Thursday, August 31, 2017

Day 304: Shadow of the Vampire

This movie was a rental for sure because I kept seeing the previews for it before every movie I rented for a solid year at least.

Shadow of the Vampire is a (hopefully) fictionalized account of the filming of FW Murnau's Nosferatu. John Malkovich stars as the German director who is filming on sets in Berlin before moving to a spooky castle in the countryside. He tells the crew that, once on location, they will meet Max Shreck, the actor he has hired to play Count Orlok. Shreck is a method actor and will never appear without make up or out of character, they are warned. As if that wasn't creepy enough, the cinematographer seems to be mesmerized by something and Murnau insists that all the crosses be taken down at the local inn, in case Max wants to visit. It isn't long before blood is spilled and the secret of Max Shreck becomes just another problem to work around in the movie business.

First, let me say that Willem Dafoe is pretty great as Shreck. He goes full rodent and it has never looked better. Malkovich has the less showy role of playing the straight man in the middle of this madness. Cary Elwes is the second director of photography brought in after the first one has quite an an encounter with Shreck. The whole thing works as both horror and a comedic take on the film industry. With every creepy thing Shreck does, there is a subtle stab at the movie business. Eddie Izzard and Udo Kier round out the cast nicely.

If you like inside Hollywood style movies or vampire horror, this movie should satisfy you. It isn't terribly scary but there is plenty of horrific acts to go around.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Day 303: Hellraiser

I thought I had seen this ages ago but forced myself to sit down and rewatch it a few years back, it was not how I remembered it.

In a prologue of sorts, Frank Cotton gets his hands on what can only be called a Hellcube. He "solves" the box like a Rubik's Cube and hooks on chains emerge which tear him to pieces. We then meet the rest of the cast as Larry (Frank's brother), Julia (Larry's wife and Frank's former lover) and their daughter Kristy move into the same house where Frank died. Through some blood magic, Frank is resurrected as a skinless man. He needs fresh blood to rejuvenate and Julia agrees to help him by bringing in random men as victims. Along the way, Kristy gets sucked into the drama and the Cenobites are unleashed (travelers from another dimension who sought out the ultimate carnal pleasure only to find release in Sadomasochism). Kristy must try to thwart her uncle's murderous ways and put the Cenobites back where they belong.

Pinhead, the guy they base all the publicity around for the Hellraiser movies, is one of the Cenobites. He plays a relatively small role in this movie but I guess something about him captured the imagination of horror fans. Clive Barker directed this himself and the whole thing has a weird air of dirty 80s sleaze hanging over it. The skinned man effects are all practical and made me wince every time he was on screen. The Cenobites would later take over the show but here they are more plot devices than characters. Still, it is a plenty creepy movie about the mingling of pleasure and pain.

The content alone makes this a "not for everyone" movie but if you can handle gore, it has a lot going for it as a horror movie. It gets under my skin when I watch but I have never been tempted to go further into the franchise.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Day 302: Vanishing on 7th Street

This was definitely a Netflix watch because I had such high hopes for Brad Anderson. After he made Session 9 and The Machinist, I figured he was on his way to another David Fincher style career. But then he made this.

Vanishing on 7th Street is about a small group of people who wake up one day to find everyone else on Earth is gone. In a giant city, streets are empty and clothes are everywhere. Hayden Christensen goes to look for his fiance and only finds more evidence that everyone vanished in moments of darkness. There seem to be shadow people everywhere but they can't interact with the survivors. Slowly, a group gathers at a bar where the generator is running to keep the lights on. Each person has their own agenda for finding missing loved ones and staying alive. Every time the lights go out or blink, another person disappears.

I should have set my bar pretty low when I saw Hayden Christensen and John Leguizamo were the stars of this. Thandie Newton being in it helps a little but her character is pretty one note. Most of them are. The ensemble don't imbue their characters with a rich inner life that makes you worry they will be sucked in by the shadows. They just show up, do some stuff and vanish one by one. The whole thing is a pretty big letdown to me even though it has the same premise as a story I wrote in middle school.

Don't waste your time with this vanishing.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Day 301: Wytches

Wytches is a six issue comic book series written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Jock. I believe it was published by Image comics from 2014 to 2015.

Wytches tells the story of the Rook family, mostly focusing on the daughter, Sailor. She has just had to transfer schools due to some harsh rumors going around. Sailor is abducted and her father learns of the existence of Wytches, mythical figures who haunt the woods near the town and grant wishes to those who offer them a sacrifice. Sailor was marked for sacrifice and it is up to her father to find her and save her.

Jock does some brilliant work with his almost impressionistic art style. The cold, dead woods that are the wytches' home seem decayed and rotting in just the right way. The whole project has a dark, Stephen King style that draws the father deeper and deeper into a community-wide conspiracy to keep the wytches satisfied at the cost of the young. It also reads like a fable or fairy tale from long ago despite all the modern trappings.

Snyder does great work with his American Vampire series but this is a turn more disturbing. The designs of the wytches themselves are terrific and the many plot twists keep things moving at a brisk pace. I would recommend this series for the art or for the story...maybe both.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Day 300: The Evil Dead

I saw this movie back when I was in middle school, which was probably too young to see it. I remember my friends telling me there was a scene where a woman has sex with a tree so, naturally, I was curious.

Evil Dead is Sam Raimi's film debut about a group of teens going to a cabin in the woods. Once there, they accidentally revive an ancient evil entity by playing a tape recording of incantations left behind by the owner of the cabin. Ash; his sister, Cheryl; his girlfriend, Linda; and another couple are freaked out but it isn't until Cheryl is raped by a tree that anyone asks to leave. Ash tries to take her away but finds the bridge leading away from cabin is out. Things get worse as, one by one, our heroes get possessed by the evil dead and attack one another. Cheryl gets locked in the basement while the others try to figure out a plan of action. It isn't long before only Ash is left unpossessed and fighting for his life.

I have a bold, kind of snotty theory on Evil Dead. I think it is meant to play completely straight. I think there is a light touch to some of the proceedings but the comedy was purely unintentional in this original version. The effects of the dead chasing the living through the woods have a Benny Hill quality and everything feels very over-the-top in an amateurish kind of way. I think Raimi was smart enough to know upon which side his bread was buttered and made Evil Dead 2 an intentionally funny movie. Evil spirits hunting kids in the woods are a dime a dozen but funny spirits tormenting the great straight man Bruce Campbell would be rare.

The original Evil Dead is a camp classic but I contend the laughs are not meant to be there. Check it out to see some low budget horror but you can really start at Evil Dead 2 if you want to see some good comedy/horror.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Day 299: Timecrimes

This was a Netflix watch but I think it was on someone's recommendation, I can't recall who at the moment but I'm glad they did.

Timecrimes is about a man who has moved into a remote villa in Spain with his wife. He spies a young lady getting naked out near the woods and tells his wife he is going for a walk. Upon finding the lady, he realizes she is unconscious and he gets stabbed in the arm by a weirdo with pink bandages wrapped around his face. Fleeing the pink mummy, the man (Hector) ends up in the lab of a scientist who guides him to safety from his assailant. The machine Hector hides in winds up being a time machine, and he is thrust one hour into the past. Then things start getting really crazy.

This is just a fun, sometimes intense, romp with time travel. Every time Hector goes back in time a new wrinkle is added to the plot and the coincidences begin piling up. I can't say much more without spoiling a very cool movie but the way it all plays out is tragically perfect. Nacho Vigalando made his feature length debut with this one and it is low budget sci-fi thriller done right. Even during sequences that could get confusing, everything is well established and easy to follow. Whenever you get into time travel, things could get sticky but Vigalando steers clear of those problems.

I can't really say this is a horror movie even though the pink mummy is certainly an intense presence in the movie. It is well worth the ride if you decide to give it a watch.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Day 298: Cloverfield

Cloverfield was definitely a rental, even though I remember being drawn into the ad campaign like everyone else. I guess I had to prove to someone I wasn't easily swayed by hype.

Cloverfield is a found footage giant monster movie. Most of the found footage focuses on a going away party for Rob, who is leaving his girlfriend (Beth) behind to travel to Japan. At his party, a friend films testimonials as chaos breaks out on the news. At first, people believe it was just an oil tanker crash near New York but soon, the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty comes bouncing down the street and we have ourselves a full-blown Kaiju attack. Rob and a small group from the party try to make their way across the city to Beth's apartment, where she is trapped.

My favorite sequence in the movie is when our intrepid band decides to walk the subway tunnels rather than deal with the giant monster stomping across the city. The giant monster leaves little "fleas" from its body that are the size of tigers. The subway sequence features lots of good night vision shots as that is the only way the group can navigate. Once they come across the fleas, things get real.

Cloverfield is a fun little monster movie. The found footage approach was a novel way to explore a Kaiju attack in that we don't get any cutaways to the White House or some scientists trying to figure the creature out (even though the military is well represented). By the time there is a ticking clock over the whole plot, we have gotten to know our protagonists pretty well and see what things are like on ground level for them.

If you haven't seen it and you like giant monsters, check out Cloverfield. It has no real relation to 10 Cloverfield Lane, if you have seen that, besides trying to take a big sci-fi movie and making it personal.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Day 297: The Blair Witch

One of the rare times I get to see a horror movie I am interested in during October, this was part of last year's Spooktoberthon.

The Blair Witch ignores the sequel (Book of Shadows) and instead follows the brother of Heather from the first movie as he gathers a crew to search for answers. He receives a mysterious video of someone going through the same house as Heather did at the end of the Blair Witch Project. Emboldened by the recent activity, he grabs three friends and two locals to venture back into the woods. Before the first night is up, the stick figures have appeared again. It is quickly figured out that the locals are to blame and they separate from the main group. One of James' (the filmmaker) party gets a foot injury almost immediately that proceeds to cause mobility problems for the group. As days pass and more people disappear, James gets more desperate for answers. Will he find his sister?

Adam Winguard broke his streak of hot horror movies with this one. While I liked You're Next, I felt like The Visitor was overrated. Winguard frequently contributes to anthologies, too. He had a pretty solid track record going into Blair Witch. While the first movie messed with geography for the filmmakers, this one is more about time. The locals show back up after being gone a day claiming they have been lost for a week (and looking like it). There is one clever twist on the found footage that I liked (I won't spoil it) but mostly this was a less scary rehash of the first movie. That we actually get to see a Blair Witch was a bad idea, I think. The idea of her is scarier than the reality. However, after this one, there are parts of the first one that make more sense.

I would recommend this to Winguard fans or die hard lovers of the original who want to see some expanded mythology.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Day 296: The Signal

This is one of those indie horror movies I watched during one of my Octoberthons.

The Signal (2007) is an anthology horror movie set in and around Atlanta (called Terminus City here). While there are three distinct parts, the characters overlap and follow one another from segment to segment. There has been a mysterious signal broadcast over all televisions and telephones that turns whoever hears it into a raving nutjob. Mya is the heroine of the movie and the film opens with her ignoring an entreaty from her lover to leave her current boyfriend and run away with him. In part one, we see Lewis (Mya's boyfriend) and several of his friends reacting poorly to the signal and getting violent.

In part two, a woman throwing a birthday party decides to go ahead with things despite the fact that she just killed her husband. Thanks to the events of part 1, Lewis ends up at the party and the whole second act is a dark comedy where every one attending the party has to try to keep from killing everyone else.

In part three, things are more surreal and disjointed as there is a final showdown between Mya, Lewis and Mya's lover, Ben. This section is like a violent Malick flick as Ben and Lewis fight over Mya. It is well shot and acted but there is lots of ambiguity in the ending, especially. After the horror of part one and the comedy-horror of part two, part three is more a drama.

The Signal is an ambitious little project that hangs together better than it should (your experience may change based on how well the comedy plays for you). AJ Bowen, a man I have had drinks with, steals the show as the homicidal Lewis. It is also fun to see Atlanta locations and recognize them despite the name change.

Day 295: The House on Pine Street

This was one of my discoveries from the Ain't It Cool list last year, although it took me awhile to track down.

The House on Pine Street takes a little nod from Insidious in that the house the couple moves into is not haunted or cursed or built over a graveyard. Jennifer is seven months pregnant and having serious reservations about having a child at all. Her mother is all up in her business and even old friends think she is acting strangely. Of course, it isn't long until she hears footsteps upstairs when she is home alone and pounding on the front door that turns out to be no one. During a party scene, a family friend with some psychic abilities pops in to give some exposition but mostly the horror is this vulnerable woman alone with her fears in a new house.

The budget was low on this but put to good use. Most of the scares are done with editing and lighting choices (and some solid sound design). I really enjoyed the final explanation of what was going on in the house, it plays as more original than a ho hum ghost story. This indie impressed me and I would highly recommend it to haunted house horror fans.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Day 294: The Changeling

This is one from my childhood that I believe my mother was originally a fan of.

Not to be confused with the Angelina Jolie movie, The Changeling is about George C Scott as a mildly famous composer who moves across the country after he loses his wife and daughter in an accident. The house he moves into happens to still be occupied by the ghost of someone claiming to be a modern U.S. Senator. The ghost also appears to be a child. Scott has to unravel the mystery of just who exactly died in his house while the bodies start piling up around him.

This is a low-key spooky horror movie in the Amityville vein. Lots of slamming doors and breaking windows help set the scene. The most iconic moment might be a child's ball slowly bouncing down the grand staircase of an empty house. Scott does well with the material here as it mostly calls for him to be put upon and indignant. The ending gets a little weird but a little metaphysics goes a long way.

I won't go so far as to call this a classic but it certainly holds up over time. The huge backstory is a little cumbersome but there are enough creepy parts to keep it moving.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Day 293: Flatliners

I know they have made a remake of this and I just saw Popstar again last night which has the scene in it about Bill Hader F-lining in this spare time. So, this movie is still very much in the public consciousness.

Flatliners is about a group of medical school students who decide they want to see what the afterlife is like. They take turns clinically killing each other and bringing each other back to life. Each of them, on their own, starts seeing things that shouldn't be there and experiencing bizarre encounters with things from their past over which they harbor guilt. When they begin discussing the situation, they wonder if they haven't brought back something with them from the land of the dead.

The premise, of course, reminded me a bit of the recent sci-fi movie The Discovery. Seemingly smart people letting themselves die is a heck of a hook for a horror movie. Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland are the two opposite sides of the argument in this movie as Bacon thinks they are tampering with forces beyond their control and Sutherland wants to keep pushing it as far as he can. Caught in between are Oliver Platt, Julia Roberts and William Baldwin almost making this a final brat pack movie. Joel Schumacher continued following his muse with Sutherland here from The Lost Boys. I remember this being a pretty grim but well-shot movie.

If you need to kill time one afternoon, Flatliners is a decent way to do it. It didn't change the face of horror but it is a solid addition to the cannon.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Day 292: Pan's Labyrinth

I have a hard time categorizing this as horror, as it feels more like a fairy tale. There are scenes of terrific horror, no doubt.

Pan's Labyrinth is about Ofelia, a little girl going to live with her pregnant mother and her new stepfather, a Captain in the fascist army. The Captain is meant to hunt down rebels living in the area and the whole fairy tale element plays out with his investigations in the background. Ofelia meets a fairy in the form of a stick insect that leads her to a labyrinth on her new property. There, a faun tells her she can be immortal if she completes three tasks. The first task is to retrieve a key from the belly of a giant toad and the second is to steal a dagger from the Pale Man. It is during these mission sequences that things get fantastical and horrific in the case of the Pale Man. As her mother's pregnancy becomes more complicated, Ofelia is torn between her fantasy world and the real life horrors going on around her. Will she complete the third task? Will Captain Vidal root out all the rebels?

The whole movie has dark touches with the faun looking like a monster and a mandrake root being introduced that looks like a baby. There are bodily injuries that are horrible and the entire Pale Man sequence is from a fairy tale too dark for children. The entire movie is firmly planted in fantasy, however, and never becomes too scary under Del Toro's direction. In a movie with monsters, the real horror comes from the brutal regime of Francisco Franco.

I can't recommend this as a horror movie but it is quite a good fantasy.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Day 291: The Thing

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 290: Sweeney Todd

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Day 289: Danse Macabre

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

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

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

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

Anyway, the book is quick and worth a read.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Day 288: Poltergeist

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Day 287: The Ruins

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Day 286: Psycho

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Day 285: The Masque of the Red Death

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Day 284: Little Shop of Horrors

While I have seen the original, let's all just agree the musical from the 80s is more fun and go with that.

Little Shop of Horrors follows Seymour (Rick Moranis) as he finds a strange plant right after a total eclipse of the sun. Seymour works in a struggling flower shop and has feelings for a co-worker named Audrey, who is abused by her dentist boyfriend. Seymour discovers that the plant will only thrive if it can get regular access to human blood. Calling it Audrey II and putting it on display, Seymour must go to further and further lengths to keep the plant full of human blood. Bad things happen.

So far, nothing about this movie seems funny or like the kind of thing you can make into a musical but, somehow, it fits. With turns from John Candy, Bill Murray and Steve Martin (not to mention Moranis himself) there are lots of funny moments in this movie about a shy nerd killing people for his plant. On top of the comedy, there are some ridiculously catchy songs about the action taking place. It has no reason to work as well as it does but Frank Oz delivers.

If you can stand musicals and you want to see a fun/funny comedy-horror hybrid, you should check this out.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Day 283: Pod

I started watching Mickey Keating films this year trying to figure out what the big deal was about him. I didn't care for Darling and I liked Carnage Park just fine. Pod was the movie that really impressed me, however.

Pod is almost like an intense play for the first half. Martin is a dishonorably discharged army vet who is living in his family's lake house. His brother and sister, Ed and Lyla come to see how he is doing and maybe force him to return with them to a mental institution he was once in. Martin tells his siblings he discovered a pod out in the woods one day and found an alien inside. He defeated it and is keeping it in his basement. He says the alien looks like a human but Martin can tell it is from beyond this world. He also begins pulling his teeth to remove listening devices he believes the government has implanted in him. Something pretty drastic happens at about the halfway point in the movie and the siblings must decide whether to believe Martin's claims or explore the basement for an innocent person being held hostage by their psycho brother.

I loved the ambiguity of the first half of this movie. Martin is clearly a lunatic but he has moments of clarity that make him believable. Lyla wants to believe her brother but Ed is firmly against everything he says. Once the basement is opened, the whole thing becomes pretty predictable but the lead up is great. There is a plot device in the form of Larry Fessenden I don't entirely approve of but that was pretty minor.

This one is worth a look to see a new voice in horror emerging.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Day 282: The One I Love

This is a Netflix watch, for sure, but I sought it out for Mark Duplass, not because I knew anything about it.

The One I Love centers on Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss as Ethan and Sophie, a young married couple who have hit a rough patch. Ted Danson, as their therapist, recommends a couple retreat weekend for them in the California wilderness. Once they arrive, Sophie goes on a walk alone and finds Ethan in the guest house. The two make love and she returns to the main house to find Ethan already there and asleep. When she wakes him, he claims to have no recollection of any sexual activity. Things get weirder when Sophie makes Ethan a breakfast with bacon even though she thinks he should eat healthier. Before long, the secret of the couples retreat is revealed and then things get super weird.

I didn't know anything about this movie going in and I'm glad. The less you know about what is going on beforehand, the better the movie plays, I think. The second act is all pretty heady science fiction stuff before the inevitable horror of the situation creeps in. Once you know the score, you can play along at home and wonder how you would react in that situation.

This isn't gory or violent in any way. The horror here is more subtle and rooted in emotional reaction than visceral anger. I liked it a lot but for those looking for a slasher movie, look elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Day 281: Tremors

I saw this movie in the movie theater, the good old Bijou in Greenville that no longer exists. I hear they are making a television show out of it.

Tremors is about a small desert town that is suddenly infested with three giant "graboids" or worms that tunnel beneath the soil. The monsters suck you down into the ground and eat you, so this is a problem. The other problem is that guns don't really work against things that are underground so you have to find ways to lure these things to the surface. The town is made up of a small but determined population (including Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Reba McEntire and Michael Gross of Family Ties fame). They must find high ground and deal with the graboids before everyone in town is eaten.

This is just a fun monster movie. It has spawned numerous "straight to video" sequels and evolved in the mythology but, at heart, it is rednecks versus underground worm monsters. It makes for the ultimate game of the floor is lava because nowhere you stand is safe. People hiding on tops of buildings and watertowers even find their spots may be flawed when the foundations aren't strong enough. Directed by Ron Underwood, the action stays brisk while the tension is kept at just the right level. The practical effects look great and the performances are pitched towards B-movie caricature that works well.

If you've never seen it and want to spend a fun afternoon in a movie, check out Tremors.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Day 280: The Collector

I was originally going to do Nightmare on Elm Street 2 today but I think the ink spilled about the homosexual metaphors in that movie is plenty. Beyond that, there isn't much of interest to say about it.

The Collector suckered me in with a great, basic premise: what if a master thief matched wits with a serial killer? The idea immediately captured my imagination and I wondered just how strong the execution could be. Directed by the guy who wrote some of the worst Saw movies, this was pretty much immediately a bummer for me. A thief, who is pretty good at his job, breaks into a mansion one night to steal some jewels or something. It just so happens this is the same night a Saw-like serial killer has set up a series of sadistic traps to kill and torture the family that lives there.

The whole movie quickly devolves from a snazzy setup to a series of grisly murders. Not quite as hopeless as the Strangers, there is still very little light in this movie. Every strategy tried by the thief just gets more people killed. The fact that he is a thief doesn't really come into play at all besides explaining why he is in the house in the first place. The serial killer is so far ahead of everyone else that he never seems beatable or escapable. This is one rare instance where the sequel is actually more fun than the original.

If I were you, I would skip The Collector and go straight for the Collection, which is still bad but gets fun in a trashy way that the first one doesn't.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day 279: The Tall Man

This was definitely a Netflix watch, can't recall what led me to it. I probably read a good review somewhere.

The Tall Man is a tricky movie to write about because there is a massive twist about halfway through that changes the entire reality of the movie. I can tell you that, before the twist, the movie focuses on Jessica Biel as a doctor working in an economically depressed small town. She lives with her son and a nanny on a large estate and she is recently widowed, her dead husband having also been a doctor. There is a legend in town of The Tall Man, who abducts children and kills them. When Biel's child vanishes and she finds the nanny bound in a closet, shit gets real.

Even if the execution is somewhat labored, you have to admire the ambition of the Tall Man as a movie. It is really trying to say something about the plight of children raised in poverty and in abusive households. Biel does a fine job as the town doctor but becomes more remote as the plot contorts around her. The character that eventually becomes the center of the action is well-acted and does just fine.

It all feels a bit like a stretched out Lifetime movie but if you like big twists, check out The Tall Man.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Day 278: Funny Games

This one was a rental, I believe. Not sure where you can see it these days.

Funny Games is about a family, played by Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, who go to vacation in their summer home with their son. They are wealthy but, of course, have their own problems and anxieties. Two young men wander onto the property (Michael Pitt plays one) and proceed to move from friendly neighbors over for a visit to sociopathic kidnappers out to torture the family. What follows is a tense and frightening afternoon filled with violence and death.

The reason I can't group this movie in with The Strangers, although they follow very similar plot lines, is that there is a moment of rebellion and fighting back. What happens during that moment constitutes a major spoiler but also defines the entire movie as a lecture against the audience wanting to watch such depraved entertainment. It is such a small part of the overall story but it changes the entire movie in a way I have rarely seen. Some might say it is hypocritical, to denounce torture porn movies while being in the middle of one but it worked effectively on me.

This movie is not for everyone and, as with any home invasion film, might have some triggers in the narrative. I personally think it is a smart movie that I never, ever want to watch again.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Day 277: Splinter

I read a good review of this somewhere and decided to seek it out on video. I'm glad I did because it is a recent gem of a horror movie.

Splinter focuses on two couples traveling the backwoods of some rural state. One couple is made up of two city slickers out to enjoy a romantic camping weekend, the other is two convicts on the run from the state police and headed to a stash house. When the criminals' car breaks down, they hijack the straight laced couple. Before the crew can get going, the female criminal (who is going through withdrawals) believes her childhood cat has been run over and goes to help it. The thing in the road is not her childhood cat but a piece of local wildlife infected by a strange disease that makes black splinters appear in the host body. Also, the host body becomes aggressive in spreading the disease. Most of the action takes place at a gas station where the four try to defend themselves from the various people and animals that have fallen victim to the splinters.

The movie this most brings to mind is John Carpenter's The Thing. With modern practical effects, the creatures in this are twisted versions of normal people. Whenever an infected person is injured, the non damaged chunks just break free and recombine to continue terrorizing the others. The dynamics between the group (the woman is the alpha in the city slicker duo, the male is the alpha in the criminal couple) keep the movie flying by while the creatures attack every so often. The problem solving keeps the audience in the loop, learning along with our heroes.

If you like creature effects and well-paced horror, I would strongly recommend Splinter. It has got the goods.

Day 276: Mad Scientists

This is another post where I look at why we find certain things scary. In a lot of movies, the trouble either begins with a mad scientist (like in Frankenstein) or science itself running amok (like Godzilla). Science and scientists should be helpful but, like mystics in the old days, there are lots about them that lay people do not understand.

So fear of the unknown comes in again with the specifics of science seeming vague and unknowable. But also there is a touch of anti-authoritarianism. Scientists take public money to hide away in their mountain retreats (which probably have self-destruct buttons) and conduct their ungodly experiments. Just what are they doing with our money? What are they doing with our corpses or the weather? Why must everything be veiled in secrecy?

Of course, we know that most modern labs have safeguards against outside variables being introduced that would alter the outcome of experiments, more than as protection against something nefarious. However, think about the large Hadron collider in Europe. The equipment in that lab is attempting to simulate the conditions of the Big Bang. Although it would be exhausting to do so, all of us should probably be worried all the time that they are going to create something world disrupting at any moment.

Yes, science has taken the place of magic in creating monsters and madmen but the results are still just as terrifying. Who is your favorite mad scientist?

Day 275: Alien 3

I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out. It was hard to follow.

David Fincher has done many great movies in his career but Alien 3 was not one of them. Ripley and the other survivors of Aliens crash on a prison planet, bringing an alien face hugger with them. While Newt and Hicks die on impact, Ripley is left in the care of the planet's doctor and Bishop is thrown in the garbage. Ripley has to deal with not only a group of horny prisoners who haven't seen a woman in years but a dog version of the alien running around killing people. With the help of Charles Dutton as a prison preacher, Ripley organizes the men of the penal colony in an attempt to fight off the alien before it kills them all.

Talk about a dark movie, this one is tonally and literally pitch black at times. The low lighting makes the action difficult to see and the prisoners difficult to tell apart. So, stakes are kind of low when the alien starts zipping through tunnels and killing guys. Also, when a movie starts off by killing off the defenseless little girl from the last movie, you know things are going to get rough. Sure enough, by the end, there have been lots of sacrifices and some nice twists.

I wouldn't waste your time unless you are a completist.

Day 274: Black Swan

Not your typical horror movie but I believe it counts.

Black Swan is about Natalie Portman as a world class ballerina who slowly descends into madness. She is receiving pressure from her troupe as she has taken on the coveted roll of the Black Swan in Swan Lake. A rival might be seducing her and her artistic director is putting the moves on her as well. Paintings start to move on their own, strange protrusions erupt from her skin and generally, things get weird as Nina starts to lose her grip on reality.

This isn't horror in the sense that you get a lot of cheap jump scares or monsters chasing people down dusty hallways. This is all about the horrors the mind can produce as you let the pressure in. Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and this movie only gets remembered for the lesbian sex scene between Portman and Mila Kunis. However, it deserves to be remembered for the subtle visual freak outs and the soundtrack that contribute so well to the feeling of disorientation. Plus, I just love Portman and really think this is one of her strongest performances.

Coupled with The Wrestler, these are Aronofsky's movies about the punishment professional entertainers can endure. As a standalone, this is all about the tempting allure of madness.

Day 273: The Vault of Horror

Another movie based on old EC horror comics, I have seen this one more often that Tales From the Crypt.

Five gentlemen entering an office building find themselves trapped in an underground social club and decide to share scary stories about their nightmares.

1) Midnight Mess- A bounder seeks out his sister and murders her for her part of their inheritance. Where he found her turns out to have more going on than he thought.

2) The Neat Job- Be careful what you ask for when an OCD guy marries his dream girl only to find out she is a slob. Trust me, bad stuff happens.

3) This Trick'll Kill You- A magician on vacation in India decides to steal a trick he sees a young girl performing by killing the performer. When he tries the trick on his own, things don't quite go as planned.

4) Bargain in Death- A tale of being buried alive with a comedy of errors including grave robbers, crooked graveyard owners and business partners gone bad.

5) Drawn and Quartered- An artist makes a voodoo deal to pull an inverse Dorian Gray. Whoever he paints a picture of, he can hurt by hurting the picture. Horror ensues.

These stories mostly came from Tales from the Crypt and are the adaptations of some of my favorite horror comics. If you like anthologies, this is a solid one.

Day 272: 30 Days of Night

I suppose I will be reviewing the graphic novel and the movie here.

30 Days of Night is about what happens when vampires realize there are inhabited places in Alaska where night lasts a long time. Both the comic and the movie start with the sheriff arresting a disturbed stranger who foretells the coming of the vampires. Of course, no one heeds the warnings and the town of Barrow is soon invaded by the evil undead. It is up to the Sheriff and a small group of townsfolk to outwit and defeat the vampires before they all wind up as a personal blood bank.

I was never a huge fan of the graphic novel this is based on. Ben Templesmith's art was just too dark and murky to follow what was going on. The writing by Steve Niles was fine, I just couldn't deal with the art. The movie might have almost the opposite problem. It devolves into an action movie of Josh Hartnett fighting and blowing stuff up while some pretty well designed vampires pose all around him. There is no real flair to the storytelling but the movie looks pretty enough. It doesn't go as dark as the source material (both figuratively and literally) but it is fairly faithful.

I know lots of people who love this movie but it didn't do anything for me. Neither did the graphic novel and it is pretty highly acclaimed so, your mileage may vary.