Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’


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.

Ocean’s Thirteen

April 18, 2017

I am not much of a gambler but there are not so many obvious reasons for that. I was raised as a Methodist by a family that came from the South. The extreme wings of the Church in the American south have always frowned on the gambling industry (and really any kind of fun). The churches we attended never gave sermons on gambling. Really, how can games of chance be thought of as sinful? Instead, I just thought gambling for money was dumb. There is a phrase that always holds true “The House Always Wins”. I have studied enough probability and statistics to know how unlikely it is to win. Everything is not in your favor and the risk/reward calculation will almost never come out right. So, when I was growing up I steadfastly refused to gamble for money. I was kind of a dick about it.

Lately, I have changed my mind about things a bit. While I still think that ambling into a casino and dropping big money or spending your paycheck on the library is ridiculous, I can see the fun in a little gambling. In past years, I have gone to the racetrack at Charlestown to watch the horses run and have dinner with family. That is when I got started on making a few dollar bets on races. Of course, you would think that an educated person would carefully pick the right horse and the right races to get the most out of a bet. Not so. I am a sucker for a horse with an interesting name. Since I am only betting one dollar, I find myself thinking less about numbers and more about the experience. A goofy name with bad odds wins me over every time. I would be embarrassed if it was less fun.

The Ocean’s Eleven series of movies are a throwback to the original movie and the unwritten codes that casino operators had to follow and keep in business. While I have never been to Las Vegas, I always like that old Frank Sinatra feeling of respect and honor. Casinos may have been run by criminals back then (or not what do I know?) but they were run under a code of proper conduct. The large cast of these movies makes a point of mixing older actors and younger actors to drive home the idea of respecting tradition. The bad guys do not respect it while the good guys do. Of course, traditions are only worth following if they are good ones and the movies drive that point home too.

The cast, as I said, is huge. This is the second movie I have reviewed this month starring George Clooney who is always super charming. I love the familiarity he now has with Brad Pitt and Matt Damon’s characters forming a core of characters who talk to each other like friends do. They bust each other’s chops and know each other’s minds. You can look up the whole list of awesome character actors on your own but once again this movie had a super impressive cast. This time, the guys are up against Al Pacino who is putting in a good performance. Recently he has been doing cartoony roles in Adam Sandler movies so it was nice to see him return to form.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It was a cool little popcorn movie to watch on a lazy afternoon as I put up my feet and relaxed. The values of honor, trust, and standing up for your friends are good messages to put out there even if the main characters are criminals. The world is full of shades of gray and I will always favor the lesser evil over the greater evil. Besides, the heroes never enrich themselves unjustly and there is a Robin Hood mentality. The bad guy falls because he bets against them and that is when the house finally loses.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

April 8, 2017

I guess I have the same interesting relationship a lot of people have with firearms. I am a strong proponent of gun control because I believe that guns have never really done anything good. They can only accomplish something less bad because, with a gun,  somebody is eventually getting shot. People getting shot is kind of a bad outcome. I would like to live in a world where fewer people get shot or even none if we can swing it. But I understand that in fiction, guns are cool. All of the cool action heroes use guns at some point or another because the bad guys give them no choice. Of course, in the world of fiction, they rarely have ricochets or bullets missing their target and hitting an innocent person. I love westerns, action movies, and anime with guns. On another part of this blog, you can even read my ongoing series Redcross which features a fictional Arizona sheriff who wields her father’s gun.

I grew up in the city and went to a private school so most guns I saw were in fiction or were talked about on the news. My first actual experience with guns was when I went off to Camp Shohola up in Greeley, Pennsylvania. I regularly signed up for riflery class for several years while I was in camp. It was technically a sport but it was definitely for kids who did not actually want to do sports. We would fire rifles at a range from our bellies and shoot paper targets. Having that much force in my hands and breathing in all of that gun smoke was kind of exciting. My next experience with guns was when my uncle brought me to a SWAT team gun range and let me fire a SWAT service rifle which fired three bullets for each squeeze of the trigger. Other than paintball, my only other experience with guns was going to a gun range down in Florida where I fired actual guns. It was actually kind of scary.

The gunfight that actually happened at the OK Corral is one of the most famous that ever happened. So many movies have been made about the incident, so why did I pick this one? Well, it started with a G but more importantly, it was on my list of 1001 Movies To See Before You Die list that I have been consulting for ideas of what to watch. This is a classic and I felt it was important to see how this was done in the period when most of my favorite westerns were made. The actual famous gunfight only took 30 seconds from start to finish and three men lay dead at the end of it. The key figures involved were outlaw Doc Holliday and lawman Wyatt Earp. This happened in the infamous Tombstone, Arizona. Of course, I have visited Tombstone and Old Tuscon (a theme park and movie studio) where much of the film was shot. This film covers the two years before the famous gunfight.

Wyatt Earp is played by Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster. At this point in his life, he has been a lawman for twenty-five years. He is a little tired but he is a man who believes in justice and defending the people of the frontier. He always speaks in an even tone and his gaze is hard and serious. Doc Holliday is played by legendary action star Kirk Douglas. He is an old and sick but still debonair criminal who has pissed off seemingly every other criminal in the old west. He oozes charm and is getting tired of being a trouble magnet and having to protect himself from both the law and the other criminals. The two of them strike up an unlikely partnership out of necessity. Along the way, we also meet characters played by DeForest Kelley, Dennis Hopper and a whole host of western character actors. Everybody does a great job in a melodramatic sort of way and really brings the characters to life.

Overall, I really liked this movie. Since it takes period over a year in various towns in the west, it gets time to breathe. We get to know the characters and we get to see the development of the begrudging partnership and unlikely friendship between two men who should hate each other. The score is very middle of the road classical music (nothing like later Morricone stuff) but it suits the movie just fine. There is also some narration through song that actually works. The camera work is mostly nothing fancy but some of the shots are really masterful which makes the little touches all the more important. Some of the romance subplot feels unnecessary but it makes for some calmer story beats to rest the characters.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

April 7, 2017

I have always loved a good story. When I was little, there are two sets of stories that I remember best. The first was reading from a Disney storybook with my mom and once I knew how to read, I read for my brothers with my mom’s supervision. Undoubtedly, that is when and where I became a Disney nerd. The other stories were the ones my uncle made up when I was staying with him and my cousin. That was probably one of the many events that incited my passion for writing. When I was a little older, I discovered Roald Dahl. By the end of third grade, I had read every single Roald Dahl book. This had a bit of a different effect on me.

Roald Dahl sold books on the Brothers Grimm model of storytelling. He was not afraid to go dark because his childhood was dark. Just go and read his autobiographies and that is clear. He lived through World War I era England but that is not all. He also pretty much encountered all of the nasty characters from his books and short stories suffering through the British school system. His childhood was brutish and a struggle but he made it through to write about it happening to other people. The mix of that darkness and adventure made me less afraid of the lesser obstacles in my childhood. It also allowed me to embrace that darkness and contributed to me loving Halloween as much as I do.

I have said it before and I am sure many people would agree that Wes Anderson movies are strange. I think Wes Anderson delights in being weird and that is kind of one of the points of this movie. The animation is kind of difficult to adjust to. Anderson purposely had it filmed at a lower frame rate in order to clearly point out that it is stop-motion animation. It makes some of the movements a little jerky. He also used real fur for the animal puppets which makes the fur sort of squirms around especially on the faces. But, much like Team America: World Police, the characters inhabit those awkward puppets through the magic of both puppetry and animation. It helps that Anderson has always known how to frame his storytelling. Every shot is beautiful.

The story is kind of in two parts that are blended together really well. The original story was about a fox trying to feed his family but the farmers he steals from try to hunt him down. They go to outrageous lengths to try to kill the fox and his family and the community suffers. The foxes eventually outsmart the farmers and learn to survive. It was a tale about a father (who Dahl identified with) trying to protect his family and getting through the hard times as a result. That story is still there in this movie. In addition, there is another half of the story which is very Wes Anderson. It is about a dysfunctional family and community and learning to live not only with other people but yourself too. It is delightfully weird and quirky. It is helped along by brilliant voice acting from a lot of great people but especially George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman and Eric Anderson.

Overall, this was a really great movie. I was not sure how it would be considering some Roald Dahl adaptations are not very good. This one ended up more like Matilda and Willy Wonka than James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I really should not have doubted it as Wes Anderson is a great artist and he had a good backbone of a story to work with in the first place. Also, the animation was done by Henry Selick who directed Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas which are two of my favorite animated films of all time. I definitely recommend this. It takes a bit of effort to get past the weirdness but what lies beyond is both touching and funny.

It’s a Wonderful Life

December 26, 2016

A year and a half ago I started a project on this blog called Media Update that was meant to be an outlet for me to blabber about things I like. As it continued, I started a self-imposed rule that every week I must watch three new things and write about them. This has caused me to watch a lot of things I would have dismissed or just go back to binge watching shows and movies that I have already seen. Lately, I have been inspired by Tamara ChambersTamara’s Never Seen show to go back and watch movies that practically everybody has seen but I missed. Some of those movies have been parodied and referenced so much that I feel that I have seen them but I never sat down and watched them. This movie is one of those movies. I have seen Clarence and George on the bridge done in parody so many times that I had to actually try and remember whether or not I had seen this movie. When I mentioned it offhand, my mom pounced on it and asked that we watch it. Initially, I wanted the streak to continue but that is a foolish and weird reason not to watch something.

I started watching The Twilight Zone when I was a teen when I caught late night episodes and holiday marathons. The combination of the simple life of the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties and the supernatural was an interesting one for me. Most episodes are about somebody’s life going crazy and how they deal with the supernatural or extraterrestrial influence. This movie very much has the feel of a solid Twilight Zone episode. The movie is in black and white and done in a very theater-like style. It also has the combination of the normal life and intervention from a supernatural force. Without the supernatural aspect, the movie would probably have been a little more run of the mill and the movie may have never become a holiday classic. I could not dismiss the feeling as I watched the movie and I had to make reference to that comparison as it is inescapable.

The first part of the movie deals with a trip through George Bailey’s life so that we can see what kind of man he is and what kinds of choices he makes. Jimmy Stewart, often parodied but never truly imitated, was a really solid actor. He has a great earnest quality to him but his character is just as much at ease with joking around. He gets emotional as he fights for his family and friends and what he believes is right. We also see Donna Reed as Mary. Rather than just being a side piece to the hero, she is a great person on her own. She is far funnier than Stewart (which is saying a lot) and is extremely smart. Her character is shown to have a very rich imagination but is also grounded enough to make her dreams come true. We also have the legendary Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter who uses his experience playing Ebenezer Scrooge in radio plays. He is a man hard as iron and sneaky as a deadly spider. There is a whole cast of bit players who do a ton with short scenes and fewer lines.

The last part of the movie is when the Twilight Zone aspect kicks in. We get to see an alternate reality where an important man is absent from history and we see the damage that causes to the timeline. It is interesting to see the butterfly effect and how one life can affect so many. Of course, we see all of George’s actions earlier in the movie so we can easily see their absence. George is one of those guys who actually would be missed and I am a little envious of that. He sacrificed himself over and over for the benefit of his friends and family and the town he loves. Obviously, he wonders where other paths would have led to and that causes a restlessness. In his darkest hour, that restlessness rises again and he wishes everything away. It is a totally understandable feeling. The alternate timeline is really well done and fits together pretty well with lines and events from earlier in the movie.

Overall, I thought it was a really good movie. It is very interesting and the acting and direction were some of the best I have seen from an older movie. Frank Capra knows how to make a small town seem inviting and familiar. Jimmy Stewart was freshly home from the war and his emotions are very raw in the movie and, I am told, his tears are real in the movie. The writing is intricate enough to fit together like a puzzle but simple enough to understand without too much thought. Of course, I do not really think of this movie as a Christmas movie. That holiday does not show up until a little more than thirty minutes before the end of the movie and it is not the central theme of the movie. But it is still a pleasant movie that I recommend.

Fright Night 2 (1988)

October 31, 2016

For a couple of years running, I have participated in a good friend’s family tradition. Three years in a row, I have watched the original Fright Night at their house. The movie is cheesy as heck but it really is a near perfect, extremely nostalgic horror movie. It pays tribute to the time-honored tradition of horror hosts. It also gave us another reason to love to hate Chris “Prince Humperdinck” Sarandon. It had every box checked off on the checklist of Eighties horror adventure movies. It is a close cousin to The Monster Squad but is a little more adult. I have the advantage of seeing the movie a few times but I have yet to see the sequel. I have seen the remake (but also not the sequel to the remake). I suppose it is time to fix that.

They say there is bliss in ignorance and while this may be true, there is also safety in ignorance. If you do not know about the monsters then you have no inclination to get between them and their prey. More importantly, if you know about the monsters, then they probably know about you. This is not good for your long-term health and happiness. It is better not to know but when you know, there is a moral duty to act. Those who stand idly by and let the monsters have their meal are doomed to regret it for the rest of their life. The rest of their life is probably going to be short because they are probably the next meal. However, when there is a moral duty to act against supernatural creatures, you are going to have a bad time. So let us talk about Peter and Charley’s bad time.

The movie starts approximately three years after the events of Fright Night. Obviously, nobody believed Peter Vincent or Charley Brewster about the incidents surrounding Jerry Dandridge. Supposedly, Amy is languishing in some insane asylum somewhere. We are deep in the Eighties still and deep in time of horror hosts and strange fashions. I really like the setup for this movie because it deals with what happens after the hero’s big epic adventure. It also doubles down on the original movie’s premise which every good sequel does. Brad Fiedel is the composer of all of the incidental music and the score and he did a great job. His iconic synth and guitar riffs are so memorable just like in the first film. Once again the makeup and practical effects are great in the tradition of the first movie and other iconic Eighties horror movies. The lighting and set decoration are on point again as well. It did feel like there was a little too much dry ice in this one which is saying a lot considering the original.

William Ragdale plays Charley again and he is once again both relatable and kind of a dick. He is your typical teenage boy who is a little too much in his own head and up his own ass but now he also has trauma from vampires. Peter Vincent is still the foremost member of his own fan club. Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent was kind of the heart and soul of the first movie along with Chris Sarandon so it was great to see him return. In the end, there should have been more Peter and less Charley in this movie. Tracy Lind plays Alex who is a much more proactive female lead whereas Amy spent a lot of time just whining. The new vampires are intriguing and definitely as Eighties as Jerry Dandridge was. Julie Carmen as Regine is particularly charming and fun. I also have to give a shout out to the unique look and understated acting of Brian Thompson as Bozworth as well.

Overall, it was a pretty good sequel of a movie that is very iconic in my mind. It is not as well-paced as the original but that was a hard act to follow. This movie walks some of the same paths that the original movie but it also explores some new territory as well. We see the vampires pulling a lot of new tricks but also a lot of Jerry’s tricks as well. It also includes the unforgettable vampire bowling scene. There was one particular plot point that impressed me heartily but I cannot spoil it for you. It was a good attempt but it was probably a good thing that this movie ended the franchise (until the remakes). This one would be interesting to fans of the original but that morbid curiosity does not extend to people who did not see the original. For that reason, I cannot recommend it although I did enjoy it.

The Hunger (1983)

October 31, 2016

We lost David Bowie this year. Bowie was a magical, mystical being of light, shadow and music even without being on film. Putting him in movies as a natural move that, among other things, gave us the Goblin King who was the anti-hero of The Labyrinth. He released an album the day after he died. He was obviously a well-loved demigod and, like many other people, I wanted to pay tribute to him. Now, when the wound is no longer fresh, I wanted to watch one of his most famous horror roles. I think we all kind of thought that David Bowie was an immortal beauty anyway. Besides, this is another movie that it is probably hard to believe I have not seen. The Hunger is a cult film although some of its stars are not too keen on it. Even David Bowie loves it but thinks it might be too bloody.

David Bowie’s contemporary and collaborator Freddie Mercury once sang “Who wants to live forever?” Of course, most of us would raise our hand before we hear the rest of the deal out. Eternal life is attractive when we all fear death but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Vampirism often comes with a dramatic loss of quality of life. When you have to hunt for sentient beings in order to obtain your next meal, your social standing and sanity come into question. There is also a burden of secrecy along with that eternal life. Also, there is no promise of a good and happy eternal life. It is definitely a deal that would give me pause but it is hard to accept.

This movie was immediately more punk rock and new wave than pretty much anything I reviewed this month. I mean we start with the song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as sung by Bauhaus in the middle of a club atmosphere. There are plenty of sunglasses and spiky hair and I dig it. This is a sexier vampire movie but is way trippier than most stuff I have seen. The beginning felt kind of like a music video but it definitely set the tone for what I was about to see. There are a lot of fast edits and artsy shots used in the film that ends up being very disorienting which is not a bad thing for a horror film. They definitely knew how to set a tone in this movie. I guess if I had to apply a label to this movie it would probably be New Wave Goth.

Bowie is on point in this movie. He is great as a brooding vampire which is not far from what we all thought he might be. Bowie is just an impossibly charming performer who had an iconic look and it is impossible to look at anybody else when he is on the screen. Catherine Deneuve plays Bowie’s vampire paramour but she is actually more of a main character than he is. She is stunningly beautiful and she has such an alluring voice to go with some amazing eyes. I certainly believed that she was a powerful, ageless vampire. They both also really successfully portray how bored vampires must be after centuries of life. Susan Sarandon plays a human doctor who gets wrapped up in a relationship with both vampires. She plays her part straight and is actually the most fascinating character to me because she is the outsider among outsiders.

Overall this is a really weird vampire movie. Most vampire movies follow a victim trying to protect themselves from a vampire attack but this movie is different. This follows the lives of the vampires just as much and maybe more than the humans. It is definitely intended as a more erotic film but most of that is more implied than explicitly shown. The camera lovingly lingers on details in a very beautiful yet creepy way. The makeup effects are very well done and they use a very Jaws method of hiding the monster when it comes to vampires in this movie. I also have to applaud the LGBTQ and addiction issues brought up in the movie as well. It is definitely something different from a lot of what I watch but I still recommend it because it is so different.

Night Watch (2004)

October 31, 2016

The Other can be a frightening concept. As I have discussed before, The Other is anything that is not us. In this movie, “The Other” is anything beyond our normal natural world. This is even more frightening because it comes from a world of secrets and the unknown. Generally, ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds violence and hate. Not knowing what was out in the darkness and why bad things happened gave birth to folktales and religion. Both have their bogeymen who we are told we should fear and perform rituals to protect ourselves from what goes bump in the night. We also are told often to embrace a duality and are told that picking a side will protect us and empower us. However, in the old tales often neither side was really the good guys. If you look at most material covering faeries, both courts are to be marveled at but also feared. Looking at things as Light and Dark without seeing the Gray is dangerous. However, the great thing about fiction is that they can often simplify things so that evil is evil and good is good.

I have been thinking about what makes a monster in these tales of supernatural horror. Do we do bad things because we are a monster or are we a monster because we do bad things? Freddy Krueger was a horrible human being even before he became a dream demon. However, in the Buffyverse, the very act of becoming a vampire removes the soul and usually turns a person evil. Our justice system says that we are innocent until proven guilty. Religion says that it is our actions that define us and not our thoughts. So if you are a vampire who refuses to feed on humans, are you a monster? I think not. However, just watching and experiencing the misdeeds of others can be enough to darken the soul. Police officers and military are often as irreparably changed as gang members and other violent criminals. Hunting vampires can be almost as troubling as being one.

We have yet another foreign horror movie which makes it the sixth of sixteen reviews this year. This one is Russian and might just be the first pure Russian movie I have watched outside of a certain Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Yet again, this means that I have no preconceived notions about any of the actors in this movie. The movie stars Konstantin Khabensky as Anton, a man who basically tracks monster criminals on behalf of the Light side. I like how Anton is not perfect and his journey on behalf of the Light is plagued by the temptation of evil. He is a great example of the reluctant hero. I like to think that even when pressed, we are all the reluctant hero. Nobody gets supernatural abilities and suddenly leaps up excited to risk their life. Anton and everybody he meets is  hardened by life outside the norm where things are more dangerous.

I really liked the visuals in this movie. Everything is bleak from the very beginning of the movie. The world is full of shadows and muted colors and light is almost a godsend. Even in sunlight, everything is just dark and dangerous looking. It makes light and splashes of color a very welcome contrast. I really love the digital effects of the supernatural world. I especially loved how various vampiric powers and abilities are depicted. For example, vampiric vision makes everything but the veins of a human body invisible, making it easier to feed. There is also some great drawn animation which makes some of the exposition easier to get through. The editing is smooth and keeps the movie clipping along at a pretty good pace. The action is easy to understand and the subtitles made the Russian language clear.

Overall this is a pretty good horror adventure movie. The depiction of the supernatural world just beyond our natural one is one of the most interesting examples I have seen in pop culture. The movie was the top grossing film in Russian history when it was released but the record has since been topped. It is also one of the first Russian blockbusters after the fall of Soviet cinema and is therefore automatically a success. The movie has some great ideas but I would say its only sin is that it is too long. It incorporates two plots that do not ever fully connect. However, I feel like the world building and character work mostly make up for this. I would recommend watching this movie because it is so different in how it depicts the creepier side of things.

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

October 28, 2016

I vividly remember when I saw Phantasm II. I used to hang out with a theater group called Mobtown Players (they still exist). On my birthday, they were going to take me to Bengies Drive-in Theater to see something but it was closed. As we have discussed, my birthday is in December when a lot of fun things are closed either for it being cold or because it is close to the holidays. As a plan B, we went to the now defunct Blockbuster Video and it was suggested we get Phantasm II. I was dubious because I had not heard of the franchise but I relented because I trusted my friends. So, I sat down with a bunch of people twice my age to watch a horror movie I had never heard of. I had also not seen the first movie and I still have not. I was thoroughly creeped out and spooked and thankful for a good birthday suggestion. In the tradition of watching these movies out of order, let us watch the last one now. (By ‘us’ I mean me and maybe you later after you have read this paragraph)

The series has a lot to do with funeral homes and dealing with the dead. The main villain is early on posing as a funeral director after all. Funeral homes scare the crap out of me. They represent real death to me instead of Halloween or Hollywood death. Real death is maddeningly scary. The final curtain and its reminders are something that nobody really wants to think about for long. Funeral homes are quiet and funeral home directors are suspect. I am sure that most of them are fine human beings but they deal with the dead all the time and I feel like I do not want to know them. Dead bodies are creepy too. The fact that we dress them up and put makeup on them is kind of weird when you think about it too much. I can deal with a funeral but a wake fills me with despair and fear though obviously, I can deal with it if I need to. It is that fear that we push through because we are there to honor our fallen loved ones and continue the mourning process. We deal with death because it is an inevitable end to every life. We fear it because it is easier than being sad about it, I guess.

The tone of the movie is set instantly in the very first scene of the movie. This is an action horror franchise. This movie is not about people getting stalked by the things that bump in the night but is instead about a war against the supernatural. For people who have not seen the other movies or people who have not seen them in a while, there is a brief recap Army of Darkness style. This is handy since I am kind of in both categories. The film is shot excellently and might just have the best cinematography of the month. At least, I really got excited about the lighting design in particular. The movie’s hero is Reggie who has been a main character since the first movie. That first movie was 37 years ago so Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister) has some years on him. He is an everyman hero and is less than smooth and more than personable. I instantly liked the guy again, kind of like every time I see Ash Williams or John McClane. His journey in this movie is not what I expected and deals a lot with what an aging hero might deal with and the problems associated with people of an older persuasion. Though, the series has had some dalliances with the “just a dream” trope before.

Of course, the main focus of the franchise has always been The Tall Man, the silver spheres and the Lurkers. The spheres are about 4 inches in diameter and look like polished stainless steel. They look harmless but quickly prove that they are anything but. I have had nightmares about those little silver spheres. The Lurkers are human beings compressed into vicious dwarf-like creatures. The main villain of the series is The Tall Man who is played by Angus Scrimm. Mr. Scrimm died this year after being in a lot of horror movies but The Tall Man was his most iconic role. He is grim looking and his lightly accented voice sounds like both death and evil. Scrimm is used excellently near the end of his life. The years had taken their toll and he looked even more like a weird corpse than ever before. This is his swan song and it shows in his performance, Reggie’s performance and the plot of the movie. We finally get a bit more of the mythos behind the weird dimensional powers that The Tall Man controls. We also get some interesting time travel motifs as well which fits with the general feel I remember.

Overall, this is a great finale for a horror franchise that has quietly plodded on since 1979. Horror movies have very particular fans and if the movie does not remain in theaters then the mainstream forgets it immediately. Loving horror (or any fandom) is kind of like living in an alternate dimension very close to the mainstream one. There are a lot of franchises that are a big deal but nobody you talk to on the street knows about them. You probably should not be talking to people on the street anyway. I recommend it but you should probably watch the first four movies to get the full effect.

The Houses October Built (2014)

October 26, 2016

I picked this movie at random from the Netflix library which is a tactic that has worked before. That tactic makes it so I have little idea what to expect. This movie is produced by Zack Andrews and Steven Schneider who produced Paranormal Activity, The Devil Inside and The Visit. It should not be a surprise that this film is a found footage movie. I am not a fan of found footage movies which is most often used in the horror genre. You may have noticed that I have not talked much about found footage on this blog before and that is because I usually do not seek them out. Still, I know that the sub-genre is successful so I did not want to dismiss it outright. Found footage (in a first-person viewpoint) works in horror movies much like a haunted house works. Your viewpoint is guided toward specific scares as things jump into your field of vision. It can also be very frightening to feel like you are in the action but cannot control yourself.

I have been fascinated with haunted houses since I first went through one. The first haunted house I ever went through was set up at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roland Park in Baltimore. There were shadows, dry ice, strobe lights and a ton of jump scares that made me pray for the exit. It would probably seem kind of tame now but it rattled me hard while I was still in elementary school. That seed of interest was planted but it would not really grow until I was a bit braver. My interest in haunted houses mirrored my interest in live theater and theme park attractions. All three of those things are about establishing a story and a mood. You are basically crafting and controlling somebody’s experience without literally pushing them along. I love looking at the costumes and reading narratives from haunted houses and especially the ones that are too far for me to visit. I also love to see how the effects are done.

We start with a lot of probably real interviews and promotional footage concerning fans of haunted houses and workers at haunted houses. These are intercut through a lot of the movie. People get to explain in their own words why they love haunted houses and Halloween in general. It is edited together in a half documentary, half stock footage kind of way. I can definitely agree with this, setting up the premise of the movie. This movie is about how the love of a good scare can go wrong. We never tire of hearing those kinds of stories of people who found the limit of what they love and things go badly. The interviews and news stories do a good job of setting up a foreboding mood. I am not sure how much of it was real and how much of it was produced but it does a good job. The segment also introduces us to what we will be getting for the rest of the movie with the digital effects. There is static, focusing and color adjustment effects applied to the film to mimic what you might see with a camcorder. It is a little bit hokey but it does kind of jangle at my nerves and makes me a little more susceptible to scares.

I did not recognize anyone from the cast in this movie which, as I have stated before, can definitely be a good thing. I could definitely tell that these people are friends even if they are a little bit too bro-esque for my tastes. The acting is pretty good as they are going for realistic reactions and a lot of the time I think the actors had no idea what was going to happen next. Unlike a lot of horror movies that I have seen, there is little internal logic that governs what the scares will be. I guess that makes the movie built like a haunted house in that they try to frighten and surprise you just as much as actually scare you. I am going to do another clown warning here, by the way. I cannot escape clowns this Halloween and I think I might just have to hit the clown stuff even harder next year. It creeps me out. There is a lot of variety in this movie and while it is kind of cheesy in places, that is kind of what good horror movies are about.

Overall, this was a surprisingly good horror movie. The pacing was a bit off but I chalk that up to it being a found footage movie. At least they made a good enough excuse for all of the cameras being present at every moment and did not do another Skype horror movie. This is very close to an actual documentary on haunted houses and that part was really great. The movie kind of just grinds on and on and I wish it would have been paced better. It could not have been much shorter without classifying it as a short film. When the action is rolling, the movie is great but there is a lot of messing around. It is a creepy kind of a jumble sort of like House of a Thousand Corpses but not bad like that movie is. I guess I would recommend it but it would be best put on in the background of a good Halloween party.

susanne matthews

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