Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Day 30: The Babadook

This little foreign horror flick came out of nowhere and became pretty popular a couple of years ago. I am kind of surprised at how popular, given the ending of the movie. Audiences usually want a more satisfying resolution.  But I digress.

This movie follows the story of a woman whose husband has died, leaving her to raise their son. A mysterious book about a monster called the Babadook turns up in their house and the kid becomes obsessed with it. Soon, secrets are revealed and pasts are uncovered. It is that busy middle portion with the woman hunting for answers that provides most of the momentum of the movie. Really, like Drag Me to Hell, this is a movie about domestic abuse and trauma as well as the ways you can choose to handle them. When seen through that lens, the ending makes perfect sense but, as always, your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Day 29: Vanishing, The Act of

I want you to join me in a horrific thought experiment. Think of someone you love or at least really care about who is young, not into risky behavior and is relatively stable. Now think about the last time you saw this person. Now, imagine that is the last time you ever saw them or spoke to them. Imagine that they simply vanish. Go to their house and find it just the way they left it (maybe even with food on the table). Find their car, their wallet, their own family and friends...but you never find them.

Having a loved one vanish is, to me, the worst experience one can have. Not only is there no action you can take (besides maybe randomly looking for them), there is no new information to act on. If someone has been kidnapped, you get a demand. If someone has been hospitalized, you can find that out. If someone just vanishes, there is literally nothing to be done for it. You can't help but imagine horrible scenarios. Eventually, maybe you cling to one or two positive possible outcomes. But, in the end, the not-knowing is a torture no one should have to endure. Trust me on that one.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Day 28: Cheap Thrills

Not horror in the supernatural sense, this movie is like a Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt episode brought to life. Starring the cast of The Innkeepers as well as David "Whammy" Koechner and an unrecognizable Ethan Embry (gone from skinny skater boy to hulking monster of a man), this is a movie about how far you would go to win some money.

Craig (Pat Healy) is a family man who looses his job. Rather than go home, he goes drinking where he runs into his old friend Vince (Embry). The two are approached by a rich couple who challenge them to a series of increasingly dangerous dares for money. After dares involving punching bouncers and taking shots, things get darker when they go to the lavish home of the couple. Soon, crimes are being committed, body parts are being lost (and worst) and non-erotic sex is being had.

You'll squirm and be uncomfortable but that is kind of the point. Cheap Thrills is a nasty little slice of fun that goes to some somber places. I liked it but your mileage may vary.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Day 27: Drag Me to Hell

Don't piss off people who can curse you. This would seem to be a lesson we, as a society, should have learned back in the medieval times at the latest. This movie was a semi-comeback for Sam Raimi after most people were disappointed in Spider-Man 3. At any rate, critics heralded it as a return to form for his grosser days but he actually had something to say with all the bile, spit and vomit produced by the characters.

On the surface, this is about a girl who denies an old gypsy woman a home loan and gets cursed to be dragged to hell in x number of days. Most of the movie follows the attempts of the girl to escape her fate. However, just beneath the surface, there is a story of struggling against an eating disorder. The main character used to be fat and happy and is now skinny and miserable. The gypsy woman vomits and chews on the girl repeatedly. The subtext is all there if you know where to look.

Anyway, this is a pretty fun little horror romp with the wicked sense of humor Raimi is known for. Check it out.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Day 26: The Pact

This is a newer one that has gained some notoriety despite never getting a theatrical release. Think of it as Netflix Famous. Caity Lotz (who can currently be seen kicking ass on DC's Legends of Tomorrow) stars as a woman who returns to a childhood home after the death of her mother. After her sister goes missing, the woman begins thinking there may be a secret room in the house. Ghosts and secrets and all sorts of scares come along with this movie. This is indie horror done the right way.

I'm beginning to realize what a tie horror has to mystery movies. With ghost stories like the Pact and the Woman in Black, you invariably have a protagonist attempting to unwind a mystery with a series of clues as to who might be haunting them and why. I will say I didn't see the ending of the Pact coming. It is a pretty novel approach to the haunted house ordeal. So anyway, if you dig a good horror/mystery this one's for you.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Day 25: 2000 Maniacs

I remember reading about this movie a long, long time ago but had never seen a frame of it until I moved to Boston. The first concert I went to in Boston was The Flaming Lips with an opening act called Enon. As a background for their set, Enon had scenes playing from a movie where it looks like some regular people are accosted by hillbillies and killed one by one. Somehow, through Jungian shared memory, I knew that movie was 2000 Maniacs. Later that year, I sought it out and I was right.

The movie was made in 1964 which somehow lends it a snuff movie authenticity that slick new horror doesn't have. The plot is that a group of kids out for some fun take a wrong turn and end up in a town that shouldn't exist. The townsfolk (including the mayor) come out to welcome them and ask them to stay for their anniversary celebration. Oddly, everyone in town is white and speaks like Colonel Sanders. Soon, the kids realize that they aren't the guests of honor but rather prey for a series of horrific blood sports (one kid is sealed into a barrel with nails driven inside and rolled down a hill). The story of the town is kind of original and creepy so i don't want to spoil it here. Let's just say, this is some early gore worth checking out. I can't speak for the remake.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Day 24: The Woman In Black

I feel this is an overlooked entry into the latter day horror genre, even though it was apparently popular enough to spawn a sequel. I feel like audiences still don't take Daniel Radcliffe seriously as anyone other than Harry Potter but I think he does a fine job here as a lawyer sent to clean out the estate of a dead client. After a series of creepy visions, children in the nearby village start dying under mysterious circumstances and he keeps getting the blame.

This is a good, old-fashioned, meat and potatoes ghost story. The mystery of the ghost must be solved and then the danger either will or won't end (depending on the type of ghost story). The supporting cast is quite capable and I believe this was Hammer studios comeback attempt after being masters of the genre for so long in the 70s. If you need a good spooky story for a rainy night, you could do worse than this.
By the way, today is Thanksgiving (or Halloween 2.0) where we indulge our gluttony not in candy but in turkey flesh. Usually, the scariest thing that happens today is having to talk with the extended family.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Day 23: They Live!

They Live is one of those horror movies with something besides horror on its mind. It isn't so much that the Earth is being infiltrated by a grotesque alien race that can look like us, it is that they are using advertising and television to brainwash us. Years before Shepherd Fairey made his Andre the Giant "Obey" tags, this movie gave us a world where almost every piece of advertising or art doubled as a subliminal opiate for the masses.

Our hero, as played by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper of the WWF, stumbles across a box of magic sunglasses that allow the wearer to see through all the artifice of the world and determine who is an alien and who isn't. After a comically long "getting to know you" fight scene with Keith David, the two badasses decide to go on an alien killing rampage.

John Carpenter (of Halloween fame) takes all the ambiguity out of the situation. This most assuredly isn't a movie about a crazy guy shooting random people that he thinks are aliens. Although I think that could be an interesting movie. This has lots of fun action and 80s cheese in it. I think this movie will best be known for the line "I'm here to kick ass and chew gum, and I'm all outta gum." Silly fun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Day 22: The Hills Have Eyes

This is one of my favorite examples of a well-done horror movie from the 1970s. Wes Craven gets all the credit for Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream but I think this is my favorite of his horror efforts. The casting of both the family and the mutants is pretty perfect. Craven found actors who looked like crazed inbreds, draped them in animal skins and set them loose in the desert with names based on Roman Mythology.

The set up is simple, after the requisite warning from an eccentric local, a family on their vacation takes a wrong turn into a restricted desert area where nuclear testing happened decades before. The locals are a family of inbred cannibals who love to rape, kill and eat whoever crosses their path. The family is made up of the mother and retired cop father (well past his prime), a brother and sister who are kind of young and stupid and another sister with her husband and newborn. Plus, the family dogs Beauty and Beast, that are very protective. As the killer clan stalks the family, separating them and picking them off one by one, we get some really horrific images.

Unlike torture porn stuff like The Strangers, the family finally gets a handle on the situation and tries their best to turn the tables. Will any of them make it out of the valley alive? Will the killer clan have fresh baby meat on their menu? Watch this movie to find out.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Day 21: Attack the Block

This British gem came out of nowhere back in 2011 and blew me away. A group of rough kids in a housing block in England form the only line of defense between their homes and a vicious group of alien invaders. This one almost leans so heavily towards sci-fi action that it barely rates as horror but space monsters qualify it. This was the breakout movie of John Boyega (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and the first theatrical movie directed by Joe Cornish (who helped write the Ant-Man screenplay).

The main trick of the movie is getting us to pull for a gang full of hooligans who terrorize their block until it is time to protect it. In a way, it is about unification due to outside threat but the real accomplishment is making these thugs the heroes of the movie that you end up pulling for. Unlike similar child endangerment flick Super 8, not every kid makes it out of this one. This is a dark movie with some very funny bits (Nick Frost cameos as a drug dealer). If you like alien action and haven't seen this, I would recommend it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Day 20 of 365: Urban Legends

Now, I'm not talking about the movie Urban Legends, which is kind of goofy but fun. I'm talking about actual urban legends and why they scare us. The reason they are urban is because they take place in modern, familiar settings. There are suburban legends and folk tales assigned to the countryside but there is something uniquely unsettling about the urban legend.

Usually framed as "this totally happened to my cousin's nephew's best friend's dad" which is the modern way of creating those Russian nesting doll beginnings to old horror stories ("I write in my journal about an encounter i had with Johnson who had just seen Billings, who told him this amazing story.") There is a distance built in but also a chain of custody that could be tracked and verified if anyone cared to do so.

The other familiarity is in the setting. There is the old story of the motorist being almost run off the road by another car only to find the car was trying to warn them of a deadly killer hiding in the back seat. Remote rural settings don't lend themselves to that kind of action. Likewise, in the tale with the hook on the door, the danger comes from leaving the safe city and going parking in the dangerous woods.

Like I will one day argue about the recent movie The Witch, all these legends and folk tales are meant to keep people in line. Be open to the warnings of strangers, don't move outside the safe zone or, in example of the phone call coming from inside the house, take your responsibilities seriously to the point of paranoia.

Since 2007, Cracked has been doing a series on true urban legends that is worth reading. To see how some of the most basic fears and folklore can arise from real incidents is fascinating to me.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day 19 of 365: 20th Century Ghosts

Changing gears here from movies to a short story collection. This is the debut collection of stories from Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. What I like about Hill is the emotional heft of his stories. I don't often re-visit books or stories but this collection has drawn me back time and again. Here are just a few of the stories I like-

"20th Century Ghost"- This is a really moving homage to the power of movies as well as the horrors of ghostly visitors. Told from the perspective of a theater owner who has seen the same woman appear in the same seat over the span of his life. Something about the various attempts to interact with her are scary and heartbreaking at the same time.

"The Black Phone"- For a child trapped in a monster's basement, there is no escape. Instead, there is a black phone hanging on the wall that is not connected to anything. At night, it rings and what the young man hears on the line might be his only hope. A truly creepy premise just buzzing with tension, this might be my favorite story in the book.

"The Cape"- Later adapted into a comic book, this is the story of a young man who finds his childhood "cape" from when he used to play superhero. As an adult, it gives him the ability to fly. This had the most shocking and abrupt ending of any story I've read recently.

There are lots of others, like a Kafka homage with a petulant teen turning into a locust. Another story is about a child's friendship with Art, an inflatable boy. And there are about a half dozen more that are all worth reading. Or, you can do the audio book.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Day 18 of 365: Resolution

This little indie horror movie really impressed me when I saw it. It is pretty much nano-budgeted but works very well despite the limitations. A story about stories, it works as an examination of the horror genre in general. A city dweller gets a video in the mail from his old childhood friend, Chris. Chris is strung out on drugs and acting erratically. The video came with a map to a run down house where Chris has been squatting. Michael (the protagonist), seeks out his old friend and uses a stun gun to overpower him. Michael chains Chris to a wall in an effort to help him get over his drug addiction. So far, so lifetime movie about addiction, right?

Things get more complex when a local Security officer for a Native American tribe tells them they are trespassing. Michael starts finding evidence of the former tenants and the ghastly ends they met. Two drug dealers begin sniffing around hoping to get money or product from Chris. Strange videos and books begin appearing. I will go so far as to say that this isn't a ghost story. It is about appeasing an audience who has seen it all before. Something on the land is building a bloody narrative while Michael and Chris must decide where they fit in that narrative.

Heady stuff for a horror flick but quite compelling. I would say well worth seeking out for fans of the genre.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Day 17 of 365: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Now, this movie has been remade and reimagined about a dozen times since it first premiered. I have only ever seen the original but I will be discussing the general premise here. First, from an economic point of view, this is an ingenious idea for a horror movie. It all relies on the actors rather than special effects. People you know one day are seemingly replaced and something is just kind them.

The original movie was apparently meant as an allegory about the insidious spread of communism (they look just like us and live among us, how can we tell if they are looking brainwash our children?). After this recent election, I feel like the parable is even more relevant. People you thought were decent or kind turn out to be aligned with a malignant force, undermining your faith in society as a whole. 

As a person who suffers from low self-esteem, I can totally relate to the feeling that the entire world is against you. Probably, we've all had days where we turn to friends for help and they somehow add to the problem. As far as real fears go, feeling alone in a crowd is one of my worst. This sci-fi horror takes that fear and amplifies it to paranoia levels.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Day 16 of 365: Halloween 2

I feel like Halloween 2 (the original, not Rob Zombie's bizarre remake) is perhaps the most under-rated of the franchise. The entire original cast and crew got together to make a movie picking up immediately from the moment Dr. Loomis looks out the shattered window to see Myers body missing (er, spoilers for the original Halloween).

The setting is mostly a hospital where Laurie Strode is taken to recover from her encounter with the psycho killer earlier in the night. As Michael stalks the corridors, he takes it upon himself to off what few workers are on duty. One attack on this movie is the gratuitous nudity and the killing of young people fooling around but people seem to forget the first movie had all that, too. I guess, by the time this one rolled around, it seemed cliche but I would argue Carpenter invented the genre and can do whatever he wants with it.

This is the movie where it comes out that Laurie is really related to Myers. I think there is a television cut of the original Halloween that hints at the connection but the original, theatrical cut just had Myers moving on a collision course with this ordinary girl. Speaking of, Jamie Lee Curtis is sidelined for most of this movie, hobbling and hiding throughout the hospital. She does an excellent job radiating weakness and vulnerability. She is still in shock and has no energy left to fight off the boogey man (which was exactly what her line at the end of Halloween 1 implied).

It doesn't have as many awesome moments as the original (which I could list all day) but there is enough here to recommend watching this as a companion to the original. In fact, as a standalone movie, I would say it doesn't really work at all. By the time you are done with both though, you pretty much feel as exhausted and spent as Laurie does at the beginning of this movie.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Day 15 of 365: Straw Dogs

Another arguable entry into the horror genre that I would defend as at least a solid thriller. Dustin Hoffman and his hot wife move back into her home town in England. The locals all see Hoffman as a real wuss and decide to just take his wife whenever they want her. This leads to some very distressing situations as Hoffman must find his inner badass and protect his wife. The "others" in this movie happen to be English working class types but the real real horror element (to me) comes from bullies driving otherwise rational people to irrational places. I would argue that is the central theme to Last House on the Left, and everyone agrees that is horror.

Anyway, this movie is directed by old Sam "Blood N Guts" Peckinpah with lots of unsettling edits and shot compositions. Of course, this is a very violent movie and not for everyone but I would highly recommend it if you like home invasion thrillers like the original Purge.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Day 14 of 365: The Shining

I know, already tackling one of the big boys. The Shining is often mentioned when people are asked what their favorite horror movie is. I would argue that it is one of Kubrick's most straightforward movies since his early war and noir films. Stephen King got quite the boost of popularity due to it (even though it does not follow the plot of his equally compelling novel). This movie is permanently enshrined in the Horror Hall of Fame.

So, what makes it good? Only one person is killed by the antagonist (and that character is not in most of the movie) so it isn't a high or memorable body count. Shelly Duval screaming a lot is kind of irksome. I would even argue that Nicholson flubs the part due to his limited range. As many others have suggested, he comes across as insane before he ever even takes the job. You don't see a descent into madness so much as an escalation of it. Even the plot isn't all that novel, isolation makes a guy go wacky with an ax.

So why is this considered one of the best horror movies? Why does it scare people? I would argue it is 100% due to the creative choices of Kubrick. Starting with the soundtrack of atonal noise that puts your guts in a knot and carrying through to the barrage of soul-scarring imagery encountered throughout the movie, I believe The Shining scares through impressionism more than literalism.

The shot of the blood exiting the elevators, the twins who go from butchered to not and back, the friggin guy in a bear suit blowing a dude in a tuxedo! All these images worm their way into your head and disturb you in ways a simple ghost story can't. As a drama about alcoholism and abuse, it is quite powerful as well.

I argue that The Shining is frightening because of how it is presented rather than what is presented. If you want to watch two hours of assholes describing their theories about the movie, watch the documentary Room 237.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Day 13 of 365: The Mummy

I have The Mummy in my list of topics twice. I am guessing one is meant to discuss the original movie and one is for the remake. So, let's do the original movie. I was very surprised, when I finally saw it, that the gauze-wrapped zombie image was only used in the opening scene of the movie. After all, when you've been asleep for a thousand years, you don't want to stay in your bedclothes forever. Rather, the Mummy, after draining a few life forces, looks like Boris Karloff in a Fez. Which is still plenty creepy.

When I was a kid, I always assumed the horrible power of the mummy was that it was a dead body that came life and...I dunno, choked you or something? Monster Squad kind of fueled that idea. The real horror of the Mummy is that he was a practitioner of dark arts and magic that has never been seen in the modern world. Karloff, in order to advance his master plan, uses guile and, essentially, warlock powers to maneuver events to his pleasure. If it weren't for such a strong performance on his part, I doubt this monster movie would have made it into the ultimate pantheon of horror classics. Whenever the random number generator gets to the remake, I will talk about how surprisingly faithful an adaptation it was.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Day 12 of 365: Bone Tomahawk

Advertised as a Horror Western this one skates the limits a little bit. It is very brutal (there is a disemboweling scene I will never shake the memory of) but all the antagonists here are humans. Savage humans, but humans. If anything, this is a horror movie in the way those old Cannibal (Ferox, Holocaust, etc.) movies were. Here, you have Kurt Russell as a Sheriff in a town that is pretty damn near empty anyway. When a local gets abducted by a particularly rough local Indian tribe, Russell gathers up a posse and goes to find them.

The action is very intense in this and I was never really sure who would live from one minute to the next. As far as that goes, it is almost as tense as Green Room. While some of you may argue it isn't really a horror movie, I would say there is enough horrific content for it to qualify. If you liked Russell's turn in Hateful Eight, you should definitely check this out (he's even still sporting the same facial hair). I imagine this one might be a jagged pill for those sensitive to the portrayal of Native Americans in films. While the movie tries to distance regular natives from the villains here, it is still a tad uncomfortable.

Also also, everyone in this movie is pretty damn great. Sid Haig and David Arquette open the film. Richard Jenkins, Jack from Lost and Patrick Wilson are Russell's posse. Everyone is bringing their A-game so I would suggest seeking it out.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Day 11 of 365: Serial Killers

This is another entry in the "why are they scary" category. Having played a serial killer in one of my earlier films, I can see the appeal in terms of horror movie making. They look like normal people, maybe throw on a hockey mask or something but it isn't like you need CGI to bring a serial killer to life. And the reason why is the same reason they are so scary, they look like you and me. Even scarier, they strike with no rhyme or reason besides opportunity. From HH Holmes to the guy they just caught in Spartanburg, people that prey on other humans for reasons besides love and money are very frightening as they are almost impossible to understand or anticipate.

Silence of the Lambs is largely predicated on the idea that you can get inside the head of a serial killer (of course, only by being one yourself). Serial killers sometimes operate on the road, making them even harder to track. These aren't monsters or myths, these are your unassuming neighbors. Next time you are standing in a line, think about the odds that someone in that line with you is into some sick stuff and may even act on it.

Of course, the odds of being victimized by one are super slim but, people win the lottery sometimes, too. I can't provide much comfort from this horror because it is very much real.

Not Walter Matthau

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day 10 of 365: Creep

The mumblecore cinema movement has spawned just about every subgenre you can imagine and horror is no exception. Mark Duplass has long been a champion of the mumblers and made many a shaggy narrative. In this movie, Duplass pretty much has to carry the entire thing by himself. The only other character is the director Patrick Kack-Brice, who plays a man hired to record a dying man's last message to his wife and son.

Things get creepy slowly as Duplass is "just kidding around" about things that are increasingly dangerous or upsetting. If he weren't so damn charismatic, the entire premise would fall apart as soon as the camera man felt uneasy the first time. But Duplass has a way of lulling Kack-Brice and the audience back into a false sense of security. By the time a werewolf mask comes out, things should be too far gone to stop but somehow, they keep going.

The ending takes one beat too many (the lake should be the last shot, in my opinion) but goes out of its way to address the who, how and why of found footage that sometimes never gets answered. This is good, subtle horror on a nothing budget. I really liked it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day 9 of 365: High Tension

I am still reeling from the real life nightmare that has been the National Election. Although it is finally over, I feel our ordeal as a country is just beginning. Anyway, on with the show.

Today I am talking about the French movie, High Tension. It is a really simple premise that is turned totally insane by the "twist" at the end. This is an example of a horrible twist ending. First, the setup...a college age girl brings her campus friend with her to her family's remote estate during a school holiday. There are some implications (hell it might be outright explicit but I don't recall) that these two are more than just "study buddies." A madman begins stalking the house hold and killing off the family one by one.

So far, so run of the mill. [SPOILER] As the final girl is doing battle with the killer, we in the audience find out that the killer and the final girl are the same person. This revelation makes absolutely no sense as we have seen both the madman and the girl performing separate actions in separate locations at the same time. I don't care how crazy you are you can't be in two places at once. So, a little bit of Fight Club meets Straw Dogs or something. [END SPOILERS]

This is a pretty brutal movie if I remember correctly so I can't really give it a recommendation. Maybe this movie is just for gore hounds who don't care that much about plot.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Day 8 of 365: Needful Things

I kind of wish this had popped up right after Something Wicked This Way Comes because it is very thematically similar. I have read the book and seen the movie, the book has a slight advantage. As the final chapter in the three part "Castle Rock Trilogy" that was my gateway into Stephen King's writing, it certainly leaves the sleepy coastal town in Maine with nowhere else to go. If you are curious about the other two parts of trilogy they are The Dark Half and a story in Four Past Midnight called The Sun Dog.

Needful Things is the name of the antique store opened in Castle Rock by Leland Gaunt at the beginning of the story (he is played by Max Von Sydow in the movie). As customers are drawn in, he offers them their fondest wish in exchange for a harmless favor. In various Rube Goldberg or Final Destination type ways, these small favors create ripple effects that lead to real horror. Local Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris in the movie) has to unravel the mystery behind the shop and Gaunt before his whole town is destroyed.

The ending of the book is one of those pure King endings that only works in your mind's eye and would look seriously goofy in the real world. If I recall, the movie changes the ending anyway. I would say either is worth checking out.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Day 7 of 365: Cube

Some friends of mine just watched Cube for the first time but I think I stumbled across this back when I worked at a video store. Years before Saw started torture porning people to death, you had this enigmatic little Canadian indie movie about assorted people waking up inside a cube room. There are exits on every surface, each leading to another cube room. Some rooms have death traps, others are just empty rooms. The more the group tries to work out the why and the how and the what, the less they end up knowing as the whole thing is designed to confuse and, ultimately, kill you. There is no gloating voice over a loud speaker and no watchers make their presence known, it is just the ever-dwindling group who woke up together and the infernal device in which they are trapped. What is nice about blank canvas movies like this is that you can project all sorts of theories onto them. Is the cube a metaphor for religious sin and punishment? An experiment gone wrong? Is it just life itself?

There is plenty of gore and horror to keep genre fans happy. I'm not sure why I've never seen any of the sequels but I think it is because I am afraid they will explain too much. All in all, I would give this a B.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Day 6 of 365: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Speaking of childhood favorites, this dark little nugget from the mind of Ray Bradbury used to scare the crap out of me. When the carnival of Mr. Dark literally blows into a small town one night, the residents are drawn to all the spectacle. When Mr. Dark begins offering people their greatest wish, well, things go very very wrong. I have seen Jonathon Pryce in many, many movies since this but he will always be Mr. Dark to me. Jason Robards is the only adult who believes two boys about the danger Dark poses. There is a sequence where one of the boys has to walk through his bedroom barefoot while the floor is covered in tarantulas that still haunts me. Between this and the apocalyptic tone of The Black Hole, Disney was responsible for some scary products of my youth. Even though I haven't seen this in years, I would highly recommend it for enthusiasts of the genre.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Day 5 of 365: The Monster Squad

Goodness, but I do love a shared universe. I grew up reading Marvel comics and some of my favorite moments would be the overlapping of the titles. For example, when the Masters of Evil attacked the Avengers Mansion, they asked where Absorbing Man and Titania were. Well, they were over in Spider-Man picking up a new recruit from the airport. When you find characters to be compelling, knowing they can pop up anywhere is a fun little treat. Likewise, Shane "Iron Man 3" Black and Fred Dekker, dreamed of a world where all the classic Universal movie monsters inhabit the same time and space. Dracula could recruit the Wolfman, Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon to aid him in bringing Hell to earth. Frankenstein's monster could stand against his peers. In an ultimate bit of wish fulfillment, the actual heroes of the movies were little nerdy kids who loved horror as much as I did. This movie came around at just the right age for me as I was very much the target audience.

While some of the language has not aged well (lots of kids calling each other homos and fags), the rest of the movie has held up as a solid adventure flick. Seeing all the icons of horror together in one film was very rewarding, especially when they are beating the hell out of each other or using their unique abilities to terrorize this small town. Pretty much a great tween year transition from the bloodless classic horror to the harder stuff that lay ahead.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Day 4 of 365 What We Do in the Shadows

Horror Comedy is a pretty ripe genre that I am surprised doesn't get pursued more often. From Young Frankenstein's parody to Evil Dead's slapstick, there are a lot of ways to make scary movies funny (but not Scary Movie 2, that will never be funny). What We Do in the Shadows is a very pop culture soaked parody of the vampire genre in general. All the flavors of vampire are represented here, from Nosferatu to Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. Most of their fashion sense and sense of humor comes from, seemingly, The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher's late 80s vampire romp). The found footage gimmick gets a bit of goose as well since a camera crew is documenting the vampires as they prepare for an annual monster party.

Taika Waititi crafted a hilarious little movie here that already has two spin-offs in the works. Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords plays the Coppola version of a vampire and other New Zealand talents fill out the cast. There is some great slapstick bloodshed and some tender moments as Taika's vampire pines for his true love, who has grown old without him. Lots of moving parts here but they all work. If this isn't your sense of humor, I don't want to know you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Day 3 of 365: Giant Animals

Today's entry falls into the "why are these scary?" category. I think, when I tried to do this last year, that I was quickly falling into a rut trying to explain why certain things were scary. Fear comes from being unfamiliar with something and while each flavor may be distinct, they all spring from the same common source- the unknown.

Giant Animals fall into the "nature gone wrong" category of horror. There are only a few predators out there with the ability to scare you on their own. even spiders and other creepy crawlies aren't that spooky when you can just step on them. The logic of horror then dictates you have to either enhance the number of animals (like in White God, The Roost or that cockroach part of Creepshow) or make a mildly threatening animal moreso by enlarging it.

Gorillas are scary sure, but King Kong can grind you into paste. The ants in Them! have numbers AND giant size on their side. Of course, usually we are learning some lesson about toxic waste or radioactivity screwing with nature but I would argue any old excuse for a giant animal will suffice. For proof, check out the unexplained but massive spiders in King Kong and Lord of the Rings. No thank you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Day 2 of 365 (.5%)

The Sixth Sense

As I stated before, I am using a random number generator to pull these topics from a huge list I prepared. So, let's take a look at The Sixth Sense and its place in horror history.

Nowadays, this movie is known for the twist ending and that is about it. It launched M. Night Shyamalan into the public consciousness that he would later fall out of (and sort of back into) favor with. The takeaway seemed to be that the twist was everything and all his movies would need one from here on out.

I want to evaluate it as a horror movie in and of itself. For one, I saw this in the theater when it was first released and it fooled me. I didn't see the ending coming because Shyamalan worked very hard to take what we know about movie editing and use it against us. If you don't know the ending by now, well SPOILER ALERT. One would be foolish not to ask yourself if Dr. Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) is one of the ghosts young Cole can see. But, there are enough scenes without Cole that show Willis seemingly interacting with other cast members that your mind accepts these scenes at face value and moves on. Only on rewatching do you notice that no one ever really interacts with Crowe in a meaningful way. So, just from the perspective of the twist, I thought it was extremely well done and added a poignant emotional layer to the story.

Otherwise, you essentially have a premise that could have run for many, many movies of Cole interacting with a ghost, helping to resolve its issues and then the ghost leaving him alone. Much like Unbreakable was seemingly all set up. This movie plays like a pilot to a tv show that never happens. Cole and Crowe use Cole's powers to help resolve the murder of one little girl and then the whole thing pretty much ends.

In terms of real horror, there isn't much here. Some jump scares and spooky imagery are the worst of it. The ghosts themselves are mostly harmless, just wanting someone to help them. More Twilight Zone than Night Gallery, this movie was a solidly constructed thriller that came around at a good time to get an audience actively involved in your plot.

Without knowing the twist first, B+. Knowing the twist first, C+.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Trying this again, Day 1 of 365

Hello to all my Halloween-loving friends out there on the interwebs. Once again, I am planning to launch this website to discuss all things Halloweenish throughout the year. This time, to keep from getting bogged down, I am going to randomly generate my topic for any given day. Today is vaguely different because I would like to restate my mission statement.

Halloween is, of course, my favorite of all holidays. The reasons are myriad but let me see if I can sum them up succinctly. First, there is the emphasis on horror, one of my favorite genres. As the weather turns cooler (thank god) and the fruits of the Earth recede for the winter, our thoughts can't help but turn to the cycle of aging and death that we all must endure. Horror lets us experience the thrill of an untimely death without any harm. I recently watched an Australian horror movie called The Dead Room (decent enough, solid C rating). In it, a professor trying to convince a colleague to stay in a haunted house gives a pretty good explanation for the horror genre. I am paraphrasing here but he describes ghosts as "harmless beings, they can't hurt you, they can only scare you." Horror, of course, gives you all the thrills with none of the damage.

Of course, the other usual suspects apply: candy is delicious, you can be whoever you want to be for one night, magic feels real, etc. For the sake of my sanity, this blog will mostly be little reviews of movies, the occasional examination of what makes horror scary and an exploration of general phobias. Embrace life by staring death in the face and flipping it off! This is the Halloween 365 way.