Saturday, July 29, 2017

Day 271: The Devil's Backbone

This was my first Guillermo Del Toro movie and it has made me a lifelong fan.

The Devil's Backbone is set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. A new boy arrives and begins seeing the ghost of Santi, a boy who vanished the same day a bomb appeared in the courtyard of the orphanage. Carlos (the newbie) befriends a bully and the two of them begin unraveling the mysteries of the orphanage.

This is a very moody and atmospheric movie. The ghost effects on Santi have become Del Toro go to cliches at this point but in 2001, the shimmery underwater look of the ghost was something original and fresh. There are lots of politics hidden just beneath the surface with the operators of the orphanage trying to stay out of the fray while very much being dedicated to the loyalist party. There are several plot lines floating around in this movie but that just makes it a more rewarding experience.

If you liked Crimson Peak, with the idea that it was a story that featured a ghost and not a story about ghosts, then you should like Devil's Backbone. It is a pretty classy little ghost story I would highly recommend.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Day 270: Aliens (The movie)

Who knows where I first saw this one, probably while working at the video store?

Aliens is the sequel to Alien in which Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is coerced by her old company to assist some space marines in investigating why a colony of people have vanished from the planet where Ripley's crew initially found the alien. When the marines arrive, things almost immediately go bad as the entire colony has been used by the aliens to breed. They find one little girl who has survived despite all the odds but will any of them make it off this planet overrun by the terrifying creatures?

Aliens actually works in the same way Die Hard and Predator work, the potentially huge cast is quickly narrowed down after the initial massacre. We are left with a small group of strong characters who must work together in hopes of getting out alive. Also, like those other two movies, this works as an action movie above all else. There are moments of horror (the alien rising up behind Newt in the sewer, the pinging of the alert that says the aliens are in the room when nothing is moving) but the movie functions as a bleak war movie with sci-fi and horror elements. Very few people seen at the beginning of the movie are seen at the end.

Aliens is one of my favorite films of all time. It is pretty much pure plot and that is fine. There is a running thread of Ripley looking to replace her lost daughter with Newt but that's as heavy as it gets. Paul Reiser, Michael Biehn, Lance Henrikssen and Bill Paxton all deliver strong performances that help elevate the material.

I can't recommend this for horror fans but i can recommend it for fans of good movies.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Day 269: Black Sunday

AKA The Mask of Satan. This one is straight out of my Essential Horror book and was seen for free on Fandor (a subset of Amazon Prime).

Black Sunday is about a witch who was put to death with her lover in the 1500s. She has the Mask of Satan nailed into her face and they then try to burn her alive (but a sudden storm prevents it). We then move forward to the 1700s where two doctors traveling to a conference stop at a ruined chapel and find the witch's grave. Thanks to a giant bat, they disturb the grave and even leave some fresh blood on it. This starts a whole thing. The witch resurrects her lover, turns one of the doctors into a vampire and begins a campaign of vengeance against her descendants (who still keep a full portrait of her and her lover in their living room for some reason). Anyway, bad things happen.

The atmosphere of the movie is very classic in that it reminds me of Browning's Dracula. This was Mario Bava's first real movie and it kicked off the Italian horror genre in earnest. The action moves along at a nice clip and the evil seems to stack up pretty high before the good guys get even a chance of turning the tables. Barbara Steele brings her freaky beauty to the dual parts of Asa the Witch and Katia, her own descendant. The hero is kind of dull but there are plenty of colorful characters to offset him.

This is just a solid, meat and potatoes horror film. I like it better than some of the Hammer movies that also tried to catch that Universal classic feel. Prepare for some gruesome effects that I imagine were scandalous for the time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Day 268: Saw

I am fairly certain this was a rental after all the hype had died down.

Saw is about two men who wake up in a room, chained to the floor with a dead body between them. Consider this the movie that launched a thousand escape rooms as the two men have to figure out how to escape from a series of clues and games. The photographer and the doctor slowly put together why they are there and who did this to them. The man responsible is represented by a little doll on a tricycle and he refers to himself as Jigsaw. Can either man escape the room? What is Jigsaw's grand scheme?

This was the first film by James Wan, who has since gone on to be a huge voice in modern horror. When people think of Saw, they often conflate the original with all the sequels that followed. I don't think that is really fair. The sequels devolved quickly into torture porn where people were  stuck in traps with no way out. The first movie played brutal but fair about the games Jigsaw set up. You can escape if you are willing to sacrifice something. Danny Glover plays the cop that is on Jigsaw's trail and his weariness is perfect for the roll. Cary Elwes as the doctor stuck in the room gives a solid performance well past his most famous years.

Some scenes are brutal and hard to watch but I have fond memories of this film. The sequels have perverted and ruined a decent concept so don't judge by later works. Go back to the original and have a pretty good time if you don't have any spoilers in your mind.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Day 267: Trick R Treat

Trick R Treat is a pretty unique anthology horror movie set on Halloween. It should be available for streaming somewhere.

The interesting thing about this movie is that the four narratives in it overlap and intertwine in fairly unique ways. The Hell themed anthology Southbound tries this same trick but I think they pull it off slightly better here. The first story is about a murderous principal from the local school killing off problem children who come to trick or treat. He has a lot to deal with on this particular Halloween. The second story is about a group of kids going to the local quarry to give a sacrifice to the kids who died during the Halloween school bus massacre, years earlier. The third story centers on a group of girls having a fun night out but one is kind of bummed out. Before her night can turn around she appears to be attacked by a vampire. Fun ensues. The fourth story is about the neighbor of the principal from the first story being terrorized by a little guy named Sam in a homemade costume.

While none of the individual parts are all that amazing, the world they weave together works pretty well. Characters who don't get a comeuppance in one story meet their fate in another. Dangling plots from earlier stories are resolved later and even the future of this little town is hinted at by the end. Michael Dougherty directs the whole thing pretty well (although  I would argue he is a little more comfortable with the comedy parts than the horror). Dylan Baker as the principal, Brian Cox as the old man neighbor and Anna Paquin as Little Red Riding Hood all do a great job.

If you like anthology horror, this is a good modern example. I would recommend this movie for most any horror fan.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Day 266: The Lost Boys

A childhood favorite that I saw on HBO too many times to count, The Lost Boys were cool.

The Lost Boys is about a pair of brothers being raised by a single mom who move to the seaside town of Santa Carla, that is overrun by a gang of teenage vampires. The older brother (Jason Patric) falls in with the charismatic gang leader (Kiefer Sutherland) while Corey Haim, the younger brother, befriends a pair of vampire hunting kids named the Frog Brothers. Haim becomes obsessed with saving his big brother from a life of bloodsucking and decides he needs to find the head vampire in town. Also, our heroes' mom has started dating again. Things do not go smoothly.

This is just 80s glam horror at its best. The Lost Boys (the vampire gang) dress like leather night at the gypsy camp and, of course, they make you think you are eating maggots when you eat Chinese food. The action styling of Joel Schumacher (which would later make Batman and Robin so horrible) is put to good use here with lots of good tension and some practical effects fight scenes between vampires that were quite good for the time.

I don't know if this ages well. I am a fan from my youth so I will always be a little tilted towards it. I remember it being angsty teenage vampire fun.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Day 265: The Houses October Built

This one was definitely on Ain't It Cool's list of best horror and I watched it off Netflix. And here we are, 100 days from Halloween!

As far as found footage movies go, this one is unique enough that I feel a strong liking for it. The premise is that a group of friends are renting a Winnebago a riding all over Texas (I believe) to visit the most extreme haunted houses set up for Halloween. They are recording the whole thing and basically looking for something off the charts scary. When they offend a couple of the workers at one haunted house, their camper gets vandalized and they start noticing some of the same performers popping up at different locations. All of this is in service of finding a private invite only spookhouse that is so scary it changes locations every year. And of course, they find it. Fun ensues.

What I dug about this is they filmed inside several real, functioning haunted attractions for the first half of the movie. You almost get a documentary style look at how the houses are run and what sorts of people they attract. For found footage premises, it has one of the stronger hooks I've seen. Of course, by the end you know you are purely in horror movie land but the first person aspect keeps things as fresh and immediate as a real funhouse.

I'm not saying this is groundbreaking horror or anything but they put some effort into the production and I appreciate it. You could do worse than this one.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Day 264: Antichrist

Not sure why I watched this one...but oh boy.

Lars Von Trier has always made provocative movies but I heard Antichrist was a little extreme. Sure enough, the opening sequence is hardcore sex between a married couple while their toddler wanders out an open window to his death. This wrecks Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the couple. They then decide to travel to a remote cabin to help the healing process only, one of them is not interested in healing so much as punishing themselves and the other...graphically and horribly.

A meme popped up around this movie as there is a talking fox in one part who just says "Chaos Reigns." That is about as comforting and cutesy as you are going to get in this flick. Otherwise, there are mutilated sex organs, bloody orgasms and enough gender politics to make you think you aren't watching a snuff film.

I can't, in good conscience, recommend this movie to anyone but it is, in fact, horrific. You will see things you cannot unsee and it is brutal. In the end, there might be a class of horror film I am too wussy for and this is in that class.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Day 263: Would You Rather

Definitely learned about this from Ain't It Cool and then watched on Netflix.

Would You Rather is about a young woman named Iris who is caring for her sickly brother. When faced with mounting medical bills, she is introduced to a shady millionaire by her doctor. The rich guy (played by Jeffrey Combs) offers to let her attend a dinner party where she can play a game to win all the money she will ever need. She attends and finds herself in a motley group where they are almost immediately put to ethical tests for money. Iris violates her vegetarianism for $10,000 and a recovering alcoholic (played by John Heard) gives up his sobriety for $50,000. And then, the real game begins. I don't want to give too much away but it involves electric shock, ice picks, buckets of water, razor blades and worse.

This is a pretty good cast considering how small a movie it is. June Squibb, fresh off of Nebraska, plays an old paralyzed woman playing the game. Heard and Combs do their thing pretty well. The guy who plays Penguin on Gotham is Combs' sadistic son, who attempts to rape one of the guests. Enver Gjokaj (from Joss Whedon projects galore) is Lucas, the kind of heroic balance trying to keep all the guests from losing their humanity.

Hard to watch at times but again, pretty well made for such a small budget. The cringe factor is high but the ending is pure O Henry.  I can't recommend it for everyone but for those wondering where their own limits are, maybe see this and Cheap Thrills to find out.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Day 262: Dead Snow

Pretty sure I found this one through Ain't It Cool News and caught it on Netflix.

Dead Snow is a kind of loving Norwegian homage to Evil Dead 2. A group of adults (acting as students on spring break) heads to a remote cabin in the snowy mountains to have a party and do some skiing. Little do they know that under the cabin is a stash of gold taken by the Nazis when they invaded. When one of the party pockets some of the nazi gold, the Nazis come to life and begin killing anyone in the area they find to reclaim what they believe is theirs. As the body count rises, one of the party, Martin decides to get proactive and fight back. Fun ensues.

The tone of this is pretty wacky, all told. Despite playing everything completely straight, the slapstick violence is hard to deny. Once the chainsaw comes out and one of our heroes loses a hand, the Evil Dead comparisons are inescapable. This is actually a pretty fun time as far as modern zombie movies go. The ending is one of those great, "oh crap" moments that horror does so well in letting the protagonists know they are more screwed than they thought. If you like funny horror, this movie is well worth a watch. The sequel (which I reviewed earlier in this blog) is also lots of fun and has Martin Starr.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Day 261: The Crazies

Random topic generator is kind of paying homage to George Romero as this Romero remake popped up today.

The Crazies is a lot like 28 Days Later in that some contaminated drinking water turns a whole town into violent psychopaths. The Sheriff, played by Timothy Olyphant, is just trying to get his wife and get out of town as the military barges in and starts killing everyone indiscriminately as part of a containment effort. Caught between the two groups and with a deputy getting angrier by the minute, the Sheriff has a rough road ahead of him if he wants to escape this set up.

This was a perfectly serviceable horror movie with the thin premise leading from set piece to set piece. Olyphant brings his laconic cool to the role from the very first scene where a little league game is interrupted by the town drunk carrying a gun onto the field. Breck Eisner doesn't bring any real flair to the proceedings but the editing and music create the tension in these sorts of movies anyway. I do remember it has a pretty extreme ending, taking a recent movie cliche to its furthest point of absurdity.

Not a bad flick, not great. You could do worse for an afternoon of horror.

 NOTE: I've never seen Romero's original so I can't compare the two, sorry.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Day 260: Zombies as a concept

Talking today about what makes zombies scary.

I've mentioned before the study that shows zombies are more popular during conservative administrations and vampires are more popular during liberal ones. The idea is that each monster speaks to an anxiety we have about our current leadership. Zombies are scary because they represent conformity. Not only are they a horror in and of themselves, they want to make you one, too. And it happens so easily, a bite or a scratch. Just one wrong move and you are part of the mindless hordes going around asking everyone to give up their brains.

The numbers are scary, too. Everyone who has ever died might come back as a zombie (although most are lacking meat after a few years). You almost never have to deal with one zombie but an army of them. Whether they are moving slowly or running, their sheer overwhelming presence is going to be your downfall.

Zombies, as we know them, are pretty much straight from the recently departed George Romero's work. Prior to Night of the Living Dead, zombies were reanimated corpses that did the bidding of a voodoo priest or mad scientist. Nothing animated them beyond their will to follow orders. Modern zombies have no leader. There is no head to cut off to make them stop.

For some reason, these monsters seem like the most likely kind we might face in our lifetime. I know lots of people with Zombie survival plans. When Bath Salts started turning people into flesh eating weirdos, we all thought we were on the verge of the zombie apocalypse.

Of course, the real threat isn't drugs but the past itself. We thought we were through grieving for Aunt Linda or Cousin Buck but here they are, standing before us ready to eat our flesh. To save ourselves we will have to kill our loved ones all over again, and that's another strike in their favor.

I don't live my life scared of zombies but I do know which room of my house is my best bet should I be attacked.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Day 259: The Strangers

Oh boy, I finally get to talk about this movie I hate...thank you random topic generator.

The Strangers is about a couple living out in the middle of nowhere who are targeted by three attackers for some reason. Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are the couple, who were already having troubles before the three psychos attack them. Glenn Howerton (Dennis from Always Sunny in Philadelphia) pops in as a guest star but mostly it is just the couple being messed with by the strangers.

If you've read this website enough you know that The Strangers represents all I hate about some strains of modern horror. The nihilism of the story and the brutality of the movie are just two aspects I can't get behind. I don't really care if I spoil this so let me just say that at no point is the couple even fake safe. I don't mind horror movies where the whole cast is killed but there has to be a moment of catharsis. If the whole movie is just watching three sickos torture a helpless couple, what fun is that? They never turn the table on the attackers, not even for a second. Every gambit to do so fails and we are just left with watching two innocent people die. Call me crazy, but that's not what I watch horror movies for. I am never on the side of the psycho unless they are somehow framed against a worst psycho (like in Devil's Rejects). You put yourself in the place of the heroes and, if nothing good happens to them, you leave feeling dirty and depressed.

As I said with Bertino's Mockingbird, the random nature of the violence just stinks of darkness for the sake of darkness. I've seen others try to critically dissect the anonymous nature of the attackers as commentary on post- 9/11 anxiety but all that is just bullshit. Horror movies should be scary and fun. This is just miserable.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Day 258: Aliens as a concept

I am once again delving into the psychology behind scary things instead of talking about scary movies or books.

All along I have posited that "the other" is the thing that scares us. Something different than ourselves triggers a fear response in most of us. Aliens are the perfect encapsulation of other, we have so little in common, we don't even come from the same planet. However, just their presence usually isn't scary enough to make a whole movie or story. We have to imbue these perfectly foreign things with human motivations like conquest or experimentation. If aliens aren't aggressive, they become cuddly companions like ET or Stitch.

Most movies choose to make aliens as close to humans as possible. In the Alien movies, the facehugger impregnates the victim against their will and the victim gives birth to something that is a cross between the original alien DNA and human. That's why the alien in Alien3 behaved like a dog, it came from an infected dog. We still need things to be recognizable to be frightening. We get that claws and teeth are scary (they are scary on lions here on good old Earth) but if aliens were depicted as living colors or sentient light formations, we go from scared to confused.

Lovecraft is one of the few people to make alien encounters truly alien and that only works on the written page. As with any other monster, the alien reflects our own fears back at us but we have the added bonus of their technological superiority if they come to us. If we come to them, the anxiety of exploration and colonization comes up. Aliens are pretty all-purpose from apartheid metaphors in District 9 to pre-intelligent eating machines like The Blob. While ghosts and vampires don't always work, aliens pretty much will.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Day 257: Predator 2

This was a good old HBO movie when I was a teenager.

The second Predator movie really opens up the formula by placing the alien hunter of skulls in the midst of Los Angeles. Danny Glover and Bill Paxton are cops in LA during a big heatwave. Something is killing off the most violent criminals in the city and stealing their spines. Glover has the job of hunting the hunter but, of course, soon becomes the hunted himself.

There really is something appealing to me about a movie with a limited cast. Die Hard works well because you can count off the terrorists as they go. Predator worked well because there were only like 8 guys in Arnold's unit and we watched them get picked off one by one. Something is lost in tension and immediacy when the whole city of Los Angeles is fair game for our beastly villain. Gary Busey plays a bugnuts special operative sent by the government to capture the Predator. He adds a lot of fun to the movie. Besides the lesser tension, it works pretty well as an action/sci-fi/horror movie. They push the mythology of the movie universe forward a little and have some good set pieces.

If you enjoyed Predator 2, I would highly recommend Batman Vs. Predator from DC and Dark Horse comics that came out at about the same time. Basically, Batman takes Danny Glover's place in hunting down the Predator and the comic is just as awesome as it sounds.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Day 256: The Faculty

Another Robert Rodriguez movie, this is one I saw when I worked in the video store.

The Faculty is about a high school in Ohio being overrun by alien invaders who take over people's bodies. Very much like invasion of the body snatchers except that it is kids trying to raise the alarm against the adults and getting shot down by every other authority figure. There is the jock, the newspaper geek, the head cheerleader, the new girl, the bad boy and every other stereotype you can think of. The adults act strangely, some kids see too much and then the hunt for the kids is on.

I remember when I saw this how risky the message of the movie was. The secret weapon that they use to fight the aliens is Josh Hartnett's homemade drug concoction that he sells at school. There is a scene where everyone has to get high to prove they aren't an alien. The seemingly pro-drug message was just very strange in the 1990s. Elijah Wood does a solid job as does Clea Duval (remember her?). Rodriguez slips Selma Hayek into the flick and Jon Stewart even has a cameo.

Although I haven't seen this since the 90s, I remember it being a fun movie. Nothing special just a solid sci-fi thriller that was aimed at teens. I wonder how it plays now?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Day 255: King Kong

Hopping in the wayback machine here to get me to this classic I first remember seeing on a tv in my grandmother's bedroom while adults were having a party outside.

King Kong has been remade so many times but nothing ever quite captures the magic trick the original pulls off. I'll explain in a minute but first...the plot of the movie. A PT Barnum style showman (Denham) travels with a crew of adventurers to the far off Skull Island to shoot an adventure film. Denham has hired Ann Darrow to be his female lead. As soon as they get to the island, she is abducted by locals and offered to their god, Kong. Once he has her, the crew of the ship must fight their way across an island filled with dinosaurs to rescue her. Getting her back and capturing Kong is only the start of their problems once they get him to New York.

There is a lot of wonderment and anxiety when it comes to King Kong. The giant door on Skull Island could have literally anything behind it. The battles with giant snakes and dinosaurs are super fun to watch as a kid especially. Watching as an adult, there is this magic moment towards the end where you realize your sympathy has shifted completely from the human victims to Kong himself. It happens super close to the end and you might not even realize it. It still amazes me.

Great movie, not that scary. Well worth seeing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Day 254: Mockingbird

Mockingbird was found through Ain't It Cool News or Blumhouse but, little did I know at the time, it was the follow-up movie from the man who made The Strangers.

Mockingbird is a found footage movie about three sets of people who receive a free video camera on their doorstep. One is a family, one is a college girl who just went through a break up and one is an unemployed loser who is instructed to dress like a clown. In fact, they all start receiving instructions for what they should do with dire threats if they should deviate from the instructions. Of course, the instructions get more and more dangerous as they go.

The Strangers is one of my least favorite modern horror movies. It is dripping with nihilism in a way only House of 1000 Corpses had done previously. Bad things are going to happen and you are just going to sit there and take it. This movie has that same streak at the center. Everyone lines up to just be inevitable victims of the (mostly) unseen forces that are manipulating them. The college girl is the only one with the right idea, she curls into a ball and cries for most of the movie. The villains have to pretty much force her to continue playing their games.

Some of the visuals (like the house choked with balloons) are cool but the rotten nature of the story taints the whole experience for me. If you aren't miles ahead of the plot of this one, you may be new to movies in general. I can't recommend this one.

Day 253: From Dusk Till Dawn

My formative years were really filled with an embarrassment of well made movies. I just wish I hadn't known so much about this going in. If you've never seen it and somehow don't know what its about, try to stay pure. I would love to hear from someone who somehow saw this movie cold. Spoilers start next paragraph.

From Dusk Till Dawn was the highly anticipated collaboration between Quentin Tarantino's writing and Robert Rodriguez's directing. This came at a time when both were red hot properties. The first half of the movie is Tarantino through and through. The Gecko brothers, played by George Clooney and Tarantino himself are on a tear towards the Mexican border. Michael Parks is a law dog with the bad luck to cross their path. The opening shoot out in a gas station and the subsequent flight from the law is intense. The Geckos take a family hostage and hide in their camper as they cross the border. Juliette Lewis and Harvey Keitel are two thirds of the family. The real fun starts when they get to the spot where Clooney is meant to connect with Cheech Marin (in one of three roles he plays in this)...a strip club called the Titty Twister.

Little do the patrons know, the club is a den of vampires and the customers are there as the buffet. All of a sudden, after some grand Tarantino tension, all hell breaks loose and vampires are suddenly everywhere. The cast quickly gets narrowed down to a few badass survivors (and Juliette Lewis) who have to make it until dawn.

The action in the first half is serious and intense while the vampire killing in the second half is kind of goofy. People get turned left and right, betraying each other. The cast of bar patrons is stacked with people like Fred Williamson and Tom Savini who bring just the right grindhouse charm to the whole thing. What could have been another Pulp Fiction totally gives up the ghost of being a serious film by turning horror and how you handle that turn in the movie will determine how much you like it, I think.

I rolled with it pretty well and ended up enjoying, but not loving the movie. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Day 252: Mill of the Stone Women

Another from my essential horror book, and very similar to Eyes without a Face in certain ways.

Mill of the Stone Women is about an art professor who runs a windmill/waxwork display. When a visiting scholar gets access to the mill, he discovers the professor has a beguiling daughter, whom he promptly porks. The problem is that the scholar is really in love with his childhood friend and the daughter (Elfie) is pretty possessive. Elfie also has a disorder where one shock to her system can kill her. The scholar's rejection proves to be just such a shock and then the real weirdness starts.

Firstly, don't read any plot summaries if you want to watch this movie. They give away information that isn't revealed until well past the halfway point of the movie. Secondly, the first half plays out like a Poe story. The scholar, overcome with grief at having killed Elfie, starts seeing things and hearing Elfie play piano like she did when she was alive. He sees her in her crypt but also sees buried with her a piece of jewelry he swore was in a workroom at the mill. The whole second act plays out like a nightmare.

I won't give away the third act, but it is a lot like the main plot of Eyes without a Face. Some dads would do anything for their daughters, apparently. This can be frustratingly slow at times but worth it in the long run. Plus, waxworks are always creepy.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Day 251: Eyes Without a Face

Back to my big book of essential horror, this leads me to a Criterion collection movie on Amazon streaming.

Eyes without a Face is about a scientist whose daughter loses her whole face in a car accident. Luckily(?) for her he is working on transplanting tissues from other people. Of course, no one is volunteering to get their face removed, so he sends his female lab assistant to entice and capture girls who may fit his daughter's face. The centerpiece of the movie is a sequence where one poor girl gets her face cut off (and we have to see pretty much the whole procedure). Of course, the grafts aren't taking and the police are closing in. Watch the movie to see if the mad scientist succeeds in restoring his daughter.

What feels like a b-movie for the first half hour becomes pretty gripping and involved after we see the facial surgery. The constant barking of the kennel full of experimental dogs is unnerving as is the plastic face mask worn by the daughter. While the pacing is sometimes laborious, the whole thing is moving towards an inevitable conclusion. I just wish the lab assistant wasn't followed around by Curb Your Enthusiasm music, it undercuts the horror of her actions.

With this one, I officially enter the 1960s in my essential horror watching. If you get a chance to see this, you should.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Day 250: Monsters- Dark Continent

Pretty sure this one was on Netflix and it might be still.

Unlike the original Monsters, which dealt with immigration under the guise of giant monsters invading the earth, the sequel is pretty much a straight up war movie with a few monsters thrown in. Four friends from Detroit end up in the same army unit and are led by the gung-ho Frater. On their first mission, they go up against a monster but the bulk of the movie is about a search and rescue operation going horribly wrong. The monsters are popping up in sovereign nations that don't take kindly to US military forces coming in and occupying their lands. So, the army must deal with insurgents and monsters at the same time. The search and rescue goes wrong when the team hits a hidden roadside bomb and are ambushed by insurgents. Killed off one by one, the team has to figure out how to survive and complete the mission. Meanwhile, you know, monsters are tearing around killing people.

I was taken aback by how much of a straight war movie this is. If it weren't for the occasional reminders of the monsters, it would just be a straight war movie. This is one of those that argues for the futility of armed conflict by having a very nihilistic viewpoint of the action. Things get very grim and repeatedly so. By the end, it felt a little like I was getting lectured to by the monster movie, which isn't a great feeling. However, I must say I stay engaged for most of the action and was invested in the characters.

If you don't mind a war movie disguised as horror and you don't mind it being a little preachy, check it out. It has almost no relation to the first movie so you don't need to see Monsters first.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Day 249: The Wolfman

I guess I am writing this about the more recent (2010) Wolfman rather than the classic one as I have seen the newer one more recently.

The Wolfman is about Lawrence Talbot (Benecio Del Toro), an actor who must return to his home in the English countryside when his brother vanishes under mysterious circumstances. When he finds the body of his brother in a slaughterhouse, word gets out that a werewolf has done the attack. Lawrence himself is bitten one night and transforms not long afterwards. Pursued by Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) and turned away by his father (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence finds himself tortured by his curse. Will true love set him free? Will doctors in an insane asylum ever believe he is a werewolf? Will Aberline get off his jock for just a minute? You'll have to watch.

This movie started out being directed by Mark Romanek, the acclaimed music video director. He made all the aesthetic choices for the film and, my goodness, it looks beautiful. Joe Johnston was brought in to finish the movie and he handles things fine. I wonder if Romanek's vision would have turned out more contemplative. As it stands, the whole thing is sort of an action adventure movie. The werewolf scenes are more action scenes than horror. By the end, when you have two werewolves clashing on the moors, it almost feels like the end of a video game.

Movies like this are why I feel it is so hard to do werewolf horror correctly. The beast does lend itself to intense action scenes but the mood of horror should dominate. Still, very pretty to look at. I can't recommend this movie unless you are just dying for some werewolf action.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Day 248: Jurassic Park

Some may argue that this is not horror but if Jaws is, this is. Spielberg staged it in the same way and made some top notch scares.

For maybe, I don't know, recently released hostages or four year olds, here is what Jurassic Park is about. A kindly old scientist clones dinosaurs to make a theme park on a remote island. As part of a soft open, he has some paleontologists, a lawyer and a mathematician come see the island along with his own grandchildren. Of course, things go wrong and the island ends up overrun by all manner of deadly beast. Put in a subplot about industrial espionage and you have a classy horror movie.

Spielberg has been adept at suspense since he put Roy Scheider out to sea. Here, he plays around with making a glass of water a T Rex detection system and having Velociraptors stalk their prey like the aliens in Aliens. Between moments of wonder, there is plenty of child endangerment and quipping to keep the mood light. While some might say this is an action adventure movie, I point to the mad scientist origins and the fate of Samuel L Jackson as exhibits A and B in the trial of whether or not this is horror.

If you haven't seen Jurassic Park, what, exactly, is wrong with you?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Day 247: Child's Play

Way before the campy comedy aspect started getting played up, the Child's Play movies were actual horror.

Child's Play is about a murderer named Charles Lee Ray who is killed by police in a shootout at a toy store, but not before a magical lightning bolt sends his mind into a Good Guy doll. He is soon bought and given to Andy, a little kid with a single mom and some issues of his own. Once Chucky (the doll) starts killing people like Andy's nanny and an old enemy of his, the police suspect Andy of being insane. To make matters worse, Chucky needs to possess the first person he "came out" to and that is Andy, also.

You have to know that, when this movie came out, we were only a year or so into the national nightmare known as My Little Buddy. These dolls were the same size as the kids they were aimed at and the gimmick was that they talked to you. There is a famous scene in this movie where Andy's mom figures out she never put batteries in the damn thing but it has been talking up a storm. I think that was a pretty common fear. Despite the innate creepiness, the filmmakers had an uphill battle making a little toy into a legit threat but they made it work. A kid-sized doll with a butcher knife and movement skills can be formidable.

Later movies got into Chucky's love life and spawn but this is where it all began.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Day 246: Scream

I was working in a video store when this came out and I knew about Wes Craven's New Nightmare. In that Freddy movie, he had the cast of the original Nightmare on Elm Street being hunted down as the actors themselves, as if Freddy had escaped into the real world. When I heard Scream was "super meta" I assumed he was going to continue his pattern and have himself as the killer or something clever like that. That the movie was more conventional was kind of a let down to me.

Scream is about a girl whose mother died horribly and created a kind of legend in her town. Now, her classmates are being killed off by a killer wearing a ghost face mask. In a lot of ways, this is a classic whodunit with a big cast getting narrowed down until only the hero and the killer is left. So, it is rather smarter than the average slasher movie, for sure.

There are strong performances from Drew Barrymore, Jamie Kennedy, Rose McGowan, Courtney Cox, Skeet Ulrich (of all people) and even David Arquette does a solid job making his sad sack deputy believable. The reason the movie is called meta is because it acknowledges a universe of slasher movies and that those movies behave in predictable ways. Like Cabin in the Woods, it is a bit of a challenge to other filmmakers to be more innovative with their horror. This leads to some sold comedic moments even though the movie is firmly a horror.

If you have somehow never seen this movie, make sure you have seen classics like Friday the 13th and Halloween first. The commentary on these past movies will make more sense if you've actually seen them.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Day 245: Evil Dead 2

Another classic I have seen many times, including on the big screen and in play form.

Evil Dead 2 is meant to be a sequel to Evil Dead but it pretty much stands on its own thanks to a recap. A retail clerk named Ash has gone to a mountain cabin with his friends. While there, they accidentally unleash the Evil Dead by playing taped inscriptions from the Necronomicon. Ash was the only survivor of the first movie but soon, the rightful owner of the cabin and some hillbillies join him. He also has to contend with having his hand possessed and various other tricks the Evil Dead play on him.

My contention is always that Raimi didn't really mean for the first movie to be so funny. He was trying to make a horror movie and it came out super cheesy. So, for the sequel, he leaned into the cheese factor. Making the movie an intentional horror/comedy works wonders and it scores both laughs and intense moments. There is lots of slapstick and gore but it is all in good fun. It all comes to together pretty well.

If you are hesitant about the series, I would jump in with this one. The first Evil Dead is fine but this is the one everyone thinks of when they talk about how good the movies are. This was followed by the equally fun Army of Darkness.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Day 244: Ghost Walks

This one isn't about a movie, just the physical act of doing a ghost walk.

Whenever I visit a new town, for the most part, I check to see if they have any ghost tours. Not only is it a decent way to learn some scary stories, you can get a sense of the history of the town, also. On the last ghost walk I took around my hometown, I learned at 90% of haunted buildings are former brothels or speakeasys.

I took a Jack the Ripper tour in London and got to see one of the murder sites. That feeling of being in a place where such evil happened, it is kind of fascinating and nauseating at the same time.

Charleston, SC, has some of the best ghost stories. My favorite is usually told outside the old jail house. Lavinia Fisher was the owner of a five mile house outside of Charleston where travelers could rest for the night before making it into town. One night, a fur trader got a strange feeling from Lavinia and her husband so he laid his jacket on the bed he rented and sat in a chair where he could see his cart loaded with furs in case anyone tried to steal it. In the middle of the night, the bed made a horrid noise and collapsed into a pit underneath the room. This was the trap Lavinia and her husband set for travelers. They would kill them in the pit and steal their wares. The fur trader saw what was up and jumped out the window, got on his horse and rode into town. That day, authorities caught and arrested Lavinia and her husband. They were sentenced to death. Lavinia had her wedding dress brought and donned it, hoping her staggering beauty would create some mercy. There was none to be found. On the day of her hanging her last words were "If any of you have a message to give the devil, give it quick. I'm about to meet him." They say she can still be seen wandering the old jail wearing her white wedding dress, looking for mercy.

Another one I would recommend, if you ever get the chance, is in Edinburgh, Scotland. There is a tour about the closes and underground passages all through the city that goes to some chilling places.

Any ghost tours you would recommend?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Day 243: Horror Express

This one I found on a Christopher Lee box set of horror movies...or was it Peter Cushing? One of them. They were only in 80 movies together.

Horror Express is about a scientist (Lee) who finds what he assumes is the missing link and brings it onto a train upon which his frenemy Cushing is also traveling. After a series of weird murders, people begin to suspect the creature is doing all the damage. There is a Count and Countess aboard, as well as their spiritual advisor (think Rasputin). Later, Telly Savalas shows up as a military officer with a detachment of soldiers looking for rebels. When the creature from the box gets killed about halfway through the movie, the real wackiness begins until we somehow have an all zombie finale.

I was surprised by how creative and twisty this old b-movie is. Like I said, killing the thing in the crate is really just the beginning of the trouble on the train. Like other train bound movies, the single setting helps everything feel claustrophobic. Cushing and Lee do a great job as rivals who help each other figure out what the hell is going on.

While this won't win any awards, it is better than you think it would be. I would give it a C+. Check it out if you like obscure 70s horror.