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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 213: Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek
Please note: The movie contains no wolves or creeks

Based on a true story/Based on true events. There are countless horror movies with that tag line, but what does it really mean? It is so vague that it can be stand for just about anything. Some movies take a story from real life and adapt it directly. Other movies take the basis of a story and tweak it to their needs. Finally, there are movies that have the “based on a true story” tag and just make everything up. Either way, you still have to take any movie that uses that saying with a grain of salt. Rarely do they come out exactly like the true story and you can only hope to be entertained.

Wolf Creek is a 2005 independent horror movie from Australia starring Nathan Phillips (Chernobyl Diaries, Snakes On A Plane) as Ben Mitchell, Kestie Morassi (Darkness Falls, Dirty Deeds) as Kristy Earl and Cassandra Magrath (SeaChange, Crash Zone) as Liz Hunter. Kristy and Liz are two British tourists traveling through Australia was a local named Ben. The travel to Wolf Creek National Park, a remote part of Australia where a meteorite struck the Earth. Ben and Liz sneak off and kiss each other. Later, when the group returns to the car, they discover that all their watches have stopped. When they try to leave, the car no longer starts. Ben mentions that there had been UFO sightings in the past and the meteorite may have something to do with their electronics no longer working. As night falls, an outback-style man named Mick Taylor (John Jarratt, Australia, Django Unchained) arrives and offers to tow their car to his home to repair it. Initially, they are charmed by Mick who tells them tales of living in the remote area of Australia. He offers them “rainwater” to drink which drugs the group, knocking them out. Liz awakens, tied up in a shed. She frees herself with a shard of glass and is able to escape. Before she can leave, though, she hears Kristy being tortured by Mick in a nearby building. Liz creates a diversion and shoots Mick in the neck with his rifle. Liz and Kristy try to escape in a car, but are pursued by a wounded, but still alive Mick. Kristy hides while Liz tries to find another car to steal. She discovers the possessions of countless people who have been killed and tortured by Mick. She finds camcorders that replay almost the same scenario that they have endured. With Mick in pursuit, how will Liza and Kristy be able to survive and where is Ben?

"There's no creek? You monster!"

The movie is based on the abduction and assault of two British tourists in the Northern Territory of Australia in 2001. The entire movie is not based on that story and people familiar with the actual events shouldn't expect things to play out that way. Think of it in the same way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is based on true events. The movie takes a long time to set up with the action not kicking in until about 50 minutes in. This all could have been taken care of within about 25 minutes, but they stretched it out for some unknown reason. It's not like the built up the characters or anything important. We don't know much about Ben, Kristy, and Liz which is unfortunate because if they were better developed, the audience would have felt more for them other than just seeing them being brutalized and tortured. While I'm not a fan of torture movies, Wolf Creek does not overdue it when it comes to violence. Sure there are some gruesome scenes and a good amount of blood, but it never crossed the line into “torture porn,” gleefully showing horrific scenes just to gross-out the audience.

John Jarratt is fantastic as Mick, almost to a fault. He is so charmingly evil that he overtakes the movie and is far more interesting to watch then the main characters. He is almost too good and almost had me cheering for him through his sheer force of will in trying to kill people. At first, I was happy to see the focus on the two female characters fighting back against their male assailant, but was utterly disappointed at how things turned out. They have flairs of good revenge, but spend far too much time screaming to be true heroes. It's almost as if they completely forgot about Ben until the last 10 minutes of the movie. I just assumed, along with most of the audience, that he was dead. Other than the scenes of torture, there really isn't much of a plot or purpose to Wolf Creek. The movie comes off as a vehicle to show the directorial skills of Greg McLean. He does a fine job with good action shots and some decent scenes of horror.

The son of Crocodile Dundee and Gene Simmons

Wolf Creek is a by-the-numbers capture-and-torture horror movies. It had a lot of potential and could have gone in many different and creative directions, but unfortunately did not. The movie takes far too long to get to the point and skips over important character development and foreshadowing. John Jarratt is great in his role, but the movie almost makes him too awesome. I don't want to be cheering for the evil psychopath when I don't have to. There some rough scenes of torture and blood, but the movie doesn't go over-the-top. I've seen some critics praise Wolf Creek and can't understand for the life of me were they are coming from. It is thoroughly uninspired, which is surprising, considering it is inspired by true events. How is that even possible?


Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 212: Masters of Horror: Jenifer

Masters of Horror: Jenifer
But she has so much inner beauty

I am still a novice when it comes to Dario Argento movies. I have reviewed two of his works, (Inferno and Masters of Horror: Pelts) but they only scratch the surface of Argento's unique vision. It was difficult to get through Inferno, mostly due to a lack of a cohesive plot and the fact that it dragged for hours. It was visually stunning and the music was great, but I had no clue what was going on. I enjoyed Pelts because it was a focused horror story that confined Argento to a certain format fit for television. It still had plenty of blood and gore, but Argento couldn't go off on an LSD-style color trip for an extra hour. Perhaps his other Masters of Horror installment would be just as good.

Masters of Horror: Jenifer is a 2005 horror movie from the Showtime television series starring Steven Weber (Farm House, Wings) as police officer Frank Spivey. While parked in his squad car, Frank sees a man carrying a meat cleaver forcing a woman (Carrie Fleming) to the ground. The man raises the cleaved and Frank draws his gun and fire. The woman has a beautiful figure but a horribly disfigured face and giant black eyes. That night, Frank is consoled by his wife Ruby and during sex, he fantasizes about the girl he saved and becomes too rough with her. The next day, Frank speaks with a police officer who interrogated the girl and learns that her name is most likely Jenifer, due to a note found on her with that name written on it, and that she is mute and probably mentally handicapped. He meets her in the mental hospital and takes her home with him. Frank dreams of a non-disfigured Jenifer and awakens to find her standing in his room, terrifying his wife and teenage son. Frank takes Jenifer out to find a place for her to stay, but ends up having sex with her and bringing her back to his home. There, she eats his cat causing Frank's wife and son to leave him. Frank turns to alcohol and while he is blacked out, Jenifer kills and begins eating Amy, a little girl that lives near Frank. He tries to get a circus worker to kidnap her and put her in the freakshow, but he finds the worker half-eaten in his refrigerator. Unable to break free from his attraction to her, Frank takes Jenifer to live with him in a cabin in the woods. What will happen to Frank and Jenifer?

I'd hate to see her on a bad day

This is certainly a weird story, but it doesn't quite reach the “Argento in his prime” weirdness.The story is fairly straightforward, and I have the feeling that I've seen something similar, but I can't place my finger on it. The makeup used on Jenifer's face is quite creepy and not easy to look at. Jenifer doesn't talk, but instead makes an array of almost-human sounds. This adds to the overall horror of the character because it is something unnatural coming from a human body, similar to the spiderwalk scene from The Exorcist or the jerking movements of the little girl from Ringu. It takes a lot for me to be shocked or taken aback from a horror movie, but the scene where Jenifer is eating Amy really stuck out to me. So much so that I actually said “That's fucked up,” something that doesn't occur often when watching a movie. I think it was mostly due to Amy being so young and the movie showing her covered in blood and entrails.

It's hard to ignore the large amounts of sex and nudity in this episode. It definitely isn't for children, and, to be honest, some adults. It was an interesting mix of eroticism and repulsion, almost like a bizarre adult Beauty And The Beast in reverse. I do find it hard to believe that Frank could become so obsessed with her, but I think it was due to some sort of pheromone or hypnosis. It wasn't really clear and was too convenient for the story's purposes. The movie doesn't have the same flare that Argento's earlier works have and could have used something to separate it from other Masters of Horror episodes. The story is a bit predictable, especially towards the end and could have use some more explanation into who or what Jenifer is.


Masters of Horror: Jenifer is a decent episode in the series with some good blood and gore. Steven Weber plays his part well enough and Carrie Fleming is fine as Jenifer. Her disfigured makeup is very good and the weird sounds she makes are very creepy. The movie is predictable and lacks that true Argento eye for film-making. There is a lot of nudity and sex in this film and is not appropriate for certain audiences. The movie does have some scary moments, but the horror tends to lag at certain points. Overall, it's a decent watch; not the best from Masters of Horror, but not the worst.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Day 211: Play Misty For Me

Play Misty For Me
But you didn't say "Please".

I have been a radio DJ on and off since college. I really enjoy bringing new music to people and helping out lesser-known bands reach an audience. It's always nice to get requests as it's a confirmation that people are listening and I'm not just shouting into the darkness of radio. Thankfully, I've never had to deal with angry listeners. I did receive mail from a prisoner, but it was all positive. Being in any form of entertainment opens you up to a wide variety of people, some good and some not so good. All it takes is one person off the medication or off their rocker to become obsessed and fixated.

Play Misty For Me is a 1971 thriller horror movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby) as radio DJ Dave Garver. Dave broadcasts on KRML in California, playing a mix of music and poetry. One night at a bar, he meets a woman named Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter, Arrested Development, PCU). She reveals that their meeting is not a coincidence as she is a fan of his radio show and has requested him to play the song “Misty” for her on several occasions. Dave is slightly uncomfortable, but Evelyn coerces him into sleeping with her with the agreement of no strings attached. The next day, Evelyn shows up at Dave's home to his surprise. He is a little taken aback, but does not object too much. She begins to show up unannounced and uninvited to places where Dave shows up. She alternates between saying she loves him and claiming to hate him and Dave tries to break it off gently numerous times. His ex-girlfriend Tobie Williams (Donna Mills, Knots Landing, Melrose Place) has come back to town and Dave tries to rekindle their relationship. Evelyn continues to follow him, even ruining a business meeting and a potential job for Dave. She attempts to kill herself, but manages to survive. She breaks into Dave's house, destroying his things and attacking his house keeper. She is committed to an institution and Dave begins a relationship with Tobie. Time passes, and Evelyn calls Dave, saying she has been released and is going to work in Hawaii. That night, she attacked Dave in his sleep, but was unsuccessful and escaped. How will Dave stop Evelyn and will he be able to protect Tobie? 

Who could say no to those sideburns?

We all know Clint Eastwood as the quiet, tough cowboy or the older, gruff father figure later in his career. Play Misty For Me takes Eastwood out of his comfort zone and makes him a sort-of heartthrob, complete with feathery hair. Eastwood's Dave has his flaws and tries to make things right with Evelyn, but by then it is too late and the audience is cheering for him. All this is helped along thanks to the phenomenal Jessica Walter. She is incredibly convincing, going from calm and loving, to manically dangerous. The audience knows pretty quickly that something is wrong, but Dave doesn't catch on and we watch in horror as things go from bad to worse. The movie has some good scares and thrills, culminating in a harrowing final scene made all the scarier thanks to a lack of music. Sometimes scenes are far scarier with real sounds instead of orchestras and music telling us how we should feel. There are some good scenes of violence, though they are tame compared to movies today.

The movie is a strong, simple thriller that is perfect for Eastwood's directorial debut. Things play out as you expect, but that's good because Play Misty For Me is the type of movie that does not require tricks or twists. The movie paved the way for other stalker movies like Fatal Attraction and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. The only real problems from the movie are due to it being a victim of it's time. The 70's weren't exactly a great time and the movie is steeped in the era, from the clothes to the hair. Despite the aesthetic issues, there are scenes that reflect filmmaking at the time, like an extended music festival scene or the long reconnection of Dave and Tobie complete with cheesy love music playing while the walk along a beach and kiss during sunset. These scenes take away from the flow of movie and certainly don't appeal to modern audiences.

Wow! I can hear the ocean in your ear!

Play Misty For Me is a by-the-numbers stalker movie and there is nothing wrong with that. The movie is carried by the great performance of Jessica Walter and the good performance of Clint Eastwood. Eastwood does a fine job directing, especially so since it was his first time in the director's chair. The movie has good thrills and suspense with some decent action. It tends to be a little slow in parts and the style of the movie is steeped in the 70's which doesn't translate well to the 2010's. Play Misty For Me is a fun movie that can be watched by a wide audience.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Day 210: Absentia

Check out my manicure! Now!

After watching over 200 hundred movies, I feel like I've seen just about every trick in the horror book. Sure, the details change, but most tend to follow similar patterns, or action, or overall themes; monster shows up, people die, hero fights the monster, hero either lives or dies. The end. Roll credits. It's such a pleasant and refreshing surprise to see an independent horror movie that tries do be unconventional. Of course, being unconventional does not necessarily make it good. It requires a unique story, solid acting, and good overall horror.

Absentia is a 2011 horror movie starring Katie Parker (Cut, Scare Dares) as Callie and Courtney Bell (American Marriage, Scare Dares) as her sister Tricia. Callie has finally kicked her drug habit and has come to live with Tricia after spending years on the road. Tricia is pregnant, but when Callie asks about the father, she avoids getting into specifics. Tricia's husband Daniel has been missing for 7 years without any sign of returning. Detective Ryan Mallory (Dave Levine, Space Guys In Space, Asylum) has been working on the case and have grown close to Tricia. After waiting for many years, Tricia files paperwork to declare Daniel 'dead in absentia'. Tricia has strange hallucinations of Daniel, as if he is trying to reach out to her. During a morning run, Callie goes through a tunnel and comes across a sick man named Walter. He is shocked that she is able to see him and runs away. She returns at night and leaves food at the tunnel. She is shocked to find all sorts of trinkets and items in her bed. With some convincing by Callie, Tricia decides to finally move into a new place and decides to openly date Det. Mallory. On their date, Daniel reappears, showing signs of abuse and malnourishment. He is unable to say where he has been other than “underneath”. One night, Callie finds a terrified Daniel in her room, claiming that something has found him. She hears a chirping sound and goes to investigate. She is knocked out by some sort of creature and when she comes to, Daniel is once again missing. The next day, the man Callie met named Walter is found horribly mutilated outside the tunnel. Callie begins to piece together all the disappearances over the years from the neighborhood and discovers that they all have something to do with that tunnel. What ancient secrets does the tunnel hide and what does it mean for Callie and Tricia?

For the last time, I'm not Jessica Alba!

Despite being an independent movie funded through Kickstarter, Absentia comes off as a big budget horror movie. I don't mean in terms of special effects or big stars, but in the quality of the story and acting. The movie doesn't suffer from being an “indie” movie with wacky, off-beat characters or uncomfortable awkward scenes that serve no purpose. You know what type of movies I mean. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Absentia is able to produce a very believable and real-world story with a dash of horror. That dash is just enough to keep things thrilling and interesting. There aren't many scares in the movie, but it relies on old-school horror techniques to get the audience jumping. Despite the lack of blood and violence, the movie makes up for it with sinister implications that create psychological terror.

Absentia is, at it's heart, a simple story. The story itself is told in such a way that we have a hint of what happens, then it jumps forward to after the action and then we find out what happened. I assume this was a money-saving strategy and it doesn't hinder the story, but they used this trick more than once, making it too obvious. Unfortunately, we never get to see what is kidnapping people, only brief flashes. The background isn't really discussed either, which is disappointing because I really wanted to know just what was going on. What is it? Where does it come from? Why are people being kidnapped? I don't need everything laid out for me, but a little more information would have made the movie that much better. The acting is pretty good throughout, helped by believable dialogue.

If this guy were any paler, he'd be Mitt Romney

Absentia comes close to greatness, but just barely misses. There isn't a specific reason as it has some very good moments, but, for me, it just doesn't go far enough. I would have liked a little more information on the creature's background and more action. I suppose their were budget constraints, but a few minutes of dialogue doesn't cost that much. There are some decent scares and the mystery is enticing enough to keep the audience's attention. It is nice to see a quality independent movie with actors and actresses that may not have big name recognition, but have the solid acting ability to make the movie entertaining. Absentia is a good movie and I look forward to more work from Mike Flanagan.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Day 209: Vampires

Their waffles are to die for

I don't want to say that the Twilight series has ruined the horror genre (mostly because I haven't and will not read it), but it certainly has made it harder for the genre. Vampires have always had a romantic quality to them, but Twilight dumbed it down for the tween population so they could swoon over a monster that sparkles in the sunlight. Yeah, it sounds pretty hideous. Vampire movies now need to up the ante and present themselves in a different light. Some movies try found footage, or telling the story from the vampire's point of view or, like in the case of vampires, an amalgam of both. (And yes, I have already reviewed a movie called “Vampires,” but this is a different film.)

Vampires is a 2010 Belgian horror movies starring Carlo Ferante as Georges. The Belgian vampire community invites a film crew to follow one of their families. After two attempts in which the crew were eaten by vampires, ground rules are set and a third crew is able to film the family. Georges is the patriarch, Bertha the mother, Samson the son, and Grace the daughter. They also share their cellar with two other vampires who are relegated to a small space because they do not have children. They explain what it is like to live as a vampire, having a young woman they call The Meat stay in their house as their food. The also immigrants delivered to their house for eating as well. We see them picking out coffins to sleep in and going to school to learn how to properly be a vampire. Despite being vampires, the family has problems similar to that of a human family, though with a twist. Grace is unhappy and desperately wants to become human. She wears pink clothes, puts on makeup to appear tan, and even has a human boyfriend. She even goes as far as trying to kill herself through various human methods, but her vampirism keeps her alive. Samson is rebellious and sleeps with the community leader's wife, the only taboo in the vampire community. The penalty is death, but Samson is able to go to London and speak with an elder who is able to stay the execution. The family is exiled to Canada. Will they be able to adjust to their new life in a new country?

Cheers, Big Ears

This film is not your typical vampire movie. It is shot in the documentary style of interviews which captures some intimate moments of the vampires' lives. It gives a unique perspective on the vampire genre as well. The movie also brings up the “vampire code,” written by Count Dracula himself, which all vampires must live by. This was something new to me and I'm not sure if it exists in other forms of entertainment, but it added a sense of realism to the movie. The vampires live without fear of disease or violence, but still must live within the code. I am hesitant to compare it to other mockumentaries such as This Is Spinal Tap and Fear of A Black Hat because while it does have humorous moments, it is not a total spoof on vampires.

The movie is well written with some clever dialogue that really help things move along. The acting is good all around and make the movie believable. Made for relatively, the movie focuses more on character development than action. It has a few scenes of violence and some blood, but nothing extreme or gorey. There is some good social commentary throughout, such as the differences in lifestyle for the family. Life is easy in Belgium and they are fat and comfortable. When they move to Canada, they are forced to work and interact with humans. This all can be compared to the hardships that human immigrants must endure. Vampires does have some differences in other vampire movie, such as fire not killing them, but it didn't bother me much. Little changes are ok. Vampires sparkling in sunlight are not. 

Let me stand next to your fire

Vampires is a smart and witty take on the vampire genre. It wisely uses the documentary style to develop characters in a way that straight forward movies can not. The interview segments are windows in the character's minds and emotions and you just don't get that from a regular vampire movie. There is a bit of action and blood, but not enough for your typical horror fan. The movie has some genuinely funny moments and is enjoyable for people that like to pick up on small nuances. If you enjoy good writing and dialogue and can live without lots of violence, you'll like Vampires.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day 208: Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
Wait, this isn't the Hank Aaron story

The United States has a long history of serial killers. From Son of Sam, to the Zodiac killer, to The BTK Killer, all have cut a bloody swath in their time, terrorizing the masses and sparking intense interest in what makes them do what they do. They have also been the basis for countless horror movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. What is it about serial killers that fits so well in horror movies? Perhaps it is because they can be anyone, like a co-worker or a neighbor. Unlike monsters, serial killers look like you and me. Horror movies use this to their advantage and are able to craft scary, realistic movies that other subgenres of horror cannot.

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is a 1986 horror movie starring Michael Rooker (Slither, Mallrats) as Henry. The film begins with various scenes of dead woman, who have been brutally murdered, interspersed with shots of Henry going about his daily life. Becky (Tracy Arnold) has just left her husband and has come to Chicago to stay with her ex-convict brother, Otis (Tom Towles, The Rock, Night Of The Living Dead), who lives with Henry. Becky becomes close with Henry, who confides in her that he killed his prostitute mother when he was young. Becky tells him that her father would rape her when she was a young girl. Becky finds work the next day at a salon and starts raising money in hopes of bringing her child out to Chicago and finding her own place. That night, Henry and Otis pick up two prostitutes. Unable to control himself, Henry kills both women. Unfased, Otis joins Henry in his murders, even bringing a video camera along to tape their acts of depravity to watch them later. Becky informs Henry that she quit her job and is leaving to return home. She tries to seduce him, but he rebuffs her advances. A drunken Otis enters and an embarrassed Henry leaves. Despite being her brother, Otis advances on Becky and rapes her. Henry returns, catching Otis in the act and murders him. What will happen to Henry and Becky?

What a happy, deranged family

Based in part on the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, the movie is a vicious and often times brutal look at the serial killer. Based on a gritty 1980's Chicago backdrop, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer can most accurately be compared to the movie Maniac. The opening scene, is very powerful, where we see Henry's victims while sounds of their murders play in the background. It is a hauntingly effective idea that surprisingly is not used more. The story itself is very basic and to the point by establishing characters just enough to keep the plot moving. The movie focuses more on the sick depravity of Henry and Otis's murders which do become uncomfortable at times, but that is the entire point. The audience wants to stop these two evil men, but are forced to watch and endure. The movie does make the distinction between Henry, who kills, but has some sense of morals, and Otis who is a depraved deviant. It is a strange feeling to be cheering for Henry at the end, knowing what he has done and what he is capable of. It's like cheering for Tony Soprano.

Michael Rooker's performance really makes Henry work. He is the right amounts of distant, awkward, and vicious. Apparently he stayed in character the entire time during the movie and made some crew members feel incredibly uneasy. Tom Towles is very good as Otis combining murderous glee with sick depravity. The movie was made on a shoe-string budget, but it works to the film's advantage as it is dark, grimy, and simple. The movie is difficult to watch at certain points similarly to The Last House On The Left. I felt uneasy at times, especially knowing that there would be no resolution or true hero to put an end to the chaos. It's this fact that makes the movie all the more real and all the more depressing. 

Just another day at the murder office

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is a realistic view into the mind of deranged killers. There is a large amount of blood and violence and is difficult to watch. This certainly should not be considered a “date movie” by any stretch of the imagination. It is sick, dirty, and harsh. Michael Rooker and Tom Towles are both very convincing in their roles and the movie would not be what it is without their performances. If you like your horror “real” you'll probably enjoy Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day 207: Creature

There's so much suck going on in this poster

Horror has a long history of incorporating local legends into plots. There are countless movies about the Yeti, Sasquatch, the Mothman, the Boogeyman, and all sorts of critters. Some legends transcend borders and countries while others are limited only to an area or town. When people already know a legend, the movie is forced to differentiate itself from other films of the same subject. Using a more obscure legend allows for a freer storytelling experience and can be a fun watch. Of course, when you completely make up a legend, you can do whatever you want. Sometimes that is not a good thing.

Creature is a 2011 horror movie starring Mehcad Brooks (In The Valley Of Elah, Glory Road) as ex Navy SEAL Niles and Serinda Swan (Breakout Kings, Recoil) as his girlfriend Emily. They go on a road trip to New Orleans with their friends Karen, her brother Oscar, Emily and her boyfriend Randy. On the backroads of Louisiana, the group stops at a local shop run by the strange Chopper (Sid Haig, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects). Inside, Oscar finds a flier for a local legend Lockjaw, a half-man, half-alligator. He tells the group the tale of Lockjaw who was a local man named Grimley Boutine. Grimley came from a family of inbreeding and with the family line coming to an end, he impregnated his sister. Before he could marry her, she was captured by a giant albino alligator called Anon. Enraged, Grimley tracked down Anon, and discovering his dead sister, killed the alligator. In a stupor, he began to eat Anon, as well as his sister, and mutated into a horrible alligator creature. The group finds Grimley's home. They set up camp for the night and indulge in drinking and debauchery which includes, and no I am not kidding, sex, attempted female-on-female sexual assault, voyeurism, and incest. As Karen is walking in the woods, she is knocked out and tied up by Chopper, who is revealed to be her and Oscar's father. Chopper is actually the leader of a local cult that worships Anon and Lockjaw and they intend to provide Lockjaw with brides to produce more family members. Will the group be able to survive?

You're weird, but hot, so it's cool

Wow. For the first 30 minutes of the movie, I thought Creature wasn't that bad for a straight to DVD movie. Not good, but not bad and it had the added advantage of having a legend I had not heard of. It turns out I was wrong on both counts. Creature was actually released in over 1500 theaters and made a record low $327,000 it's opening weekend. Due in part to targeted marketing to horror fans instead of trying to attract a wide audience, the movie swallows a whole bunch of crazy pills and does a 180 and dives headlong into the insane abyss. The movie includes scenes of consensual incest and attempted sexual assault, neither of which are portrayed in a negative light. It was truly stupefying to see that on screen. The movie also has a large amount of nudity for a relatively wide release, including seeing all three leading females topless. I'm not really complaining, but it wasn't necessary. All of these things just distract from the story being incredibly stupid and boring. A man eats an alligator and then suddenly becomes one? Really? They couldn't say it was toxic waste or a meteor or something? That's just lazy.

The creature itself looks still and cartoonish. They couldn't even get it's mouth to move when it lets out a yell. There is some action, but not as much as you'd expect from a monster movie, with a few shots of blood and gore. Sid Haig is very entertaining, but his character is too similar to Captain Spaulding from House of A 1000 Corpses/Devil's Rejects. The rest of the cast is passable, but the dialogue is so stiff that they can't work around it. The director came off as amatuerish with scenes being too dark and a final action scene shot in slow motion for no particular reason other than to torture the audience praying for the movie to end. 

"Hey, can't we talk this over?"

Monster movies are supposed to be simple, but fun. Creature starts out that way, with a basic story of sexy young people going to an isolated area to find a monster. It's been done a million times and that's perfectly fine. The movie then decides to go nuts, showcasing incest as a main theme of the movie. If they wanted to imply it, that would have been fine, but no, they had to show it. The movie lacks the proper amount of action and violence and the monster does not look good. The script is weak along with the directing. Do yourself a favor and skip this abomination. There's a good reason why it bombed so hard in theaters.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 206: The Dead

The Dead
You know my love will not fade away

With zombies being all the rage in horror now, writers and directors are in search of new ways to break away from the pack and be something special. Some use more special effects, or better makeup, or bigger stars, or viral campaigns to get the audience's attention. What many fail to realize is that while the blood, guts, and flesh-eating is a lot of fun and certainly memorable, it's the story that makes a lasting impact. If you don't have the story then nothing else really matters and you movie just becomes another zombie film, thrown into the dollar bin at a gas station, never to be viewed. Social commentary is also an important aspect of zombie movies, but many zombie movies forget that. Take away the story and the commentary, all you have is some blood and violence. That can entertain the individual (usually one that dwells in a basement, surrounded by Evil Dead action figures), but it does not entertain the masses and makes for a boring watch.

The Dead is a 2010 horror movie starring Rob Freeman (Smallville, Dark Angel) as Lt. Brian Murphy. Murphy is an American engineer that survives the crash of the last evacuation flight out of Africa. The continent has been overrun by slow-moving zombies with no help in sight. Murphy finds a broken down truck and is able to get it running before being devoured by zombies. After a short time, the truck gets stuck in the mud. As the zombies close in on him, Murphy is saved by an African soldier, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia). Together, they are able to free the truck and Daniel joins Murphy in his search for help. Daniel reveals that he has deserted the army to search for his young son who was rescued by soldiers. They arrive at an airport in hopes of finding a plane, but the buildings are abandoned. The get gas and set out for a safe haven in the desert. During the trip, the truck hits a tree, breaking the axle. They sleep outside during the night and Daniel is bitten by many zombies. Before dying, he asks Murphy to find his son. Will Murphy be able to reach the safe haven and find Daniel's son and has the zombie outbreak spread to the United States where Murphy's wife and daughter live?

Rocks, my mortal enemy!

Before I can get to the story, I have to address the blatant racism in The Dead. Now, I don't think the writers or director had the intention to be racist. The movie brings to mind the criticism that Resident Evil 5 faced when it first came out, showing a white character shooting black characters. Most of the movie is just scenes of Murphy, who is white, shooting zombies, who are all black. Some may argue that they're just zombies and race shouldn't matter, but it is too much to ignore, especially given Africa's history of oppression enslavement by white Europeans. To make matters worse, when Murphy kills a bunch of zombies, saving a group of Africans, they praise him as their savior, even pouring water into his mouth. That just doesn't sit well with me. By having a zombie movie set in Africa, they had a chance to make some real social commentary, but didn't even attempt to do anything of the sort.

As for the story, it barely exists and is extremely boring to sit through. A majority of the movie is just Murphy and Daniel driving around the desert, getting out to fix the truck or get supplies, be surrounded by zombies, and then driving off. I don't think we ever learned what caused the zombies as there is very little background given. It's not like they had to ignore because the story was so great or the action so fast-paced. Speaking of action, it's one of the few bright spots in the movie. There is a decent amount of blood and some good feeding scenes. The zombies don't have much makeup beyond some powder and contact lenses, but it works fine. I didn't even know what the characters' names were until about half-way through the movie. There's not much in the way of character development and their motivations are too basic. The acting is pretty mediocre, but it's not like they had much to work with. The direction is weak as well, with certain scenes lingering too long or shots far too close to the actors.

He may be dead, but his fashion sense is alive and kicking

There are certain expectations when watching a zombie movie. Blood and gore are fun, but it should not be the sole focus. A good zombie movie requires a thoughtful story, strong characters, and social commentary. The Dead goes 0-for-3 as the story is incredibly boring and weak, there is no real character development, and the movie doesn't even scratch the surface of social commentary. What could have been a good opportunity to explore the issues of class and race, were completely ignored in favor of a white soldier killing a lot of African zombies. The Dead is dissapointing on many levels and boring to boot. It was probably called The Dead because they couldn't come up with a creative adjective, noun, verb, or adverb.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 205: Farm House

Farm House
Well, it's better than the Out House

As someone who has done a decent amount of driving over the years, I know how easy it is for your mind to wander. You think about all that dangers that may befall you during your travels. You can get a flat, your muffler can fall off, your hose can go. All sorts of things can go wrong. You think you'll be alright because you have a cell phone, but once you get out of the populated areas, you can forget about having service. We've all heard stories about people breaking down and then going to a farmhouse to use their phone. Some of those stories are good (sexy daughter), but most end up with limbs being cut off by a deranged, and possibly deformed, farm family. It's a great setting for horror because the scenario a legitimate, if slightly weird, fear.

Farm House is a 2008 horror movie starring Jamie Anna Allman (The Killing, The Notebook) as Scarlet and William Scott Lee (Pearl Harbor, The Butterfly Effect) at her husband Chad. Chad and Scarlet are trying to make a new life for themselves after the death of the special needs infant son. While driving through the Mid-West, Chad falls asleep and crashes their car. They walk to a local farmhouse, where they meet the owner, Samael (Steven Weber, Single White Female, Wings), his wife Lilith (Kelly Hu, X2, The Scorpion King) and his helper, a deaf boy named Alal. Scarlet tries to use the phone, but the lines are down, caused by their accident. Chad and Scarlet agree to spend the night at the farmhouse. It turns out to be a bad decision as Samael and Lilith kidnap and torture them. It is revealed that Chad had a large gambling debt, and despite telling Scarlet he had paid it off, Samael and Lilith say he owes more. Scarlet is able to escape with the help of Alal, but Samael is able to capture him. He cuts out Alal's eye in hopes of drawing Scarlet out. When that doesn't work, he slits Alal's throat and finds Scarlet. As the torture goes on, it comes to light that Chad was planning to kill himself so Scarlet could get his life insurance policy and pay off his debt. Scarlet convinces him that it is best to kill their son as they could always have more children later. They are able to kill Samael and Lilith and make their escape, but things are not what they seem. How did they end up at this farmhouse and who are Samael and Lilith?

I only have demonic eyes for you

Farm House starts off as your typical “people tortured in the country” horror movie. The story is broken up with bits from Scarlet and Chad's past, telling us all about his debt and their son's medical problems. While that's helpful to explain their motivations, it really kills the movie's momentum. It comes in little drips, but they're not exciting cliff hangers, and come off as more annoying that interesting. It would have been better off telling most of the debt portion of the movie first, with the big reveal that they killed their son closer to the end. I am not one for torture movies, but thankfully the movie isn't just a vehicle for various means of hurting people. That's not to say there aren't some gruesome scenes, it's just not the entire movie. There was one scene where Lilith use a grater on Scarlet's knee that actually made me feel a little queasy. There is a small amount of blood and gore in the movie, but not as much as you'd expect from a movie based around kidnapping and torture.

The movie falls off the rails and crashes into a mountain made of crazy in the last 15 minutes. The movie has a big twist which comes out of nowhere. It's not that it doesn't make sense, it's just never really hinted at beyond the character's names. Foreshadowing is important when doing a movie with a clever twist, but Farmhouse never really gets around to it. Steven Weber and Kelly Hu carry the movie with their fun, twisted performances. They make good villains and almost had me cheering for them, especially after we learn that Scarlet and Chad are murdering scumbags. I don't know if it was his performance or just terrible writing, but William Scott Lee is incredibly annoying. I understand that he's supposed to be a coward, but he doesn't have to be a whiny douche on top of everything. He reminds me of Denny from The Room.

Oh, word?

Farm House is a mediocre torture movie that goes off in an expected at the end. The story itself isn't anything special and the main characters are more annoying than they should be. You can kind of see where things are going and while the twist isn't great, it didn't bother me. There is some decent action and blood, but not as much as you'd think. I could have actually used more if you can believe it. Steven Weber and Kelly Hu are both very good in their roles and should play villains in more movies. While there is a certain creepiness to some scenes, the movie is not scary, which is a shame because it could have been. While it wasn't bad, Farm House is nothing special and could easily be confused for countless other horror movies flooding the market today.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 204: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Abraham Lincoln: Night Pimp

Ret-conning literature and history is the hip thing right now. Call it a reboot, a reimaging, or an alternate universe, this trend involves taking established characters (or real-life figures) and altering their story to create a new one. I'm not exactly when it became popular, but I first became aware of this concept when Seth Grahame-Smith's book Pride And Prejudice And Zombies came out. I first experienced the concept when I saw Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. It's a silly and fun idea, but I'm not a huge fan of it, at least in mainstream entertainment. I love the “What If?” line of comics from Marvel, but that's contained in it's own universe. I'm a little uneasy at the concept of someone taking an established character or saying “Nah, check this out. It's about Albert Einstein, but he is really a crime-fighting sideshow freak with a heart of gold set in a steampunk universe. Sounds insane, right? If the writing is strong enough and the story is entertaining, you could do just about anything.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a 2012 action horror movie based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. The film stars Benjamin Walker (Flags Of Our Fathers, The Notorious Betty Paige) as Abraham Lincoln. As a young boy, Abraham sees his friend, a free African-American boy named Will Johnson, being whipped by a white man. Abraham rushes to his aid, but is whipped as well. His father, Thomas, stops the man and is fired from his job with a promise by the owner of the plantation, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas, Lord Of The Rings, xXx) that his debt will be collected one way or the other. That night, Abraham awakens to find his mother being bitten by a vampiric Jack Barts. His mother dies the next day and his father follows nine years later. Now a man, Abraham tries to kill Barts, but is unsuccessful due to a misfiring gun. He is saved by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper, Captain America, An Education), who then trains Abraham to fight vampires. After his training, he goes to Springfield, Illinois to kill the town's vampires. He takes up work in a shop while studying to become a lawyer. It is there that he reconnects with his friend Will (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby) and meets and falls in love with a woman named Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Thing). Through Henry, Abraham learns that all vampires in America are descended from a vampire named Adam (Rufus Sewell, A Knight's Tale, The Illusionist), who owns a plantation in New Orleans and has a desire to take over the country. Abraham once again comes across Barts and is able to kill him this time, but not before revealing that Henry is also a vampire. Adam learns of Abraham and kidnaps will to New Orleans in hopes of drawing him out. Abraham kills many vampires, but is stopped by Adam and his enforcer, Vadonna (Erin Wasson). Adam tries to recruit Abraham, but he is able to escape thanks to his friend and employer, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson, Breakout Kings, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia). Abraham marries Mary and puts down his hatchet to begin his political career, leading all the way to the White House. As the nation tears itself apart through civil war, Abraham's son is bitten and killed by Vadonna. Adam has aligned himself with the Confederacy and the Union is unable to kill them. Will Abraham Lincoln be able to defeat the vampires or will the South destroy the Union, turning the country into a nation of vampires?

"George Washington ain't got nothing on me"

I can't remember the last time I saw a horror-based movie with so much action. Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter is best described as a popcorn flick. The story gets to the point quickly, but still takes the time to establish characters and motivation. Most of that is window dressing as most of the movie is filled with high-octane fight scenes and computerized special effects. There is plenty of action and lots of fun explosions, though certain scenes, such as the train heading scene, that were a bit too fantastical, even for a movie about the 16th U.S. President fighting vampires. It's a bit strange to see Abraham Lincoln twirling a hatchet-gun and throwing roundhouse kicks. That's part of the problem with ret-conning characters, especially historical figures. We know how Abraham Lincoln's story ends, and if you step back and think about it, there is no real danger to him. Of course, this could have went the way of Inglorious Basterds and given the middle finger to history in order to create a different story, but that wasn't the case.

As a fan of U.S. History, I felt a bit conflicted while watching the movie. I got a kick out historical references such as a spot-on Jefferson Davis teaming up with the vampires to take down the Union and Abraham Lincoln's ill son, William. At the same time, the movie skips over, ignores, or replaces history to suit it's purpose which is irksome at times. Benjamin Walker is god as a young, awkward Lincoln and plays an action star well. He's not quite as good as the older, Presidential Lincoln, which requires an air of stateliness and raw emotion. Lincoln is the Great Emancipator, but was still treated as an action star. The supporting cast is very good which helps create a fuller experience. The computerized vampire faces look good and more terrifying than your average vampire. I am a traditionalist when it comes to my classic monsters and wasn't happy that the vampires in the movie can walk about in the daylight. We see Henry put on sunscreen but it takes too much suspension of disbelief to think that all vampires do and that it doesn't run in the Southern heat. I've learned to accept fast zombies, but vampires in the day still doesn't work. 


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a strange concept for a novel and a movie, but it is still entertaining. The action sequences come at your quickly and can be a bit much at times, but they are well choreographed and have a decent amount of blood for a summer blockbuster-style movie. The historical references are fun to catch if you know your U.S. History and I would have actually liked to see more. It does take some effort to ignore the actual historical facts and a lot of suspension of disbelief to enjoy some of the action scenes. The vampires look good, but I wasn't happy to see them walking around in sunlight. The acting is good, but Benjamin Walker didn't play an older Lincoln the way he should have. The special effects are good, but I feel like they relied on them too much instead of good storytelling. Ultimately, it's a fun movie with a few flaws that doesn't require much thinking. I am still wary of historical figures and characters being thrown into horror situations because it comes off as being lazy and cashing-in on someone else's work. Only time will tell if we will see William Taft: Luchador Wrestler.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Day 203: The Lawnmower Man

The Lawnmower Man
Finally, a movie about lawn care

In the late 80's and early 90's, virtual reality was the way of the future. The entertainment expected to be living and working in a virtual world and brought us computer-graphic heavy television like Reboot and Beast Wars. There was even a video game console put out by Nintendo called the Virtual Boy. Things didn't quite work out the way people were expecting and virtual reality has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. Blame probably goes to the internet, but plenty should go to the terrible movies that came out around that time praising virtual reality while throwing terrible graphics at the audience. But a movie can't be bad when it's based off a Stephen King story, right? Right?

The Lawnmower Man is a 1992 science-fiction horror movie starring Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye, Dante's Peak) as Dr. Lawrence Angelo and Jeff Fahey (Lost, The Marshal) as Jobe Smith. Dr. Angelo works for Virtual Space Industries, which is under the employ of a shadowy group known as The Shop. conducting experimental treatments and virtual reality trainin on increasing the intelligence of chimps. VSI is hoping to use Angelo's work to create a new weapon, but one of the chimps escapes and is killed. Angelo begins to experiment at his home on Jobe Smith, a special needs man who mows lawns. Jobe is lives a simple life, living in a garden shed owned by Father McKeen. McKeen routinely beats Jobe with a belt whenever he fails to do his chores. As the experiments continue, Jobe's intelligence begins to increase. He also becomes more self aware of his emotions and desires. He begins to have a relationship with a local woman named Marnie. Angelo takes Jobe to VSI to continue his experiments, exposing Jobe to the virtual reality machines there. Jobe begins to exhibit telepathic and telekinetic abilities, reading people's thoughts and lifting objects with his mind. The Shop takes an interest in Jobe and secretly increases his aggression levels, similar to what was done to the chimp before its escape. Jobe begins to lose his mental stability, acquiring a God complex. He uses his abilities to kill those who wronged him, such as Father McKeen. Jobe believes he has unlocked the keys to the mind and believes that by connecting himself inside VSI's computer mainframe, he will reach every computer system in the world. Will Dr. Angelo be able to stop him?

Trey Parker, is that you?

It's true that Stephen King wrote a short story called The Lawnmower Man, but save for one brief scene, this movie has absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King. It is so far removed from his work that King successfully sued the film's producers for using his name. It's with good reason that he decided to sue the makers of this movie because I know I wouldn't want my name associated with it. The story is pretty weak and falls into a cliche-a-thon very quickly. Lawnmower Man has the magical “simple” character, the pacifist scientist being forced to make a weapon, and even a horny cougar wanting to bone the simple character. The movie is very heavy-handed when it comes to the religious overtones, throwing subtlety out the window in favor of a computerized crucifixion scene. There is some action throughout, but it's not particularly thrilling or entertaining. There are a few scenes of creepiness, but nothing that would qualify as scary.

The biggest problem with The Lawnmower Man is that it is a victim of it's time. Virtual reality was the “in” thing with everyone touting it as the wave of the future. That being the case, the movie relies heavily on computer graphics. Normally, this might not be a bad thing, but keep in mind that this movie came out in 1992. Try to remember what computer graphics looked like in the early 90's. What looked futuristic then looks completely ridiculous 20 years now (yes it's been 20 years since this movie was released if you can believe it). A good chunk of the movie uses these graphics hoping to dazzle the audience rather than creating a cohesive and entertaining story. It's funny to see a young Pierce Brosnan with longer, almost grunge hair and a hoop earring. He looks like he's ready to go see Lollapalooza, not conduct futuristic experiments. Jeff Fahey is OK in his role, but tends to chew the scenery towards the end. His haircut was out of place as he looked like he should be a starting forward for the 1977 Philadelphia Flyers, not a man in the 90's. It's not a critical part of the movie, but when you're bored, you notice little things. The movie is full of unintentional comedy, from the hilariously dated graphics, to the cartoonish storyline and overacting.


Originally, The Lawnmower Man was not a bad concept for a movie. Today, we are so plugged in all the time that it still relates to today. Unfortunately, the movie bet on the wrong horse in terms of virtual reality, and it doesn't hold up 20 years later. The movie focuses far too much on computerized effects and graphics which look terribly by today's standards. A barely-there story, questionable acting, and unintentional laughs doom the movie. In it's time, The Lawnmower Man was a cutting-edge movie with some serious, if not heavy-handed, social commentary. The commentary still holds up, but the rest of the movie does not.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 202: The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
Get that orphanage some color, fast!

Orphanages don't really exist anymore at least not in the traditional sense. When we hear orphanage, we think of a Dickensian-era building, filled with dirty children just hoping to be adopted by a wealthy family. Nowadays, there are group homes, foster parents, and other ways of adopting children. Movies and television, though, still like to portray orphanages in the a more traditional way. This works in favor of horror movies because it has been ingrained in our minds that orphanages are scary places. It's also a good excuse to have scary children.

The Orphanage (also known as El Orfanato) is a Spanish horror movie starring Belen Rueda as Laura. Produced by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth), the movie was written by Sergio G. Sanchez and directed by J.A. Bayona. Laura moves into the orphanage she grew up in along with her husband Carlos and adopted son Simon in hopes of helping out special needs children. While walking along the beach with his mother, Simon runs off into a cave and is seen speaking to someone who isn't there. He claims he is speaking to a boy named Tomas, but his mother dismisses this as just an imaginary friend. A social worker named Beninga Escobeda (Montserrat Carulla) arrives at the orphanage along with Simon's adoption file which says that Simon is HIV-positive. Angered at her intrusion, Laura kicks her out of the house. That night, Laura hears a sound outside, and finds Beninga in her shed, carrying a shovel. She escapes before Laura can stop her. The next day, Simon takes his mother on a scavenger hunt, supposedly done by his invisible friends. At the end of the game, he finds his adoption file and reveals to Laura that he knows he is adopted and and is going to die. During a children's party at the orphanage, Laura and Simon argue, causing Simon to hide. While searching for him, Laura is trapped in the bathroom by a boy in a mask with “Tomas” written on his clothes. She is freed by Carlos, but they are unable to find Simon. Six months go by with no clues as to Simon's whereabouts. Laura suddenly sees Beninga crossing the street. As she gets out to confront her, Beninga is hit and killed by a truck. It is revealed that Beninga used to work at the orphanage and has a deformed son named Tomas that she kept hidden beneath a sack mask. He was accidentally killed by the children when they stole his mask. Laura hears strange banging sounds in the house and other strange occurrences and contacts a medium to have a séance. The medium sees sick children in the house, but does not see Simon. Laura begins searching the orphanage, finding clues, leading to her shed where she discovers the bodies of the children who used to live at the orphanage. Laura recreates the original orphanage and hopes to contact the ghosts of the children so they can help her find Simon. Will it work or has Laura gone insane?

Gah! Kill it with fire!

The Orphanage was definitely not the movie I thought I was going to watch. I expected a movie somewhere along the lines of The Others or A Haunting In Connecticut. I thought this was going to be a scary ghost story where the orphanage was haunted by the souls of tortured children looking for revenge. That's not how the movie played out, but it was for the best. More emphasis is put on storytelling, character development, and solid acting than your typical ghost movie and it's hard to complain about something like that. The movie forgoes the usual scares and tricks which make it a better movie, but does make it less of a horror movie. There are scenes of general eeriness and the movie does leave the audience feeling uneasy, but it's due more towards the content of the story than any special effect or sound swell. This uneasiness reaches it's zenith with the movies incredibly depressing, but sort of happy ending. I liked it, but it was quite a bummer. There are plans to adapt this movie for an American audience and I don't expect that version to contain the same ending.

The movie is strong thanks to the great acting. Belen Rueda brings genuine emotion to her role as Laura causing the audience the share sympathy with her. The supporting cast compliments her well, but she is the true star. J.A. Bayona does a fine job directing with some good shots and an overall horror-style atmosphere that lead to some tense moments. The movie relies more on old-school atmospheric scares, which is a nice change of pace, but there should have been more. The story is good, but it had a few plot points that kind of bothered me. Unfortunately, I can't go into them or else I'd ruin the movie, but there were a few basic things that, in real life, would probably end the mystery a lot faster. Despite being a foreign movie, I never felt lost in any cultural differences, but did not feel catered to as an American viewer. That's far better than a foreign movie trying to be an American horror movie.

Knock, knock, knockin' on Heaven's door

The Orphanage is a good movie built around a good cast and film making. The story is decent, but did have a few flaws that stuck with me after the credits rolled. The movie lacked scares making it feel less like a traditional horror movie, but the focus is always more on the story than terrifying the audience. The sets look great and the scenery fits in well with the overall feel of the movie. You won't be terrified by The Orphanage, but you will be entertained.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 201: Masters of Horror: Sick Girl

Masters of Horror: Sick Girl
Bug off

Insects don't bug me. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Some people are creeped out by bugs and kill them without remorse. Personally, I don't feel that way. Sort of a live and let live type of deal. That's not to say I haven't killed them in the past or won't in the future, I just prefer not to if I can help it. Insects have a long history in science-fiction and horror. Movies like Them!, The Fly, The Swarm and heck, even Mothra. People are generally freaked out by insects do to their alien appearance and sounds so it's no wonder they appear in horror movies. It's not like you can cuddle with a praying mantis.

Masters of Horror: Sick Girl stars Angela Bettis (Toolbox Murders, Scar) as entomologist Ida Teeter and Erin Brown aka softcore adult actress Misty Mundae (The Rage, Dying God) as Misty Falls. Ida is a shy woman who keeps many insects as pets. She has a difficult time finding a relationship due to her love of bugs. Her coworker Max Grubb (yes, really) informs her of a young woman named Misty that sits in the lobby of their building sketching all day. A mysterious package arrives at Ida's apartment containing an insect she has never seen before. Dubbed “Mick”, the insect escapes it's containing and hides in Ida's apartment. Ida's landlady Lana Beasley is concerned about Ida's insects, but Lana's granddaughter Betty enjoys them and likes Ida. The next day, Ida gets the courage to ask Misty out on a date and Misty says yes. The date is silently awkward, but Misty and Ida hit it off and end up back at Ida's apartment. Misty is too drunk to drive, so she stays the night. They become intimate and they are unaware when Mick extends it's proboscis into Misty's ear, injecting her with some sort of fluid. The next morning, Misty reveals that she is the daughter of Professor Malcolm Wolf, Ida's favorite professor from college. They try to search for Mick, but are unsuccessful. Misty begins to feel pain in her ear and undergoes changes in her mood, turning her aggressive. Ida receives an apologetic letter from the same person who sent the insect, informing her about it's behavior and origin. During an argument with Mrs. Beasley, who was offended by the lesbian relationship, Misty starts to transform into an insect and pushes her down the stairs. What will happen to Ida and why was the insect sent to her?

So awkward. So cute.

On paper, Sick Girl might be a decent story, but on the screen it just doesn't work. The movie focuses too much on the cutesy relationship between Ida and Misty and not enough on horror. Watching the two women grow to like each other is nice and makes the audience relate to them better, but it doesn't help further the story along. The movie is in no rush to get to the point, which, in an hour-long show, is never a good idea. We get treated with such wonderful schemes as both women crawling on the floor looking for the bug and Ida having girl talk on the phone with Max. I mean, the show is called Masters of Horror, not Masters of Situational Comedy. When we finally get to the action, it's predictable and not scary. It takes about 3 sentences to explain why this is happening and it doesn't make much sense. Why would this person send the deadly insect, then send a letter apologizing for it. Why not just go and get the freaking bug? That's a real half-assed apology.

Erin Brown is very cute in her role as the shy and awkward Misty. She plays the part very well and is convincing when she becomes more aggressive and angry. Angela Bettis was fine, but her voice was very distracting. Her voice sounded as if Joan Cusack had swallowed marbles filled with molasses. I'm not sure if that's her actual voice or she was just acting and frankly I'd rather not know. Director Lucky McKee (The Woods, The Woman) uses some creative shots, but never achieves a real sense of atmosphere or horror. Most of that can be blamed on the weak material and poor special effects, but I never felt like I was watching a horror movie. 

"Special" effects

Insects are a good source of horror and science-fiction. They're weird looking, making scary sounds, and can bite or sting. Throw in a little movie magic and you have a bonafide monster. Unfortunately, Sick Girl is a weak, boring story that takes far too long to get to the point and when it finally does, it's not entertaining. There are some plot holes and a lack of action to keep me even mildly entertained. You pretty much know how the story is going to unfold and there are no twists or surprises. Erin Brown is cute and plays both of her parts well. The movie never feels like a horror film or even a science-fiction story. It's not particularly bad, but it's not good. The Masters of Horror series actually has worse episodes, but don't rush to see Sick Girl.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 200: The Exorcist

The Exorcist
That tanning light is set to "Jersey Shore"

Banned in certain countries. Fainting in the audience. Injuries. Death threats to actors. It takes an incredibly powerful movie to achieve such a response. Nowadays, just about anything can make it to theaters or be sold in stores, no matter how depraved or ridiculous (I'm looking at you, Human Centipede). Back in 1973, a horror movie was released that some believe had the Devil imprinted on the film. Not a demon or some sort of evil power, the Devil himself. It's hard to imagine such a response in today's desensitized and jaded world, but there is still one movie that capable of scaring people into hysterics. Of course, I am talking about The Exorcist.

The Exorcist is a 1973 horror movie starring Linda Blair (Repossessed, Hell Night) as Regan MacNeil and Jason Miller (That Championship Season, Toy Soldiers) as Father Damien Karras. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. At an archaeological dig in Iraq, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal, Flash Gordon) discovers a silver Catholic medallion along with a small stone amulet of a creature. In Washington D.C., actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Requiem For A Dream) begins to notice strange changes in her 12 year old daughter Regan's behavior. She brings Regan to the doctor for a series of tests. The doctors believe that Regan has a simple condition that is treatable through medication. Her condition worsens as she now has violent outbursts and mood swings. Doctors perform invasive tests, believing that she has a lesion in her brain. The results yield no answers and a visit from a psychologist ends violently. Paranormal occurrences begin with strange noises, unexplained movements, and Regan's bed shaking. With no medical answers, the doctor's recommend an exorcism. Burke Dennings, film director and a friend of Chris, visits Regan and dies falling down a long flight of stairs under mysterious circumstances. Chris reaches out to Father Karras to perform the exorcism. Karras is going through a crisis of faith due to the recent death of his mother, but he agrees to see Regan. Karras observes Regan who now speaks in a raspy voice, has facial lesions, and refers to herself as the Devil. He sees the words “Help Me” on Regan's stomach and decides to ask the Church to allow the exorcism. The Church reaches out to Father Merrin who conducted an exorcism years ago in Africa, though it almost killed him. Will Father Merrin and Father Karras be able to exorcise the demon and save Regan?

"The power of rice compels...wait, that's not right"

The Exorcist has been named “The Scariest Movie of All Time” for good reason because the movie is legitimately scary. What makes it so scary isn't the jump-at-you moments that so many horror movies rely on, though it does have plenty of those. The movie is incredibly unsettling in it's content and execution. This is achieved through superb special effects and sound effects. Iconic scenes like Regan crawling down the stairs backwards (Spiderwalking if you prefer) and her head rotating and so unnerving in their unnaturalness that is strikes a nerve deep within the audience. I don't think I've seen another movie where sound has been so essential to make scenes work as in The Exorcist. Regan's possessed voice was provided by actress Mercedes McCambridge is so gravelly and rough that, mentally, it doesn't sit well with the audience when seen coming out the mouth of a 12 year old Linda Blair. There are split-second flashes of a demonic-looking face throughout the movie which may be the most terrifying thing in the entire movie because it the image stays with you long after the movie is over. I am actually surprised more movies don't try this subtle, yet effective trick.

The movie succeeds thanks to a combination of the solid acting, believable characters, and believable, if not wholly known, content. Linda Blair is great in her role, despite her young age and Mercedes McCambridge makes the demonic role work. Jason Miller plays Father Karras well and is probably the most identifiable with the audience as he is questioning his faith and is not sure what to believe. Director William Friedkin gets the most out of his actors through Kubrickian filmmaking. When both Fathers enter the Regan's room and steam can be seen from their breath, it's due to multiple air conditioners cranking out below freezing temperatures. When Ellen Burstyn screams out in pain after being struck by a possessed Regan, she is in actual pain due to breaking her coccyx. You can say there was a method to Fiedkin's madness because he gets great performances out of his actors and is able to capture some amazing shots on camera.

Oh, hi!

It is not often that a horror movie can scare, and while I may not have shrieked in terror, I was unsettled by The Exorcist. You know a movie is good when it stays with you long after the credits have rolled and The Exorcist is able to do that. Any exorcism movie that has come out since The Exorcist has been compared to the movie and while some receive praise, they cannot reach it's greatness. The great special and sound effects, the superb acting, and great direction all lead to an enjoyable, if unnerving, watch. It is a classic for a reason and deserves all the praise it receives. A perfect horror movie for my 200th review.