those great movie posters either, I had to include the second one because I thought it was just perfect.

To be fully honest, I was nervous at first. I wasn't expecting any great production quality, but the first 10 or so minutes of the movie were pretty rough in terms of the over-acting and melodrama. As you give the movie time to progress, however, its standard slasher plot becomes filled with ridiculous details that make it obvious why this movie has such a strong cult following. First and foremost, this movie is CAMP— pun intended. It has plenty of on-the-nose '80s cheesiness that might not be for everybody but certainly works for Horror Buff (sometimes). Some parts of the movie become so unrealistic that you truly have to suspend your belief and go along for the ride, and if you stick through it, you will be happy that you did.

Even when the acting was subpar or the plot seemed a little weird, the gory deaths in this movie made everything worth it. The makeup team did an amazing job here, and the gore alone elevated this movie so far up in my book. While the majority of the movie isn't super scary, the gore alone carried the movie forward, making it even more memorable.

The most obvious thing about this movie is that it's a Friday the 13th-inspired pastiche from start to finish. The '80s were the golden era of teen slashers, and Sleepaway Camp seemed to just lower the ages of its victims, stay a little less raunchy, and add some Freudian motives to the plot. I was shocked to see how young most of the cast was, and while none of the acting in the movie is anything to write home about, some of the younger actors were leagues ahead of the adults in the film. And how cool is it to see the late Robert Earl Jones, father of the legendary James Earl Jones, making an appearance? Regardless of its very literal camp quality, there is something so alluring about '80s slashers—or about the perversion of places like summer camps, which should be happy—that helps keep the plot enduring even 36 years later.

What struck me most about this movie was probably the character of Dr. Martha Thomas (Desiree Gould), Ricky's mother and Angela's aunt. Any scenes including her—as well as the strikingly psychoanalytic and dreamlike flashbacks featuring Angela's dad—were visually and aesthetically incongruent with the rest of the film and added such a fun dimension to the otherwise straightforward plot. I don't know if it was Gould's personal choice or the director's, but the way she acted Aunt Martha was so alarming and unsettling, like something out of a Tim Burton film. In general, the subplot of Angela's past added a psychodynamic level to the movie that only adds to what seems like a fairly obvious whodunnit mystery.


This movie caught me off guard a few times. I had a really hard time with some of the characters/ subplots, especially the camp's head chef (Owen Hughes) being an unabashed pedophile. I don't think we would ever even see that in a kitsch movie today. Watching the film is like looking into a time capsule of cinematic oddities: There are a few things between nudity and implied violence that I don't think would fly today. For what it's worth, the movie is a wonderful exploration of the terror of puberty and adolescence, as well as a commentary on the stark contrasts between your All-American summer camp setting and the hectic reality of teenage life, not to mention the ensuing struggle to establish an identity. Throw in some selective mutism, a repressed Oedipus/Electra complex, and some definite PTSD, and you've got a lifetime of therapy wrapped up in this film.

They really weren't kidding about that twist ending, huh? I love slashers where the identity of the killer is a mystery, because so often even the simplest answer is hiding a truth that you never would have guessed. The resolution in this movie was not what I was expecting, and while it opened up so many questions for me (I want to learn more about the pathology going on here), it's just that sort of ending you will honestly never forget. The best part was that awful, animalistic noise. So great.

Final critique: This movie is not for everybody, but if fans have kept something popular for 36 years, I think it's a huge credit to a film's reputation. This hit my sweet spot for a cheesy '80s slasher, and it brought with it psychological dimensions I was never expecting to watch. Between the fun mystery in the plot and the roller coaster of melodramatic acting, questionable script-writing, and that amazing surprise ending, this movie would is a perfect watch to pair with a fun group of friends and a big bowl of popcorn for a relaxed movie night. The movie really isn't very scary—just a few jumps scattered over a fairly suspenseful storyline—but the death scenes bring out gore that will have some people covering their eyes and trying to hide. Campy to be sure, and by far not the best the '80s brought us, but an enduringly curious horror movie that you can appreciate nonetheless.

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.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Studios: Warner Bros.
Starring: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson
Tagline: Is this the man she was waiting for... or the man who was waiting for her?
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: thriller, mystery, crime, drama, suspense
Scare score: D-
Rating: B+

Plot overview: After learning about his wife Margot's (Kelly) affair, English tennis player Tony Wendice (Milland) blackmails an old school chum (Dawson) into murdering her. After his seemingly perfect scheme goes awry, however, Tony must frame his wife instead.

I love Hitchcock. What an expansive career this Master of Suspense had. That being said, this may be one of the first times I've reviewed one of his movies that I wouldn't actually consider a horror. Based off of the play by screenwriter Frederick Knott, this movie makes the horror blog with a whopping PG rating. Talk about amateur hour. Unlike Strangers on a Train, The Birds, and especially Psycho, Dial M for Murder is more similar to his films like Rope or even Rear Window (my personal favorite) in that they deal more with the suspense, meticulous planning, and repercussions of a crime than the actual horror of it (not to mention the majority of the action taking place in a single room). Regarding Strangers on a Train, both films share the 'perfect murder' and blackmail concepts, as well as two main characters both being professional tennis players (think doubles and double-crossing).

Hitchcock loved few things more than the perfect plot and 'wrongfully accused' scenarios, and these themes are exactly what this film ultimately comes down to. We have strong performances from all of our leads, with an especially creepy Anthony Dawson as the hitman and a wonderfully British Chief Inspector in John Williams— not surprisingly, both of these actors played the same roles in the 1952 Broadway production of the show. Ray Milland plays a fantastically eerie and calmly maniacal husband who remains fixated on manipulating and deceiving all those around him until he can exact the perfect revenge on his unfaithful—yet still dedicated—wife. Speaking of which, this was Kelly's first time working with Hitchcock, and apparently he enjoyed her work so much that she would go on to star in Rear Window (that same year!) as well as 1955's To Catch a Thief.

The most notable aspect of this film is the cinematography. The movie was originally filmed to be shown in 3D, but due to technical issues and poor audience reception, it was released as your regular flat movie and went on to achieve general acclaim at the box office. Shot almost entirely inside the Wendices' apartment—and with that one fantastic "God's eye" view from above the scene—the suspense of this movie is established more through plot that any trick of the camera. Hitchcock was a professional at perverting his audience into not only witnessing crime but partaking in it. As Rear Window becomes a shocking lesson in voyeurism, so Dial M for Murder finds us practically rooting for Tony and his hired man Lesgate/ Swann to get away with the seemingly perfect crime. Indeed, the suspense in this movie comes in the form of us expecting—but not knowing if—the murder will go off without a hitch— until Tony's watch stops and the whole things seems to fall apart before our eyes. As Hitchcock himself said, "The best way to do it is with scissors" (I see you, Jordan Peele). At the climax of our suspense, we witness an accidental death marking one of very few times we actually witness something so visceral in a Hitchcock movie (most of the action usually takes place just offscreen and is implied). Though Grace Kelly shines brighter in Rear Window, her character's progression in this film is marked in beautiful ways, such as her wardrobe changing from whites, to blues, to greys, to black, or during the almost dreamlike (nightmarish?), hallucinatory courtroom scene and the lighting therein.


If you're a fan of Hitchcock, you're likely to enjoy this film: The theme of control, common in the director's filmography, runs strong in this movie, especially as demonstrated by the maniacal Tony. It is this strong need for control that ultimately creates even more suspense as the pieces—just seconds beforehand so perfectly aligned—start to fall apart. My biggest qualm from a realistic point of view is that, while the clever Chief Inspector Hubbard uses wisdom, insight, and luck to hypothesize his solution to the crime, it seemed to me that none of his investigation was actually very legal, at least in terms of his swapping coats and keys or sneaking into the Wendices' apartment as he pleased. Love a perfect crime puzzle to be so expertly solved, but it left me wondering just how ethical his approach was.

Final critique: This is a lovely and enjoyable film, even if it's not one of Hitchcock's absolute best pieces of work. To clarify, I make my ratings based on what constitutes a good horror movie, so that is why this film only gets a B+ from me while other, arguably much poorer quality movies have gotten higher ratings in the past. With a dazzling cast and even better suspense, we see a movie flipped on its head halfway through, and we continue to go along for the whole unexpected ride. In terms of the scare score, as I stated earlier, this really isn't a horror film as I'd traditionally define it, so while the suspense might have you holding your breath as the 'perfect crime' comes to a climax, I don't think anyone is going to get too scared by this film. Instead, it's a perfect watch when you want something suspenseful or creepy, but with more of a crime drama feel instead of anything too horrifying.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Pact (2012)

Director: Nicholas McCarthy
Studios: Entertainment One, IFC Midnight
Starring: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien; ft. Agnes Bruckner, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Haley Hudson
Tagline: Some doors should never be opened.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, thriller, drama, mystery, haunted house, ghost, serial killer
Scare score: B+
Rating: A-

Plot overview: After the death of her mother, ex-drug addict Nicole (Bruckner) returns to her childhood home, which is filled with bad memories and other presences. Shortly after, she goes missing and her estranged sister Annie (Lotz) is forced to come home to confront all of the negativity that lingers in her mother's house.

I was very surprised by this movie. The movie poster (which bears a close resemblance to that of The Frighteners) has stood out to me on Netflix for a while, but I didn't watch it until the other night, after I heard that it has a sequel coming out this fall. Though it started out as your typical dark, slow, dramatic horror movie (I was reminded of Absentia in that sort of dreary aspect), I found myself more and more impressed by the film's creativity and surprising twists and turns.

The first thing that struck me was the very artistic way this movie is filmed and edited. I loved the realism and attention to detail; I loved the shots and cinematography: There was something oddly beautiful about this movie and I appreciated that. Special effects were good and constantly took us by surprise, adding points to the scare score.

Acting was pretty decent. Sometimes things felt forced, but I guess you can't help that. I was relieved that the characters felt somewhat real to me, and that helped balance out any faults in acting or in the script. We should be especially pleased with Lotz, who takes us through the entire film. A super special shout out goes to Haley Hudson who legitimately had the perfect look for her creepy role. That was fantastic casting. Same goes for Mark Steger, who shows up towards the end of the film keeping us fairly terrified all the way through.

The plot really kept me interested, even when the film felt like it was dragging along. I was not expecting this cool mix of reality and the supernatural. There is a fusion of genres here that piques our interest and takes us places we are not expecting to go. Half of the fright/ excitement of the movie comes from the surprising plot twists that go so far as to shock us as they unfold.


Who doesn't get creeped out when they're home alone, or when they hear noises and bumps in the night? Once the scares start in this movie, they don't stop coming. I wasn't sure what to expect when the movie began and we had Bruckner alone in the house and when that closet door was ominously open. As the supernatural forces began to become apparent, I figured we were in for some sort of ghost movie, but then things got more interesting.

The mystery is great. Better yet, while Annie makes her way around Cali looking for more clues and leads, the horror continues inside of that house. The first time we see the silhouette of a man (a la White Noise) standing inside of the bedroom, I think I suffered a mini heart attack. Otherwise, we put up with a lot of invisible forces throwing people around, doors being left open, a pretty cool Ouija scene, and headless corpses randomly appearing in the night. The twist this movie takes towards the end was what really took me by surprise and is sure to shock all audiences. The second that Judas (Steger) crawled out of the floor—following a pretty riveting Ouija scene (isn't there a Ouija-themed horror movie coming out soon?)—my jaw practically dropped and I was just so pleased with the turn the movie had taken. This was another great casting choice, and the way he moved his body around was simply eerie, adding yet another dimension of horror to this film.

Final critique: I would recommend this movie to anybody as a surprising horror film that really delivers. My favorite thing about this was the blend of the supernatural with an otherwise realistic plot, great casting decisions, and wonderful attention to detail and cinematography. Nicholas McCarthy is a director we should certainly be keeping our eye on.

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.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Friday the 13th (1980)

Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Studios: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Tagline: They Were Warned... They Are Doomed... And on Friday the 13th, Nothing Will Save Them.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, slasher, stalker, thriller, psychopath, serial killer, teen
Scare score: C+
Rating: A-

Plot overview: As the film begins, two adolescent counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are killed by an unseen murderer wielding a knife and a machete. The film continues in "present day" as a handful of teenagers make their way to Camp Crystal Lake, which is set to reopen despite past tragedies and local rumors, resulting in the townies referring to it as "Camp Blood." The counselors arrive on Friday the 13th, and on their first night they are stalked and murdered by an unseen killer until only one is left to fend for her life.

Ask somebody in America to think about teen slasher movies, or just show them a retro hockey mask, and they will think about the Friday the 13th franchise. These films might just be your most stereotypical, thought-about, and referenced staple horror movies, filled with plenty of teenagers behaving badly and some mysterious killer stalking them in the distance. To me, the character of Jason goes hand in hand with Michael Myers even more so than he does with Freddy, although the latter left his mark rather explicitly on the '80s despite recent remakes. I wish I could have been alive in the 1980s if only to rot my teeth with candy and popcorn while going to the movies to see the constant debuts of these now-retro horror flicks— the iconic masks, the wide array of weapons, and the horrible acting on behalf of the victims.

I was never a big Friday the 13th fan growing up as I was much more partial to Halloween. Last night, however, was the perfect night to re-watch this campy horror classic and really enjoy it for the first time. It's clear that this franchise wanted to soak up some of the success of Halloween, and to me that's really cool. They did their own, good* job, made a new horror menace, had your classic storyline, and left their mark on generations to come.

*I use 'good' here to mean the sort of good that comes from kind of bad things. You know? Anyway, let's get started.

This is a movie of wonderful contradictions. Throughout the whole thing there is a bizarre mix of awful script-writing with strangely natural, effortless acting, but there's also plenty of decent script with acting so bad that you want to pull your hair out. This really surprised me, especially the scenes where the varied ensemble (including Kevin Bacon and one of Bing Crosby's sons... like no big deal I guess) of teens are actually so casual that you think you're looking at candid home footage. These parts are contrasted by everything you imagine teen horror (especially from the '80s) to be: awful. To help the acting, some of the writing is really natural and even enjoyable— and then there are parts that you want to poke your own eyes out because the dialogue is so dumb. What a roller coaster ride with a strangely awesome outcome.

I think most people between the ages of 15 and 60 would at least recognize (although not necessarily know the source of) the "ki ki ki, ma ma ma" sound that this movie made so iconic. Also, I mean, it's clearly more of a "chi chi chi, ha ha ha" with a really guttural emphasis at the beginning of either sound, but movie scorer Harry Manfredini says otherwise. This movie gives us an eerie score (with parts sounding identical to Psycho by the end), with music building us up and making us ready for "bam" moments that rarely come.

The movie poster is awesome. I want it in my bedroom now. Enough said.

My favorite thing about Friday the 13th is how it was filmed. The first person point of view is normally just the cameraman, but in crucial moments it is also the killer— and the lines are often blurred. There are scenes in which we're meant to think we're seeing what the killer sees, and then it turns out that no one was there. I absolutely love that. Sure we've seen what it's like behind Michael Myers's mask (with the two dumb eyeholes, nobody actually sees like that), but we also usually see Michael himself. That's the other thing I love about this movie— killer wise, it does everything Halloween doesn't. We don't know who the killer is this entire film, and this mystery identity keeps us guessing and worrying. Also, where Halloween banks on the shots with the killer made just visible in the background—down the street, in a window, in the backyard (PS I love those shots)—in this movie we never see the killer. The best part is that we are so often set up to expect to see a shadow or silhouette, and we never do. All we ever see is a hand and the weapon. The first person makes this film much more suspenseful.

Next we have the question of the plot itself: this entire film is plausible— why shouldn't some teens left alone at a creepy camp out in the woods be stalked and murdered by some assailant? Nothing fantastic happens here except for the killer's insanely good aim with arrows, knives, and axes. This movie is scary because you're going to think about it the next time you go out camping with friends. So again, the whole movie, you're sitting there and thinking "Uh huh, this is going to happen to me (especially in West Jersey: yikes)"— and then the last ten minutes happen.


The last ten minutes of the movie leave us with questions that cannot be answered. Following a night of scaring and tragic events, why would you just float out into the middle of a lake in the dark on a canoe quite literally without a paddle? Why would Jason still be a boy? Why does Alice (King) suddenly believe that "he's still there" and why would he be a boy (you dope)? Why did the police show up blaring their lights to a camp even though there was no call for help or reason to think anything was wrong? And since when does a machete—which I could have sworn was a broken canoe paddle—cut clean through a neck and spine? While the shot of Jason jumping up out of the water made me jump a little, too, I wonder if the entire falling action of the movie was made purely to introduce Jason and set up the sequel. Still, I've read that the whole Jason sequence was dreamed up only to provide one final scare in the movie. Sell. Outs.

One of the best things about this movie is the mystery identity of the killer. This isn't Michael Myers, who we know is stalking and killing everybody in Illinois. Is it Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney)? Is it the camp's owner, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer)? After the commercial success of this franchise, everyone associates the movies with one thing: Jason. After all, it's all about him, isn't it? Well we return to this first film, and then we're not so sure. Because 21 years after an unnamed child drowns at Camp Crystal Lake, we think we're watching only slightly related events until the last ten minutes of the film when we finally hear the name 'Jason'— and meet his mother, Mrs. Voorhees (Palmer). I absolutely loved that the killer was a woman and a mother, and I loved that through her reverse-Psycho psychosis she provides her own M.O. by switching to "Kill her, mommy. Kill her." While that might be really easy to laugh at in a crowd, by yourself or with a small group it is a truly eerie touch of crazy. Mrs. Voorhees's pursuit of Alice at the end of the film was rather pathetic (I think she gets knocked down, but she gets up again a la Chumbawumba at least 5 times), with the suspense dragging on until ridiculousness climaxes with a decapitation that's so unpredictable we don't know if we can accept it. Then again, I guess the filmmakers didn't really care if we accepted it, because with at least 10 more sequels to follow, this is the highest-grossing horror film franchise of all time.

Final critique: While this is the slasher film franchise that set all the stereotypes, in and of itself it is not the most stereotypical movie. One one hand, we had something creepy, new, and different at the time of the film's release. On the other hand, this movie is pretty much the basis of my second cardinal rule. Characters are at times filled with real teenage emotion, but they are usually very flat with little delivery. Deaths are plentiful and while they are often suspenseful, they are not scary or interesting. Their random occurrences and their random discoveries, however, perhaps add more terror to the film than a movie boasting predictable deaths might have. All in all, this is a campy classic that I'm sure only gets worse as the franchise moves on. For the time being, I highly recommend this first film especially during the Halloween season or at any late night movie viewing. Be warned that there are some gorey scenes, but not too many real scares.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Birds (1963)

For any of you old school horror fans out there, you hopefully knew that today (one day only!) was a nation-wide showing of one of Hitchcock's most memorable masterpieces, The Birds. While admittedly I sat across the aisle from some Chatty Cathies and sat behind an older man who apparently found the entire film quite laughable, seeing this horror classic on the silver screen was truly impressive... and pretty freaky.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Studio: Universal Pictures
Starring: Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, (introducing) Tippi Hedren
Tagline: The Birds is coming!
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: suspense, thriller, animals, unexplained phenomenon 
Scare score: B
Rating: A

Plot overview:  The young, attractive, and scandalous socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) bumps into Mitch Brenner (Taylor), a charming lawyer, while in a San Francisco - wait for it - bird shop. Brenner, who is shopping for lovebirds to gift to his kid sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright), manages to insult the effortlessly flirtatious Daniels after revealing that he knows she has been to court for her crude playgirl behavior. Hoping to learn more about Brenner, Daniels embarks on a long, scenic drive up the California coast to Bodega Bay to deliver two lovebirds ("I see") to Brenner's family home, where the lawyer spends his weekends with his sister and hard-to-please mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). Upon Miss Daniels's arrival to the tiny hamlet, however, freak bird attacks begin plaguing the town and its residents. While the attacks start small, hundreds upon hundreds of birds begin to amass, attacking individuals, then children, then the entire town in vicious bouts of winged violence. Soon, Melanie and the Brenners find themselves in an all-out battle for survival against the birds.

It's only appropriate that Hitch is the Master of Suspense since the first bird attack doesn't actually occur until about an hour into the film. In fact, aside from the whole, you know, bird attack thing, this could be a pretty sweet '50s/'60s drama/romance film. Rod Taylor reminded me exactly of Cary Grant throughout most of the movie. But back to the horror: Once the good birds go bad, I found myself physically squirming in my seat and biting my nails during the attack scenes. While the special effects are very outdated, a lot of the scenes were filmed with real birds which, combined with the constant blood, do make for some pretty thrilling, panicked sequences. Hitch's masterful camera angles add such suspense to some scenes, especially the all-out bird barrage against the Brenner home. I loved the different shots of each character in the bottom quarter of the screen with the ceiling taking up the upper 3/4s as we soon learn the birds have broken in through the roof upstairs. Lastly, the first scene of true terror that we see is when Lydia discovers the dead neighbor with his eyes pecked out—which is creepy—and then Hitchcock zooms in 3 TIMES straight into his bloody eye sockets. Excellent.

The scene in the restaurant before and while the birds amass their first large-scale attack on the town is excellent. There is mob psychology; frantic, accusative mothers; panicked townies; and even a village drunk— "It's the end of the world!" There is a very human aspect to this scene as suspense and fear simultaneously rise via discussion about the cause and solution of the town's winged dilemma. This is also the first scene in the film that verbally brings to the audience's attention that the bird attacks started the very afternoon that Melanie arrived to Bodega Bay. Is Melanie the cause of the attacks? Is Melanie, as she is publicly accused, evil? Are the various species of birds in the area reacting to the caged lovebirds that Melanie brought to Cathy? Or is there no natural, logical explanation? This question is never answered, which leaves the suspense unresolved and the film pretty awesome. It kind of reminded me of The Happening, only not terrible.

The acting in the film is extremely impressive. As I learned in TCM's preview before the movie actually started, Alfred Hitchcock literally saw model Tippi Hedren in an ad and had the studio call her to arrange a meeting. This was her first professional acting gig, which might explain why, the first time I saw this film, I thought Melanie seemed pretty aloof. Upon a more thorough viewing, I think she was really great for a debut role: Miss Daniels is both active and reactive, naturally flirtatious and pleasant with a slight edginess, and even towards the end when she goes into shock she plays that very well. I need to give a special shout out to the very young Veronica Cartwright in the role of Cathy, who in both solemn, scary, and pleasant scenes (a combination of all three would be her 'birthday party from hell') is a tremendous actress. The other characters are also believable with much more depth than you will probably find in a modern horror. Like I said, even without all the bad birdies there is still a big film going on here, with creepy silence, plenty of build up, and a fulfilling amount of terror added in. That's suspense at its best.

Final critique:  This is a freaky film. Unpredictable, unexplained, unending terror at the hands, er, claws of a crazed, scary-sized, fast-moving, numerous, and so natural enemy. This film kind of has a Jaws affect to it, but in the air instead of the sea. We've all seen the people that scream when a pigeon flies by about a yard away from them in the city— just picture them if forced to watch The Birds. The acting is great, the setting is charming but creepy in its own way (that old victorian school, the church always in the background), and even with the outdated effects, all of the bird attacks are still scary (although the occasional giggle is still permissible). I recommend this film for all audiences who aren't looking for a simple slasher or screamfest of a movie. For those who scare really easily, I think this flick will provide more than a few jumps and reasons to cover your eyes, but it will only help toughen you up. The world should appreciate Hitchcock for all that he brought to the horror industry, so naturally one of his most famous films is fine by me.