Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’

Basket Case (1982)

October 31, 2019

Body horror has roots in gothic literature, going as far back as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, HP Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe. The idea of using the transmogrification of flesh in order to horrify people is probably even older than that. Human biology and genetics are incredibly complicated and one little change can make things go far into abnormal territory. I am thinking, of course, of birth defects. I myself was born with a physical defect. I was born with two aortas. My mutation (which is rare but not unknown) is invisible except to medical testing. Others have mutations that are much more visible which unfortunately made them outcasts in society. My mind here is mostly focused on freak shows. Freak shows in carnivals, circuses, and similar situations were ways to monetize the quirks of biology. Of course, those who were the “freaks of nature” were the ones who were exploited. Still, that sort of thing is as frightening as it is fascinating.

Doctors’ offices have always creeped me out. Too much happens there that causes pain or is just plain gross. At best, you get poked and prodded while being asked extremely personal questions. At worst, you get an incompetent or misguided doctor who causes bodily injury and/or psychological damage. Of course, my opinion is colored by my own experiences. Like I said, I was born with a physical defect and doctors were baffled by it for a long time. They misdiagnosed me so many times before the real cause was found. There are two different tests that were horrific to stand out in my mind. The first was a sweat test. The test is administered by attaching electrodes to a person and using them induce sweating at specific spots where the sweat is collected for testing. I remember it burning and being freaked out by it. The other one I have talked about before which was when I was made to take laps around a building and then have blood drawn. It was probably the most exhausted I have ever been.

The first thing I noticed was how gritty and dirty the film looks. The film looks a little grainy and it felt like it enhanced the heavily shadowed, poorly lit sets. This ended up all working well because the movie is largely set in the seedier parts of New York City back in the late seventies and early eighties. A time when New York was dirty and dangerous. I really loved the gritty production design. The monster design looked pretty crazy at first but it definitely grew on me. The practical effects look surprisingly good for an obviously basement low budget horror film. There are also some awesomely creepy stop motion sequences. I love stop motion used in horror as it never fails to be chilling. The movie is really gory and the practical effects and blood spray looked really excessive in the best way. To be clear, I watched the version restored by the Museum of Modern Art two years ago when they added it to their permanent collection.

Kevin Van Hentenryck plays the young protagonist/antagonist, a young naive man who is on a mission but also seems to want a normal life. He is the character we see the most and therefore the movie is arguably about him. He has a kind and innocent side but also a dark and troubled side. He is really good at playing both sides of that particular coin. Beverly Bonner plays a receptionist at a doctor’s office who is immediately sweet on our main character. She is really good at being a street smart but cute young woman. Everybody else is great too. The movie is full of actors acting in a delightfully exaggerated way. Quite a bit of the movie takes place in a fleabag hotel and a bar and the cast of characters inside of both are lovably insane stereotypes.

Overall, I really loved this movie. The movie is gory and weird and unnerving. It was a great way to officially end Halloween with an homage to my birth year of 1982. I already have copies of the two sequels and I am looking forward to watching them. My usual Halloween Hangover will hit in a week with some weird additional bits. I have so many movies still to watch but, at least for now, Halloween is over.

Q, The Winged Serpent (1982)

October 31, 2019

I have long been obsessed with the mythological. I grew up feeding on fairytales thanks to Disney and the Brothers Grimm (both apart and together). Except most of what I was exposed to was the usual European fare that most white people in America are exposed to. That all changed in high school when my mythology world was opened up by a surprising source. I was excited about the release of Final Fantasy VIII and so were a lot of other people. I started to watch videos online of spoilers for the game. I was specifically obsessed with the summons in the game. The ability to pull a mythological beast out of thin air was amazing but one of the first summons in the game fascinated me. It was Quetzacoatl, who I learned in my Spanish classes was a hybrid of a snake and a bird and a god to the Aztec people. Aztec drawings had always looked too messy to me but the design that Square-Enix had come up with was beautiful.

I have long loved the combination of mythology and an urban setting. While I am obviously a huge fan of high fantasy, urban fantasy is what I most like to read. Horror is actually really fond of putting this kind of fiction out there. I think the appeal to me is that places I walked or drove by could be secretly hiding a monster or a coven of witches. It also makes monsters and non-human creatures more relatable while still keeping them amazing. The thugs in the alley are secretly trolls, a dragon is hiding in the subway by constantly avoiding the trains, the banks are secretly run by high elves. This was kind of the appeal of the second Predator movie. Instead of taking place somewhere in the woods, it took place in an entirely different ecosystem. Cities team with life the same as the jungle but with more politics and clearer social systems. It is fun to watch monsters interact with those systems.

The first thing I noticed was how much this movie is a blend of genres. This one is a blend of a crime story, a detective story, and a monster horror movie. The movie is, of course, about the afore-mentioned movie which is treated Jaws-Like with only fleeting glimpses. The creature’s impact is seen more than the creature itself which, unless you have dynamite effects, is really the way to go. Of course, eventually the monster has to appear and I really liked the look of it. In the early eighties, you are not going to have anything that looks too beautiful so you have to make some allowances. The monster is mostly depicted Clash of the Titans style and that works for me, especially something with that scale. One thing that really hit me was that I loved the camera work in this movie. There are some really interesting moving shots and angles that really made a lot of the scenes come alive when they could have been more flat. This movie also really has some brilliant shots that triggered my fear of heights.

The movie follows a small-time crook played by Michael Moriarty. I absolutely love the way he is depicted as the absolute opposite of an action hero. He’s flighty, weird, and absolutely anxiety incarnate. He is instantly likable as an oddball outcast. He is giving it his all in a B-Movie and it shows. The movie also follows two detectives played by David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. Carradine is the main focus but both of them get to crack wise and present a lot of the exposition to the viewer. The cast does a really good job of mixing in comedy, focusing on the situation being a ridiculous situation until it is proven correct. Carradine does a good job of grounding the movie while everybody else gets more comedic performances.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It has a lot of charm and it was a nice break from the scarier movies I’ve watched this year. I do not watch a lot of creature features and I had heard good things about this one. It definitely has some strong acting, especially Moriarty who is just giving it everything he has. I like the mix of human crime with monsters that the movie has as well.

Dead Silence (2007)

October 30, 2019

I have a thing about puppets, toys, and dolls in horror. I am quickly drawn to anything with tiny animated children’s toys. I think that part of it is the juxtaposition between horror and innocence. The idea of being attacked by something people grew up being attached to is absolutely fascinating to me. Childhood is scary enough without being attacked by the toy around you. At least, it was for me. While I had a relatively good childhood, my imagination was almost always in overdrive. I dreamed up all sorts of demons and monsters in the shadows. I was not traumatized by it but I realize how many people could have been tortured by their own minds. Most of my imagination’s assault was during my dreams and not in my waking hours. It is easy to imagine sinister versions of everyday playthings. Hollywood and independents have been doing it long enough. My favorites are often connected to Charles Band such as Puppet Master, Dolls, Demonic Toys, and plenty more. Of course, it is also easy to realize how these little monsters can be so effective. Nobody could imagine that an innocent toy could harm somebody intentionally. They are literally designed to do the opposite, sentience or no.

I have watched a lot of puppet and toy horror movies, many of which I have reviewed here. They include (but are not limited to) Dolls, Demonic Toys, Goosebumps, Cult of Chucky, Curse of Chucky, and Child’s Play (2019). I will continue to review these kinds of movies, especially if they are notable cult movies and I have not seen them yet (this movie checks off both of those boxes). One culprit that I have not really explored (beyond Goosebumps and some Twilight Zone episodes) is the ventriloquist dummy. Which is weird because I have recently become infatuated with the visual look of ventriloquists. I am hesitant to reveal what that entails because I have dreamed up some horrors as part of one of my fantasy worlds. While I am no artist, I have definitely mocked up some pictures of humans with ventriloquist jaws. This is the creepiest part of the ventriloquist to me. The second place goes to their flat eyes. It goes hand in hand with my body horror fear that I have made manifest.

The first thing I noticed was an attention to detail in some great production design. The dolls in the movie are all exceptionally crafted and, while they are creepy, look like something somebody might own (unlike dolls like Annabelle). I also really like the concept of the supernatural threat which I was not exactly expecting and I will not spoil here. It is a really cool twist on the haunted doll trope and definitely fits so well here. The effects are delightfully gory and fairly horrific as one might expect from the mind of James Wan. However, unlike Saw, the movie felt more imaginative and less cruel even though it was still relentlessly cruel. On another note considering the production, this is when I found out that David Cronenberg has a sister named Denise who works as a costume designer. She definitely has some amazing contributions as well.

The acting is pretty good for a horror movie. The movie stars Ryan Kwanten as the likable everyman who is trying to solve the mystery of a personal tragedy. Donnie Wahlberg is the police detective investigating that same tragedy. He is the usual gruff, unlikeable character he always plays who somehow worms his way into your heart. Joan Heney plays a particular creepy mentally ill woman who acts as the movie’s harbinger. Amber Valletta plays the new stepmother of Kwanten’s character, adding to the whirlwind of mystery.  Bob Gunton plays the patriarch of Kwanten’s family, a kindly yet stern father figure. Michael Fairman plays the local undertaker and the source of much of the lore. Judith Roberts is a particularly nasty and delightful supernatural villain.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It had an innovative take on an old premise and went all-in on its theme and premise. The villain was really fun and made a lasting impression on me. The acting was pretty good and the story beats were worth waiting for.

Fire in the Sky (1993)

October 28, 2019

When I was ten years old, I somehow saw the trailer for this movie and after that, I was haunted by it. I watched other scary movies at the time but this one stuck with me. Every time I saw the poster, I froze up. Part of it was that it claimed to be based on a true story and I was a gullible kid. The idea of aliens being out there with the goal of floating around and targetting humans for the sole purpose of kidnapping us for mysterious and nefarious purposes. Alien abductions were supposed to happen without warning when people were out in the middle of nowhere and alone. At the time, I remember going on weekend camping trips with the Indian Guides. I was really scared that I was going to be abducted by aliens. Even though I was ten, I knew they would not hesitate to take me. I remember our group going out into the middle of the woods to experience what being in total darkness was like in order to tune in with nature and connect with a time when we did not have light bulbs or batteries. I looked up and the sky and saw a shooting star and I panicked but silently.

Another part of why the idea of alien abduction was scary to me is that the whole process was unknown. Alien abductions have been used to explain away so many seemingly weird happenings. When I became a skeptic, I confronted my fears and delved deep into all of the conspiracies. There is a rich tapestry of interesting theories and observances. The main thing that had scared me was that people lose time and then experience what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A lot of fears of aliens combine fears that we have in the real world and apply a heavy layer of the supernatural. For example, probing combines most people’s fears of sexual assault and medical procedures with the added horror of it being done by weird creatures. I also really got into reading books written by John Keel who came up with the Mothman. He also crafted theories about the Men in Black and aliens being visitors from other dimensions or other time periods and not outer space. It is definitely all disturbing to think about.

The first thing I noticed was how well they were able to capture the feel of the 1970s (which is when the story was written). The movie even feels gritty like a lot of seventies movie looked and felt like. The story is apparently a bit simplified from the original book which I can definitely appreciate seeing as how the story was never proven to be true anyway. This is often done when adapting books to movies or television and it works well to cut the fat. The movie is partially told as a mystery and it was interesting to watch that unfold. The special effects, when they appear, are really good. A lot of it is understated and shown quickly so that it has more of a Jaws effect. They do a really good job of not explaining any of it, leaving it to the audience to try and figure out what is going on. If this sort of thing were to happen, we would probably have a difficult time figuring out what objects were what except from context. When it gets insane, it gets delightfully insane like something out of a Nine Inch Nails video mixed with Cronenberg weirdness.

Part of what makes this movie work is the performance of Robert Patrick, a bit of a legend in genre films. Patrick is really believable in his role as a backwoods lumberjack. He is so good at playing the stoic and serious man. Also turning in an excellent role is the legendary James Garner who is extremely likable as the big shot Police Lieutenant investigating the incident. However, the main character is played by DB Sweeney and he is instantly likable and interesting as a wide-eyed idealist. He is based on the man who wrote the book about what he believed happened. The story is told in flashbacks and post-event which means that everybody involved has to almost play two roles. Sweeney is especially good at it, acting as the brave man and the shattered man. The rest of the cast is mostly made up of the ragtag gang of friends who have rallied around their leader. They are all interesting guys.

Overall, I am really glad that I watched this movie to tie a bow on something from my childhood. Even with my hard-earned skepticism, I felt that same knot of fear before the movie started. I think it is a good enough movie but it dragged in some places and probably could have gotten to the point quicker. It definitely gets crazy and gross but you have to wait for it. Still, I think it is worth watching.

The Deaths of Ian Stone (2008)

October 25, 2019

When I was little, I had a recurring dream of being pursued, presumably by monsters. I never got a clear look at my pursuers but I was secure in the knowledge that if they caught me, they would destroy me utterly. The only time I might have seen my pursuers was when the dream started before I started fleeing. I was in a village of purple-skinned people who I thought were some sort of undead maybe. I knew they were eating humans. I forget how I pissed them off but before I long I knew I had to escape their village. I remember having to run through a fall landscape in the woods, the trail covered in slippery leaves. I remember knowing that I had to get to a barn where there was a zipline that would take me to safety or at least buy me some time. The dream ended with me on the zipline, something I would almost certainly not do in real life. I remember waking up with that anxiety clinging to me.

Of course, death itself is always in the top three list of fears globally. It is definitely a big fear for me, deep in the pit of my stomach. It has constantly vied with my other top fear of public speaking. A little cliche but those are the top two fears according to polls but I take comfort in being in a lot of good company. Death is always a mystery. We have no idea what instant it will come even in old age or heavily compromised by sickness. There is also no evidence on what happens after that final curtain. What if what happened was another death or more? That is a very real part of what makes death so scary, at least to me. We all try to fill our lives with light to drive the darkness of death away so that we can live comfortably.

The first thing I noticed was that the tone of the film and its imagery reminded me of Donnie Darko or Dark City. Everything is strange and off but not in an exaggerated way, at least not at first. I really liked the design of the creatures and how they teased their appearance slowly. Slowly revealing the monster is often my favorite part of horror movies. I love the lost feeling that I got while watching the movie. I had no clue what was going on but it made me want to know more. I would compare it to David Lynch but Lynch never provides any answers. This movie has more of a driving force, heading unstoppably toward a conclusion. It keeps you guessing but did not feel as frustrating as a Lynch movie. I really like a disorienting mystery sometimes.

Mike Vogel is in the lead and is instantly likable and relatable as the American expatriate just trying to make sense of his life. He constantly has really good scenes with just about everyone else in the movie. Christina Cole is a chipper, optimistic young woman who gets dragged along on the ride. I really liked the performance I got from Michael Feast as the wise man used for a lot of the slow exposition dumps. Jaime Murray is perfect as the beautiful, seductive and acidic opposition. She is so charismatic and fun to watch and fun to hate. The rest of the cast is mostly there to move things along as background but they do a good job. The acting felt like a mix of Lynch, Donnie Darko, Dark City, and even The Matrix. It felt like a refreshing take on science fiction/horror.

Overall, I loved this movie. It was a great combination of horror, mystery, and action which definitely scratched an itch I had no idea was there. The characters were all fun to watch and the movie was deeply satisfying. On a side note, I would like to thank my friend Tracy who recommended this movie. I would not have found it otherwise since it is off the beaten path.

Halloween (2018)

October 23, 2019

A lot of us have those family members that we are forced to cut ties from, the ones who haunt us sometimes with thoughts that we may see them again. The bonds of family are intense and almost impossible to erase. We do not choose these bonds and they can quickly become chains in bad situations, burdens we can only remove by limiting access. Of course, when those family members are mentally unbalanced, things become even harder. Dealing with unbalanced people like that is bad because they are extremely predictable until they become erratic. They lull you into a false sense of security and then they are suddenly in your face and potentially causing mental or physical harm. While none of my relatives have ever been potentially violent, I have known people who were. The scars of the past fade with time but they never truly go away. Any reminder can bring those scars back into focus and sometimes reopen the wounds we thought were closed.

I guess I should explain why I do not talk much about the Halloween franchise. The fact of the matter is that I held a grudge. I felt that the original Halloween was really good as you would expect from John Carpenter. After that movie is when they made a mistake. Originally, Halloween was intended to be an anthology series. Mike Myers was the villain for the first movie but any subsequent movies were to have different plots and different antagonists. Unfortunately, the studio got cold feet and pulled the trigger on Halloween 2 which featured the return of Michael Myers. Then they proceeded to their original plan and released Halloween 3 which featured a wildly different plot that mixed science fiction and magic. The movie was really good and felt more innovative than Halloween 2 and it showed promise for the original plan. However, the fans were confused and the studio panicked and they went back to Michael Myers and scrapped the original plan. I had sour grapes about that but now I’m willing to revisit the franchise.

The first thing I noticed was how the movie referred to the franchise history without really talking about it too much. Michael is set up to be almost a demigod of murder because his legend has been told for 40 years. I also really liked how they told a story rarely told in horror movies. They showed the survivors and the toll the event took on them and not just the survivors but the effect it has generationally. I love the slow burn of this movie and the deliberate pacing which causes tension long before anything actually happens. I love when horror villains are treated like forces of nature where everybody sits up and takes notice. The effects felt straight out of the seventies and eighties, all practical and all-natural. This is a straightforward slasher/action hybrid as if it was a sequel of the original movie, bypassing eight movies in the process. I really liked the cinematography and the set design which always provided for the perfect staging ground for the action.

Of course, if you have seen even a whiff of the promotion for this movie then you know that the star of the show is once again Jamie Lee Curtis. Except whereas she earned the same “scream queen” status of her mother in the first film, here she radiates different energy. She is a woman 40 years removed from the worst night of her life and she is not about to let it happen again. Michael does all of his acting through body language and that is done well by Nick Castle (the original) but mostly stuntman James Jude Courtney. Andi Matichak steps into the position that Curtis originally occupied and she is instantly likable. Haluk Bilginer takes the place of Donald Pleasance, a psychologist desperately trying to help. The rest of the cast is really good and provides plenty of depth to the movie.

Overall, I really liked the movie as it provided a good, straight-up horror movie and actually fought against some of the tropes and cliches of the genre while still honoring it. Obviously, the makers of this film loved the original franchise but wanted to reign it in by giving it a soft reboot. In that way, they simplify the lore and give a new starting point for horror fans like me. It makes me really want to see what the two planned sequels will be.

Prince of Darkness (1987)

October 18, 2019

I had my own brush with Satanic Panic when I was a small child. It was Halloween and even then it was my all-time favorite holiday. I always enjoyed writing and creating stories and I could not help getting into the spirit of the holiday, apparently in a very method way. At one point, my brothers and neighbor took off running down the sidewalk and I wanted them to wait for me. I decided it would be in character to call out “Stop! In the name of the Devil!” A neighbor immediately chastised me, scared that I had invoked the name of humanity’s nemesis. That event and the rhetoric in church made me fear Satan a lot during childhood. For example, I never put my hands under my pillow while sleeping because I was afraid that Satan would drag me to Hell. I have told the story before but when I was a preteen, I was sleeping over at my best friend’s house when his mother called up. She said, “Hey guys, look outside it’s snowing!” I started to move toward the window but my friend said “Don’t. She could be the Devil. If we look, she’s got us.” Thoughts like this chilled me to bone. Now, like the Church of Satan says, I know that “Satan is a fictional character“. Still, it’s still fun to pretend.

I have often stated that losing oneself is probably one of my biggest fears. This includes changes made to my mind or body. Body horror is obviously terrifying but I am not afraid of monsters as much as I am afraid of becoming a monster or just melting into a subhuman mess. John Carpenter is very good at poking that fear center and is famous for exploiting it. I am also afraid of having my mind co-opted by a foreign entity. While that thought has helped me be a better skeptic, it is not a wholly rational fear. Well, except that there is already at least one case of dementia in my family. Horror is full of stories of possession and the change of people into monsters both figuratively and literally. Every single one of them is scary to me. Prime examples are The Thing, The Mouth of Madness, The Shining, all of the Re-Animator movies, and The Exorcist. Of course, there are so many other examples such as the myriad Hollywood movies on possession. I like to seek out these movies because they challenge me and, although they terrify me, they also inspire me.

The first thing I noticed was how much work the movie puts into introducing all of the characters and setting up their lives. The mystery of the movie unfolds slowly at first. I really liked the probably realistic depiction of the church as a large body that keeps so many secrets that even the Pope doesn’t know some of them. I also like the marrying of religion and science which gives this horror film a unique kind of feel. Both were invented to try and explain the universe but somethings should not be explored or spoken of. Like many of John Carpenter’s movies of the day, the aesthetic is gritty 1980s city. The movie keeps the tension going with trademark electronic music written and performed by John Carpenter, one of the few directors who could do that. The music is exactly what the movie needs at every moment. The special effects are top-notch as you would expect from Carpenter. A lot of practical effects which are gross and bloody.

One of the best parts about the movie is a great cast delivering great lines about evil, science, and religion. Horror legend Donald Pleasance plays an unnamed priest who is the catalyst of the whole movie. He is the one who delivers a lot of the dark lore in long ominous speeches. Victor Wong is the lead scientist, a man who is confounded by seeing things that go against his understanding of the universe. He delivers a lot of the science of the film, through lectures and speeches. Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount play the de facto lead characters, doing a lot of the moralizing and acting as the audience viewpoint. There is also an excellent cast of character actors involved in spooky science. There is also a creepy group led by the glorious Alice Cooper. Even silent he has so much charisma and his role is definitely memorable.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is just as wild and crazy as the other two movies in the Apocalypse trilogy (The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness). This movie felt like it had less action-adventure components than The Thing and was more old school than In the Mouth of Madness.

Blacula (1972)

October 16, 2019

I had long dismissed Blacula as some sort of blaxploitation equivalent of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I thought it was a silly movie. I thought it was a joke. I often confused it with A Vampire in Brooklyn. It was only recently that I heard more about the movie through Horror Noire. Horror Noire is a documentary made this year that covers the history of Horror in Black Cinema. It introduced me to movies that I had never heard of and movies that I had only heard of in passing. It covered movies that I had seen like Candyman and Get Out. As a white person, I have tried to seek out movies that are somehow removed from my life experience. I want to see movies with people of color in them but I also want to see movies made by people of color. I have a long list of movies that I want to see and documentaries and even listicles help me focus that list.

My first experience with vampires was reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula during the summer when I was ten. It was after I had read Frankenstein and I was once again enthralled by a story of pure gothic horror. The story was scary to me as a little kid. The idea of being like Jonathan Harker and being trapped in a castle of vampires was horrible. The idea of being stalked like Mina Harker, never knowing what was out there in the shadows, sparked my imagination. But really, the worst was the idea of being turned like Renfield or Lucy Westenra. Losing my mind like Renfield and being a creature that fed on spiders and rats like some sort of rabid thing is a horrible thought. The idea of turning like Lucy and not being able to help myself from preying on the weak and then having my former friends kill me. I shudder. I feel like turning is scarier than being killed by a vampire.

The first thing I noticed was that this was not just a palette-swapped version of the Dracula story. In fact, they go to a good deal of trouble to connect the history of Blacula (not his actual name) with that of Dracula. This pleased me as a fan of the original book (and many adaptations) and it made me instantly want to see more of the story. The story also ties into the slave trade and colonialism which I should have expected (as exploitation films of the time tried to address such issues). There is definitely a hokey atmosphere involved. I mean, it is rated PG which still confuses me as it has plenty of blood. Different standards, I guess. It also is able to tie the myth of Dracula to the modern-day while also making the main character somewhat sympathetic. All of this is done in a style that manages to mix the exploitation style with something similar to Hammer Films. The music is also super funky in places and tense in others which makes for a fun mix.

Part of what makes this movie so good is the strong acting. William Marshall plays the title role and he is so commanding and charismatic. At times, he is also very sympathetic and charming and very human (as funny as that sounds). Vonetta McGhee plays his intended victim, a demure woman with plenty of curiosity. He is opposed by Thalmus Rasulala who plays a stern but funny Police scientist who is not only dealing with Blacula but also with the incompetence and spitefulness of the White police. Denise Nicholas plays McGhee’s best friend and Rasulala’s girlfriend who does not know how to deal with the weirdness (except with the occasional joke). Finally, there is a white cop played by Gordon Pinsent who just cannot be bothered. The cast adds so much to what could have been fluff but ended up being scary and interesting. They go for a joke to relieve the tension but they keep the scares going when they need to.

Overall, I loved this movie way more than I thought I would. There was enough action to keep me interested but also enough story to make me happy that I was hooked. It was a pleasant divergence from the traditional Dracula mythos while still staying true to its spirit. It was full of dark romance and plenty of danger.

Us (2019)

October 14, 2019

When I was a preteen, my family used to go to Busch Gardens Williamsburg which I loved the theming of. Part of the theming at the time was that each section of the park was patterned after a European country. My favorite was Banbury Cross (Olde England) but that is not relevant here. One of the sections was themed after Germany, most of which was based on the yearly celebration of Oktoberfest. One of the attractions that I actually chose to ride was a riverboat that cruised up and down the river gently. However, the boat that we boarded was called The Doppelganger. It was during this trip that the tour guide decided to explain what the boat’s namesake was. He told us that everybody in the world has a doppelganger out there. If you ever meet your doppelganger, they could easily kill you and take over your life. The thought terrified me. Back then I really believed in such things and the thought of another me, itching to get rid of me chilled me to the bone. It stuck with me even if it passed from my mind from time to time.

The idea has been explored to some extent before. This idea that we are our own worst enemy is nothing new. We are our own worst critic but also our best advocate and those sides of us are in constant war with each other. If that dark side of ourselves were to manifest as an actual being, all of our worst energies, it would be most dangerous to ourselves. My anxiety and periodic depression have made me very critical of me and I come down hard on myself in my bluest periods. The thought of that darkness leaking out into the world and coming against me and the ones that I love is a bad, bad thought. To have it literally happen is even worse than the few times I have shot my mouth off and made things worse. The clearest example of it I can remember is Invasion of the Body Snatchers and also an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I feel like the concept could use more exploring so I am glad to see it here.

The first thing I noticed was how psychological this movie is. Jordan Peele has proven that he does not need fancy effects to make things absolutely eerie. He does a lot with camera shots, music, and the expressions of his actors that absolutely makes me incredibly tense. He plays with light and shadow and simple optical tricks that mess with your head. Long silences left me stuck in anticipation, waiting for what horrible thing might happen next. Even things I expected to happen ended up scaring me. That is the sign of a great horror movie. I spent a lot of the movie filled with both the dread of what I knew was probably going to happen but also the fear of not knowing for sure if that was what would happen. Of course, being Jordan Peele, there are greater things at work too. The symbolism itself is scary as Hell. The concepts themselves bring a lot to the table. There are great political messages that are reflected in horrible ways.

Part of what makes this movie so good is the brilliant cast that they were able to get. For example, Peele was able to nab Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke fresh off of their star-making turn in Black Panther. Nyong’o plays a loving mother who is already fraying at the edges at the start of the movie from childhood trauma. Duke plays her husband, a nerdy but lovable certified dad who is just trying to figure his family out. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex play their young children who are quirky but normal kids. Of course, as you might expect they all play double duty and they are fantastic at it. The cast is rounded out by Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss who are pretty creepy as well.

Overall, the movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire run. I was absolutely gripped by this movie in the same way that I was gripped by Get Out. I prayed both for a good ending and for somebody to explain to me what was happening. I also really loved the message in this one. While many horror movies have a message, some of the best ones have political messages. They are a dark reflection of our human condition and this one is no different. I absolutely recommend this.

Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992)

October 11, 2019

Rated R for gore and language.

Back in 2016, I reviewed a little movie called Bad Taste which happens to be the first film that a young Peter Jackson made. It was absolutely fantastic in a similar style to the Troma style of horror movies. Lots of wildly fake but gross gore and plenty of silly comedy. The thing is, the general public mostly knows Peter Jackson as “the guy who made Lord of the Rings”. Except, the Lord of the Rings franchise was the second phase of his career. Before that, he made three horror movies that are still celebrated today even if one of them is not technically ‘good’. In 1983 (when I was not yet one year old) he joined together with his friends to make a goofy, crazy horror movie called Bad Taste. It took them four years filming on weekends in their little town in New Zealand. Still, it was his ticket to show business and nine years later (1989) he released The Frighteners, a fun horror comedy starring Michael J Fox. In between, he directed his second film to get a wide release in the United States called Braindead (renamed Dead Alive for American audiences). I am so excited to watch this last movie in his horror trilogy.

As long as I can remember, I have been afraid of contagion. I think that is a natural response to learning that out there are things that you cannot see that can kill you. I used to dread visiting hospitals because I just knew I was going to catch something. I still get skeeved out in them. When I was a preteen, my mom’s best friend got cancer and my first fear was that my mom would catch it consoling her. Obviously, I am not alone in my fear. The media is rife with stories about one contagion or another. Since I was a kid there have been tons of outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease. There have been some potential Ebola outbreaks a little too close to home but now they seem to have developed a cure. That is why the anti-vax movement scares me so much because it causes outbreaks of diseases we thought we already defeated. It makes me worry about how the United States and the world would do in a real global pandemic with too many stupid people on Earth.

What I first noticed was that this movie is every bit as goofy and zany as Bad Taste but with a slightly higher budget. Everything is done with practical effects and the gore starts flowing within minutes of the beginning. In keeping with the same wacky atmosphere as his previous movies, the camera lurches from dramatic angle to dramatic angle like an episode of 1960s Batman. Still, I feel like all of this services the movie really well as it heightens the comedy as it shifts to horror. Everything keeps high energy and almost never stops building toward a conclusion. As I said, the blood definitely flows and the aforementioned contagion and rot definitely rears its head. Those effects are so gross but again, good for the movie. There is a reason that this movie holds the record for most fake blood used in a movie. I also love the stop motion animation. Stop motion has a lot of potential for being absolutely terrifying (see The Ghoulies, The Gate, Evil Dead, and Puppet Master).

The acting is over the top but also fantastic. Timothy Balme is perfect as the nerdy, put upon guy who is thrust into a horrible situation.  He feels like Charlie Chaplin stuck in a horror movie. Diana Peñalver is great as the sunny and naive Hispanic immigrant who falls in love with Balme for better or worse. Elizabeth Moody plays Balme’s horrible mother who is horrible to be with even before everything goes to Hell. The rest of the movie is populated by plenty of zany character actors who get into a lot of terrifying but comically violent situations. It is once again set in New Zealand with a mostly New Zealand cast. A lot of the acting is purposefully exaggerated as it was in Bad Taste. It is like watching a horror movie made by the Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers in the best way. Almost everybody mugs for the camera and makes sure every word is over annunciated. Over the top was the only way to do this movie and it really works for me.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It made me cringe and wince over and over but its outrageousness kept me wondering what would happen next. It is full of plenty of surprises but all of the surprises are definitely earned instead of just for cheap scares. While the movie is still pretty rough, it shows clearly how good Peter Jackson is at putting a movie together. Everything works together in service of the movie and nothing clashes. Everything works toward wacky, bloody horror and nothing pauses the action unnecessarily. I definitely recommend it for people with strong stomachs.


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