Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’

The Innocents (1961)

October 19, 2018

I think that we all instinctively worry about children. Even those, like me, who have no instinct to procreate and claim to ‘hate children’ have an innate instinct to protect children. When I hear a baby crying or a child screaming it grates on my nerves and I absolutely want somebody to fix it. It is that instinct that draws people in to protect or rescue children in danger. The only time that I have come close to becoming a caregiver was as a counselor at a summer camp but I never really had any dominion or responsibility for any of the kids. Still, I did teach some classes and I learned how determined young people are to be crazy and worrying. By design, children do not really have the wisdom that most of the rest of us accumulate that help us survive. Poor impulse control and curiosity can often lead to dangerous situations but the kids often do not realize the danger at first. For example, in the original film version of Frankenstein (1931), a little girl meets the monster and is unafraid and ends up drowning because of it. We should all approach life with an open mind but we should also be wary of potential danger at the same time. Children often have not realized that yet and it makes them harder to protect.

Ghosts can be effectively used in horror but it is a fine line to walk. To me, ghosts are creepiest when they are not seen or barely seen. Ghost stories can be very psychological for me because they deal with the barrier between life and death. That barrier is a hard and fast rule in our real world and there have been no reliable accounts of anybody crossing it and coming back. Once you are dead then you are dead and your story is done. In the fictional world of horror stories, people come back all the time. In fact, I watched two Stephen King adaptations already earlier this month that are literally about that. The world of the living and the world of the dead have different perspectives by nature. The world of the dead lives in the past because they have no real future. In our world, we understand that the past must remain in the past at least when it comes to bad things. We learn from the past but we understand that we should not literally bring it back or we will not be progressing and growing. The idea that the past can come back unbidden and affect our present and change our future is a scary concept even without throwing the supernatural into the mix.

This is an older movie and while some older movies do not age well, I have found that many horror movies benefit from being older. Black and white movies are really good at showing off the stark contrast between light and shadow. The cinematographer definitely played a lot with light and shadow. I also noticed how well they used space which is something I do not see as often. By space, I mean that the director places a great deal of empty space between people and things to unsettle the viewer. Older movies such as this one also have fewer frills than modern movies. There is nothing wrong with modern frills but it is refreshing to watch something without fancy special effects. It reminds me of my theater days. The soundtrack is simple but creepy in its simplicity. The music, in particular, has a tension to it and even the happy music feels a little dark. In fact, some of the music was sampled and used in The Ring (2002) because of its inherent creepiness. Like many good horror movies, it gains strength from its use of silence.

The acting is top notch in the movie. The movie is about a governess who is sent to the English countryside to look after two children. Unfortunately, the country estate is haunted by a past that it cannot shake. The strength of the movie comes from the star, Deborah Kerr, who shows such a dynamic range in her acting and it is hard not to like her. Of course, there are two children (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). Kids can be a goldmine when it comes to horror and these kids are definitely great at horror without even trying. (Thankfully, the director shielded the kids from the intense nature of the movie’s plot). The kids are so good at being offputting that it is hard to imagine them doing it unintentionally. Their interactions with Kerr are the meat and potatoes of the movie and all the movie really needs to be scary. However, Kerr’s moments alone are also tense as heck. Finally, there is an emotional anchor to the movie in the housekeeper played by Megs Jenkins. She is a kindly old woman who provides a lot of the exposition.

Overall, I really loved this movie. To be fair, this movie is an adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James which is an old but brilliant ghost story. I actually did light and sound design for a stage production of the story years ago when I lived in New Jersey. The movie captures that theatrical kind of horror which involves a lot of the theater of the mind. It makes for a very psychological horror movie where you wonder how much of it is real. When the light comes again, we begin to doubt our thoughts in the darkness.

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Train to Busan (2016)

October 17, 2018

When I was in college, I had to take a train to and from college because that was the most convenient way to visit my family on breaks. I would often take a similar route after college when I lived in Northern Jersey. I had very little experience with public transportation growing up because I lived so close to school growing up. So when I boarded those trains to journey through several states, It felt weird. The experiences always set off my social anxiety as there were so many people around. Because it was cheaper, I often bought tickets for unreserved trains which meant that the trains were often oversold and there were not enough seats for me to get one. I would walk through cars full of people who looked at me and I felt very self-conscious. In reality, they were probably just glancing at me because who am I? I eventually decided that I would rather sit between cars than on the floors of occupied cars. I would get hassled and it was super loud in there but at least I was alone.

Infection is something that I have always been wary of but, over time, it became more of a legitimate fear. Of course, the flu helped teach me about infection as a kid and chicken pox furthered that knowledge. However, the first time the fear of infection was introduced was our education on HIV and AIDs as children. Our school was at the forefront of educating us about it honestly and truthfully. This countered the fear with plans and precautions and science. This prepared me to not buy into the fear of later outbreaks of SARs, bird flu, West Nile virus, the return of Ebola, and others. Medical science has improved since the days of the Black Plague and other deadly diseases that wiped out so many people. Still, it feels like we ware living on the edge of a knife when it comes to vaccinations. Many have bought into misinformation and their own ignorance and have refused to vaccinate their children. This inevitably leads to the return of diseases we had made harmless through science. So yes, infection is a justified fear when it comes to ignorance.

Since claiming that I did not really like zombie movies, I have actually been on a quest to find one that I really like (besides Shaun of the Dead). I immediately really liked this movie and I will tell you why. The acting and character work are really good. We are introduced to central characters immediately who I could identify with. Su-an Kim plays a little girl who feels emotionally distant from her father who she lives with. She wants to visit her mother who left her father but did not get custody. Her workaholic father tries to connect with her but agrees to take her on the train to visit her mother to make her happy. As a child of divorce, this really struck a chord with me. Also, I felt like they depicted a zombie outbreak as realistically as possible. If I saw a zombie, I would think it was somebody on drugs or having a weird seizure at first. The descent into madness is slow with people reacting first with bewildered annoyance and that slowly morphs into shrieking terror and then acceptance. People are too calm in other zombie movies far too quickly. In addition, the actors all have a lot of charisma and likable potential victims always make a movie scarier.

I also really liked the effects in this one. The gore is not over the top and a lot more is done with each zombie actor’s physicality than any makeup or appliances. They are ordinary people gone rabid. The choreography of the zombies really did more than any putrefied makeup job could ever do. Also, they made a big point of showing people alive and later showing them as zombies to really drive home the tragedy of people turning into mindless rage puppets. The setting of a train also makes the movie uniquely claustrophobic. Trains are very unique as they feel like a small traveling town where you can walk up and down the cars and actually walk a long distance. Also, every car looks the same which makes it hard to tell where you are. Having what amounts to wild animals in a tight space is a really startling and creepy sight.

Overall, I loved this movie. The characters were all really interesting and so was the setting. They really used the setting of a train much like Snowpiercer did. I really worried about these people and their journey to try and escape a zombie outbreak. They really captured how people would react in that situation. Some become heroes, some become selfish. The movie also examines a mob mentality (aside from the zombies). Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this movie is in Korean but the acting is so good that it transcends language.

Antibirth (2016)

October 15, 2018

A lot of people are afraid of drugs. This is not an unfounded fear, at least in my opinion. I have researched a lot about opiate addiction and what I have read has frightened me. Without getting too personal, I know that drugs can take a hold on people and never let go. They can break your brain over time and cause erratic behavior. The Just Say No campaign and various 90s campaigns did a number on me. They convinced me that drugs could poison me and I could easily die from taking a single puff. The very nature of the black market nature of narcotics convinced me that they were right. The idea that any drugs could be cut with something poisonous and deadly kept me from taking any drugs when some of my friends were definitely smoking pot. Of course, my fears proved not to be totally ridiculous as reports of heroin cut with fentanyl killing people (as fentanyl is super deadly) have become widespread. As marijuana has become more accepted and legal, it has become safer to smoke and safer to get a hold of.

I think that some people do not like to admit it but pregnancy is a scary concept. Many hype it as a ‘beautiful event’ but I have seen it several times now and I have a different perspective. Of course, this perspective is as a male so take all of this with a grain of salt. When I left for college, my father told me that having sex with a woman was ‘an emotional, physical, and legal commitment’. There are many people who are scared of getting pregnant or getting somebody pregnant. Part of that is the financial commitment that follows but it is also the mental, physical, and emotional effects of raising a child. Before all of that, actually being pregnant involves so many medical issues. From my observations, people who are pregnant worry about each little thing that happens and how it might affect the baby. This is especially true of people who have planned to have children but have a history of miscarriages. Then there are the more existential fears of what will the child be when it comes out and what will they become? It is part of that general fear of the future.

The first thing I noticed was how good the acting was in this. The movie stars Natasha Lyonne as a druggie slacker who gets into trouble. She really drops into her character and she was likable from the first second. I have known a few of these stoners and most of them are good people even though they lack ambition. She is friends with Chloe Sevigny who is fun in a sarcastic kind of way with a hard edge. Mark Webber exudes a paranoid air of menace as a drug dealer and pimp. Meg Tilly plays a kindly stranger who is a mystery from her first appearance. She has a quiet, subtle performance which is a great contrast to the rest of the cast. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos plays a really skeevy guy who is friends with Webber’s character. Neville Edwards plays an absolutely creepy character sort of in the grand tradition of Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff. In addition, there are a lot of sufficiently creepy extras who add to the general sense of unease.

This one has a lot of practical effects, a lot of which are subtle at first. When things really get rocking, it was hard to maintain my cool with how crazy it gets. Still, they were some great effects. There are also a lot of really interesting flashbacks in the movie. The movie kind of flashes these images at the viewer (and the main character) and it is a really neat way to depict it. In most movies, the character would slowly remember whole scenes but that is not usually how we remember things after trauma. Of course, I should mention that this is definitely a body horror movie. A lot of stuff happens that evokes that nauseating horror of somebody’s body changing against their will. If that kind of thing bothers you, do not watch this movie. Another great element of the movie is the sound design. They picked some really great ambient music that makes even the most innocuous thing feel creepy and strange. A lot of stuff shown on television in the background is really trippy.

Overall, I really liked this movie even though it made me feel intensely uncomfortable. Trippy and unsettling are definitely the two biggest keywords that I would use to describe the movie. Lyonne’s physical acting is among the best I have seen in a horror movie (or most movies in general). The effects used for the body horror are amazing and disgusting. The movie definitely went a lot of places that I was not expecting. One of the great things about doing these reviews is getting to see stuff that I could not have imagined and this movie had it in spades. I would recommend it but it is not for the squeamish.

The Void (2016)

October 12, 2018

I have never been comfortable in hospitals. I think that is a pretty common attitude to have and I would hazard a guess that I am not alone there. Part of my problem with hospitals comes from uncertainty. A lot of the time when you go to a hospital, a person’s fate is uncertain. Even with the best medicine, an injury or sickness is not always cured perfectly and even if it is it will ruin a person’s quality of life for some time. The thoughts that ring through my head are ‘what’s wrong with me?’ and ‘what will happen to me?’. Funnily enough, the other thing that scares me about hospitals is certainty. There have been many times when I have gone into a hospital knowing what I am in for. I have had the procedures explained to me ahead of time so now I know what is coming. Not much in a hospital is painless and most of it scares me. I am afraid of needles and surgery especially and I always have been. I get anxious as the date approaches and when it comes to the waiting room, I feel absolutely helpless and my skin crawls. I think far too much about what is about to happen and it drives me a bit crazy. However, I have gotten better at countering both fears over the years but I will probably always have them.

Cults and the horror genre have long been wedded together. The absolute devotion to a crazy idea is a frightening concept to most people. Cults often start from a positive place or with a positive idea that lures people in so that they can be controlled by a charismatic figure. For example, the Peoples Temple was started by Jim Jones to work to fix the issues of civil rights and mental health. It was based on communism and was established to escape the persecution of communists in the United States. He then cooked up false faith healing and started his ascent to a full-on crazy cult leader. Heaven’s Gate believed that they would be taken from Earth by aliens hiding behind a comet. In horror, cults are often in service to something demonic or something eldritch but always evil. (SPOILERS) The Satanic cult in Rosemary’s Baby wants to make sure the son of Satan is born. The cult in Silent Hill murder and torture people in service to a Sun God who grants them dark magic to help serve it. These cults are maniacal and vicious and unwavering in their faith. They are the dangerous place that all religion in the world can go if people are not careful and many cults are formed from some sort of organized religion.

Very early on, this movie takes on a very Lovecraftian feel (without the racism) and that is never a bad thing in a horror movie. That kind of horror is very existential and usually includes a lot of horror based on sanity and on body horror, two of the things that frighten me the most. The movie is specifically inspired by Lovecraft by way of Guillermo del Toro and his comments on his ill-fated Mountains of Madness adaptation. The movie is just crazy from the first scene until the last but it paces it really well. I have said it a million times but the pacing is so vital in a good horror movie and this movie has such a good rhythm. The movie kind of cycles between good ensemble acting, crazy stuff, and then weird interstitials. The ensemble is great, full of actual characters you would find in a hospital. I got the same feel from the characters as I got from movies like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. These are all just regular people who happened to be in the same place when horrible things start to happen.

The effects are definitely top notch especially for a movie that was crowdfunded. There is no CGI work (not that there is anything wrong with CGI) and everything is practical. People and things bleed buckets and it looks absolutely fantastic but also horrifying. We get to see gross, eldritch beings with very creative designs. It is really hard as more and more horror movies are made to keep things fresh and innovative but this movie definitely achieves it. Each scene managed to surprise me in the best ways as I was left really not knowing what was going to happen next. This was coupled with the absolutely beautiful set and production design of the movie. As I said earlier, hospitals are inherently creepy but they made it even better with some of the best horror lighting that I have seen. They did a lot with using normal ambient lighting in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways to hide or bring out certain details. It is definitely a master class on how to design a horror set.

Overall, I loved this movie although it really messed me up. As I have said before, body horror really disturbs me and there was plenty of it here. The movie also leaves a lot up to the viewer’s imagination, not spelling things out so that I could connect the dots with my imagination. That kind of story is really fun for me because I love making up horrible stories behind the story. In a movie with sanity slippage and body horror, that gets very interesting.

Deadly Friend (1986)

October 10, 2018

Wes Craven was seen as one of the kings of horror especially when I was a teenager because his popular movie Scream had come out when I was 14. I was never really a fan of the Scream franchise because I felt like the meta elements fell a little flat. Although, I should probably revisit the franchise at some point and give it another try. The reason that I keep coming back to Craven because he is the man who created Freddy Krueger, probably my favorite horror character ever. I have practically worshiped that character for a long, long time. He returned to that franchise to make my favorite of the Elm Street movies, The Dream Warriors. His movies often have the right mix of horror and corniness that make Halloween fun. With New Nightmare, he first introduced the self-aware horror movie that birthed a new sub-genre in horror. Part of his innovative approach comes from the fact that after he broke into the film business, he did not want to be known as a ‘horror guy’. He also earned bachelor degrees in English and psychology along with masters degrees in philosophy and writing in my hometown at Johns Hopkins University. On a side note, I applied to JHU to get a degree in writing but never went down that path. He poured all of that into exploring horror and also exploring reality itself in his films.

Biomechatronics is a new field that integrates the fields of biology, mechanics, electronics, robotics, and neuroscience. In the real world, this means replacing damaged parts of the human body with machine parts that do their best to act like the part they are replacing. The biggest examples are prosthetic limbs that act very much like the limbs they are replacing, making them act and look like biological parts. These parts interface with existing nervous or muscular systems in order to function correctly. These are obviously a great benefit for veterans and other people who need help with movement or other bodily functions. It is currently too expensive for most people to afford. In fiction, this kind of thing is not comforting, it is frightening. In a world where killer robots and sentient computer viruses are a thing, putting robot parts in your body is a bad idea. Earlier this year, I reviewed the newer movie Upgrade where the concept was explored in depth. Cyborg parts regularly malfunction, get hacked, gain sentience, or find other ways to start killing people. It makes sense. Also, people are already disturbed by surgery so the idea of having surgery and purposefully leaving something inside is easy horror fodder. On top of that, many people are justifiably afraid of new technology. It is easy to see how this is an interesting element for a horror movie.

One thing that makes this movie special is that it is the film debut of Kristy Swanson at age sixteen. She does such a great job here in a pretty demanding role for a campy eighties horror movie. She would later tussle with vampires but here she is an innocent girl who gets caught up in some pretty twisted stuff. She basically plays two different characters and she plays them well. She is joined by Matthew Labyorteaux, a well-meaning boy who is smart about science but maybe not so smart about life. It may be a stereotype but I have met many scientists who lack social graces and knowledge about life. Their robot friend is played by Charles Fleisher who was Roger Rabbit but he was also a key character in the Elm Street franchise. The movie plays with the idea that it is the adults in a kid’s life that are allowed to be the real monsters. Chief among them is Swanson’s father who is played by Richard Marcus. There is also Anne Ramsey (of Goonies fame) who plays an angry neighbor. The movie has a strong cast who do great making it scary even without the horror elements.

The effects are strong for an eighties horror movie. There is one awesome gore effect in the movie which is famous but there is some unique stuff as well. The robot BB is absolutely fantastically built. He looks even more advanced than Johnny Five from the Short Circuit franchise. Like Johnny, the robot is expressive and exhibits a personality even without Fleischer’s voice acting. The puppetry is definitely on par with just about anything I have seen. The time we spent with BB made me think of how good the pacing is in the movie. We spend a lot of time with the characters before the horror and science fiction elements start. It gives the movie more heart and gave me an opportunity to like the main characters before things got complicated. This movie more than any other of Craven’s movies embraced non-horror elements while still being ostensibly a horror movie. In fact, it was only made into a horror movie by studio meddling which pisses off Craven to this day. However, I think Craven is a bit too hard on it and I feel like the movie has scares but it also has heart.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It was not exactly my normal fare when it comes to horror movies but it is kind of in a pretty small category. It has the same kind of feeling that I get from movies like Gremlins, Fright Night, Once Bitten, and Monster Squad. There is good camp but also genuine characters with fleshed out personalities. It is also rare to have likable protagonists in horror movies. I definitely recommend it for a more casual Halloween experience after watching some of the rougher films I tackle this year.

Terrifier (2017)

October 8, 2018

I have a long history of hating clowns, a rivalry that I really like to promote when I can. Clowns are scary entities largely because of their over the top appearance and the uncanny valley. As a young, mostly shy kid, I was the antithesis of in-your-face and I have never really liked anybody in my personal space. With my anxiety issues, that personal space always expanded far beyond what most people would consider reasonable. When I went to the circus or birthday parties, seeing these clowns getting up in kids’ business made me really nervous. I did not want to engage with a stranger and these strangers were paid to engage with kids so I did my best to avoid it. The same goes for mascots in stadiums and amusement parks. I would cringe and start to feel the beginnings of fight or flight and my heart would beat faster until the situation passed. I do not remember really having any interactions with clowns but I also did my best to avoid them. Born from social anxiety, that fear grew and to this day I still avoid them if I can. However, I will be eternally fascinated by their aesthetic.

Another part of why I always felt nervous around clowns is that they are often always silent. As somebody who was already nervous dealing with people, I think the idea of dealing with somebody who was not explaining themselves, In addition, when somebody is not talking, it is easy to feel that they are also not listening. Also, as I discussed a bit in The Neon Demon review, silence is inherently scary on its own. I am not a big fan of silence in general. Having grown up as a city boy, I was accustomed to sirens and traffic as my lullabies. My life had a constant soundtrack so whenever it was quiet, it signaled that something was wrong. Of course, that was eventually fixed somewhat by attending Quaker meeting and living out in the boonies for five years. However, when you are waiting for something bad to happen, there is nothing worse than silence. That is my theory on why the blood lab that I went to recently plays inane talk shows in their waiting room. It is hard to be too scared when there is so much inane noise going on.

I have seen quite a few slasher movies at this point so I have seen a lot of the variations. When something new is presented, I consume it eagerly. That was the case with this movie. On its surface, this is a simple concept and a simple plot. Art the Clown just really likes killing people and proceeds to do so. The movie plays on the usual fears of clowns that I highlighted above. Art is absolutely silent and that ended up being way more terrifying than I thought it would be. David Howard Thornton plays Art and he is obviously an actor’s actor. He brings style and art to what could have been a forgettable performance in a forgettable movie. Like I said, the actor stays absolutely silent throughout but he apparently had some training in mime because his movement tells such a story. He is at once scary, funny, and confusing as he glides silently through the movie. His makeup and design enhance this as they created something that you might see a horror cosplayer make but is also deeply unsettling. He uses the greasepaint and the prosthetics to his full advantage to create a fascinating picture in every frame he is in. When so many of my favorite horror villains have witty catchphrases, it was refreshing to see one who could do the same with just a look.

The effects in this movie were absolutely fantastic. Setting aside the aforementioned brilliant costuming, the rest of the effects are eye-catching. I was immediately amazed by the gore effects in this movie which are extensive. Everything looked practical and everything oozed and sprayed. It was very visceral but it was also so much blood that it felt unreal and it did not rattle me as much as I thought it would. It is basically the Deadpool effect where violence gets to a cartoonish level. Of course, maybe I have seen so many horror movies at this point that I am a little inured to the violence. Of course, part of it was that the violence was actually a relief. What really got me was the long periods between the kills where I had no idea what Art was going to do next or when he would pop up. The tension absolutely destroyed me for most of the movie and I felt like I never relaxed from start to finish. Part of that is that Art is just so blatant in his actions. There are jump scares, sure but that was not what made this one rattle me. It had a refreshing psychology to it.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It took a lot of old tropes and twisted them a bit to create something that felt fresh and new. I cringed at every death but I thought that it felt like it did new things with the genre. It should instantly make Art the Clown into a new horror icon. I have read that there is a previous movie that has Art in it and I will be checking that out as soon as possible. The movie was delightfully over the top in all of the best ways. It definitely reinvigorated me to finish this challenge I have set before myself once again. I recommend this but it is definitely not for those with weak stomachs.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

October 5, 2018

I have had the misfortune of being in a car that broke down. In my teens, my parents had at least two cars that developed electrical problems and would shut down at traffic lights. Thankfully, I was able to get the car started again before the people behind me got too pissed. However, much later I was driving a Mazda that had been recovered from a police auction that had been wrecked once before. One day, the vehicle just died in traffic and I coasted off to the side of the street (thankfully) due to a faulty alternator. Coincidentally, the battery on my cell phone was dead too so I had to walk to get it handled. Even worse, I once completely totaled a car in a ditch up in Vermont and I stumbled my way to a pay phone to get help. The thrill of the thought of ‘I survived!’ was immediately replaced with ‘Now what do I do?’ while I was in shock. I cannot even imagine doing all of that in the dark. Both of my big events happened while the sun was still up so I was not scared of bad things happening. Also, both were at least relatively near civilization. If both of those things had not been true, I am sure I would have been scared as hell.

Many horror movies were written around using the rural citizens of the United States as villains. This has happened so much that I was easily able to find the term ‘hicksploitation’ on the Internet. Hick, of course, is the derogatory term for the uneducated rural people who exist far outside of urban centers. They make good horror movie villains because their world is so exotic to people who live in or near cities and towns. I grew up either in or very close to Baltimore City so whenever I ventured farther out, it was culture shock. How can they hunt in a world where I can walk to the grocery store? Why do they have to use a well when there are utilities? It was not a matter of rich vs. poor, I knew what city poor was. I did not grow up with people out in what is more or less the wilderness. Most people who go to movie theaters did not either. That is why we get movies like Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, and a whole host of movies you probably have never heard of. We will forever fear what we do not understand and we will be anxious in environments we are not familiar with.

The movie is from the seventies and very much matches the look of films from that era. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with a desert locale and you will start to imagine the right look for this movie. I cannot imagine ever driving through that landscape by choice and definitely not onto back roads. The movie is a brutal horror movie, which you would expect from the director, Wes Craven, who had already brought us Last House on the Left. Like that movie, the blood effects are almost too realistic in that they are shown sparingly. By that, I mean that when somebody is cut or shot, a geyser of blood does not erupt from them. They bleed slow and painfully which is scarier to me. The landscape is desolate and that adds to the desperation that runs through this movie. Like a lot of effective horror movies, the movie deals well with sound. If there was any music, I do not remember it but I remember the silence. The silence is eerie and then that silence begins to be punctuated by weird and horrible sounds and you start imagining things. There are two dogs in the film and their noises mix with the noises of the desert and of the family and it creates a tense soundscape.

The cast boils down to the Family, the antagonist weirdos, and the Carters, a family on vacation. The stars of the show are the Family as the antagonists in a horror film are the ones getting showcased. Papa Jupiter is the lead and is played by James Whitworth as basically, Jaws made into human form. His three sons are similar but all a little bit different. Mercury and Mars are very much like their dad but I was instantly fascinated by Pluto. Pluto is played by Michael Berryman and he is simultaneously goofy and menacing, like a homicidal Marty Feldman. Ruby, the only daughter, is played by Janus Blythe and she is vulnerable and lost. Of the Carters, I liked Bobby the most. He is played by Robert Houston and is the youngest male but he is brave and smart but far from perfect. I also liked Doug, played by Martin Speer, who is the levelheaded and likable goofball who is forced to take the lead. Also, Suze Lanier-Bramlett plays the young and shrill Brenda which normally would have annoyed me but her screaming performance worked really well here.

Overall, I really loved this movie more than I thought I was going to. I originally watched it because it is considered a classic and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. The movie is nothing like most of Wes Craven’s other movies that I have seen as it is straightforward and brutal more like Last House on the Left than the Elm Street movies. It lacked his usual surreal touch but sometimes that is not exactly a bad thing. The thought I had after the movie was over was that it felt like it came from a similar place as Spielberg’s Jaws.  Almost like a mix between Spielberg and Tobe Hooper.  Violence is combined with a lot of tension where you wait for something bad to happen and a lot of time is spent on the impact of the bad times.

The Neon Demon (2016)

October 3, 2018

I have never really been into fashion. Well, at least not in the way that people actually in the fashion industry. I like clothes well enough and I often imagine what characters I write are wearing. I admire the clothes of people I see both in real life and in fictional worlds. I particularly like dresses and three-piece suits. However, I have no idea what is trendy and that world is kind of intimidating to me. I cannot even imagine how people decide what the next big look is. I would be eternally afraid of falling on my face because I thought something looked cool and everybody else disagreed. I knew a lot of costume designers back in school and they were all quirky, weird, and exotic in the best ways. I remember there was this one girl who had dyed her hair jet black on one side and paper white on the other side. There was a perfect line down the middle. I have a very visual imagination so I often do think of these sorts of things when I design a character. However, I sometimes find it hard to express all of that. I have also never really pushed hard to develop those skills. I have many friends who are blessed with visual arts skills but that is mostly because they have worked at practicing them. I also think about how cutthroat that world is. When I talked to such people in college about the possibility of Broadway, I was told that somebody would have to die to open up a spot. That was pretty grim. I can only imagine what must happen to compete with the likes of Vera Wang or Tommy Hilfiger.

On top of all of that, I can only imagine the difficulties that many women go through. Women are held to a higher standard when it comes to being visually appealing. The fashion world has long been criticized for this sort of thing. Models are encouraged to starve and drug themselves to obtain and retain an impossibly ‘beautiful’ appearance. Then came the rise of cosmetic surgery where women were pressured into getting actual surgery to ‘improve’ their body’s beauty. When women have to be tortured, drugged, and sliced up in order to be deemed pretty, that sounds like a horror movie to me. The pressures to be perfect come from society and the origin of those pressures are from men. It is no secret that men have dominated society and have used cultural conventions to suppress and oppress women. Of course, men have also enlisted women to police themselves so that women criticize each other or use gossip to police ‘beauty’. This is an age-old method of control that has been used on pretty much any minority or protected class in history. These can be tough obstacles to overcome especially since they are not actually physical limitations but are instead almost purely psychological. This sort of conditioning starts at birth and continues pretty much forever. Slowly, we are starting to figure things out but we have a long way to go.

The first thing I noticed was the startling use of silence which feel like they were used to cause unease. The dialogue especially had me in suspense as I waited through pauses. Not the usual bad acting pauses but weird alien speech patterns that definitely made me anxious for what was going to happen. The music is full of modern tonal music that helps to ramp up the tension. The production values are awesome. Because the movie covers the world of fashion and modeling, they put a lot of work into making that world beautiful. However, because it is so beautiful, it also makes it look strange and unreal. That sort of bleeds into the rest of the scenes as they look almost too polished, too superficially pretty. Seeing such fragile beauty juxtaposed against the seedier sides of life makes the shadows all the darker. Then the ‘real’ world just seems to get as strange as the fake one. It had a very disorienting effect on me so much show that in one scene I literally yelled: “What the Fuck!?” Of course, there are plenty of the traditional horror elements like gore and violence. The effects are among the best that I have seen and they were very disturbing.

The movie stars Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model freshly arrived in Los Angeles to start her modeling career. Of course, she is immediately correctly told (told not warned) that the industry is just waiting to consume her. She is portrayed as having such flawless good looks, the epitome of human perfection. A lot of the movie hangs on her portrayal of a naive young woman. However, she is not completely unaware as she mentions that she is modeling because it is her only marketable skill. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcoate play models that have been around a little longer and they are excellent at being these crazy model harpies. However, one of the big things all of the male actors do is they treat the women with such active contempt and aggression that it is hard not to feel bad for even the less nice ones. The guys are really too good at showing this naked emotion of hunger and hate that I wanted to slap them. It literally made me scared and angry. This includes a small role from Keanu Reeves. A lot also has to be said about Jenna Malone who plays a makeup artist who befriends Fanning and her friendly performance somehow added to the tension I was feeling.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It was an unsettling thriller that left me feeling all clenched throughout. It showed the accurate portrayal of the way that men treat women in general and specifically how the fashion and modeling industry hurts women’s psyches. Nothing is off topic, drugs, beauty, plastic surgery, jealousy and so on. I would compare it most to Black Swan which had a similar take on the psychological damage and pressure that being a girl can provide. While there are elements of traditional horror, it is the psychological pressure and tension that really got to me.  I felt kind of sick after it but kind of in a good way.

The Final Girls (2015)

October 1, 2018

I first started watching horror movies when I was rather young. I was trying to remember the first horror movies that I might have watched. A lot of great horror movies were made in the decade that I was born (the Eighties) but I would have been too young for most of them and I had to watch them later. To the best of my recollection, my first horror movie was Gremlins which is a pretty good one to start with when I was probably only nine. As I got older, my family purposefully set out to watch some of the classic horror movies until my mom decided she had had enough. My youngest brother and I carried on and I watched a lot of the most iconic horror movies (and some real stinkers). Some kids experience a blurring of the line between fantasy and reality when they are kids but I never had that problem. Still, I definitely theorized what I would do if I was in a horror movie. I think most of us fans have done it. We second guess the victims and speculate how we would get away from the monster or madman. It is kind of like what our imaginations do when we hear a random sound in the darkness while we are in bed. All of our memories of fantasy and reality flit through our heads and we imagine we are about to murk somebody with a baseball bat. Of course, it is probably just a pet or a rat or something.

I absolutely love classic horror films. They are hard to deny because most of us grew up with them looming large (or if you are young, your parents could never shut up about them). I watched Freddy and Jason movies at a young age and my half-goth personage also watched anything spooky I could get my hands on. Of course, that is the inspiration for my fanfiction-y/AU series Aftershocks. I also went through a period where I was really into the classic Universal monsters and I am a sucker for anything that adapts those classic characters. Because of all of the horror that I have watched and my pop culture sponge brain, I have absorbed a lot of lore. It is mostly because I love exploring the lore of franchise horror because it is both interesting and silly. I love that each sequel of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise added more and more to Freddy Krueger’s history and subtly changed the rules while still keeping the major talking points. The same goes for Jason, The Evil Dead, and good old Chucky. Each of these franchises obviously had some sort of central lore that did not really change but was tweaked a bit to fit later installments. Of course, there are a lot of fans out there who feel the same way. Remembering goofy horror movie lore is really no different from remembering all of the plot points of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars family trees, after all.

The movie is about a young teenage girl who lost her actress mother in a crash years ago. Her mother had been the standout actress in a cult classic slasher film (a clear parody of the Friday the 13th franchise). She ends up getting sucked into the movie along with her friends and must figure out how to survive and how they might possibly escape. The concept is not new (see Last Action Hero) but the twist of meeting a fictionalized version of her dead mother is definitely a cool addition. The movie really ramps up the campiness of eighties horror but has an undercurrent of real fear and heart. One of my favorite things is how they oversaturated the colors inside the film to really play up that classic horror feel. There are also interesting ways that they visualize classic movie tropes and effects. They also parody horror movie fans (especially the really creepy ones) who delight in the gore a little too much. It also parodies horror nerds like me who engage in a little too much meta theorizing. The gore effects are pretty tame but I actually appreciate that for what is supposed to be a goofy but slightly scary movie.

The heart of the movie is Taissa Farmiga who plays Max who misses her mother and is tired of being reminded of the movie. She is the emotional heart of the movie and the obvious protagonist. Her best friend is played by Alia Shawkat who is great at being a sarcastic realist. Alexander Ludwig is great as her nice, reasonable possible love interest. Thomas Middleditch, of course, plays the horror nerd who has a lovable and realistic awkwardness. There is also Nina Dobrev who plays the stereotypical “mean girl” (except she is from the real world). Max’s kind-of mom is played by Malin Akerman and it is fun to watch her slowly break out of her “programming”. Adam Devine plays the stereotypical jerky jock far too well. One of the funniest parts of the movie is Angela Trimbur’s performance as an absolutely zero intelligence hot girl who is just so confused but happy. There is also the awkward but charming Tory Thompson as the token black guy and also the token nerd in the film. One of the best parts of the movie is watching both real and film characters change through their miniature character arcs. The concept of real people interacting with fictional characters and changing the story is a fun one.

Overall, this was a great movie. It was definitely a fun movie to start Halloween with because I always like remembering how fun horror can be. Which is perfect because this is a movie very self-aware of itself and the horror of not only evading a psycho killer but also actually dealing with brainless horror movie characters. The movie is basically what Scream tried to do with the meta storytelling but done better. It is stylish and while it is campy it is also surprisingly clever. There are so many tributes to eighties horror but they went back and made it better by making it something a little different. I came in prepared to laugh and I did but I also got some chills and some touching moments as well. I definitely recommend it.

Barton Fink (1991)

April 2, 2018

I used to work a lot in live theater and I still hold a lot of love for the medium in my heart. While I was working for theaters, I wrote a play and more recently I wrote another play. The first was kind of teenage angsty and I would need to dig to see if I could still find it. In case your curious, it was a one-act play about a young woman visiting her sister in a mental institution. I cannot remember the general arc of the play but I do remember thinking it was super deep. It had one reading and it was in our high school creative writing class. At one point, the patient whispers something into somebody else’s ear and the person blushes. People asked me what she said and I shrugged and said that it was up to people’s imaginations. This was not a satisfying answer to my classmates. I wrote the whole thing in the lobby of Spotlighter’s Theater (a theater here in town). The second play is kind of a meta-fantasy adventure that has to do with identity politics and my obsession with finding one’s narrative. The point here is that writing scripts is difficult but interesting.

I am completely enamored by the world of Hollywood. At least, I am enamored with the glitzy, positive side of the business. I have been watching movies since I was a tiny tot but I have been interested in behind the scenes information since I was about fourteen. I worked in live theater but I knew people who worked for the Hollywood system (though mostly in Baltimore). It always seemed mythical and larger than life to me. However, I have read enough to know the downsides. The theater is a highly collaborative art form as the cast and crew find the play through weeks (or months) of rehearsal. In film, there is more a series of final decisions. The director does not wield as much ultimate power in the Hollywood system. The studios are always breathing down their necks to make changes. For writers, it is even worse. You work hard on writing a script and then you sell it and they can bring any number of writers to rewrite your work and make it unrecognizable from what sprouted from your mind and heart. Of course, this is all what I have gathered from interviews and articles and I am sure it cannot all be that negative all the time.

First and foremost, this is a period piece written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (popularly known as the Coen Brothers). Period pieces created by the Coen Brothers are a proven commodity in Hollywood and their movies, in general, are things that I will always give a shot. Movies like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, and Hail, Caesar! are among my favorite movies. Even movies that I did not like as much were far better than other movies that I have seen. This is one of their early movies (their fifth) and it definitely fits in with their best. It is set in Los Angeles in the early forties at a time when the movie business was really growing. The movie follows John Turturro as an awkward yet passionate writer whose success on Broadway earns him a deal to write for Hollywood. Turturro is such a versatile actor. I have seen him as an unintelligent thug, a cartoon monkey, and a racist ass. Here he plays an intelligent man out of his element well. John Goodman is his main co-star and he plays the common man who Turturro’s character strives to write about but finds is different from his assumptions. There is also Tony Shalhoub as a hardened, cynical producer, John Mahoney as a contemporary writer, and Judy Davis as a beleaguered secretary.

This was a very interesting movie and there is not much that I could write here that could spoil the experience of watching it. The movie is notoriously hard to pin down as it could be film noir, horror, or several other genres. In fact, I read after watching that the movie is highly debated and the Coen Brothers have only confirmed a few theories. I have a few takeaways myself. The movie has a lot to with class differences. When we get separated from other walks of life, we start making generalizations and assumptions about people who are different from us. The life of the mind is also a big part of it and how dangerous one’s mind can be. Movies like The Shining and 1408 have tackled the kind of dangers one faces when they get too far inside of their head. There is also a deep unhappiness that can form from success, where we start to feel trapped by advancements that we never aimed for. I also really got a vibe about expectations and when our expectations exceed reality and how disillusioned we can get. There is a lot to unpack in this movie and far more than I have written here. All of it is done in kind of an offbeat, surreal style that just seems to be driven by awkwardness.

Overall, I loved the movie. While the movie does remain something of a strange mystery, I love a good mystery. This will be something that my mind will be chewing on and deciphering for quite some time. The dialogue is strange but also very human in certain ways, similar to The Big Lebowski (which the Coens also wrote). The pacing is unnerving and after a while, I was afraid to see what would happen next but I also needed to see it. Maybe it is because I consider myself a writer, but this movie really struck at the core of me. But I think that in many ways Turturro’s plight is universal, something that everybody faces at different times in their lives. I definitely recommend this movie but do not strain yourself too hard trying to decipher the meaning of everything.


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