Posts Tagged ‘2021’

Dead Ringers (1988)

October 31, 2021

When I was very young, I once heard the story of the doppelganger. I remember it clearly because it was on one of several trips my family made to Busch Gardens Williamsburg which was one of my favorite places. Areas of the park were themed to different European nations. One of the rides was a ferry boat that you could peacefully ride on the river that ran through the park. It must have taken off from the German part of the park because I remember getting on a boat called “Doppelganger”. I am not a ride person so I was happy to be on a peaceful little trip with the mist of the river cooling me down. Then the ship’s driver started to explain the name of the boat. He told of the doppelganger, a mysterious ghostly mirror image each person has that is somewhere out in the world. That doppelganger has many different purposes in folklore but none of it is good. When I met my first pair of identical twins, it was much less scary.

I have always been creeped out by medical stuff. I have been scared of doctors since I can remember and have only been able to contain that terror rather than make that fear go away. A lot of it comes from being a sickly child and dealing with all of the tests that came with a mysterious respiratory problem. I also quickly developed an intense fear of needles which was probably related to all of the tests as well. Looking back, I think I still got off light. When I think about having to deal with a gynecologist, I cringe a bit. I have heard so many horror stories from friends, acquaintances, and strangers about that particular corner of the medical profession. I can imagine why. That branch is so invasive in a very intimate location on and in the body that is not quite built to be exposed to cold, clinical treatment. I can see why there is so much horror involved in that part of a woman’s body.

The first thing I noticed was the offbeat, creepy tone that the movie has from the start. We meet our main characters and they are immediately strange and offputting. This comes from the acting skill of Jeremy Irons who has a lot of chemistry with himself. He is both an asshole and a kind man, both archetypes of doctors. He does such a good job of playing two different characters while at the same time making it hard to figure out which is which until they open their mouth. His acting in this is absolutely superb. Geneviève Bujold is great as the woman who comes between them, a clever and tough actress. The three of them weave together a very intricate psychological story.

This being a David Cronenberg film, one would expect tons of gross body horror and gore. This movie is a bit tamer compared to some of Cronenberg’s more intense pieces. Still, there are definitely moments of that terrifying mind at work. For example, the surgery scenes are not gory but are definitely unsettling and alien. Part of that comes from custom-made medical tools that are made to look scary. I was not sure how many of the tools were real and how many were fictional. There were also a few moments of traditional Cronenbergian visual horror that were definitely startling. The costume design in the medical office looks alien as well. It carries on this whole idea of two people far smarter than the rest of the human race.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It was deeply unsettling without being gory which felt fresh. The psychological horror having to do with one’s identity was so deep and horrible that it was hard to bear at certain times. Jeremy Irons did so well in this role that I am surprised there was not an Oscar nomination for him. I recommend this movie.

Chastity Bites (2013)

October 29, 2021

Elizabeth Bathory has long been associated with vampires. She was a Hungarian noblewoman alive in the fifteen hundreds. We already know how eastern Europe is already heavily associated with vampire legends. She grew up in a castle and lived in comparative luxury as she was the niece of the King of Poland (who was also a prince of Transylvania of all places). One of the first tales that seems to connect her with vampirism came when she was a child. Apparently, she suffered from seizures as a child which was known as “falling sickness” and the folk remedy was to smear blood of the unaflicted on the victim’s mouth. Therefore, she actually did taste human blood if that story is to be believed. Perhaps tales like these are what expanded into vampires who need human blood to survive.

There are a lot of legends that surround Bathory when she got older. She was apparently particularly brutal, torturing and killing many of her fellow Hungarians. It is hard to differentiate from rumor and actual history as history is written with a particular slant. What is known is that a Lutheran minister complained to the crown and the King was eventually forced to investigate one of the nobles of his land. Investigators took testimony from over 300 sources. Testimony stated that Elizabeth Bathory had started her reign of terror by torturing young preteen girls who had been sent to her to learn courtly etiquette. Needles, hot tongs, ice water, honey and ants, and other methods. People said she bathed in the blood of virgin girls. Investigation later revealed that the testimonies may have been false and obtained through coercion and/or torture. It may have been a plan to divest her of her Estate and divide it up.

The first thing I noticed was the fun and campy acting. The movie immediately strikes a particular tone somewhere between DEBS and Heathers. The protagonist of the movie is played by the brilliant Allison Scagliotti. She plays a spunky young feminist high schooler with aspirations of being a reporter. Louise Griffiths is wicked as the abstinence counselor “Liz Batho”. She is so delightful, akin to Chris Sarandon in Fright Night. Amy Okuda, Sarah Stouffer, Lindsey Morgan, and Chloe Crampton are so good as the popular girls. Francia Racia is fun as the best friend who gets in way over her head. The rest of the cast does a great job of being so sunny and perky that it is creepy.

I really like the cinematography. Most of it reads as a good television show, everything is shot tight and clear but with just a hint of shadow in a lot of scenes. The kill sequences are done largely through POV or are shot in a manic fashion that made me a bit anxious as I watched but they kept it light as a horror comedy. The gore is actually fairly light but it is a vampire movie so of course there is dark crimson, beautiful blood. There are some really interesting special effects at points in the story that definitely caught me off guard. There are some interesting camera tricks to ratchet up the weird vibe of the movie. I really liked the settings. Many did not seem like traditional horror like sterile high school hallways and normal suburban homes. Some of them are way more traditional like a spooky manor.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It was a clever modern adaptation of the Bathory legends with a really fun cast. Scagliotti and Griffiths are particularly electric on screen and have a really good dynamic. I was not sold on the sex comedy part of it but it did not go too far and was played completely for laughs. It was a pretty tight little horror comedy movie. I recommend this movie.

Dave Made a Maze (2017)

October 27, 2021

When my brothers and I were kids, we definitely built a lot of pillow and blanket forts. When you are small enough to do so (and I was tiny) it feels so good to climb into a cozy little makeshift world of your own. A fort was always a great place for great bursts of imagination. My brothers and I often had different interests but sometimes we united in this one thing. Of course, this was not solely for pillow forts. Any playground equipment became a centralized place for imaginary adventures. We could also roughouse more on the playground. Pillow forts were cozier. It was always easy for my friends and I to create our own worlds out of very little physical matter. One person would declare something to be real and everybody else would have to “yes and” it and continue. This is something that I have carried forward into my adult life. First with theater, then with writing, and again with tabletop gaming. Worldbuilding is so much fun but it can get out of control quickly.

Just now, I remembered a fundraiser that my school held when I was a tiny tot. The day was called the Quaker Quick Quint. I am not sure whether “quint” is actually the word to use but it was a day of foot races for kids and adults. However, one year somebody built a huge maze out of cardboard boxes. I vividly remember crawling in that maze on my hands and knees. Mazes can be great fun and are good tools to teach kids perserverance and navigation skills. The problem with a maze is that once you start and keep exploring, you have to finish one way or another. I have heard countless stories of people in seasonal corn mazes who are just completely physically and emotionally exhausted after a period of time in the maze. That is one of the elements in probably the most well-known maze movie, Labyrinth. When you have no idea where you are going, it is hard to know when and where the end is.

The first thing I noticed was the animation in the opening sequence was interesting and immediately set the movie apart from other fantasy horror movies. That animation carries forward in a way as the actors basically walk around a practical animated set. The whole thing feels very surreal as we see everyday materials become insane creations. The special effects are not realistic looking but that does not make them less terrifying. In fact, they feel even more terrifying. The maze is a character in itself as it constantly moves and reacts to everything. Sometimes it even taunts the characters. The set design really plays with perspective and the camera actively messes with you. There are some really fun sequences done with puppets, what looks like stop motion, and other forms of animation.

The actors are so good at portraying the perfect mix of quirky comedy coupled with astonished horror. The star of the movie is undoubtedly Meera Rohit Kumbhani who does a really great job of being the terrified but determined girlfriend while still keeping an air of humor. Nick Thune plays the titular character, a loveable goofball and daydreamer. Adam Busch plays the quirky comic relief sidekick character. The funny thing about the cast is that I felt in my bones that I had seen them before but I have not watched any of thier previous projects. They all need to be going places and soon. The acting was part of what made this movie great and they all deserve credit.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It was seriously one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is not your traditional horror movie but it definitely has a lot of horror elements mixed in with the fantasy and comedy. Kudos to Bill Watterson and Steven Sears for creating a hugely imaginative movie. I hope they all do well in the future. Bonus: all of the cardboard was fished out of recycling dumpsters and was returned back to those dumpsters. I recommend this movie.

The Horror Movie Poster Project Pt. 4

October 23, 2021

This week’s theme is “Horror Adaptations of Children’s Books”

Street Trash (1987)

October 22, 2021

I feel like our society is predisposed and trained to hate and fear the homeless. We are conditioned to think that these people are lazy or otherwise stubbornly refusing to play within the system like the rest of us. The upper class, the government, and corporations encourage this division for many reasons. Most of those reasons are about control over both groups. As I got older, I volunteered at soup kitchens and spoke to people who worked in healthcare for the homeless, I realized the truth. People are people. There are thousands of reasons that a person could become homeless especially in our uncaring capitalist society. Homeless people are discarded and reviled by the system because they cannot play by the rules or refuse to. As a kid, it was easy to be scared of the homeless because they were portrayed as humans gone feral. They were “dangerous to go near” or would “only spend money they were given on booze” as if they were animals and not human beings that can make choices.

The “splatter” subgenre of humor is highlighted by a focus on gore and graphic violence. The term was coined by horror legend George Romero as a way to describe his movie Dawn of the Dead (which I still need to see). The idea is to illustrate how frail the human body is while telling a horror story. This is a tricky subgenre because it is connected to a minefield of other subgenres if you are discerning about your gory stories. I appreciate the more humorous slapstick side of the splatter subgenre. Adding a comic tone makes the excessive blood more ridiculous and cartoony and allows me to lean in to it more. It does not focus on the suffering of the victim as much as it focuses on the ludicrous nature of the act itself. I have reviewed a couple of movies that could be called splatter films: Braindead and Terrifier immediately come to mind. The other fork in the splatter path is one I shy away from. It is often known as “torture porn” and focuses more on the suffering and hopelessness of the victim. Movies like A Serbian Film, Human Centipede, or anything by Eli Roth do not draw my interest.

The first thing I noticed was how gritty the movie is. I am not just talking about the urban setting, I am talking about the colors as well. Although they are vibrant, everything looks kind of dirty. This is not a bad thing. The violence and gore is indeed over the top but, as is my preference, it is done with a maniacal and cartoony vibe. It is disgusting but the edge is taken off by the comedy. The effects are absolutely crazy ridiculous with human beings melting and transforming in minutes. Sure there is some good old-fashioned red blood but there are all sorts of other neon fluids to behold. The prosthetic body horror designs are really fun and feel very similar to Braindead or Reanimator.

There is a definite road warrior vibe to the homeless in this film that I quite enjoy. It gives them more character and agency than just “they’re homeless”. The cast is a real ensemble, working together as we jump from scene to scene. In some ways, the non-horror parts reminded me a bit of Do The Right Thing. You quickly get a real sense of the neighborhood and all of the cartoonish characters in it. Mike Lackey plays a likable hippie hobo and is arguably the hero of the film. Vic Noto plays the psychopathic villain and is a delight. Bill Chepil plays the hardass cop and is impossible to like. Few people in the movie are good guys, but they are enjoyable to watch. That is except for the rape scene. I should warn you about the rape scene.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It was dumb, goofy, and weird but it knew exactly what it is. Sure some of the stuff about Vietnam and mental illness did not age well but they were blips in an otherwise fun time. Looking at it like a fantasy world instead of our world helps. The movie does not ever pause to take itself seriously and I followed suit. This movie is definitely not for the faint of heart, though. I recommend this movie if you have a strong stomach and enjoy twisted humor.

Dolly Dearest (1991)

October 20, 2021

Growing up in a household with two brothers, I neer had much to do with dolls. Not that dolls are only for girls but we just were not interested. We had action figures. However, when I visited female relatives or friends I would always be a little creeped out by their dolls. Dolls are designed to accompany their owners everywhere much like mothers must always have their babies in sight. That seemed like a lot of work compared to just having a pitched battle with GI Joes or building something with Lego. On top of that is the whole uncanny valley thing. Dolls often look very close to human without actually achieving the full effect. There is a reason why the line from Jaws mentions “like a doll’s eyes”. They are lifeless and stare into the distance or through your very soul.

For a lot of these reasons, I have become obsessed with dolls and puppets in horror. This started when I saw Child’s Play for the first time. Although killer dolls had been around for quite some time before that, the franchise really brought more life and horror to the story. From there, I fell in love with Full Moon Features which put out franchises like Puppet Master, Dolls, and Demonic Toys among others. I drew from that inspiration and put them in my Dungeons and Dragons campaign, letting loose dozens of evil living dolls on the party in a creepy mansion. Creepy dolls will always be something that thrills me and will attract me instantly to a television or movie project.

The first thing I noticed were the special effects. While they are cheesy and definitely of their time, they really worked for the kind of movie they were trying to do. Digital effects were relatively new and are used sparingly but add a definite cartoony fun. The practical effects are goofy and fun. The effects of the titular doll are actually pretty fantastic. It helps that the dress covers up a lot which aids in the illusion and they also use the Jaws method of less is more. The lighting is done well, creating plenty of shadowy settings without sacrificing the scene or having to resort to the hideos Day to Night effect a lot of cheap movies did at the time.

The acting is pretty good. The lead is arguably Candace Hutson as a little girl who gets a hold of a very bad doll. She is great at acting as sweet as pie without coming off as too saccharine. She is also great at being nasty and mean. Quite a range for a child actress to have to hit. She seriously does a really good job in this movie. Denise Crosby really shines as the worried mother at wit’s end. Sam Bottoms is good as the doting but distracted father. Lupe Ontiveros is great as the sweet and superstitious Mexican housekeeper. Rip Torn adds some comic relief with some scenes with child actor Chris Demetral.

Overall, I really loved this goofy movie. I found myself laughing a lot which I think was with the movie rather than at the movie. I honestly found myself getting a bit scared as the movie progressed. The movie has some legitimately tense moments amidst the goofy PG-13 horror. I recommend it if you can find it streaming somewhere. I found it on YouTube because nobody wants to own the streaming rights at the moment.

Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

October 18, 2021

I remember vividly the first time that I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It was the same year in childhood that I read Dracula and The Invisible Man. Probably when I was about twelve. More than anything, Frankenstein blew my tiny mind. Shelley’s morbid descriptions of corpse parts and the philosophy and metaphors really caught my mind. The idea of man creating man and subverting the natural order was intriguing and terrifying. Her prose lays everything out and introduces you to a man who is more of a monster and a monster who is more of a man. The circumstances behind the writing of the novel always interested me as well. The story was born from a round of storytelling between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Pollidori. Shelley seized on her idea and became obsessed and fleshed it out to a novel. While many tried to downplay her accomplishments, the visuals of her novel have endured.

I was reminded by a Twitter friend recently that I really have not watched a lot of Hammer horror. Hammer is one of the fonts from which modern horror films spring. Hammer films picked up where Universal left off with a lot of the same classic characters. Dracula, Frankenstein, the werewolf, and the mummy had worked well for Universal but they were public domain characters and the British Hammer Films saw their opening. They had a more modern take on horror icons which helped modernize them while keeping them the legends we know them to be. They used a lot of classically trained English actors who went on to become legends themselves. Of particular interest are Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee who were very prolific in Hammer’s horror movies. The two were often paired together in some of the most classic movies. The two would go on to have huge careers sparked by their popularity in movies by Hammer.

The first thing I noticed was the superb orchestral music. It is so dramatic that it prepares you right away for a big story. In fact, I will take the opportunity to praise the sound design here as it was spot on. It was sparse when it needed to be but brought the noise when the story needed noise. Every sound is crisp and clear. The practical effects are much subtler than I expected from having watched subsequent adaptations. Everything looks grounded and science-based even if it is a science fantasy story. They really make you believe it is all possible with the special effects. This is not a very gory tale but what little there is is very artfully done. The sets are perfectly constructed. The only complaint I have about Hammer films of this time are that everything is lit like a play. There is not as much play between light and shadow as I like normally.

The acting is top notch as one would expect from classically trained English actors. Peter Cushing is great as the arrogant and aristocratic Victor Frankenstein. He is very good in portraying that unethical scientific curiosity from the original novel. Robert Urquhart is very good as Victor’s tutor, a man cursed with a conscience. Hazel Court plays Victor’s delightfully optimistic and energetic cousin. A lot of the horror comes from exchanges between Cushing and Urquhart and the things that they are working on. The cast has such gripping chemistry together that I just got sucked in to every bit of dialogue. Christopher Lee is so striking as the monster, he obviously put everything into it. His body language, his wild eyes. It is all so perfect.

Overall, I loved this movie. There is a reason why this is usually named as the top level of Hammer quality. The movie was smooth from beginning to end and paced so I was never bored. Just like the original book, ethics and humanity were the foremost issues. It is easy to see how this launched Christopher Lee’s career and Cushing and Urquhart were brilliant together. I recommend this movie.

The Horror Movie Poster Project Pt. 3

October 16, 2021

This week’s theme is “Sequels I Would Like to See”

The Editor (2014)

October 15, 2021

Recently, I have dabbled a bit with video editing. Just little YouTube videos but it is a lot of fun. I learned to edit first with audio. I first learned by doing it on reel to reel, literally piecing tracks together. I later learned how to edit on cassette and then on a computer. I cannot imagine the pressure of being a professional film editor. To see the same footage over and over seeing the same people over and over and try to make a coherent story out of mounds of footage. You may never meet the people whose scenes you are cutting together. You may never meet the musicians that did the score or soundtrack. Post production is a heck of a grind. I remember reading stories of Robert Rodriguez sleeping on a couch as he re-edited his first film, El Mariachi. James Cameron went hungry and hallucinated during his first post-production. A lot of movie magic happens in the editing room.

Giallo is a fairly unknown sub-genre of horror in the United States but is much better known in Italy where it flourished. The first recognized giallo film was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock movies. In fact, Hitchcock may have been the grandfather of the subgenre. Giallo movies are identified by distinct characteristics. First, they usually involve gruesome murders done by mysterious disguised psychopaths. The protagonists are often outsiders trying to survive and solve the mystery. They are almost never cops or people of authority. The subgenre often explores madness, alienation, and paranoia. The death sequences are particularly gruesome and gory. These are just some of the elements of a Gialli. Last year I watched one based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat. These kinds of movies are stylish and visually pleasing while also containing horrible gore. A great contrast.

The first thing I noticed was the lurid production design, so many interesting colors melding with the shadows. Well, that and all of the nudity. But seriously, the colors are absolutely beautiful even when the images should be terrifying. We also get to see the movie within the movie which is definitely just as pretty and just as bloody. The sets are strange and dreamy, full of manequins. strange props, and far too much smoke even for a movie studio. The gore effects are fantastic and silly and exciting and gross. The effects really surprised me with how effortless they looked and they looked like effects that luminaries like Lucio Fulci, Rick Baker, and Tom Savini would have been proud of.

The acting is absolutley fun as everything is done so melodramatically. It is so obviously bad that it is clearly a great tribute to Italian Giallo B-Movies. Everything is done with an odd dissonance and disconnectedness that sounds dubbed. It is a Canadian film so I assumed that it was filmed in English originally. The movie is led by the titular editor played by Adam Brooks (who also directed). He is a sad sack kind of guy who is dedicated to his work but feels disconnected from reality. Matthew Kennedy is silly and likable as the ineffective police detective assigned to the case. Paz de la Huerta plays the Editor’s comically overbearing wife. Samantha Hill plays the editor’s strange but alluring assistant. Everybody else is just delightfully weird and funny. I was so surprised by how much the movie made me laugh while keeping me on the edge of my seat and grossing me out.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It was a wild story with quirky characters that made me laugh, squirm, and a little bit scared. The visuals were very pretty at times and very gruesome at others. The contrast was great. I recommend this movie.

Media Update 10/14/21

October 14, 2021

Halloween 5

I have not seen a lot of the Michael Myers movies but I heard this one was bad so I kind of wanted to watch it. We have all of the familiar elements of a Halloween movie but they tried to work a few new elements into it. They tried to add more occult elements into the franchise but studio meddling seemed to end that notion. Donald Pleasance returns as the off-kilter psychiatrist Loomis who is always a commanding presence. Child actor Danielle Harris is really good as Michael’s niece Jamie who is great as a troubled little kid. Wendy Kaplan plays more of the traditional last girl and did a great job. Beau Starr is great as the Sheriff with a chip on his shoulder who just wants to end Haddonfield’s turnout. The movie has a lot of good slasher moments although it was apparently toned down. Don Shanks does a good job as the Shape that used to be Michael Myers. I actually recommend this movie for a decent slasher.

Exorcist III

Most people did not enjoy Exorcist II: The Heretic and I was one of those people. Years after seeing it, I started to hear that the third film was good or at least better. This one is partially based on the sequel novel to the Exorcist written by William Blatty. This time around, Blatty decided to direct the movie himself since William Friedkin was busy (or uninterested?). This movie is fairly different from the Exorcist so much so that Blatty objected to the movie being under The Exorcist banner. The movie is more of a crime drama with supernatural elements. The movie follows George C. Scott as a police detective trying to figure out a disturbing and personal mystery. Brad Dourif is great as the villain and much of the strength of the movie are his interractions with Scott. Brad Dourif is great at being creatively creepy in front of a camera and excels at horror movies. The movie is a slow burn with a lot of interesting creepy moments. I recommend this movie.

Return of the Living Dead II

Last year I watched the first installment of this franchise and I was pleasantly surprised. The combination of over-the-top hammy acting, slapstick, and horror absolutely worked. It was strangely difficult to find this sequel somewhere that was streaming. I could find the first one and number three everywhere but this one was rare. I can see why. It is way more fun than the first one. The first movie felt way shorter but this movie felt like more of a fun journey. They expanded the list of characters to include more sympathetic characters. James Karen and Thom Mathews return as a comedy duo like laurel and hardy. The zombies are a laugh riot full of funny character work and zippy one-liners. Michael Kenworthy, Thor Van Lingen, and Marsha Dietlein. are great as the sane characters who we are actually rooting for. Suzanne Snyder is also great as the screaming hysterical comic relief. The gore is over the top (and mostly the zombies) and a lot of fun. I recommend this movie.

Music of the Week:

Harley Poe – I’m A Killer

Worldstarhiphop – Halloween Cypher 3.0

Lamont – Flesh to Flesh

Bryan Ferry – Your Painted Smile

Mashup of the Week

DJ Dankz – Heathez Barz

Weekly Update:
This week’s theme is “Horror Sequels”
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