Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Well, this year I thought I would try a different approach to my horror reviewing during Halloweenmonth in October, resembling diary entries. A lot of us really just want to watch movies without having to build one long review after another. I already have a "shortlist" developing of the films I want to watch this year. I have already decided I will kick October off with The Wolf Man, using it as my banner for 2013. I'm already anticipating this month with more than a bit of excitement. It'll be here (and over) before we know it. Good times ahead, just the same.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

As you can see by the title featured in James Wan's take on the whole 'demonic possession/paranormal' activity' craze flooding the marketplace of horror for the last six years, this is quite the old school, traditional attempt at causing girls in the theater to shriek (and a few guys, as was the experience in the theater I saw this film) and a steady, long-term dread built as something perhaps hides within a clothing cabinet or in the darkened area behind a bedroom door, down in the cob-webbed, spider-infested cellar, inside a crawlspace used as a hiding place from terror (the irony of this is that it was once used as a place of refuge but soon becomes an area of fear). Wan doesn't shy away from the techniques available to him today (like the scene where a sheet flies off a clothing line forming a human figure, heading towards a window, revealing the witch's demonic spirit from inside one of the girls' rooms), and he (probably at the urgings of the Hollywood Machine) can't help himself in regards to the loud score amping up the tension and sound effects that make damn sure someone trembles and shouts aloud. There's the bit with the hair pulled by the invisible spirit, hurling a girl across a room into a nearby door, shattering glass. I realize advertisements are designed to pull butts into seats. But the use of the hand clap from behind Lili Taylor in these advertisements just still leaves me pissed off. In the theater I saw this, there were people anticipating it and clapping right when this scene transpires. The whole potential surprise of it was decimated thanks to the number of advertisements using it specifically for marketing. I just felt disgusted when it happens. The door slams shut after that, temporarily trapping her in the cellar. God, did I love this house. This is a house right out of a different time, which was the intent. The number of children in the family of the couple left me smiling because my own family dating back two generations (on both sides, my father and mother's) were quite large; so the film wishes to authenticate that whole era when families were larger than the 2.5 kids in families of today. The house has a stairs and lots of rooms...in the theater there was an older woman sitting on the other side of her husband (sitting next to me) couldn't shut up about how she wouldn't in any way go into those creepy rooms or stay in the house. The wallpaper and paneling, the beds (and frames), the furniture, a piano (in the cellar and its tune used superbly in one ominous moment cutting through the silence). That this old, dark house does have such a disturbing history of violence and death, as if it is a beacon for or epicenter of horror, to me, adds a great deal to the effectiveness of the material. Can such horror, all that death, leave its imprint on the location itself? I am drawn to the horror genre because of the literary and visual storytelling that's possible in using a dark history in a certain location. The Conjuring is of that class. Wan, to make sure we understand when this film was set, dresses the cast accordingly and has plenty of 70s music involved. I did feel like there was a desired attempt to take us completely into that time. Much like Rob Zombie does always, there's an obvious sentiment by Wan (Ti West's House of the Devil was particularly praised for its efforts) to transport us successfully "back there", and I admittedly like taking the trip.

Before my wife and I went into the theater to see the film, we got a good look at this poster, with the shadow of the witch on the ground. I liked how the house was framed in the distance, with this distinctive tree of definite importance to the film right at the front.

I got expectedly giddy at the sight of the grandfather clock
A pivotal moment in the film given away by the trailer.
The family
Look out!
Possession imminent.



Here is my imdb review for the film:

James Wan’s mega-hit, seemingly a great movie for October wisely capitalizing on a summer absent much in the way of theatrical horror, can’t shake off its influences, such as Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, Poltergeist (there’s a static-screen television), and Paranormal Activity. To me, this was basically Wan’s contribution to the ‘demonic possession/paranormal activity/haunted house’ all the rage these days. It concerns a couple in the late 60s/early 70s who would, with the help of a priest and tech crew (well, the cameras and equipment, light bulbs, etc, of that time), research cases of demonic possession for people and cleanse them (or their property) of the horror ailing them. This film features a family of seven under siege by the vengeful spirit of a Connecticut witch lynched on the property (on this creepy tree fit for Sleepy Hollow); this witch possesses mothers and uses them as vessels to kill their children. So the five daughters of the family are in quite a bit of danger, not to mention, their mother will be a possession victim. The house is the real star, to tell you the truth; it looks the part of a 70s Amityville relic (upon ’71, the house had aged, with wallpaper, furniture, floor, windows, beds, stairs, a hidden cellar and crawlspace seeming to indicate it had been through years of time’s mistreatment, with cob-webbing in the mistakenly discovered cellar and crawlspace indicating more habitation from spiders than humans), and the space involved provides Wan with plenty of room to navigate his camera, following  the action of the characters (and spirits) throughout. While using a loud score and sound effects, courtesy of the Hollywood Machine needing to manipulate and manufacture terror from the audience, and descending into The Exorcist Lite, diminishes some of the power of The Conjuring, but the old school, traditional approach is appreciated (especially the use of the dark, and “what lies around that next corner or behind the next door?”). Atheists will probably find this unbearable as plenty of Catholicism (Christian iconography and dialogue) and spirituality find their way in the script and in how the evil is finally put in its place at the end. The reason you’ll see The Exorcist bandied about is mainly because of the end where Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (Mr. and Mrs. Warren, Demonologist Couple) work to alleviate Lili Taylor’s Carolyn Perron of the witch possessing her. The usual crucifixes and holy water show up. Ron Livingston is the trucker husband of Carolyn, Roger, who is feeling helpless in regards to his family’s safety. A leg pulled, a demon leaping onto a victim, a victim lifted off her feet by her hair and tossed into a glass-windowed door, the ghost of a maid with slit wrists appearing to scare a guy, a face with flesh ripped away by demon-possessed Taylor, eerie handclaps from a clothing cabinet and in the cellar (ruined by advertisements, leaving the scene without the surprise) during hide and seek games in the house, and Taylor awakened by the witch’s spirit while sleeping: in the audience, every one of these moments worked, the theater had people shrieking and freaking out. I give credit where credit’s due: Wan builds these scenes, the music helping him (of course), and there’s the payoff. If the theater had remained bored and quiet, with phones lighting up and chatting remaining a deterrent, then I would have said The Conjuring was a failure, but the audience was held captivated and spellbound. Whether it was the situation involving a family terrorized by supernatural forces or the gradual escalation of the impending threat itself, The Conjuring worked on the crowd in the theater I saw the film. Too bad the film falls on the sword; Wan’s film is reduced to the clichés now so shopworn when it comes to demon possession. The cast is good, though, even if Taylor must work on her best Linda Blair towards the end. Like in Dead Silence, Wan returns to the doll, and there’s a marvelous scene where the witch’s spirit is creaking in a rocking chair holding the doll, scaring the daughter of the Warrens (yes, another tiresome cliché of the threat towards the heroes’ daughter is mined as well). Good opening use of the doll as an introduction to the Warrens, explaining how objects can be used as vessels for evil.

Friday, July 26, 2013

April Fool's Day




I’ll be talking in depth about this film, so exact spoilers will be acknowledged…like in most of my reviews, the proverbial cat is out of the bag (well, like in April Fool’s Day, and so many horror films, there’s a cat popping up to scare somebody and in my reviews spoilers are like that cat: to talk about films in depth, spoilers come with the territory).

Every one or two years, I will watch certain movies. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but certain films—films that aren’t exactly great or spectacular—just seem to go down rather easily, not demanding much from you. I think you could watch April Fool’s Day (1986) almost intact on television with little censorship.

I can’t call this a slasher. To me, April Fool’s Day isn’t any more a slasher than Student Bodies (1981). Primarily because there’s no real killing, and the “clever” ruse (if you don’t see that twist at the end coming a mile away even when watching it for the first time) at the end says the slasher genre is all about props and fake blood. Careful editing of “off screen harm” when the cast start leaving the film with them turning up supposedly in severed  body parts and slit throats to those yet killed signify the ending, telegraph it in such a manner that the twist could be not-too-surprising to the attentive slasher fan. That said, the slasher fan of the 90s that was me that found the ending very disappointing gives way to the slasher fan of today who finds the twist a refreshing and fun way to close the film. No longer does it bother me; in fact, I smile when Rob and Kit (Ken Olandt and Amy Steel) discover that all their “pals” (loosely used because the cast seem to have their problems with each other) are quite alright. By 1986, Paramount studios could no longer sweep Friday the 13th and its sequels under the rug because their popularity was undeniable. However, a film like April Fool’s Day allowed them to poke fun at the slasher films making them bucket loads of green. Amy Steel’s involvement is kind of a feather-in-the-cap, tying Friday the 13th to this playful stab at the slashers of the past few years (at that time). I like that Amy Steel (an absolute favorite among us 80s slasher brats) is put out there as one of the major stars, making it all the way until the end and uncovering specific clues left for her and Ken’s Rob to solve.

The key to my overall enjoyment – besides Steel’s involvement - is Deborah Foreman’s weird performance. It seems like her island party host, Muffy (love her name, too.), is truly a bit unstable and oddball. Slowly dressing drably and acting more and more irrationally with each vanishing member of her invited party, with her mental state seeming to deteriorate, Muffy’s behavior and how those at the island mansion react to her entertains me to no end. Even when she admits to the reason behind her tricking the party invited to her island murder shindig, I still like how Foreman doesn’t totally abandon that bit of eccentricity and oddness that defines her character. To even come up with the idea to save her from having to sell her soon-to-be-acquired/inherited-property with this slasher mystery project says something about how Muffy is intrigued by death and solving clues related to it.

What is kind of obvious and ruins some of the supposed impact is that several of the severed heads and gore gags are noticeably fake. Like when Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) falls into the well, as Harvey (Jay Baker) holds a grip to one of the handles, and discovers the head of Arch (Back to the Future’s Thomas F Wilson, constantly clowning around) much to her horror. I can’t imagine anyone could buy that as a real severed head. Saying that, I think the first bit of gruesome business involving one of the ferry crew, Buck (Mike Nomad) supposedly getting his face crushed while trying to tie off the boat to the dock is not too shabby (because the camera doesn’t hold close to the “wound” for too long; that with Buck’s screaming/agony, a nice bit of selling on his part, helps the scene really carry off a sense of tragic bad timing deterring from the buffoonery and jokey nature of the cast on their way to island). That scene with Arch hanging upside down as a snake coils under his head, preparing to strike, certainly always leaves me mortified because I can just imagine my terror of being caught in that horrifying predicament.

I think perhaps the mistake was not to utilize the location enough. I think a real slasher could certainly exploit this location…not just the mansion, but the island itself as well. I consider it a missed opportunity. I’m surprised (perhaps I just haven’t seen it, though) there aren’t more slashers out there that are set on an island. Of course, there have been Italian horrors (Anthropophagus (1980) & Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)) set on islands, but I’m amazed there aren’t more of the American slasher exploiting the isolation and vulnerability ripe for such a treatment. Again, though, maybe there are some out there (probably lousy) that have. There are so many slashers since Halloween’s heyday, that I’m sure “island slashers” are aplenty. Damn slashers come out of the woodwork. Just look at Netflix, the list of slashers just from the last four or five years; there’s quite a selection to choose from.

I have to admit that, while it is cool to see some of the members of the cast of familiar faces in this spoof on slashers, the characters were a bit obnoxiously presented. Clayton Rohner’s camera crazy Chaz, especially, likes to antagonize (even if playful, he seems to be sincere, with some of those “eye rolling” snarky expressions/comments towards the “hick” Texan, “Hal” (Jay Baker’s Harvey is always having to correct them))and often irritates others with his abrasive humor, and Harvey, while likable in his “good ole boy, cigar-puffing oil Texan” way, is treated as a country bumpkin worthy of scorn. Skip (Griffin O’Neal) is shown mostly as a “doesn’t take anything seriously” kid, ribbing Arch, while waxing pitiably about how his daddy doesn’t respect or expect much out of him (while raiding the liquor cabinet of Foreman’s father’s mansion). So some of the characters can go bye-bye and it wouldn’t necessarily bother me a bit. Nikki is seen as a sex-hungry maneater, in a weird sexual position with Chaz at one point much to Arch’s dismay when he happens to interrupt while they are going at it. Harvey, despite her obvious disinterest in him, continues to try and woo Nikki. All this has its place in the slasher genre, also; couplings form, ladies discuss guys, and sex is often the topic of conversation and humor.

I think the house’s being rigged with gags such as door knobs that come off when you grab a hold of them, lamps/lights that do not turn off when you flick the switch (we’ll call them musical lights), water faucets that spurt at your face when you attempt to turn the handles on bathroom sinks, and even a medicine cabinet with fake drug paraphernalia (!) -- Foreman has lots of tricks for her guests. – is one of the film’s most amusing highlights. Muffy pulled out all the stops experimenting with her new idea to keep the mansion and island by enlisting the involuntary aid of her college pals (unknowingly goaded into the whole thing through the misunderstanding that they were invited to party and get wild for a few), using them as  guinea pigs. Rough patches including a baby’s cry misinterpreted as an insult towards the stuffy bookworn, Clara (Pat Barlow) regarding an abortion and the aforementioned snake underneath Arch prove to be examples of miscues that would be shored up by Muffy once she viewed the results of her idea. People would know what they might be in for, and these folks would pay to be tricked and led into a murder mystery to solve, preparing unlike the cast of this film. 











I have read that there were some alternate endings possible for the film, and I think if it had ended with Clara getting even with Muffy through a graphic throat slashing, after the rest had left the premises, might have actually left the audience coming away with at least some satisfaction...a slasher audience, that is. I think reasoning being that not everyone was so amused by the charade, Clara the one getting even; this might have, at least, satiated the bloodthirst somewhat. What we're left with is an April fools for many slasher fans,  hoping for more and getting right the opposite of the expected. I think those who hate the slasher genre, on the other hand, might embrace this film's twist, appreciating the effort involved to try something a bit different from the norm.

If anything, the title of this film should have indicated the twist to begin with, but if you get caught up in the whole movie, it must have been directed and highly influential in its execution fairly well. I have to imagine, though, that not everybody was so easily duped. But perhaps a few were genuinely surprised like Rob and Kit, not quite expecting the ruse.


After thinking about it for a bit, I believe I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) is an example of an island retreat slasher. I must have purposely forgotten this one.

Carnival of Souls





 A young woman, in a car with girlfriends that accidentally drives off a bridge when they're racing some cocky guys, walks from the lake in one piece, in a daze and off kilter. As she attempts to get back to life, something seems to be missing, a personality and a desire to rejoin the human race. When she starts to see the creepy figure of a white-faced ghoul, this woman might have to examine his purpose for constantly appearing to her...could it have something to do with that crash?
*****

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Evil Dead '13


On a trip at a cabin, a group of young adults come under attack from a demonic force desiring to possess their souls could arise to power on earth. A certain book, with specific incantations, if read can release the demonic force; can any of them stop the hell certain to be unleashed on them all?
**½

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

after.life

A schoolteacher awakens after a car crash on the slab of a mortician who informs her of her demise. He seems equipped with the ability to talk to the dead. But is she actually dead and does this mortician truly have such a gift? Or is she alive and simply held captive by a lunatic?
***½

Monday, July 15, 2013


There are times where I just have to step back and take in the beauty. I mean, we admire the ocean waves at sunset or sunrise, the big, bright moon in the sky as the clouds dissipate, and the autumnal age of dying leaves as the summer slumbers away. Christina Ricci, as I was watching After.Life (2009) in preparation for an upcoming review for the blog, has a moment where her whole face engulfed my computer screen, and it was one of those breathtaking moments that resembles how I feel regarding events as described above.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

deadgirl


Well, you sure picked a pretty shit-poor time to man-up, Rick.

When skipping class for the hell of it because of a fire drill at school, JT and Rickie are out and about, locating the derelict mental institution, just screwing around, eventually finding the body of a young woman, wrapped in plastic, soon realizing that she's not...quite...dead.
**½


To say I’m a bit exhausted after revisiting Deadgirl (2008) would be the understatement of the week. God, to say the protagonists made me sick would certainly be an apt statement. I cringe at the thought that this could happen. It is as much a study, I think, about how far alienated loners, cast to the side, on the bottom rungs of the high school ladder, might go in order to gain access to pleasure, achieve a sense of power and control--to be the rulers of their own private universe, so to speak--and attain their own private nirvana absent the pitfalls that come with unremarkable lives…through this, they fall into such an immoral abyss, that turning back seems futile.

 JT (Noah Segan) is so depraved, and becomes so psychopathic, that I just wanted to hit the shower and scrub myself clean with steel wool. JT is a real fucking sicko. So JT and his weak pal, Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez), decide to blow the rest of the school day to goof off, heading for an abandoned institution (this is a real doozy that reeks of horrors), finding the naked corpse of an undead “lab experiment” (that’s my only reasoning as to her being alive..and dead) with a hunger for flesh and a thirst for blood. While Rickie believes they should call the cops, JT, because he’s warped in the head, on the other hand, isn’t about to unveil the details on a piece of pussy he can secretly bang any time he wants. What does Rickie do? Does he do the right thing? Of course not. 

The film follows mainly Rickie, as he deals with the moral crisis and dwells on what to do about the situation. While Rickie might be the focus of the film, he is, by no means, a hero. Far from it. Sure, he feels a little guilty, and, maybe, he has a bit of a conscience, but to not tell the local authorities immediately, and allowing this twisted business with JT sexually molesting the naked, filthy, sweaty, bullet-ridden body of Deadgirl (Jenny Spain; this girl deserves kudos for what her character has to endure throughout, naked the entire time, and looking worse for wear) to continue, doesn’t paint him in a good light at all. The ending especially eschews any semblance of positive feelings we might even remotely have for the Rickie character. He’s always begging and pleading with JT, like a little girl seeking mama to buy her a lollipop in a Walmart checking line, and Rickie doesn’t have the initiative or wherewithal (or, better yet, the spine) to do the right thing. He’s a coward, a weakling. I don’t give a shit about how JT is his friend and snitching on the only person who gives a rat’s ass about him could be a deterrent in going to the cops, but any obligation he might owe to the victim – regardless if she’s dead or alive – seems to pale in comparison to upsetting one’s good buddy.

We never see Rickie’s mother. She probably works double shifts just to make ends meet. I know this will be looked at negatively…a mother absent during a pivotal time in her son’s life and growth as a human being into adulthood. But if the absentee father isn’t available to his son, what is she to do? So I won’t get on that soap box. Still, he spends afternoons in his room fantasizing about the girl of his dreams from school, Joann (Candice Accola). Joann dates the head jock (surprised?) in school (a bully, surprised?), and she really doesn’t have any interest in Rickie whatsoever. Rickie is presented as an antisocial misfit who sketches gory, violent cartoons in class, pining for Joann, quietly keeping to himself, riding his bike home, and often spending evenings (when not alone) with his mother’s loser, drunken boyfriend (who, actually, isn’t a bruiser in a wife-beater; he’s just a dead beat who eats from the fridge and gulps free beer). JT is aggressive and confident, just doesn’t give a shit, and offers a double middle finger to society’s expectations of high school’s graduation class. He has a grandmother (his guarantor) dying, no career options of serious worth to the society at large, and his prospects for the future appear non-existent. In the basement of the destitute institution, however, he’s king. Unless Rickie develops some sort of backbone, JT (and eventual buddy of theirs joining him, Wheeler (Eric Podnar) can carry on his rape of Deadgirl’s person. 

While the actual sex is thankfully not explicit (this isn’t Nekromantik), there’s plenty hints and camera setups that depict the molestation and rape of Deadgirl. JT’s description of his sexually vile acts to her, considering her a piece of his property, a slave for his unpleasant sexual appetites, is reprehensible. He gets what he deserves. While JT, Wheeler, and the two jock punks who mistreated the film’s bullied slackers wind up facing punishment for their misbehavior, ultimately Rickie escapes the same suffering, mainly because he avoids the zombie bite. When Joann gets involved, unknowingly provoking JT and Wheeler to kidnap her to “replace Deadgirl”, Rickie certainly faces a dilemma. Oh, he rectifies this, but the solution to a tragic occurrence to Joann leaves a bad taste…that is unless you consider necrophilia an act most seductive and appealing. For me, I will move on to a movie that doesn’t leave me wanting to throw up.









 


































Oh, besides the rape and molestation of Deadgirl, JT also uses violence to shut her up. He attempts to strangle her, even using a gun to shoot bullets in her, to no avail. Despite shooting her body, and revealing he had tried to kill her three times with no success, JT seems not the least bit worried that Rickie would snitch to the cops on him. JT mentions later he knows Rickie better than Rickie knows himself. I think he's right. The most sickening part of the movie that had me more than a bit queasy is when JT squeezes puss from her bullet wounds, realizing there's a new warm hole for him for penile pleasure. Gross. What the characters do to Deadgirl throughout make her an undeniable sympathetic figure. I truly wanted her to go ferocious on their ass once she was eventually freed from her heinous imprisonment.



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The Boogens - Intro

While I must admit that as a monster movie, The Boogens (1981) doesn’t quite measure up (its monsters aren’t particularly menacing ...