Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Stage Fright (2014)

October 31, 2017

82 minutes – Rated R for blood, violence, sexual situations, music, and Meat Loaf.

I have worked in theaters that I thought at the time were haunted. For years, I worked for free at the Fells Point Corner Theater. The building is an old fire station that was converted to use as a community theater in an old part of Baltimore. As such, the brick building was quite old. In the rear of the building, there was a set of ancient stairs that were never lit but were the fastest way to get from the third floor to the second floor out of view of the audience. I would walk through almost perfect darkness and I imagined ghosts very near me every time. There was also the rehearsal space in college called The Little Theater which was rumored to have been haunted by a woman named Jane who used to manage the building. People claimed she was the reason behind the radiators always being set too high. They also said that mysteriously curtains would be drawn by ghostly hands. People in theater are superstitious anyway so these sorts of things easily caught on. I never met a ghost but I believed they were there.

The combination of the horror and the musical genres seems to be a bit strange at first glance. However, there is a long history of horror musicals. The very first stage musical I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That show scared the heck out of me as a little boy because it was so tense and there were some great scares including the infamous chandelier crash and an onstage hanging. In the Venn diagram of horror and musicals, the part of horror that often does not overlap is a little thing called subtlety. Musicals are big and presentational and do not often leave room for subtle, psychological horror. That is why most of the horror musicals I have seen have leaned hard into the more darkly comic elements of horror. Little Shop of Horrors is a great example, embracing the goofy B movie elements horror and science fiction used to have at the time. More recently, Evil Dead: The Musical captures the campy nature of a classic horror/comedy/action series of movies. The scares are not exactly scary but there is a gruesome creepiness pervading the whole thing.

The movie stars Allie McDonald, who is great as a young Broadway hopeful working at a performing arts summer camp who wants to get noticed. She is instantly likable and I wanted to see this young ingenue succeed. She is the daughter of a Broadway legend who is played by Minnie Driver. The head of the camp is played by Meat Loaf himself, a veteran of movie musical/horror mashups. McDonald’s twin brother is played by Douglas Smith, who is just trying to work for the camp in an effort to save and move on with his life. The three of them are backed up by a goofy gang of misfits and downtrodden kids who go to summer camp in order to have a place where they will not be picked on. The singing is absolutely great but what really sells are the clever and dark lyrics from the songs. Even songs that are supposed to be happy end up being touched by the horror. The musical within a musical is The Haunting of the Opera and they make that parody/tribute very clear. There are also a ton of references to other musicals and the culture that surrounds theater. Also, harkening back to my youth, there is definitely a clash between musicals and heavy metal.

Of course, this is still a horror film and while there is kind of a slow burn, it does get to the horror part along with the musical part. The movie sets up a good ratcheting tension until something has to give and then it gives. The movie has great tributes to movies like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and (maybe unintentionally) the 1987 version of Stage Fright. The special effects on the kills are great. While a lot of it is computer generated, it was very well done. The deaths are creative and they really went in directions that I was not suspecting. After watching so many horror movies (30 so far this October alone) it is really neat to still be surprised and entertained. What I loved the best about the horror aspects actually was that it was a mystery. I kept trying to figure out who the killer was and my list kept growing instead of shrinking. I love a good mystery especially when the movie does a good job of not giving the way ending. (An ending I won’t give away here either).

Overall, I loved this movie. It was way more clever and fun than I thought it was going to be and I came in with some decent expectations. Maybe it is my history with theater or maybe it is my love of dark humor and horror but this ended up being a really great movie for me. I laughed a lot during this movie which is a great way to officially end this yearly challenge to myself. The movie is goofy and silly but then it takes nosedives into the realm of horror only to come up for breath again.

(Alright, consider this a curtain call for Halloween 2017. I really enjoyed this year even more than last year. I think I am getting better at selecting movies that I think that I will enjoy versus movies that I feel I have to cover because they are iconic. While this post kind of wraps things up, I have a tiny encore on Thursday. Now, I am off to go watch Fright Night (1985) at my cousin’s house which will officially make 31 horror movies. Break a leg this Halloween and stay safe!)

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Stage Fright (1987)

October 31, 2017

90 minutes – Unrated but definitely Rated R for violence, brief nudity, language, and attrocious theater acting.

Stage fright is actually probably my biggest reoccurring fear. Talking in front of people is intimidating for many reasons. The least of those reasons is actually a fear of judgment. I do fear what some others might think when my ideas and personality are coming out of me in real-time. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing to the wrong group of people and feel that negative energy in response. A bigger fear for me is that I might screw up an look foolish which is related to the first fear but a little bit different. Most people are actually forgiving when it comes to verbal flubs or forgotten memorization so it is a somewhat unreasonable fear but it is that fear that keeps our concentration on point. The real fear is of the spotlight. I really do not like it when too many people pay attention to me. As an introvert, that sort of things is draining like being the only one under the desert sun. In a way, I fear success. If I succeed, I will have to do it again. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at speaking in public and shaking off the fear.

I remember being a theater kid as an isolating experience. Theater is a collaborative art form but you are only collaborative with the other people working on the show you are working on. You spend time together during rehearsals but each person is fulfilling their role so there is not much time for socializing. I started on the crew which feels even more isolating because I spent a lot of time watching the show from an enclosed booth alone or with another person. When I joined the stage management team, there was a lot of time spent alone before or after rehearsals getting the rest of the work done. Time spent sweeping or putting tape on the floor in a completely empty and eerie rehearsal space. More than anything, the theater experience separated me from the world around me. Even when I went out into the real world, it felt alien. Non-theater classes felt different and strange and it was nearly impossible to make friends outside of the make believe fantasy world of theater.

This movie is about a theater group that is trying to put on a production about a masked killer. Unfortunately, there is also a real masked killer walking around. The movie is very eighties with new wave beats and a sweet saxophone. The makeup and costumes are clearly very eighties as well. The show is also supposed to be ‘edgy’ and ‘avant-garde’ which is usually code for ‘too up its own butt’ or ‘just plain bad’ for me. That is fine, I get to sit through the movie and not the play they are making. The movie has great production values. Lighting stands out above everything as everything is lit so well. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but every shot looks very much like theater lighting. Everything is a little too crisp, a little too bright which actually works for this movie especially since most of it takes place in a theater anyway. A new wave/synth soundtrack is very much in line with a lot of horror movies of its day. I also really liked the special effects of the inevitable violence.  They are spot on and beautifully done. Each death is theatrical without being too over the top.

In this movie, we meet probably the world’s cattiest theater group. I have worked with several theater groups and most of them are fairly chill even during crunch time. These people are constantly sniping at each other. In my experience, you were unlucky to get one of these people on your cast but this show has pretty much an entire cast full of unreasonable people. None of them stand out but that is only because none of them are famous and they are equally good at setting up a playground for the killer to play in. The killer is largely silent but he is using the old faithful tool of the slasher film: a mask. Like most, the mask seems silly at first but the killer really makes it work for him. Once the action starts, the cast’s collective IQ drops and death is imminent. While I wish death on nobody, these Halloween months have taught me that they can really try to make it easier to watch people get killed. Watching people lose their minds with fear is really fascinating, at least in this movie.

Overall, I liked this movie. While some parts dragged a bit, there was never a shortage of action. The movie follows two Italian traditions that I am barely familiar with. It is a combination of the Giallo and Italian Horror subgenres. However, it did not feel so simple as that. The movie starts as a slasher movie but the last third of the film becomes more slowly paced and is much more of a tense thriller. While the acting may not be top notch, its melodramatic air definitely makes for a good change of pace for a horror movie.

Green Room (2015)

October 27, 2017

95 minutes – Rated R for gore, racism, violence and extremely tense situations.

Authority is naturally pretty scary. The people who have power over us, even if we are the ones who gave them that power, have an enormous trust placed in them. We attempt to give them that trust but more importantly other people also place trust in them. There is an assumption that if somebody is in charge then they are doing the right thing. When that power is being abused, it can be difficult to convince other people that the abuse is really happening. Societies throughout history have been built on the principle of submission to authority because otherwise there can be chaos and anarchy. This is why people in charge only occasionally get caught for doing terrifying and inhuman things. They only rarely get caught because their victims are largely powerless. When the weight of authority is bearing down on you, nobody can help because they are already carrying their own weight. It happens every day and goes unpunished most of the time.

I love music but I have been to only a handful of concerts and I have been to even fewer clubs. Once I am there, I enjoy myself but it is hard to get out there. Crowds scare me a bit. Being alone in a crowd makes me tense. A person is usually a reasoning, compassionate human being. A crowd, while made up of these human beings, becomes its own animal which can turn crazy in an instant. A panicked crowd, an angry crowd, or even an excited crowd can be a violent force. I worry about being pushed down or trampled or lost and separated from whoever I am with. At sporting and pro-wrestling events, I definitely have been caught up in the crowd and I know how easy it is. You feel lonelier if you do not pick up on the group behavior. So, my experience with the music industry is an experience from a distance. For example, I love punk and heavy metal music but I recognize that these are the shows that can easily get too rowdy for me. I am content to listen to albums, watch music videos, and watch live performances on television. I know it is not the same but I feel more comfortable and less scared.

From the start, I could tell that this movie was shot really well. The lighting is pretty dark and gritty which is befitting a movie in the horror/thriller genres. Even scenes shot in the day seem to have a dark film over everything that gave me a foreboding sense as the movie headed towards the main event. As one would expect from a movie about a band, the sound is excellent. From the first mumbled lines to the cranked up concert speakers, everything is clear as a bell and just sounds super rich. The production values are great as everything looks gritty and real and they did a great job of creating this world just beyond our own. As I stated above, I love punk music but I was never part of the scene and this made me feel like I was right there in that world. I am a huge fan of horror movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street series which is almost in technicolor. It was nice to see another movie grounded in reality that also had production values grounded in reality. There was nowhere to escape to because this felt like the real world. The special effects and prosthetics were almost too real.

There is a lot of great acting in this. First, I have to start off with praise for Patrick Stewart who, for the first time in memory, plays a truly evil character. I have to respect a guy with range like that. This movie was also the last movie starring Anton Yelchin to be released before his death. He leads the protagonists and he is instantly likable. There is also Alia Shawkat (of Arrested Development fame) who does a great job as just another punk musician. Imogen Poots was great as a stranger girl who gets caught in the mix. I also really liked Eric Edelstein as a skinhead minion. He almost seemed reasonable until you remember that he is a skinhead. Yeah, this movie is about a bunch of punks who run afoul of a lot of Nazis. Skinheads are a super violent sub-culture/terrorist group and they make the perfect bad guys. The actors do a great job of making them human but strangely inhuman at the same time. They act perfectly reasonable and argue about stuff that normal people argue about but they are full of such alien hate. It is a story of gray characters getting terrorized by very black characters but there is nuance there.

Overall, I loved this movie. My first thought was that it felt kind of like a Nazi version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it ended up being so much more. Of course, it has the same culture clash that Massacre has but there is so much more story and humanity to it. This was an intense movie that latched on and did not let go until a minute into the end credits. I definitely felt like I had been on a journey by the end of it. This movie really made me scared as well because of the rising Nazi sentiment in the United States. If the guys from this movie spread, we are screwed.

Company of Wolves (1984)

October 20, 2017

95 minutes – Rated R for some gore, body horror, near constant dread and surprising sexual undertones.

Dreams can be very frightening. At least, the ones that I remember are usually very scary to me. I still remember very clearly several dreams I had when I was little where I was chased. One of them was a dream where I was lost in the woods and I came upon a civilization of purple-skinned people stuck in some sort of pre-colonial lifestyle. I stumbled upon the fact they ate humans and, of course, they chased me through the woods. I also clearly remember a dream where I was running from some sort of unseen monster but it was close behind. Along the way, I gathered up my mother and we ran to a barn. We climbed but the monster was so close behind and we went to zip line away but mom fell behind. Of course, I had a dream where I was attacked by a swarm of bees again and I woke up still feeling their stings all over my body in the form of a tingling sensation. The point is: dreams are so scary because our brain tricks us into thinking they are real. We believe so hard that it is hard to swim out of that alternate reality without completely jettisoning it, quickly forgetting what was bothering us.

There are also predators out there in the real world. I am sure you may have noticed but I identify deeply with the wolf but I know what I am. I am not a predator. I gravitate toward the image of the wolf because of my family history and for its positive traits of loyalty. However, I know that the wolf is also a creature that kills. If you work on a farm or camp out in the woods, a wolf is not a friendly, natural image. It is a danger that you must defend yourself against. In the city where I grew up, the worst you would encounter would be a mean dog or an aggressive rat. So when I went camping as a kid, I was terrified because I only had stories of wild predators. In the city, we had different predators we were warned about. Human predators. Stranger danger was something shouted from the rooftops by parents but I was an indoor kid for the most part so I never really feared getting snatched off the streets. When I got older and walked freely around Fells Point, I started to get a little more wary but the worst was somebody asking me if I had any cigarettes. Still, I knew that things could happen at any point.

The first thing that was clear while watching this movie was that this movie would have suffered greatly if the effects budget had been lower. Right off the bat there is a great mix of puppetry and live animals that immediately caught my eye. The puppetry was really unsettling but that was clearly intended. The lighting was really good. I have designed lighting for horror before and the light and shadow can really make or break a good story. The movie made really good use of shadow in particular. It gave the movie more of a Grimm’s fairytale feel. As we all know, those original tales are dark and full of thinly veiled, brutal lessons so shadow really suits this adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood. Beyond that, the visual effects and camera tricks were absolutely brilliant and mind-bending. The makeup effects were really great as well, including really good fake blood. All of it added up to some really dark body horror that was literally like something out of a nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, the movie does such a good job of creating a world out of dream imagery. The world of the dream seems to have internal logic but, like Wonderland or The Labyrinth, things can come out of left field to change the story. There is a constant level of dread under every single scene so even the non-scary scenes had me a little worried. There are not a lot of jump scares, there is more psychological horror which seems to be a running theme this week. One of the themes is female sexuality and the fear of male sexuality and also the justified fear of the abuse of women by men. It reminded me of a fear that I did not have while I was growing up since I was a boy who did not have to worry so much about being mistreated in that way. This movie awoke a vicarious worry for women that I have thought about more in recent years. And yet, I know there are things that I cannot possibly protect the women in my life (and beyond) from. The movie did a good job of stirring up those societal fears in addition to fears of more literal wolves.

Overall, I thought this was a very good and chilling movie. While it was definitely not a traditional horror movie, it had a lot of horror elements mixed with fantasy elements. It definitely filled me with a feeling of horror at times. Its dreamlike, disjointed nature kept me guessing as to what might happen next even though I have read and seen so many other versions of Little Red Riding Hood. There was so much subtext in this movie that I felt like I was watching two movies at once at times.

Prevenge (2016)

October 18, 2017

88 minutes – Unrated but I would rate it R for some gore, grownup concepts, darkness and a deep sense of forboding.

Babies can be scary but usually in an entirely different kind of scary from what you might experience on Halloween. We fear our lives changing outside of our control. We fear failing to provide for a tiny, dependent human being and that it may come to harm through our action or inaction. The other day I held a month old baby boy and it was nerve-racking. He slept the whole time, secure that I was doing the best I could. I was pins and needles for the first moments because I was afraid of hurting this new little friend. There is no real need to worry so much but it helps us heighten our care with someone far more fragile than we are. Society is also wary to hurt or inconvenience a pregnant woman. The reverence we give for somebody literally and physically carrying a life into the world is justified. It also apparently can be a weak point because anytime we give somebody an inch, they could take a mile. Do not underestimate anybody for too long. We are all capable of anything.

Revenge is a fairly common horror movie trope. A lot of killers kill for the Hell of it like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sometimes, it is just what they were created to do like Krampus or Hellraiser. Freddy Krueger kills to take revenge on the parents who murdered him by taking their kids away from them. Jason Voorhees’ mother and Jason himself kill to avenge his death caused by the inattentive child care that indirectly caused Jason’s drowning death and conversion into an undead monster. Chucky is huge on revenge. In the first movie, he wastes a lot of time killing people who have crossed him rather than get about his supernatural business. In subsequent movies, he kills anyone who even slightly irks him. I Spit On Your Grave and Last House On The Left are classic examples of brutal revenge from a serious wrong. They are often grouped in the horror genre because it is scary how quickly the person taking vengeance can become scarier than the original transgressor. Wrong or right, revenge can make for a very compelling story.

I was expecting this movie, a movie about a pregnant woman on a killing spree, to be more of a comedy somehow. It is such a weird concept that I thought it might be played for laughs. I was wrong. This is a slow burn of a horror movie. The concept is simple but the execution is anything but simple. For example, the movie plays around a lot with the concept of human sadness. Not just the sadness when something bad happens but the soul-sucking depression that we can fall into. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with. As the title suggests, it deals heavily with the concept of revenge. However, we do not immediately know what wrong has been done that cries for vengeance. Instead, the movie unravels that story slowly. It unveils elements of the story slowly so that I was left wondering what exactly was going on. Not that I was confused, but in the way that when you follow an unreliable source, you are not sure which parts to believe and which parts to discard. Maybe, in the end, it does not matter but it definitely matters during the journey because why you are doing something is sometimes more important than what you are doing.

The acting is really, really good. I had not realized when I selected this film that it was made in England but that just adds to the international flavor of this year’s selections. So, we get a lot of different British accents because we meet the lower class, the upper class and people obviously from various parts of the country. I find the accent (and others from that region) very pleasing. It is strange to watch a horror movie while such pleasing sounds are constantly going on. In the spotlight of this movie is Alice Lowe who plays the pregnant star of the film. She also wrote and directed the movie and it shows that this was a labor of love. There are so many interesting emotions in her performance. From bitterness to depression, to pity, to joy and even that emotionless stillness a person gets before a murder. She was fascinating to watch because she is on a journey and while her trajectory is tragic, I had no idea where it might lead. It helps that Ms. Lowe was actually pregnant and wrote and acted from an experience she was currently having at the time. Her performance really leaves some doubt as to whether or not the baby is actually guiding her actions.

Overall, I thought this was a great movie. Obviously, the actual professional critics agree as the movie has a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie gave me a knot in my stomach as I watched it and it was not just because of the horror elements. The overall dark despair of the film often ran a chill down my spine. I was unprepared for this movie to deal so heavily with life itself while watching a woman deal with death while killing people.  Still, it was an interesting and fun ride.

Dolls (1987)

October 16, 2017

78 minutes – Rated R for horrible people, child neglect, gore and nightmares.

The uncanny valley is such a powerful tool in visual horror. The concept of the uncanny valley says that we will be creeped out by things more as they look more and more human. When something becomes completely human-looking, our unease is allayed. Seeing things trying to be human but not achieving it makes them look alien and frightening. We know what humans can do but near-humans look erratic and unpredictable. If they are inanimate, we have nightmares that they will begin to move around as humans do. This is largely where the fear of dolls comes from. People have long thought dolls are creepy. When I was in theater, we did a show where the set was adorned with Putti which were created by stapling wings to baby dolls and then spray painting them. People swore that the eyes followed them as they walked the stage. The dolls also periodically fell from great heights with no warning during rehearsal as if they were trying to attack. It was unnerving and there is power in that.

Small things are also terrifying. If you do not believe me, think about the story I heard as a kid about living in the desert and waking up in the morning and slipping your shoes on only for there to be a stinging scorpion hiding in there. There are many real tiny terrors in the world which includes spiders, scorpions, diseased mosquitos, ticks, and especially bees and wasps. I never worried about my dolls (ahem action figures) coming to life when I was little. Even when I was thirteen and watched Toy Story, I never really worried about it. However, I know plenty of people do fear that as kids. That is why there are so many horror stories about killer dolls. Childs Play, Demonic Toys, Puppetmaster, and Poltergeist all come to mind but there are dozens. I will probably see them all eventually. Little things are hard to keep track of if they do not want you to find them and they can turn up in the most surprising places. It’s a scary thought that they might be anywhere around.

I love a good horror movie with truly detestable people in it. It makes me feel less guilty to watch them get killed in inventive ways. I have quickly determined that if I have empathy for a character, it makes horror movies scarier because I dread anything happening to that character. This movie does not have that problem as most of the people, except for the little kid, are absolutely horrible. There is a strange combination of mean and moronic that personified a lot of horror movie victims in the eighties and nineties. Also, bonus points for having American tourists in England being completely awful and pushy. More bonus points for lower class British people being loud and rude. The movie not so subtly drops in one of the biggest concepts of fairy tales: be nice or suffer the consequences. The acting is very melodramatic but this is yet another Charles Band movie. The lower class punks are modeled after Madonna and the upper-class Americans are modeled after just about every rich person in the USA.
The saving grace for the adults is Stephen Miller who is kind of funny to watch and definitely a good guy.

They obviously spent a lot of time on post-production on this one. There are so much great puppets and practical effects. Someone obviously had a lot of fun making killer toys on a workbench somewhere in Italy (where this was filmed on a soundstage). I really would love to see a behind the scenes documentary or some blueprints on how they animated some of the dolls in this movie. By the way, based on the title, it should not be a spoiler that there are killer dolls in this movie. I suppose they used a lot of the same types of effects that were used in the early Child’s Play movies. It is difficult to imbue life on an inanimate object even with the aid of CGI and it takes a real puppetry master to make them actually scary. To me, these were way creepier than films like Puppetmaster or Demonic Toys and that has a lot to do with attention to detail and good production values. Of course, that is praise for this movie and I would never denigrate a movie I love like the Puppetmaster franchise. It may not be amazing by today’s standards (just wait for my Cult of Chucky comments on Thursday) but this type of thing fascinates me.

Overall, I thought this was a really twisted yet fun horror movie. I thought it would be a normal run-of-the-mill horror romp and in a lot of ways, I was right. However, the movie takes a lot of random left turns that surprised me or really weirded me out but they never felt forced. They left me dreading what was going to happen next but also looking forward to where the story might go next. This story definitely goes to some seriously forked up places, too. Charles Band rules my dreams and nightmares yet again.

Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage) (1960)

October 11, 2017

90 minutes – French (Subtitled in English) – Unrated but I would give it an PG-13 for dread, some very bloody scenes, and creepy atmosphere.

Guilt is a terrible thing. I cannot imagine a single person reading this who has not felt guilty for something in their life. Guilt has an extreme power over normal human beings. Guilt can slowly unhinge us, causing a very negative change and maybe even becoming the monster we think we are. Guilt can also push us into the light, forcing us to atone for our guilt by doing good deeds. The thought of people discovering our secret guilt is scary. That sort of thing is a weak point, a big glaring example of why we feel we may not be worthy of kindness or happiness. If people found out, they would do something to condemn us, giving us the punishment we always imagine. However, people are human and atonement, acceptance, and change are very real concepts. We do not need to hide in the shadows, at least not from ourselves. The future is not yet written and you can be a better person and outweigh the sins of the past.

There is a tradition of masks in horror movies which is how I found out about this movie in the first place. Most of us clearly remember the iconic masks of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees but there are so many more. Ghostface from Scream, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the deadly masks from Halloween 3 and another deadly mask in The Abominable Dr. Phibes also come to mind. There is even a prominent mask in one of the movies that I will be reviewing for the 31st this year. Masks weird us out because not seeing somebody’s face makes us uncomfortable. I talked earlier this month about the same effect that a clown’s face paint has. We cannot judge the true expressions of the person and therefore it is harder to judge their intentions. Also, it makes them look less human and anything less than human is something to be wary of. Finally, we cannot see what is under the mask and so we are left to imagine what must be under there. In that uncertainty, there could be anything beneath the mask especially the mask of somebody or something you know is a killer. I will be exploring this idea again next week.

The first thing I noticed about this movie was the great sound design in it. A good sound design can definitely enhance a good horror movie and make a great horror movie. This is especially true of older horror films where they had a low budget and could not rely on jump scares or expensive visual effects. This film does a great job using silence, something that newer horror projects do not use as much. There are long stretches of silence or periods where we just hear sound effects and no dialogue or music. The music, when it comes, is truly maddening as most of it makes use of the same musical motif which sounds chaotic and ratchets up the tension. It makes moments of true horror all the more shocking as they made me jump. The film is in black and white which is a sign of the times but it helps with the mood of the film, all light and shadows. The sets are simple but well-dressed like a Hitchcock film.

Tension is the main game here as this is a slow burn horror film. We find out what is going on early on in the film but the driving action waits until we are prepared for it. The tension must be high so that the existential horror really hits us. Edith Scob plays the titular woman who has had an accident which has removed her face, leaving only her eyes. She is absolutely spellbinding. The mask they constructed for her is so good and so creepy and she is a brilliant actress. She does so much with those eyes that I often forget that she is wearing an expressionless mask. I felt tense in every scene she was in as she was an unknown quantity, a desperate woman yearning to return to humanity and the true driving force of the movie. Her father is played by Pierre Brasseur and his gruff, detached manner is horrible to watch as he thinks about and does horrible things. Since the movie is actually mostly dialogless, many of the actors do so much with the movements of their bodies and sometimes just the way they breathe. I really loved that.

Overall, I really loved this movie and it is definitely the best movie I have reviewed so far this month. The movie starts with deep existential horror as it tackles things like lost, ennui and isolation. Then it moves on to actual, tangible horror including blood and violence but also guilt and insanity as well. I was really left shaken by this one as the director really nailed his goal of “anguish” very well.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

October 9, 2017

90 minutes – Rated R for gruesome deaths, language, and brutal violence

I remember when I first went to a summer camp that required that I sleep over. It was Camp Glencoe but we slept in dorms and we spent most of the days reading and writing so it was not much of a camp experience. The second camp I went to was Camp Shohola which was very much your standard sleepaway camp. There was definitely room for fear at summer camp. I especially dreaded doing the deep water swim test every year. We had to do so many laps without touching the sides of the dock and it made me so tired. I thought I would end up like one of the unfortunate watersports campers from Wet Hot American Summer. It was also so dark each night. Sure I had plenty of people around me but as a city boy, the sounds of just nature were unnerving. It was not just the sounds of nature either. Out beyond the concrete, there were far more wild animals and insects. Bears were sighted near the dining hall dumpsters and bees and spiders were sighted daily. I even saw a poor little mouse that had been overtaken by a swarm of bees once. That particular image has stuck with me.

There were bullies there too, the kind of person that makes a short kid dread certain parts of life. I was lucky enough to not have to deal with bullies too much but they were always there, the sharks out in the deep water. I remember the older kids at camp playing pranks from harmless to troubling. One summer, they snuck into people’s cabins while they slept and took their trunks and stacked them around the flagpole. My trunk’s lid was a little warped and was not closed so I was skipped and there was suspicion of collusion which was ridiculous. I was never that popular. Back in high school, I was guided to be an early adopter of the personal computer because as a freshman, there were seniors who came down to our hall and pushed people up against the lockers. My friends and I opted to have fun tinkering in the computer lab rather than loitering in Freshman Hallway. I think that ended well since I have an intuitive sense of how to work computer programs and very high typing speed. I did not like getting pushed around but we all survived and I harbor no ill will. After all, they did not try to kill me.

This is a horror story with a mystery to it. Up until the end, you are not sure who exactly is doing the killings. It felt kind of like the first Friday the 13th film in that respect. Of course, there are way more suspects than in that film. This movie is set in a rundown summer camp full of rough customers. The counselors and staff are either power hungry monsters or simply stand aside and let those jerks push people around. The campers also have the worst kind of teenage impulses. They are constantly playing mean-spirited pranks on one another and pushing each other around like prison inmates. This also leads to there being a lot of potential victim as horror films of any decade seem to like setting up victims that you want to see get punished. Is each death vengeance for something horrible happening or is it somebody who can no longer stand by and let the jerks rule? As people die, they recognize the killer but we never see them until the end.

The acting is very interesting, at least it is to me. A lot of the time the acting is pretty standard for an eighties horror film. By this, I mean that people act like normal people but maybe a little bit exaggerated because it is a movie. Guys razz other guys, girls pick on other girls, there is flirting and bullying and all sorts of normal behavior. Then every so often, there are performances that are either purposely or unintentionally hyper-exaggerated. Those performances are unnerving because I sat there trying to read into them and the cadence was all wrong like something written by David Lynch. This is especially true of Angela, the girl with a tragic past that the film is centered on. Mostly mute, she spends her days getting bullied by the girls in her bunk and teased by the guys in camp. The pacing is really good as we see the frustrating experiences that Angela endures as the weird girl and that is punctuated by creepy horror and gruesome deaths. We also get to see some really creepy flashbacks through Angela’s eyes.

Overall, it was definitely a good eighties horror movie. The movie is creepy throughout both the actual killings and the cruelty kids can exhibit toward each other. The tension builds steadily through the movie and there are plenty of red herrings if you do not know the actual ending. Do yourself a favor and stay away from spoilers on this movie because the ending is well worth the mystery. The movie also gets bonus points for looking somewhat similar to summer camps I went to.

Aftershocks: Demon Days Pt. 1

October 7, 2017

Aftershocks 2

Lydia and Nancy decided to skip the Principal’s office since he had phrased it as optional. In fact, as weeks went by, they continued to give the principal’s office a wide berth. It was all too complicated at the moment and they still did not know who to trust. After they had defeated the demon Ley, the two girls hoped that things would calm down and stay calm. So far, they were half right but neither of them believed that it would stay that way for long. Ley had talked about the King of Demons being interested in them and Nancy’s heritage probably made her specifically the target. The two of them tried to do as much normal teenage stuff as they could but it never quite washed away the memories of what had happened in the gym weeks ago.

The normal stuff went out the window when they left their last class of the day and found Rob sitting on the curb, eating a piece of key lime pie. He was wearing the same over-sized trenchcoat but was not openly carrying any weapons this time. In the light of day, the pint-sized monster hunter looked a little funny. However, both of the girls recalled that the boy had powers possibly on par with Nancy’s undefined abilities. He was potentially dangerous but he seemed to be on the side of the angels for now.

“Hey kiddo,” Nancy said. “No car today?”

“I have it stashed away,” Rob said without looking up from the pie. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his coat. “I don’t drive it all the time.”

“Smart,” Lydia said with a tiny smirk. “It’s still years before anyone will issue you a license, kid.”

“My name is Rob,” He said. There was no frustration or anger in the words, just a simple reminder of the facts at hand.

“Alright,” Nancy said. She was back to being her usual sunny self but that facade was wearing at the edges in the face of a reminder of a very bad night. “What can we do for you, Rob?”

“Yeah, we actually have homework to do,” Lydia said.

“I wanted to talk to you both after the heat died down,” He said.

“Well, it feels like it’s dead as a doornail now,” Lydia said. “Did you want your sword back?”

“No, that’s alright,” He said. “I just wanted to talk.”

“I’m not sure I’m interested, Rob,” Nancy said. She was hugging herself so hard that Lydia feared her arms might start wrapping around her a few too many times.

“Let’s hear him out, Nance,” Lydia said. “He helped us out. It’s not like we owe him but so far he’s been alright to us.”

“Fine,” Nancy said. “Lead the way.”

Rob stood and tossed an empty pie tin into the garbage and wiped his mouth with his coat again. He led them down the street and into the public park. He led them into the woods where they stood in front of a metal door hidden under a rocky outcropping.

“Nice secret murder dungeon you have here,” Lydia said.

Rob gave her a look. “It’s just one of my mom and dad’s old bunkers. My family likes bunkers.” He shrugged and pulled out a key and unlocked the door. He walked inside, leaving the door open. Nancy and Lydia looked at each other for a moment before going in. How bad could it be? They stepped inside.

The interior of the bunker was actually pretty nice. There were couches and tables and chairs and rugs. When Rob reached over to the light switch, the lights actually came on so he had somehow gotten working electricity in the woods of a public park. Lydia was impressed, Nancy was absolutely confused. Rob kept walking, moving past what looked like a makeshift kitchen with a fridge. He sat down at a table which already had two chairs set up on the opposite side. It was weird to see somebody younger look so professional.

Nancy and Lydia carefully sat down in the chairs opposite Rob. “So tell me what your deal is?” He asked.

“We’re high schoolers,” Lydia said. “I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“I’m a dream demon’s daughter and she almost married a ghost!” Nancy blurted out.

“Nancy!” Lydia yelped in surprise. “Why did you just tell a stranger that!”

“Almost married a ghost?” Rob asked.

“He was trying to escape the afterlife. It was gross. I’d rather not say his name. Why did I just say that?” Lydia asked.

Rob simply smiled and turned toward Nancy. “A dream demon?”

“He’s really nasty and now I’m afraid I might be a demon too,” Nancy said.

“You’re not. Otherwise, you would be affected by the circle you’re sitting in and not just the truth glyphs that my uncle carved into those chairs. That’s why you spilled the beans,” he said.

“That’s a dirty trick,” Lydia said. Her eyes narrowed.

“My family has a long history of getting crossed by demons and other supernatural surprises,” He said. “If we’re going to work together then I have to know what’s up.”

“Alright,” Lydia said. “I can respect that. So what’s your deal?”

“Yeah!” Nancy said. “We spilled the beans. Your turn.”

“I hunt things that hunt humans just like my family before me,” Rob said. “I’m alone but all the stories I’ve been told say things just work out better together.”

“Together?” Nancy asked. “What do you have in mind?”

“Yeah,” Lydia said. “We’re not agreeing to just anything.”

“After we got rid of Ley together, other problems have started to pop up. There are signs of other demons. The three of us are the ones to shut them down. We have the experience and the power,” he said.

“How do you know so much about demons?” Nancy asked.

“My family studied them. Also, they fought them directly,” He said. “A lot of the ancient demons are dead thanks to my family or people like them. But demons get created every day and some of the new ones have become just as powerful as the old ones. Ley was barely anything compared to these assholes.”

“So who are we going after then?” Lydia asked. “Which nasty thing?”

“They call him Jack,” Rob said. “He’s a demon of madness which makes him a loose cannon. He’s killed a dozen before I noticed but he’ll only get worse.”

“We have to help, Lyds,” Nancy said. She turned to give Lydia her best puppy eyes.

Lydia looked back at her best friend and fellow outcast. With her oversized sweater and her innocent smile, Lydia was weak to all of that. “Fine. We should use our experiences to do good in the world. Where do we find this Jack?”

“I’ve tracked him down to a hotel,” Rob said.

Killjoy (2000)

October 4, 2017

1 hour 25 minutes – Rated R for Sexual Situations, Language, and Some Violence.

Clowns are scary. We have covered this. Again and again. But, as a kid, I was scared of anyone who covered their face. When I went to the circus, the clowns were these otherworldly characters because they completely painted their faces until they were no longer visually human. Beyond that, the bright colors and shocking white were designed to draw a person in. This was also reflected in their behavior because, more than any other performer, they craved interactivity. Every other entertainer simply performed their feat and went backstage but clowns got in the audience’s face and tried to make them laugh. Mascots at ball games and Disney World were much the same, approaching beings much smaller than them and trying to interact. I did not want to interact. I did not want to be part of the show. So from an early age, I tensed up when I saw these costumed characters and relaxed when they passed. That carried on to my present day wariness of clowns.

Full Moon Pictures may not always be scary but they are very good at utilizing things that could be considered scary. They have movies with tiny murderous things which can be very creepy. They have body horror, they have loss of self and they have things usually associated with children becoming deadly. A lot of it is done with a thick varnish of humor but, to me, that is a big part of what Halloween is about. Laughing at the darkness because it could eat us at any moment. Killjoy is no different. Combining something innocent (despite my hang-ups) like clowns with something evil like demons is a natural progression. Movies like Childs Play, Demonic Toys, Jack Frost, and Gremlins are all great examples of that combination of harmful with harmless. A high percentage of people are already afraid of clowns and dolls and these movies show how that might just save your life.

This movie does not waste any time. It gets right into introducing the characters (which is an all POC cast by the way) and what they are all about. However, it does take a while to get to the action like most horror movies. The acting is actually way better than I thought it would be. The writing is a little stilted but it is a horror movie made on the cheap by Full Moon so that is to be expected. I am here for their weird characters and their endless sequels, not their writing skills. Strangely, this one seems to have more locations and cinematography than I am used to (similar to the Evil Bong series) which surprises me because locations can be expensive. (Although, shooting on location without a permit such as on Leprechaun 3 is free). The effects are cheap CGI but, again, that’s fine because I am just in the mood for a silly horror movie.

I was wondering how Killjoy’s powers would work considering all of the vague supernatural beings that I have seen in horror movies. I thought he would be similar to characters like Freddy Krueger or Stitches and I was kind of right. Killjoy sucks people into his realm and then toys with them until he finally kills them. In this first film, he is played by a man who usually acts in Spanish language films but he definitely has a lot of fun in the movie. He shrieks with happiness and every so often he lets that demonic side of his come out in his voice without losing his enjoyment. He is a playful monster but he is indeed sadistic than Freddy, Stitches, even Pennywise. He plays with his food like a good horror villain should. He also has an awesome evil clown laugh similar to something John Leguizamo came up with in Spawn.

Overall, I really liked this movie. Sure it is nothing to write home about but I have a soft spot in my heart for the Full Moon Pictures line up that will never die. Ultimately, this is a horror movie which is about redemption and realizing the everyday things we do to hurt the people we barely even see. It is also a goofy, low gore horror movie. It was way better than I thought it was going to be considering it was made around the same time as the first Evil Bong movie. I am looking forward to watching the rest of this series sometime soon as I expect the budget and technology go up a bit as the years go by.


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