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 It's interesting to watch her develop from a shy and withdrawn individual to one who, after a few betrayals of trust, has a ruthless edge- while still maintaining vulnerability.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.

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