Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’

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.

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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.

Friday the 13th Part VII (1988)

October 13, 2017

88 minutes – Rated R for gory deaths, violence, brief nudity, and undead revenants

Friday the 13th has a rich tradition of fear. The first glimmer of this tradition is noting that the Last Supper was on a Friday and there were 13 people present. The actual origin of the superstition seems to be shrouded in mystery since it was far before the age of the Internet. I consider myself a man of science and not a man of faith so I do not believe in luck. I recognize that chance has something to do about it but only natural forces can affect chance. However, when I was a little kid, I believed in all sorts of things. My hands had to be above the covers and the pillow while I slept lest demons see this as some subconscious sign. I would absolutely not walk under ladders which is actually more of a good safety tip than a ward against evil. I would not pick up a penny that was tails up and stepping on cracks was off limits. I was nervous during Friday the 13th but it never amounted to anything. Still, that nervousness lasted into elementary school.

So, today is Friday the 13th which means that there was really only one series of movies that I was going to deal with today. Mommy’s favorite revenant has been a favorite of mine for a long time. The first movie centered on Mrs. Voorhees (37-year-old spoiler, sorry!), a mother still grieving for her dead son and dead set on getting blood in return for his death. Her death seemed to summon her son Jason back from the land of the dead. The early movies are good but I actually enjoy the later movies more because they get more outlandish and self-aware as they go. Also, Jason seems to grow and gain more magical powers each movie. My favorite is still Jason Takes Manhattan because it is the first quasi-confirmation of Jason’s teleporting powers as far as I know. Also, it is filled to the gills with plot holes. Ignoring or utilizing plot holes is also one of Jason’s powers (and also a weakness in Freddy vs. Jason). I once watched a string of these movies with my brother back when Blockbuster was still a thing so I thought I had seen all of them. I was wrong. After I saw gameplay footage of the new Friday the 13th game, I realized I was missing one movie right in the middle of the franchise. This cannot stand.

The acting was actually pretty good as Friday the 13th movies go. The teenagers act like typical teenagers and the adults are generally confused. The main actress was played by Lar Park-Lincoln and while she was 26 at the time instead of eighteen, she does a really good job of playing an emotional teenager. The other teens are appropriately catty and/or clueless. This is the first movie where Jason is played by the now legendary Kane Hodder. He is the man who played Jason for a record four movies including the movie where Jason goes into outer space. Unfortunately, he was tagged out when it came time to fight Freddy Krueger. Hodder has really imposing body language which is important for a character who is one hundred percent silent. He moves and kills with purpose but also the complete apathy of an act of nature. There is a reason they asked him to stick around so long and this is his first time out and it is really good.

This movie tackles more of the lore of Jason. Originally, this movie was supposed to be the original slot for the showdown between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Unfortunately, New Line Cinema and Paramount Studios could not come to a deal and they had to scramble to do something else with Jason. Their options were open but they were really enamored with the thought of Jason facing off against somebody. Freddy had just faced off against the Dream Warriors and the movie version of Firestarter was only four years prior. Having Jason face off against somebody with psychic powers was kind of a no-brainer. Psychic powers have kind of been a timeless feature in genre films since they first emerged. For example, this movie was released twelve years after Carrie and the same year that Akira came out. The psychic abilities also allow the viewer to see some of the kills twice for added impact. It also puts to the test the idea of Jason as an unstoppable killing machine.

Overall, I really liked this movie. Sure, it feels like when they wrote the teenage characters that they had a checklist of cliques that they were trying to check off. Yes, the movie felt heavily edited (and I checked, it really is) and it feels a little less gory than previous and later installments. However, a good Jason film goes beyond all of that. It is supposed to be kind of silly. It is supposed to be suspenseful until an undead embodiment of death attacks out of nowhere. In that respect, it succeeds.

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.

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

October 6, 2017


1 hour 53 minutes – Rated PG-13 for gore, violence, and some insinuated sexual situations

Tomorrow is a day that will live in infamy. On October 7th, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances. He was found in a terrible state and managed to utter “Lord help my poor soul” before he died although it is hard to substantiate that claim. He also reportedly called out the name “Reynolds” the night before his death but nobody knows who that is. His death certificate and medical records disappeared and so nobody could confirm what he actually died of. It is widely accepted that he was an alcoholic and that is often chosen as the direct or indirect cause of death. We do know that the death of his wife hurt him deeply and definitely unbalanced his life combined with his career in writing for journals causing him to have to move around a lot. Regardless, 168 years ago tomorrow he died and was buried in my hometown of Baltimore. The so-called Father of the Mystery Story had left behind two mysteries. One, the exact cause of his death and the other was a Baltimore urban legend. The Poe Toaster is an unidentified man who deposited a bottle of cognac, roses, and sometimes a note on Poe’s grave on Poe’s birthday. To this day, his identity remains a secret but it is theorized that since the tradition continued at least 60 years that it may have been a family tradition. It was a fitting triubte to a man who poured so much horror and mystery onto the page.

If doctors and normal hospitals are scary, then an asylum for the insane or mentally unbalanced is even scarier to me. When I was growing up, we were jokingly told to be good or we would end up in Shepard Pratt. Sheppard Pratt is a mental facility situated in Baltimore County and it has been there throughout my life. It is a modern center of mental health and nowhere near the frightening place that I imagined when I was a kid. Still, it is a facility full of people who are mentally unhealthy enough that they must be kept in a facility to cater to their needs. There should be no stigma for these people but the reality is that these people can be unpredictable. Walking amongst those patients, I would know that they are at least a little more volatile than I am. Dealing with that is scary to me. Beyond feeling less than safe, I would feel alone as I would not know whose mind I could trust beyond the staff. That is a modern facility, the asylums of Poe’s day were far less regulated and were unenlightened on how to treat these people. It was probably far more dangerous to work there.

Right away I really liked the acting. Every line is instilled with a little bit of tension so that even seemingly innocuous things seem scarier. This actually put me off my guard because I had no idea when the actual scares would be coming. This is much more effective than hitting the viewer with random jump scares and musical stings to cause unease. Actual tension is kind of a lot art these days and it was refreshing to get something with traditional horror rather than repeated frightenings. Most of the actors are people I am unfamiliar with but they all have such pleasant accents for an American-made horror film. The core of the movie is held by the legendary Ben Kingsley, legendary English actor and a very charismatic personality. Our protagonist is played by Jim Sturgess and he is likable and a great proxy for the audience. Finally, we have Michael Caine, David Thewlis, and Kate Beckinsale playing major roles.

The movie is an unreliable narrative in the style of similar books and films like Quills and Shutter Island. This is par for the course when you are dealing with insane asylums in fiction. As the movie says, you must not believe anything you hear and only about half of what you see. I will not spoil the secret of the movie but, as with a lot of great horror movies, there is a secret to the movie. It is a middle of the road mystery with some clever surprises. The lighting and the sets are great for a period piee set in one of the worst periods for medicine, a time when we knew just enough to be dangerous. The costumes seem to be impeccably researched as I did not see anything anachronistic.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good creepy, period drama. While it is no great horror movie, it definitely helps to set the mood as we get deeper into Halloween. It is also a nice break from the two previous supernatural tales to see instead a tale of man’s inhumanity toward man. There are a lot of gray areas in this movie and that makes it all the creepier. I was looking for someting to honor Baltimore’s Edgar Allen Poe and this was the best adaptation I have seen so far. It adapted the The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether short story which is more dark comedy than this was. This had a few comedy moments but it was mostly drama and horror. I recommend it.

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.

Hobgoblins 2 (2009)

October 2, 2017

1 hour 32 minutes – Unrated (But I’ll give it a PG-13) for puppet on human violence, language, and things you might not want to explain to little kids

Hobgoblins was never a modern cinema classic. The only time that I have seen it was in the 9th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where Mike and the bots thankfully riffed it as it went on. Since that happened, making fun of bad movies has become more and more popular. However, these days it feels like it has become a little harder. Bad movies like the Sharknado series fully realize how bad they are so they spend the movie being ridiculous and winking at the audience. This is the old defense to bullying from grade school. If you act like the criticism does not bother you, then the bullies will eventually give up. It is hard to make fun of something when it actively shows that it does not care what you think. It already got your money. This is similar to higher budget movies like the Transformers series of movies. Screw you, I got mine.

Beneath the terrible acting, writing, and budget, Hobgoblins actually scared me a bit. It focuses on beings that can make you lose yourself by invading your mind with fantasies. The teenagers involved become different people under the power of the Hobgoblins. I have spoken a little about that previously but loss of self is one of the things that scares me the most. I may not love everything about myself but each part of me is the result of how I chose to respond to the world. It was my choice. Having those choices and potentially my memories of those choices taken away is a terrifying thought. I would feel my ‘correct’ thoughts slip through my fingers one by one only to replaced with foreign, alien thoughts against my will. I love growing and changing but I like that it is my choice.

First, the movie goes very low budget on everything. The acting talent is commercial quality, the locations look like they were filming while nobody was looking and the film quality looks like it was filmed on somebody else’s semi-expired film. Of course, it is hard to tell how much of this is on purpose or not. The first film was so poorly done that it feels like they leaned into it this time and tried to go the Troll 2 route. In fact, doing a little research, the movie was shot on old school 35 mm. Also, everyone seems to be as dumb as a box of rocks on purpose so the poor acting actually works. They reused the hobgoblin puppets from the first film and they are just as ridiculous and awesome as I remembered. They saved a lot of money on this movie probably because they had to because I am one of the few people who actually bought this on DVD or watched it at all.

The story here is that the titular hobgoblins, a psychic race similar to gremlins, are back after surviving the first film. They use their mind powers to ambush their targets with fear instead of bringing out deep fantasies as they did in the first film. The movie is kind of a self-aware retread of the original movie. It is kind of a combination of Sharknado with Troll 2 in that way. They hired lookalike actors from the original to play the same characters. Somehow, the original characters both do and do not remember the events of the first film. There are sly references to the original and plenty of acknowledgments that the first film was pretty awful and boring. This includes references to the MST3K episode on the original movie.

Overall, this was way more fun than I thought it would be. I am glad that the original director was forced to wait for 21 years to make the sequel. If Rick Sloane had written and directed the sequel in 1990 as planned, he would not have seen the MST3K episode. Although he submitted the original to MST3K for mocking, he probably did not realize just how dumb the original was. These days, there is a market for self-aware, purposefully bad movies. I would liken this movie to Troll 2, the recent Plan 9 remake, Sharknado, and a lot of other low-budget horror movies. It is a movie that took a little while to settle into but once I did, I found it pleasant to yell at the stupid characters. I definitely recommend it especially if you are a long time fan of MST3K. Watch the episode here and decide for yourself.

Unbreakable

April 25, 2017

I have always liked superheroes ever since I discovered the joys of comic books. Back in the day (middle school mostly), I would save up my allowance and I would walk over two miles to the comic book store. I was proud of that. I still am. It made getting them back home all the sweeter, reading my comics after a quick shower to wash off all that good exercise. I used to spend my walk there and back thinking about the adventures I was about to read. I used to think about what it would be like to have superpowers. What if instead of walking, I was flying over the northern parts of Baltimore City. I thought about how much time I would save if I had super speed. Unfortunately, there were only tall buildings for part of the trip so I could not swing around like Spider-man or Batman.

I remember going to watch The Sixth Sense. This was the first movie from a relatively unknown director named M. Night Shyamalan and I was interested in seeing a cool ghost story. I was in high school by then and I was totally into horror movies by then not only as part of Halloween but as a 365/24/7 kind of deal. This was before we knew about Mr. Shyamalan’s penchant for twists at the end of the movies he writes and directs. Thankfully, the well-known twist from The Sixth Sense had not been spoiled for me so I enjoyed something that in retrospect was a little pointless and anti-climactic. Still, the journey was an interesting one and the movie was seen for a long time as the one good Shyamalan movie but there was another that I have not seen to this day. That is why we are looking at the superpowered tale of Unbreakable.

The movie starts off slow and quiet and the movie actually continues to be pretty slow and quiet throughout. Bruce Willis is the lead once again in this one but he plays a more blue-collar character. I am used to seeing him as brash and mouthy but he was quiet and unassuming. This kind of matches the other major character played with Samuel Jackson who is usually loud and intense but he is also subdued. It gives the movie an offbeat sort of feeling. We get a lot of slice of life of Bruce Willis’ character and everybody is pretty quiet. That was really unsettling the more I think about it.

This movie was a comic book movie in the truest sense of those words. In fact, it might be the purest comic book movie we have had yet. The plot is a superhero origin story but it is largely driven by actual comic books. If superpowers actually appeared in our world, we would probably pay a lot more attention to comic books. A lot of the concepts and language are derived from or are in purposeful conflict with comic books. For a guy who grew up with comic books and still reads them, that is a pretty cool concept. However, the movie lacks a lot of the excitement and charm that most superhero books that I like have. While Bruce Willis’ character is likable and relatable, I just did not really want to hang out with him. He was too sad.

Overall, I really liked the concept of the movie but I did not really appreciate the execution. They started with a good idea but Shyamalan just cannot write normal dialogue. Everybody sounds like aliens trying to act like humans. The life and energy of usually talented or charismatic actors are sucked out and we are left with a passable performance. I guess I do not regret watching this movie but I could not in good faith recommend it to people. I just feel really blah about it. I think I am officially closing the book on M. Night Shyamalan. He just does not do it for me.


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