Sunday, April 30, 2017

Day 181: Honeymoon

This was one of those straight-to-video indies that got some medium amount of buzz and landed on Netflix. I'll go ahead and tell you, it wasn't my favorite thing I've seen.

The plot follows Bea and Paul as they go to Bea's family lake house for their honeymoon. At a local restaurant, they run into one of Bea's exes who is openly hostile towards Paul. Before long, Bea goes missing and turns up naked and traumatized in the woods. The rest of the movie is Paul trying to figure out what happened to his wife and what the strange lights in the woods are at night.

And it is the strange lights that make me not like the movie as much as I should. For the nice setup with the ex-boyfriend, it gets no mileage. The movie almost immediately lets you know there is something supernatural going on and doesn't toy with our expectations in the slightest (which I enjoy). There is a pretty straight line from A to B to C (one of those letters being a home surgery scene which is kind of horrific). Everything just kind of plays out the way you probably imagine it will and nothing is very surprising.

The acting was mostly fine and the directing is competent. There hasn't been another movie from this group and that doesn't sadden me. C-

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Day 180: Jack the Ripper

Some are saying we are halfway to Halloween, which would be true if years only had 360 days. As it stands, we are almost halfway to Halloween and it feel further away than ever.

Like the Bigfoot post, I am here today to write about Jack the Ripper. Why does he capture the imagination so? First, I would argue, is that he is a real monster. A real human living in the real world committed these depraved acts and, like any good serial killer, puts the fear in us that we could end up like his victims.

Oh, do I need to go into who Jack the Ripper is? Serial killer in 1890s London? Chopped up a bunch of prostitutes and was never caught? You know the guy. That guy.

Anyway, that whole "never was caught" thing is another scary thought. Surely, he is generations dead by now but there is the idea that he relocated and started a new life. Maybe he's your great-grandfather or he hung out with your distant relatives? He could be almost anyone and the endless theories about who he was and why he did what he did are fascinating to delve into. Hell, there is a field called Ripperology dedicated to learning as much about the case as possible.

Also, he taunted law enforcement like some kind of Batman villain, sending clues and riddles to the police while leaving all sorts of evidence at crime scenes. All this evidence is out there and he was still never identified, this implies an intelligence beyond killers like Otis Toole or Jeffrey Dahmer. He gamed the system (maybe from the inside?) and made his pursuers look like fools.

The brutality of the crimes is another factor in his legacy. Body parts were found splayed out all over the place, with bites taken out of some organs and others removed entirely. This wasn't a poisoner silently bringing death to his victims, this was a full on maniac who was somehow able to hide in polite society. Look around at your friends and family, could any of them harbor so dark an urge? It can be hard to tell and the not knowing is the most frightening aspect of all.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Day 179: Below

Yay! This is one of those little seen horror movies I get excited about. It feels like only an exclusive group has seen it. For a fan of haunted house movies, well...even though there isn't a house, you should see this.

I've spoken before about the problem with ghost stories. Unless you let your ghosts physically interact with the world like a Poltergeist, there is only so much damage they can do. They can drive you insane, sure, but if you want a body count there is only so much a disembodied spirit can do. I think most of us are fine with suspending our disbelief of a ghost turning on a record player or slamming a door. When ghosts get all punchy, they lose their unique status in the monster world.

Below solves this problem by making the environment so fragile that the slightest noise or misstep can result in death. Set in an allied submarine during the height of World War 2, the crew is harboring a couple of very dark secrets. They stop at the wreckage of a sunken British hospital boat and save a small handful of survivors. One of these, a lady played by Olivia Williams (of Rushmore fame), begins encountering strange things on the sub which leads her to places she doesn't belong. To say much more gives away some guessable and not so guessable twists.

Darren Aronofsky wrote this and David Twohy directed. As I am famously in the bag for Aronofsky, I will admit to some bias here. Bruce Greenwood plays the troubled captain well. Zach Galifinakis (years before the Hangover) is great as Weird Wally, the only one on the ship who can understand the supernatural. Ron Livingston also turns in a great performance as an officer trying to help while keeping the secrets of the sub.

The whole thing drips with claustrophobia and tension. Submarine movies can be tense enough without worrying an enemy sub will hear your ghost playing a Benny Goodman record at full volume. I think this is a genre mashup that works exceedingly well. Check it out.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Day 178: Jacob's Ladder

I probably saw this at too early an age and then saw it over and over again. As such, some of the disturbing images are burned into my brain. It didn't help that UNKLE appropriated a monologue from Danny Aiello for their song Lonely Souls. As such, I probably give this movie more credit than it deserves.

Tim Robbins is Jacob Singer, a Vietnam vet and postal worker who is experiencing hardcore hallucinations. Faceless, vibrating figures appear around him and try to run him over. In the meantime, he is dealing with a girlfriend and the fact that his ex-wife and children want nothing to do with him. He occasionally sees his dead son, too. Before too long, Jacob and his old army buddies begin to believe that they were experimented on during the war.

The plot of the movie (and the twist ending that I won't give away here) is pretty straightforward but the stylish directing by Adrian Lyne, makes the whole thing feel like a scuzzy nightmare. Robbins is all nerves and sweat as he stumbles from one freakshow scenario to the next. Elizabeth Pena was super sexy as his girlfriend and Aiello gets all the best lines.

If you've never seen this one, you should check it out. I would give it a B+ but it probably deserves less.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Day 177: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

I was originally going to write about Halloween 4 today but I realized, even after reading the Wikipedia plot synopsis, that I don't remember enough about this movie to have a strong opinion of it. Instead, I let the random topic generator hand me Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.

This movie is pretty silly and a super-dark comedy. For those who have never seen it, Tucker and Dale are two well-meaning hillbillies who have just bought a fixer-upper cabin in the woods. When a group of college kids come to party nearby, one slips and hurts her head, leading to our heroes looking after her. Her friends assume she has been kidnapped by two crazed maniacs and they attempt to rescue her. In the attempt, one kid runs into a tree and impales himself, another falls into a pit. Tucker and Dale are the furthest thing from threatening but these kids keep finding ways to die gloriously in the woods around T&D's house. T&D become frightened that they are in the midst of  a suicide pact created by these teens and that they will be blamed for the murders. And then things get worse from there.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are pretty great as the titular duo. They exude wide-eyed innocence but can be inadvertently frightening when swinging a chainsaw to escape some bees. They sell both sides of the equation perfectly, which is a tough balancing act. They have to be goofy and lovable enough for us to pull for them but strange enough for us to believe a group of teens could find them dangerous.

If you are looking for realism, this is not the movie for you. These kids kill themselves in so many unrealistic ways that you figure these woods must be a nexus for bad luck. If you like high-concept comedy mixed with some gross out horror, check it out.

Day 176: Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot

I just watched the second MST3k movie of the new season and it is all about Bigfoot. A little kid believes in him and poachers and something. It was not a good movie but it primed me for this write up. The old random topic generator wants me to discuss why these folklore monsters are scary.

It is also ironic that a pro-science march happened this past weekend because the entire concept of Yetis and Bigfeet are pretty anti-science. Science has classified and defined everything in the natural world to the point where there are no mysteries or surprises. Belief in these evolutionary throwbacks is a middle finger to science understanding the known world. If these creatures can exist without being public knowledge, what else is out there?

It also helps that they are bestial, savage and vicious in all the ways we don't want the natural world to be. If we are the apex predator, what are these things that could hunt us so easily?

Another big aspect is location, location, location. These creatures are not scary if you don't live in their geographic radius. Bigfoot is in the Pacific Northwest, the Yeti is in the Himalayas, etc. Eventually, it seems every region develops their own weird creature. The Jersey Devil in New Jersey is a good example while the famed Lizard Man of South Carolina is a bad example.

I think nature is scary enough without having to invent new creatures to frighten us. In the end, this breed of monster is one of the hardest to make terrifying. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Day 175: Freddy Vs. Jason

It is no secret that, as a comic book geek, I love a shared universe. Anytime a character from one franchise can interact with a character from another, I feel like I'm getting twice the bang for my buck. In 1962, King Kong battled Godzilla and two worlds were brought together. Even in the early days of Universal's monster movies it wasn't unheard of for the Wolfman to run into Frankenstein or Dracula. The modern age has been sort of slow to adopt the crossover idea despite the success of Marvel's shared universe films. Alien vs. Predator came out a year after Freddy vs. Jason but that has been about it so far.

The idea to get these two cinematic serial killers together works pretty well. Freddy finds himself powerless to scare people in the real world. His campaign against the Elm Street kids is stalled out and people just aren't having nightmares like they used to. He finds Jason lying dormant after another massacre and decides to resurrect him to shake things up on Elm Street so that Freddy's victims will start having nightmares again, letting him in. Unfortunately, Freddy doesn't count on Jason being so damn good at killing, robbing him of his own prizes. A girl named Lori gets caught in the middle and she (along with some friends who take dream-supressing drugs) work to get Freddy out into the real world so Jason can fight him.

That is sort of the clever conceit of the movie, when they fight in the dreamworld, Freddy has the upper hand and when they fight in the real world, Jason gets the edge. The back and forth of their contests is fun to watch. Freddy gets downright diabolical in figuring out Jason hates water from his drowning experience. Jason isn't really the brains of Team Jason but the kids figure out Freddy hates fire so an inferno at Camp Crystal Lake is the big end set piece of the movie.

The movie was surprisingly satisfying in that the two main characters face each other for about half the running time. If this were more budget oriented filmmaking, the fight would be the last ten minutes of the movie. Jason's lack of a personality is a bit of a hindrance but it also makes him kind of endearing up against Freddy's endless evil jabbering.

Is this a good movie? No, not really. Is it Grade-A pulpy campy fun? Pretty much. If you like seeing your monsters go at each other, check it out.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Day 174: The Wailing

Korean and other Asian horror markets are fun to watch. Their stories are a constant tug of war in my mind between, "does this make sense or is it just a cultural thing I'm not getting?" I almost never do that with European cinema (I expect it to be less structured and more episodic than American cinema). Asian cinema has pulled off a neat trick with me over and over again where I think I am totally lost and they just beautifully tie the loose ends together. I guess I haven't figured out that Asian filmmakers seem to trust their audience more and that allows them to make bold storytelling choices.

Case in point is The Wailing. The first 45 minutes or so seem like a collection of unconnected ideas bumping into each other. There is a Japanese fisherman that all the locals think the worst of, people start going crazy and murdering each other, a woman commits suicide after wandering the streets naked...and in the center is a barely functioning police officer who is trying to take care of his little girl. Things start coming together with the arrival of a girl who might be a ghost and the officer's investigation of the Japanese man's hut, filled with Satanic artifacts.

The movie keeps twisting in on itself and what you think you know, you don't. By the end, the officer is placed in a nearly impossible position where he is asked to choose between two forces that both seem evil (or at least could be). This ultimate conundrum is why I liked the movie so much, I was 100% in the shoes of the officer, unsure who to believe when you have demons, witch doctors, ghosts and madmen roaming around.

This is a pretty long but pretty good little Korean horror film. I would recommend it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Day 173: Survival of the Dead

I am not here to call this a great, or even very good movie, but it does something I have wanted movies to do for years. A group of National Guardsmen went rogue and robbed the protagonists of Diary of the Dead before going off on their merry way. This movie picks up with those Guardsmen and follows there further adventures in the land of the dead.

Set on an island off the coast of Delaware, the movie is already weird in that it features two Irish clans fighting over how to handle the zombie outbreak on their island. The O'Flynns (I think, they have super-Irish names) want to kill the zombies while the Muldoons want to save them until a cure is found. When the Muldoons win the battle over the island's approach, one of the surviving O'Flynns lures the Guardsmen to the island to help tip the scales back to his side (or just anger the Muldoons, who hate outsiders). The Muldoons have tried to chain up the zombies in places they used to frequent while alive in hopes of reminding them of their humanity. The other big experiment is trying to get the zombies to eat flesh that isn't human.

This is like Romero's Vietnam movie, set in Irish Delaware with zombies. And it plays out exactly as weird as that sounds. This has been the last entry in the Living Dead series so far and it plays more like a folk tale or war movie than as a horror film. There are horseback riding twin sisters, rolling hillsides and the occasional gut munch buffet. I'm not sure who this movie is for but if you've seen all the other Romero movies, you might as well see this one.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Day 172: Midnight Meat Train

How could I resist that title?

This is another Clive Barker joint directed by a fairly accomplished Japanese director. The whole production is basically better than it has any right to be. Bradley Cooper stars as a photographer named Leon who becomes obsessed with a series of disappearances inside the subway system of an unnamed (I think, that or New York) city. As he investigates, he uncovers a butcher named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) is the most likely suspect. The police don't believe him, so he has to go check things out for himself...things go wrong.

This is another one not for the meek. There is a climactic battle inside a train car filled with hanging corpses where body parts are splayed, sprayed and pureed in the name of action. The butchering scenes are indeed, pretty intense. Cooper does a better job than he should have, given the material. Jones is always competent as a dangerous thug if nothing else. Leslie Bibb plays Leon's girlfriend, who gets into a mess herself when Leon goes missing.

Of course, something else is going on with the whole situation but I don't want to ruin how batshit insane this movie becomes by the end. There is a slight message in here about vegetarianism but it is mostly just a b-grade schlock and shock film. If you are looking for surprisingly well made gore, check this out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Day 171: Night of the Living Dead

As you may know, Night of the Living Dead has the strange position of being a hugely popular movie that has no copyright. Anyone, even you, can release your own home video edition of Night of the Living Dead. That said, if you have ever seen the movie, you may have seen a crappy copy.

This was George Romero's entry into horror cinema, a grisly tale ahead of its time that redefined what zombies actually were. Prior to Romero, a zombie was a person returned from the dead via voodoo to be someone's personal slave. Romero turned the old idea of Ghouls (flesh eaters) into the modern definition of a zombie.

Barbara and her brother are visiting the grave of a relative when they spot an older man staggering around the graveyard. The brother makes fun of the old man at first until the walker gets a little aggressive, killing the brother and forcing Barbara to flee. She finds an old farmhouse and finds carnage there. Before too long, Ben, an African-American and the only human with common sense in the movie, arrives to help shore up the house. He discovers a couple and their bitten daughter in the basement and a teenage couple soon arrive as well. Everyone is looking for shelter from the zombies. Various strategies are employed and attempts to escape are met with a ceaseless wall of flesh-eating weirdos.

This movie is notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the graphic portrayal of bodies being eaten was ahead of its time. The extras dressed as zombies gnawed, chewed, bit and ripped through tons of raw meat and sinew in attempts to look authentic. This was beyond even the gore of movies like Bucket of Blood. While organs had been fair game for showing throughout the 60s, eating them was pretty new.

Secondly, this movie had the audacity to star an African-American hero in Ben. In 1968, Civil Rights were still being contested in the rural settings where this movie takes place. That a black man would lead a group of white people to safety was unheard of for a movie unless he was a servant of some sort. Ironically, he is kind of wrong about the best place to hide but that is getting close to spoiler territory. Speaking of which, the ending of this movie is one huge racist downer with the end credits making the parallels to racism explicit.

This is a certified classic if you can stomach it. Although it would be a decade until Romero followed it up with Dawn of the Dead, this one works just fine as a standalone. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Day 170: Peeping Tom

I had heard about this movie for years in the same way you hear about The Town that Dreaded Sundown, this was a proto-classic that was way ahead of its time.

The story follows Mark, a young photographer whose father subjected him to very invasive filming techniques growing up in the name of psychology. Mark now hunts women and murders them while filming their final looks of terror. One of the central mysteries of the movie is just what they are seeing in those final moments that makes them so scared. Through the movie, Mark almost develops a normal relationship with a female neighbor despite her mother's feelings that Mark is a creep. In the meantime, Mark just keeps killing any willing floozy he can lure in with offers of free photos.

For one thing, this could have been a found footage movie. Mark keeps his camera running and on him at all times. Often, we get POV shots of Mark stalking his victims but most of the movie is in regular wide shots. The POV gimmick would be used over and over again in movies ranging from Psycho to Friday the 13th. The genius of Michael Powell (the director here) is that he was the first creator to realize the thrill/discomfort of placing an audience in the killer's position. We horror fans are guilty of the same voyeurism as Mark, he just takes it further.

Even though this feels like a trashy Roger Corman movie, it has a lot to recommend it. I believe it made the Criterion collection so you cinema snobs at least need to check it out.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Day 169: Stephen King

Not going to do this often but this is a little homage to one of my favorite horror authors. Judging by the amount of books he sells, he is the world's favorite horror author as well.

Stephen King was always my mother's favorite and she used to tell me edited versions of his stories when I was just a wee tike. I remember her telling of the Dark Tower story and it capturing my imagination so much, I wrote my own watered down version of it for a school assignment. The good thing about a prolific writer like King is that he cranks out novels as fast as his short stories. I was reading his stuff as early as middle school...I think. Collections like Night Shift and Skeleton Crew were good gateway drugs.

A friend of mine was really into The Shining and that was the first King novel I read. Later, I got hooked into his so-called Castle Rock trilogy of The Dark Half, a short story called The Sun Dog and Needful Things. As someone who wanted to be a writer, I noticed he wrote about writers a lot. I guess write what you know. That became a bit of a self-parody when all his books after he was hit by a car were about hit and runs.

King also had his alter-ego, Richard Bachman. Under that name he wrote novellas like The Long Walk (a personal favorite), Thinner and The Running Man. Now that I think about it, Bachman's stuff sounds like diet books. He even did a weird crossover with himself where Bachman wrote a book that tied into a Stephen King story.

I think his major talent is creating believable characters in just a few broad strokes. His characters find themselves trapped in grotesque and horrible situations but you intrinsically know if they are good-natured, evil or just like the rest of us, a little of both. These thumbnail sketches make his fantastical situations work.

Like one of his idols, HP Lovecraft, King likes to get a little abstract with his endings. Especially if cosmic forces are acting up, the descriptions can get a touch...heady. This makes filming a lot of King's endings problematic and explains why his writing style doesn't always translate well to the big screen.

If you need a good solid spook story, go to King.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Day 168: The Fly

Talking about the Cronenberg remake here. The original is freaky enough, especially by the end, but the remake hits whole new levels of horror.

The Fly was the first body horror movie I ever watched and it is still a real grossout flick for me. I can't deal with fingernails falling off or being ripped out. I swear there is a shot where the dude's cock is in a jar in his cupboard. Nope. That plus, the vomiting...God, the vomiting. But I get ahead of myself.

Jeff Goldblum starred in this movie as an inventor named Seth Brundle. He perfects teleportation, whereby ones atoms are scattered in one place and reassembled in another. In the original movie, as in the remake, a fly enters the teleport chamber just as Brundle activates it. In the original, it causes Seth to have a fly head and hand. Cronenberg is much more devious. He had the fly DNA mix with Brundle's so that he eventually turns into a hybrid of man and fly. These two DNAs were not meant to mix as Seth's body parts slough off and he must vomit on food before he eats it to digest it. Just yuck. The transformation is horror enough without the eventual insane plot he comes up with involving his too hot wife (Geena Davis).

Not for the faint of stomach but it certainly leaves an impression. I haven't seen this in about 20 years but I remember it vividly. Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Day 167: Anthology Horror Shows

Today was meant to be about Tales From the Darkside, the show, but reading through all the episode descriptions, none of them stood out in my mind. It got me thinking about The Twilight Zone, Monsters, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Crypt and all of the other horror anthologies I watched growing up.

All of these were pretty ingenious little slices of television. You could have a stunt episode by bringing in Stephen King to write one or have an up and coming star be in an episode. Between such ratings grabs, you could just turn out ironic horror after ironic horror. The idea being, if one episode sucked, the next one might be great. Having something completely different each week kept us on our toes and provided tons of entertainment.

I remember some (like the episode of Twilight Zone with the giant rats and spider) would freak me out. Others would be oddly comedic. All left some vague impression on me. I remember one with Peter O'Toole dealing with a Banshee (Ray Bradbury Theater). I remember an Alfred Hitchcock presents where a woman murdered her husband with a leg of lamb and then tricked the police into eating all the evidence. Some were morality tales but most just ended with a dark twist of some kind.

Now anthology television has been replaced with anthology movies. Oddly, they seem to represent less of an investment and you can amass star power more easily. Still, I will always remember those days of my youth spent getting freaked out by the opening to Tales From the Darkside (which I didn't realize was essentially, Creepshow: the TV show).

Black Mirror has pretty good with the modern anthology (although it is sci-fi based). If anyone wants to bring back a real horror show, I will be happy to watch.

Any standouts in your mind?

Day 166: Trollhunter

Somehow skipped yesterday's post but here it is...

Trollhunter is an import from Norway that makes pretty spectacular use of the found footage genre. Some students are attempting to shoot a film about an infamous bear poacher but when they hang around Hans too long, they find out he is a troll hunter for the government. As the students join him to film his hunts, things don't really go that well.

I was thoroughly entertained by this inventive little movie. The effects are pretty great as there are several types of trolls seen throughout the movie and none of them look especially fake. The main draw for me is the mythology of the troll as a viable monster. They eat the bones of their victims, can smell Christian blood and turn to stone in the sunlight. These facts alone give the creative team plenty of set pieces to dream up.

The best bit is when the crew finds a cave hideout for a pack of trolls and fails to leave before the trolls return from a hunt. Trapped in the cave, one of the crew admits he might be a Christian and things get pretty rough from there.

This isn't a deep movie or even an allegory that I can tell (unless it is specific to Norway). This is just a lot of fun for a found footage horror film. I would give it up to a B.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Day 165: The Lord of Illusions

Clive Barker is one of those unfortunates like Stephen King and even middle-era John Carpenter, his ideas are bigger than the medium of film and are therefore tough to capture. Barker himself directed this movie and was a little hamstrung by special effects limitations.

Lord of Illusions is one of those potboiler action/horror stories that presupposes we live in a world of real magic. Stage magicians, long thought harmless, are tapping into real magic with some of their tricks. The movie begins with a doomsday cult almost winning, a few members turn on the leader (Nix) and imprison him beneath the Earth. The movie picks up years later as Nix's cult is on the verge of resurrecting him and a private detective named Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula) gets sucked into the conflict. There are betrayals, secrets revealed at the Magic Castle, steamy sex scenes and lots of gruesome uses of magic to hurt others (or appear hurt yourself).

Still not my favorite of the occult detective genre (that would be Cast a Deadly Spell) but not bad. Like I said at the onset, Barker's imagination is bigger than his budget. He can't help that a lot of the green screen work looks dated now. This is a B movie if ever there was one.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Day 164: Let Us Prey

Oh, they can't all be classics.

This little Irish production is all about a mysterious man coming into a town where every single person is harboring dark secrets. The stranger seems to know everyone's secret sins and spends the evening driving a police station full of people towards violence and suicide.

The fact that everyone in the police department has some terrible secret, as well as the town doctor, a local teacher and a local student just makes the  whole worldview of the movie look bleak. The identity of the stranger is never really a mystery but his relationship to the protagonist, Pollyanna McIntosh as the one good cop on the force, makes very little sense.

The whole movie is built on contrivance and coincidence. The moments that are meant to be bone-chilling just come off kind of silly. Not that there aren't a few scenes or shots worth watching. This is mostly wallowing in depths of human depravity for "fun."

I wouldn't bother unless you are all out of other things to watch.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Day 163: The Fog

How does one follow up the smash success of Halloween? When you are John Carpenter, you go with ghosts.

The Fog tells the story of a small town (Antonio Bay) that was founded by robbing and sinking a boat full of lepers who were looking to make a colony nearby. As the anniversary of the town's founding approaches, the ghosts of the murdered lepers come back to take six souls as revenge. Jamie Lee Curtis has a small part as a hitchhiker. Don't get me wrong, she is in a good chunk of the movie, it is just that her part is pretty inconsequential. 

In fact, The Fog is a weird little beast of a movie. Although it all takes place in one town, with a limited cast, it almost feels like two different stories happening at any given time. Adrienne Barbeau has a large role as a radio DJ who figures out what is going on but she is always separated from the main action. Even as she begs her listeners to rescue her son, she is trapped and isolated from the rest of the cast. Hal Holbrook is a priest who discovers the town's shameful secret. He does a fine job as a reluctant hero.

The revenants are a little on the cheesy side, effects wise. The disjointed feeling of the movie robs it of some urgency. However, there are still enough scenes here to keep a viewer interested until the end.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Day 162: Ghost Story

This one is going to be kind of short by necessity. Firstly, it has been many years since I watched this movie. Secondly, it has some twists and turns in it that I don't want to give away.

The draw for this movie (a kind of proto-I Know What You Did Last Summer) is the cast. John Houseman, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks jr. and Melvyn Douglas all star as a group of old codgers who gather together to tell ghost stories. Fairbanks has two sons, one of whom dies under mysterious circumstances. Later, Fairbanks himself falls from a bridge after seeing an apparition of a young lady. The surviving son makes his way into the group of old men where they compare notes and realize all the men (including the two dead ones) had contact with the same woman. From there, things get freaky.

The actors are better than the material in this case. Seeing these aged kings of the silver screen play off each other is less exciting than it should be. They are hamstrung by the cheap look of the film and the oddly lazy plot. This movie solves the old conundrum of how ghosts can be dangerous by giving one a couple of henchmen. This plays more like a Batman villain of the week than a real threat.

I recall a few standout scenes that I won't spoil here but I am compelled to say that one shouldn't seek this out unless the cast just really pulls you in.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 161: Deep Blue Sea

Some would say this is a guilty pleasure movie at best, I say it is just a pleasure. Let Sharknado make you feel guilty, Deep Blue Sea is a well-constructed survival horror.

On a floating research station in the middle of the ocean, Stellan Skarsgaard, Thomas Jane, Samuel L Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Michael Rapaport, Aida Turturro and LL Cool J are studying ways to increase intelligence in sharks (something something helping Alzheimers). When the sharks get too smart, they turn on their caretakers and start picking our celebs off one by one.

This movie is kind of famous for the scene where Samuel L Jackson gives one of his inspiring speeches and then gets surprise-eaten by a shark (spoiler for those new to the internet). The truth is, none of the characters are safe at any moment. You have not only the sharks to worry about but the rapidly sinking base makes for some Poseidon Adventure moments as well. Renny Harlin can stage some action is what I'm saying. The Long Kiss Goodnight and Die Hard 2 weren't flukes.

Lots of good tension and perfectly acceptable performances from the all-star cast. Nothing to be taken all to seriously but lots of fun.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Day 160: Demons, The concept of

This is one of my periodic pieces where I look at why certain ideas are scary. Demons are at the center of the oldest horror stories and they have a special place in the cannon because they are the closest to being seen as real.

Religion is a great big, messy topic I don't want to get into here but there are literally millions of people on Earth who subscribe to a theology that allows for demons. If there is an afterlife with a form of punishment, demons are the ones who dish it out. In some traditions, they are even the source of earthly temptation away from goodness. Even though, to most modern thought, active supernatural demonic presences are not real there are still those who believe in these fallen angels.

One of the scariest aspects of demons is their omniscience. They know everything about you and what you are thinking. They know your darkest secrets and can exploit them. Their other trick is possession and/or shapeshifting. When they can appear to you as anyone and maybe even take over the body of a loved one, how do you ignore that? Which leads to the final scary thing, you can't really fight back on your own. In movies like the Exorcist, you have to have a loving God intercede on your behalf. Demons are just way too powerful.

To make matters worse, some demons can gather human cults dedicated to their master's happiness. These groups of true believers can be just as dangerous as actual demons. Plus, it just feels plausible that there are secret societies out there worshiping dark forces. It isn't like Freddy and Jason have henchmen, but Demons sure can.

So yes, demons, try to steer clear if you believe in them.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Day 159: Dawn of the Dead

Talking about the original here, not the remake. Just like Empire is the best of the Star Wars trilogy, Dawn is easily my favorite of the original Dead trilogy.

We start with things in utter chaos. Unlike Night of the Living Dead, which showed how the zombie plague spread slowly in rural areas, we jump into an urban madhouse where SWAT police are trying to contain an outbreak in an apartment block. Humanity is just barely hanging on and Gaylen Ross plays Francine, a newswoman with schemes to steal the company helicopter and make a break for it. Francine gathers her pilot boyfriend and two of the surviving SWAT cops from the opening and the four go looking for refuge. They find it in an abandoned mall.

Immediately, there is some wish fulfillment at play here. As a kid, I always wanted to spend the night alone in the mall just checking out each store and taking what I wanted. These people first have to clear the mall of zombies but, once they do, the entire place is their playground. Lots of tension is wrung out of how they set the mall up as a fortress. Every action they take to secure the place exposes them to attack. It is almost like they are playing chess with the undead. Of course, as is always the case, zombies aren't their only problem. When a band of motorcycle riding marauders show up, things go south quickly. How far would you go to protect your kingdom?

The performances are pretty great here and the effects represent early work by the master, Tom Savini (who guest stars as one of the bikers). There are sly digs at consumerism here and there but this is mostly just a compelling zombie story. Stay for the scene with the "take your own blood pressure" machine...classic.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Day 158: Tales From the Darkside: The Movie

Another anthology of horror, this time based on the television series that used to creep me out when I was a kid. This one hit a lot of my early Hollywood buttons more than my horror buttons.

The frame story is about a little boy who has been captured by a witch (Deborah Harry) who plans to cook him. He reads her stories from a book called Tales From the Darkside to delay his demise. The ending is darkly funny to this when he runs out of stories.

The first real story has Steve Buscemi as a researcher who has figured out how to resurrect a mummy and send him after his enemies. Julianne Moore and Christian Slater play some would-be victims until Slater figures out electric carving knives are the fastest way to deal with a mummy. Of course, things can never be easy in these stories so the end of the mummy is not the end of the tale.

The second story has Buster Poindexter (David Johanssen) as a hitman hired by an old bastard to kill a cat. The old man relates how the cat has killed everyone in the house and then the hunt is on. This has a batshit crazy ending.

The third story is about an artist witnessing a murder committed by a Gargoyle. The gargoyle makes the man promise to never tell a soul about the murder. As the artist lives in silence, his life starts turning around with fame, fortune, a beautiful wife and children. Will his guilty conscience let him keep his secret? What happens if he does tell?

So, all in all, a fun little movie. It has the same feeling as Creepshow (maybe because George Romero and Stephen King collaborated on the cat from hell story). Nothing is too serious or scary here. There are worse ways to spend a few hours.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Day 157: The Innkeepers

Like Radiohead and Wilco used to battle it out in my head as to who my favorite band is (Radiohead won some time ago), The Innkeepers and Session 9 are constantly vying for my two favorite horror movies. As of today, the Innkeepers is winning.

Ti West directed this haunted house story set in an old hotel. It is the final weekend open and two employees are sharing the duties of running it. Sara Paxton is Claire, a young woman with no direction in life who has gotten sucked into the mythology of the hotel where she works by her co-worker, Luke (Pat Healy). The hotel is supposedly haunted by a woman who died waiting for her husband on their wedding night. Claire is more than ready to spend this last weekend recording EVPs and asking empty rooms if there is anyone trying to communicate.

While Luke is the real ghost enthusiast, he gets freaked out at the slightest sign that the ghosts may be real. There are only a handful of other guests staying and each add to the creepiness in some way (a little kid makes a receptive listener for Claire's ghost stories, a past her prime movie star is versed in the occult and provides exposition, etc.).

This movie gets me so worked up, I swear I've seen things in it that aren't there. I have created whole scenes in my head that simply don't exist. Ti West makes the hotel alive with big, empty spaces and tight, claustrophobic corners at the same time. Much like Session 9, the reason I love this is because there may not be any ghosts at all. Claire gets less and less sleep as the weekend proceeds and scares herself more and more without the hotel doing anything. Is she getting a recording on the EVP, or is it a glitch? Has she seen a ghost or is she just in need of some rest? By the end, you can interpret either way, and I love that.

This movie has a slow pace (like West's House of the Devil) but it builds to a delirious crescendo of horror. For people who like lots of jump scares and guts and gore, this may not be your horror bag but for people into psychological horror, I would hold this up as the best example of the genre.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 156: American Psycho

More a pitch-black comedy than a horror movie, American Psycho still has plenty of horror trappings to recommend it.

Patrick Bateman is the titular psycho (as played by Christian Bale). He is concerned with his image above all other things. From his business card to his workout regimen, his fetish is one of being better than everyone around him. He hangs out and does drugs with peers who can't remember his name. He is engaged to a wonderfully blank Reese Witherspoon and flirts a lot with the ladies of the 80s. And, oh yes, he may or may not be a serial killer.

Bateman is the king of unreliable narrators and we slip in and out of his fantasies with no warning. Did he lure Jared Leto to an unused apartment to ax murder him or is Leto out of town on business? Has Bateman chosen a street hooker to torture and humiliate or is he boringly faithful to his fiance, perhaps even gay? I feel like the movie is very clear about what is real and what isn't but there are some people who would argue with a brick wall. The real point of the movie isn't whether or not this is really happening, it is all about the hollow lifestyle of consumerism that dominated the 80s.

The performances here are spot on. Bale handles the swings from quiet office cad to raging maniac very well. A lot of the violence is implied, which makes it somehow scarier. Of course, once Bale is chasing a woman with a chainsaw and buck naked save for his shoes, implication goes out the window with subtlety.

Despite being directed by a woman, lots of people claim this is a very misogynistic movie. The misogyny is there, to be sure, but it is one of the evils to be overcome rather than a source of fun.
 Not for everyone but I think it is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Day 155: The Day of the Dead

This was originally meant to conclude Romero's Living Dead trilogy until he started the machine up again with Land of the Dead. Unlike racial politics of the first and the consumerism of the second, the third film in his series was all about the military industrial complex.

A small group of survivors are using a military base to scout for others. They land via helicopter, search and escape before the zombie hordes overtake them. At the underground base, scientists work with a captured zombie named Bub in an attempt to cure the zombie plague. The scientists believe brains will solve their problems and the military guys believe brawn is the way to go. There are endless caverns beneath the base where captured zombies are stored but others seem to be joining from parts unknown.

This is definitely the 80s installment of Romero's series in that everything seems pitched over the top. The movie doesn't make either side look particularly healthy. The lead scientist is conducting gruesome experiments. The military guys have only a one-track mind. Our heroes, such as they are, are fairly sensible but can think only of escape. The whole thing ends in a deadly tanglebang with very few people getting what they want. The most interesting arc of the movie is Bub, who learns how to use a gun and expresses basic emotions. The zombies becoming intelligent would get picked up on in the next movie.

I remember this one having pretty gory effects. Tom Savini, who did the effects for Dawn of the Dead, worked on this one and they are pretty brutal. Not for the faint of stomach.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Day 154:The Town that Dreaded Sundown

I had heard about this movie for years as a sort of Proto-slasher film. Coming two years before Halloween but a year after Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this one was meant to be unique because it is based on a true story.

Once I finally found an..ahem...collector's edition of this film at a comic book convention, I was able to take it in. The movie is shot with minimum competence and looks a lot like an MST3K vehicle. Sets have no decoration, just blank walls and maybe a single picture hanging somewhere. The acting is pretty stilted and the action is kind of goofy (one lady gets killed by a knife on the end of a trombone).

The idea of the killer is kind of interesting. They call him the Phantom and he wears a hood over his head. Unlike other slashers, he is just as likely to shoot you in the face as stab you. The way the investigation proceeds seems like it could have been the way a real case went (with the established pattern of the killing and the psychological insights into the killer that help not a bit). The lead investigator is called the Lone Wolf by his peers. You have the recipe for some good fiction here if only the execution weren't lacking.

As a curiosity, this movie is a fascinating example of the burgeoning slasher genre. As an actual movie you should sit down and, not so much.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Day 153: Jeepers Creepers

You have to hand it to a movie that tries to add something new to the horror genre. It would be so easy to just do werewolves or vampires or zombies but to try to make a new monster is pretty bold. This isn't the smartest, shiniest or best written horror movie but it is solid and ambitious.

Gina Philips and Justin Long play a brother and sister driving back home from college to their hometown. While a couple of horror movies (like Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre) have dabbled in sibling horror, this is one of the purest examples I can think of. The dynamic is just different when there are two adult siblings being stalked rather than lovers or would-be lovers or even parents and children. Long and Philips get curious about a weird car that passes them and eventually find an old church where the car parks. Inside, all sorts of horror awaits and that kicks off the chase portion of the movie.

The creature, who, sure, I'll call Jeepers Creepers, is a weird sort of patchwork demon who regenerates his body by taking body parts from living people. That he drives an old car and dresses like a cowboy seems to be incidental. In the sequel, they would explore his extra abilities like flight, but here, they stick to his gruesome habit of collecting prey.

Will the siblings escape with all their body parts? You'll have to watch to see. There are worse ways to spend a weekend afternoon but this isn't a modern classic.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Day 152: Crimson Peak

This was a polarizing one for even die hard fans of Del Toro. I enjoyed it for what it was and not what I wanted it to be but your mileage may vary.

A young woman who knows a thing or two about ghosts (having seen her own mother return as one when she was a child) falls in love with the Baron of a remote estate. Despite her father's objections (eventually silenced by a brutal murder), she marries the Baron and moves with him to Europe. Their mansion has a giant hole in the roof and the ground bleeds red clay. The old house is full of secrets and ghosts but really, as the protagonist herself says, this is a story with ghosts and not a ghost story.

Mia Wasikowski as the main protagonist does a fan job despite acting against Tom HIddleston and Jessica Chastain (both of whom bring their A games). The ghost designs are compelling but they actually hurt another Del Toro movie in retrospect. In The Devil's Backbone, the main ghost of a little drowned boy looks like he is always underwater. In Crimson Peak, all the ghosts look like they are underwater whether they died in water or not. That's apparently just how Del Toro wants to see his ghosts.

At any rate, the gothic romance outstrips the horror here but the resolution is sufficiently bloody to make most genre fans happy. For people expecting gore or even more hardcore horror, this may not be the movie for you.