Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Day 365: The Invitation

This was a Netflix watch and was recommended to me by a friend, I forget which one.

The Invitation was a movie I didn't know a lot about going in and I am glad. In a nutshell, I would say the less you know about this, the better. But it is worth watching, for sure. If you want a little more info, keep reading. The main character of The Invitation is Will, who we see driving with his girlfriend to a party being hosted by Will's ex-wife and her new husband. Will and his ex lost their son and drifted apart in their grief. Eden and David are the hosts of the party (in the very house where Will used to live with Eden and their son). Will is immediately on edge and wondering why there are bars on the windows. When David locks the front door behind his guests, Will balks and makes him leave the key. It soon comes out that Eden and David are part of a cult/support group called The Invitation. They have invited a couple of their fellow members to this party and the whole dynamic starts feeling like a recruitment pitch for their group. I won't go any further into the plot but I enjoyed the way it unfolds.

This movie really pulls off a neat trick that I can't go into without spoilers. I will say, Will's paranoia becomes pretty fascinating to watch in between flashbacks to his life with Eden and their son. The group of actors playing Will's friends are uniformly good and make their friendships feel lived in. John Carroll Lynch from The Drew Carey Show does a bang up job as one of the Invitation members who makes everyone else feel uncomfortable. I enjoyed the journey in this one and I am glad it was my last review.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Day 364: Count Yorga, Vampire

I rented this off of Amazon and it is from my Essential Horror book.

Count Yorga, Vampire (aka The Loves of Count Yorga) is pretty much a retelling of Dracula in (then) modern day Los Angeles. There is no Harker part but it starts with Yorga being shipped in his coffin to his new estate. Some time after, he is at a seance with the daughter of a woman who died while dating him. He promises to get Donna, the daughter, in touch with her mother. Donna flips out at the seance and Yorga soon puts her mind at ease with some hypnosis. Leaving the party, Yorga gets a ride home from a couple named Paul and Erika. Erika is kind of taken with Yorga. When the couple get stuck in the mud on the way home, Yorga attacks them and drains some of Erika's blood. Things keep getting worse for the couple as well as Donna and her own boyfriend as Yorga creeps into their lives.

The one aspect of this I enjoyed was how quickly a local doctor jumps to the conclusion of Yorga being a vampire. He is the Van Helsing character but sort of incompetent. Yorga makes a big deal out of being smarter than most humans since he has been alive for so long and, with enemies like these, he really didn't need to be that smart to begin with. The protagonists sort of bumble around with broken wooden chair legs and broom handles, looking to stab someone in the heart. There is a lot of implied sexuality in this one (a rape and a lesbian seduction scene are hinted at) but not much in the way of overt eroticism. This is pretty run of the mill vampire lore, watch if you are a completist.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Day 363: Train to Busan

This was a Netflix watch and has come highly recommended by most of my horror friends in the know.

Train to Busan follows an overworked dad trying to get his daughter to her mother in the Korean city of Busan. The only problem? Zombie outbreak. And not Romero Zombies, 28 Days Later fast Zombies. The outbreak hits as they are boarding the titular train and, before long, the whole train is divided into infected cars and uninfected cars (Zombies can't operate the doors that separate the cars). A whole cast becomes evident as the movie progresses with two older sisters traveling together, a man and his pregnant wife, a team of baseball players and their cheerleader and, of course, the selfish businessman who thinks nothing of throwing one of the others at a zombie to delay them. Will the train make it to Busan? Will Busan be safe once they get there? Who will live and who will die?

I really enjoyed this zombie movie. I want to say it is a solid, meat and potatoes Zombie flick but I think that undersells it a little. There is a nice emotional core with the man and his little girl. The man actually goes through a character arc in the movie, which can sometimes be rare for a horror protagonist. The budget for this must have been huge as the special effects are dead on and the zombie hordes are seemingly limitless. This has lots of gripping action and some super tense set pieces where the humans work to outsmart their infected foes.

I would strongly recommend this film.

Day 362: Scream and Scream Again

I rented this off of Amazon and it was from my Essential Horror book.

Scream and Scream Again is yet another movie that roped in Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This time, it starts on almost three separate tracks. A long-distance runner collapses in the beginning and wakes up in a hospital with his leg amputated. Meanwhile, in a weird Nazi-style country, a big dude meets with his superior and kills him after revealing he knows too many secrets he shouldn't know. Meanwhile meanwhile, a killer is loose in England, draining ladies of their blood and raping them (maybe not in that order). Eventually, these plot threads kind of come together (although I still don't know what the Nazi thing is about). Price plays a scientist whose employee is the first victim of the "vampire killer." Cushing is a fascist military leader who is tired of his underling's use of torture. Lee plays a British government official who is kind of dealing with the Nazi-ish country. There is a super long car chase, vats of acid and live music by a group called The Amen Corner.

This was a weird little movie that doesn't quite come together the way it wants to. It keeps doling out little bits of information about how the plots are connected but then stops cold for a 20 minute chase scene. Cushing is wasted in his cameo but Price and Lee do a fine job in theirs. The ending doesn't entirely make sense to me but your mileage may vary. This could very well be a work of genius I just didn't "get."

Day 361: The Devil Lives Here

This was a free watch on Amazon Prime and recommended from Miller's Top 31 of the year.

The Devil Lives Here is about four teens visiting an old plantation house on the one night a year no one is supposed to be there. The two boys are looking to prank the girls by using the haunted history of the plantation to scare them. Unfortunately for them, the sons of the recently deceased caretaker have resurrected a zombie slave who has to help them complete a ritual that keeps a curse off their family. To make matters worse, the Honey Baron, the evil slave owner who was killed at the house, has plans of his own and is mesmerizing one of the girls to set him free. Evil spirits, the undead, and lots of murder go down when these groups collide.

This is a Portuguese horror film that did not make much sense to me. I don't know exactly what was lost in translation but people act in very abnormal ways, the rules of how humans interact with ghosts and zombies is very unclear and sometimes things just happen because they had to in order to progress the narrative. There is a sex scene way too late in the film (after several characters have met violent ends) that is hard to explain unless a ghost was compelling them to screw? Anyway, the muddled actions never really rise to the level of all out suspense. I can't really recommend this movie despite a few interesting ideas.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Day 360: Count Dracula

I rented this off Amazon, it was from my Essential Horror book.

At this point, you should probably know the story of Count Dracula as told through Bram Stoker's novel. Jonathan Harker visits Dracula in Transylvania, gets attacked. Dracula moves to London and start preying on Harker's friends. Meanwhile, a doctor named Van Helsing starts putting together the pieces of all the attacks and pointing everyone towards Dracula. Much staking of the undead ensues.

The thing that makes this version unique is Christopher Lee taking on the same story for a second time. Jesse Franco directs this to the best of his ability but the budget undermines the action at times (there is a scene where taxidermy animals attack our heroes and it just looks awful). Klaus Kinski plays Renfield in a series of scenes that seem in no way connected to the main plot until a little bit at the end. Overall, this is well-acted but it seems inessential when there are so many other versions of the Dracula story out there. I find it hard to recommend this one unless you are just a Dracula or Christopher Lee completist.

Day 359: It Lives In the Attic

This was from Miller's Top 31 of the year list. It was free on Amazon Prime.

It Lives In the Attic at first seems to be an anthology but the longer you watch, the more you realize all the stories are connected. It really focuses on three people: Ellie, Barney and Andy. What their relationship is to each other and how they all come together is part of the fun of the movie. The opening bit is Andy in the woods, enjoying nature until he keeps coming across smoked cigarettes near his camp site and hearing footsteps in the night. One day, while fishing, he finds a bloody shirt in the water. There is a nice little twist at the end of his story and the vignettes just keep coming from there. The review I read compared it to Pulp Fiction and that is true only in the sense that the narrative is non-linear and sometimes replays the same scenes from different angles.

This is an ambitious little movie that is super low budget. The acting by the main players is not bad but beyond them, there is a kind of "let's put on a show" quality to the whole thing. The production values are non-existent and I swear they turned a high school into a sex dungeon in one part. There are lots of very wrong things happening in this movie and the amateurish nature of the whole thing actually acts as a strength towards the end. This movie is kind of winning despite itself but I can see how it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Day 358: The Similars

I watched this on Netflix, as one of Mark Miller's Top 31 horror movies of the past year.

The Similars is very much a Twilight Zone homage, from the opening narration to the one setting. A group of people are gathered in a bus station on a rainy night, waiting for a bus to Mexico City. One man needs to get there to see his children being born, one woman is pregnant and running from her lover, one woman is there with her sick son, one man is there to join some student protests in the capital, and the staff of the station is there as well. One by one, something happens to them which is kind of fantastically ridiculous. I won't spoil it by going into it here but it gives everyone a reason to turn on each other and be suspicious. The introduction of a shotgun heightens everything and nerves start fraying quickly. Who will survive the night and what will be left of them?

This was an interesting little concept for a movie. It plays out a little too long to be entirely captivating, thus making it a little flawed in my view. The washed out colors and the claustrophobic location help the style of the movie even when some of the dialogue gets a little too expositiony. The thing that is happening to everyone is pretty original, even if the cause is not. If it could have moved at a slightly faster clip, I would have enjoyed it much more. Also, the whole thing is a little more sci-fi than horror.

Day 357: The Exorcist III

Saw this with some friends. I remember wanting to see this as a kid but it was deemed too much for me at the time.

The Exorcist III follows the story of Father Damien Karras from the original movie, sort of. The main character is George C. Scott as a police lieutenant who was friends with Karras and who hangs out with another priest. A series of murders starts happening in the area that remind Scott of the Gemini killer, who was put to death 15 years earlier. When Scott's new priest friend is killed, Scott finds a man who looks exactly like Father Karras committed to a psych ward in the same hospital where Scott's friend died. What is the connection between the Gemini killings and the modern murders? Why does each crime scene have totally different finger prints? Will George C. Scott figure it all out in time to keep his family safe?

This movie completely ignores the events of Exorcist 2 and plows ahead with a tangential story that still features an exorcist. William Peter Blatty, the writer of the original, comes back as writer/director here. He stages at least one well done scene (a static shot of a hospital hallway that works very well). Overall, he gets the creepy mood of the original down, if not the scares. Scott arguing with a demonic entity is always lots of fun. Overall, a decent horror film. I would give it a B-.

Day 356: The Whip and the Body

Watched this one with some friends. An old Italian bodice ripper if ever there was one.

The Whip and the Body is about a bad boy named Kurt (Christopher Lee) returning to his ancestral home after he had previously driven a servant girl to suicide. His former flame has been married off to his brother by his father. Meanwhile, his brother still loves a girl named Katia. And there are a couple of servants who just straight up don't like Kurt. When Kurt gets murdered, his former flame starts being haunted by him...it's castle bound intrigue as Christian (Kurt's brother) tries to get to the bottom of what's happening.

Shot much more darkly than the Corman castle based horror movies, Mario Bava made this one shadowy and creepy. He likes to ratchet up the tension with long shots of echoing footsteps and people waiting for doors to open when they shouldn't. Lee was dubbed in this so we only get his physical performance but he does well as the ghoulish Kurt. The rest of the cast does fine as well even if I was a little confused about everyone's relation to each other for a little while. I actually still don't know who Katia is and why she lives with her ex and his wife. Overall, this is good old, fashioned meat and potatoes horror that might not scare you but should keep you entertained.

Day 355: Don't Look Now

Been meaning to see this for years, watched with some friends off Amazon.

Don't Look Now follows Donald Sutherland as a professional restoration expert who loses his daughter in a tragic drowning accident at the beginning of the movie. When he and his wife (Julie Christie) go to Venice for him to work, Christie runs into two old ladies, one of whom claims to be psychic. She tells Christie that the daughter is with her parents and happy but that Sutherland is in grave danger. The rest of the movie is a slow burn as a killer is on the loose in Venice, Sutherland is not at all happy with his wife being entangled with the psychic and he keeps seeing his daughter running around in the same outfit she was wearing when she died. Once Sutherland believes his wife has gone missing, things start to unravel.

It is hard for me to rate this movie as it is very well made but I knew the ending going into it. I read a comic back in the 90s called Star Man and the narrator references the end of this movie once. It was enough to stick with me all the way to today. One of my friends who loves this movie was genuinely scared by the ending but it was just what I was waiting for. If you go in not knowing what is going on, you may like it more than I did. Also, beware of watching in mixed company as there is a super long sex scene in it.

I loved the editing and the pacing of this movie. I just wish I could have seen it fresh.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Day 354: House (1977)

Watched this Criterion Collection movie with some friends off Filmstruck.

House is batshit insane. Let me just say that up front. It follows a girl named Gorgeous as she and a group of friends decide to spend their school break at a remote country house belonging to Gorgeous' aunt. The seven friends start disappearing one by one as the spooky house shows its true colors. Much screaming ensues.

It is hard to call this a pure horror movie. It is listed as a horror-comedy but that doesn't even do it justice. Rather, it is filled with camera tricks and freeze frames and animated sequences and weird cuts that add up to the feeling that you are being bombarded with weirdness. The first time I tried to watch this, I turned it off because it was all too much to deal with. I'm glad I stuck with it this time as it is very entertaining, somehow. It almost stubbornly refuses to treat the film format seriously (in one sequence where Gorgeous is describing her aunt, everyone comments as if they see the images being projected to match the backstory). All sorts of cinematic rules are broken but they add up to a singular experience. This isn't what I would call scary but it has some horrific imagery in it.

The whole thing sort of defies explanation. See it with friends.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Day 353: Die, Monster, Die

This was a selection from my Essential Horror book and I watched a bad rip on Youtube.

Die, Monster, Die is loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space but you would be hard pressed to tell. Nick Adams plays a guy who shows up in the town of Arkham looking for the Whitley place. All the townsfolk shun him and make him walk the miles it is to the Whitley estate. There he finds a huge pit surrounded by dead trees. In the mansion itself, Boris Karloff (confined to a wheel chair) welcomes him by telling him to GTFO. Adams is there to see Karloff's daughter, Susan, and maybe take her away from all this. Karloff's wife is bedridden and refuses to be exposed to light. Their butler is a weirdo who keeps falling over. In the midst of all this is a mystery and some slight danger.

This was not a very good movie. Karloff is all about his father going insane and worshiping beings from beyond the galaxy but that has very little to do with the actual plot. Almost like the giant frog in The Maze, I hate to give away what's going on but if it saves you from seeing the movie, maybe it's a service. You see, a meteor crashed on the Whitley estate and now it is making plants, animals and people mutate. The mutated people are really just dying. But before they die, they go on kill crazy rampages for some reason. There is a maid named Helga who keeps popping up at weird times to attack people, we never really see what happens to her. Karloff and his wife go crazy. It all feels like a cheap 50s throwback even though it was made in the 60s. Karloff deserved better than this.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Day 352: Raw

This was a Netflix watch and, while not on any countdown I've seen yet, was on my list of movies to watch in 2017 so, Spooktoberfest win!

Raw follows a young student as she starts her first year in veterinarian school in France. The place is a literal Animal House as the upper classmen haze the "rookies" and throw wild parties all the time. Justine is having a hard time fitting in as she comes from a family of strict vegetarians. One of the first days at school, she is doused in blood and made to eat a rabbit liver. After that, a strange rash breaks out and she discovers herself craving meat, the more raw, the better. It doesn't help that she has a crush on her gay roommate or that her older sister is part of the hazing force. Soon, Justine realizes there is only one kind of meat that satisfies her hunger...human flesh. Things get hard to watch.

This is really a movie about getting out into the world and finding one's self. Justine is getting in touch with her sexuality and wild side as she explores her new hunger. After a lifetime of being dubbed the genius of the family, she is finding it hard to make friends in the scary new environment of school. Oddly, that narrative gets moved aside and a secondary story of family develops here. Justine and her sister have an odd bond that reveals itself as the movie unfolds. Although there are some hard to watch scenes, there is a lot of subtle drama in the movie as well.

Raw is a good movie that just happens to be about a young cannibal. If you can stomach it, and really the worst is one scene in the middle of the movie, you should give it a chance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Day 351: Games

This one is from my Essential Horror book. I found it for free on Youtube.

Games is about a married couple played by James Caan and Katharine Ross. They collect art and have a lavish New York apartment filled with games like pinball and duck shooting. They invite their rich, weirdo friends over to have wild parties. Everything changes when a woman named Lisa comes to their door, selling make-up, and collapses. Ross allows the woman to stay and recuperate. Caan doesn't think it is such a good idea but, before long, the three are playing an escalating series of pranks on each other. Which is all well and good until one of their games turns deadly. Can Ross live with the guilt of being accessory to murder? And what if the dead person isn't ready to be dead quite yet?

This movie reminded me of a Columbo episode (the harpsichord soundtrack and vivid 60s-ness of the whole thing didn't hurt). As a savvy modern viewer, you are waiting for one more twist to the story that doesn't come. Instead, you get a moderate haunted house story with what was, I'm sure, a shocking conclusion at the time. This could have been a really great movie but the lack of ambition dooms it a bit. I don't want to say anymore in case you choose to see the movie but I was disappointed.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Day 350: It! and The Sublet

Blame this entry on Hush. I watched Hush in September but it was my first post of October. All of October was meant to be my Spooktoberfest movies (all 31 of them). So, I either stop my blog on November 1st or I double up the reviews one day. To make matters more confusing, this is for a day that hasn't happened yet (Monday the 16th). Just trust me.

It! is not a movie about a demonic clown in a small town in Maine but rather a 1966 movie starring Roddy McDowall as a man who figures out how to control a Golem. This is a weird little movie. In the opening scene, a warehouse is burnt down that belongs to a British museum and the only thing that survives is a Golem statue. Upon examining it, the curator of the museum dies mysteriously. Roddy McDowall is the assistant curator who finds the body and thinks one of the Golem's hands have moved. In a plot development completely unrelated to the Golem, we find out Roddy is pulling a Norman Bates and living with the corpse of his mother. He occasionally steals things from the museum for her to wear and then brings them back. He slowly figures out the Golem has been killing people (somehow) and tries to determine if he can use it to his advantage. Meanwhile, the girl he loves is falling for an American sent to analyze the Golem for authenticity. Lots of moving parts in this movie, for sure.

This movie was pretty par for the course except for the weird running subplot about Roddy McDowall living with his dead mom. There is a fantasy sequence half way through where he sees a naked girl on a couch. As he moves to seduce her, he finds it is just his mother's desiccated corpse. Womp Womp. It never amounts to much except to show that he was mentally unbalanced before gaining access to his own Golem. I like that they reference the German silent film The Golem in this one. It was a classy touch for a Psycho ripoff. Anyway, it all plays out in a way you wouldn't expect (hint: nuclear bombs are involved) so it kept me entertained.

The Sublet, on the other hand, plays out beat for beat like you would expect...for the most part. A young couple who just had a baby come to see about a sublet and find no one is home to great them. There is a note in the entryway saying if they like it, they can stay. So the couple stays and almost immediately things start going on. There are door knocks with no one there, a locked room that keeps unlocking itself and furniture that refuses to be rearranged for long. All pretty par for the course of haunted house/apartment movies. The woman's husband is neglecting her for his work and brings his ex-girlfriend home one night to "run lines." So, the woman is stuck at home with her baby all day and has nothing better to do than read an old journal she's found there.

The ending gets telegraphed way in advance. There are a couple of spooky moments, like the scene where the wife realizes she's slowly been poisoning her husband. This is not a ghost in search of revenge so much a ghost that wants its old life back. Most scenes seem to unfold with a dream logic, like when two cops come to tell the woman she is a missing person. Things move at a brisk pace and although nothing very new or original happens, it can still be entertaining. I would give this one a flat C.

Day 349: Heidi

This one is from Miller's list of recommended 2017 horror. I saw it for "free" on Amazon Prime.

Heidi is about a teenage boy who records everything, hypothetically for a prank show on Youtube. He and his best friend are bird sitting for an older woman when they find a hidden attic in one of her closets. Inside is a treasure trove of comic books and art...as well as a doll named Heidi. They toss her aside but immediately turn to find her sitting up again. From there, things start to happen relatively fast. The old woman is found with her head turned completely around and her bird cooked in the oven. The doll starts showing up at both of the boys' houses. The boys blame each other while the sightings escalate. Ryan, the main character, becomes a suspect in the old lady's murder while he also meets a new love interest in the neighborhood. Lots of moving parts come together in this one while you wait for the doll to take its revenge.

First, the acting is pretty bad in this. What is scripted, sounds scripted. What is made up is mostly just cursing. The budget is low (there is a camera malfunction every time the doll "moves") but that sometimes works to the advantage of the movie. The doll accomplishes quite a bit for a mostly inanimate object and really seems to hate pets. Overall, the story is fairly all over the place but the movie isn't a complete waste of time. Certain found footage rhythms can still result in a good scare. The ending is pretty cool, too.

I would give this a C- overall.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Day 348: Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

This is from my Essential Horror book and I had to track it down on youtube of all places.

There are some convoluted plot devices to get to the title Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Six men board a train somewhere in England and one of them (Peter Cushing) claims to have the power to see the future with his deck of tarot cards, which he calls his House of Horrors. The man's name is Dr. Shrek, which means Dr. Terror in German apparently. At any rate, he goes around telling each man's fate with the cards.

The first story is about an architect asked back to his old family home to see about renovations. Once there, he uncovers the grave of a werewolf that swore vengeance on the owner of the home. Not much happens but there is a nice little twist at the end.

The second story involves a family coming home from holiday and finding a new vine growing on their house. It resists all efforts to cut it down or dig it out. It is even willing to go so far as murdering the family dog. A plant expert comes in to get to the bottom of things and things go poorly.

The third story has lots of music and is about a jazz player traveling to the West Indies. Once there, he steals the melody of a voodoo ritual song and returns to England to play it. Lots of warnings go unheeded. I liked the music in this part a lot. It was also cool that it features a poster for this very movie.

The fourth story pits Christopher Lee as an art critic against Michael Gough as a painter whose work is bashed by Lee. Their rivalry builds until a severed hand is stalking Lee throughout London. This is a slight addition to the "disembodied hand" genre of horror.

The fifth story features Donald Sutherland as a newlywed who has brought home (unbeknownst to him) a vampire wife. When he and his colleague find a little boy is being slowly drained of blood, the action heats up. There is a nice twist at the end of this one, too.

The frame story just goes ahead and negates all the other stories by the end but, whatever. It would be a few years before Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror did an anthology like this right. Nothing is too scary and the performances are all good. An anthology for completists only, I'd say.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Day 347: The Void

Watched this on Netflix and it was one of Thrillist's Best Horror of 2017 so far list.

The Void follows a police officer who finds a bloodied man stumbling out of the woods. The officer, Daniel, takes the man to a local hospital that is mostly shut down due to a recent fire. There are two nurses, an intern, a doctor, a patient, a very pregnant young lady, her grandfather and a state trooper at the scene when Daniel and his catch arrive. Soon, one of the nurses is cutting her own face off with scissors and the whole place is surrounded by men wearing white hoods with black triangles on them. Things go off the rails pretty quickly after some exposition scenes letting us know Daniel is married to one of the nurses. Two guys who started the movie gunning down a woman and setting her on fire show up to make the mix even more explosive. The cast quickly shrinks and soon, an ultimate evil is set to be freed in the hospital on this night.

This movie owes a lot to John Carpenter's The Thing. Not just the practical effects for the hideous creatures but the overall isolation of the cast from the rest of the world. The cult members surrounding the hospital aren't there to break in, they are there to keep the cast from leaving. So, they are stuck as all sorts of horror unfolds. There is some gore here and some callbacks to Hellraiser as well. Aaron Poole, the poor man's Aaron Paul, stars as Daniel and does a good enough job being the believably flawed horror hero. The two murderers who burst in to the hospital to make things worse are compelling just through their scant backstory. You want to know more about these guys as they start playing a more central role. The ending gets a little on the cheesy side with a monologue-prone villain. It all reminds me a little of something I would have written when I was a teenager, a little too in love with its own ideas. My friend I watched it with said it kept him surprised, which is one of the better things one can say about a horror movie.

I liked this one and fans of Lovecraftian or Clive Barker-style monsters should give it a watch.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Day 346: Mother!

Went to the theater with my actual mother to see this. It was on Thrillist's list of best horror of the year so far.

Mother!(which should really be lower case) is about an unnamed man and woman living in an idyllic house in the middle of nowhere. The woman (Jennifer Lawrence) is fixing up the house, occasionally communing with the literal heart of it. One day, a man comes to the door thinking the house is a bed and breakfast. The Husband (Javier Bardem) invites the man (Ed Harris) to stay with them and immediately, things get strange. Harris smokes in the house and invites his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to come stay as well. Pfeiffer is really out of bounds, asking personal questions and throwing Lawrence's laundry on the floor. Then, of course, there is the thing in the toilet. Things continue to get weirder and more nightmarish from there.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of the movie because it goes to some crazy places you can't imagine from the beginning. There are at least two layers of metaphor working here. One of which is religious, and that becomes very clear in the second half of the movie. The other of which is that these strangers invading the couples' lives are children. They smoke, they intrude, they get inappropriately sexual, and they just don't listen. The first half of the movie seems very set on making the experience of parenthood look just horrific. The movie absolutely works on a metaphorical level but doesn't completely hold up as a straight narrative. The metaphor gets so heavy handed at times, it takes over the narrative and brings you out of the movie. I understand what Aronofsky is doing here, I just wish he had underplayed his hand just a little in the last half hour.

All in all, I like this movie. Even though there is horror in it, it is hard to call it a pure horror movie. I would still recommend it to anyone interested in this type of allegory.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Day 345: The Devil's Candy

This was recommended from Thrillist and seen on Netflix.

The Devil's Candy is about a house in Texas where the devil likes to talk to whoever will listen. After Pruitt Taylor Vince kills his parents due to the voice of Satan, the house is put on sale. Ethan Embry and his family buy it. Embry is a struggling artist who begins hearing demonic whispers and channels it into his art. Meanwhile, his daughter is starting a new school and dealing with normal tween drama. Vince has gotten away with the parental murder and is staying in a motel where he can either silence the devil by playing heavy metal riffs or murdering little kids. And the law don't take kindly to strangers playing heavy metal in motels. So this sets Vince on a collision course with Embry and his family that results in some blood.

Vince is good at playing these disturbed guys by now (anyone remember when he was the lovable bartender Stinky in Beautiful Girls?). Embry has absolutely vanished from his clean cut teen movie star days. He looks a little like Rob Zombie here and his love of metal kind of makes that even clearer. The whole movie is creepy and there are a few plot holes I won't point out here. It is a decent Halloween treat though.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Day 344: Last Girl Standing

This was an Amazon rental based on Miller's Top 31 Countdown. I don't see every movie he recommends, mainly because he has a higher tolerance for rape and gore than I do. This one sounded interesting though.

Last Girl Standing starts at what would normally be the climax of a horror movie, two teens are running for their lives from a masked man. When the boy gets impaled, the girl runs until she finds the corpses of all her friends strung up in the woods. There, she does final battle with the killer and eventually gets the upper hand. She stumbles out into the rising sunlight and wanders a back country road until a car comes along to help her. Fast forward five years and Camryn finds herself waking up screaming every night, plagued by nightmares of that one incident. She lives in a bare apartment, working a nothing job where she doesn't have to speak to anyone. One day, a new guy starts the job and might be just the thing to get her out of her shell. Unfortunately, that's when the masked killer from the beginning seems to come back as well.

This is a fascinating premise for a movie. How well would you react if you were the last survivor of a slasher film? Camryn very definitely sees some things that aren't there but she also experiences some things that aren't so easily explained. Is she going crazy or has someone come to get her and her new friends? You'll be surprised how late in the game you get before you find out one way or another. The whole thing is pretty gripping and kept me guessing until it had to show its hand. It also pulls off a nifty trick without the audience even realizing it, but to say more would spoil it. This is a well-made and entertaining movie I would recommend.

Day 343: Kiss of the Vampire

This was a recommendation from my essential Horror book. I rented it off of Amazon for $3.

Kiss of the Vampire is about a couple on their honeymoon traveling through Eastern Europe by newfangled motor car when they run out of gas. A local rich guy by the name of Dr. Ravna takes an interest in them and invites them over for dinner. Meanwhile, local vampire hunter, Professor Zimmer, is trying various gambits to keep the vampire population low in surrounding countryside. As our newlyweds get sucked deeper and deeper into Ravna's web, Zimmer formulates a plan to destroy all vampires.

This is a fun Hammer horror movie from the 60s. The plot unfolds rather quickly after the vampire cult launches their plan to abduct the young Mrs. Harcourt from her husband. Zimmer is a pretty badass vampire fighting character who is kind of a joy to watch as he spends a lot of his screentime drunk. The final battle between good and evil goes a little more smoothly than I would have imagined but in this movie the more fun is in the journey than the destination.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Day 342: XX

This was recommended by Miller's Top 31 Countdown. I saw it on Netflix.

XX is an anthology written and directed by women. There are four stories and only three are about motherhood. The first story is called The Box about a family riding the train home one day. The little boy of the family is curious what a stranger has in his box. The stranger shows him and then gets off the train. From that moment on, the boy won't eat anything. As the condition starts spreading to the rest of the family, the mom feels left out and helpless. Things get bad.

The second story is directed by indie rocker St. Vincent. It is called The Birthday Party and it isn't much of a story. A woman wakes up on the morning of her daughter's birthday party to discover her husband came home during the night and died. But why should that ruin the party? Despite a Joe Swanberg appearance, some really iffy decisions add up to nothing much in particular.

The third story is about a group of four hiking in the desert. They come across an ancient painting that seems to be a warning. It is a warning they should have listened to. This one is short and sweet, nothing too fancy.

The final story is called Her Only Living Son and it stars Christina Kirk from Powerless. She plays a single mom whose son is turning 18. They have been on the run most of his life and it turns out that his father's identity is not what he thinks. This is a nifty riff on Rosemary's Baby as in what would have happened if even one person had believed her story? The ending is a little ambiguous for me but otherwise, I liked it.

This anthology has some moments but certainly isn't the best I've seen. I like that it showcases female voices in horror but it needed a little more juice.

Day 341: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Spooktoberfest part 6, from my essential horror book. I rented this off of Amazon.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a thriller that follows two siblings that have both passed through successful stages in their lives. Jane, when just a little girl, was billed as Baby Jane Hudson and did a vaudeville style routine with her father to the delight of paying crowds everywhere. Of course, she was a little terror. Later, her older sister Blanche became a big Hollywood actress and insisted they make a movie with Jane for every movie they made with her. One night, there was an "accident" at Blanche's house that leaves her crippled for life and Jane on the run. Now, in the present time of the movie, Jane takes care of her sister in a large house. Blanche is thinking of selling the house and moving away, leaving Jane on her own but Jane has other plans. A slowly escalating game of psychological and physical warfare begins between the two from there.

This was almost like the Picture of Dorian Gray in that the movie is mostly a drama but, unlike Gray, there are a few moments of genuine fright. Jane begins a horrible running gag of serving...let's say inedible food to her sister and takes measures to isolate her in every way possible. Victor Buono, who played King Tut on Batman, is an out of work pianist who befriends Jane in hopes of getting money from her. He does an excellent job of playing a craven cad. Once things get to an actual murder, you can tell the movie isn't going to end well for anyone. I generally liked this, even if it is a bit overlong at two hours and fifteen minutes.

This is rightly considered a classic and even my mother had a false memory of the movie so it might be time to revisit if you haven't in awhile.

Day 340: Wolf House

This was from the Miller Top 31 Countdown. It is free on Amazon Prime.

Wolf House is about six friends who go on a weekend retreat to the woods. Once there, one of them shoots a large beast that the camera man insists is Bigfoot. They take the supposedly dead animal back to one of their houses and it, of course, jumps up and busts out. Soon, the house is besieged by werewolf type creatures as well as a seeming tribe of painted men.

For this found footage movie, I can say I liked the acting. It was naturalistic, which is important to found footage. The rest of the movie though, woof. The creature effects were kind of lame. The cinematography was so poorly handled, you can't tell what is going on during the scenes of attack or defense. They claimed one of them got eaten when she stepped outside but I don't know how they know that. The confusing addition of a weird Indian tribe muddied the horror waters to where I wasn't sure who I should be afraid of. There is also an unforgivable found footage no-no where a monster picks up the camera and moves it exactly where it needs to be for a future scene for no discernible reason. All these sins and more add up to a movie that had potential but didn't live up to it for me.

I can't recommend Wolf House unless you just really want to see all found footage horror movies.

Day 339: Carnival of Souls

This was recommended from my Essential Horror book and I saw it through my subscription to Fandor on Amazon.

Carnival of Souls is about a young woman who is in a drag racing accident and somehow survives. She is meant to be starting a new life in Utah as a church organist but everyone warns her she needs to have soul to play. She begins seeing visions of a man with a ghastly white face everywhere she goes. At her new boarding house, the creep across the hall makes advances on her. She sometimes goes into a state where she can't hear anything and no one can see her. Worst of all, she is drawn to an old lakeside pavilion where the souls of the damned come out to dance at night. Can this mixed up girl get her life straightened out?

First, I must say, if you can't guess the ending of this movie fairly quickly, you may not have ever seen a horror movie before. If that is the case, welcome! The organ music throughout does a great job of indicating the creepy times versus the normal ones for our heroine. The lost souls of the pavilion are quite creepy and more than a little reminded me of Night of the Living Dead, which would come out seven years later. This movie can be a little languid at times but, overall, is better than it really has a right to be.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Day 338: Hell House LLC

Spooktoberfest Part 3. I read about this one at MLMiller's Blog (formerly the guy who did the Ain't It Cool News top 31 countdown). You can watch it on Amazon Prime for free.

Hell House LLC is set up like a documentary where a crew is trying to figure out what happened at the opening night of a haunted attraction in New York state. There are talking heads and different sources of footage but most of the material comes from tapes provided by the lone survivor of the night from the group of five people who ran the house. The material goes a little into the history of the hotel they set up inside of and the media coverage from the night in question. Most of the running time is the group of five setting up the haunted house and sleeping in the abandoned hotel in the month leading up to the opening. They find the house with a basement full of pentagrams and Bibles, pre-cobwebbed and already spooky. Once they introduce you the bleeding clown mannequin that they are careful to remind you can't move on its own, you know bad stuff is about to go down.

In a way, this reminded me of the best bits of Ghostwatch where you glimpse something out of the corner of your eye. A figure moves in the shadows or something just appears where it shouldn't be. These things can be scary. There is a good scene that the Miller guy pointed out where a man wakes up to find a woman on his floor who is obviously dead until she turns her head towards him. He keeps hiding under the covers, afraid to see if she has gotten any closer. It really speaks to some primal fears I think we've all had. The Bleeding Clown alone is worth the price of admission. You can tell they thought out a mythology behind the hotel and it plays out in scary ways throughout.

There is a little coda that didn't need to be there where the documentary crew investigate the house. Otherwise, the movie stands up pretty well on its own. I think they botch the ending a little by having it go too long and show too much but overall, a pretty effective chiller.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Day 337: Tales of Terror

Spooktoberfest continues with my second Corman/Matheson/Price/Poe movie. I watched this on Amazon video for $3.

Tales of Terror loosely adapts three works by Edgar Allen Poe. In the first, Morella, Vincent Price is none too happy to see his daughter come home to visit as he blames her for his wife's death. This is a very short little story where the dead don't stay dead and the living don't stay alive.

The second, and my favorite, was The Black Cat. This combines The Cask of Amontillado (my favorite Poe story) with the actual Black Cat story in a clever way since both involve bricking up living things. Peter Lorre stars as a lush who perpetually steals money from his wife until the night he stumbles into a wine-tasting party. He challenges Vincent Price to a wine tasting contest. Price has never been funnier than he is as Fortunato Luchesi. After the contest, Lorre makes the mistake of introducing Price to his long-suffering hot wife. And then we are off to the races.

The third story is the The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Basil Rathbone is a mesmerism expert who is taking the pain away from a dying Vincent Price. All he asks in return is that Price allow himself to be hypnotized at the moment of death. Price agrees after asking his wife to marry their physician. All four get more than they bargained for when Rathbone finds Price is aware but dead at the same time.

The first story is so slight it barely registers. Pretty much one thing happens in it. Seeing Lorre and Price bounce off each other in the second story is a real treat. Likewise, to see an old pro like Rathbone hamming it up with Price in the final story is pretty cool. There are horrific moments but nothing really scary happens in these stories. I did not feel the titular terror at any point. But this is a solid little anthology (I liked it better than the artsy Spirits of the Dead).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Day 336: The Pit and the Pendulum

I paid $3 for this on Amazon streaming, and it was well worth it. This is officially the first movie of my Spooktoberfest 2017 line-up.

The Pit and the Pendulum is a very loose adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's story of the same name. Roger Corman directed this period piece about Nicholas (Vincent Price), a man who has just lost his wife under mysterious circumstances. Nicholas is surrounded by his sister, his doctor and the brother of his deceased wife, who has come to investigate her demise. Nicholas believes that his wife (Barbara Steele) is haunting him from beyond the grave. Her harpsichord plays in the middle of the night, the maid hears her dead mistress speak from beyond the grave and the bedroom where she stayed is trashed even though the door is locked. After much shocking backstory regarding the history of Nicholas and his house (his father tortured Nicholas's mother and uncle to death in front of him), everyone decides the only way to calm Nicholas down is to exhume his wife and show him she wasn't buried alive (long story). Then things get weird.

This is a movie without a lot of action in it but it is classic horror. Secret passages, torture chambers, cobwebs hanging thick and torches lighting the way through darkness...this movie pretty much has it all. Price does a great job as the fearful, grieving Nicholas. You want to tell him to man up through most of the movie. Barbara Steele is not in it enough to make much of an impression but it was fun to see her in an American horror movie for once. The adaptation, written by Richard Matheson, has no real relation to the original story besides there being a pendulum present (even the pit of the title has a different meaning here). Even though it is an hour and a half of people in frilly coats talking, it moves quickly and keeps things interesting. By the end, there is even some genuine horror. It may not be true to the letter of Poe, but I think it captures his spirit well. And here I thought Corman was just supposed to be a hack.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Day 335: Hush

Watched this on Netflix, it was a leftover from last year's Ain't It Cool News list. This year, the man who writes that list has left AICN so I will be frantically searching for good, new horror this month.

Hush is about a deaf woman named Maddie who lives an isolated life out in the woods. Her house is pretty small and features a ton of uncurtained glass windows and doors. After a visit from her neighbor, she goes about her business of writing a new novel. The first horrific scene is one where Maddie is cleaning up some dishes while her neighbor is brutally murdered at Maddie's back door. Since she is deaf, she never notices the thumps, screams, slams and stabs up against her glass door. The killer, wearing a sort of plain, smiley face mask, realizes he has a vulnerable target and decides to mess with her before he kills her. The rest of the movie is a cat and mouse game as the killer stalks around the outside of her house and Maddie tries to finds means of escape.

You would not think that premise lends itself to an hour and forty minute movie but somehow director Mike Flanagan makes it work. Every gambit Maddie tries seems destined to fail but you keep hope right along with her. John Gallagher, Jr., plays the killer and he is unrecognizable when compared to his other role I know him from, Jim Harper on The Newsroom. Here, he is affable and somewhat charming when not menacing our heroine. There is a scene late in the film where he gets to interact with a third party that sells his whole performance. Kate Siegal as the deaf Maddie does a great job bringing her anguish and desperation to the screen once she realizes what is going on.

This was an engaging horror/thriller that isn't bad at all. It can get downright brutal in parts but overall is a satisfying experience.