Archive for October, 2019

Basket Case (1982)

October 31, 2019

Body horror has roots in gothic literature, going as far back as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, HP Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe. The idea of using the transmogrification of flesh in order to horrify people is probably even older than that. Human biology and genetics are incredibly complicated and one little change can make things go far into abnormal territory. I am thinking, of course, of birth defects. I myself was born with a physical defect. I was born with two aortas. My mutation (which is rare but not unknown) is invisible except to medical testing. Others have mutations that are much more visible which unfortunately made them outcasts in society. My mind here is mostly focused on freak shows. Freak shows in carnivals, circuses, and similar situations were ways to monetize the quirks of biology. Of course, those who were the “freaks of nature” were the ones who were exploited. Still, that sort of thing is as frightening as it is fascinating.

Doctors’ offices have always creeped me out. Too much happens there that causes pain or is just plain gross. At best, you get poked and prodded while being asked extremely personal questions. At worst, you get an incompetent or misguided doctor who causes bodily injury and/or psychological damage. Of course, my opinion is colored by my own experiences. Like I said, I was born with a physical defect and doctors were baffled by it for a long time. They misdiagnosed me so many times before the real cause was found. There are two different tests that were horrific to stand out in my mind. The first was a sweat test. The test is administered by attaching electrodes to a person and using them induce sweating at specific spots where the sweat is collected for testing. I remember it burning and being freaked out by it. The other one I have talked about before which was when I was made to take laps around a building and then have blood drawn. It was probably the most exhausted I have ever been.

The first thing I noticed was how gritty and dirty the film looks. The film looks a little grainy and it felt like it enhanced the heavily shadowed, poorly lit sets. This ended up all working well because the movie is largely set in the seedier parts of New York City back in the late seventies and early eighties. A time when New York was dirty and dangerous. I really loved the gritty production design. The monster design looked pretty crazy at first but it definitely grew on me. The practical effects look surprisingly good for an obviously basement low budget horror film. There are also some awesomely creepy stop motion sequences. I love stop motion used in horror as it never fails to be chilling. The movie is really gory and the practical effects and blood spray looked really excessive in the best way. To be clear, I watched the version restored by the Museum of Modern Art two years ago when they added it to their permanent collection.

Kevin Van Hentenryck plays the young protagonist/antagonist, a young naive man who is on a mission but also seems to want a normal life. He is the character we see the most and therefore the movie is arguably about him. He has a kind and innocent side but also a dark and troubled side. He is really good at playing both sides of that particular coin. Beverly Bonner plays a receptionist at a doctor’s office who is immediately sweet on our main character. She is really good at being a street smart but cute young woman. Everybody else is great too. The movie is full of actors acting in a delightfully exaggerated way. Quite a bit of the movie takes place in a fleabag hotel and a bar and the cast of characters inside of both are lovably insane stereotypes.

Overall, I really loved this movie. The movie is gory and weird and unnerving. It was a great way to officially end Halloween with an homage to my birth year of 1982. I already have copies of the two sequels and I am looking forward to watching them. My usual Halloween Hangover will hit in a week with some weird additional bits. I have so many movies still to watch but, at least for now, Halloween is over.

Q, The Winged Serpent (1982)

October 31, 2019

I have long been obsessed with the mythological. I grew up feeding on fairytales thanks to Disney and the Brothers Grimm (both apart and together). Except most of what I was exposed to was the usual European fare that most white people in America are exposed to. That all changed in high school when my mythology world was opened up by a surprising source. I was excited about the release of Final Fantasy VIII and so were a lot of other people. I started to watch videos online of spoilers for the game. I was specifically obsessed with the summons in the game. The ability to pull a mythological beast out of thin air was amazing but one of the first summons in the game fascinated me. It was Quetzacoatl, who I learned in my Spanish classes was a hybrid of a snake and a bird and a god to the Aztec people. Aztec drawings had always looked too messy to me but the design that Square-Enix had come up with was beautiful.

I have long loved the combination of mythology and an urban setting. While I am obviously a huge fan of high fantasy, urban fantasy is what I most like to read. Horror is actually really fond of putting this kind of fiction out there. I think the appeal to me is that places I walked or drove by could be secretly hiding a monster or a coven of witches. It also makes monsters and non-human creatures more relatable while still keeping them amazing. The thugs in the alley are secretly trolls, a dragon is hiding in the subway by constantly avoiding the trains, the banks are secretly run by high elves. This was kind of the appeal of the second Predator movie. Instead of taking place somewhere in the woods, it took place in an entirely different ecosystem. Cities team with life the same as the jungle but with more politics and clearer social systems. It is fun to watch monsters interact with those systems.

The first thing I noticed was how much this movie is a blend of genres. This one is a blend of a crime story, a detective story, and a monster horror movie. The movie is, of course, about the afore-mentioned movie which is treated Jaws-Like with only fleeting glimpses. The creature’s impact is seen more than the creature itself which, unless you have dynamite effects, is really the way to go. Of course, eventually the monster has to appear and I really liked the look of it. In the early eighties, you are not going to have anything that looks too beautiful so you have to make some allowances. The monster is mostly depicted Clash of the Titans style and that works for me, especially something with that scale. One thing that really hit me was that I loved the camera work in this movie. There are some really interesting moving shots and angles that really made a lot of the scenes come alive when they could have been more flat. This movie also really has some brilliant shots that triggered my fear of heights.

The movie follows a small-time crook played by Michael Moriarty. I absolutely love the way he is depicted as the absolute opposite of an action hero. He’s flighty, weird, and absolutely anxiety incarnate. He is instantly likable as an oddball outcast. He is giving it his all in a B-Movie and it shows. The movie also follows two detectives played by David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. Carradine is the main focus but both of them get to crack wise and present a lot of the exposition to the viewer. The cast does a really good job of mixing in comedy, focusing on the situation being a ridiculous situation until it is proven correct. Carradine does a good job of grounding the movie while everybody else gets more comedic performances.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It has a lot of charm and it was a nice break from the scarier movies I’ve watched this year. I do not watch a lot of creature features and I had heard good things about this one. It definitely has some strong acting, especially Moriarty who is just giving it everything he has. I like the mix of human crime with monsters that the movie has as well.

Dead Silence (2007)

October 30, 2019

I have a thing about puppets, toys, and dolls in horror. I am quickly drawn to anything with tiny animated children’s toys. I think that part of it is the juxtaposition between horror and innocence. The idea of being attacked by something people grew up being attached to is absolutely fascinating to me. Childhood is scary enough without being attacked by the toy around you. At least, it was for me. While I had a relatively good childhood, my imagination was almost always in overdrive. I dreamed up all sorts of demons and monsters in the shadows. I was not traumatized by it but I realize how many people could have been tortured by their own minds. Most of my imagination’s assault was during my dreams and not in my waking hours. It is easy to imagine sinister versions of everyday playthings. Hollywood and independents have been doing it long enough. My favorites are often connected to Charles Band such as Puppet Master, Dolls, Demonic Toys, and plenty more. Of course, it is also easy to realize how these little monsters can be so effective. Nobody could imagine that an innocent toy could harm somebody intentionally. They are literally designed to do the opposite, sentience or no.

I have watched a lot of puppet and toy horror movies, many of which I have reviewed here. They include (but are not limited to) Dolls, Demonic Toys, Goosebumps, Cult of Chucky, Curse of Chucky, and Child’s Play (2019). I will continue to review these kinds of movies, especially if they are notable cult movies and I have not seen them yet (this movie checks off both of those boxes). One culprit that I have not really explored (beyond Goosebumps and some Twilight Zone episodes) is the ventriloquist dummy. Which is weird because I have recently become infatuated with the visual look of ventriloquists. I am hesitant to reveal what that entails because I have dreamed up some horrors as part of one of my fantasy worlds. While I am no artist, I have definitely mocked up some pictures of humans with ventriloquist jaws. This is the creepiest part of the ventriloquist to me. The second place goes to their flat eyes. It goes hand in hand with my body horror fear that I have made manifest.

The first thing I noticed was an attention to detail in some great production design. The dolls in the movie are all exceptionally crafted and, while they are creepy, look like something somebody might own (unlike dolls like Annabelle). I also really like the concept of the supernatural threat which I was not exactly expecting and I will not spoil here. It is a really cool twist on the haunted doll trope and definitely fits so well here. The effects are delightfully gory and fairly horrific as one might expect from the mind of James Wan. However, unlike Saw, the movie felt more imaginative and less cruel even though it was still relentlessly cruel. On another note considering the production, this is when I found out that David Cronenberg has a sister named Denise who works as a costume designer. She definitely has some amazing contributions as well.

The acting is pretty good for a horror movie. The movie stars Ryan Kwanten as the likable everyman who is trying to solve the mystery of a personal tragedy. Donnie Wahlberg is the police detective investigating that same tragedy. He is the usual gruff, unlikeable character he always plays who somehow worms his way into your heart. Joan Heney plays a particular creepy mentally ill woman who acts as the movie’s harbinger. Amber Valletta plays the new stepmother of Kwanten’s character, adding to the whirlwind of mystery.  Bob Gunton plays the patriarch of Kwanten’s family, a kindly yet stern father figure. Michael Fairman plays the local undertaker and the source of much of the lore. Judith Roberts is a particularly nasty and delightful supernatural villain.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It had an innovative take on an old premise and went all-in on its theme and premise. The villain was really fun and made a lasting impression on me. The acting was pretty good and the story beats were worth waiting for.

Fire in the Sky (1993)

October 28, 2019

When I was ten years old, I somehow saw the trailer for this movie and after that, I was haunted by it. I watched other scary movies at the time but this one stuck with me. Every time I saw the poster, I froze up. Part of it was that it claimed to be based on a true story and I was a gullible kid. The idea of aliens being out there with the goal of floating around and targetting humans for the sole purpose of kidnapping us for mysterious and nefarious purposes. Alien abductions were supposed to happen without warning when people were out in the middle of nowhere and alone. At the time, I remember going on weekend camping trips with the Indian Guides. I was really scared that I was going to be abducted by aliens. Even though I was ten, I knew they would not hesitate to take me. I remember our group going out into the middle of the woods to experience what being in total darkness was like in order to tune in with nature and connect with a time when we did not have light bulbs or batteries. I looked up and the sky and saw a shooting star and I panicked but silently.

Another part of why the idea of alien abduction was scary to me is that the whole process was unknown. Alien abductions have been used to explain away so many seemingly weird happenings. When I became a skeptic, I confronted my fears and delved deep into all of the conspiracies. There is a rich tapestry of interesting theories and observances. The main thing that had scared me was that people lose time and then experience what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A lot of fears of aliens combine fears that we have in the real world and apply a heavy layer of the supernatural. For example, probing combines most people’s fears of sexual assault and medical procedures with the added horror of it being done by weird creatures. I also really got into reading books written by John Keel who came up with the Mothman. He also crafted theories about the Men in Black and aliens being visitors from other dimensions or other time periods and not outer space. It is definitely all disturbing to think about.

The first thing I noticed was how well they were able to capture the feel of the 1970s (which is when the story was written). The movie even feels gritty like a lot of seventies movie looked and felt like. The story is apparently a bit simplified from the original book which I can definitely appreciate seeing as how the story was never proven to be true anyway. This is often done when adapting books to movies or television and it works well to cut the fat. The movie is partially told as a mystery and it was interesting to watch that unfold. The special effects, when they appear, are really good. A lot of it is understated and shown quickly so that it has more of a Jaws effect. They do a really good job of not explaining any of it, leaving it to the audience to try and figure out what is going on. If this sort of thing were to happen, we would probably have a difficult time figuring out what objects were what except from context. When it gets insane, it gets delightfully insane like something out of a Nine Inch Nails video mixed with Cronenberg weirdness.

Part of what makes this movie work is the performance of Robert Patrick, a bit of a legend in genre films. Patrick is really believable in his role as a backwoods lumberjack. He is so good at playing the stoic and serious man. Also turning in an excellent role is the legendary James Garner who is extremely likable as the big shot Police Lieutenant investigating the incident. However, the main character is played by DB Sweeney and he is instantly likable and interesting as a wide-eyed idealist. He is based on the man who wrote the book about what he believed happened. The story is told in flashbacks and post-event which means that everybody involved has to almost play two roles. Sweeney is especially good at it, acting as the brave man and the shattered man. The rest of the cast is mostly made up of the ragtag gang of friends who have rallied around their leader. They are all interesting guys.

Overall, I am really glad that I watched this movie to tie a bow on something from my childhood. Even with my hard-earned skepticism, I felt that same knot of fear before the movie started. I think it is a good enough movie but it dragged in some places and probably could have gotten to the point quicker. It definitely gets crazy and gross but you have to wait for it. Still, I think it is worth watching.

Aftershocks: The Goblins Down Below 2

October 26, 2019

Aftershocks Witches

The Wicked Witch of the West cackled and, as her arms raised, the goblins surged forward trying to surround the three girls. The Witch slowly walked forward, the goblins streaming around her and she had a smug grin on her face. Except, then the lights began to dim in the vast warehouse and the Witch paused. Then all of the sprinklers came on at once and a deluge descended from the ceiling. The Witch practically scurried for cover but the goblins looked confused as the water washed over them. The falling water started to rise from the puddles on the floor and formed into a giant serpent made of water. The serpent stretched open its jaws and then lunged at the Witch and swallowed her whole, completely submerging her in the water.

A moment later, the serpent exploded from the Witch’s magic and she started to laugh again. “Silly, girls,” she yelled. “Water won’t end me this time.” The water coalesced back into the form of Nancy.

“We figured as much,” Sabrina said. “but we had to try.”

“The water was actually for your goblins,” Lydia said. “Sorry.”

She and Sabrina snapped their fingers in unison and lightning shot out from them and jumped along the soaked goblins, frying them where they stood. All three girls watched as the goblins wriggled and squirmed from the voltage and the sparks lit up the face of the startled Witch. Unfortunately, the lightning did not get everybody and Lydia and Sabrina drew their swords while Nancy’s hands turned to claws. They started to slash their way through the remaining goblins. Salem leaped from the shadows and started to slash and rip through the goblins as well. There were still plenty but luckily the Witch was hanging back and getting her bearings. She might have been hit by the lightning.

After a long and bloody battle, the girls stood panting and sweaty and ready for action. There was a sudden explosion of swirling smoke and the Witch appeared again. She was floating in the air on her broom.

“The games are over, my pretties!” The Witch yelled. “Time to go to Hell!” She formed a huge fireball in her hand and launched it toward Nancy.

Sabrina stepped in front of Nancy and formed a shield from pure magic, barely blocking the fireball’s impact. Lydia pointed at the Witch and a magical bolt of energy lanced forward from her finger and shot straight through the Witch’s chest. Salem appeared from behind her and drove his claws into the Witch’s back and rode her body all the way to the ground. He landed and retracted her claws and walked over to the three girls and into Sabrina’s arms for a nuzzle.

“Thank you for protecting me,” Nancy said to Sabrina.

“Yes,” Lydia said. “Thank you for protecting her.”

“We’re friends now, Nancy,” Sabrina said. “It’s not often I get to vanquish a demon.”

“Who are you calling vanquished?” A shaky voice came from the direction of the Witch’s corpse who was very much not dead yet. “One way or another. You’re going to Hell!” Her skin blazed with fire and her eyes went wild. The goblin corpses on the floor around her started to burst into flame. Before the girls could react, an ax flew out nowhere and hit the Witch in the head and she went down again. She burned up quickly, and thankfully the wet goblins didn’t spread the flame. The girls looked around and there, standing just next to what looked liked a magical gateway was The Tin Woodsman.

“Sorry I’m late,” The Tin Woodsman said. “I came as soon as I could.” He tipped his funnel hat to the girls.

“Nick!” Lydia yelled. “You were right on time. It’s good to see you!”

“Let’s clean this mess up, shall we?” Tin asked.

* * *

“Do you really have to go back to Kansas?” Nancy asked.

“Yeah,” Sabrina said. “It’s where I belong right now. I have to help the others get back on their feet.”

“Good luck,” Lydia said with a smile. “You’re the right person for the job.”

Sabrina tilted her head. “You won’t come with me?” She asked. “There’s a spot there for both of you, I’m sure.”

Lydia looked at Nancy and then shook her head. “This is where we need to be right now,” Lydia said. “At least until we’ve figured out this King of Hell thing. Besides, we can’t put the group in danger while they’re injured. It’s nice to know you’re out there, though.”

“We always will be,” Sabrina said. “Remember what she taught you. Dorothy loves you.

“You all taught me something,” Lydia said. “I love you all. Give my regards to Dorothy, Dani, Coraline, Amy, and Glen.” She smiled and hugged her friend. It was a long hug. As soon as the hug ended, Nancy was suddenly hugging Sabrina. She found herself smiling and ruffled Nancy’s hair as they separated.

“Tell them yourself when you visit next,” Sabrina said. “Stay safe. If you need us, just call.”

“We will,” Lydia said.

“I promise we will,” Nancy said. “We’ve got each other.”

(Fin.)

(Can you guess who the movie characters are in Dorothy’s coven?)

The Deaths of Ian Stone (2008)

October 25, 2019

When I was little, I had a recurring dream of being pursued, presumably by monsters. I never got a clear look at my pursuers but I was secure in the knowledge that if they caught me, they would destroy me utterly. The only time I might have seen my pursuers was when the dream started before I started fleeing. I was in a village of purple-skinned people who I thought were some sort of undead maybe. I knew they were eating humans. I forget how I pissed them off but before I long I knew I had to escape their village. I remember having to run through a fall landscape in the woods, the trail covered in slippery leaves. I remember knowing that I had to get to a barn where there was a zipline that would take me to safety or at least buy me some time. The dream ended with me on the zipline, something I would almost certainly not do in real life. I remember waking up with that anxiety clinging to me.

Of course, death itself is always in the top three list of fears globally. It is definitely a big fear for me, deep in the pit of my stomach. It has constantly vied with my other top fear of public speaking. A little cliche but those are the top two fears according to polls but I take comfort in being in a lot of good company. Death is always a mystery. We have no idea what instant it will come even in old age or heavily compromised by sickness. There is also no evidence on what happens after that final curtain. What if what happened was another death or more? That is a very real part of what makes death so scary, at least to me. We all try to fill our lives with light to drive the darkness of death away so that we can live comfortably.

The first thing I noticed was that the tone of the film and its imagery reminded me of Donnie Darko or Dark City. Everything is strange and off but not in an exaggerated way, at least not at first. I really liked the design of the creatures and how they teased their appearance slowly. Slowly revealing the monster is often my favorite part of horror movies. I love the lost feeling that I got while watching the movie. I had no clue what was going on but it made me want to know more. I would compare it to David Lynch but Lynch never provides any answers. This movie has more of a driving force, heading unstoppably toward a conclusion. It keeps you guessing but did not feel as frustrating as a Lynch movie. I really like a disorienting mystery sometimes.

Mike Vogel is in the lead and is instantly likable and relatable as the American expatriate just trying to make sense of his life. He constantly has really good scenes with just about everyone else in the movie. Christina Cole is a chipper, optimistic young woman who gets dragged along on the ride. I really liked the performance I got from Michael Feast as the wise man used for a lot of the slow exposition dumps. Jaime Murray is perfect as the beautiful, seductive and acidic opposition. She is so charismatic and fun to watch and fun to hate. The rest of the cast is mostly there to move things along as background but they do a good job. The acting felt like a mix of Lynch, Donnie Darko, Dark City, and even The Matrix. It felt like a refreshing take on science fiction/horror.

Overall, I loved this movie. It was a great combination of horror, mystery, and action which definitely scratched an itch I had no idea was there. The characters were all fun to watch and the movie was deeply satisfying. On a side note, I would like to thank my friend Tracy who recommended this movie. I would not have found it otherwise since it is off the beaten path.

Media Update 10/24/19

October 24, 2019


Ginger Snaps

I had heard good things about this movie but I never quite caught it. This movie exceeded expectations as a slow burn horror movie with plenty of comedic overtones. This movie would have absolutely been my jam when it came out. I was a bit of a goth kid and the Fitzgerald Sisters would have been crushes for me just like Wednesday Addams and Lydia Dietz. They are so compelling and likable as adorkable goth sisters who are ostracized at school. The movie is also a fresh take on the whole werewolf mythos, viewing it through the lens of puberty and high school. It is basically what would actually happen in the story of Teen Wolf. The movie arguably stars Emily Perkins as the younger Fitzgerald sister, the smarter one. She is almost joined at the hip with her older sister Katharine Isabelle. The two of them really make the movie. Kris Lemche plays the friendly local drug dealer (it’s better than it sounds). The rest of the cast is also really good. A special shout out to Mimi Rogers who plays their mom who is just so perfect. The effects are also all practical and impressive as hell. I definitely recommend this movie.


Vamps (2012)

I love Krysten Ritter which was what put this movie on my radar. The movie really feels like it is a cousin of What We Do In the Shadows. It follows two female vampires trying to navigate the modern world. It also has a lot of references to horror movies past. Of course, Krysten Ritter is absolutely delightful, I could watch her read the phone book. She is joined by Alicia Silverstone who is wielding peak Clueless energy. This makes sense as it is directed by the same director as Clueless, Amy Heckerling. The two are nonviolent vampires living as single college girls in New York City. Sigourney Weaver plays the vampire who made them and she is delightfully wicked. Wallace Shawn and Dan Stevens play the modern-day descendants of Van Helsing, still looking for vampires. There are a lot of fun cameo roles from Taylor Negron, Todd Barry, Larry Wilmore, Richard Lewis, Zak Orth, Marilu Henner, Kristen Johnson, and Malcolm McDowell. The movie had that good fun, bouncy energy that Clueless has. It is funny and silly but it also has a bit of good drama. I definitely recommend this one too.


Jennifer’s Body

I had long heard about how this movie is really good despite not being a box office hit or having really sexist marketing which made me roll my eyes. Well, the director agreed with me on the marketing because she and everybody else involved really hated it. The trailer is not what the movie ended up being. This movie resonates on a similar frequency to Ginger Snaps, being a good balance of horror and comedy. It is written by Diablo Cody after her success with Juno. It stars Amanda Seyfried as a nerdy young high schooler who is trying to solve a supernatural mystery that involves her best friend. Her best friend is played, of course, by Megan Fox who does her best acting to date and looks like she is having so much fun. Johnny Simmons plays Seyfried’s boyfriend, a down to Earth presence in all of the craziness. There are smaller but great roles for Amy Sedaris, JK Simmons, Kyle Gallner, Valerie Tian, and Chris Pratt. I also really liked the villainous role filled by Adam Brody who plays the perfect douchebag. The movie is fun and spooky but also felt like it meant something instead of the skin flick that it was advertised as. I also recommend this movie.

Music of the Week:
Kodak Black – Halloween

Mike Bars x SwizZz – There Will Be Blood

In This Moment – Black Wedding feat. Rob Halford

Lana Del Rey – Serial Killer

BUTCHER BABIES – Monsters Ball

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Deadly XX”
– I started Blindspot Season 2
– I watched Uninvited (Rifftrax)
– I watched Carnival of Souls (Rifftrax)
– I watched Attack of the Puppet People (Rifftrax)
– I watched more The Blacklist Season 6
– I watched more Agents of SHIELD Season 6
– I watched more Carmen Sandiego Season 2
– I watched more Brooklyn Nine-Nine
– I watched more Scream Queens Season 1
– I watched more Blue Bloods Season 9
– I finished Gotham Season 6

Halloween (2018)

October 23, 2019

A lot of us have those family members that we are forced to cut ties from, the ones who haunt us sometimes with thoughts that we may see them again. The bonds of family are intense and almost impossible to erase. We do not choose these bonds and they can quickly become chains in bad situations, burdens we can only remove by limiting access. Of course, when those family members are mentally unbalanced, things become even harder. Dealing with unbalanced people like that is bad because they are extremely predictable until they become erratic. They lull you into a false sense of security and then they are suddenly in your face and potentially causing mental or physical harm. While none of my relatives have ever been potentially violent, I have known people who were. The scars of the past fade with time but they never truly go away. Any reminder can bring those scars back into focus and sometimes reopen the wounds we thought were closed.

I guess I should explain why I do not talk much about the Halloween franchise. The fact of the matter is that I held a grudge. I felt that the original Halloween was really good as you would expect from John Carpenter. After that movie is when they made a mistake. Originally, Halloween was intended to be an anthology series. Mike Myers was the villain for the first movie but any subsequent movies were to have different plots and different antagonists. Unfortunately, the studio got cold feet and pulled the trigger on Halloween 2 which featured the return of Michael Myers. Then they proceeded to their original plan and released Halloween 3 which featured a wildly different plot that mixed science fiction and magic. The movie was really good and felt more innovative than Halloween 2 and it showed promise for the original plan. However, the fans were confused and the studio panicked and they went back to Michael Myers and scrapped the original plan. I had sour grapes about that but now I’m willing to revisit the franchise.

The first thing I noticed was how the movie referred to the franchise history without really talking about it too much. Michael is set up to be almost a demigod of murder because his legend has been told for 40 years. I also really liked how they told a story rarely told in horror movies. They showed the survivors and the toll the event took on them and not just the survivors but the effect it has generationally. I love the slow burn of this movie and the deliberate pacing which causes tension long before anything actually happens. I love when horror villains are treated like forces of nature where everybody sits up and takes notice. The effects felt straight out of the seventies and eighties, all practical and all-natural. This is a straightforward slasher/action hybrid as if it was a sequel of the original movie, bypassing eight movies in the process. I really liked the cinematography and the set design which always provided for the perfect staging ground for the action.

Of course, if you have seen even a whiff of the promotion for this movie then you know that the star of the show is once again Jamie Lee Curtis. Except whereas she earned the same “scream queen” status of her mother in the first film, here she radiates different energy. She is a woman 40 years removed from the worst night of her life and she is not about to let it happen again. Michael does all of his acting through body language and that is done well by Nick Castle (the original) but mostly stuntman James Jude Courtney. Andi Matichak steps into the position that Curtis originally occupied and she is instantly likable. Haluk Bilginer takes the place of Donald Pleasance, a psychologist desperately trying to help. The rest of the cast is really good and provides plenty of depth to the movie.

Overall, I really liked the movie as it provided a good, straight-up horror movie and actually fought against some of the tropes and cliches of the genre while still honoring it. Obviously, the makers of this film loved the original franchise but wanted to reign it in by giving it a soft reboot. In that way, they simplify the lore and give a new starting point for horror fans like me. It makes me really want to see what the two planned sequels will be.

Suspiria (1977)

October 21, 2019

I remember the first time I went away to go to school. Well, technically it was to go to a summer camp that specialized in tutoring people with learning disabilities. I spent the summer doing the regular camp activities but also working on reading comprehension and skills to beat my ADD. When I traveled to Camp Glencoe, I was nervous as you would expect from a kid who was away from home for the first time. I was shy and not great at making friends so I did not know if I would fit in. That feeling never really got easier, I just got more comfortable with it. I traveled to Pittsburgh to attend pre-college and I was nervous about having a roommate for the first time. I traveled to New Jersey for college and I was nervous about the same things plus what my future might hold and how I would fair in an unfamiliar institution. Being taken out of your comfort zone can be very scary but it is often not so bad as we imagine. Positive thinking helps but it is impossible not to think of what might go wrong.

Traveling alone can also be scary. I remember the first time I traveled alone which was when I visited my grandmother by flying down south to be picked up at the airport by her. My father wrote a guide for me called “How to End Up in Columbia, South Carolina and not Colombia, South America”. It became the blueprint for every plane trip I have taken since. The importance of following directions and staying safe was hammered into me and it ended up not being as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I was a little perturbed to have things done for me. However, looking back, I realize that any number of things could have happened to a little kid traveling alone. I also realize that as a male, I was statistically less likely to be harassed during my trip. I was not diverted from my destination as too many people have been.

The first thing I noticed is the really good use of color in the movie which is something I was prepared for. Immediately, the colors seemed vibrant and interesting. The use of light and shadow is especially spectacular, giving most frames the feel of arthouse photography. The music also struck me as particularly creepy, some of it similar to the stuff that John Carpenter was writing at the same time. The rest of it feels like experimental prog-rock stuff (performed by the Goblins) that is really discordant and creepy and adds so much. I was also really impressed by the special effects, simple practical effects and also simple but effective film effects. I was startled by how real they felt despite being uncomplicated and cheap. Also, apparently much of the dialogue and sound were recorded separately from film which is probably what gives the film such an otherworldly feel.

The cast is really interesting, especially considering that three different languages were spoken on set and the actors often had trouble communicating. The exaggerated movements of people’s mouths feels very much like theater and adds to the weirdness. The lead role is played by Jessica Harper and she is so good at being innocent and wide-eyed. Barbara Magnolfi plays the roommate, a snarky and sultry contrast to Harper. There is also Stefania Casini who plays a more forceful, tomboyish young woman. Alida Valli and Joan Bennett play two teachers and both are creepy in entirely different ways. One is too forceful and sadistic while the other is far too polite to be trusted. A lot of the acting reminds me of Rocky Horror Picture Show, everybody acts exaggerated and their movement is just a bit strange.

Overall, I really loved this movie because it really unnerved me at almost every turn. Every piece of it works together to form something not quite human, not quite right. It set me on edge throughout which perfectly set me up for the spooky stuff. Harper is especially likable and sympathetic and I really want to see her other movies.

Aftershocks: The Goblins Down Below Pt. 3

October 19, 2019

Aftershocks Witches

The trio had to find a safe place to wait for the Wicked Witch of the West. None of them wanted to involve the general public in this fight. Of course, all three knew that human authorities were of no use. Sabrina came from a society where such things were strictly forbidden. Nancy’s mother had tried to appeal to the police and psychiatrists to no effect. Lydia and her family had never had the chance to call for help but it was unlikely normal humans could have done anything.

Besides, human authorities either did not want to deal with these sorts of things or they were not really capable of keeping up. Either way, it was best to fight fire with fire and it was easier to cut loose when innocents were out of the way. To facilitate that, Lydia and Sabrina worked on weaving a cloaking spell which would keep people away from the warehouse they had chosen. If all went well, the Wicked Witch would be cast back to Hell and nobody would be the wiser.

While they prepared, the other girls told Nancy in detail the story of Dorothy’s first trip to Oz during which the encounters with the Wicked Witches had happened. They told her of falling houses, a scarecrow, a tin woodsman, a talking lion, and all sorts of other wonders. They told her of subsequent trips and what Dorothy had learned. They talked about when they met and some of the other girls in their circle. After hearing the stories, Nancy very much wanted to meet Dorothy and the rest of the circle. Lydia promised the two of them would somehow make that happen if they got through the next fight. Maybe Sabrina could come back and meet Rob, too.

When the spell was in place, Sabrina snapped her fingers and a small black cat appeared. Nancy leaned down to pet the cat with a smile.

“Is this your cat, Sabrina?” Nancy asked. The cat quickly crawled up Nancy’s arm and draped itself across her shoulders, purring.

Sabrina laughed. “That’s my familiar, Salem,” she said. “He’s not exactly a cat. Not really.”

“What does that mean?” Nancy asked.

“Like you, Salem is more than meets the eye,” Nancy said. “Familiars are otherworldly creatures usually in the shape of Earth animals.”

“Salem will be good in the fight,” Sabrina said. “He is way tougher than he looks. Let’s finish getting ready for her.”

It was an hour later when they started to hear banging on the outside of the corrugated metal walls of the warehouse. It started slowly at first with what sounded like the occasional tennis ball hitting the wall. Then the sounds started to surround the girls and they got faster, louder, and more numerous. The three of them stood their ground and tried to stay calm.  The sounds began to get more rhythmic and synchronized, signalling a small army outdoors. As the sound climaxed, the sliding doors of the entrance slid open. Standing in all of her glory was the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, just as Dorothy had described her. She carried a broom etched with wicked-looking runes and there was a twisted smirk on her face.

“Well, my pretties,” West said. “Time to go to Hell!” Her voice was thin and high-pitched but somehow compelling and forceful. Her clawed hand flexed and she gripped the broom tighter. She grinned, revealing incredibly sharp teeth. Her face was impossibly angular and she was instantly identifiable as something no longer human. From the stories Lydia remembered, the Witch had ceased to be human before her death.

“Back off, West,” Sabrina said. “Nobody’s going to Hell but you and your stupid monkeys.” All of Dorothy’s girls knew the stories almost by heart and who could forget flying monkeys as villainous henchmen?

“Is that what you think they are?” West asked. “No. No more winged monkeys, no more Winkies. I have new friends now.”

“What are you talking about?” Nancy asked. “What are they?”

Creatures started to make their way through the door, they had orange-red skin, sharp teeth and they behaved like feral animals. “The goblins from down below,” West said. “You must be my prize, the one called Nancy.”

“Leave her alone!” Lydia called out, moving slightly in front of her best friend. The two of them glanced at each other and there was no need to say anything. They were in it together until the end.

“It’s best to give up now and save me the trouble,” West said. “Then I can go back and finish off that troublesome Dorothy.” She was having fun drawing out the anticipation and trying to get the three girls to squirm. All three bravely stood their ground and glared at the wicked witch.

“Back off, witch!” Lydia yelled. “Let’s get this over with.”


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