Saturday, September 30, 2017

Day 334: I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

Watched this on Netflix last night with a friend. I had seen Blackcoat's Daughter earlier this year and was wanting to see what else Osgood Perkins was capable of.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In the House is narrated mostly by Lily, a hospice nurse who has come to live with an elderly woman who made all her money writing horror novels. Lily is an avowed scardy cat who can't bring herself to read any of her employer's books past more than a few pages. The old woman keeps calling her Polly, which disturbs her. Bob Balaban, playing the executor of the elderly woman's estate, informs Lily that Polly was the main character of their employer's most successful book, The Lady in the Walls. Before that, on her very first night in the house, weird things start happening. The rest of the movie is a slow burn as we learn who and what Polly is.

The first 45 minutes or so of this movie are pretty good for haunted house horror. There are lingering shots on everyday objects that are somehow filled with dread. Perkins uses negative spaces to let the audience project their fears into the darkness and allow us to scare ourselves. Unfortunately, whenever he breaks down and shows us the ghost, things tend to fall apart. The whole movie seems more interested in making some kind of statement about womanhood and how men keep women locked away in boxes, competing with one another. The scares aren't that scary and, once every thing is explained, the movie goes on for another ten minutes that is not needed. My friend said the whole thing felt like a poem and that is pretty much right. Abstract at times but too literal at others, it wants to be more than the sum of its parts but it doesn't quite come together.

I can only recommend this as one of the artsier horror movies I have seen in awhile.

Day 333: Blade

The first of a long run of successful comic book movies, after Batman and Robin seemingly killed the genre a year earlier. I believe I saw the second Blade before I saw the first, had to go back and catch up.

Like any comic book movie, the story starts with Blade's origin. His mother is attacked by vampires while she is pregnant. This leads to the birth of the half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes). Cut to the present and Blade is attacking a rave party filled with vampires. One vamp survives and feeds on Karen Jensen, a hematologist who serves as our entry way to the world of Blade and his pal, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Blade explains his war against vamps and the weapons he uses. Meanwhile, Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is part of a lesser breed of vampire who were turned after birth (meaning vampires can reproduce in this universe). He stages a coup of the elder Vampire council and plans to summon a blood god to give him power over the earth. Soon, it is up to Blade, Karen and Whistler to stop the nefarious scheme.

Even more so than Aliens, Blade is a pure action-horror hybrid. Stephen Norrington can direct some ripping action scenes. More than the sequels, this original Blade featured the tightest fight choreography. Even thought I liked the big, crazy ideas of Blade II more, the first one is exactly the kind of B-movie that fans can get behind. I liked the CGI "ashing" effects where vamps turn into ash upon dying. I can't say I was ever scared in this movie but vampires by themselves lead to a ton of horror tropes.

I can't recommend this as a good movie but I can say it is dumb fun for people who like to see vampires getting their asses kicked.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Day 332: The Valdemar Legacy

I was suckered into this one last night on Amazon Prime. To be fair, it said "Inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft."

The Valdemar Legacy is a story and a half, which isn't always a good thing. We start in modern Spain where a company has been asked to evaluate a Victorian style mansion immediately. It seems the last appraiser vanished and everyone assumes it is because he found something valuable in the house to pawn. The project manager reaches out to a woman who is supposed to be the best in the business and sends her to the house. Once there, she encounters an attic with a corpse and some shambling beast that attacks her. She escapes into the arms of the groundskeeper and his weird friend who has a thing for insects. Meanwhile, everyone has assumed the woman has gone missing and a private eye is hired to find her. The rest of the movie is the PI sitting on a train listening to a story from the turn of the century. This is the only finished story in the movie and it features Aleister Crowley, Lizzie Borden and Bram Stoker among the cast. It is the story of why the Valdemar property is cursed and how that came to be.

As the flashback story stretched on and on, I realized there was no way we were getting back to the present with the missing woman house expert or the private eye hired to find her. Sure enough, the movie pretty much ends saying "to be continued." The only full story is that of Mr. and Mrs. Valdemar, who run an orphanage and do fake spirit photography on the side. When their scam is uncovered, Aleister Crowley steps in to help free Mr. Valdemar from prison. All this is so he can perform an unholy ritual at the orphanage. It all gets rather silly once the ritual happens and we find out who in the house has a psychic link to a demonic entity.

At least that one story gets told. I was far more interested in the modern day portion that never gets resolved. To imagine, I am against seeing It because it is only half the story but I fell for this one. I can't recommend it unless you can find the sequel, too, which I can't.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Day 331: The Conjuring

This was a Redbox rental I am fairly sure. James Wan isn't an automatic "go see" name for me but I had heard all the good buzz about this so I decided to take the leap.

The Conjuring follows the Perron family as they move into a Rhode Island farm house. Clocks stop in the middle of the night and the family dog dies almost as soon as they get there. The family has an unfortunate "clapping game" that is a cross between hide and go seek and marco polo. Something uses the game to lure one of the daughters in the family down to the basement. Enter Ed and Lorraine Warren, two real-life demonologists (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who learn that the house was the cursed property of a self-professed witch. She said death would come to any who tried to own her land. This leads to all sorts of wacky shenanigans as Ed and Lorraine draw the ire of the witch ghost themselves. Will the Perrons get to stay in their house? Will Ed and Lorraine defeat the witch ghost?

Besides the original Saw, this is probably my favorite movie from James Wan (damning with faint praise here). Besides Ron Livingston as the put upon dad of the Perron house (who is gone a good chunk of the movie), I had no particular love for any of the cast coming into this. However, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor (as the mother) do a pretty top notch job here. Sometimes the editorial and directorial choices get in the way of the acting but when Wan lets them go, they do they solid work. As with all of Wan's movies, there are some jump scares but they are mostly effective and not cheap (no instances of the cat jumping out of garbage cans). That this was all based on a true story adds an Amityville Horror feel to the whole thing (the 70s setting helps with that, too). And Wan found a way to franchise another horror movie by making the demonologists the stars of the show.

I would recommend The Conjuring. It doesn't break down any new barriers in horror but it is a solid haunted house movie.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Day 330: The Raven

Not that movie about Poe, this is an old one from 1935. I found it on a best of Lugosi DVD collection.

The Raven follows the exploits of Dr. Vollin (Bela Lugosi), who agrees to help a judge out by operating on his daughter. Vollin falls in love with the woman, which neither her father nor her boyfriend like too much. Vollin is a huge fan of Poe and has collected various torture devices based on Poe's works. He also recruits an escaped con (played by Boris Karloff) to help him wipe out any opposition to his would-be love affair.

The thing worth watching this movie for is the interaction between Lugosi and Karloff. Even though they made several movies together, this one has some of their best scenes for my money. There is a Chekov's gun effect with all the torture devices Lugosi brags about to impress his lady. You just know they are going to come into play later in the movie. The runtime here is just about an hour so there isn't much waste in the storytelling. Everything gets to the point rather quickly and resolves in a satisfying way.

These old movies are rarely actually scary but they are fun to watch. If you have an hour to kill, you could do worse than the Raven.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Day 329: Night of the Comet

I just watched this on Netflix a couple of years ago for the first time even though some of my older friends have been singing its praises for years.

Night of the Comet is about a Valley Girl type who gets locked inside a projection booth and misses the sighting of a comet that seemingly the rest of the world is out in the streets to see. The effect is that everyone who looked directly at the comet was atomized. Some on the periphery were turned into zombie-like beings. Reggie (our hero girl) quickly finds her sister and the two begin to realize they might be the only survivors. A trip to the local radio station ends up bringing the ladies together with Hector, and alerting the powers that be to their location. The rest of the movie follows the girls as they run afoul of a government agency and those pesky zombies.

Night of the Comet has a lot of character going for it. There are twists and turns in the plot that make you unsure who is going to come out alive. The centerpiece for me is a shoot out with zombie stock boys at a mall. The whole movie is set around Christmas so it works pretty well for some easy commentary on commercialization. This is funnier and more fun than it has a right to be and well worth a watch.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Day 328: Cult

This is a Japanese horror movie that you can watch right now on Youtube. I believe it was recommended by a found footage list I read at Blumhouse.

Cult follows a group of three female reporters/celebrities who have been chosen to take a camera crew and investigate the strange goings on at the Kaneda family home. The ladies all play themselves so I assume they are somewhat famous in Japan. The Kaneda house has been the location for some paranormal activity and a local shaman gets hospitalized fighting with whatever is in the house. They finally recruit a sort of super expert named NEO who gets to the bottom of things and sets the stage for a super natural showdown.

My main objection to this movie is that the title is a spoiler. There is a cult behind everything that is going on in the Kaneda home but you don't find that out until close to the end of the movie. I kept waiting for the cult to show up so it isn't like you can just put the title out of your mind and enjoy. The effects are somewhat on the cheesy side in that they always move to night vision before the real freaky stuff goes down. I can say the creature designs are original and the incidents come frequently enough to keep the film from being boring. There is a slightly stilted nature to the dialogue that goes along with the reality TV format but that was probably intentional.

If you like foreign horror and found footage horror, this is not a bad flick. I would give it a C.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Day 327: Gremlins

This was a childhood classic film I saw at an early age.  I remember getting the collectible records from Hardee's. I don't think I had them all but I had a good chunk.

Gremlins is about Billy Peltzer, who receives a weird gift from his dad. Out shopping in Chinatown one night, Mr. Peltzer buys his son a Mogwai. These are furry little creatures that come with three important rules: don't expose them to bright light, don't get them wet and don't feed them after midnight. Billy soon breaks the second rule and finds out it causes the Mogwai to reproduce when they get wet. The new Mogwai are not as well-behaved as Gizmo, the original. They soon manipulate events to eat after midnight and they transform into the Gremlins of the title. Before long, they are on a rampage through the small town of Kingston Falls. They mostly cause mischief but their brand of pranks can prove deadly as well.

This was a darky comic little movie that remains fun to watch. In the age of CGI, the practical effect Gremlin puppets are pretty awesome. There is, of course, the classic scene in which Phoebe Cates breaks down and talks about her father getting stuck in the chimney and dying on Christmas...a huge downer in the middle of a kid-friendly wacky horror movie. I think it was scenes like that, that didn't pander to kids, that made us feel like we were watching something more adult and risky than we were. It helped that it was promoted all over the place so our parents would feel horrible if we didn't get to see it. I still remember playing out the movie at day care, I would be the evil gremlins while everyone else wanted to be Billy and Gizmo. Ah childhood.

I haven't actually seen this in years but I rewatched the sequel not too long ago and was delighted.

Day 326: Witches

My random topic generator happened to spit out two "why are they scary" topics in a row. Yesterday, I tackled ghosts. Today, witches.

I've talked a lot about the Other in here and how we fear things that are different. Witches represent one of the oldest fears we've had since civilization, the other religion. People who don't practice the same rites and rituals as we do can scare and confuse us. Just look at how Christians view Muslims and vice versa. There is modern witchcraft, of course, which takes its cues from nature and is peaceful...that is not the witchcraft people get scared of. Somewhere along the lines, those who practice Satanism and the dark arts became labelled as witches and warlocks. These worshipers of alternate gods represent the dark underside of what people see as organized religion.

Sort of like vampires, a witch can seduce people away from the life they are supposed to be leading. They can change form and cast illusions to confound and confuse people. Even the satanic witches are still bound to nature a bit with their familiars (like black cats or, in the movie The Witch, a fluffy bunny). Traditionally, the ingredients for their brews are a grocery list of disgusting things found in nature that no one wants to deal with. If there is a blessed natural world, there must be a cursed one, too, and witches are from there. Therefore, they must lie and flatter to bring people over to their side. Who would go willingly?

In reality, not so many witches have really existed as there have been people who are viewed as different and are persecuted as witches. Take the Salem Witch Trials, rebellious children were able to indict their fellow townsfolk on scant or non-existent evidence. The proscribed methods of determining guilt usually involved dying as a Christian or dying as a Witch but dying either way. And like the Inquisition, you either confessed your sin or you were hiding it but you were guilty no matter what.

As religion seems to loosen its grip on the zeitgeist, as it has since the industrial revolution, witches have lost their power to scare as much as well. Perhaps they will make a resurgence as representatives of the natural world we have lost touch with but that barely seems as scary as the devil's minion turning you into soup.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Day 325: Ghosts

This is another break from my usual reviews to do a little exploring of why certain concepts are scary to us. Today I am talking about ghosts.

When you think about it, there are probably few places you could go on Earth where someone has not died at some point. My house alone has been the site of at least one, maybe two deaths. If you think about all the sets of eyes that could be watching you right now, it gets a little overwhelming to believe in ghosts. Luckily, we don't seem to believe that every person who ever lived is now a ghost. We mostly reserve that idea for people who died violently or tragically. That narrows down locations of hauntings to places with tragic or violent histories.

Still, you sometimes get that sense of being watched or feel like you are not alone and ghosts can't help but creep into the imagination. And if a ghost is there, what's to stop it from moving some furniture around or turning an appliance on and off? Why wouldn't it make its presence more known? So, sometimes, late at night, we wait for that other shoe to drop and finally hear a whisper in the darkness or the caress of a hand against our skin. Ghosts are scary because they can be anywhere and they make themselves known usually while we are at our most we sleep.

It has been discovered that there are certain subsonic frequencies that create a sensation of dread, make you feel as if there is someone present and even causes mild hallucinations in the peripheral vision.. These sounds can be caused by the confluence of all sorts of natural phenomenon so it doesn't take much for a little history and a little imagination to cross up and create a unique haunting experience.

The flipside of ghosts that is so scary is...what if this happens to us? What if there is no heaven or hell, merely being trapped on this earthly plane for eternity? Sure, you could watch people in the shower but even that would get old after awhile. And worse if you are stuck as a ghost repeating the same actions over and over again. While our fear of the afterlife is pretty strong, our fear of the inexplicable is worse. Ghosts get to cover both bases at once without really being all that threatening. They can move little things or make noises but, by and large, ghosts are considered harmless. It still doesn't help much if you feel a tap on your shoulder when no one is there.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Day 324: The Creature from the Black Lagoon

I definitely remember watching this when I was about five or six years old. We were living in a trailer at the time and I recall they sold special 3-D glasses so the TV show could be seen the way it was intended.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon follows the exploits of Dr. David Reed, whose friendship with another scientist pulls him into the orbit of the Creature. Dr. Carl Maia discovers the fossil of a webbed hand that would link amphibians to humans. As he returns to the states to tell his friend and his boss, the Creature attacks and kills Maia's assistants who were left behind. The gang all return and decide to explore a region from which no one emerges known as the Black Lagoon. While they explore, they run afoul of the creature, who has the hots for David Reed's girlfriend. Hilarity ensues as the gang takes on the Creature.

This is really a B-movie at best and I think it gets lumped in with other classic horror so much because of the design of the Gill Man. The Creature was pretty original at the time and looks slickly terrifying. The action isn't all that exciting and the lumbering nature of the creature means it is in the same class as men in gorilla suits. I remember the creature getting stuck in the trawling net of the boat and losing a claw, this might be the origin of my fingernail queasiness. The underwater scenes are something to see, of course.

I can't say this is a frightening movie but it is good for a few thrills.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day 323: Fright Night

I just saw this 80s classic with a friend of mine a few years ago. I still haven't seen the remake.

Fright Night is about a kid named Charley who discovers his next door neighbor, Jerry, is a vampire. Rather than waste any time making you think Jerry might not be a vampire and Charley just watches too many scary movies, the movie has a confrontation between the boy and his neighbor fairly early on. The rest of the movie is Charley trying to recruit a vampire hunter from his favorite TV show (Fright Night) and the two of them dealing with Jerry's evil.

Besides the odd pacing, which frontloads a clash between our hero and the villain, Fright Night is known for some comedic moments which don't undercut the horror. A lot of the humor comes from Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) as the late night show host sucked into a world of real evil. Evil Ed, Charley's fair weather friend who knows his way around vampire lore, is also good for some fun in the script. I had a good time with the movie even though it didn't immediately vault into my all-time favorites. If I had seen it when I was an impressionable kid, I would have more affection for it, I think.

For a fun time, check out Fright Night. I can't speak for any remakes or sequels.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Day 322: The Devil's Rejects

I don't know why I ever watched this movie. The House of 1,000 Corpses is one of my least favorite horror movies of all time but I guess I had heard enough positive buzz about this one to give it a go.

The Devil's Rejects picks up where House of 1000 Corpses left off, more or less. After one killing too many, the local police (William Forsythe as John Wydell) raid the Firefly family home and kill one (Rufus) while capturing Mama Firefly. Baby and Otis escape and try to reunite with Captain Spaulding, Baby's father. They kidnap, torture and kill most of a country group called Banjo and Sullivan. However, as Wydell interrogates Mama Firefly, he finds out she was responsible for killing his brother. This unhinges the Sheriff and he vows vengeance against the whole clan. Things get grim from there.

This is the only Rob Zombie movie I've liked so far, so if you're a fan you may be built differently than I am. The first half of this movie is business as usual for the Firefly clan as the three on the run rape and torture their way across Texas. Then, like the weird magic trick that happens when you start sympathizing with King Kong, the killers become the victims as Forsythe moves from a figure of law and order to one of sadistic vengeance. By the end of the movie, you are fully on the side of the Fireflys and Zombie luckily doesn't waste that goodwill by sending them right back to their evil ways. If Tim Burton has a soft spot for outcasts, Zombie has one for monsters. It turns out the best way to make them sympathetic is to put them up against something worse than themselves.

Granted, I've only seen this movie once so the magic trick may not work a second time around. However, I would stand by this as a mostly intense experience.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Day 321: Paranormal Activity

I saw this in the theaters when it first came out, like I did the first three sequels. The Spanish spinoff and the Ghost Dimension were the only two I've missed.

Paranormal Activity is about two people, Katie and Micah, who decide to start documenting when strange things begin in their house. At first they hear noises downstairs at night, and go investigate to find nothing. Then, they set up a camera in their bedroom to record any unusual activity that takes place while they are sleeping. The cameras seem to aggravate whatever is in the house and things quickly go from bad to worse. Katie seems to recall similar events happening when she was younger at another house, which leads the couple to believe they aren't dealing with your average ghost.

The elegant simplicity of this movie is in the setup and rhythm it establishes. You know that nothing wacky is going to happen during the daylight sequences so a dread starts to build up every time the movie switches to the night scenes. The setup of the camera is also genius with the bed off to the right side and the left side of the screen dominated by a simple open doorway. This abyss is a blank slate from which your worst fears can arise. Even though we don't ever get to see much of what is coming into their home, your brain creates worse realities than the movie ever could. While the later movies would expand on the technology involved with catching the activity, the first one I think still works the best with the least amount of frills.

This is my kind of horror movie, almost interactive in the presentation. I understand that some people just want to see the ghost, demon or whatever but I disagree. I think it is stronger for what you don't see.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Day 320: Deadgirl

This is almost one of those you don't want to admit you've ever seen but it was a streaming movie somewhere.

Deadgirl is about two horny high school boys who discover a female zombie tied down to a table in the basement of an abandoned insane asylum. One of the boys is kind hearted and wants to set her free, the other just wants to rape her. There gets to be a power struggle between the two boys (the rapey one brings in another young punk) and other people are dragged into the conflict between decency and evil.

This is a pretty problematic movie with a none-to-subtle message about women as men's property. Unfortunately, the ending and other elements muddy the waters to the point where it is hard not to see the movie just as a kind of sick fantasy. The deadgirl is constantly fighting back and looking for openings where she can spread the zombie plague (which, she gets). Women as objects is an uncomfortable zone for any movie to dabble in but horror can be extra tricky since the genre can be so dehumanizing anyway. I know the movie is meant to be about female empowerment, but it just gets undercut by some narrative decisions.

I can't recommend this movie due to the icky politics of it. I can say it had some decent effects. There is at least one dangling plot thread I wondered about (whatever became of Johnny?) that maybe I am just forgetting. Your mileage may vary but it wasn't a homerun for me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Day 319: Friday the 13th, The TV Show

This show aired late at night on the weekends when I was growing up. I think it only lasted for three seasons.

Friday the 13th, the series, has nothing to do with Jason Vorhees and Camp Crystal Lake. Rather, it was about an antique store where the owner made a deal with the devil to sell cursed objects. After the devil collects the owner's soul, his niece and nephew inherit the store. They decide to regather all the cursed objects let loose by their uncle and proceed to scour the world for them. Each week dealt with a different cursed object with a different evil ability. It was kind of like the X-Files in that the three leads (the niece and nephew had an older gentleman who helped them with backstory) would become imperiled each week but make it out alive with the artifact locked safely in their vault.

Sometimes the artifacts would be as creepy as a doll that kills or as complicated as a trephaning chair that drains brain fluid from one person and injects it into another. One of my favorites was an episode called 13 O'clock where a pocket watch stopped time for an hour after midnight every night. Others involved a radio that tells people what they want to hear (and leads them astray). One episode even featured all the antiques being freed from the vault by the vengeful ghost of the uncle, setting the team back to square one (but really so they could redo some of the favorite ideas from earlier).

I have to say that Louise Robey had a big impact on my puberty as Micki, the red-headed lead. As far as anthology horror goes, this was close but works as a proto X-Files. It may not have aged that well.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Day 318: V/H/S Viral

This was definitely an internet watch, although I forget which platform. As a relative fan of the other two films, I had to see this one.

V/H/S Viral is another found footage horror anthology. The wraparound story is about a mysterious van driving through L.A. and broadcasting images to people's cell phones that make them go insane (a little like Signal). One young would-be internet star believes the van has kidnapped his girlfriend so he pursues it through the streets. Bad things happen.

Dante the Great- This is a cute little short about a magician who discovers Houdini's cloak and the curse that goes along with it. The cloak demands sacrifices but Dante might have finally met his match with his latest assistant. This one is more funny than scary but it is pretty well made.

Parallel Monsters- This short by Nacho "Timecrimes" Vigalando is by far the most interesting of the movie. A scientist makes a breakthrough by reaching an alternate dimension and his alternate counterpart has made the same discovery at the same time. They decide to switch realities and see what's up. One guy definitely gets the short end of the stick. This one is disturbing and oddly funny in its own dark way. The "evil" universe is super creepy and may give you nightmares.

Bonestorm- In terms of having fun, this crew looks like it had the most. It is about a group of kids doing dangerous skateboard stunts who travel to Tijuana to buy cheap fireworks. They stumble onto a ritual site and shed blood, leading to a bunch of Lovecraft worthy cultists coming out of nowhere to kill them. Even when they kill a cultist, they aren't done with him yet. If you like seeing skate punks thrashing on the evil dead, this is the short for you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Day 317: Final Destination

It really gets hard trying to remember under what circumstances I first saw a movie. I feel like this was an HBO movie but I could be totally wrong.

Final Destination follows a group of students as they are preparing to fly abroad for a class trip. In the airport, one of them has a premonition of the plane coming apart and exploding just after take off. She is able to convince or inconvenience a small group enough that they are kicked off the plane. They watch as their classmates explode after take off. All that would be weird enough but it seems the people who survived all start to die in random, tragic ways in the order they would have died on the plane. It seems the students have cheated death and now the abstract concept of death is taking revenge on them.

The fun of these movies is seeing the way events will conspire to kill these kids out of the blue. Sometimes, there is a rogue speeding bus waiting to flatten someone and sometimes it is a series of intricate coincidences that add up to a fatal stabbing and your house exploding. The unique brand on the whole series is that there is no bad guy to defeat and no way to ensure your safety, you are literally fighting back against death, who always wins in the end. It is a scary concept that somehow got goofier in the later movies.

The original Final Destination is still a solid watch, I would recommend it. I think I gave up around the third one, your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Day 316: The House of the Devil

I think this might have been a Netflix movie for me originally but I have seen it many times since the first.

The House of the Devil follows a college student (Samantha) who is looking for some extra money and decides to answer an ad for what seems like elder care. A friend drops her off at a remote house in the woods on the night of a lunar eclipse. The spooky man who owns the house says his mother will be upstairs sleeping and he just needs the girl to watch over the house while he is gone to an eclipse party. When the friend who dropped her off is brutally murdered, we can only wait for the other shoe to fall on Samantha. Why was she lured to the house and what gruesome fate awaits her?

This was Ti West's breakthrough movie and it remains one of my favorites in the slow burn horror genre. Tom Noonan is perfect as the creepy man asking a young lady (Jocelin Donahue as Samantha) to take care of his mother. Greta Gerwig plays the free-wheelin' best friend with all the right notes. AJ Bowen is great as a menacing drifter. The main complaint I have ever heard about the movie is that nothing happens for a very long time in it. There is a building sense of dread and, besides a quick moment of horrific violence between Bowen and Gerwig, the plot simmers along with no regard for cheap scares or fake outs. By the time the shit hits the fan in the third act, things get crazy enough to make up for the slow pace of the beginning.

Personally, I love a good build up to a scare. Alien doesn't even get to the alien for the first hour. By the time the moon is eclipsing and evil is afoot at the remote house in the woods, we have spent enough time with Donahue's Samantha to know her as a character.

I would strongly recommend House of the Devil for anyone with patience and an appreciation for some 70s horror.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Day 315: The Midnight Swim

This is sort of a slow burn horror that doesn't have a horror ending in the slightest. I saw it as part of my Spooktoberthon last year.

The Midnight Swim is about three daughters who return to the family lake house after their mother vanishes while diving one night. This is technically a found footage movie (even though the end doesn't make sense as such) where one of the daughters is a documentary film maker trying to understand why her mother vanished. There are birds throwing themselves against the lake house and an old legend of a ghost on the lake that the ladies try to invoke. There is some drama, too, as the ex boyfriend of the eldest sister starts hooking up with the youngest sister.

This is a very gentle movie, pretty much a drama. If it weren't for the dread hanging over the whole thing of why the mother vanished in the lake. The rhythms are that of a horror movie but the ending is the furthest thing from horror you can imagine (and maybe either silly or beautiful depending on your cynicism level). The director, Sarah Adina Smith, made Buster's Mal Heart this year which is supposed to be genre-bending in its own way, too.

I say this barely qualifies as horror, if it even does at all. But is worth watching.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Day 314: Vacancy

This one was a rental for sure, back when those existed.

David and Amy (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) are the leads of Vacancy. After returning from an unfamiliar area, they take a wrong turn and their car breaks down in the mountains. With no cell reception, they walk to a lonely motel where a sketchy Frank Whaley invites them to spend the night until the garage across the street opens in the morning. Mysterious phone calls and banging on their door starts to put the couple on edge. What really sets them off is finding videos and a VCR in their room that turn out to be snuff films made inside the very room they are in. From there out, it is a cat and mouse game with the killers who can seemingly enter their room at will.

I remember liking this more than I would have thought. It could have easily gone in a Strangers direction but the film keeps the protagonists on the move and trying to outsmart their captors. Luke Wilson does a decent job of playing terrified in his usual deadpan mode. And we all know Kate Beckinsale can kick some ass when required. The creepy setting and the thought that went into the set up of the motel paid off for me. Nimrod Antal would go on to make the decent Predators sequel. He did a fine job here.

What seems like a sleazy set up pays off in an above average thriller. Check it out.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Day 313: In the Mouth of Madness

I watched this movie not too long ago, probably as part of a Spooktoberthon session.

In the Mouth of Madness is about Sam Neill as an insurance investigator trying to locate a missing author named Sutter Cane. The movie starts with a bang as an ax wielding maniac attacks Neill, only to be gunned down by police. It turns out the maniac was Cane's agent, who went insane reading Cane's books. Neill's character (Trent) becomes convinced he should search for Cane in a fictional town called Hobb's End, New Hampshire. Accompanied by Cane's editor, Trent goes on a mission to find a real man in a fake town. From there, time bends, people lose their minds and portals to other dimensions appear from people's faces.

As the third part of John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy (which started with The Thing and continued in Prince of Darkness) it is also the least of them. Although I saw this movie fairly recently, nothing stands out about it in my mind. There are no great set pieces except for some interesting reality twisting towards the very end that I won't give away. The scares must not have been very scary and, if I remember correctly, the effects are kind of dated now. The movie keeps going a good bit after what you would think is the final showdown, but that's just another odd component to an odd little film.

I can't really recommend it but i could have been in a weird place while watching it. Usually, even late period Carpenter has something to recommend it.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Day 312: Arachnophobia

Pretty sure I saw this one in the movie theaters. Which is weird because I cannot deal with spiders.

Arachnophobia follows a deadly giant spider from the amazon rainforest as it kills a photographer and hitches a ride in the coffin back to the U.S. Once stateside, it sets up shop with a common house spider and begins creating deadly offspring. Jeff Daniels is the local doctor whose barn is the site for the spider's love nest. As all of his patients begin to die, the town starts blaming him for the deaths. Eventually, an entomologist played by Julian Sands shows up and helps sort out what's going on. From then on, the doctor, the entomologist, the sheriff and the town pest control man (John Goodman) must track down the head spider and both its nests.

This movie creeped me out when I was 13 and the thought of it bothers me even more today. Spiders are so alien looking to me that I can't deal well with them. I freeze when I see them. So, a whole movie about spiders killing off a small town should be a step too far but I remember really liking the movie and even watching it again. Goodman gives an inspired performance as the exterminator and Jeff Daniels is as likable as ever with his phobic doctor. I have no idea how this movie has aged. If anything, it should be scarier now.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Day 311: The X-Files

While I definitely watched this show during its original airings (Seasons 2 through 6), I caught up on what I missed with home video afterwards.

For those who don't know, The X-Files is a television show about Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. These two FBI agents are assigned to a section known as The X-Files where all the strange and inexplicable cases get dumped. Mulder is trying to find proof of alien life so that he might one day locate his abducted sister, Samantha. Scully was originally assigned to the 'Files in hopes that she would debunk Mulder's work and find rational explanations for all the weirdness he kept running into. Over the years, they become allies and see all sorts of fantastical sights. There was a reunion series in 2016 with another planned soon.

There are three kinds of episodes on this show: good monster of the week, bad monster of the week and mythology episodes. Mythology episodes moved the grand plot of the show forward by digging mostly into alien abductions and shadowy government conspiracies. These are some of my favorite episodes since they push the narrative but these were almost never the scary episodes. The Monster of the Week episodes would fall outside the mythology and let Mulder and Scully investigate all sorts of paranormal phenomenon like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, etc. Again, some of my favorite episodes are comedic takes on these investigations but there are some episodes that were genuinely scary monster of the week eps. Here are a few I would recommend...

1) Ice- Season 1, Episode 8- Mulder and Scully are called into a remote Arctic research station where something has been found in ancient layers of ice. The small cast and single location allow for a tight riff on Carpenter's The Thing with no one knowing who has fallen victim to an alien parasite.

2) Darkness Falls- Season 1, Episode 20- The same formula for Ice is used in a remote logging camp where old growth trees contain ancient insects that desiccate human bodies. They only come out in the dark but the generators are running out of gas. I really like this one because of how deep in trouble Mulder and Scully get.

3) Die Hand Die Verletzt- Season 2, Episode 14- A group of Satanists are running a high school and are back to their old ways. Kind of a satire on lapsed religious folks, this is still a good example of putting the creepy into an unusual place.

4) Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose- Season 3, Episode 4- A serial killer is killing anyone who claims to be psychic. Things get interesting when Clyde Bruckman, a real psychic, gets involved in the investigation.

5) Home- Season 4, Episode 2- A group of inbred monsters pull a Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Mulder and Scully when they go to investigate the body of a baby found buried in a field. The family in this (and the cool use of music) make this a standout episode.

These are just a handful. Some of my favorites include "Drive" and "Monday" from Season 6 which seem to ape Speed and Groundhog Day to great effect. Really, the whole thing is worth watching. The mythology episodes are uniformly exciting and you can make up your own mind about the other, monsters of the week.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Day 310: The Blackwell Ghost

This was an Amazon stumble upon that caught my eye because it was categorized as an independent documentary instead of a horror movie.

This "movie" is about an hour long so it barely qualifies as a feature (back in the day, it would be a fine running length, and that day was in the 1930s). The movie stars a young producer of zombie films who has decided to go into documentary film making by tackling ghosts as his first subject. I genuinely forget the guys name and I think it is by design we might never learn it. Anyway, the director is very excited by a video he has found on youtube about a ghost trashing a hotel room. He goes so far as to get in touch with the guy who posted it to youtube and asks if it is real, to which the youtuber says, "Of course!" And then years or just months pass with no further activity until he finds some footage in an online ghost forum that he believes is real. He tracks down that poster and the guy invites him to film in his house. The director and his wife go visit the house and are invited to stay there for a weekend and film as much as they want.

The whole hook of the movie is that it is real. Beyond even the Blair Witch Project marketing, this movie is posted as a documentary on Amazon and the guy making it goes out of his way to profess everything is real. The main problem I have, and I think the key to the whole thing is that the first video he gets excited about (the hotel ghost) has already been debunked as a fake video. With the foundation exposed as false, I am pretty safe in saying the rest of the movie built on it is just as false. Still, the unnamed filmmaker does a great job blurring the lines and making you think it could be real. Part of you, as a horror fan, wants it to be. But alas...not yet, my friends.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Day 309: HP Lovecraft

Another break from movie reviewing today to talk about a giant in the horror field.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft of Rhode Island was an early 20th century writer who really only found fame after he died. His work is based around things that would drive someone mad. His main contribution was the Cthulu mythos in which he wrote about dark elder gods living beyond outer space that were constantly trying to claw their way into our dimension. The hapless protagonists who encounter these beings are invariably driven insane and the world seems constantly on the brink of utter decimation.

Being a prose writer, Lovecraft often described events and creatures that are beyond human understanding. This makes them very hard to draw or bring to life in a movie. As such, adaptations of Lovecraft's work have been few and far between. His work exists best as stories so here are a few I would recommend...

1) The Rats in the Walls- This is an almost Edgar Allen Poe approach to a man living in an old mansion where he hears rats in the walls every night. His explorations beneath the house show him something very different.

2) Dreams in the Witch House- A boarder inside an old house known to have belonged to a witch starts having strange dreams, discovering impossible angles in the room and having run-ins with a rat that has the face of a man. Things get weirder from there.

3) The Nameless City- A traveler in the desert finds more than he bargained for when he begins exploring a ruined, ancient city.

4) The Music of Erich Zahn- A student in a small European town befriends a violin player who has a unique view out his window. He also has a very important reason for playing his violin every night.

5) The Colour Out of Space- When something falls from the heavens, a strange blight begins to grow over a family's lands.

6) The Statement of Randolph Carter- Just what did Carter see when he went with a colleague to explore an old tomb?

7) Dagon- What horrors lurk in the middle of the ocean? A survivor of a German boat wreck in World War 1 finds out when he runs aground in a strange place.

These are just some of the stories I could recommend. Lovecraft's work is usually reliably spooky. The one downside is his horribly racist views of African Americans that taint some of the writings. If you can deal with some old timey racism, the horror is actually quite good.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Day 308: Paranormal Activity 2

I am sure I saw this in the theater because I remember someone cracking open canned drinks behind me.

After the events of the first Paranormal Activity, there didn't seem to be a lot of places to go with the narrative. This movie moves backwards in time to show that Katie's sister, Kristi, was going through a similar set of occurrences at the same time as the first movie. After what looks like a break in, Kristi and her husband install security cameras all over the house and this is where most of the action plays out. There is a nefarious space in the basement, the pool cleaner keeps getting moved in the night and the kitchen seems to be a hotbed for poltergeist activity. Throw in the endangerment of a baby and you have a recipe for a sequel that is a lot like the original, just more.

As far as these sorts of movies go, this one is slightly less effective than the first. There is no great blank space onto which the audience can project their fear of the unknown. True, the basement is out of camera range but that is hardly a substitute for the gaping doorway of the first movie. The multiple cameras and angles help create more variety of images than the first. The cuts between the cameras almost take on a rhythm so that you can tell when something crazy is about to happen, but I think that is part of the fun.

I have a lot of fun with these found footage spookhouse movies but your mileage may vary. For me, it is more about what I don't see than what I do. Others like to see their demons and ghosts in all their glory. This isn't that but it still works.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Day 307: Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I'm not sure if I first saw this as a rental or as a revival showing in Boston, but I'm glad I watched it.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a group of teens who decide to visit an old family grave that has fallen into disrepair and may have been vandalized. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker who cuts his own hand open and foretells a grim fate for them. When they kick him out of their van, he marks it with his blood. Eventually, the kids get where they are going and despite everything being run down and gross, seem to have a decent time. As two try to find some gas for their van, they run into an old house with generators running. The couple quickly fall to the actions of Leatherface, a big man wearing a face mask made of other people's faces. Things go downhill from there.

First, this movie is boldly unsympathetic towards the crippled as Franklin, confined to a wheelchair, is the most annoying character perhaps in the history of horror. His constant whining is somewhat justified as the hitchhiker tries to carve him up but still, man, have some dignity. The rest of the movie has some of the most disturbing and off-putting shots in cinema history as well. There is a cutaway in the old house of spiders just crawling all over each other that never fails to give me the creeps. The use of practical lighting (for the most part) ads to the feeling that you are watching a snuff film. There are scenes in this movie that really unnerve me. Grandpa and his ability to wield a hammer is one of the most horrific things I've ever seen. Tobe Hooper directed the shit out of this movie and it shows in every grimy frame.

If you can deal with people dying in really horrific ways and a final half hour that is nothing but screaming, you should check out this classic. For such a cheesy title, the horror is created in such original and striking ways that it will always be looked at as foundational for the genre.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Day 306: Pontypool

Definitely a Netflix watch based on an Ain't It Cool suggestion. I think it might have wandered off Netflix in the meantime but I'm not sure.

Pontypool follows three people in a radio station during the outbreak of a crisis. Stephen McHattie (poor man's Lance Henriksen) is a shock jock who has come into work despite a blizzard. His producer and his station manager are also there working. Thanks to their news copter reporter, they are slowly able to get information about what seems to be a riot breaking out around a doctor's office. Soon, there are reports of people eating and killing each other and a warning from an unknown source to avoid using the English language. The doctor makes his way to the radio station and explains that the spreading zombie apocalypse is all due to certain infected words. If you hear the right word, you become infected and either kill someone or die yourself. With the premise established, things start going wrong.

I like the originality of the idea, zombie plague via spoken words but the execution falls a little short. It is probably the budget limitations of the movie but there is a lot of telling and not showing in this (mostly from phone calls into the station). The movie is essentially a three to four hander (once the doctor shows up) and the four actors carry the weight of the material well. The only other problem I had besides the lack of visual variety was the fact that the disease is never fully explained even with the big mid-movie exposition dump. The concept is just a little too heady to be straight up horror.

If you want a new take on a stale genre, check this out. If you need things like visuals and clarity from your films, maybe skip it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Day 305: Godzilla

I know this has recently gotten some re-releases with the Japanese only content but I have only ever seen the cut with Raymond Burr.

Godzilla is about a series of nuclear explosions awakening a giant lizard beast off the coast of Japan. As he romps and stomps his way through Tokyo, the powers that be try to determine a way to stop him. Most of the action revolves around a scientist named Yamane and his colleague, Serizawa, as one scientist who wishes to study and understand Godzilla and another scientist who has the means to kill him. Raymond Burr is a reporter named...get this, Steve Martin. He mainly gets to comment on the action as it is happening around him without directly affecting the plot.

The U.S. version is a little less heavy on the anti-bombing rhetoric (I wonder why) but essentially, the plot is identical to the original version. Science is the cause of and the solution to all the problems in the movie. There are some fun scenes where Godzilla gets to go crazy on his rampage. In between sweet Kaiju action is the requisite love story where Yamane's daughter calls off her engagement to Serizawa because she is in love with someone else. But you know, you gotta play to the whole audience, not just the city stomp appreciators.

Do you really need me to recommend this or not? You know you like it.