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Friday, August 31, 2012

Day 244: Child's Play

Child's Play
Wanna play?

Believe it or not, but I didn't always like horror movies. When I was young, I was actually terrified of scary movies. I specifically remember being scared even when commercials came on for scary movies. Freddy Krueger was very scary with his burnt face and blade-covered hand. There was one other horror icon that scared just as much as Krueger if not more: Chucky. As silly as it sounds now, the thought of a doll coming to life and trying to kill struck a chord with me. I mean, it's an R-rated horror movie sort of geared towards kids. While movies like Toy Story show the fun and lovable side of toys coming to life, Child's Play showed the much darker and scarier side.

Child's Play is a 1988 horror movie starring Brad Dourif (Deadwood, Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers) as serial killer Charles Lee Ray. Charles Lee Ray, also known as “Chucky” and “The Lakeshore Strangler” is being pursued by Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon, The Princess Bride, The Sentinel). Shot by Norris and abandoned by his cohort, Eddie Caputo (Neil Giuntoli, The Shawshank Redemption, Next Of Kin), Chucky breaks into a toy store for cover. Knowing he is about to die, Chucky uses a voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into the plastic body of a “Good Guy” doll. The next day, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks, Ryan's Hope, 7th Heaven) buys a Good Guy doll from a street peddler for her son Andy's birthday. Having to work the night shift, Karen asks her friend Maggie to watch Andy. Andy tells Maggie that his doll told him his name was Chucky and that he wanted to watch the 9 o'clock news. Maggie laughs it off and puts him to bed. Later, she is shocked to find Chucky in front of the television, watching the news. A small figure is seeing toying with Maggie throughout the apartment, eventually hitting her with a hammer and knocking her out a window. Detective Norris speaks with Andy, who is the prime suspect for Maggie's death. Andy insists that Chucky killed Maggie, but no one believes him. The next day, Andy skips school with Chucky and goes to the house of Chucky's former partner, Eddie Caputo. Chucky sneaks into Eddie's house and turns up the gas on his stove, causing it to explode and kill Eddie. The authorities find Andy at the scene and place him in a psychiatric ward for children. Karen is the only one who believes Andy and tries to get Chucky to talk to her. She discovers the doll's batteries had never been used and when she threatens to throw him in the fireplace, Chucky comes to life and attacks her and escapes. Detective Norris is soon attacked by Chucky with a large butcher knife and crashes his car. Norris is able to shoot and injure Chucky, much to the doll's surprise. Chucky visits the man who taught him voodoo and discovers that his transformation is becoming permanent and must find another body. He decides to transfer his soul into Andy's body. Will Karen and Det. Norris be able to stop the killer doll before it's too late?

Becoming a doll was actually an improvement, looks-wise

The killer doll genre is nothing new, but with the Gabage Patch kids craze going on during the 80's, Child's Play struck a current note in the public's eye. Chucky is probably the most famous killer doll in horror thanks to multiple sequels and toy sales. The movie has a good mixture of subtle, “lurking in the shadows” horror and in-your-face slasher horror. Child's Play works so well because, despite being a silly premise, it's treated like a serious horror movie. Sure, it has its over-the-top moments and a fair amount of sick humor, but there is plenty lot of suspense and action to keep things entertaining. The movie reminds me of the “Talking Tina” episode from The Twilight Zone where only the father hears the doll talk about murder. Child's Play uses the same principle of no one believing the doll is alive. We, the audience, know Chucky is alive and are frustrated when the characters don't know. This knowledge allows the movie to play up the fear factor and lead to some good scares. Oringinally, though, the script was more mysterious, stretching out the possibility that Andy is actually the killer. I think that would have been much more interesting to watch with the potential for more scares, but I don't think the movie would have been as fun.

Another factor that helped the movie be entertaining was the acting. Chucky is scary thanks to Brad Dourif, who is no stranger to the horror genre. His style is a mixture of glee and psychotic rage. The movie's usage of a little person to show Chucky in full motion certainly helps him appear more life-like. Both Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon play their roles well. My biggest issue with the movie is Andy. Why do all kids in horror movies have to be extremely annoying? On a scale of 1 to 10 on the annoying scale, Andy is an 11. I blame it on a mixture of lazy writing and poor acting. I don't understand why they couldn't just treat him like a normal, if troubled, child. I almost felt like cheering for Chucky to get him just so I wouldn't have to listen to him anymore. The movie has a good amount of blood and violence with a lot of variety. 

Paul Ryan's eyes look exactly the same

Child's Play is a fun horror movie based on a silly premise. It's mixture of horror, action, and off-beat humor created an entertaining experience that spawned a long line of sequels, toys, comic books, and even an appearance in WCW. While the sequels have become a parody of themselves, the original movie was serious enough to be considered a solid movie. The scares are good and there is plenty of violence to go around. Brad Dourif is great, using just his voice to create an iconic horror character. The character of Andy is incredibly annoying, to the point where I didn't really care what happened to him. While not a “thinking man's” horror movie, Child's Play is good fun and highly enjoyable.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 243: Anatomy

Oh, those wacky Germans

Guten Tag, alle. Today's review comes from the land of chocolate, beer, schnitzel, and genocide. A German horror movie about murderous medical students seems like a no-brainer. Just about everyone is afraid of doctors and hospitals. Whether it's blood or needles or just hearing bad health news, going to the doctor is rarely a pleasant experience. While there have been a few medical-based horror movies, it's an oft-ignored subgenre despite having a built-in scare factor. Perhaps the Germans can bring the medical horror.

Anatomy is a 2000 German horror movie starring Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity, Run Lola Run) as medical student Paula Henning. Paula wins a spot in the prestigious University of Heidelberg Medical School which was once run by her grandfather. Paula us joined by another girl from Munich named Gretchen. On their train ride, a young man named David, suffering from an enlarged heart, collapses and Paula gives him CPR, saving his life. At the school, they are taught by the strict Professor Grombel (Traugott Buhre) who lays out their difficult and extensive syllabus. All the students go out for drinks on the first night and Paula meets a young man named Caspar (Sebastian Blomberg) while Gretchen meets a student named Hein. David is in the same bar and is attached by an unknown assailant. When he awakens, David is on a dissecting room table at the medical school. He tries to escape, but is killed by two doctors. Paula is shocked to see David on the dissecting table the next day. She secretly sends a tissue sample to her lab friend back home in order to get a cause of death. She also notices that David has a brand on his leg with the label “AAA”. Paula keeps her relationship with Caspar at arm's length while Gretchen eventually leaves Hein, breaking his heart. Paula get's David's results back, explaining that his blood had an outlawed drug called Primodal in it, which plasticized his blood, thus preserving his entire body. She begins doing research on the “AAA” brand and discovers that it was used by a secret society of medical investigators called the Anti-Hippocratic Society. The society performs gruesome medical experiments in the name of science, regardless of hurting or killing people. At the same time, Gretchen begins seeing another boy at school. Enraged, Hein kills the boy and tortures Gretchen. It is revealed that he is part of the Anti-Hippocratic Society and he turns her into one of the cadavers on display at the school. When Paula confronts Hein, he begins to terrorize her. While fleeing, she discover's the society's secret lodge with Professor Grombek inside. He reveals that Paula's grandfather was a member and experimented on prisoners in concentration camps. When the society tries to punish Hein for killing people out of jealousy, Hein kills Grombek and goes after Paula. How will she survive and is Caspar really who he says he is?

That's not sanitary. THAT'S NOT SANITARY!!!

Medical-based horror movies are nothing new, but for whatever reason, they never reach their potential. I was expecting Anatomy to have high amounts of blood and gore, but it never got to that point. In the beginning, I was actually concerned that there would be too much torture in the movie since one of the first scenes is a man waking up in the middle of an autopsy. There are various scenes of body parts and the inner workings of the human bodies which will certainly give some people with weak stomachs cause for concern. Despite this, the movie's horror comes more from Hein's stalking than medical torture. Part of me is glad since I don't like torture, but I feel that more blood and gore would have created a greater sense of danger. There is a good amount of action with some solid chase scenes towards the end, but the violence is pretty tame compared to what I was expecting.

The movie has a pretty good story, far better than other medical horror movies like The Surgeon or The Dentist. The characters are established early and their development progresses well. The pacing is a little slow in certain parts and could have used a few more action scenes to keep things moving along. The mystery and conspiracy are interesting, but things were revealed a little too easily. Hein is not a big part of the first half of the movie, so it was a little odd when he became the main villain. The inclusion of Nazi experimentation had crossed my mind early in the film and I'm glad they touched on it, giving the film a feeling of authenticity. The acting is pretty good all around and the direction captures a fair amount of thrills. The film was thankfully in German, though there are dubbed versions out there. I much prefer subtitles as dubs tend to be distracting and make it impossible to enjoy the acting.

Are they doctors from the future?

Anatomy is a good horror movie for a wide audience, but lacked the blood and guts I was expecting. When you have doctors torturing people, there is a certain amount of gore to be expected, but for whatever reason, Anatomy doesn't go that route. I think have more of that would have created a scarier atmosphere. More effort is put into the story, which is actually pretty good thanks to solid acting and directing. The movie has some good thrills and a scary scene or two. If you're looking for a good movie first, and a decent horror movie second, you might enjoy Anatomy. Auf Wiedersehen!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 242: Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
The least sexy bedroom scene ever

When the general public loves something, I tend to ignore it. Be it music, television, or movies, if the majority of people like it, that means I should stay away. It's not some subconscious angst-ridden “I hate the world” feeling, I just don't trust the majority's taste. Take a look at the Top 100 on Billboard. Nothing but horrendous pop and toothless hip-hop. Good music is out there, it's just not what's on the radio and what's consumed by the masses. I have never heard that “Call Me Maybe” song, but I know I don't have to. I already know it's an audio piece of shit thanks to all the attention it's been given. When a horror movie gains popularity among non-horror fans, I avoid it at all cost, knowing that I am not going to like it. Paranormal Activity is a prime example of this practice. Well, enough time has passed for me to give it a shot.

Paranormal Activity is a 2007 supernatural horror movie written and directed by Oren Peli (Chernobyl Diaries, Area 51). The movie stars Katie Featherston (Mutation, The River) as Katie and Micah Sloat (Paranormal Activity 2) as her boyfriend Micah. Katie and Micah live together in a nice townhouse in San Diego, California. Katie claims to have been haunted by an evil presence ever since she was a young child. Fearing that the presence has returned in their new home, Micah purchases a fancy new camera to document any paranormal activities in the house. He also mounts the camera in their bedroom to catch any happenings while they sleep. The first night, footsteps are heard, but nothing else happens. A psychic named Dr. Fredrichs visits the house and determines that Katie is haunted by a demon, not a ghost. Micah does not take him serious and inquires about using a Ouija board to contact the demon. Dr. Fredrichs implores them not to use the board because contacting the demon could be seen as an invitation. Out of his depth, he advises the couple to contact a demonologist , Dr. Johann Averies. Over the next few nights, the camera picks up minor activity such as lights turning on and off and the bedroom door moving. As the days pass, Micah begins to taunt the demon and goof on Katie who is becoming more and more frightened. On the thirteenth night, the are awoken by an unearthly screech and loud bang. Two nights later, Katie gets up In the middle of the night and stands in front of the bed for hours before Micah finds her sitting outside with no recollection of what has happened. Micah gets out a Ouija board despite Dr. Fredrichs's warning, infuriating Katie. When they leave, the board catches fire and leaves a strange message. On the seventeenth night, Micah leaves powder on the floor to leave a trail for anything that might walk through it. When they wake, they see non-human footprints in the powder leading to the attic. In the attic, Micah finds an old picture of Katie that she thought had been lost in a childhood fire. They ask Dr. Fredrichs for help, but he quickly leaves, citing the great evil in the house being too strong. With the paranormal activities becoming more and more violent, what will Katie and Micah do?


It's no surprise that Paranormal Activity reminds me so much of The Blair Witch Project. Both films found major success thanks to a viral advertising campaign based on it's “found footage” and usage of unknown actors. While found footage allows movies to have a more realistic feel (as well as a much cheaper budget), it also takes away from the storytelling aspect of horror. Thanks to the found footage style, Paranormal Activity connects with the audience on a more personal level. Rather than being set in a haunted house, the movie takes place entirely in a nice suburban townhouse. This real-world setting allows the audience to identify with the characters as we've all heard strange bumps in the night at one point or another. When you take a step back, though, there really isn't much of a story in Paranormal Activity. It was a smart touch to have Katie be haunted rather than the house, solving the all-to-common problem of ghost movies where people just don't move out of the house. By creating this past, though, it leaves a big gap in the movie for potential story interest and character development. We never really find out why she is haunted or by what? We don't need complete answers, but a little something would have gone a long way.

There are some frightening moments in the movie thanks to implied horror and fear of the unknown. Most of these scenes are accomplished through good old-fashioned horror tricks and movie making. Sound is an important part of the movie as there is no music to give the audience warning that something is about to happen. The problem with the movie is that it's just a series of events with minor things in between. By the time we get through half of the movie, we already know the pattern, making the movie predictable. A thump here, a bang there, some chit chat, more sounds etc. The movie also lacked in character development. I would have liked Katie to have been more sympathetic than how she was portrayed. Micah is incredibly annoying and unnecessarily douchey, making me almost cheer for the demon to get him. This also makes the movie like The Blair Witch Project because by the end of that movie I was also cheering for the villain to kill the main characters. It's never good when you want the main characters to meet a horrible end. 

Douche activity

Paranormal Activity is a great testament to how an independent movie with good execution can become a success. I can understand how a movie like this would become popular among the masses. The same thing happened for The Blair Witch Project 20 years ago. That being said, my initial feelings towards avoiding a horror movie popular among the masses were right. The story is very basic and tends to become predictable and boring at times. At the end of the day, Paranormal Activity is just a series of brief scary moments. The scares are decent for the most part and the found footage style fit well with what Oren Peli was going for. I would have liked a little more back-story and more action to make the movie a more complete watch. It's not a bad movie, it's just not as special as some people made it out to be. I don't know if it was worth all the sequels (and horrible ripoffs like “Paranormal Entity”), but there is money to be made, so the studios will milk that cash cow dry. Ignore the hype because it is not the scariest movie ever made. I fully expect another found footage horror movie to become popular in about 10 years or so. You can thank The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity for that.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 241: Dust Devil

Dust Devil
Dust buster

When you think of horror-producing parts of the world, Africa usually doesn't top the list. Most people think of the United States and Japan, with a sprinkling of European nations, Canada, and Australia. You would think more horror would be based in Africa with it's unique landscapes and regional legends. With movies being made via smartphones and the ease of distributing entertainment on the internet, perhaps Africa will be the next hotbed for horror in the near future.

Dust Devil a 1993 horror movie set in the African nation of Namibia and stars Robert John Burke (Thinner, Good Night and Good Luck) as the title character. Dust Devil is a “naghtloeper” or shapeshifter that possesses human beings. He is trapped in this world and must kill in order to free himself. He focuses on those without any hope and with nothing to lose. Dust Devil walks down an empty road and receives a ride from a woman named Saarke. In the act of making love, he snaps her neck and mutilates her body, using her blood to draw symbols around her house before burning it down. At the same time, a woman named Wendy Robinson (Chelsea Field, Masters Of The Universe, Flipper) leaves her abusive husband Mark and sets out in her car for the coast. Sgt. Ben Mukurob (Zakes Mokae, The Serpent And The Rainbow, Vampire In Brooklyn) heads the investigation into Saarke's death. Ben enlists the help of Joe Niemand (John Matshikiza), a Sangoma, or healer, who informs Ben that the symbols were part of a strange witchcraft ritual. On the road, Wendy picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Dust Devil. During the ride, Dust Devil disappears from the car, much to Wendy's shock. That night, Wendy almost kills herself with a razor, but decides against it. The next morning, she goes to her car and finds Dust Devil sitting inside. Despite being initially scared, Wendy agrees to drive with him. Meanwhile, Mark has set out after Wendy. Ben's investigation continues, revealing that there have been a string of similar murders dating back almost 100 years. Speaking to Joe, Ben learns about Dust Devil and his black magic, but refuses to believe. Wendy and Dust Devil have sex and he tries to kill her afterward. She knocks him out with a lamp and escapes, but gets into a car accident. Dust Devil pursues her into the desert of Namibia. Will Ben be able to stop Dust Devil before he kills Wendy?


Interesting is probably the best word to describe Dust Devil. The movie mixes philosophy and abstract ideas and tries to make a coherent story out of it. Unfortunately, it is an intellectual overload that focuses too much on expanding our minds and not on entertainment. A horror movie can be existential, but there has to be a ceiling to keep things from getting too weird. Using a narrator is hit or miss for movies, but it worked for Dust Devil because we would have had no idea what was going on if not for narration. Perhaps there is something lost in the cultural translation, but I had a difficult time understanding just why Dust Devil kills people. There's something about being trapped and killing people out of necessity to free himself. If that's the case, he should have been a more sympathetic character, perhaps showing remorse or regret for having to kill people. There is some good violence and gore, but not nearly enough to keep my interest.

Despite my lack of interest, the movie is incredibly well made. Director Richard Stanley (Hardware, The Island of Dr. Moreau) gets the most of his locations with sweeping aerial shots that capture Namibia's unique landscape. While the intellectuality of the movie didn't entertain me, it did allow for some pretty cool scenes. Robert John Burke is good as Dust Devil, combining charm with viciousness, though we never see the full extent of this evil spirit. Chelsea Field is fine in her role, though the writing for her character should have been much stronger. We never see her in full despair leading up to her almost-suicide which is a shame because it would have drawn more sympathy to the character. John Matshikiza was very good as Joe and the narrator, his voice carrying weight and meaning to all of the existential thoughts and ideas.

Good times!

Dust Devil is an ambitions, thoughtful horror movie that gets mired in it's own thoughts. There is not enough action and very little horror to speak of. Not once was I afraid and entertainment is scarce. There should have been far more character development. The mixture of occult and western is interesting, but not exciting. I don't particularly like voodoo-based horror movies and Dust Devil was very similar to that genre. The movie looks very good and the Namibian setting was certainly unique in the world of horror. It's not that Dust Devil is a bad movie, because it's not. Something just gets lost in translation along the way and never really recovers. I would suggest that if you are interested in seeing Dust Devil, see it for yourself. Maybe you'll enjoy it more than me.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 240: Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps
What's this all aboot, eh?

It's hard to find a good werewolf movie these days. Sure, you can point to the Lon Chaney Jr. “The Wolfman” or “An American Werewolf In London” as proof that good werewolf movies exist, but those are classics. For every “The Howling” and I can give you ten “Beasts Of Bray Road”. Perhaps werewolf movies are similar to zombie movies in that the great ones are truly great, but it's much easier to just throw some makeup on, splash some blood around, and call it a day. It's far easier to make a bad werewolf movie than a good one. Of course, that doesn't mean good newer werewolf movies don't exist, you just have to look a little harder for them.

Ginger Snaps is a 2000 Canadian werewolf movie starring Emily Perkins (She's The Man, Juno) as Brigitte Fitzgerald and Katharine Isabelle (Freddy vs. Jason, Insomnia) as her sister Ginger. Both girls are social outcasts and obsessed with death, even promising to kill themselves at some point in the future. One day at school, they are overheard making fun of Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton) a popular girl at school. Trina takes offense and knocks Brigitte to the ground. Brigitte lands on the bloody remains of a mutilated dog, one of many in town who have been killed by an urban legend named the “Beast of Bailey Downs”. The sisters plan to kidnap Trina's dog one night, but come across another mutilated dog. They are attacked by a large creature and Ginger is dragged off into the woods. Briggit is able to rescue her and they flee into the street where the creature is hit by a van driven by Sam (Kris Lemche, Final Destination 3, My Little Eye), the local drug dealer. Ginger is bitten by the creature and badly hurt, but begins to recover abnormally fast. After a few days, Ginger begins to change, both mentally and physically. She finally gets her period, which appears to be heavier than expected as well as strange hair growing from her wounds. She also becomes more aggressive, forcing a boy at school to have unprotected sex with her. Ginger also starts to grow a tail and fangs. Frightened by Ginger's changes, Brigitte reaches out to Sam to find out what is happening, telling him that she is the one that was bitten. Sam suggests that the creature he hit with his van was a lycanthrope (werewolf). Brigitte pierces Ginger's stomach with a silver ring, but it has no effect. Jason, they boy Ginger had sex with, starts to show signs of lycanthropy as well. Trina goes to the Fitzgerald's house, claiming they took her dog. During a scuffle, she slips and smashes her head on the counter, killing her instantly. The girls bury her in the backyard and Brigitte tries in vain to keep Ginger from going out any more due to her violent behavior. Sam discovers a plant that can reverse the werewolf curse and Brigitte uses it on Jason. With the cure in hand, will Brigitte be able to save Ginger before her transformation is complete?

I've seen uglier people at Canadian Tire

Ginger Snaps is equal parts good horror movie and darkly funny after-school special. There's no question that the movie is a allegory for puberty and high school. It's a pretty sound idea and I'm surprised it hasn't been done more often. The metaphors are pretty transparent, but it's OK because the movie treats the subject with a good deal of dark humor. The sister's mother (Mimi Rogers, Austin Powers, Lost In Space) is delightfully clueless to the entire situation, just trying to do her motherly duties and explain their pubescent changes. Some may find this frustrating, but most will “get” the humor in the parental figures of the movie. Maybe it's because it is a Canadian film, but the movie reminds me a lot of the Canadian school drama, Degrassi. I think the film quality was also similar to that of the aforementioned television show, but it could all just be in my head, thanks to a desire to watch MuchMusic.

The horror is very good, with a slow, but steady build towards Ginger's full transformation into a werewolf. While there is no fantastic transformation scene like in “An American Werewolf In London,” there are enough changes to Ginger to keep things visually interesting. The final incarnation of the Ginger werewolf looks good on a budget. It's not highly-detailed, but far more realistic than a person in a hairy werewolf costume. The film is very much like David Cronenberg's work in this respect. There is a large amount of blood and violence throughout the movie which keeps things fast-paced and entertaining. The movie does wrong a bit too long at almost 110 minutes and the final act drags a bit, but overall the whole story is fun. The ending was actually surprisingly downbeat in comparison to the rest of the movie's tone, but it was still enjoyable.The acting throughout the film is what makes the entire movie come together. Both Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle are great in their roles. They have the angsty outcast teenager ideal down well and show good emotion when needed. 

"Ugh. Let's just go to Tim Horton's and watch the Maple Leafs game."

Ginger Snaps is both a great horror movie and a great teenager movie. There is plenty of action and violence with enough blood and gore to keep even the most brutal horror fans happy. I wasn't too happy with all the dead dog shots and references, but I understood no dogs were actually hurt. The effects and makeup used to show Ginger's transformations were good, if simple. Her final werewolf stage looks good and far more realistic than what other werewolf movies try to use. The puberty metaphors are obvious, but still enjoyable thanks to some funny writing and believable performances. Ginger Snaps is highly entertaining and highly recommended.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Day 239: The Sentinel

The Sentinel
Originally titled "The Bumblebee"

Religion and horror go together like peanut butter and jelly. They serve as the perfect foil for one another, the holy and the unclean. Why there are some horror movies that touch on other religions, the main one used in most horror is Christianity/Catholicism. In exorcism movies, there is always need for a priest or holy man. In vampire movies, a cross is frequently used to ward off the creatures of the night. There are even holiday-themed horror movies based around Christian holidays such as Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night. A cursory search of Christianity in horror movies brings up a slew of websites asking if it is OK for Christians to watch horror movies. Many of these movies could be interpreted as anti-Christian while some may see the same movie as pro-Christian. Regardless of what you believe in, the imagery used in these movies is very powerful and can help a horror movie gain a sense of importance for people.

The Sentinel is a 1977horror movie starring Cristina Raines (Nightmares, Sunshine) as fashion model Alison Parker. Alison learns that her father has become ill and dies shortly after. As a young child, she witnessed her father having a bizarre sexual encounter with other women and tried to take her life. Despite living with her boyfriend, Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon, Child's Play, Bordello of Blood), Alison is determined to find her own place to live. Her search leads her to a brownstone house in Brooklyn, New York. The top floor is inhabited by a blind priest named Father Halloran (John Carradine, The Ten Commandments, The Grapes of Wrath) who just sits at the window, staring into space. She meets other neighbors, such as the eccentric Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith, Rocky, Magic) and a lesbian couple that makes her incredibly uncomfortable. Alison begins to have bouts of passing out and other medical conditions while living at the apartment. She beings to hear footsteps and strange noises in the apartment above her. When she speaks to the realtor, Alison learns that the house is only occupied by the priest and herself. She visits a local church, where she meets a priest who gives her guidance and tells her to reaccept Christ in her life. The priest is in fact part of a secret order of Catholic priests who actually own the building she lives in. Michael begins to investigate and uncovers a conspiracy wherein every religious figure that lived in the house went through most of their life as another person and had attempted suicide. He also finds a file with Alison's information, stating that Father Halloran will die and Alison is to take his place tomorrow. It is revealed that the building is the gateway to Hell and Alison is to be the guardian, keeping the demons from escaping. The people she believed to be neighbors were in fact devils and they are trying to keep her from becoming the next guardian. Will Alison succumb to the will of Hell or become the next sentinel?

Jesus! Where?

The majority of The Sentinel is a mystery movie with only the last 15 minutes being true horror. The mystery is just enough to keep the audience interested because we want to know just what the hell is happening. It would have been nice to have more action as there isn't much to go on. The movie does a good job of teasing out the answer with Alison's condition worsening and including references to the secret society throughout. The movie does slow down though when the focus shifts from Alison to Michael. There is a subplot with Michael and two detectives who are chasing after him due to the mysterious death of his first wife. Nothing ever really comes of it and it just serves to take away the focus from Alison which is far more interesting than anything going on with Michael. The only good part about it is that one of the detectives is a young Christopher Walken. When the movie finally goes into full horror-mode, it goes all the way. The apartment fills with hideous demons and deformed monsters pursuing Alison while Charles Chazen tries to convince her to commit suicide. The use of actual disfigured people and circus performers add authenticity to the movie, though it did create some controversy when the movie was originally released. Regardless, their looks and the general atmosphere are particularly scary and unsettling.

As far as Catholic-based horror movies go, The Sentinel is light on scripture but heavy on imagery. Since I am not a Catholic, this doesn't really mean much to me and it occasionally became annoying to sit through. The cast has an impressive list of movies under it's respective belt. Burgess Meredith is great as the eccentric and almost whimsical Charles Chazen, but he really shines as the evil Chazen. Cristina Raines is a little flat through the film and I would have liked more emotion from her. Same could be said for Chris Sarandon especially when the movie focuses on him. There are a few bit roles for actors that are now better known such as the aforementioned Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, and Tom Berenger. The direction is good, though very much entrenched in the aesthetics of 70's film-making with musical flourishes in-between scenes that no longer exists in modern films.

Just another night in Philadelphia

The Sentinel has an intriguing mystery for a rather plain story, but the final act is highly entertaining and legitimately unsettling. While the mystery is solid, I could have used a little more foreshadowing as the revelation that the building holds the gates of Hell seems to come out of nowhere. I also would have liked a little more horror in the movie, especially when the police subplot threatens to derail the entire movie. The movie tries to makeup with the lack of horror by cramming in 15 minutes of it at the end. It's a great 15 minutes as the “devils” look very scary and Burgess Meredith creates a terrifying atmosphere. The Sentinel has some very good moments and while it's not amazing, it is still an interesting watch.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 238: The Fly

The Fly
Got you where I want you

Not all remakes are created solely to make money off a well-known movie. Some are created in order to elevate an original to new heights through better special effects, modern storytelling, and better acting. John Carpenter's The Thing is a prime example. Most people are unaware that The Thing is a remake, one of the highest compliments you can give to a remake. David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly, while sharing the basic premise of the original 1958 film of the same name, is really it's own movie. Beyond the basic premise of a scientist accidentally merging with a housefly during a teleportation experiment, this version of The Fly goes way beyond the original with effects and horror. The real question is if it is equal or better than the original. (Incidentally, The Fly's "Got You Where I Want You" has been in my head all day)

The Fly is a 1986 horror sci-fi remake co-written and directed by David Cronenberg (Videodrome, Scanners). The movie stars Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Independence Day) as brilliant, but eccentric scientist Seth Brundle. Seth invites Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis, A League Of Their Own, The Long Kiss Good Night), a journalist for Particle magazine to his warehouse lab/apartment to see his new invention. Seth touts it as an invention that will change the world as they know it. His new invention is a set of “Telepods” which allow instantaneous teleportation of inanimate objects. Seth demonstrates his invention by teleporting one of Ronnie's stockings. When she starts recording Seth, he becomes nervous and agitated because he is not ready to unveil his invention to the world. The telepods are not complete as they are unable to transport living matter. When Ronnie takes the story to her editor and ex-boyfriend, Stathis Borans (John Getz, Blood Simple, Zodiac) rejects the idea as a magic trick. Ronnie soon begins a romantic relationship with Seth, much to the displeasure of Stathis. One night, Seth has a breakthrough, transporting a piece of steak through the telepods. Following his breakthrough, Seth becomes worried that Ronnie is secretly seeing Stathis again. Drunk and jealous, Seth sends himself through the transport. Unknown to him, a housefly is inside the telepods when he transports himself. Everything appears normal at first, but Seth begins to exhibit what appears to be beneficial enhancements: strength, durability, and energy. He believes that the telepod has given him a new rebirth, stripping away his flaws and faults. He soon becomes angry and violent, though, breaking a man's arm at a bar and cheating on Ronnie. Seth allows begins to grow coarse hair and his face begins to change, finally realizing that something is wrong when his fingernails begin to fall off. Checking his computer, Seth learns that he has in fact been genetically combined with a housefly. His body continues to change and mutate, causing body parts to fall off and forcing Seth to vomit on his food in order to break it down for his body to consume. Is there any way for Ronnie to help save Seth before he completely turns into a monster and what will she do now that she has learned that she is pregnant with his baby?

Oh, God! It's hideous!

The original 1958 version of The Fly is regarded as a science-fiction classic. People who have never seen the movie still know the classic “Help me! Help me!” line squeaked out by the main character about to be devoured by a spider. It's a pretty chilling scene over 50 years later. The 1986 version of The Fly has the distinctive Cronenberg flair of commonly known as “body horror”. Seth's deformed transformation is the main attraction of the film as Jeff Goldblum becomes a disgusting mass of flesh and insect. Much like in Cronenberg's other film “Videodrome,” the special effects used in the movie to transform the main character are fantastic. Seth's various mutations are hard to look at, yet we cannot turn away.. It helps that Jeff Goldblum is already bug-eyed and his 80's-style mullet helps convey his awkwardness. The makeup, done by Chris Walas, Inc. received an Academy Award for their word and deservedly so. The transformation goes through various stages, first subtle and then horrific, but each stage is believable.

The story is surprising simple as I was expecting something more complex like some of Cronenberg's other films. There is more suspense than action, but the movie is still interesting and compelling. The scares are still prevalent throughout, with more psychological fear than quick jolts and startles. Seth's transformation begins rather quickly as most of the movie is about his mutation. The entire transformation can be seen as an allegory for cancer or any disease for that matter. We are all afraid of uncontrollable change and death which makes the film all the more unsettling. The love story is classic romantic tragedy as both characters love each other until the inevitable end. The dream sequence where Ronnie gives birth to a giant larva is quite terrifying and could give nightmares to expecting mothers. Jeff Goldblum is perfect for the role of Seth Brundle as his quite awkwardness fits the character like a glove. Geena Davis is good as both the love-interest and as the audience's avatar. We, the audience, are sharing the same feelings as Ronnie, wanting to help Seth, but also worried about the baby growing inside her.

Who ordered the large Meatlover's with extra Goldblum pizza?

The Fly is able to take the original movie's idea and make it into something greater. The movie has a good mixture of both science-fiction and horror which play off each other well. The movie's dark tone and atmosphere makes the hideously wonderful transformations even scarier. The special effects and makeup are superb and the solid acting of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis help make for a solid movie. David Cronenberg leaves his unique mark on the film with his usual brand of horror. The story is good, though I was expecting greatness. Maybe that's because I've seen The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VIII: Fly vs. Fly” episode so many times. Regardless, The Fly is still a fun and unsettling watch that does the original justice while still being it's own movie.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 237: From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn
Don't bring a gun to a vampire fight

While the technique of “misdirection” is mostly associated with magic, it's nothing new in the world of horror. Many horror movies portray themselves in a certain way and then pull the rug out from under us in an effort to create shock and surprise. Some movies, such as The House Of The Devil, let you know that the big surprise is going to happen and make you wait. This can lead to a very boring watch that no payoff can make up for. The key to any good movie is to have a completely enjoyable start to finish. It sounds simple enough, but you'd be surprised how many movies make you sit through an hour of nothing just for a half hour of action. Of course, when you have a movie written by Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Basterds) and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror, Machete), you don't have to worry about a lack of action.

Or blood

From Dusk Till Dawn is a 1996 horror action movie starring George Clooney (The Ides of March, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as Seth Gecko and Quentin Tarantino as his brother Richie. Seth and Richie are professional thieves that have left a swath of destruction across Texas after a bank robbery. They hold up in a hotel near the border with a bank teller they took as a hostage. While Seth goes to get food, Richie, a convicted sex offender, rapes and murders the hostage. When Seth returns, he is infuriated, stating that he is a thief not a rapist. Needing new hostages, Seth and Richie kidnap a family driving an RV: Jacob (Harvey Keitel, Pulp Fiction, Bad Lieutenant), a former pastor with a crisis of faith, his teenage daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?), and his adopted son Scott. Seth makes a deal with Jacob that if he can get them across the border safely, he promises not to harm them. He also promises to keep Richie from doing anything to Kate. After a close call, they make it across the border and Seth has Jacob drive to the rendevous point, a bar called The Titty Twister, where they are to meet their partners. As they enter the bar, they are briefly stopped by a worker named Chet Pussy (Cheech Marin, Up In Smoke, Nice Dreams), but Seth and Richie beat him down. Inside, Seth and Richie drink heavily an enjoy a performance by the main dancer, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek, Desperado, Four Rooms). After the dance, Chet returns and confronts the Gecko brothers. Richie is stabbed in the hand and Santanico, excited by the blood, turns into a vampire and bites him. Suddenly, all the stirppers and workers at the bar turn into vampires, attacking the patrons. Joined by a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini, Machete, Dawn Of The Dead) and a Vietnam veteran named Frost (Fred Williamson, Black Caesar, former Oakland Raider) Richie and the slain patrons begin turning into the vampires and the group is forced to kill them. Sex Machine is bitten who, in turn, bites Frost and Jacob. After hearing the sound of bats flapping outside, the bar is filled with more vampires. Seth, Kate, Scott, and Jacob retreat to a back room where they find all the supplies from various trucks that have stopped at the bar over the year. They arm themselves with weapons including condoms filled with holy water, a crossbow, and a drill. With Jacob about to turn into a vampire, will Seth, Kate, and Scott be able to survive?

The only good vampire is a dead vampire

I can't remember the last time I had fun watching a movie from start to finish. The first half of the movie plays out like a crime action movie while the second half goes for a completely over-the-top horror movie. The great thing is, if either half of the movie continued in it's original direction, I still would have enjoyed it. Credit goes in many directions. It's no secret that Quentin Tarantino can create interesting characters as we've seen in many of his other films. The dialogue is quick and snappy while not getting bogged down in words for the sake of using words like in Tarantino's “Death Proof”. Robert Rodriguez is no stranger to great action movies and is able to mix in horror very well, using creative angles and good wide shots to capture the action. If you enjoy references to other movies, keep your eyes peeled for a few nods to both Tarantino's and Rodriguez's work throughout. Admittedly, the horror is ridiculous, but in the fun way, never taking itself too seriously. There are a few scares, but it's never the movie's intention to be too scary. More focus is given on the action and genuinely funny humor. The vampires look good and there is plenty of blood and violence to keep things exciting. The movie tries to keep the vampire mythos from straying from the path, even having a discussion of what can actually kill them. There was one part where Sex Machine gets his head pulled off, only to have his body grow a new one and become some sort of giant rat vampire monster. I'm not sure where they were going with this idea other than to have a big monster. Didn't really make sense, but at least it looked cool.

The character of Seth Gecko is brutal, but oddly charming, forcing the audience to cheer for him despite being a murderer. It certainly helps that George Clooney is so good in the role. It's strange that he hasn't been in more villainous roles, because he is flat-out perfect as Seth Gecko. Quentin Tarantino is his usual hammy self as Richie which is a mixture of a good and bad. It is a little weird that he keeps playing rapists, though. Harvey Keitel is great as the southern pastor Jacob, making you completely forget that he's a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn. Jacob's crisis of faith is quite believable as Keitel plays him with a quiet exhaustion, beaten down by an act of God that has broken his beliefs. The movie is full of fun smaller parts for well-known actors as Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, Danny Trejo (Machete, Con Air), and Cheech Marin in three separate roles.

Way better looking than Nosferatu

From Dusk Till Dawn manages to do so many things right that I find myself hard-pressed to find many flaws with it. It's a little long and there are a few scenes even too ridiculous for a movie such as this. What starts out as a fun action crime movie becomes an equally fun horror comedy. Tarantino's screenplay flow well, especially considering how wordy he tends to get. The movie has good, believable characters as well as fun, ridiculous characters in the bar. Rodriguez does a good job capturing the action with lots of bloody violence and good-looking vampires. George Clooney is great as Seth and should really play more villains in the future. Harvey Keitel is equally as good as the broken-down Jacob. If you can't decide on whether to watch an action movie, a crime thriller, or a horror movies, you should watch From Dusk Till Dawn because it is all those things and more.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 236: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep
Don't be cruel

Bruce Campbell is best known for his role as Ash from the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies. His role in the USA Network television show Burn Notice has brought Bruce Campbell's brand of wackiness to a wider audience. With a wide array of movies and television appearances, Bruce Campbell has always essentially played “Bruce Campbell” similar to how Tom Cruise always plays “Tom Cruise” in a movie. The situations may change, but you're pretty much getting the same guy in just about every movie. That's OK because Bruce Campbell is so entertaining. Sometimes you forget how good of an actor he actually can be. Today's review is a special request for my dad. If you would like to request a movie for me to review, please leave me a comment or send a tweet to @365DaysofHorror.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a 2002 horror comedy, based on the story by Joe Lansdale, starring Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, My Name Is Bruce) as Elvis Presley. In the 1970's, Elvis became disillusioned with his fame and wanted a way out. He went down to Texas and met Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator. They agreed to switch places, leaving the real Elvis just enough money to get buy and a contract to switch back if he ever wanted. A barbecue accident led to Elvis's trailer exploding, burning up the contract and any proof that he is the real Elvis Presley. Flash forward to present day, an elderly Elvis is living in an old-age home in eastern Texas. No one believes that he is the real Elvis, save for John F. “Jack” Kennedy (Ossie Davis, Malcolm X, Do The Right Thing) an African-American man who believes that he is the former President. Elvis has very little hope and even less meaning since his ex-wife and daughter don't even know he is there. Residents of the retirement home start to die and one night, Elvis is attacked by a giant scarab. He stabs it with a fork and burns it on an electric heater. The next night, Jack is attacked by a mummy who tries to suck his soul out of his body. Elvis eventually sees the mummy, dubbed Bubba Ho-Tep, and has a strange psychological vision of the mummy's past. All of this mystery and intrigue renews Elvis's interest in life so he and Jack begin investigating. During a museum tour of an Egyptian mummy, thieves stole the bus carrying the artifacts, but crashed it in the river outside the retirement home during a storm. With no one believing who they are or what is going on, it's up to Elvis and Jack to stop Bubba Ho-Tep. Will they be able to survive this soul-sucking monster?

Hell, I'd vote for them

Offbeat and original is probably the best way to describe Bubba Ho-Tep. It is an interesting choice to have an elderly Elvis and an African-American play President Kennedy. By doing so, this allowed the movie to take on a comedic air without resorting to jokes or slapstick. As you can tell, this isn't your typical horror or comedy movie. The horror doesn't pick up until about half-way through the movie, with the first part relying more in introspection and good old-fashioned character development. This extended character development is poignant and quite sad for a horror/comedy movie. The movie does border on depressing at certain points, far more than your average scary movie. The story is balanced by a good amount of comedy, most of which is generally funny. There were a few scenes with workers carrying out dead bodies which were supposed to be funny, but just didn't elicit any laughs. In terms of horror, there are a few flashes of fear, but nothing is particularly scary. If anything, the prospect of dying alone and forgotten in an old-age home is far scarier than any monster. I suppose that's the underlying message of the entire movie, but we could have used some more scares.

The best part about the movie is Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. If you didn't know Bruce Campbell was in this movie, you might actually not know he is playing Elvis. The makeup is good and Bruce is incredibly convincing in his role. After all these years of “Bruce being Bruce,” it's refreshing to see him in an iconic, if unexpected, role. Ossie Davis is great as well, pulling off a good comedic foil to Campbell's Elvis. The action is decent, with the final 15 minutes serving as the main apex. The mummy itself looks good and I actually would have liked to see more of it. Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, The Beastmaster) does a good job of capturing Joe Lansdale's story while being able to put it in a believable perspective. Coscarelli captures Elvis's despair very well and even if a soul-sucking mummy wasn't involved, this still would have been a compelling watch. My one complaint with the movie is certain scenes are chopped and sped up. Visually, it's just not pleasing.

Thank you. Thank you, very much.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a fun movie for horror and non-horror fans alike. More emphasis is put on acting and storytelling than action and violence. If you need lots of scares and blood, this movie isn't for you. If you like to think and feel, you'll get a lot of out Bubba Ho-Tep. Bruce Campbell is excellent as Elvis Presley, to the point where you may not even realize it's Bruce Campbell behind the makeup and hair. Ossie Davis is quite good as well, capping off a movie with a sly sense of humor. The horror portion of the movie is decent, but it's not the real focus. Bubba Ho-Tep is a good movie through and through.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 235: Class of Nuke 'Em High

Class of Nuke 'Em High
This could easily be a cover for Heavy Metal magazine

Troma Entertainment is an independent film production and distribution company most famous for the Toxic Avenger series of movies. Founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in 1974, Troma is synonymous with hyper-violent, over-the-top, crude horror movies. While Toxic Avenger managed to break through into the mainstream with a Saturday morning cartoon, toys, and a Nintendo game, most horror fans know Troma for their endless list of gross or insane movies. The people who love Troma love it with a fiery passion. I am not one of those people. Troma gives many independent horror movies a chance to read a wider audience. To paraphrase the Al Pacino movie 'And Just for All', “In theory, what this company is doing is highly commendable, but in practice it sucks.” For every enjoyable Troma movie, there are about 50 that are borderline unwatchable. Two of the worst movies I've ever seen, Unspeakable and Dumpster Baby, come from Troma. Have you ever heard the term “scraping the bottom of the barrel”? Those two movies are below the bottom of the barrel. Thankfully I'm not focusing on movies that could be considered war crimes if they were shown in public. Today comes from the much smaller pile of Troma movies that are actually fun.

Class Of Nuke 'Em High (also known as Atomic High School) is a 1986 horror comedy movie written and directed by Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist). The movie stars Gil Brenton as Warren and Janelle Brady and Chrissy. Warren and Chrissy are students at Tromaville High School which is only 1 mile away from a nuclear power plant. The power plant is leaking toxic waste, which seeps into the ground, contaminating the area. The school is run by a gang of former Honor Society students turned gutter punks called The Cretins. The Cretins, led by Spike (Robert Pritchard, The Toxic Avenger, Cracking Up), are a violent group that beat people up and sell irradiated pot to the students of the school. At a frat party, Warren and Chrissy smoke the toxic pot and have sex for the first time. That night, both Warren and Chrissy have bizarre and disturbing hallucinations. The next day, Chrissy begins to have stomach pains and runs to the bathroom. Her stomach distends quickly as if she is pregnant and she spits a small, tadpole-like creature out of her mouth into a toilet. The creature is flushed down and ends up in the schools basement, which is full of toxic waste. Warren temporarily transforms into a super-strong monster and kills two of The Cretins for making him and Chrissy sick with their pot. Spike and the rest of The Cretins beat up Warren and are expelled from school. They take over the school and kidnap Chrissy to the basement. Warren goes to save her only to discover a large deformed monster brutally killing The Cretins. How will Warren and Chrissy survive?

Despite Troma's somewhat dubious track record, Class Of Nuke 'Em High is actually a very entertaining movie. The movie has a good mixture of action, violence, horror, and genuinely funny comedy that most modern movies can't even come close to. It's no secret that a lot of early Troma movies revolved around nuclear waste and toxic spills. After all, the fictional town of Tromaville is the “Toxic Capital of the World”. While the fear of nuclear disasters still exists, it's not as prevalent as it was during the 70's and 80's, so the movie does have a slightly dated feel. That's not completely a bad thing because the movie does spoof the typical 80's high school movies that flooded theaters at the time. The goofy party scene, the clothes, and the two main characters worrying about having sex for the first time are all satirized throughout the movie. While not every joke hits the mark, there is a good mix of physical comedy, commentary, puns, and jokes. Another standout is the special effects used throughout the movie. Class Of Nuke 'Em High was made for relatively cheap, but was still capable of using a wide variety of traditional special effects and makeup to create a visually fun movie. I wish they had shown the monster more because it looked great.

One issue with the movie is that it tends to jump around too much. A lot of things happen in a short amount of time. Granted, Class of Nuke 'Em High isn't Citizen Kane, but proper pacing and smoothing out some of the edges would have helped. Warren and Chrissy are the main characters, but the movie goes through extended periods without seeing either one of them. A lot of time was given to The Cretins, but I feel hard-pressed to complain because they were the most entertaining thing in the movie. Robert Pritchard is particularly great as Spike and really should have been in more movies. Lloyd Kaufman does a good job of balancing the humor, horror, and action throughout the entire movie, not an easy task with so much going on.

Prom Night at Tromaville High

Class Of Nuke 'Em High is one of better movies in the Troma library and for good reason. It's mixture of humor and violence, coupled with solid traditional horror makes for an entertaining and fun watch. The movie is genuinely funny and the action is solid. The special effects are great especially with the small budget used. Class Of Nuke 'Em High is a great example of how you don't need a big budget or even an amazing story to put on a solid movie. If you're interested in getting in Troma's movies, this is a great place to start. I can't defend so of their other “films,” but at least this one is good.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 234: The Caller

The Caller
Ring, ring

Time-traveling movies are always a tricky thing to pull off. They always run the risk of plot-holes and becoming a muddled mess. Most of these movies make things up as they go along, but we let the mistakes slide if the movie is good enough. The Back To The Future series is a prime example of how a movie can ignore it's own rules, have a bunch of plot flaws, and still be universally loved. Alternatively, you have a movie like Timecop which is equal parts confusing mess and lousy entertainment. The most important part of a time-travel movie, or any movie for that matter, is to be entertaining first, and accurate second. Throwing in time-travel to the horror genre is an interesting, if risky, venture.

The Caller is a 2011 supernatural horror movie starring Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight, Swingtown) as Mary Kee. Mary has just moved in to a new apartment in Puerto Rico after finalizing a divorce from her violent husband, Steven (Ed Quinn, Eureka, True Blood). Inside her new apartment is an old rotary phone which she decides to keep. One night, the phone rings with a woman on the other line asking to speak with someone named Bobby. Mary informs her that, despite having the right number, no one by that name lives in the apartment. Trying to get her life back together, Mary enrolls in classes at the local university where she meets a math teacher named John Guidi (Stephen Moyer, Priest, 88 Minutes). The mysterious calls continue with Mary eventually having a conversation with the woman. Her name is Rose (Lorna Raver, Drag Me To Hell, Armored) and they begin talking about their lives. Rose tells Mary that she is calling from the 1970's, which Mary quickly dismisses. Rose says that she drew a picture inside Mary's pantry and wants her to look at it. Mary sands down the paint on the wall to reveal a picture of a rose. During this time, Mary is harassed by her ex-husband despite a restraining order and her growing relationship with John. When Rose reveal that she is in an abusive relationship with Bobby, Mary tells her to stick up for herself. During the next call, Rose tells Mary that she killed Bobby and may have hidden him inside the walls. Mary refuses to take the calls for a short time, and is able to move forward in her relationship with John. Mary asks her neighbor George (Luis Guzman, Boogie Nights, Traffic) about Rose and he tells her that she committed suicide many years ago. Mary starts to take the phone calls again from a now irate Rose and time starts to shift as Rose changes things in her past. Soon, no one remembers George and eventually, Mary learns that John died as a child. One night, Mary receives a phone call from Rose, who has a special visitor: Mary as a little child. What will happen to Mary in the past and is there any way she can stop her from the present?

Another thrilling action scene brought to you by The Caller

Time-traveling movies can work if they're done with a mixture of subtlety, nuance, and cleverness. The Caller has none of these traits, leaving behind a boring and confusing mess. My biggest problem with the movie is that the simple solutions of “not answering the phone” or “move out of the apartment” are never presented as real options. This is the same issue I have with the plot of the television show “American Horror Story.” (Full disclosure: I could only sit through one episode of AHS and hated every second of it). There were way they could have forced Mary to pick up the phone early on, but she's presented as just being bored. I understand and appreciate the parallel between Rose and Mary in their respective relationship, but I never truly believed that Mary would confide in an obviously crazy person and feel a connection with her.

The movie spends far too much time with character development and not enough with action and horror. The time-changing aspect doesn't really kick in until the last ¼ of the movie when it really should have started much earlier. It was an interesting touch to have the young Mary involved, but then again, it didn't really make much sense. I mean, where were her parents during this time? And if George and John had been killed in the past, are they still dead? They were just trying to help this girl out and they get the short-end of the stick. Where's the justice in that? The acting is fine, throughout with Lorna Raver putting in the best performance just by using her voice. The movie isn't scary and there were only a few times where Rose's voice became creepy. Without the scares or action, we're left with a weak plot and mediocre directing. I did also find it out that, with the exception of Luis Guzman, the main characters in the movie are white, despite taking place in Puerto Rico.

The most strategically-placed bush ever

The Caller is a decent idea for a story that just isn't pulled off well on screen. Rarely can I enjoy a movie where the simplest solution is to just stop doing something. The movie tries to explain all the time-changing mumbo-jumbo, but they should have focused more on the supernatural evil ghost talking through the phone. There is very little action to speak of with only the last 15 minutes of the movie providing any sort of excitement or entertainment. Too much time is spent on relationships and not enough of actual horror and thrills. It is simply not scary and not even spooky. The acting is passable, but the direction is not particularly good. Throw in all the time-changing and you're in for a boring and confused movie. Do yourself a favor and don't answer The Caller.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 233: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
And who will clean up when they're done?

As I've said before, the biggest reason for doing 365 Days of Horror is to watch movies I've always wanted to see, but for one reason or another, never had the chance to. This list includes a lot of classics, some of which may actually shock some people. One of these movies is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's not like it's on television all that often and when it is, it's edited for time and content. I don't want to spend two and a half hours watching a movie that isn't even complete. Another possible reason for my hesitation in watching this movie is due to the large amount of poorly made sequels. These sequels are almost universally terrible and unintentionally funny, so that put me off from watching where it all started. It was time to put aside my hesitation and dive head first into this horror classic.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a 1974 exploitation horror movie written and directed by Tobe Hooper (Salem's Lot, Poltergeist). Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns, Eaten Alive, Helter Skelter) her wheel-chair bound brother Franklin (Paul Partain, Rolling Thunder, Race With The Devil), and three friends, Kirk, Pam, and Jerry, take a road trip to check on their grandather's grave after reports of grave-robbing in the area surfaced. While in the area, they decide to visit their old home. Along the way, they decide to pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal, JFK, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers). The hitchhiker is clearly insane, talking and laughing frantically and cutting his own hand with a knife. When the group refuses to give him money, he takes out a razor and cuts Franklin's arm. They throw the hitchhiker out of the van and drive off. They get to a gas station to refuel, but the worker informs them that the pumps are empty, so the group drives on to the house. Kirk and Pam go off to find a water hole when they discover a nearby house. When no one appears home, Kirk goes inside and is bashed in the skull with a hammer by Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen, Campfire Tales, Brutal Massacre: A Comedy), a giant of a man that wears human skin as a mask. When Pam goes to check on Kirk, she discovers the house if full of both animal and human bones. She tries to flee, but Leatherface grabs her and impales her on a giant meat hook. When it gets dark, Jerry goes looking for Kirk and Pam and wanders into the house. He opens a freezer, revealing a barely-alive Pam inside. Before he can run, Leatherface kills him and stuffs Pam back inside the freezer. Sally and Franklin go to find their friends and as they approach the house, Leatherface brutally kills Franklin with a chainsaw. He chases Sally into the house where she discovers the rotting bodies of an elderly couple. In order to escape Leatherface, Sally jumps out a window and runs to the gas station. The worker promises to help her, but beats her with a broom and drives her back to the house where he picks up the hitchhiker from before. When Sally awakens, she is bound to a chair at a dinner table surrounded by the worker, the hitchhiker, Leatherface and their “Grandpa”. They torment Sally and want Grandpa to kill her. How will Sally escape?

Free hugs!

It's important to note that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out during the exploitation era of American movies. There has been a small revival of exploitation films in recent years, with films like Hostel and The Human Centipede, but I am a relative novice in that area. At first, I was a bit surprised that there wasn't much of a story involved with the movie. Essentially, these young people go to a house and are killed. That's about it. I thought there were be more of a back-story and was originally disappointed in the lack of a plot. Eventually, I realized that the purpose of the movie isn't to have anything beyond the brutal murders and the scary, deranged family. Admittedly, the movie is a bit slow up until the killings begin with the last 20 minutes being the real payoff. For being an exploitation horror movie, there is actually not that much blood and gore. You probably see worse in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in all honesty. What makes the movie so scary is not blood and guts, but the brutal frankness of the violence. There is no remorse from Leatherface and the family and no amount of begging will stop them. They are monsters in the truest sense, taking pleasure in their sickness.

The movie is ugly and twisted and I mean that as a compliment. It is well-made, far better than what one would expect from a movie like this. Tobe Hooper uses multiple camera angles and extreme closeups to convey the horror of certain situations and fear from the characters. One interesting thing I noticed during the movie is the lack of music. There is some percussion sporadically placed throughout the movie, but not much more. This allows for every hit of a hammer, slice of a chainsaw, and scream from Sally to be heard. It certainly adds to the overall “realness” of the movie, making it all the scarier. The screams started to wear on me towards the end, but I suppose that's the only real reaction to a situation like the one Sally was in. There is some social commentary in the movie with “man” being the monster, but it is subtle enough where the audience may not even notice it. The acting is believable throughout the movie which helps give the movie a realistic feel. Basing some of the characters of the real-life killer Ed Gein helped bring this feeling to life. I have read that the movie is supposed to have a documentary-type feel, but I didn't pick up on that notion.

Just take a little off the top

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a simple, brutal film. The story is extremely basic which may surprise some people who may be expecting something more complex than just “young people are killed by maniacs because they happen to be there.” Once you realize that that is the purpose of the movie, it's frees the audience to become enveloped by the horror. The movie is a little slow until the killing starts and the last quarter of the movie is full of violence and excitement. There isn't as much gore as I expected, which is fine, because the movie is still plenty scary. Tobe Hooper is able to capture the horror well with his creative camera work and real-world setting. Though the sequels are questionable and some downright terrible, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is well worth your time.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 232: Hollow Man

Hollow Man
Is that Jason Vorhees? Michael Myers? Ken Dryden?

Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy. Everyone knows these classic monsters from the Golden Era of horror movies. They have had countless adaptations, remakes, and re-imaginings. One monster, though, has been looked over more than the Creature From The Black Lagoon. I'm talking about the Invisible Man. Perhaps it's because the Invisible Man is, well, a man or maybe he is not as visually appealing as the other monsters, but for whatever reason, the Invisible Man is just not very popular. Maybe a modern take on the story would breathe new life into the character just like The Mummy series with Brendan Frasier. Having Kevin Bacon involved is a good start.

Hollow Man is a 2000 science-fiction horror movie inspired by the H.G. Wells story, The Invisible Man. The movie stars Kevin Bacon (Tremors, Apollo 13) as Dr. Sebastian Caine and Elisabeth Shue (Adventures In Babysitting, The Karate Kid) as Dr. Linda McKay. They are part of a team of scientists, including Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin, No Country For Old Men, W.), working on an invisibility serum for the Pentagon. They test their serum on animals and are capable of turning them invisible, but cannot return them to their visible state. Sebastian has a breakthrough and injects an invisible gorilla with the new serum, making it visible again. When asked by his government superiors about his progress, Sebastian does not tell them about the breakthrough. He believes that in order to keep control of his work he must test the serum on himself. Sebastian asks Matt and Linda to lie to the rest of the team for him in order to convince them to test the serum himself. Unbeknownst to him, Matt and Linda are secretly seeing each other romantically. With his group's help, Sebastian, through a great deal of physical pain and psychological stress, becomes invisible. Unfortunately, they are unable to turn him back, and the added power of being able to go anywhere undetected affects Sebastian's already fragile mental stability. Sebastian begins to harass his co-workers and people out in public, even molesting Linda in her sleep. When Linda and Matt tell their superior, Dr. Kramer, about what has happened, Sebastian drowns him in a pool. With his sanity slipping, Sebastian begins killing the members of his team one by one. How will Linda and Matt be able to stop someone they can't even see?

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon looking like a Jack O'Lantern

Most incarnations of the Invisible Man suffer from a lack of visuals. They show nothing and we just have to take their word for it that someone is there. They have to rely on bandages and clothing to show the Invisible Man, even thought there is no real point for him to have clothes on. Hollow Man uses modern special effects to actually make that weakness into it's greatest strength. The effects used throughout the movie look great, from highly detailed muscles and nervous systems to Kevin Bacon's transparent eyes when he wears synthetic skin. Special effects can only go so far, though. The movie starts out promising with good character development and a believable basis in science. The movie slows down once Sebastian becomes invisible, exactly where the movie should speed up. It takes too long for things to happen and when they finally do, it's very predictable. This is also around the same time that the movie goes from interesting and suspenseful to typical horror movie, complete with a race against time to stop an explosion. The movie poses interesting questions about absolute power corrupting absolutely and then just kind of forgets about them.

Director Paul Verhoeven is no stranger to science fiction/action movies with a resume including Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and Robocop. The action isn't the issue as there is plenty of it, with a good amount of blood and violence. The science fiction is fine, but not great as the movie loses it's direction in favor of action and special effects. It doesn't help that the movie is at least 20 minutes too long for no particular reason. The horror is pretty straightforward, which is unfortunate, because the Invisible Man has the potential to be scary in a cerebral way. Why not have him whisper in someone's ear rather than just charge at them with a weapon? That's just lazy writing. Kevin Bacon makes for a very good villian as the he is able to capture the egomaniacal nature and rage of Sebastian. Elisabeth Shue is good as well, pulling off the vulnerable yet confident Linda. Josh Borlin is fine, though he is just kind of “there” throughout the movie. 

"You spilled my cranberry juice! I'll kill you!"

It's always nice to see a horror movie use a classic character, especially one that doesn't receive much attention. Hollow Man gives the Invisible Man a modern spin, basing it in the modern world and giving it a heavy dose of science. The special effects are fantastic, even 12 years later. The violence is good and there is enough action to keep things interesting. The movie is a bit too long and tends to slow down in the middle. There are some missed opportunities for good scares as the movie goes for a more straightforward horror feel. The acting is good, but the story laves something to be desired. The movie did very well at the box office, and I can see the appeal. It's a good popcorn flick, but it is missing that something special to make it memorable.