Friday, March 22, 2019

Us (2019)

So it's been almost 3.5 years, what can I say?

Director: Jordan Peele
Studios: Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Elisabeth Moss, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Tagline: Watch Yourself.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, psychological thriller, home invasion, family drama, conspiracy, suspense
Scare score: C-
Rating: A-

Plot overview: As a young girl (Madison Curry), Adelaide (Nyong'o) encounters a frightening double of herself in a boardwalk house of mirrors. Years later and now with two young children of her own (Wright Joseph, Alex), Adelaide still can't shake the fear of her lingering shadow. She is forced to take a good look at herself after a family clad in red jumpsuits and armed with scissors shows up in the middle of the night.

I stand by my feelings that Get Out changed the horror game and breathed new life into our favorite genre, which I feel has grown more popular in recent years for a few reasons. First, I think we are experiencing a generation of writers and directors/producers who grew up during a beautiful age of horror movies (the '80s) and are now bringing their own dreams to life, filled with nods to the past. Secondly, I think Hollywood is more comfortable with the idea of well-made and even niche horror movies with a message, not just the sensual slashers that plagued (and pleasured) us in the 2000s, and not to mention there are more small studios who can work to take on these projects. Finally—and I have to look into statistics or data on this—but I feel that more audiences want and enjoy horror today, if only because for many people, the real world at present is even more horrible than what they're seeing onscreen.

That being said, don't go into Us expecting it to be the next Get Out. They are different films made for different purposes, and in many aspects I felt they have some different messages to share. Now back to the film at hand.

Us is a freaky, fun, and dynamic movie that plays first and foremost with the themes of division, duplicity, and the doppelgänger. As teased by the movie poster, the viewer should know to go into the film expecting us to "watch ourselves," or know that "we are our own worst enemy" while questioning what lies beneath. As many famous horror movies allow the killer to take on a new identity while masked, so Us forces us to think about what masks we wear on a daily basis to get ahead, to thrive, or merely to survive. The first foil we encounter is between the Wilsons—Adelaide's family—and their friends the Tylers. Headed by "it's vodka o'clock" wife Kitty (Moss) and one-upping husband Josh (Tim Heidecker), the Tylers and their bratty twin daughters are everything their respective Wilson counterparts are not: proud, overly talkative, selfish, and entitled. These families ultimately represent a larger message in the film that Peele tries to make with a Biblical subtext: It doesn't matter who you are, what you look like, or what you have, because when the oppressed masses rise up, we'll all be subjected to the same fate. 

This looming thought is introduced several times via the local doomsday man beckoning a sign saying "Jeremiah 11:11." If you don't have your pocket Bible handy during the movie, you'll have to wait until the end to know that this passage reads "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them." But what evil could this possibly mean? We'll explore after the Spoilers jump.

For those of you who don't want anything spoiled, I will say that I enjoyed this film. The scares were underwhelming but Peele in his own right has become wonderfully adept at suspense flavored either with humor or very human fear. As in Get Out, the audience and characters alike discover absurdity in the most terrifying moments, and while this trick helps treat the viewer as more intelligent than the plethora of on-the-nose horror films of the past (and present), it makes things no less horrifying for everyone involved. Again, this is likely part of Peele's commentary on our world today, where things feel topsy turvy and equally terrible.

I thought Lupita Nyong'o and Elisabeth Moss were brilliant in this film—Moss as her doppelgänger specifically has a memorable silent scream we see via a reflection. Winston Duke as Adelaide's husband Gabe adds a charming levity to the movie and both Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as their children do incredible jobs. Nyong'o especially explores her duality of light and dark, smooth and jagged, evil and not in a performance that deserves major award recognition. The casting for this film was excellent, especially because of the task that was asked of each actor. The cinematography was also gorgeous, with the many and varied scenes of public and private spaces, light and dark, above and below inviting us in to a visual feast. I'm still dreaming about the house of mirrors and that escalator. No surprise that this was the handiwork of Mike Gioulakis, who brought us It Follows, one of my favorite horror movies of all time that I still haven't blogged about because I took a casual 3.5-year hiatus.

References to some of our other horror favorites abounded, including nods to The Twilight Zone, The Shining, and I think especially to The Strangers, to name a few. I even loved how this was pitched as "a new nightmare" à la Wes Craven but now from Jordan Peele. From the opening overhead view (God's eye?) akin to Kubrick's famous opening credits, to the concept of twins to the tight interior angles, The Shining was the film most referenced as helping inspire Peele for his second major horror picture, so I was surprised to see just how much time was spent feeling like your standard home invasion.


I didn't know what to expect going into the theater. Trailers certainly teased the concept of the dark doppelgänger, but this film packed much more into its 116-minute run time. In fact, I think the movie's biggest fault is that it packed too much into its ambitious plot.

I am obsessed with the '80s and also with amusement parks in movies (The Lost Boys, Strangers on a Train, even Teen Witch, to name a few), so I found many scenes from this movie practically magical, especially when Adelaide discovers the underground world beneath the boardwalk. The '80s kitsch was also so good, especially with the Hands Across America plot, because Peele uses it to provide commentary on the parallels between the Regan '80s and our current world: There is a sense of hollowness or superficiality that makes even kind or humanitarian gestures seem fake. Here again we see our theme of duplicity: public and private faces, doublespeak and hidden messages, behavior vs. intent. Who are we really? How do you categorize between "good" and "evil" when some people are just trying to survive? And will we pay for it all?

I was not expecting the eerie (and slightly irrelevant?) opening title message about vast unused tunnels under the United States, which immediately threw me for a curveball upon seeing the movie. As it turns out, this would become one of many aspects the movie included to feel spookier, but that I feel didn't fully pan out. At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this movie, but the myth it wanted us to buy into was too big and too vague for me to feel totally comfortable with it. Sure, most horror movies are based on ridiculous plots, and even Get Out was *impossible*, but there was something about the idea that some government (?) agency cloned us all and forced our Tethered doubles to mimic our every moves in their subterranean classrooms and hallways all while feasting on raw rabbit. I enjoyed the concept of the "puppet masters" and the "puppets," mostly for how this complements the theme of doubles, and even though I found myself adoring the scene where Red explains this all to Adelaide, it was just too much. Regarding the Tethered doppelgängers, I loved their sort of nonspeak (except for Heidecker, who I thought went overboard with the sounds/ was too comically animated more so than the others), and I think that raspy, breathing-in-to-talk choice was really effective.

As far as the twist ending goes, I wish I could say I saw it coming but I didn't until closer to the end. There were times during the film—especially as we see Adelaide embrace the violence and become more animalistic, even through her son's eyes—when I wondered if she had somehow been swapped without us knowing, but of course it was all much more sinister than that. I would love to rewatch the film knowing what I know now in order to pick up on all of those delicious clues. I think it would have cued me in sooner to the concept of the secrets we keep, the truths we ignore, and the masks we wear to live the lives we think we are supposed to live or that we think we deserve to live, even at the expense—whether we know about it or not—of many other people. Are we innocent of the suffering of these Others, who in many ways are just like Us? Or are we guilty, even if we are unaware of their existence in a Sunken Place of sorts, of all that we did not do to right these wrongs? And furthermore, what price to we pay to rise out of those dark places and join the happy majority above ground? I viewed this transition as the "invitation to whiteness" so prominent in the United States by which many peoples and cultures that were once considered minorities were invited to join the white group in power (think women, the Irish, Italians). Some people, such as dark-skinned black Americans, may never be formally invited to join this group, but over time, the decreasing white group realizes its power is slipping and thus invites another marginalized group to rise either to real or imagined power. And of course, many formerly-non-power individuals jump at this opportunity to live out their own American Dream— but at what price? This is the fear 'Adelaide' lives in constantly, knowing that she has abandoned her people beneath the ground to advance only herself, and it provides major commentary about what it's like to alternate between power and non-power groups in the United States. Ultimately it's the real Adelaide-turned-Red who teaches the other Tethereds what it means to have true agency and to have to truly fight, unite, and join hands to make a statement that the world will finally listen to. It's a revolution, and it's no coincidence that Adelaide knew what she was missing from the world above in order to stay determined, inspire the other Tethereds (via "the dance"), and ultimately fight back and educate/moralize the 'Adelaide' we know on the concepts of reparations, revenge, and justice.

All in all, I think the most impressive thing about this movie was the challenge handed to the actors who all had to play two versions of themselves. This added such a richness to the film and at many points I found myself questioning if they truly had found other actors to play these roles. Nyong'o especially delivered in her two roles, and that final fight/dance scene was absolutely stunning. Her physicality throughout the film as both characters was excellent.

Final critique: I enjoyed this film, but I find myself describing it to others as "freaky" and not scary. I didn't feel disappointed at the end, but I do think it was ambitious to the point of feeling a little unfinished or hazy around the edges. Still, the plot was fresh and fun, and the commentary on the oppressed masses rising up is Peele's clearest commentary reminding us that, especially in today's world, we are our own worst enemy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Crimson Peak (2015)

It embarrasses me to say that I've not blogged in almost a year. I've seen dozens of excellent and awful horror movies over the past few months, which I hope I can find the time to review. I just saw Crimson Peak on opening night though, and it was so good I was driven to write about it immediately.

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Studios: Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain
Tagline: Beware Crimson Peak
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, supernatural thriller, ghost, Gothic, romance, mystery, drama
Scare score: B-
Rating: A

Plot overview: Around the turn of the 20th century, young and driven Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is a Buffalo socialite with no interest in parties or the petty competition between the girls of her class. Instead, she aspires to be a writer like Mary Shelley, and is currently working on her manuscript for a ghost story. With the ability to see ghosts from a young age, Edith feels most comfortable in this genre. Her life changes when a young, handsome, and wealthy baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) and his gorgeously severe sister Lady Lucille (Chastain) come to town, looking to raise funds to reopen the red clay mines underneath their ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, located in the barren countryside of Cumbria in northern England. After Edith and Sir Thomas fall in love, she moves into the Gothic English mansion with nothing to lose, finding it in a dilapidated state as the Sharpes try to regain their family fortune from the red earth, which has earned the home the nickname Crimson Peak. Her new husband and his sister, however, are not as they seem, and Crimson Peak can barely conceal its bloody past, which Edith must now bring to light.

Every once in a while, a horror movie comes along that changes the game. Crimson Peak is one of those films. Finally, del Toro has done it again, bringing to life a magnificent Gothic tale filled with equal parts romance and terror.

I've seen the trailers for this movie for months, and obviously what captured me the most was the incredible visuals. If nothing else, I knew I had to see this movie to see the house. What I didn't know until seeing the film, however, was what a central role Crimson Peak would actually play in the plot, not only as a setting, but as a living, breathing, and bleeding character.

Now I don't think I've ever properly read "The Fall of the House of Usher," but from the second the characters arrive at Allerdale Hall that's what I was forced to think of: a plot where the home itself becomes as important as any of its residents. True to the trailers, this set was incredible, truly a work of beauty. I don't know what was physical and what was CGI, but entering this house was like entering some fantastic and slightly spooky fairy tale mansion, as we've seen before in works of del Toro such as Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, only to a much bigger extent here. It was so gorgeous it makes me upset. On top of that, the props and costumes were amazing, too. For the entirety of the movie, you get sucked into this Gothic world filled with flowing gowns and overstuffed pijamas, long capes and elaborate hair. From the beauty to the blood, this movie was so pretty.

There was certainly a lot of del Toro flair to the film, starting with the storybook opening. The entire ghost plot was extremely reminiscent of The Devil's Backbone, another beautiful, beautiful ghost film. Movies like these remind me why I'm so obsessed with ghost stories: there is a sadness, a lasting sorrow, a pervading beauty behind the metaphor of ghosts and their presence between the physical and spiritual worlds. Del Toro loves working with this theme, the idea that a ghost is a spectral apparition of the past, of some emotion that was too strong to fully leave the Earth, and we love watching it.

The characters were beautifully cast and I'm happy the original choices of Emma Stone and that annoying British actor who I won't name didn't work out, although I think Emma would have done a nice job. I actually haven't seen much of Wasikowska, but the audience should fall for Edith immediately. In fact, the audience should fall for everybody; Hiddleston is dreamily charming albeit creepy as Sir Thomas (it's nice to see him not so done up as Loki) and Chastain–one of my favorite actresses of the moment–is eerily beautiful. She didn't deliver the strongest, but she kept the movie creepy. New(ish)comer who you should expect to see more of Charlie Hunnam as Edith's childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael was also very pleasant in his very standard role, which rather reminded me of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera.

Horror wise, the movie is spooky and at times unsettling but not terrifying. What got me the most was the surprise gore and violence that would pop its head up occasionally, causing the audience to jump back in surprise from an otherwise tranquil plot. I was so shocked, in fact, at some of the gore, which isn't nearly as bad as what we're used to, but strangely poignant and used in effectively small doses. The ghosts themselves were especially gross because aside from being mere apparitions or floating sheets, they were in fact quite corporal, hollow specters of corpses, skeletons, rotting flesh, and so much blood. They really spice up the movie.

In terms of faults, there are a handful. The pacing was a little off, some exchanges and maybe scenes felt unnecessary, and all in all, the script probably could have used one more look through and the film maybe could have been edited one more time. The biggest problem of all, however, is the lack of a motive. I thought the plot was a little unfounded, despite a brief explanation by some characters and a lovely monologue by Chastain. I don't know; I just didn't see the need for all the horror and gore taking place after we got the 'big reveal.' Fortunately, the movie is so pretty that you almost forgive any oversights.

Lastly, I need to point out the score. The music, composed by Fernando Velázquez (Devil, The Orphanage, Mama) was so entrancing and moving I couldn't stop listening to it and stayed through the final credits just to hear more. The main romantic theme throughout the movie was so beautiful, I tried looking for it online but it's not up yet. The score alone was enough to make me want to buy this movie the second it comes out; add in the sets and costumes, and I was totally sold.

Final critique: This movie was so fantastic. I think it will join the ranks of other del Toro classics like The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, although it may not be taken as seriously since it's so heavily horror. Crimson Peak is the perfect ghost story (with its own modern twists), the perfect Gothic romance, the perfect mystery. The most dynamic character is Crimson Peak itself, filled with secrets living and dead; a visually stunning foreground and background to the movie's events. I highly recommend this movie, especially before Halloween. Again, it's not too scary, but the scares are enjoyable. Mainly just eerie with some good scares spread throughout, and the violence/ gore that will catch you off guard. Seriously, bravo.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Gothika (2003)

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Studios: Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Starring: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Penelope Cruz
Tagline: Because someone is dead doesn't mean they're gone.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, psychological thriller, mystery, drama, ghost, supernatural, possession
Scare score: C+
Rating: B

Plot overview: Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) is an intelligent, driven, and happy psychiatrist that relies on fact and logic to do her job. One night while driving home from the mental hospital in a thunderstorm, Dr. Grey narrowly avoids hitting a girl who is standing in the middle of the road. When she goes out to help, however, the girl seems to burst into flames and take over Miranda's body.   After Miranda comes to a while later, she is back in the mental hospital but as a patient. To her horror, she learns that her husband has been brutally murdered and that she is the primary suspect based on overwhelming physical and forensic evidence. With some supernatural help, Miranda must not only show that she's not crazy, but she must also prove her innocence... or someone else's guilt.

This movie is funny to me because I think I first caught the beginning of it when I was about 13. It's been over a decade, but I still was never able to finish it until recently (this movie used to be impossible to find online). When it was on TV one night in December, I dropped everything to watch it, and I'm glad I did.

Gothika might have a bad reputation, but I don't think it's a bad movie. It's very 2003 in nature, but I was extremely impressed by Halle Berry's performance. Like, legitimately– she does a good job in this film. She is supported by Robert Downey, Jr. who I generally like a lot as well. Penelope Cruz is also a stunner both in physicality and as an actress. Her career is very interesting, and it's fun to see her in a supporting role 2 years after a major movie like Blow. She's so fantastic in Almodóvar films; if you haven't seen Todo sobre mi madre and Volver I highly suggest you go watch them.

Anyway, this movie is pretty much just fun, filled with plenty of chills and thrills. I'm really pretty surprised that people don't like it. It's very dark, and if you look at the poster you'll get a good vibe for what the cinematography is like, sort of a blue black tone the whole time. There are some wildly frightening scenes thanks to invisible ghost forces, so that makes for some scares as well as awesome displays of physical acting. Mainly I am thinking of the shower scene and also when Berry is being tossed around that cell.

There's an enduring mystery here, as in most ghost films, and who doesn't love that? In fact, the strange blend of science and supernatural is fairly unnerving; we never know quite where this film is headed. Luckily there is enough stability due to steady acting and screenplay, that even when we are drowning in unanswered questions, we're not ready to give up on the movie. Things certainly are more than a little silly, both in plot and dialogue, but we're given enough action and delivery to keep up with Dr. Grey's roller coaster ride.

I did like when the plot takes a major turn towards the end. When the truth comes out, everything is flipped on its head, and suddenly the fear becomes so much darker and more real than ghosts and possession. Everyone wants to see their protagonist vindicated, especially after things get so gritty and sexual. I was very surprised with how dark the movie gets during these moments when the truth comes out about the other characters. You'll have to watch to find out!

There was some good gore in this film, which was just sort of the icing on the cake of what is otherwise a rapidly paced and sometimes confusing wild goose chase. Most of all, I like how Gothika had moments that sort of tied everything together and brought everything back down to a playing field that as an audience we could handle.

Final critique: You may have heard bad or mediocre things about this movie, but I say give it a chance. It's a fun flick to watch with friends, and it's easy to pause and take a break from if you want to go make popcorn or something. You may not be at the edge of your seat, but I think Gothika has a lot to it. All the plot twists are very exciting, so that along with the surprising terror both in lies and in truth make for a nicely rounded out if fanciful film.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Black Christmas (1974)

Also released as Silent Night, Evil Night.

Director: Bob Clark
Studios: Warner Bros.
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, John Saxon
Tagline: If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl... it's on TOO TIGHT.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, slasher, stalker, psychopath, mystery, holiday
Scare score: A
Rating: A

Plot overview: It's the start of Christmas break, and the various sisters of a sorority house are preparing to go home for the holidays. A male intruder – who we do not see but whose point of view we are shown – climbs up a trellis and enters the attic of the house, shortly thereafter killing one of the girls, Claire (Lynne Griffin). Another sister, Jess (Hussey) then receives a bizarre and threatening phone call from what sounds to be like several strangers; fellow sorority sister Barb (Kidder) is quick to curse off the caller and hang up. The phone calls, however, do not stop, but grow increasingly more concerning and scary. The situation at the sorority house gets worse when Claire's father (James Edmond) arrives, and Claire is nowhere to be found, leading to a police investigation that results in the discovery of more missing girls' bodies.

First off, Happy New Year! Hope that your year has been off to a wonderful start. Sorry again for the lack of posts over the past few months. Moving right along...

This movie was so fantastic. Like shockingly, inspiringly good. Shame on me for never seeing it until this past Christmas season, when it was an obvious – and perfect – choice. The original Black Christmas remains famous and significant to this day for serving as a clear and important precursor to the modern slasher genre, predating Halloween by 4 years. But if John Carpenter's classic is the first true slasher film, then Black Christmas is a pioneer for the genre.

What struck me most about this movie is how truly scary it is. By this point, we're used to unseen killers lurking around corners and stalking their prey, but the proximity of this murderer to the girls was especially eerie. The most terrifying aspect of this movie is hands down the psychosis of the killer, specifically as heard in the phone calls. From the first phone call at the beginning of the movie right up through the end, we are subjected to an uncomfortable, chilling horror via what we hear over the phone. These calls legitimately gave me chills; they were just that disturbing. The graphic nature of the calls surprised me as well, given that this movie was from 1974. Then again, this is a fairly racy movie, mainly thanks to Barb, who is super sassy and angry. I love Margot Kidder, and seeing her bring on the attitude was a treat.

I was also really surprised to see Olivia Hussey in the lead role of Jess, a kind, understanding girl caught up in troubles of her own. Hussey, who came to great fame in Zeffirelli's 1968 classic, Romeo and Juliet. A few years later, Hussey provides us with what I thought was some serious overacting in this horror film. Her foreignness sort of bugged me; I really thought she was too overdramatic, which says a lot given that she's the 'final girl' prototype.

Other familiar faces are John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) as the stoic police lieutenant, Andrea Martin as sorority sister Phyllis, and Keir Dullea as Jess' manic boyfriend. Another noteworthy performer is Marian Waldman as house mother Mrs. Mac, a lush who provides some serious comic relief.

The screenplay was written by Canadian A. Roy Moore, who claimed that he based it off of a rash of Quebec-area murders around Christmastime. Critics, however, argue that the story is based off of the urban legend of the babysitter and the caller upstairs. Director Bob Clark is, of course, the famous co-writer and director of A Christmas Story. Together, both films make for some serious Christmas film cannon.

Black Christmas kept me interested the entire time. I was so fascinated by the various characters, Claire's weird father, the various sorority girls, Jess' boyfriend Peter. I wasn't sure who was safe and who was not, and I loved all of the point of view scenes we got from our anonymous killer. The phone calls, I will stress again, we absolutely thrilling and creepy. Towards the end, when we're subjected to the police's phone technician trying to trace the call, the suspense is both irritating and cathartic. This film is masterful.

The deaths in the movie are varied and creative, ranging from some deaths that are brutally up-close and personal to others that happen offscreen. The gore is present but minimal but satisfying; the film does not center on blood, but it is certainly there. Plot twists lead us to the verge of sanity and security as we dwindle into despair and back again, worried about who the killer is and just where he may be at any given moment. It is a veritable roller coaster ride of emotions.

Final critique: I can't stress enough how fantastic this movie is. While it's certainly perfect for the holiday season, I would recommend it for a good scare throughout the year. Those who scare easily should simply stay away because this film is packed with terror, suspense, and a looming sense of danger and death. Both while watching and immediately afterwards, I was aware that Black Christmas had earned itself a spot among my favorite horror films.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mama (2005)

I get it: I missed a month and a half. That doesn't mean I wasn't watching horror movies, it just means I wasn't blogging about them afterwards. October really pooped me out. Started a new job recently as well, so while that's great, it definitely means I need to be conscious about when I can blog. No worries though, the Horror Blog lives on!

Director:  Andrés Muschietti
Studios:  Universal Pictures
Starring:  Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse
Tagline:  A Mother's Love is Forever
MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, ghost, haunting
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  B

Plot overview:  After having a breakdown, Jeffrey Desange (Coster-Waldau) kills several people and kidnaps his daughters, planning to kill them as well. After crashing his car, however, he and the girls end up in a cabin where he is killed by a dark specter.  Years later, Jeffrey's twin brother Lucas tracks down his now-feral nieces, Victoria (Charpentier) and Lilly (Nélisse), and wins custody over them. Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Chastain) take in the girls and move into a new home, all sponsored by the local clinic and Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who visits the girls in order to study them. Shortly thereafter, the dark specter begins appearing again, stopping anybody who tries to get close to the girls.

Strange. Dark. Beautiful. Those are the words that come into mind after watching Mama. I missed the very beginning of the movie as it was on TV, but I stuck it out till the end and generally enjoyed what I watched. Let's break it down.

This movie is nothing we haven't seen before, with plenty of aspects borrowed from here and there, twisted and contorted and turned into something interesting but not entirely original. Still, does any film or literature exist outside of previously existing themes, cliches, and plots? Mama tells a story with fairytale facets, much like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark or Pan's Labyrinth. This movie has Guillermo del Toro written all over it: the dark cinematography, a child in danger, and an evil (contortionist) creature. There is a cartoony aspect to Mama, with painted, sepia flashbacks, numerous dream sequences, and swirling black nothingness oozing from the walls. Fairly often throughout the movie, I was reminded of Tim Burton. Still, this odd combination that pushes the boundaries of reality and fantasy tells a new take on an old tale, and the result works.

The actors in this movie get the job done. I love Jessica Chastain, so it was interesting seeing her in the role of an unmotivated mother-by-accident – it was weird seeing her with black hair, too! I am a huge Game of Thrones fan, so it was cool to see Nikolaj Coster-Waldau outside of the role of Jamie. Both actors did pretty well, considering that I don't think Lucas had much to work with and Annabel is a cliche role. The fact that Chastain's Annabel wasn't annoying is a success in my book. The child actresses Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse both did commendable jobs. I liked Daniel Kash in the role of Dr. Dreyfuss; he wasn't too evil or sleazy, so that made him more likable. Finally, Javier Botet (REC) as Mama was a creepily, well-played physical role. Botet's Marfan syndrome make him a perfect character actor for roles like this one.

Scares in this movie are pretty well done; again, nothing we haven't seen before. There are a fair amount of jumpy moments as well as some thought-out suspense. Creepier moments in the film involve the shadow in the mirror early on (I love reflections and shadows in the background) and any twisted moment with Mama, such as when she crawled down the hall à la Exorcist spider walk. As much of the film is melodramatic, scares become intertwined with humor and drama, resulting in an overall mellow tone behind the frights.


I was interested in the film while watching, but I think it was the ending that really tied everything together for me and left me with a favorable taste in my mouth. There is this whole vengeful, offended woman plot – in this case Edith Brennan, who had her child taken away when she was sent to the mental institution – who is wronged in her death and remains as a ghost. The fact that this is not an original ghost/ haunting plot is fine by me, because the more we instill the theory that ghosts are wrong humans bent and twisted in misery, forced to relive their misdoings, the more people believe that ghosts exist. It's a cool thought for social theory. Anyway, like any wronged female ghost (Darkness Falls, Dead Silence, The Woman in Black), we expect their to be some sort of simultaneous redemption/ banishing at the end. Mama tricks us into thinking that that final moment is at hand, when Mama herself gets angry all over again and tries to kill the two little girls. Most shocking moment? She half wins. Going way against one of my most founded cardinal rules, Mama gets away with Lilly at the end, sweeping her away into some sort of beyond. I was totally shocked that this happened, but at the same time, I was okay with it. Mainly because Lilly was so feral and I didn't like her, but also because there was this beautiful moment of serenity and love when Mama and Lilly are falling together, laughing in each other's presence. Then they burst into a thousand moths, at least one of which is light blue and lands on Victoria, as if to say that Lilly were still with her.

Finally, at the very end of the movie, we truly appreciate Fernando Velázquez's (The Orphanage) powerful score as it plays over the end credits. It really tied everything together right there in the final moments.

Final critique: This movie had a lot to it, but it tied all of the plot details together and worked out in the end. I need to sit and re-watch this at some point to take it all in from the beginning and also to see if I agree with what I feel now. This movie did very well reception-wise, so it would make sense that there's a lot of heart and creative flare to the final product.

It's good to be back, folks.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) - short story

Happy Halloween, horror fans!

Author:  Washington Irving
Caption:  "The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head [...] and the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow."
Genre:  short story, legend, folklore, American fiction, psychological thriller, thriller, ghost
Scare score:  D-
Rating:  A

Plot overview:  In the late 18th Century on the banks of the Hudson about 30 miles north of New York City, in the small village of Sleepy Hollow, the superstitious schoolmaster Ichabod Crane is actively courting the beautiful young daughter of a rich landowner.  After a party at their farm one fall evening, Ichabod is returning home when he encounters the ghastly specter that is said to haunt the roads at night.

I've always loved this story.  Who doesn't know it?  Or, at the very least, who isn't familiar with the idea of a headless horseman hurling a sinister pumpkin through the air?  This is a pervading tale, and one of the founding fathers of American folklore.  With its short length, it is the perfect bedtime story during the Halloween season.

This story isn't necessarily scary, but it is certainly creepy.  Originally published in the collection of The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., (along with "Rip Van Winkle"), this is among Irving's most famous and lasting tales.  You may be wondering, if it isn't scary, why bother reading?  Well I have two reasons for you.  First, you should familiarize yourself with this important work of American literature.  It is beautifully written and filled with lifelike descriptions of the Hudson Valley.  There is plenty of rich vocabulary that you should learn to impress your friends.  Secondly, this is an essential piece of scary literature.  Everybody should read it at least once.


What gets me most about this short story is its spooky ambiguity.  We are presented with Ichabod Crane, a lanky, superstitious type who we aren't made to be necessarily fond of.  We are given a full account of the local characters, their nature, and their beliefs in ghosts and demons that haunt the area.  In fact, the majority of this short story is just exposition.  There is positively nothing scary about 95% of this piece of literature. Then we get to the final few pages.  The chase scene that happens through the woods isn't very scary, but it's a compelling read, and the pace certainly picks up.  Any keen reader will, of course, realize the instant we are presented with a "horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame" that it is probably just Brom "Bones" Van Brunt playing a prank.  But what if it's not?  Either way, this is the true horror of the story:

Say there really is a headless horseman.  Irving pulled this idea from the preexisting concept of a ghostly headless figure in European folklore.  If this is the case, Crane has always been right to be worried about superstition and things that go bump in the night.  Then, we are led to believe that the horseman comes down upon Crane and either murders him and dumps him in the river, or murders him and spirits him away, as the locals go on to believe.  Ah!  Ghost story!  Spooky!

But if not, my friends, if there is no headless horseman and no ghosts in the village of Sleepy Hollow, the story suddenly becomes much darker, and much more frightening in my opinion.  This version of the tale, which is the one I believe in, is that the horseman was just Brom dressed up to frighten Ichabod away from courting Katrina, their mutual love interest, who is described as being as plump as a peach.  If it is Brom all along, then Brom violently throws a pumpkin into Crane's face, which we can understand knocks him from his horse.  Two things can now happen: Crane falls into the river, injured or already dead, and gets washed out into the Hudson with the other garbage.  Either that, or Crane falls, and then is murdered by Brom, who then tosses his body into the Hudson with the other garbage.  Either way, Brom murders Ichabod Crane, which is terrifying and sinister and just downright evil.

I suppose you could argue that Brom just terribly frightens Ichabod, who then leaves town in his embarrassment and shame from being rejected by Katrina, who is probably just an early American bimbo.  But then again, Ichabod is just a gold digger, so who's to say who is morally superior.  But I digress.  I don't think Ichabod just leaves town since we know he only owns like one bag full of stuff that he highly treasures as he is material and vain, and very much a fan of earthly delights.  So, horror fans, it is my belief that Abraham Van Brunt is guilty of murder in the first degree.  And you know what the scarier part is?  The town just shrugs it off.  Not a single soul is concerned for Ichabod.  Either they assume he ran away, or they are totally okay with the fact that he has been kidnapped by some evil spirit.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why this short story is truly freaky.

Fun fact: A teenage Horror Buff once went to Sleepy Hollow for a quick visit.  Not only is the area beautiful (I love the Hudson River Valley), but the little village has headless horseman stuff everywhere - it's awesome!  If you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend checking out town hall, which has some awesome murals depicting the chase scene from the story.  While you're there, you can also check out the Old Dutch Church and the grave of Washington Irving, as well as some other famous Americans.

Final critique:  Read this short story. It will take you know more than an hour.  Read it by a cozy fire, or by candlelight to friends or family.  Take turns reading.  Look up the big words you don't know (I learned whilom, supernumerary, peradventure, and erudition).  It's Halloween, folks, so this is the perfect time to check out this easy read.  After you finish, you can be the judge of what's truly scary in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ouija (2014)

(Preliminary note: during the previews, I saw an extended trailer for Insidious: Chapter 3, set to release in 2015. It looked pretty fun.)

Director: Stiles White
Studios: Universal Pictures
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Daren Kagasoff, Ana Coto, Shelley Hennig, Douglas Smith, Bianca A. Santos; ft. Lin Shaye
Tagline: Keep Telling Yourself It's Just A Game.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: horror, terror, supernatural thriller, ouija board, haunting, ghost
Scare score: B
Rating: A-

Plot overview: Following the apparent suicide of her best friend Debbie (Hennig), college student Laine (Cooke) is left with questions she thinks only a mysterious ouija board found in Debbie's attic can answer. Once she and her friends make a connection through the board, however, they realize that the game isn't so easy to end.

*Quick funny story: During a fairly scary moment of this movie, the screen at the movie theater I was at went totally dark, leaving myself and the only other two people in the theater in the pitch black beneath the sounds of screaming coming from the scene. Talk about freaky.

Following a few years of development, Ouija finally debuted just in time for the Halloween season. I went to see it tonight, and while the critics might be saying otherwise, I found it to be very enjoyable. Like most horror movies these days, Ouija relies heavily on the well-timed, dumb scares that are sure to make eager teenagers scream with delight while veteran horror-goers frown in their cynicism. I found that if I lighten up and allow myself to enjoy it, it makes the whole experience better. In doing so, you'll find a lot of reasons to walk out of Ouija with a smile on your face.

This isn't the first movie we've seen involving a ouija board (think The Exorcist, or Witchboard and the sequels it spawned). One thing I can appreciate is a horror movie that cleverly creates merchandise to go along with it (like masks or costumes). Creating a fictional horror and then manifesting said horror into something tangible—and sellable—really helps bring that horror to life. A good example would be Friday the 13th or Halloween with the old school hockey or Captain Kirk/Michael Myers masks, respectively. In this case, the inverse is true, and Hollywood has taken a century-old toy (conveniently owned by Hasbro today) and decided to revolve the horror around it.

The babysitter I went to as a kid had an old ouija board buried among the stacks of old games in the playroom, and as very small children, we tried our hands at it more than once. Someone always cheated, but it was fun to pretend that we were making some sort of contact with **the beyond**. We never did, but after seeing this movie, maybe that was for the better.

Ouija is no different than most horror movies we see these days. But the important thing to remember is that that is not a bad thing. Across all genres of film and literature, plots have held countless parallelisms since mankind first started telling stories. Most stories share similar characters and teach the same lessons. With Hollywood pounding out movie after movie after movie and with TV going through a golden age, what's important in film today are the nuances that differentiate one movie from another.

Sure, Ouija presents us with another group of good looking, "college-aged" kids (even misfit kid sister Sarah (Coto) is always perfectly coiffed) who meddle into something bigger and badder than them, and it's only a matter of time until they get knocked off one by one. Okay, so we've seen it. So what? Horror films are becoming less and less about the what, but instead about the when and how. How is this board game going to kill these 20-somethings and when? For better or for worse, creative deaths are what keep so many horror films going these days.

It's for this very reason that I am a staunch supporter of predictable and corny scares. We all live for those *boom* moments that turn out to be nothing. Ouija is filed with them. Chock-full. I don't care if these are "cheap scares" or not— at the end of the day, a scare is a scare, and not every film is going to be a new masterpiece anyway. More power to the movie that can create new, truly terrifying scares (there's plenty of them all the time, and plenty more to be done), but if audiences are going to see horror movies to get some kicks, then I think there should be plenty of "cheap scares" that will at least ensure these people have a good time.

While Ouija perhaps does the boyfriend-lurking-around-the-corner-whoops-didn't-think-it-would-scare-you-sorry-babe-lol one too many times, all of these small scares are fine details that maintain a sense of thrill and terror throughout the film. Ouija not only gives us these, but it gives us plenty of teases, too. From pretty early on, there is some major foreshadowing that might get us anxious in the moment, but ultimately ruins the surprise.

Okay, so I've defended the heavy usage of flashlights rolling off and illuminating things we'd rather not see, or creepy reflections or shadows cast against the wall— so what else is there to this film?

I mean, the plot is fun. We have a pretty decent mystery here with an expected, whoops I mean unexpected twist that keeps the evil board in our lives just so much longer. While I wasn't surprised by some red herrings in the plot, I thought it was really fun, and who doesn't love a fun appearance by Lin Shaye (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2)?

If you were to ask me about acting in this film, I would probably smile and shrug. It's exactly what you expect. I like Olivia Cooke in Bates Motel, and I liked her in this. She has a certain collected coolness about her —along with an undeniable macabre—that I think will keep her popular in horror as time goes on. Our other characters were fine, paper thin, and trying desperately hard to be realistic. Hey, Hollywood— you want realistic? Try casting less hot people all the time. In a horror movie, girls' hair should not always be perfect. People should not always be beautiful and muscular and perfectly dressed. This needs to stop. We want more realistic films and we want them now!

There is legitimately zero diversity in this film. Aside from a weak attempt of the casting of Vivis Colombetti in the role of "Nana," thus leading us to believe that Laine and Sarah are perhaps Latina, there is just nothing. Even Bianca A. Santos as capricious friend Isabelle seems pretty whitewashed. I don't know what's worse: Forcing one unimportant minority friend into a white-horror plot, or just leaving them out completely. Do better, casting team. Not too great for 2014.

The settings, however, were very cool. While the scariest thing about Debbie's house is the overpowering wallpaper that changes in every room, I thought it was an equally pretty and eerie home in which this movie could take place. But I digress.

Somewhat surprisingly (?) this movie ends up being largely about sisterhood and the bond shared between females. We've been seeing a lot of this lately, and the more I see it, the more important I think it is. Females in horror have long been pretty limited to their roles. On one hand, we've always had the scream queen star or kickass final girl. On the other hand—and perhaps the dominant one that most people focus on—we have the sexploited, dumber girl that gets murdered while in a bra and panties (or less). And more often than not, even the nerdy girls are usually very attractive underneath their deceptive outfits or bad glasses, and they get exploited as well. Lately, however, horror movies have started focusing on female characters in the roles of mothers, sisters, and daughters, stressing the importance that family has in overcoming horrifying or even supernatural circumstances. I'm talking about taking a step further than letting a teenage girl fight back against her victimization (Halloween, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street) and entering the realm of Ripley, or Clarice Starling, or especially a character like Carrie White who takes the horror into her own hands. Why is it that horror movies, perhaps even more so than any other genre, are constantly coming out with new blockbusters with a woman in the lead role(s)? Sure, there's a sense of empowerment behind it, but I honestly think it makes the story more relatable to the audience. We can sympathize more easily with female characters because often they are acting out of love, especially when playing familial roles. It is this love, furthermore, that usually combats the evil at hand most efficiently. Let me work more on my feminist theories. In the meantime, let me say that what we need more of is female antagonists. Bring 'em on!

Ouija's other strengths lie in the beautiful cinematography by David Emmerichs and what I thought was a quaintly powerful score by Anton Sanko. Even if the acting is only so-so, at least we get to see and hear some pretty—and creepy—stuff.

My biggest problem with this movie is that everybody and their (grand)mother knew the word "planchette," referring to the sort of iron-shaped, mystic tool that moves on the ouija board. I understand that this is what the ouija accessory is called in real life, but why in the world would every character in the movie know that, too? Have you ever heard someone use that term in casual conversation? When we first hear 8-year-old Debbie (Claire Beale) so keenly pronounce the word "plan-chette" my skin crawled. We heard it at least four of five more times in the movie, and each time I wanted to throw my small popcorn at the screen. I speak Spanish, I know "plancha" for iron, I get that we use a lot of French in English— but planchette?? Spare me. This is a smaller detail within a larger problem— the script. For once in my life, I just wish horror movie writers would run the script by a group of 20-somethings to approve of the script before filming. (And maybe, just maybe that 20-something could be me). More than a few lines and scenes of this movie cause a younger audience to raise an eyebrow. It's a fine line between saying "my folks will be home any minute" and saying "hey you wanna' come over for a game night? hashtag ouija hashtag planchette." At least these characters seemed modern; I thought the heavy use of Macs and iPhones—especially the flashlight—was very good and relatable.

Final critique: Don't let the critics dissuade you from seeing Ouija. Or, if you feel like waiting, definitely rent this movie once it comes out, and have yourself a merry little scary movie night at home with friends— I know I will. This movie is filled with plenty of *boom* moments and playful "cheap" scares that will make it worthwhile for the thrill seekers amongst you, but even the scariest moments shouldn't be too much for the scaredy cats out there. If anything lasting will haunt you after this movie, it'll probably be that you'll never want to floss ever again. Not that you do already. Besides, if Ouija proves to be too scary for you, just remind yourself it's only a game. Or is it?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Damien: Omen II (1978)

Director:  Don Taylor
Studios:  Twentieth Century Fox
Starring:  Jonathan Scott-Taylor, William Holden, Lee Grant; ft. Lucas Donat, Sylvia Sidney, Lew Ayres, Lance Henriksen; introducing Meshach Taylor
Tagline:  The first time was only a warning.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, suspense, devil, spawn of satan, religious occult, family drama
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  Sevens years after the events of the first film, Damien (Scott-Taylor) is now an adolescent enrolled in military school with his cousin Mark (Donat).  Having been raised by his aunt Ann (Grant) and uncle Richard Thorn (Holden) - a majorly successful industrialist - Damien is being set up for great things, but he is still unaware of his darker purpose.

(What a beautiful poster, am I right?  I want that framed in my house.)

This sequel practically blew me away.  It is filled with compelling acting and plot - and not to mention a multitude of creative and memorable deaths.  My favorite thing about this movie is that Damien - who is very cooly acted by a young Jonathan Scott-Taylor - isn't inherently evil.  Well, I suppose he is inherently evil, only he is not aware of it.  This was such a good change for me, because by the end of the first movie I thought that the little Damien was just too annoyingly evil; I never liked that on top of how he was impossible to beat.  This teenage Damien is much more, well, human - not that he should be, but I certainly love a new take on the spawn of satan plot.  I loved how Damien is simultaneously a hero and an anti-hero; I really wish we had more horror films were the protagonist is bad.

Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen, Poltergeist) is back with the same great musical theme, which he has significantly developed to make distinct for the sequel.  The music in both movies is probably one of the most memorable aspects of the franchise, so it's very important that our composer was still along for the ride.

Acting in this movie is very very good, which should be no surprise given big names like Lee Grant and William Holden (Sunset Boulevard is one of my favorite movies).  This movie has a very interesting way of featuring and including its varied cast of characters, resulting in a wide showcase of talent.

What's especially interesting about this film is the continuation of the first movie's criticism of modern issues facing America and the West.  Whereas the first film focused primarily on politics, this sequel is filled with anti-capitilst commentary.  Damien - the son of the devil - now finds himself in a powerful, wealthy, industrialist family.  He also finds himself in a military academy, which leads me to think that the creators of The Omen wished to include criticism on all of these very American establishments, thereby implementing a very supernatural power into these very real institutions, which many consider evil to some extent.


Let's talk about some deaths!  First off, I loved the usage of the crow as the harbinger here.  Whereas we saw more of the dog in the first film, I enjoyed seeing another typically sinister animal used throughout this movie.  The scene where the crow attacks and indirectly kills reporter Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shephard) is possibly one of the most memorable of the film.  I especially love the color of her coat set against the dreary highway landscape.  I was extremely impressed by the entire sequence where Bill Atherton (Ayres) falls through the thin ice and drifts along under the frozen lake as the rest of the party-goers try desperately to help.  Then the doctor (Taylor) who becomes too suspicious of Damien's cell composition gets into unlucky elevator #23 (hmm) only to plummet to his death.  That was a truly awesome death scene.  Who thinks of these things??

My only real issues with this movie are slight continuity ones.  I also thought it was a little silly that Damien is told to read one Bible passage which drives him almost immediately to believe that what he was told about his identity is true.  I suppose finding a unique scar doesn't help (PS I loved that scene because it looked like a teenager trying to find the perfect selfie angle in a mirror), but it was still a pretty dramatic response to what otherwise could have been coincidental.

How do we feel about the ending of the film?  From early on, my guess was that Damien would kill his cousin and best friend Mark, which would then lead him to deny his fate and freak out in some way, preventing the completion of the satanic prophecy.  I suppose this happens to an extent?  I love the twist at the end when we find out who is and who isn't a satanic follower, but does Damien's reaction and response surprise us?  Is he denying his identity, or is he wiping the slate clean as he moves forward as the protagonist of an evil plot to destroy mankind?  I think it's up to the audience to decide.

Final critique:  This movie is a really fantastic sequel.  Of course, everybody should see the original before seeing this, but I do suppose that one movie doesn't ruin the other in terms of plot.  I loved the continuity of the Seven Daggers of Megiddo, which were introduced to us in the first film.  In terms of sequels, this is probably one of the absolute best I've seen, and I highly recommend it to anybody.  Prepare to be just as freaked out by this movie as you were by the first!  If you're up for it, watch them back to back, and you'll be in for one hell of a ride.

Friday the 13th (2009)

Final installment of my Friday the 13th marathon from last week.

Director:  Marcus Nispel
Studios:  Paramount Pictures, New Line Cinema
Starring:  Amanda Righetti, Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears; ft. Ben Feldman, Nick Mennell,
Tagline:  Welcome to Crystal Lake.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  remake, horror, terror, thriller, slasher, stalker, serial killer, masked murderer, teen
Scare score:  B
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  30 years after the events of the original film, new groups of teenagers start returning to Crystal Lake without any idea of what they are getting themselves into.

(Really awesome poster.)

Somehow, some way, I don't know where I was in 2009 for the release of this film.  It squeezes right along with all of our snazzy 2000s remakes: Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009), When A Stranger Calls (2006) [I've seen it half a dozen times I'm shocked I haven't blogged about it], A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and Nispel's own The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003).  In fact, I believe that this remake/ reimagining of the 1980 classic has been the most financially successful out of all of these - and that should be no surprise, because I think this movie is fantastic.

This truly is a Friday the 13th for modern audiences.  Slasher fans should be thrilled with this reboot, which takes most of the original plot and amps it up into a more fast-paced, blood-soaked contemporary butchering of yuppy millennials.  While this movie has a pretty 2000s feeling about it (like the aforementioned remakes from this decade), there is also a sense of the '80s that the other movies lost in the remake process.  Although this version introduces all your stereotypical teens, we do not forget our roots.  In fact, I felt there were a good amount of tie overs to the original film (e.g the wheelchair we see in Jason's (Mears) lair could have been Mark's (Tom McBride) in Friday the 13th Part II.  Details like these are so important throughout lengthy franchises because it gives everyone - characters and audiences alike - a sense of home and comfort, familiarity and reassurance.

The deaths in this film are pretty fantastic.  On one hand, many of them are taken off-camera (which of course I wasn't crazy about).  On the other hand, 1980's standards have been long forgotten, and the thrill-seeking, gore-hungry audiences of the 2000s are being appeased.  This film is gritty, dark, and unafraid to show off the reinvented Jason.  Our old friend Jason Voorhees may be older, but he has become even stronger, less human, and more wrathful.  He is swift, creative, and unforgiving, and his iconic mask has been included to all of our great pleasure.  There are some really fantastic death scenes in this movie as Jason has graduated from machetes and knives to much more savage tactics - or even just his bare hands.  That's not to say he doesn't still pick up a classic weapon (after all the machete has a lot of significance to this franchise), but we get to witness some pretty powerful stuff here, such as a sleeping bag turning into an oven for humans, which no audience member is soon to forget.  And if you've read my Friday the 13th write-ups before, you know how much I love a good tent or sleeping bag murder.

Overall, in terms of cinematography, acting, action, and deaths, this movie is very akin to The Cabin in the Woods.  Throughout the movie, I was constantly reminded of the clever yet dark (and still very teen) nature of the 2012 horror satire.  All of our characters are pretty so-so, and I personally didn't care too much about Clay's (Padalecki) plight.  If you've seen any Friday the 13th movie before, you should know what's going to happen, and what's in store for all of our new, unsuspecting teenagers.  Like any modern teen slasher, the question isn't so much who will get killed or when, but rather how? How indeed, Jason?

In fact, watching this will probably inspire me to blog about more of those 2000s remakes.  Check back in November.

Final critique:  I watched this film about a week ago (*cue the music*), so I don't remember every detail and I won't drag on my review.  All I know is that I was very pleasantly surprised by this remake/ reboot, and I hope to see it again soon.  I would recommend this movie to anybody (although I would have them at least try to watch the original first), but be warned about a decent amount of gore or off-screen gore.  The best way I could describe this movie, as taken from the brief notes I took while watching it, is "badass."  I highly recommend this modern retake on a horror staple.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jason X (2002)

(but is it really that surprising?)

Director:  James Isaac
Studios:  New Line Cinema
Starring:  Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, Kane Hodder
Tagline:  Evil Gets An Upgrade; Welcome to the Future of Horror
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, science fiction, slasher, stalker, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  D
Rating:  C+

Plot overview:  After breaking out of confinement in a government center that has been studying Jason (Hodder) to learn more about his heightened cellular regeneration, government agent Rowan (Doig) accidentally seals herself along with the masked killer in a frozen stasis chamber.  445 years later (how often do you say that?), both bodies are discovered by students and researchers who have returned to Earth for investigation.  They unfreeze and totally restore Rowan, who warns them about the danger of taking Jason onto their ship.  Unbeknownst to them, Jason isn't the only one who's been rejuvenated; he hasn't forgotten his murderous instinct either.

You know how some movies just give a franchise a bad reputation?  This film isn't awful -it's just wild.  Like hands down, any way you look at it, flat out ridiculous.  While Freddy vs. Jason was in production hell, someone brainstormed a wacky way to bring the franchise back onto the silver screen so that people wouldn't forget about it.  I mean, we're talking almost 10 years since the last movie!  The result of a crazed attempt to keep the series relevant and impatient fans satiated?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jason X, aka "Jason Takes Space".

If something nice has to be said about this movie, it is pretty entertaining in a wild, "Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century" kind of way.  Picture lots of outdated ideas about the future and a very synth-heavy soundtrack (but still by Manfredini!!).  In a way, this whole movie is about rejuvenation, about taking something from the past and revitalizing it (as we see throughout the movie via nanite medical stations).  This mirrors the fact that Jason X really was a revitalization of one of horror's most well known (and top 5 most successful) franchises.  To treat fans, this movie even gives Jason a new, epically badass look.  We appreciate the gesture.

Anybody watching this movie is just going to have to accept how ridiculous it is, and then either run with it or turn it off.  I think that putting this film so far into the future in order to avoid continuity issues was a super clever idea, especially because I think the Friday the 13th series already had some confusing dates and events for those who take the time to map everything out on a timeline... imagine that... ha ha ....  On another cool note, out of all the movies you've seen, this is probably one of the ones that takes place most into the future.  Of course, it's beaten out by both Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and Excellent Adventure.

One of the things that truly impressed me about this movie was one of the first deaths we see.  When Jason fights Adrienne (Kristin Angus) early on in the movie, he dips her head in liquid nitrogen and then proceeds to smash it against the counter.  While even Mythbuster busted this myth, it was still really awesome to watch.

Another death I really appreciated watching was when Jason was inside of the holographic projection game thing that the crew members use and found himself at a simulation of Crystal Lake.  We see him catch a girl inside of a sleeping bag and bash her repeatedly against a tree.  This is a really great nod to the earlier films, as I'm pretty sure he's actually killed someone this way before.  Looking through my blog entries right now though, I unfortunately cannot find when.  Maybe I'm mistaken, but it's such a badass move I associate with Jason.  I love any killings involving tents or sleeping bags, or Jason taking innocent campers by surprise.  The holographic simulation also plays heavily on the very stereotypes (and breaking of my rules) that the earlier films in the franchise depended on for victimization.

A nice throwback to the earlier films was especially nice in this film since it's so different than the other Friday the 13th movies.  As this franchise moves along, we see a lot of changes that we don't always love.  Taking Jason away not only to space but to 2445 really distances us from the killer we love and remember.  On the flipside, the upgraded, futuristic Jason is certainly a cool thrill for audiences.  The fight between Jason and the Android Kay-Em14 (Ryder) is also probably my favorite part of the movie.

Final critique:  I don't know what else I could say about this movie.  The acting is not great, the plot is actually ridiculous, but at the end of the day I suppose it's just another crazy installment into the Friday the 13th franchise.  We've come a long way from Crystal Lake, folks.  Not to scary of a movie (at all), more nerve-wracking in action scenes than anything in terms of fear.  I could see where most people would think this is just a stupid movie (which have always been my thoughts on it), but I have to say now after watching that, while silly, this movie isn't that terrible.


Hey Horror Fans,

I've never done this before, but here's a really interesting article about horror films (it stretches the idea a bit) that I think is really worth reading.  It's pretty much everything I stand for.

Read the article here

Stay scary,

-Horror Buff

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Director:  Adam Marcus
Studios:  New Line Cinema (oops looks like Paramount sold)
Starring:  John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Steven Williams, Kane Hodder
Tagline:  Jason Goes to Hell, and He's NOT Coming Back!; Evil Has Finally Found A Home
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, slasher, stalker, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  C
Rating:  B/B-

Plot overview:  Although his body has been destroyed, Jason's (Hodder) heart begins to possess the bodies of innocent victims in a quest to return to the Vorhees bloodline so that he can rise again.

This is going to be a brief review based off of a few notes I took while watching this movie yesterday on AMC's Fear Fest.  I was simultaneously cooking a large roast pork loin (Horror Buff is such a renaissance guy), so I'm afraid my heart was not 100% in the movie.. unlike Jason's!  *ba da psh*  Anyway, as soon as this film came on I realize that I saw it just a few years ago, so I remembered a lot of the plot and whatnot.

I think this is a pretty fun installment in the Friday the 13th franchise, and if one thing is for sure, it's better than Jason Takes Manhattan.  That last bomb was the reason Paramount sold the franchise to New Line Cinema, which says a lot.  I can see where a lot of dedicated fans wouldn't be happy about this movie since Jason is gone for most of it; any film that takes a big step away from the familiar plot is sure to upset people, regardless of the caliber of the movie (think Halloween 3).  Horror Buff for one likes the idea of Jason's heart being its own reanimated, automatic monster, reminiscent in a very creepy slimy way of Slither and even The Faculty given its parasitic nature.  I think that the prop/ puppet is equally gross and awesome.

The intro to this movie is super random and opens up a lot a lot of questions as to how the government could have tricked Jason like this.  Setting up the girl in a cabin is all pretty meta, and then when the very '90s action and gunfire and explosions set in, I think most dedicated Friday the 13th fans will find themselves unsure about what they've gotten into.  Also, his body certainly blows up, but then I think I remember we see a pretty intact corpse on the table in the morgue... maybe I'm wrong.

The movie is fairly plot heavy and involves a lot of returning to where it all started, going back home, and involving family - which we've 100% seen done time and time again in horror movies regarding killers' pathologies.  In fact, the Halloween franchise also did this later into the series, and one can extract that its just a way to keep pounding out plot and movie scripts.  The idea of giving Jason living family members is also pretty interesting, though we've seen the whole killer-hunting-family members-unbeknowst-to-them thing before, namely in Halloween.

One thing that can be said about disembodying Jason here is that it takes the terror out of its typical, predictable form and unleashes it.  It's one thing to be scared of the masked figure smashing into your home and a totally different thing to have your significant other suddenly attack you and try to vomit a giant black bloody mass down your throat.  What's important here is the soul of Jason, which is a breath of fresh air after 8 previous movies that play with his body in child form, adult form, and numerous reanimated zombie forms.  While we might miss our dear friend in the hockey mask, it's not bad to see the plot get switched up for once.  Plus, we get plenty of really gross scenes involving characters throwing up that pulsating, serpentine heart.  Think lots of black blood, physical violence, and of course an unidentified black mass slithering around the floor.  Nasty!

I have to say special shout out to Rusty Schwimmer in the role of Joey B. at the diner for looking so darn ridiculous - just as I imagine a diner waitress in western Jersey might look.  She's legitimately what I remembered most vividly about this movies.  Lastly, she's also very entertaining in A Little Princess.  There, I said it.


The most shocking thing about this entire movie is, of course the very ending.  The last 5 seconds of this movie probably left audience members with their mouths gaping and their jaws stuck to gum on the floor of movie theaters.  Others I'm sure probably left the movie super super excited for what was to come.  Little did audiences know then what production hell can do to a film and franchise.  I won't ruin this surprise ending for you here, you'll have to go watch to find out!  And then wait 10 years for anything to come of it.

Final critique:  Like several other movies in the franchise before this one, Jason Goes to Hell was sincerely intended to be the final movie in the franchise (not withstanding any spinoffs or combinations with other super villains).  And, like several other movies in the franchise before this one: that was not the case.  Friday the 13th is a pretty awesome example of a movie franchise that didn't know just when to quit, but luckily for them they didn't suffer too much for it.  While Jason Goes to Hell takes a big step away from our typical stalker in a hockey mask plot, I really think this is a pretty creative film that through its difference provides us with some creepy horror we aren't used to seeing in this franchise.  This film is pretty disgusting at times, but overall I wouldn't say it's that scary.  Certainly a fun watch, and keep those eyes peeled for the last few seconds of the movie!

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Fair warning: It's that time of year again!  AMC Fear Fest is in full swing, and I've been away from it for so long that now it's the only thing I've been watching.  This week they were doing a Friday the 13th marathon, and I watched parts VIII through the 2009 reboot (still missing Freddy vs. Jason) - so just be prepared for the next few posts!

Director:  Rob Hedden
Studios:  Paramount Pictures
Starring:  Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Peter Mark Richman, Barbara Bingham, Kane Hodder
Tagline:  New York Has A New Problem; The Big Apple's in BIG Trouble!
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, slasher, stalker, serial killer, psychopath, masked murderer, teen
Scare score:  D-
Rating:  C+

Plot overview:  After being resurrected by a surge of electricity, Jason (Hodder) climbs aboard a boat full of high school seniors sailing to New York to celebrate their graduation, making it a trip they'll never forget... or survive.

I'm glad that this movie is from before my time.  Even as a child, I would shun this movie while pacing through the aisles of Blockbuster.  Anyone would tell you the same thing: the concept here is stupid.  That being said, there's still something funny about the entire plot here, namely that it is ridiculous.  Like hands down.

First of all, this movie totally revamps young Jason from when he is drowning.  Instead of using stock footage of Jason in the lake, they brought on new child actor Timothy Burr Mirkovich who becomes fairly important to the plot here given our star Rennie's (Daggett) pathology.  To me, however, totally redoing the Jason drowning separated this movie from the original and even from its predecessors.

Next, while the intro to the film looks like the Crystal Lake we know and love, the exposition that introduces us to the boat and cast of future victims clearly takes place in the Pacific Northwest instead of in the Western Jersey/ Pennsylvania landscape it should; Horror Buff really dislikes continuity errors like that.  Also, like where in the world are these kids setting sail from?  What high school goes out to sea to sail on a ship called Lazaurs (ugh real original) to New York City for a senior class trip with only two adult chaperones (not counting crew - one of whom is our go-to harbinger of doom)?  It's bogus.

In fact, the students themselves are pretty bogus caricatures of '80s teen stereotypes - and by stereotypes I mean extremes: the all-out rock star and her guitar, the dedicated boxer (V.C. Dupree), the super bitchy popular girl (Sharlene Martin) and her wannabe... the list goes on.  I guess it stands to argue that most teens in horror movies are extreme stereotypes (epitomized by the satirical The Cabin in the Woods), but still, this is pretty wild.  The main mean girl, I must say, is super ridiculous, going so far as to push Rennie off of the boat and hook up/ frame the jerk biology teacher (Richman). Whattt?  Like classic prank I guess.  Also congrats to Mr. Richman for being the absolute worst teacher/ character of all time as Mr. McCulloch.

Furthermore, even when they do arrive in some pre-Giuliani NYC (they're only there for maybe half an hour of the film - the rest takes place in and around the ship that looks an awful lot like Freddy's nightmare realm), it's depicted as a totally run-down town filled with gangs and toxic waste in the sewers (thanks A LOT for the stereotypes, Paramount.  At least there were no crocodiles), and at the end of the day, we realize it's clearly filmed on sound stages and in Canada.  At least there is a cheesy Statue of Liberty necklace that tourists probably rushed to stores for afterwards.

Luckily this movie offers us some fun and creative deaths, specifically in the sauna scene that ends up looking like something out of Indiana Jones *Aum Namah Shivaya*  I also loved Julius' downfall after attempting to box with Jason.  Silly kids!

Final critique:  But aside from some really bad acting and a really terrible plot, this movie is still pretty enjoyable, it just needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  A large grain of salt.  This movie is just about as ridiculous as the title implies, and a lot of it ends up looking like something out of "Goosebumps."  Zombie Jason is pretty foul, as per usual, and with the inclusion of a needle scene (much more tame than in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3), I think there is plenty to be grossed out by.  I would say most audiences could handle the movie - it generally isn't very scary or gory - it's more so a matter of having the patience to sit through it.