Saturday, December 31, 2016

Day 61: The Orphanage

First, I want to wish a happy birthday to my only daily reader, you know who you are!

Next up, I almost rented the 1932 movie Vampyr but even the blurb describing it sort of told me to sty away so I'm saving that for later. Instead, back to my regular schedule with one of my favorite horror movies (and one of the few to ever make me cry when I first watched it). The Orphanage was not directed by Guillermo Del Toro but you can see his influence all over it. J.A. Bayona is the guy who DID direct it and he does a remarkable job setting up both horror and tragedy.

At a seaside orphanage for "special" children, the proprietors (one of whom grew up there herself) lose their own child one day when he simply vanishes from a party. Meanwhile, a hooded child has been showing up and terrorizing the woman who runs the orphanage. A lot of mileage is gotten from the warping of innocent childhood games into creepy things that you probably shouldn't do alone. The opening, for example, is the proprietor as a little girl playing the knocking game where you close your eyes and knock three times on wood. The other kids try to get as close to you as they can but freeze once you've opened your eyes. The game ends when a kid reaches you while your eyes are closed.

Of course, this comes back into play later as the now grown up and desperate woman calls out to the spirits of the orphans who are still in the house. She plays the knocking game and we can only see what the camera chooses to show us. I don't want to say too  much more about it but it is one of those masterful horror scenes where our own mind fills in the gaps to make things much worse.

If you can handle subtitles, I think you'll get a lot from this movie.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Day 60: The Island of Lost Souls

Another of my journeys in to the past of horror, this little nugget from 1932 slipped in just under the Hayes code and is kind of salacious. Charles Laughton does an amazing job as Dr. Moreau, mad scientist at large who likes to turn animals into people. Bela Lugosi is unrecognizable as a Dog or Wolf man who recites the Law of Moreau on command. Moreau also threatens all his creations with a visit to the House of Pain, which made me think of Jump Around.

The plot is quite compact as a shipwreck survivor finds his way to Moreau's island, allowing the doctor to see if his Panther woman will get the hots for a man who didn't torture her into creation. Sure enough, she does and she seduces our dimwitted hero as he tries to find a way back to his fiance. There is murder, torture, bestiality, the threat of monkey rape and so much more in this movie.

The creatures look great and the effects are subtle but effective. This is just a really well put together example of early horror.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Day 59: Delivery (The Beast Within)

This is one I watched for my horrorthon this past October. The cheesy title and generic box art initially scared me away until I found it on a list of found footage movies worth watching. It turns out the cheese is somewhat intentional. The premise is that a couple have signed up for a reality TV show called Delivery that will trace their lives throughout a pregnancy. We get to see the original pilot for the show, cliched editing and all, at the beginning of the film. There is a dark moment when it seems the woman might lose the baby but...something...intervenes.

From there on, the movie is made of bits of unused footage from the show as well as video recordings made by the producer who stayed invested well after he should have. Spooky stuff starts happening in the house of the couple like mirrors shattering on their own and mysterious knocks at the front door with no one there. Plus, the woman starts getting a little...strange. It all adds up to a solid pay off. Not the most original or scary horror movie I've seen but not a bad entry into the pregnancy anxiety mini-genre.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Day 58: The Cat and the Canary

Another silent film I found from my Essential Horror book, this one is an adaptation of a stage play. As such, it has waaaay more title cards than your average silent film to fill in all the dialogue. It was directed by Paul Leni (of Waxworks fame) after he fled fascist Germany and came to work for Universal in the U.S.

The story centers on Cyrus West, a paranoid old bastard who felt his relatives were watching him like cats watch a canary as he got older. He kicks the bucket at the beginning and the plot is set in motion. His relatives are to return to his mansion 20 years after his death and read his will. There is also a back up will, hidden diamonds, a lunatic on the loose, a weirdo doctor and a housekeeper who is super creepy.  All this adds up to trouble for Annabelle West, who inherits her uncle's estate but must be deemed sane by the next morning.

There are laughs and chills in this aplenty. It reminded me of the movie Private Eyes with Don Knotts and Tim Conway or Murder By Death (maybe not so silly). The lunatic costume is truly creepy and the guy who drives the milk truck is a treasure trove of frightened hysterics. One weird scene that sticks out in my mind is when one of the cousins, a nervous young man named Paul, gets caught under the bed of two of his female relatives who are changing for the night. He goes full perv, watching them change but, when they discover him under their bed, no one seems to mind. The 1920s were a strange time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Day 57: The Golem

This is another last minute substitution for a modern horror review (the movie was Body, it is fine and a little predictable). Reading through my essential horror book I got for Christmas, I have been going through and watching silent horror films...pretty much all German.

Paul Wegener is the guy behind The Golem. He filmed multiple versions of the Golem story throughout his career and always played the titular creature himself. Imagine a sort of proto-Frankenstein and you have the right idea. The Golem comes from Jewish folklore about a wise Rabbi finding the word of life and using it to bring his clay construct into consciousness. The construct obeys his master except when the stars forbid it. The movie is divided into five chapters with the Golem only coming to life in the second. Earlier than that we still have the Rabbi summoning the demon Asteroth to gain the word of life. Pretty ambitious stuff for 1920.

Anyway, there is a decree from the emperor that the Jews should be removed from their ghetto and put to death. Rabbi Loew creates the Golem as a way to defend his people. The Golem has super strength but cannot speak. Meanwhile, a pretty boy knight who serves as the emperor's envoy has fallen in lust with the Rabbi's daughter. The two of them meet for an elicit tryst while the Rabbi takes the Golem to see the Emperor in hopes of stopping the genocide.

Lots of excitement and action in this one. The Golem eventually goes on a rampage. There is one very horrific image of him standing over bodies, dragging a woman by her dark hair. The effects are good and the whole thing comes off a like a Guillermo Del Toro fairy tale rather than a straight out horror movie. Still, if you like silent films, check it out.

BTW, the Golem totally looks like the guy who plays Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Day 56: Ravenous

Aaaand, we're back to being caught up. Ravenous is a weird little indie horror movie starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle. Pearce plays a soldier who survived a battle in Mexico under dubious circumstances. He is sent to a remote fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains as his new post. Robert Carlyle shows up grievously wounded and claiming to be the only survivor of an attack on his group that was traveling through the mountains. Things get bad quickly and, as soon as you think the movie has hit a climax, it almost resets. There are definitely two acts here and, to give away anything about the second act would be a crime.

The whole movie oozes filth and fear very well, earning the indie cred...right up until the studio lost faith in the project. The last quarter of the movie was shot by a different director and it shows. The attention to grimy detail is lost and the violence becomes more commercial and cartoonish. I think there are a few explosions by the end in an 1800s period piece. I will say that, obviously, the movie should evoke thoughts of the Donner Party and men turned cannibal on the edge of America. Where it takes these ideas is pretty surprising. Despite the ending, worth a watch.

Day 55: Near Dark

Way before she went on to win the academy award for Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow knocked this vampire movie out of the park. I don't know for certain that she made this while she was married to James Cameron but it would make sense as half the cast of Aliens reappears in this one as a vampire clan. Bill Paxton, Lance Henrikson and the lady who played Vasquez are all keeping one step ahead of the sunlight as a group of former confederate soldiers turned vampires.

Adrian Pasdar falls in love with Mae, one of the vamps, and gets turned in the opening act. The rest of the movie is him trying to acclimate to the vampire lifestyle of killing and being on the run. Let's just say he isn't cut out for it. The best sequence in the flick, to me, is a tense scene at a roadhouse where the vampires take the customers apart one at a time. As Pasdar's family goes looking for him, they are drawn closer into danger. Finally, he must decide to take a stand against the forces of evil or accept that he is one of them forever. One of the better 80s horror flicks, in my opinion. Sure, there is gore, but not so much as to be excessive. Worth a watch.

Day 54: Hollow Man

Paul (Robocop, Starship Troopers) Verhoeven directed this 2000 take on the invisible man starring Kevin Bacon as a mad scientist who turns himself invisible. This is one of those movies CGI was created for. It still looks pretty neat (Bacon douses himself in a synthetic skin to appear visible but the eye sockets are still hollow). The procedure of turning invisible, of course, makes Bacon mad with power. Hijinks ensue.

I remember this movie being labeled as misogynistic because Bacon almost immediately stalks and rapes a woman once he realizes he can't be seen. This struck me as an odd complaint against the movie as it is sci-fi/horror and the dude is evil, what else is he going to do with invisibility? Play pranks? Perhaps it was the exploitative manner in which the scenes were filmed (which I think had more to do with answering: can we make it look like someone is pinching a nipple when we can't see the fingers? than eroticism). Anyway, don't watch this with your kids or parents.

I feel like this was one of the last great Elizabeth Shue movies when she used to be so good in so many. She is the protagonist here, trying to find a way to stop the evil schemes of Kevin Bacon. She is easy to root for when the villain is an amoral maniac.

Day 53:Waxworks

I originally had the Todd Browning Dracula scheduled here but I had the opportunity to see some other classic horror last night. Waxworks is a 1924 anthology that is kind of horror but not really. In the frame story, a young poet is hired by the owner of the Waxworks to write stories based on his displays. As the poet falls for the owner's daughter, he works both himself and her into the stories as characters. Whenever I used to see this title on a list of greatest horror, I thought it was the kind of lame 1980s Waxwork movie being referenced. My friend, Max, bought me a book about essential horror and this version was written up in it. Now knowing what to look for, I found it pretty easily.

The first story is of the Caliph of Baghdad and his attempts to bang the wife of a local baker. While the Caliph is trying to get his swerve on, the baker has decided to sneak into the Caliph's bedroom and chop off his arm to steal his ring. A pretty good chase sequence is the center of this one and it all ends like a bad sitcom.

The second story is Ivan the Terrible, played by Conrad Veidt. He is obsessed with the idea that someone is going to assassinate him. He is also Superstitious, like SUPERstitious. He enjoys watching people die slowly of poison by watching an hourglass with their name on it. He believes that whoever's name gets written on the hourglass, dies. So, believing his chief poisoner to have too much power, he has him executed, but not before he hastily inscribes a giant hourglass with Ivan's name. The rest of the story has to do with a wedding and Ivan forcing the father of the bride to switch outfits. The wedding goes very poorly and Ivan ends up in a sort of ironic punishment hell by the end.

The third, and shortest, story is of (apparently) Jack the Ripper. The movie keeps calling him Spring-Heeled Jack, which is a different character altogether. Anyway, the poet has a nightmare about the Ripper statue coming to life and stalking him throughout the Waxworks.

This is another expressionistic film, like Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but directed by Paul Leni (who also directed the excellent Man Who Laughs). I admit, I fell asleep watching this so it isn't the most pulse pounding. It does have a few good creep moments to it, however.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Day 52: Tulpas

As part of my series on investigating different types of monsters, I had to throw Tulpas in as they are singular and fascinating. A tulpa is a mystic thoughtform or, in other words, a thing brought to life through sheer power of the mind. I first encountered this type of creature in a Batman story back in the late 80s (a team up with the Demon) and most recently figured that the monster in a movie I was watching is technically a tulpa in that the protagonist created it from her own mind.

The scary thing about tulpas is that they can be whatever nightmarish thing you can imagine. A nine foot cockroach with the face of Alan Thicke? That can happen. A tiny worm with razor sharp teeth, that could be a tulpa, too. It is your nightmare brought into reality. Technically, Freddy Krueger is a tulpa although one who suggests himself to his sleeping victims. There really are no rules in dealing with tulpas and, as long as the thinker lives, the tulpa can haunt them into the grave. Try not to think too hard about any of this.

Day 51: Event Horizon

This movie is where I first become aware of Paul Thomas Anderson's evil doppelganger, Paul WS Anderson. This Paul Anderson is responsible for science fiction and horror fare devoid of the artistic flourishes of PTA. Paul WS made this surprisingly durable sci-fi horror that I still find people wanting to talk about. At the time, I dismissed it as a blip on the otherwise undistinguished career of Jack Noseworthy (see various Bon Jovi videos). Now I see that it has something going for it, however shaggy.

Sam Neil stars as the man who helped create the Event Horizon space ship that went missing ten years ago. It suddenly pops back out in our solar system and Laurence Fishburn is heading up a team to find out where it went and why it returned. Well, long story short, it went to hell and it brought hell back with it. The original crew is gone but the idea of the haunted spaceship works well. Unlike a house, making a spaceship haunted comes with a list of potential hazards that mostly involve explosive decompression or being sucked into space. One by one, the crew either goes mad or falls victims to the demonic spirit inside the ship. There are some early CGI visuals that are hard to forget and the caliber of performance is uniformly top notch for such genre fare. Not a good movie by any stretch but certainly entertaining.

Day 50: Wolfcop

Alright, back on track with my list. We go to some truly ridiculous places with the next entry, Wolfcop. It plays very much like a horror origin story of a superhero. A pretty lousy cop stumbles into a satanic ritual that leaves him transformed into a werewolf. He then fights crime and the supernatural using his newfound abilities.

There is lots of shenanigans with corrupt politicians and gangsters that all plays out like a regular cop movie except for the veneer of the occult that has been slapped on. The wolfcop ends up teamed up with a local gun store owner and the two of them have some pretty great comedic chemistry as they pursue the bad guys together. Like a slightly less zany Kung Fury, this is a movie all about cheap thrills and cheap laughs. Although, trigger warning, there may be an exploding cock in this movie. Not scary in the slightest but a fun watch, for sure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We should split up, cover more ground

This is a quick note to let you faithful readers know the latest ass pain that has befallen me is my laptop imploding. The laptop was where I kept all the topics for this blog. Until such time as I can recreate my masterlist from memory, I am going to hold off on updates. Hopefully, I can catch up soon.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Day 49: Twilight Zone, the TV show

This one is a little weird. The Twilight Zone show was not just horror but also science fiction, drama and comedy all rolled together. Whether or not you got a pure horror episode was a crap shoot but it was the first popular TV show to dwell on this fringe of storytelling. The Outer Limits would follow soon along with a coterie of imitators. Rod Serling was mostly interested in telling morality plays with lots of genre window dressing.

I just read an article on the scariest TZ episodes but I won't rehash it here. It seems I am woefully behind on my scary TZ eps. The only one I have seen on the list was the one where the mannequins come to life in the after hours at a mall. I remember, as a kid, seeing one of the relaunch episodes that focused on a search for a missing scientist. The search party finds rats the size of horses scattered dead all over the lab. I know they keep finding larger and larger animals until the last shot is their elevator ascending into the gaping maw of a giant spider. Woof, no thank you.

What are your favorite Twilight Zone episodes?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Day 48: Ghostwatch

I covered this one not that long ago for my Spooktoberthon viewing (where I watch 31 horror movies every October) but it has stuck with me. Sort of the grandfather of found footage movies, Ghostwatch was a special that aired once on the BBC. It was Halloween night of 199...4? And it caused almost as big a panic as Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast years earlier.

The premise is simple, the BBC have set up a live broadcast to examine a supposedly haunted house near London. The program used real BBC anchors and reporters, the real BBC sets and even the real BBC phoneline number was offered for you to call in and share your ghost stories. In real life, the program was entirely pre-recorded but, when you called in, you got a message telling you the special was fiction but feel free to leave your favorite ghost story. That the lines got overwhelmed and jammed up added to the realism because most people got a busy signal when they called.

Throughout the course of the evening, we learn about the mother and her two daughters dealing with an entity they call Pipes (sarcastically as their mother told them it was only old pipes making noises in the house). The back story of the property gets filled in and viewers at home keep reporting that they are seeing Pipes in the broadcast (which happens many times and always scared the crap out of me as the appearances are almost subliminal).

The end gets a little ridiculous but the road up to it is well-worth the time. It is said that people suffered from PTSD after seeing this with one mentally challenged young man even taking his own life out of fear of ghosts. Pick a good dark night, pretend it is 1994 and enjoy this on youtube.

Day 47: Se7en

David Fincher's Se7en is certainly a nightmare factory of a movie. Another one pretty much cemented as a modern classic, if you haven't seen it, you should. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman star as detectives who have been tasked with tracking down a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his guide. From forcing a fat guy to eat himself to death to strapping someone to a bed for months to simulate sloth, these ironic punishments are the fore-runner to death by game movies like Saw.

The whole film is dark. There is a scene where the detectives actually find the killer in the middle of the day and chase him but everything is so shadowed and rainy that you never see what the guy looks like. Even the famous finale, in an open field of wind turbines, feels oppressive and claustrophobic. Gwyneth Paltrow turns in a decent supporting role as Brad Pitt's wife but the actor who most got my attention in this was Kevin Spacey. Having just come out of his breathrough role in The Usual Suspects, his casting as John Doe in Se7en gave helped cement at least his creepy bastard reputation. I liked that the killer wasn't anyone we had previously seen or known. Like real serial killers, it is just some random guy choosing random targets. The ending, to me, evokes Don Quixote and the idea of tilting at windmills. That these cops ever thought they could stop the killer seems similarly pointless. Great flick.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Day 46: Shaun of the Dead

Really, if you are a horror fan and you haven't seen Shaun of the Dead, what are you doing with your life? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are pretty wonderful as two average dudes who love getting wasted and talking shit all day. When they find themselves in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, to say they are ill-prepared is an understatement. This is one of those rare horror comedies that doesn't sacrifice one side of the equation for the other. The horror is horrific and the comedy is actually funny. There are even some touching emotional beats between friends and between love interests in here.

Worth seeking out if you are a fan of action and sci-fi movies are their other works: Hot Fuzz and The World's End. They all have something to recommend them. I also didn't realize it the first time I watched this movie but it is loaded with a who's who of British comedy. Not sure why i picked this to write about except that I love it so much. Either you know or you don't.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Day 45: The Hands of Orlac

Made by the same twisted genius who created the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Hands of Orlac is another German expressionist horror movie that doesn't hold back on the plot developments. A concert pianist is involved in a hideous train wreck and his hands are crushed. In a rush to salvage the life of the pianist (Orlac), a pretty mad scientist gives him the hands of a recently executed serial killer. Orlac finds out and starts going a little azy-cray believing the hands have a will of their own. There is blackmail, lust, murder, dismissive parenting and so much more going on here that I can't even get into without giving things away.

For people who think silent films can't be engaging or entertaining, Orlac is a strong rejoinder. Eveything about it is designed to thrill and keep the audience guessing as to the outcome. Sure, the pacing can seem a touch sluggish to modern audiences but these movies are otherwise master classes in horror storytelling. Some of the imagery from this movie is also so beautifully shot that I still see it clearly (like the hand of God effect, the train crash and Orlac Senior's throne room). If you have even a little patience, check it out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Day 44: Rec

One of the better found footage movies to emerge from the international onslaught of them, Rec is a Spanish movie that spawned three sequels and an American remake. The idea on this one is that a local documentary crew are following a night shift fire department around on one of their shifts. When they are called to an apartment house where an old woman is going nuts, they soon find themselves quarantined by the government. They are trapped inside the building with an increasing number of rabid zombie type attackers. As our heroes fall one by one, we finally get to see what caused the plague and it is not at all what I would have guessed.

The zombies in this are definitely 28 Days Later runners rather than Romero shamblers. Their unique origin also gives them some extra points. I've never watched the sequels so I have no idea how well the premise is continued. For a stand alone horror, this one is pretty well done. I would say this is the movie that exhausted night vision as a filming option. Everything after has had to get a CGI goose. Well worth a watch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Day 43: The Skeptic

My friend John asked me the other day if I had any little movies that I felt like were just mine, that I alone enjoyed and no one else seemed to know about. I couldn't think of an example at the time but The Skeptic might just be one. Tim Daly (from Wings) stars as a man who inherits his aunt's house and goes to live there while his marriage is on the rocks. Ghostly things start to happen, and they are all based around a closet door that just won't stay shut.

Unlike most other ghost stories, this one features a protagonist who goes out of his way to avoid believing what he sees. He visits a paranormal researcher who debunks most phenomena. It isn't until Zoe Saldana, as a beautiful psychic, shows up to stir up the past that the action really gets moving. There are some good, creepy uses of auditory and visual hallucination as well as the scariest goddamn jump scare that ever caught me off guard (you'll know it when you see it, Tom Arnold.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Day 42:The Call Of Cthulu

HP Lovecraft, while one of my favorite horror authors, is nearly impossible to capture onscreen. And, like all of his work, Call of Cthulu is no exception. The whole idea of the Elder Gods as evil deities is that to look upon them creates madness in the observer. Their features make no sense and don't conform to any known rational form of organization. Fortunately for director Andrew Leman, Cthulu is one of Lovecraft's creations that has been visualized and is now easily recognized by the tentacle filled face, bat wings and huge body.

The other boon to this production is that it was filmed like a 1920s silent film. Not only is that more fitting of the era when the stories were set, it allows a certain amount of leeway in terms of special effects. The animation in this case feels kind of South Parkian, not that it is cartoonish but rather that is seems to be cutouts moving in an animated way. Technical questions aside, this is a fairly faithful adaptation. One could do worse than be drawn into this web of obsession and danger focused around a cult that worships an ancient deity named Cthulu. Check it out, you may like it.

Day 41: Buried

Celebrating my birthday caused a one day delay but I am back up now.

Buried is literally a one man show with Ryan Reynolds waking up in a coffin. He has a cell phone and a lighter but not much else. He is a contractor working in the middle east who has been captured and buried by the enemy. He only has so much power left on his phone and air in the coffin. Like Open Water, this is a "could actually happen" situation that is intense and claustrophobic.

I think Reynolds does a great job of selling the panic and the intelligence the protagonist needs to exhibit to make the plight realistic but not necessarily fatalistic. I don't want to give too much away, and some people would claim this isn't even horror but I defy you to find me a more frightening scenario to deal with.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Day 40: Proxy

Let me start by saying that Proxy might be the most batshit insane narrative I have ever seen. If you think you know where this movie is going, I promise you do not.  You may guess the next twist, but the three after that will leave you dumbfounded.

Now, I don't want to overstate things. This movie is middling, at best. The acting and directing is all very suitable and workmanlike. This will never be a cult classic or anything. It is fascinating to watch once to see how the story unfolds. The cold open is a pregnant woman walking home from a check up and being attacked by a faceless goon who eats her pregnant belly with a brick until it is discolored and warped. She begins going to a group for people who have lost their children where she befriends another woman. To say anything more would be to give away too much. The beats in this movie come out of nowhere and leave you guessing. It is brutal to watch at times (although that opening violence is the worst, I think). The whole thing ends up feeling kind of Lifetime movie of the week but with lesbian rape and torture fantasies.

I can't really recommend this movie but I can say you won't see another one quite like it if you do chose to watch it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Day 39: Mutants, why they are scary

This is another of my explorations into fear. On writing these, a factor besides the unknown has emerged. Namely, how close are we to the unknown? For example, mutants are normal people who have been genetically twisted. Whether through inbreeding or experimentation, mutants are almost us. Recently, I wrote about The Hills Have Eyes and their mutant clan. They all are human but each has some characteristic (or three) that sets them apart.

In comic books, there are evil mutants who believe mankind's time is over and their time has begun (see folks like Magneto). For horror mutants, usually the motivation of a mutant is to remain separated from the rest of humanity and, if someone crosses into their domain, bad things happen. I think about movies like CHUD and Nightbreed, where mutants dwell in the sewers. The aforementioned Hills Have Eyes where the mutants live in the desert and even movies like Spring where the mutants can live concealed among us. In horror, they make themselves the other. In movies like the Goonies, mutants like Sloth can be accepted into the ranks of normal humans.

Mutants also get a bit of a boost as they are something you can encounter in the real world. Genetic mutations happen all the time. The arguably best episode of X-Files deals with a group of inbred killers. Likewise with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So I pose a question to you now: what is scarier, stumbling into a hostile mutant's den or living next door to a sociopathic serial killer?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Day 38: Session 9

Right before my Birthday, I randomly draw my favorite horror movie to talk about. Session 9 is about a team of asbestos removal workers who are trying to get a rush job done on an abandoned mental institution (the movie was filmed in Waverly Sanitarium, which was an actual empty mental hospital outside of Boston). One guy is a screw up, one becomes obsessed with audio tapes of a certain patient, one has domestic issues and one is a drug user with anger issues. When they begin working in the hospital, all of their worst traits come out.

This is often compared to a low budget Shining but I think the character work is much more subtle. All the various life pressures these guys are under inform all their actions. There is an argument to be made, and I have made it, that nothing supernatural is going on at all. This is just a story of madness and how it infects a normal person's soul.

Some of the line readings are over the top and at least one moment doesn't make any sense without the sub plot about homeless people that was cut out of the theatrical edition. For all its flaws, I think this is pretty much a perfect horror movie in regards to writing, acting and directing. There is only one I rank higher on occasion, but we'll get there. Check out Session 9 if you never have.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day 37: The Haunting

While I am a sucker for a good ghost story, it took me way too long to see the original adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, known as The Haunting. This is a ripping good movie that answers the old question (how do you visualize a ghost?) by not showing a ghost at all. Things go bump in the night (or slam, as the case may be), items get vandalized when no one is around, spiral staircases are made to really is up to you to decide if the house is haunted or just a drafty nightmare.

The story centers on a group of parapsychologists entering the abandoned Hill House mansion to see if they can contact any spirits. There is Eleanor, the lonely spinster with a bizarre bond to the house, Theo the psychic lesbian, the easy-going current owner Luke and Dr. Markway, who is leading the investigation. Besides everyone wanting to get into Eleanor's rather boring pants, I liked the way the characters interact here. They are bringing their own traumas and history to the assignment.

There is a modern remake with Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson but it is far more explicit with the ghosts and the sexual themes that play just beneath the surface of the original. I would recommend seeking out the original if you like a good scare.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Day 36: Mannequins

Right now there is this mannequin challenge thing going around which is not actually creepy in the least but it has reminded me of how chilling wax statues, mannequins and CPR dummies can be. Basically, anything that looks like a human being but without the spark of life can give me the creeps.

This is also where you hope your eyesight is not conducive to your seeing things out of the corner of your eye. Did that statue just move? Was that mannequin holding both arms up before? There is an episode of Dr. Who that taps into this paranoia called Blink. It is about the Weeping Angels (I'm sure you've seen them if you rotate in sci-fi circles enough) who can only move when you aren't looking at them. Likewise, I recall a Twilight Zone where the mannequins all come to life at night in a department store and have their own little dramas and insecurities. Hell, the movie Waxworks is all about a wax museum that has displays that come to life if you step inside the roped off area.

Just, if you look human, and aren't, stay still please.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Day 35: Tales from the Crypt, the Television Show

I was just about the right age for this when it came out. I was a teenager who was a huge comic book fan. They even resissued some classics from EC comics when this series came out. The show was produced by names like Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Walter Hill and Richard Donner who had hands in some of my favorite movies. With cross-promotion like that, how could I resist?

Plus, there were boobs sometimes.

Anyway, the draw of the series was that they took old stories from the Tales from the Crypt/Vault of Horror/Haunt of Fear comic anthologies and adapted them for television. These comics led to the creation of the comics code authority (think the equivalent of the parental guidance system) back in the 1950s and they seemed pretty raw in the late 1980s when adapted to TV.

Individual episodes don't stand out in my mind so much as images. The leering insane Santa from the first season, the guy hearing voices who kept shoving stuff in his ears to silence them, and a convict dragging a dead cop across the desert to whom he is handcuffed. Lots of episodes had twist endings and a sense of fun throughout. It was like a weekly celebration of horror.

My hands down favorite episode was season two's Television Terror starring Morton Downey Jr. as a "journalist" who broadcasts from haunted houses and gangster's vaults for the ratings. He enters the house of an old woman who took in elderly gentlemen boarders and murdered them for their social security checks. It works as a haunted house story and as an over the top satire on ratings chasers. By the time an old woman ghost attacks Downey with a chainsaw, I was pretty enthralled. You'll laugh, you'll scream...all in a day's work for this series.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Day 34: Open Water

There was a little rash of these "nature survival horror" films to come out in the early 2000s. This one and Frozen are my two favorites. But you could argue this one started the trend. A couple on vacation in Australia are taken out deep sea diving and, due to a Home Alone style counting accident, they are abandoned by the tour boat. Miles from land, the two find themselves in shark infested waters trying to survive. As a ticking clock, we get scenes of the tour owner finally realizing he is short two people. Will he get back out in time to save them? Even if he does get there in time, will both be alive?

These kinds of movies are intensely frightening to me. When you are a tourist somewhere, you assume that the people taking you into dangerous places are professionals who would never let harm befall you. However, these professionals are humans capable of mistakes as well and one bad day could leave you and your loved ones vulnerable. The heart of this movie is the couple, who were already having marital issues before they got stranded. It doesn't take too long for panic and anxiety to settle into the blame game and then you introduce some hungry sharks and you have a recipe for horror.

Day 33: Saw 2

Here it is, the first time I missed a day but this is the catch-up entry. I will one day get around to reviewing Saw, which I will not apologize for enjoying when I first watched it. So, you can imagine my anticipation with Saw 2. This one, of all the movies in the series, is the one I wrestle with the most. Saw 1 had some creative death traps and the caveat that you could escape death if you were willing to sacrifice something (usually a body part or your personal morality). In Saw 3, the killer just starts killing people with no way to escape. All the games are rigged and, therefore, I didn't get as much out of the "what would I do in this situation?" element.

Saw 2 skates the difference between these two approaches. There are a couple of ingenious death traps (although the pool of syringes was more yuck than scary) and a slightly altered approach to the Jigsaw killer's technique. The story centers on a new group of victims waking up in a booby trapped house (always go bigger) instead of a room. They have each done something to offend the killer's delicate sensibilities and must pay yadda yadda yadda. I have to admit, it had me engaged and involved more than it didn't. I would say that if Saw was a B+, this is a C.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Day 32: Audition

Talk about a movie that will ruin your day. Audition left me disturbed in a way few movies have. I will try to put this into words without spoiling anything...

The first half of the movie's running time is taken up with a perfectly innocuous premise that wouldn't be unusual outside of a sitcom. A single father in Japan is looking for love but can't seem to find the right girl. A friend is a casting director who offers to hold an "audition" for the man to find a new woman. The one he is immediately drawn to turns out to have a lot going on...none of it good.

I think the first moment you realize something bad is going on comes when the protagonist is just knocking on a door and we get a sudden cutaway to a severed tongue flopping on a dirty floor. With no context and no idea why we just saw that, the impact is very disturbing. These sorts of creative choices go on for the rest of the movie. There is a long shot of a phone ringing in the girl's apartment with a giant burlap sack in the background. The shot goes on forever with everything static except the ringing of the phone. Finally, the phone stops...and something inside the bag jerks violently. I wish I could say that these were just a few standalone creepy moments but, before the end, you'll see some things you never wanted to see. Also, without giving away too much, this movie has one of the cruelest uses of the "was it all a dream?" cliche I have ever seen.

I'm in no hurry to watch this again but this is about as horrific as I've seen short of a snuff film.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Day 31: The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror

While the premise has been run into the ground by now, the first ten or so years of these were pure gold. The Simpsons, although cartoons, still have to adhere to some basic rules of reality. Mortality is a real enough thing in the Simpsons Universe (see Bleeding Gums Murphy or Maude Flanders) so wacky stories where a killer clown doll attacks Homer or Mr. Burns turns the family into vampires don't really work in the context of the weekly series. By introducing the Treehouse of Horror concept, initially it was Bart and Lisa telling scary stories to pass the time on Halloween, the show opened itself up for more outright parody and horrible violations of their beloved characters.

Some standouts include:

Clown Without Pity- a Child's Play takeoff with a murderous Krusty Doll.

The Shinning- A Shining parody that hits all the high points of the movie while being very funny. "No TV and no beer make Homer something something..."

The Devil and Homer Simpson- This introduced Daddy's Soul donut and saw what would happen if Homer sold his soul to Devil Flanders for a donut.

Homer Cubed brought 3-D animation to the Simpsons as Homer falls into another dimension trying to avoid Patty and Selma.

Citizen Kang is still relevant to this day as it focused on the 1996 presidential election. Clinton and Dole are replaced by alien invaders but what can you do? It's a two-party system.

There are a ton of others I love: Time and Punishment, Bart Simpson's Dracula and The Genesis Tub (I've created Lutherans!) just to name a few. If you were ever a fan of the Simpsons and you've never caught these classic episodes, you owe it to yourself to track these down and check them out.