Friday, August 18, 2017

Day 291: The Thing

I came to the party pretty late for this one, not seeing it until I was in my 30s. Still, a classic of the 1980s.

The Thing centers on McReady, a helicopter pilot for an Antarctic research station who spies a nearby Norwegian contingent shooting at a Malamute dog. After the Norwegians blow themselves up and the dog escapes to the comfort of the American base, McReady flies over to the Norwegian camp to find them all slaughtered and a corpse with two faces in the midst of the carnage. It isn't long before the Americans put together that their neighbors found something alien in the ice and woke it up. Now, the threat is among them and no one can trust anyone as the alien can duplicate someone down to their organs.

John Carpenter cemented his title of horror king with this movie. Already having created the best slasher with Halloween, this remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing from Outer Space  is pretty superlative. The practical creature effects are one of a kind with the alien taking on all sorts of forms between human and...not. I feel like the creatures in this movie are the closest we have come to seeing a Lovecraft monster on the big screen. The dogs aren't safe, the people aren't safe...nothing is safe in this story and the ending is as grim as they come.

If you haven't seen it and like creature features, check out this flick. It can be a little gross but isn't that part of the fun?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 290: Sweeney Todd

After Planet of the Apes, I was a little angry with Tim Burton so it took some convincing to get me on board with Sweeney Todd. I'm glad I took a chance with it.

Sweeney Todd is another horror musical about the demon barber of Fleet Street. Johnny Depp plays Todd, a barber who is pushed just a little too far and resorts to killing his enemies as they sit in his chair. The real meat of the story, so to speak, is changed identities. Todd was formerly known as Benjamin Barker until a corrupt judge exiled him in order to get his wife and daughter for his own. Todd has now teamed up with Mrs. Lovett, a woman who owns a pie shop, and uses her to help him dispose of his various bodies. Meanwhile, there is a love subplot between Todd's assistant, Anthony, and Todd's daughter, Johanna. Will Todd get his vengeance on Judge Turpin? Will Johanna rot away in an insane asylum? Will Mrs. Lovett's meat pies become best sellers? Only one way to find out.

This was a very decent adaptation of a stage musical. Tim Burton gets more brutal than he ever has before to bring the horror to life. Lopping off heads in Sleepy Hollow is one thing but dropping bodies down trap doors and slitting throats is quite a bit darker. Depp brings depth and some charisma to the tricky role of Todd. We don't really want to pull for him to succeed in all his plans but he is the de facto protagonist. The music is actually well done and not a giant distraction. Helena Bonham Carter plays the unhinged Mrs. Lovett very well.

All in all, not sure how horrific this movie is but it is very well made and worth a watch. As with anything that includes musical theater, your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Day 289: Danse Macabre

Sooner or later, every serious student of modern horror media has to run across Stephen King's Danse Macabre. It was written by him in the late 1970s and is based off notes he used to teach college courses. It traces back the roots of horror in literature and then dabbles in reviewing horror on the radio, television and movies.

In my favorite section, King breaks down the three types of monsters. There are vampires (as presented by Bram Stoker's Dracula), werewolves (seen in Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and "the thing without a name" (popularized by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). Vampires are all about repressed sexuality, werewolves are all about the dark side of the human experience and the thing is about alien terror to which we cannot relate. He goes on to give pretty in depth reviews of the books in question. I have found this to be a pretty useful taxonomy when dealing with the monsters you come across in movies and books. His explanations almost explain too much but the arguments are sound.

In his autobiographical section we see where people like Lovecraft had a strong influence on his own tastes. The context of the times he grew up in also strongly influence him. If you ever wanted a Stephen King autobiography, this and some parts of On Writing are as close as you will ever get.

He also makes a convincing case for radio shows being the superior form of horror media in that they engage the imagination more than anything with a visual element. This doesn't stop him from singing the praises of shows like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. The only part I didn't care for were his movie reviews which, ironically, just sound like some asshole with a blog writing about random horror movies...ahem.

Anyway, the book is quick and worth a read.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Day 288: Poltergeist

I can't even remember when I first saw this one although I think I saw Poltergeist II and III more often due to HBO reruns.

Poltergeist is about what you get when you build a housing development on top of a cemetery. The Freeling family is happy and content in their home until Carol Anne, the youngest, begins communing with a television turned to static. After an earthquake, she announces that "They're here" and the real fun begins. Little things start moving and breaking of their own accord until we build up to a giant tree attacking Robbie (the son) while Carol Anne gets sucked into a portal in her closet. The efforts to figure out how to get Carol Anne back and protect the family make up the rest of the movie but that still includes creepy clowns, ceiling walking and a swimming pool full of coffins.

Spielberg seemed determined to make the modern suburban home just as scary as he made the ocean in Jaws. He wrote the movie and produced it at the very least (some say he actually directed it). Tobe Hooper, of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, is the listed director but, if you watch the looks like a Spielberg movie through and through. By making everyday things (like an old tree in the backyard) extra creepy, Spielberg made a classic haunted house movie for the modern age. Craig T Nelson is great as the kind of thick dad. Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina kind of steals the show with her over-the-top line readings and squeaky voice.

If you've never seen Poltergeist, you should check it out. It is very much of its time but still holds up very well.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Day 287: The Ruins

The Ruins is one of those b horror movies that mostly take place in one setting. Not sure where or how I originally saw this unless it was purely for my Jena Malone crush.

The Ruins follows two couples who are on vacation in South America and befriend a German whose brother has gone missing. The couples and another buddy go with the German to a set of old Mayan ruins to look for the missing brother. After a hostile reception from the local Mayan population (who murder one of the party), the remaining five flee to the top of the ruins where the locals will not follow. Our group quickly learns that the locals are afraid of the vines growing all over the ruins. Once someone touches them, they are as good as dead to the Mayans. The rest of the movie is the five protagonists on top of the ruins trying to ward off sinister vine attacks.

Shawn Ashmore and Jena Malone do a fairly good job here as two of the yahoos stuck on this temple. There are incursions into the center of the temple and various attempts to deal with the Mayans surrounding them. This is one of those b movies where you could probably predict every beat as the vines start working their way into people's bodies. It plays a little like a more exotic version of Splinter.

This isn't going to win any awards or anything but it is a decent enough afternoon horror movie. Everything is very competently done and should work as a 90 minute entertainment.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Day 286: Psycho

I mean, really, if you haven't seen this one...what are you doing?

Psycho is, seemingly, the story of Marion Crane. She steals a wad of cash from her employer and goes on the run. Unfortunately for her, she chooses to stop at the Bates Motel, run by a single creepy guy who seems a little to close to his mother. Bad things ensue and as people come looking for Marion, more bad things ensue.

Psycho is one of those unassailable horror movies that can only be ruined with a shot for shot remake. The construction of the movie is beautiful as you are following a true crime story that turns into a cautionary tale. From there on, the game is on with Marion's sister, a private eye and a boyfriend all hunting for her and being led into Norman's spider-web. Everything Hitchcock doesn't show is pretty much a masterclass in how to make a murder scene. Anthony Perkins is delightful as Norman, talking about his mom and his taxidermy. Vivian Leigh gives a real weight of frantic energy to her thief on the run. The whole thing plays like a Tales From the Crypt story that just keeps going.

If you haven't seen this classic, I'm not sure what to say to convince you. If all you know is the shower scene, you don't know most of what makes this a solid flick. If you are watching for the first time, sit back and enjoy!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Day 285: The Masque of the Red Death

I believe I saw this movie while I was in high school. I had heard about it for awhile before I saw it. Not sure where one can rewatch it these days.

The Masque of the Red Death is a loose adaptation of at least two short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. In a land filled with a plague known as the red death, a Satanist Prince called Prospero rules over all. When some of the peasants that live in his village contract the plague, he orders his house sealed up with all his fellow nobles inside. He has abducted a girl from town named Francesca and had her father arrested along with a man named Gino who tried to defend her. There are two sub-plots as we follow Hop-Toad (from the story Hop-Frog, a personal favorite) and Esmerald, two dwarves who perform for the court and receive vile abuse for it. The other sub-plot involves Prospero's love interest, Juliana, striving to become a bride of Satan. Lots of evil things are going on, in other words.

This is one of those cool Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations that stand the test of time. Yes, there is a wonky drug trip sequence that is a bit dated but the rest should still work pretty well. Eye-popping color and all sorts of set design help make the movie stand out. The performances are arch and somewhat hammy but that is to be expected from such heady source material. There are also some moments of real horror like Hop-toad's revenge and the "choose your knife" scene where the captured men refused to fight one another. Not the scariest movie ever made but a lot of fun.