Wednesday, December 31, 2014

#FreeTheDevils : Why Now Is the Time to Consider Reviving Ken Russell's Classic.

Okay, I'll just address the elephant in the room now and then we can get to The Devils. Yes, work here has fallen off in a big way since Halloween ended. This is due to a mix of work over at Moar Powah! As well as general employment. Things have settled, and I'm working on getting the backlog squared away to get next year off to a good start.

To that end, I'll be finishing the Gundam 35th anniversary writeups with the second half of this week, followed by the yearly punishment film, and the top ten to follow.

But this first, for reasons I will explain.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Week 5: Ravager

...Yeah, yeah, I know it's not even out yet. Humor me, it's a small pool of horror franchises that hit the fifth movie mark and still bother with subtitles.

Still, it's time for the final week – I told you guys I'd get this one up on time!

This has been a pretty interesting year, both in terms of scheduling and selection. Again, the learning curve is a factor. Future years will adapt and modify.

Hey, at least this time it's all still ending on time (remember the first year?)

With that, let's send October of 2014 off on a good note. We've had classic authors, some grindhouse pulp, one from the vaults of the esteemed Roger Corman, and several entries from respected horror names, albeit for titles they don't get as much acclaim for.

But first, let's start things off with something a little local, shall we?
...okay, does this scene even need a caption?
Half of you are already thinking the line anyway.

10/25 - Session 9

Okay, before I get into the film proper, I just want to get a quick rant out of my system.
To the 'good' people at Asylum Productions – THIS IS WHAT A MOVIE SET IN MASSACHUSETTS SHOULD LOOK LIKE!
Granted, that's because it was actually filmed locally (sorry to disappoint, but the Danvers asylum that served as the filming location has long since been condemned and demolished), but even then, it should be enough to show you that MA has a look to it, and that look is not interchangeable with California.

Whew...okay...sorry. I'm still feeling that mess of a movie.

Anyway, back to Session 9!

I already mentioned it before, but this was actually shot at an old asylum in Danvers. I bring this up because this movie's atmosphere/location is arguably its biggest strength. The acting's pretty good and the story holds up, but the biggest thing this movie has going for it is just how much it employs the asylum as a location. Rewatching it I honestly find it disappointing the building is no longer there. It's equal parts creepy and intriguing.
As far as the rest of the movie, this is one that really works well on its minimal elements. I mean, when you actually get down to it, most of the movie is just a small asbestos removal team in an abandoned asylum. Beyond them, the only other remotely notable player in this movie is a voice on a tape recorder. With just those elements in mind, the movie actually puts together a fairly tight narrative – establishing conflicts between the team members and making you wonder just who may be pushed to what as tensions run high.
On that note, that's one of the things I have to give this movie on a rewatch. Even knowing the ending, I was surprised to look back and realize just how much the movie tries to mislead you. There are certainly clues to the true ending, but it also throws quite a few red herrings in in the process. The end result is a fairly effective mix of haunted house and mystery, culminating in an unseen, but heard party that is among the creepier horror antagonists I think I've seen/heard in the last decade or so.
I'm not sure I can mark this as a rush out and watch it, but if you haven't before, it is well worth your time.
Coming up next on Fox - Magic's Messiest Bloopers!

10/26 - Lord of Illusions

So- am I alone in thinking this movie is kind of underrated?

Really. I mean it. I'm not gonna say this is Clive Barker's finest by any means (I'd still easily place the first two Hellraiser entries ahead of it as well as the first Candyman) but at the same time, I feel like this movie really deserves more acclaim than it seems to have gotten.

That said, I am struck by realizing that, like the second Hellraiser and Nightbreed, this is one of Barker's movies where the horror seems to be a secondary to the dark fantasy. It rides sidecar to the world of dark magic noir that Barker has put together, throwing detective Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula playing a relative straight man in a world of magicians and occult) into the investigation of the death of a revered illusionist (Kevin J. O'Connor, surprisingly downplayed) and his possible connections to a former cult leader. In true noir fashion, it has a fair number of twists and turns while also playing with the style that Barker does best at – blurring the mundane with the horrifying. One of the sequences that really emphasizes this (in the unrated cut only) is a sequence involving the rebirth of the mentioned cult, where we're treated to a montage of all the former members calmly preparing their returns as the camera then passes over their families and loved ones they have just murdered as they prepare to go. There's no shock, no jolt, no sharp music sting. Barker plays the scene entirely straight, and that's honestly the most disturbing part about it.
The finished film is kind of in a weird place (as Barker films often are) among genres. While there's a number of disturbing moments to it, it doesn't really feel like overt horror, and the fantastical elements sit oddly with the noir storytelling. Taken on its own though, it's actually a pretty enjoyable tale from the mind of the same man that gave us Pinhead.

That said, I will advocate for the unrated cut over the R here. Not in the full blown 'this is a travesty' way, mind you. The unrated just feels like a more complete movie is all.

"...look at all those Oscars with my name on them..."

10/27 - The Terror

Wait a minute. Is this right?
Let me check.
...Huh. It took me four years to get to a Roger Corman movie on this thing?
How did that happen?

As Corman's movies go, this one's not bad. Admittedly it's not as memorable as some of his more out there fare, but for what it is and what it wants to be, it's a fairly interesting mystery from him.
Also, the cast are surprising in a few regards. First and foremost is the appearance of young Jack Nicholson in the lead role. This is when he's still just getting started, so it's not quite the larger than life Jack filmgoers would come to know and love, and honestly, better as far as this movie's concerned. While he's our focal point, he's there to be the outsider. Ultimately, the story's big focus is Boris Karloff as the mysterious baron whose castle is housing a possible ghost as well as a few other secrets. As Karloff roles go, this is a nice break from type for him. He still has some classic moments – such as his defensiveness whenever Nicholson digs further into his past – but ultimately, it's a vulnerable role different from his prior success with Frankenstein. Here, it comes born out of a sense of guilt, and Karloff does a good job with that sense of lament. The story itself- an original amid an era where Corman was making bank on numerous Poe adaptations- is actually a pretty good attempt at making a similar but different story. The period setting, while largely owing to recycled props and sets (Nicholson's soldier's uniform, for example, was previously worn by Marlon Brando) is used well for storytelling purposes. Meanwhile, the central mystery of the story actually accomplishes that impressive hurdle of not broadcasting its ending, still having the big twist make sense within the context of the film.
Again, it's not as memorable as some of the more outlandish works of Corman's career, but it still remains a respectable entry in the man's prolific filmography.
Now if you want to make this scene in the film, even weirder, picture their dirge replaced with this.

10/28 - Something Wicked This Way Comes

I bet you never expected to see Disney make the list on this one, did you?
To be fair, even their marketing department was concerned about what their name on this movie would result in – more from the fact it's darker fare for them than any question of the quality.
That said, this is one of those movies that has a lot going against it, especially when you read about the uphill battle it had just getting to the screen. As a general rule I try not to let behind the scenes activities effect my review if I can help it- but in this case, it's hard not to. Especially when there are moments where you can clearly see sequences were reshot (most notably for one sequence midway where the film's two young protagonists visibly age a year or so before going back to normal). That said, for the technical issues involved, it's actually still fairly watchable. Though it doesn't really live up to Bradbury's original work, it makes a game attempt at capturing the book's overall spirit. The parts I was struck by are the movie's earlier sequences, before the arrival of Mr. Dark's carnival. Though they are brief, the scenes do a good job of capturing that sort of nostalgic feeling of a small town in fall. It's one of those bits of style that works in the movie's favor, however briefly. One of the other areas where this film has things going in its favor is with regards to the main cast. There are several standouts here, including Jason Robards and a young Pam Grier, but ultimately, the big winner here is Johnathan Pryce. As the vaguely demonic Mr. Dark, Pryce manages the appropriately mysterious air of the role, even seeming to channel a bit of some of the classic actors in the process. The end result is honestly the movie's high point, and as good a reason as any to see it (especially if, like me, you mainly remember him from Brazil and want to see another side of Pryce's range.)

Moments like this, maybe it's time to reevaluate one's priorities.

10/29 - Pieces

Sometimes, I just need a touch of grindhouse to help round out my Halloween season, especially after how disappointed I was with Eaten Alive. I went into this without much knowledge of it beyond the fact it had some of an infamous reputation in general, though it was popular within circles of slasher film fans. Having seen it, I can now see the cases for both sides. This made a bit of a mixed impression on me at first simply for how ridiculous the movie's prologue is. Without giving too much away, let me just say that the killer's family apparently all excel at violent over exaggeration, as one nudie jigsaw puzzle is enough to incite several acts of violence. It's not even like it's a particularly raunchy puzzle either.
After that somewhat overblown prologue, the movie settles into a bit more of a consistent tone, going with that time-honored place where people go to die horribly in film – college!
The story is somewhat cliched in that regard, but it's one the film tries to stay earnest with. As silly as elements of it can get (most notably one sequence involving a Bruce Lee impersonator, added purely because that was one of the studio's other wheelhouses) it's actually pretty watchable. Nothing amazing, but watchable. Besides, true to the grindhouse slasher style, the movie delivers where it counts – the kills are sufficiently gory for the movie's low budget. Also, the movie's ending works well – yes, the killer's actual identity is fairly predictable, as is the initial confrontation, but the stinger attached afterward delivers on the killer's project that the movie had been building to with a great grim payoff.
Can we finally agree Rupert Murdoch's matchmaking shows have gone too far now?

10/30 - This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse

We're now two-for-two on doing a film series in its proper order.
I know, I'm scared too.
As part two of Brazil's Coffin Joe trilogy, this movie picks up roughly where At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul left off. Much to the chagrin of the local townsfolk, everyone's 'favorite' hypernihilistic murderer Coffin Joe is freed of all charges. Back on the streets, he resumes his quest to find a suitable woman to bear his perfect child.
Within the last year, it strikes me just how much Coffin Joe is ultimately akin to an MRA with better dress sense.
Jokes aside, this is one of those horror trilogies that has seemed to be on the fringes for a lot of horror fans. Which is a shame, because they're an interesting, and classic in the world of South American horror. This continues with the elements that made AMITYS stand out in the first place. Between José Mojica Marins' iconic role as the sinister Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe and the movies' ability to make some surprisingly graphic effects on a low budget, they're fascinating pieces of foreign horror. Alongside the stylistic elements maintained from the first movie, this one also contains a new standout piece – an extended sequence in the middle of the movie, in color, where Zé do Caixão has a nightmare vision of Hell. It's not a major part of the movie narrative-wise, but it's a striking sequence, and not just because of the color, though that is used to great effect.
In the end, the movie follows a similar arc to the first – riding on his loose morality, Zé do Caixão's quest for immortality in a perfect child ultimately destroys him, but as with so many films, it's the journey, not the destination that makes this one work. In this regard, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse does well at building on what made the first work while adding some of its own signature touches.
Pictured: Hal Holbrook and a violent case of closure

10/31 - The Fog

Once again, I'm really pleased with what gets lined up for the big day.
There's a running discussion I've had with a few people about the question of what films mark the point when a director comes into their own. Curiously, when it comes to John Carpenter, most people don't actually consider it to be Halloween (which will eventually make it in here; blame the randomizer on this one). This isn't because people consider Halloween bad – in fact, many of the people who answer this still call it a classic – but it's more the fact that it doesn't have quite the distinctive Carpenter touch to it. Even listening to him talk about it in interviews seems to support this: he doesn't dislike the movie, but it was more a job than a passion project for him. Rather, the answer usually tends to be split between the 1981/82 combination of Escape From New York and The Thing. Personally, upon rewatching this, I have to amend my answer. I believe he solidified his voice and style with the above-mentioned combination, but I think this is the movie where he starts to find his voice. It has some setbacks, but you can also see the stylistic bridge between Halloween and Escape From New York.
Even with those problems – many of which are born from behind the scenes issues resulting in rewrites and reshoots that Carpenter would later lament – this is still a fun little movie for Halloween. It's not one of the all-time greats, but it's a movie that still works on the strengths of keeping it simple on just about every level. We have a small group of characters (with a cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook), a story that takes place over the course of a single day/night, a small body count, and some effects that embody less is more perfectly. It takes those small elements and puts together an entertaining modern day ghost story involving old secrets and revenge from beyond the grave.
On top of all of that, for being a last minute addition, I have to give this movie's opening a special shout out. The fireside story about the ill-fated ship, the Elizabeth Dane as told by John Houseman is a wonderfully atmospheric segment to set the movie up with. It establishes the movie's backstory while also helping capture the flavor of the ghost story that the film's going for.
It's not the greatest horror film never made, nor is it even Carpenter's finest, but that certainly doesn't make it a bad movie. For as many problems as it may have had behind the scenes, it's still a promising entry form a then up and coming Carpenter that takes a fairly basic story and tells it with a wonderfully creepy sense of atmosphere and escalation.

So ends another October.
It's been another fun month – even with the setbacks, I always love this project.

I have some special plans lined up for next year on top of that.

Consider yourselves warned.

Until then, a Happy Halloween to you all.

Good night, and till next time!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween Week 4: Bloodline

I'm going to need to find another naming convention for the future.
At this rate, I'm bound to run out of horror series that got up to five movies with subtitles attached.

But that's a concern for another day.

Again, I realize this year took a bit of a hit thanks to a mix of balancing other writing obligations and life's calling. Fortunately, the universe works on balance and this weekend gave me a GREAT chance to play catch-up in that regard.

With last week somewhat lagging, I got the opportunity to fill in several titles care of the good folk at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline (who may be invoked here for a future article). This year I decided to check out their all night Halloween horror movie marathon. Twelve hours, seven films (officially it's six, but this year had extra time so we got a bonus screening at the end.)

For the record,  not all of these are films they ran. Part of it was from films I had borrowed and already watched for this week going in, and part was also because one of the films featured this year I've already covered.

But, five of these seven were tag-ins, so big thanks to the folk at Coolidge.


"Suddenly very glad I just put these controls into the eerie green passage. Even before getting there, I'd have a hard time telling the others about the service entrance in the Hall of Face Ripping."

10/18 - Event Horizon

I'll just say this outright -I probably shouldn't enjoy this movie, but I do.
It's got problems: the crew nicknames are cutesy enough that they annoy rather than endear, clunky dialogue, and some of the CGI has NOT aged well. At the same time, it's not really an awful movie. In fact, it's actually a pretty fun ninety minutes. Even with the fact the sci-fi setting really is mostly just window dressing to make a very stylized haunted house movie, I don't find myself minding it.
As far as horror goes, it does deliver a couple of particularly memorable moments, and an atmosphere that's arguably one of the movie's best strengths. The shocks are delivered fairly well on top of that - in particular the infamous log tape documenting what happened to the original crew, which provides a brief but iconic bit of graphic horror.
Upon researching the film, I was actually kind of surprised to realize it was considered a flop when it came out. I mean, a lot of people I've known speak well of it, so it seemed odd to hear it fumbled that hard. It's not a masterpiece, but for what it wants to be, it's still a pretty damn fun spookhouse ride.


Pictured: My suggested alternative for how to resolve custody battles.

10/19 - Aliens

This is a film I'm of two minds on.
I'll just get the grievance part out of the way now, since it's a bit more of a meta grievance. There's a lot of back and forth over which of the first two Alien movies is better. I used to vote Aliens, but the more I look at it, the harder it is for me to compare them. The original Alien is a creepy, atmospheric thriller that banks a lot on suspense and fleeting glimpses of its monster. Aliens, meanwhile, is more of an action film with some horror elements to it. It's a different film, and arguably a bit more of a crowd pleaser, but that's a point I'll come back to shortly. In terms of horror, I do have to give the game point to Alien. Aliens has some good creeper moments, but it never really fully captures that sense of dread from the first film. My other big grievance-and this is the more meta-is in regards to the long term impact on the brand than an issue with the film itself (hence why I'm getting it out of my system now before getting into the film). I don't dislike Aliens. I think it's a great movie on its own, even if it's a very different sequel. My issue is more with the fact that fans have taken that to be the face of the franchise - the point where the majority of the media throughout the 90s and even 2000s was labeled Aliens rather than Alien. What started as a monster that was like a slimy psycho killer in space became a teeming monster horde to be mowed down. Still a threat, but of a different sort.
...sorry, I have some strong feelings about that.
Issues aside, this is still an enjoyable movie. Again, the tone is quite different, but that doesn't detract from its merits. In some ways, I do have to concede that the tone shift was a bit inevitable in terms of escalation- eventually, acid blood or no, the question of shooting would have to be addressed. I think mostly I just find it odd that one individual alien shows more cunning and brutality than the drones we see in the later films. I'm not sure if any one has attempted to speculate if this is a result of the numbers (heightened survival instinct with fewer numbers) but it's a curious question I found myself pondering on this sequel.
Probably one of the biggest hurdles this movie has taken on its own that it handles is having to juggle a larger cast and setting. The first film had a small pool of characters and could keep all its focus on them. With Aliens, James Cameron had to recap from where things left off and then set up to get everyone back there. For the fact many characters don't really get chances to establish much in the way of personality, he and the cast (with particular shoutouts here to Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jeanette Goldstein) still manage to make their roles memorable. In fact, probably some of the best writing in this movie actually goes to before the aliens are even in the story proper: the banter between the marines as they prepare for arrival all flows well and everyone has a good chemistry. Likewise, returning for another turn as Ripley, Sigourney Weaver manages to both revisit and reinvent the character, particularly with regard to her interactions with lone colony survivor Newt (Carrie Henn).
That, of course, is part of what helps keep viewers invested in the action as all Hell breaks loose. There's a few really memorable sequences here- if nothing else, the power loader duel at the end is still a classic, and they make the movie's over two hour running time fly by. There's not as much horror this time around, but there are still a few particularly grim sequences that pay off here, such as the reveal of the now iconic alien queen, and the first assault, as we hear marines being picked off while not seeing many of the enemies.
One of these days I may cave and just do a separate writeup/rundown of the series, but in the meantime, it is weird taking a step back at this entry and its legacy with regards to how it influenced the installments that came after. Just taken on its own though, it's still a film Cameron can be proud of - a tense action thriller with some great creature work by H.R. Giger.


Fraternity initiations back in the day were considerably more demanding and, to degrees, much less legal.

10/20 - Frankenstein


Multiple Universal Monsters classics in a year - good times!
I will admit that this is the first time I've seen this in ages. Showing it on the big screen is the kind of treatment it needs. Like King Kong, this is one of those movies that's become so embedded in the culture on the strength of a few moments. In this case it's largely the climactic windmill scene, the sequence with the Monster and the young girl (another one of those moments arguably just as remembered for its Young Frankenstein parody), and, of course, Colin Clive's iconic "It's alive! IT'S ALIVE!" Even beyond those famous moments, the movie has held up well. One of the things that I was surprised I'd forgotten on that 'image vs actual film' front was how much the image of Clive's Henry Frankenstein as the mad scientist has been played up in popular culture. It's still there to be certain, but the greater film also dials the madness back after the experiment itself. To the point where once he's proven what he can do, he becomes fairly level-headed again. Likewise, it's also strange realizing how much people tend to forget a lot of the second act to this movie. Granted, some of that's because it's not as memorable as the above mentioned scenes, but it is still fairly well done, even if the middle segment as Henry and his mentor Dr. Waldman try to cover up Fritz's death feels almost like a macabre pre-riff on the old sitcom gag of 'cover up this ridiculous thing so the fiancee doesn't find out.'
Of course, credit has to be given to the late Boris Karloff as the monster. Between the number of things he went through in terms of makeup and acting on this movie (and being a trooper for doing so) he still manages to do a lot with a little here, conveying a human element to the character under a lot of makeup and no dialogue. Really, there's a reason this role is considered one of the ones that made Karloff a household name. To this day, it's STILL a good performance.


Submitted: An illustration from my entry into the 'Worst Non-Pornographic Fan Fiction' contest, in which Jack Bauer and Bill S. Preston become vampires and join a gang.

I got third place!

10/21 - The Lost Boys

While we're traveling back through the ages, what say we pay a visit to a more recent time, but still one that may seem incredible to some younger readers out here - the year 1987, when Joel Schumacher directed a surprisingly entertaining movie. Entertaining on purpose, even!
This is another I hadn't seen in years before getting the chance to rewatch it this weekend. I was struck right off the bat by two main thoughts: the first was that the movie was screamingly 80s on so many levels- the cast, the aesthetics, the soundtrack, even some of the set design and direction. The other was that the movie is still a lot of fun to watch nowadays. Yeah, it's not a master class in acting or deeply involving writing, but it really wasn't trying to be. Instead it's part of the grand tradition of updating and riffing on the vampire mythos, and even though Schumacher changed it from what the writers initially had in mind (initially the cast were meant to be younger to play to the Peter Pan reference in the title), he still hit on a good take on the myth all the same. One element in particular that feels refreshing to this one nowadays is how this movie completely does away with the notion of romanticism in the vampire myth: in this case, the appeal being offered isn't a matter of beauty, and more about the freedom that David (a young Kiefer Sutherland in probably one of his most memorable roles to this day) and his followers can grant with their abilities. Meanwhile, the feeding in this version, like the same year's Near Dark is as far from the stylistic erotic aspects of feeding as you can get - these are savage acts of carnage, and while this movie only briefly shows them, they still do a decent job of capturing the shock value. It's not a completely original take, but it's one that's still done well and nice to look back on nowadays.
Of course, the human side of things is also pretty watchable, most notably in seeing the birth of the 80s 'Two Coreys' phase. As main character Michael (Jason Patric)'s little brother Sam, Corey Haim strikes a good middle ground between the two main storylines of the movie, acting as the human element between Michael's story and the somewhat more comedic teenage vampire-hunting Frog brothers (wherein we get Corey Feldman in one of his more memorable roles as well.)
This movie just works. It hits a good balance with the silliness while playing the silliness with just enough straight face to keep it from feeling too out there. As a bit more an all-audiences breed of horror, it's a fun ride to go on. Not exactly scary, but still just an enjoyable trip all on its own.

...the real horror comes when I realize this means my completionist side is now entering the sequels into the candidate pool for future years.


So begins typical Monday morning in the life of Bruce Campbell...

10/22 - Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn

Suffice it to say, this marathon started off with some strong picks.
Like Aliens, this is a film where I have a hard time comparing it to its predecessor simply for how different it winds up being in terms of tone and style. For as low budget and goofy as the first Evil Dead could be, it was a movie that you could tell was trying to take itself seriously. That was undercut by its low budget and amateur acting and production values wasn't really planned for. It's just what happens. And to Raimi's credit, some parts of that first movie do still work pretty well despite that.
Anyway, Evil Dead II marked the transition of the brand into the style people are now more familiar with - their now signature splatter slapstick. On the one hand, this makes me feel a bit disingenuous to judge its earnest predecessor against it. On the other, it works here. It works VERY well here.
There are two things that really help this one work. The first is Raimi's sense of humor goes a long way in making this tone shift work. Even before we learned of the phrase 'fake Shemp' anyone could tell Raimi as a Stooges fan just for some the physical humor he pulls off in his films.
Which also brings us to Bruce Campbell in this. Bruce wasn't bad in the first movie, but he really finds a solid niche playing up the luckless Ash Williams as a comedic punching bag this time around. It's one part that he can take the hits, but it's also a much bigger part that he knows how to play the responses - he can serious up when a scene calls for it, but when he's doing a moment like, say, having his own possessed hand beat the everloving Hell out of him, he works the scene for all it's worth. To that end, arguably some of the strongest parts of this particular installment are just within the first half hour or so when it's Ash left to his devices inside the evil cabin. Between his dead girlfriend, his possessed hand, and just the various disembodied voices, he has a lot to play off here for comedy, and he's living it up.
Again, this isn't a movie you go to for terror, but if you're just looking for something this Halloween to unwind and enjoy with, there's a reason this is still a favorite for a lot of people.


This was around the point when Wes Craven realized his original backstory for Freddy Krueger really didn't make sense with his injuries or geography, and so he wrote in the boiler room.

10/23 - Eaten Alive


Two words sum up my thoughts on this movie: What happened?
Not what happened in the movie. That I can see. No, what I'm asking is what happened to director Tobe Hooper on this one. I mean, the man goes from making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that worked in large part because it kept it simple and tightly paced, and he follows it up with this mess of a movie.
To his credit, it does have a few things in its favor. Like the earlier TCSM, the movie does have a pretty good sense of atmosphere to it. Here, the feeling of a grim abattoir is instead traded for the grimy setting of a rundown hotel by a swamp, and you feel it. The lead role by Neville Brand as a murderous hotel owner with a hungry alligator as his partner in crime, is a pretty solid performance. There's even a decent sense of grand guignol to some parts of this (Mel Ferrer's fate comes to mind here), but that's about as much good will as I can extend this movie. The big problem of this movie is, where Hooper's last work had a small cast, straightforward narrative, and a tight pace, this movie is all over the place. It introduces several storylines that never really gel together, with the exception of Brand, most of the rest of the cast are fairly unremarkable here (including wasted turns by Marilyn Burns and Robert Englund), and the ending is anticlimactic as Hell. This was another where I decided to check some other reviews to see if maybe I was missing something in the appeal here, and I'm still not seeing it. I know some people have compared this to Italian horror pieces in that it's more in the art and the horror over the narrative. Which I could accept, but this film never really seems to excel on that front as well. In fact, with one or two kills excepted, a lot of the deaths in this are fairly repetitive (it's a man with a scythe and a gator, your options are admittedly limited, but come on, for some of these characters, it feels like you could go an extra mile). On top of that, this never really builds enough of a sense of investment for the proceedings to even get much of a sense of dread. It mostly just meanders through the bulk of its ninety minute run time, occasionally stopping as it remembers to feed the gator.
It's a shame. I feel like this could have been a good movie with some rewrites - a sort of Psycho on the bayou situation. Instead, it's a lot of wheel spinning with one or two good death scenes.
There's some speculation in some circles that Hooper was actually let go from the film partway into filming. I'm not sure how much truth there is to that (though the fact he's absent from the DVD's commentary track does raise eyebrows), but if that is the case, it may actually explain a lot about the weird aimless feel this movie gained.
Would also make me curious to see who they popped up in his place to make this mess.

If someone has more info here, feel free to let me know. In the meantime…again, what happened?


Pictured: The only surviving still from my rejected 'Discover the Magic of the Forest' TV spot.

10/24 - The Incredible Melting Man

Oh WOW. As the final official entry in the marathon, Coolidge picked a great movie to wrap things up with here.
Not because it's good - oh sweet Lord, this was laughably bad. But it was also a great light note to wrap things up with.
There's a certain sick meta humor to this movie - as the stories go, this was initially conceived of as a parody of horror films, with the title and premise being a pretty overt riff on 1950s B-grade horror. Then the higher-ups decided the movie would make more money as straight-up horror, the more humorous elements were cut, and so it was shot over a space of two weeks on a low budget.
The results of which, despite their best efforts, were hilarious.
This movie is just so wonderfully terrible that it becomes a parody despite itself. The wooden acting, the clunky dialogue (the highly repetitive nature of leads me to wonder if Sachs decided to leave the dialogue in parody mode and simply cut the more overtly comedic scenes at studio behest), scenes that are just left running to pad out for time and moments like the movie's ending - where a janitor finds the remains of the title monster and goes back and forth for the better part of a few minutes over whether to clean them or not- all add up to an accidentally brilliant homage to the most z-grade of old horror movies. That this film then got featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 just completes the cycle of its strange life.
To its credit, it DOES also feature a pretty good early makeup job by Rick Baker providing the titular melting, which I think is really the one concession this movie can still claim in terms of trying to take itself seriously.
So props to Rick at least. For the rest of the film...well, it was entertaining anyway. Just not for the reasons intended.

Seven more to go in time for this Friday. I'll say this now, it's actually a pretty good spread lined up for this one. So keep an eye out on the big day.

Till then.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween Week 3: Season of the Witch

8 More Days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween
8 More Days to Hallowee--

Wait, wait...hold it.
Seems the check from the Silver Shamrock company bounced.

This sponsor spot is OVER! Call Cochrane and tell him he's not getting his spot back on here until this is sorted out.

Now then, again, I would like to apologize for the delays this year. It's been a busy October here.

I will promise this much, come the proverbial Hell or high water, we'll see this come its finish right on schedule on Halloween.

In the meantime, please bear with me. I'm working to get this all back on track.


I keep telling them - if Build-A-Bear gave me this much creative freedom, I would do much more business with them.


10/11 - May

Let the record show, THIS is what I pick to commemorate my sister's wedding.
In all fairness, she was the one to suggest the movie in the first place.

This was a film I went into with no idea of what to expect. As a result, I got one Hell of a ride. The film, by director Lucky McKee, has a curiously morbid story – Angela Bettis plays May, a girl who has grown up with the idea that perfection is essential. This idea hounds her throughout her life, influencing many of her interactions. Throw in a fascination with surgery and a touch of the morbid, and the movie sets up for a memorable finale: after several failings to connect with other people, May decides the solution is to make a friend...using parts that she likes in other people.
As a first encounter with McKee as a director, I have to say the man's got an interesting style. In this case, what really stands out for me is the escalation in how he builds up the body horror. At first it's all minor – often born out of things like May's job at a vet's office. As the movie advances into the final act, the body horror moments become more intense. Even before the 'make a friend' element of the story, this film manages a few genuinely squirm-inducing moments, including one rather painful looking moment involving a school for the blind.
Besides being genuinely creepy in its scenes of carnage, the movie is also supported by Bettis, who gives a great performance. The supporting cast is good, but really, this is her movie. It's interesting to watch her develop from a shy and withdrawn individual to one who, after a few betrayals of trust, has a ruthless edge- while still maintaining vulnerability. Whether this could be considered a must watch or not is highly variable based on who I'd be recommending it to (yes, moreso than a lot of other horror titles) but for my part, I have to admit, I liked this one. It's a macabre little story that's equal parts darkly humorous and a bit sad in its main character's quest for companionship and perfection.
Plus, I'm a sucker for body horror, so there's that.


"...and they tell me my next big project after that will be some movie about a man being turned into a walrus.
I'm starting to get scared of the future."

10/12 - The Sixth Sense

This was probably one of the hardest watches of this year's selection. Not because the movie is bad or even that unpleasant – it's simply the fact that this was a movie I had to really work to separate from its prior attachments. I still remember back when this first came out, and it got a LOT of good press as one of the next great horror/thrillers. So I went into this trying to distance it from both its own hype as well as the infamous spiral that was M. Night Shyamalan's subsequent career.
Taken on its own, I have to admit, it's still a pretty solid film, albeit some faults. For as much as I have subsequently blamed Haley Joel Osment for his role in Hollywood's phase of “good child acting = look really scared,” he does have more nuance here, even if the industry took the wrong lessons from it. Also, it's welcome to go back to an era when Bruce Willis trying in movies was still normal and not just a Wes Anderson miracle.
I feel somewhat conflicted as far as the horror aspects go. Shyamalan was definitely not an untalented director, and several of his scares involving the spirits of the dead have held up well, despite a tendency for some to rely on jump scares to really shake you (the better instances are those where the horrifying elements of the victims are presented in a casual fashion, letting the grim elements sneak in rather than jump at you). However, I found that the now well-known ending doesn't really hold up that strongly on a rewatch. It's not that it doesn't work – it does – it's the fact that, for as much as people were gob-smacked by the ending back in the day, it doesn't have quite the same punch on a rewatch, especially once I started noticing all of clues. They add a bit of a game to the film, but they also rob the ending of its sting when you realize just how transmitted it is (and unlike, say, Jacob's Ladder, where they actually came up with a good reason for all the clues in the setting, they're mostly just here for the Hell of it.)
That said, it's still a good movie. I don't think it's aged into the classic everyone was hyping it to be – even before disregarding Shyamalan's fall from grace – but I do still find it a solidly made ghost story, especially for a first time out. Not the kind of movie to keep you up at night, but still a fairly rewarding two hours or so.


Okay, I'm all for remakes trying something new, but I'm starting to suspect this Crocodile Dundee remake might be a bad idea after all.

10/13 - Wolf Creek

I'll start by saying this now – I didn't hate this movie.
At the same time, I can't really say I liked it much either.

This is another one of those movies where its reputation has become its enemy. I went in hearing all the stories about how critics were appalled by this film's (in their words) exploitative depictions of violence. This was built up as a piece of savage torture porn.
Then I got to watching and was surprised to realize that, for as much as people talked it up, it's relatively tame by comparison to other exploitation films.
Relatively, of course.
Which in and of itself wouldn't be a problem if the rest of the movie were good. Unfortunately, a lot of this movie is really just... average. Actually, forgettable would probably be the more accurate word. Even seeing this movie's vaunted unrated cut, there were really only three parts of this movie I can say stood out for me.
The first was the locations. I realize this sounds silly, but this movie has some VERY nice scenery porn. Like Peter Weir's (better) movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, Wolf Creek uses its Australian locations to wonderful effect here. For as slow as much of the first half hour is in establishing its cast of victims, cinematographer Will Gibson makes it worth a watch just for how gorgeous some of the Australian expanses look.
After that, the next standout goes to John Jarratt as the movie's antagonist, murderous bushwhacked Mick Taylor. Maybe it's the fact that much of the rest of the cast of this movie are so unremarkable, but Jarratt is downright creepy in this role. I think a big part of what makes it work is the fact that before, and even to a degree during his murderous phase, he still has this unsettling friendly streak. He plays up the boisterous Crocodile Dundee shtick with strangers, and it works. Which then makes it even creepier when you see him later and that's not even an act. That's genuinely the kind of guy he is, even when he's torturing and murdering people.
Which leads to the final memorable thing, and not much I can say here without spoilers. For as much as this movie's reputation has been talked up, like I said, it's largely tame. With one major exception – while I'm normally not that big on torture heavy films to begin with, I still have to concede, the infamous 'head on a stick' sequence in this is pretty memorable. For those who haven't seen it, it's not actually what it sounds like, and it's a sequence that is really effective because the actual mess is made off-screen.
Which really brings me back to where I was at the start of this. Most of this film is really pretty forgettable. Not even detestable, just forgettable. At the same time, it does have a few small elements it actually manages to do quite well which keep me from being able to completely hate it. So I find myself in a weird sort of neutral state on the movie. I commend those bits that worked, but it's not really a film I'd say is worth much more than maybe a rental.


This right here? This is why I'm no longer allowed to shoot home movies for anyone.


10/14 - Sinister

I have to admit this was a better film than I was expecting. It's not a full blown 'sing its praises on the mountain' experience for me, but I went into this braced for a higher budget Marble Hornets knockoff and was actually pleasantly surprised to find that wasn't the case.
I think part of this may also be the fact I'm a sucker for a good horror mystery, and curse films like this are designed with the mystery element in mind. In this case, it's the most interesting part of the film. For as much as the movie played up the 'present day' horror in the ads (the scenes of Ethan Hawke's son climbing out of the box screaming and the like) they really don't draw me in as much as the moments when he finds himself exploring the box of home movies that contains all the details of the curse's past victims.
Which leads to my favorite parts of the movie – the deaths of the previous families tagged by the entity known as Bughuul (aka, Mr. Boogie). The sequences of mass murder are a good mix of an ominous buildup and some downright shocking payoffs (one word: lawnmower) and they make for easily the most unsettling scenes in the film. Which makes it kind of a shame that, by comparison, Bughuul isn't that memorable. He plays an interesting game and puts on a Hell of a show, but as a horror antagonist, he's pretty reliant on jump scares with a diminishing rate of returns. This all culminating in an ending I'm pleasantly surprised to see this movie pull off. Which, given the nature of the ending, sounds kind of wrong, but given how many films find some loophole or way around their curses, this as a morbidly refreshing change of pace.
I'm not sure how to feel about the fact a sequel has been announced – this is the kind of formula that works well as a single film, but may, like its main antagonist, suffer from diminishing returns. But from what I've seen here, I'm curious enough to at least see if the team has it in them to manage another fairly creepy idea like this one again.


The Third Row Technical Institute believes in fighting a child's calling early, and exploring career fields not offered by other vocational training schools.
Pictured above, we have several younger students in our art forgery program. I think it's safe to say these kids are going places!


10/15 - Body Snatchers (1993)

So, flashback moment here.
Remember last year when I did the In Memoriam for Roger Ebert, and I discussed how, while I respected the man, I didn't always agree with him?
This right here is one where Roger and I didn't see eye to eye.
For those who don't know, Ebert thought very highly of this particular adaptation of the Body Snatchers story- Even going so far as to declare this film superior to either of the earlier versions.
While I do feel the film has merit, I can't say I share the late Mr. Ebert's enthusiasm.
Which kind of hurts me to say, given I tend to think well of the people behind this particular version – most notably writers Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli- and this movie does bring an interesting perspective to the concept. The decision to set it at a military base is an interesting choice given, as people have pointed out, the military can put emphasis on conformity. Unfortunately, that emphasis is also one of the biggest downfalls of this movie. As ambitious as the idea is on paper, the movie tends to hammer on the conformity theme repeatedly, particularly in the first half hour. An early scene in a classroom is so on the nose about the conformity idea that I had to stop the film to deal with the nosebleed that I got hit with.
Probably the biggest problem for me, in terms of comparing to the first movie, anyway, is that this film doesn't feel as ambitious as its two predecessors. It offers an interesting variation on a theme, but it lacks the insidiousness of the first movie and the apocalyptic dread of the second. In its place, it really only has the military commentary, which is an interesting idea, but not strong enough to really measure up. In fact, despite a well-meaning, if somewhat misfired attempt at an uncertain finale, there's only really one scene in this version that really captures the unsettling nature of the first two versions: a fairly chilling scene in a military hospital where those who've not yet been turned are being rounded up, sedated, and forcefully converted. It somewhat undermines the most disturbing element of the pod person, but it's still a rather creepy sequence to watch as the camera follows several already turned as their bodies crumble and others soon to be converted scream in the distance.
For as underwhelming as this version is, I can't say I disliked it. In fact, on its own, it's still an interesting little piece of horror. Still, I can't agree with the late Roger Ebert that it's better than either of the first two versions, and to put it in their shadow unfortunately undercuts the things this version did right.


I know what you're all going to say, but hear me out.
This is a VERY efficient nursery layout I'm looking at here. It goes back to the old custom of using every part of the body, and once you get used to the smell, you're sure to appreciate the handiness of the whole thing!


10/16 - Offspring

And here I was worried this was gonna be the year we didn't have a good old-fashioned shocker.
While nowhere near as infamous as some earlier entries as I Spit On Your Grave and Inside, this particularly bloody adaptation of Jack Ketchum's novel will do quite nicely in a pinch. That said, I have to say I find one thing a bit odd: several of Ketchum's novels have been adapted to film by this time, including a sequel to this one, but strangely no one's attempted to adapt Offseason, the book this is actually a sequel to. Even stranger since I could see it translating well as a downright creepy home invasion movie.
But, that's a story for another time.
I was actually surprised at how fast this movie kicks in. I mean, a lot of movies like to set things up and get you used to the mundane before they spring the disturbing on you. This film kicks off the murder and cannibalism in the first ten minutes. Granted, they then go back to the mundane, but seeing them start things off on this fairly grim note is like the movie's way of saying “this is gonna be messy. Turn back now if you're not on board with that.”
I can't really say much for this one from a writing or performance perspective. It's mostly pretty capable here, no one that really knocks it out of the park. Though for what they get put through, Amy Hargreaves and Ahna Tessler do deserve some degree of extra recognition – I mean, even as horror victims go, they get put through a LOT on this one. Otherwise, about the one other name I feel the need to say anything for here is Erick Kastel as Tessler's ex-husband, who cranks the scumbag up to eleven. I won't say it's a fun performance to watch, but it DOES make seeing him get what's coming to him more rewarding.
It's certainly not the most original or innovative of stories, but for what this movie is, it does its job well. In particular near the end when they start playing the classic card of 'deep down, are we really any less savage?' which the film handles in a way that gets the point across without preaching it.
Like May at the start of the week, this isn't exactly one I'd say is a must for everyone, but if you're interested by the first ten minutes, I'd say it's worth sticking around to see where it goes.


"I thought we had an agreement - you kill whoever you feel like you have to kill, but that is MY incinerator, and you do not dump bodies in their without MY permission!
Are we understood on that?"


10/17 - The Bad Seed

And it dawns on me. Of the seven movies chosen at (mostly) random, six of these involve degrees of child endangerment, with five of them even including child murder.
...I love Halloween.
With that macabre note, we end this week with THE classic 'evil child' story. One of the things I have to give this as a horror movie is just how completely ordinarily it presents its evil. As the titular bad child, Patty McCormack's Rhoda isn't seen as quiet or suspicious. In fact, about the worst one can say for her general behavior is that she acts like an utter brat – which is sort of the point and the film then goes it one better with the unseen acts of malice. The surprising thing being, even as it moves on, Rhoda's murderous acts are all still fairly believable for the aspiring young sociopath. This is VERY much a love-to-hate performance, and the kid sells it well. As her mother, Nancy Kelly has the interesting job of balancing her obvious love for her child with the realization that said child is an absolute monster. Fortunately, she handles the job well, transitioning without seeming to completely sever the ties. One of the other areas where I have to give this film some credit is with regards to Henry Jones as the one other person to suspect little Rhoda – rather than make him a pinnacle of good, he's arguably just a bad as she is, perhaps not as murderous, but still something of a scumbag. It's a nice way to split the balance and give a good reason why no one would take him seriously.
As far as the rest of the movie, it's interesting to watch this realizing it's based on a stage play. Much of the direction and acting reflects this, but surprisingly never in a bad way. You can see the stage influence, but they've done a good job of translating it well to the screen.
If you come looking for scares, you may not get what you're hoping for out of this movie. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable take on the concept of the evil child, and, even though I know the ending was forced by the Hays Code, it's still sickly rewarding in its own way.
In terms of classics, this is one worth seeking out.

With that, I'll be getting things back up to speed by the weekend. Then the last week should all run right on time.

Till then.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween Week 2: Bud the C.H.U.D.

Yeah, I'm really digging deep on the subtitles this year. No, I'm not sorry for it.

I am, however, a touch sorry this one is a few days late in getting posted. It was for a good reason, however. This past Saturday, my older sister got married. So all the best to them, and rest assured, I hand-picked week 3's first entry to commemorate the event in that appropriate-yet-tasteless way that's a Third Row standard.

But enough about me, let's make with the ghosts, lunatics, dummies, giant animals, stalkers, murderous children, and one really, really awful movie to round things out.

"Mom, Dad, seriously. WHY DID YOU THINK THIS WAS A GOOD TOY TO GIVE CHILDREN?!"

10/4 - Poltergeist

I've said it before, but it bears repeating- one of the best parts of this project is taking the time to sit down with a familiar classic and take it as a fresh experience. Poltergeist is no exception to this rule. I mean, I have a lot of good memories of this movie -it's one of the all around great ghost story films of its era. That said, while the ghost elements of it are great, they actually weren't what struck me this time around. What really caught me, and it's something I'd been kind of aware of before but never fully weighed before in actual consideration, was how apparent Steven Spielberg's behind-the-scenes influence is. Yes, Tobe Hooper's name is on the director credit, but there's no denying the movie has Spielberg's fingerprints on it, especially where the family drama is concerned. I know it's a horse he has long since beaten into glue, but in his prime, Spielberg's family stories were compelling. In this case, it's one of the movie's strengths- particularly JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the parents of the Freling family. Despite being known actors, they both believably slip into their roles of just average people who are terrified just as much for their children as they are for themselves. The other standout is the effects work. I'll admit some haven't aged as well (for as wonderfully creepy as the idea is, the bathroom scene has lost a lot of its edge with time) but there are several that have held up VERY well by comparison. For example, and going back to that bathroom, the earlier "Steak explodes with maggots" scene is still a stomach churner. Likewise, the climactic sequence where all Hell literally breaks loose and the house collapses still looks great. Even if it doesn't get you on the scares (come on, at least admit that clown doll IS pretty creepy,) it's still just a very enjoyable and seasonally appropriate film.

"I don't know what the song is talking about. I most certainly CAN'T see it all!"

10/5 - The Tenant

Okay, as with Rosemary's Baby, I am only here to discuss this movie and Roman Polanski as a director (and in this case, actor). For the record, I do not support what the man has done in his personal life, but this isn't really the time or place to get into that.
Though I must admit, there IS an accidental sick joke in the fact several posters for this movie sported the tagline 'No one does it to you like Roman Polanski.'
Okay, NOW I stop.
Horrible joking aside, I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to. The third and final installment in Polanski's 'Apartment Trilogy,' this continues with the big themes that made the first two memorable in the first place- Most notably the shared elements of paranoia fueled by an unreliable narrator. In this case, Polanski places himself in that role as a new tenant in an apartment where the previous tenant attempted suicide. In trying to investigate what happened, we get a front row seat as he slides into his own twisted delusions that he is being guided to a similar fate. For me, the best
aspect of the movie is that it plays to its unreliable narrator in a way that I've only ever previously seen adhered to in Let's Scare Jessica to Death. Even till the last frame, we're never actually let in on the truth of what we've just seen. How much could have been a genuine conspiracy, and how much is the main character's mad delusions remains unknown. It's an effectively creepy twist and makes the movie stick with you after it's over.

As behind-the-scenes stories go, Anthony Hopkins was said to REALLY not like being around the dummy used for Fats.
I can't possibly imagine why, can you?

10/6 - Magic

Fun fact #1: This film was tagged in this year in memoriam of its director, the late Sir Richard Attenborough
Fun fact #2: apparently this movie was a favorite of my late grandmother on my mother's side. Given what I knew of her, this still surprises me to a degree.
Not that this movie is particularly graphic or gory, mind you. It's a film that largely works on its simpler touches. At the same time, it's also a fairly dark story. The entire idea of stories where the relationship between the ventriloquist and the dummy blurs are well tread, to the point where on release this movie was often compared to some earlier examples. With that in mind, what really elevates a lot of this one is the acting and direction. In the former case, it's actually a strong team- As the lead, a young Anthony Hopkins gets to show a lot of range in the dual roles of magician/ventriloquist Corky and his dummy Fats. As Corky, Hopkins is friendly, quiet, and even vulnerable. At the same time, one can see his appeal as a human being in order to make this movie's romance work- yes, he's a man with issues, but he's also likable. Meanwhile, as Fats, he gets to show those darker sides- at first simply sarcastic and crass, he slowly becomes more demanding and cruel as the story goes on. Despite that, when the movie's fateful, tragic ending comes, Hopkins manages to make both of these halves into sympathetic characters, turning the movie's bizarre finale into a sad one. Besides Hopkins, the other two standouts in the cast are Ann-Margret as Corky's former/now current flame, a more understated role, but one she brings out the human side in to really help sell the last act. Then there's Burgess Meredith as Hopkins' agent, in probably one of the best roles of his career. Besides the strong acting, the direction, as well as editing by John Bloom, are also worth noting here. One sequence that actually really caught me in this regard is how the movie chooses to first introduce us to Corky before he develops the dummy (and thus show us how dependent, in a way, he is on Fats.) Before Fats, we see Corky's stage debut - which goes horribly. Despite this, he attempts to lie to his mentor about how it went, all the while we see the actual show played out soundlessly, highlighting Corky's lie. It's a simple trick, but a very effective one. Which is probably the best way to sum up a lot of this film - it takes some very simple storytelling and ideas, and happens to do some very good things with them, simply by virtue of doing them well.

"This is an Asylum movie?!
Forget that! I'm out!"

10/7 - A Haunting in Salem

Oh GOD.
I had to rewrite my thoughts on this one a few times over. It's just...this is a really bad movie.
I mean, I think the main reason this one got into my candidate pool in the first place was care of browsing through what NetFlix had and not doing my research before grabbing it. The fact the movie opened with a credit from Asylum - the geniuses behind such straight-to-video box office remoras as Transmorphers, The Day the Earth Stopped, and Atlantic Rim - made it clear I was in for some hurt and there was no going back.
Of course, even beyond the general Asylum rep for slipshod filmmaking (a tradition that this movie carries on in spades) this movie annoyed me. This is in no small part from having lived in Massachusetts all my life. Why am I bringing this up? Because apparently neither the writer nor director has even been to this state. It is the best and worst part of this film -it's a ghost story about the Salem Witch Hysteria written and directed by people who apparently have never actually been to Salem (if they have, color me amazed).
It shows on so many levels: the assumption that Pasadena, California would be an acceptable substitute for Salem, a view of the entire witch hysteria that botches the body count (they only focus on the 19 that were hanged while skipping cases like the famous Giles Corey being crushed to death - which, ironically, DOES have a legend about cursed sheriffs - though strangely they DO imply people were burned at the stake even though that never happened in Salem) and then assumes they would bury the bodies under a building that their local sheriff would then live in. After enough sheriffs meeting premature ends, one would think the town would just pick a new location. Sort of like what has actually happened.
If this were a relatively obscure piece of American history, I could almost, ALMOST understand flubbing facts. But it's a pretty well known and documented chapter and very easy to find information on. At that point, it would have just been easier to make up a new witchcraft storyline (and hey, maybe set it in CA and save yourself some face!) and run with that. It would cost the movie its 'based on a true story' tag, but let's face it, it's not like that counts for much in horror these days anyway, especially with a story like this. Asylum, Hocus Pocus is a more historically accurate depiction of Salem than this. Think about that for a minute!
And I haven't even touched on the bad acting and continuity errors. That could be an article on its own. Really, this is just a very bad film all around. Wooden, clumsily written and poorly set up, terribly directed and edited, with effects that make Ed Wood look like he was breaking the bank. I at least take some consolation in the knowledge that at least one person on the film - lead star Bill Oberst Jr - acknowledged this was a bad film enough to issue an apology on his website for it. Bill, if you wind up reading this, you've got nothing to apologize for (unless you wrote and directed this under pseudonyms, anyway) you were probably the one cast member that actually was all that memorable in this movie. You are really the one person I would say doesn't owe an apology from this mess, though it is appreciated.
If people really want it, I will give this one a full autopsy at a later date, but for now I've spent enough time on this.

If you think it looks creepy now, you should have seen what the full photomosaic was supposed to look like when it was finished.
He had been planning this for YEARS...

10/8 - One Hour Photo

With this we come to In Memoriam tag-in #2, this time for the late Robin Williams.
And oh dear God. For a man who didn't really do much in the vein of thrillers or horror, he could be creepy as Hell when he wanted to. This is one of those titles it feels a bit weird to talk about, simply because so much has been said already, and for good reason. I do have to stress for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, this is definitely more thriller than horror. This isn't to say it's not scary, because it is incredibly unnerving. Plus, if you want a straight-up scare, one nightmare sequence will more than pay this film's way. A big part of what makes this film so effective is that it really is on Williams. He so thoroughly inhabits the persona of Sy Parrish and in doing so makes a character that is equal parts unsettling and sympathetic. The latter being probably the most disturbing part about him - the man isn't a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees figure where he's just outwardly intimidating and an unstoppable murder machine. He comes across as just this meek little man, who we only begin to fear when we see the extent of his obsessions. When he's finally pushed, he's even more disturbing because we have no idea just how far he plans to go.
On top of all of that, when we finally learn what's going on in his head (hence the sympathy) he still remains disturbing, simply for realizing just how utterly broken he is as a person. On top of which, learning his past gives his actions a horrifying new light that arguably makes parts of this movie's climax more disturbing on the rewatch. The rest of the movie is well done, don't get me wrong. The main reason I focus on Williams here is, really, a big part of what makes this movie work is just how thoroughly he inhabits its central character. The result of which is one of the more disturbing protagonists of the early 2000s (or Naughts, if you want to use that term.)
Not really a full-on Halloween blowout movie, but still a damn creepy one to get into the right mindset.

"Honey? Honey, it's me, Kong. Listen, I know we got things off to a bad start back at Skull Island, and I feel bad for that. But I'm willing to make amends, and if you'd just open the window so we can talk, I really think we can still make this work..."

10/9 - King Kong (1933)

While watching this, I was really struck by just how much pop culture has skewed the presentation of this movie. I mean, when you generally bring up King Kong to people, their minds automatically go to his famous rampage through New York City. To the point where even the two later remakes played it up more. In the original Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack film, this isn't until the final half hour of the movie's 100 (104 if you watch the version with the overture) run time. Instead, much of the film concerns itself with the ill-fated expedition to the misfortunately named Skull Island. In this regard, I have to say I will admit this wasn't a full blown Halloween pick overall. Rather, a lot of this is more of an adventure film that happens to deal in giant creatures. At the same time, those creatures help justify this movie's making the cut. In particular I was pretty surprised to see how many monster kills this movie factors in overall. Even more surprising given the movie's age, this movie shows quite a few on-screen deaths, including a few pretty well done shots of bodies hanging out of the mouths of dinosaurs and Kong. It's fairly tame by today's standards, but for the time the movie came out, this was pretty shocking stuff to get away with in film.
All in all, this is another which is tricky to say much on that hasn't already been said. Aside from a lot of the reputation and prestige, this is also just a really enjoyable adventure/monster film on its own. Given its age, I do have to concede, some of the racial depictions in this are...well...they're not the most offensive I've ever seen, but they aren't exactly progressive either. But I've seen worse in later movies by comparison. This is just one that's worth giving a watch even if only for the sake of having seen it. It's a great piece of early spectacle with some fine examples of early stop motion to boot.

Okay, can we finally agree that the corn lobby MAY have too much power now?

10/10 - Children of the Corn

Ah, the 80s and 90s...the magical era when Stephen King had proven bankable and every studio that could was buying up the rights to his stories, secure in the fact his name would be enough to move things. On the sliding scale of quality that covers the body of works based on King's fiction, Children of the Corn lands somewhere in the middle. It's certainly nowhere near highs like The Shining, Carrie, Misery, or just about anything Darabont's touched, but it's also pretty safely away from the level of works like Cat's Eye or the infamous Lawnmower Man. Probably the biggest thing going against this movie is the story it's adapting. Children of the Corn as a story works for two big reasons: it's fairly short, and its in media res style of narration means you're left in the dark about a lot of what's going on. You get enough clues to be horrified at just what's going down, but it's not like you ever really get to know a whole lot about the children. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of things that really don't fly in a big budget feature, especially one that's getting theater time. By comparison, a 20 minute adaptation of the story done in 1980 does a better job of keeping closer to the original story's style, albeit with some dated production values now (look up Disciples of the Crow on YouTube.) So this film pads things out- we get kids who actually aren't that bad but still allowed to live within the cult despite being nonbelievers, we get to see our happy couple live, and in the end, evil is beaten.
Suffice it to say, it's a long way from the fairly grim original story, though traces of it are still present within this.
Probably the biggest example of the potential in this version is actually in the movie's opening scenes. Before we meet our two protagonists (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton in a less than Sarah Connor level role) we see the first moments of the cult's takeover of the town of Gatlin. This is actually a fairly creepy sequence and, paired with the opening credits detailing the rest of the rise of the cult in crayon drawings, makes a great piece of short horror. The problem comes when it's then all established with voiceover narration by young good child Job (Robby Kiger.) This explains parts of what's coming, giving exposition we don't actually need to really get the impression of what's going on here. It's a 'tell, don't show' moment and it hurts one of the movie's strongest scenes.
What follows is a really mixed bag of a film with some clunky writing and editing, some effects that have NOT aged well, and a stunted ending with a twist that really botches any sense of closure.
It's a fairly weird place in the King film gallery. It's got a lot wrong with it, at some points lapsing into accidental comedy ("OUTLANDERRRRR!"), but it's also not that unwatchable a movie. It's an alright story of evil children that has bits of a better movie hidden inside it that just don't get the chance to come out is all.

Once again, sorry for the wait on this one guys. We'll be back on schedule with this Friday. I promise.

Till then.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Halloween Week 1: WE'RE BAAAAAAACK

Hey, with the naming convention I've been using, it leaves the first week wanting for a suitable subtitle.

That said, we've got a good list picked out for this year. Some old, some new, some domestic, some foreign, and a few where I will confess I broke my random rule, though for good reasons.

But, I get ahead of myself.

Let's start this party.


"I don't mean to be rude, but you WERE hogging all the covers just now..."

10/1 – The Innkeepers

To the randomizing program, I thank you for picking a good title to start this year's festivities off with. We'll be kicking this year off with director Ti West's 2011 follow-up to his breakout debut, House of the Devil.
For his second feature, I have to give it to West on this one – one of the things I was really struck by in this was how stylistically different it was from his first movie. What made that first movie stand out was how it stuck to its stylistic concept as a callback to 80s horror films, and employed the style in a way that took it seriously without feeling like a parody. Here, it carries itself with a more modern sensibility, both in direction and story, and more importantly, proves West has range as a director. In this case, rather than dealing with Satanists again, we're given a modern-day ghost story. Two employees of a hotel on its literal final days (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) have been investigating reports that the building may in fact be haunted. With almost no guests left, they decide to double-down on their efforts during the final weekend. One can guess what that search results in.
One of the things that surprised me about this as a ghost movie is the fact that it actively avoids going for the jump scare. It's a pretty easy way to jolt an audience, and a ghost story gives numerous opportunities for that, but West dodges them. In fact, the one jump moment in the film is presented early on, and is almost done as a riff/jab at the tactic. Otherwise, its depiction of ghosts is in keeping with the general fictional nature of such spirits – that they are always there, waiting to be found.
Besides the ghosts, the other standout in this one goes to how well the small cast works together. The chemistry between Paxton and Healy helps keep a lot of the first act afloat before the movie starts to let the ghosts out to play. I know some people found the shift from the film's humorous beginning to its darker second half jolting, but honestly, I liked that the movie let us grow to like these people separate of the horror before throwing them into the peril. With this as a follow-up, I remain sold on West as a filmmaker. With these two titles already, he's done well at proving his horror isn't just a one-trick pony.


"I know what you're gonna say, and before you get the wrong idea - it was that guy."

10/2 – The Invisible Man (1933)

This is one of the classics the randomizer tagged this year. Just saying, keep an eye out for some others in the weeks to come.
That said, I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with the movie for its age. In general, it's mostly a good story – not Whales's best, but still an enjoyable thriller. Also, I give it points for the fact that, of the Universal monster movies, this one was the closest match its original source novel. What really elevates this movie are two particular elements.
The first is the movie's effects. For a movie made now 81 years ago, the special effects have aged astonishingly well - especially given how often the movie employed an early version of greenscreen in capturing the invisibility effect. Despite its age, the effect is still quite seamless in many scenes, moreso than uses of the effect in movies made decades later. Really, there are only two areas where this film's effects somewhat show their age, and those are mainly more a consequence of the editing employed than the effects themselves – largely in moments of an invisible Griffin throwing things or pushing them over.
The other standout is the performance by Claude Rains as Griffin. I know others have commented on this before, but it really speaks to his ability as an actor that he's so memorable in this even though he's unseen for the majority of the movie. Yes, we see his body moving around, but even then, most of his personality is more remembered care of Rains's vocal delivery. For only being able to rely on his voice here, he does a great job of conveying first anger, then delusional mania as he becomes drunk on power. Even if the effects weren't as good as they are, his performance would make this movie worth the watch.


"No, trust me. This IS the secret to making old world meth...now pass me the bat wings, would you?"

10/3 – Kill, Baby...Kill!

As I continue to explore wonderful world of Italian horror, this year marks the first presence of Mario Bava on here. Once again, this is one of those movies that speaks to how much of what makes Italian horror is the director involved. The story isn't bad, don't get me wrong; same goes the performances overall (though I do have to give extra points to Fabienne Dali for her intensity as Ruth, the town witch.) Really, the big star of the show is the visual style employed by Bava and cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi. This movie has a great look to it on just about every level – color, style, setting, and, in true horror fashion, kills. From the get-go, the movie pulls you in visually, care of some on location shooting in the town of Calcata that really helps give the town a look that's both stylized and yet (for lack of a better term) authentic. On top of that, the effects employed for the movie's ghostly visions have aged well thanks to a minimal use of effects and some great camera work. One great moment that marked the point where I really clicked to “...this movie's got a great look to it” was a sequence introducing the ghost to a scene. We simply see the camera following someone as it zooms in, then zooms back out. In again, out again. Then the camera pans back further to reveal the spirit sitting on a swing, watching. It's a great little creative touch and a cool way to introduce the ghost in a memorable fashion.
This movie makes a great introduction for people into the appeal of Italian horror cinema – it's got a great visual sense of itself and the way it's employed here has aged very well nowadays. In some regards, this actually looks better than some films being made nowadays.

First week and we're off to a good start.

Next week marks our first full seven, and it's a pretty wild spread to work with.
There's a reason I love this time of year.

Till then.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Summer Reading: End of the Summer Exam Edition: Great Expectations (2011)

I know, we're now well into fall at this point. Again, I apologize for the delays on this.

I could have just let this one fall off the map, and considered it. At the same time, I stopped myself for three reasons:
1) The entire purpose of repeating these projects is learning to do them better
2) I'd been meaning to do this version since I started the project
3) I couldn't in good conscience, send this year's Summer Reading off with that crappy animated adaptation. Seriously. Not the worst thing I've ever seen, but this book deserves better.

Which brings us to the recent BBC miniseries adaptation. At three hour-long episodes, it's not the longest attempt, but it's definitely one of the more interesting renditions out there, at least that I'm familiar with.

I've mentioned before that this is a book that's particularly tricky to adapt thanks to just how many little pieces there are. Pip's story isn't told as a direct sequence of events, but rather a lot of different meetings and interactions which he learns and grows from before finally settling into the adult he is at the end of the book. Yes, Magwitch's involvement does provide a catalyst, but he's also absent for much of the story, with his involvement a mystery to the readers until it's made clear to Pip. As such, any adaptation of this becomes a matter of picking and choosing the events and acquaintances that will shape Pip's life. In a few cases (such as Cuarón and Newell's versions) the experiences largely get consolidated down to just Pip's love for Estella. While I can see the logic here, it DOES come with the accidental implication of Pip as stalking her. It would be an interesting take on the story, don't get me wrong, but it would require a LOT of creative liberties.

"Hey kid! Wanna see a dead bod--
Wait, no. If I kill you, you're not really seeing it, are you...?"

This version, helmed by Brian Kirk with a script by Sarah Phelps, does try to keep the wider cast, though it also compensates by folding certain events into one another. The result is at points a little surprising (Miss Havisham's interest in Pip coming to visit is broached during the same set of events that leads Pip to steal food for Magwitch) but in some cases, also helps tighten up the story to better effect for a visual medium (moving Pip's confrontation with Orlick to London saves the third part an extra trip out of the way back to Pip's hometown). The result doesn't always work - the previously mentioned version of the Orlick confrontation does away with his arrest and simply ends with Pip laying him out with one punch and taking off - but it's a game effort to try and translate a narrative with a lot going into it.

Besides the changes for time, I have to admit I was actually surprised by how this version took different perspectives on some of the cast, both in terms of writing and acting. The big example here, and certainly the most publicized, is Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham. I had actively avoided looking up images of her in the part coming up to this point so I'd be going into this blind, and it paid off here. While certainly not as old as many of the other women who've been cast, Anderson balances it by instead giving the character a much more haunted air, both in appearance and mannerism. At times, she's almost like an actual ghost -literally haunting Satis House and driving Estella to continue her cursed cycle of broken hearts. In the later parts, and something I really commend in this adaptation, more of an effort is made than in most adaptations to show the growing divide between Havisham and Estella. In this version it even leads into a unique take on her death: freed of the first person perspective Pip brings to the book, this version tries to shed more light on the other personalities, even staging Havisham's death to look as though, rather than an accident, her fate was a suicide. It's an interesting choice to make, and I actually have to give the team points for going with it.
Before Duchovny and Anderson went elsewhere, the later seasons of The X-Files were initially slated to be a LOT stranger. 

Alongside Havisham, the other particular standouts I have to give this version in offering a new spin on characters is the casting of David Suchet (known to many for his work as Hercule Poirot) as the lawyer Jaggers, and Mark Addy in a decidedly more cynical take on Pumblechook. In Suchet's case, his is a decidedly different take on the role even from his physical appearance, which I will admit threw me at first. In the end, he trades the heavier form and roundabout legalese for a much more blunt and concise character that still suits Jaggers as a lawyer and even allows them a chance to further remind that, for as ruthless as he can be at the bar, he's certainly not inhuman. In the case of Pumblechook, this version strips away the character's puffed-up self-aggrandizing and instead doubles down on his shameless self-serving nature. In that regard, Mark Addy does a surprisingly good job with the role, really nailing that 'slimy bastard' aspect this version is going for. It's a minor role, but I do have to give him points, I didn't expect to see him play that brand of jerk well.

The cast members who play closer to the page are also well chosen. In fact, this is one of those versions I can honestly say I had no particular issues with the casting. Douglas Booth's Pip is one of the better adult versions of the character I've seen since starting this with the David Lean version. And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Harry Lloyd in the role of Herbert Pocket in this version. For an actor I will admit I still largely associate with the short-tempered and almost Napoleonic Viserys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, it was strangely refreshing to see him playing one of the small handful of genuinely friendly and likable people in this story. Similarly, Shaun Dooley's Joe does a good job at capturing the character's simpler side without playing it up into caricature, giving some extra weight to the moments when a young Pip finds himself drifting from the simpler joys of Joe's life as a blacksmith.

"Seriously, a whole thing of molten gold. It got pretty crazy..."

Besides a pretty solid script and some great casting, this version has the visual eye for translating the book to the screen. It takes the challenge of translating familiar sites like Satis House's crumbling estate and the offices of Jaggers and makes them both recognizable but distinct with its visual touches. Likewise, the editing does the material well in several areas, with some standout moments such as the above-mentioned death of Miss Havisham, as well as a montage of Pip's coming into his life as a gentleman, framed around an amusing sequence of Herbert teaching him how to dance.

To try and bring this one in for a landing, I have to admit I find myself torn where to place this. It's well made, but as an overall movie, I think Lean may take this one. At the same time, I think as an adaptation, I think this might be tied for, if not the best of the picks. Yes, it alters several events, but it still largely tries to keep to the spirit of the material- which is really the more important element of an adaptation when you get down to it. I even find myself preferring, of the versions, how this one addresses the book's disputed ending. I cut Lean some slack here, since there was some meta-reasoning on his ending, but otherwise, most other takes on this ending have let me a bit disappointed.

"...Ah, screw it. Let them decide for themselves if we work things out or not!"

Which is why it's weird for me to admit the reason this one worked for me was that they ultimately set it up and leave it open. We see Pip and Estella reunited, and whether they reconcile or not is left in the proverbial ether. Given the two different endings the book has written as is,  I do find this to be a good compensation between the two.

Besides that, it's also just a pretty well done take on the story on its own. Some good direction, a largely solid script, and a great ensemble cast all come together to make this a version worth checking out. Just try not to let the changes throw you too much.

So, we come to the end of another year of Summer Reading.

Not a moment too soon, either. In a few hours it will be October, and you all know what that means here.

Got a pretty solid list put together. Look forward to it starting this Friday.

Till then.