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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 365: Night Of The Living Dead

Night Of The Living Dead
Good night and good luck

This is it. The end. The 365th movie review. They said it couldn't be done. I didn't even think I would make it this far, but we made it. I've seen movies about vampires, werewolves, monsters, animals, serial killers, aliens, killer clowns, ghosts, demons, Satan, and my favorite, zombies. I have seen classics, independents, movies I've always wanted to see, and movies I wish I had not. I will be taking a much needed break in the coming days, but I will be doing at least a few more posts, which will include a “Best Of” awards ceremony and Razzies for the worst. I want to personally thank each and every one of you for helping me, whether it was procuring certain movies, helping me with research, correcting some mistakes, and spreading the word. Without you, I would have stopped a long time ago. Without further ado, here is the final review for 365 Days Of Horror.

Night Of The Living Dead is a 1968 zombie movie written and directed by George Romero (Dawn Of The Dead, Creepshow). The movie stars Judith O'Dea (The Pirate, The Ocean) as Barbra and Duane Jones (Vampires, To Die For) as Ben. Barbra and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner, The Majorettes, Night Of The Living Dead 1990) drive to rural Pennsylvania to visit their father's grave. Johnny is annoyed to be there and entertains himself by teasing Barbra. He playfully chases Barbra, pointing to another man in the cemetery and warning, “They're coming to get you, Barbra!” The man, a zombie, attacks Barbra and then struggles with Johnny who cracks his head on a gravestone. The man chases Barbra to her car and smashes the window with a rock before she is able to pull the emergency break and roll down a hill. The car crashes and Barbra flees to a nearby farmhouse where she discovers a decomposing body upstairs. When she leaves the house, she is surrounded by zombies and is saved by a man named Ben who brings her back inside. Barbra is traumatized by the events and goes into shock while Ben tries to secure the house by boarding up the doors and windows. It is revealed that a group of people have been hiding in the house's cellar the entire time. The group is made up of a young couple named Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) as well as Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman, Santa Claws) his wife Helen (Kyra Schon) and their daughter, Karen, who has been bitten by a zombie. The cowardly Harry tries to explain why he did not help Ben when he heard him upstairs, but Ben does not believe him. Harry insists that they are safer in the cellar, but Ben rebuffs him, claiming it is a “death trap”. While Harry and his family stay in the cellar, the rest of the group listens to the radio and television for information. The problem is widespread across the entire East Coast and the murderers, who appear to be the recently deceased, are cannibalizing their victims. While there is no definite explanation, it is believed that a space probe returning from Venus that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere may have been contaminated with radiation. A news report reveals that a rescue center has been established nearby and, with the farmhouse becoming increasingly surrounded by the undead, the group agrees to make a run for it. Ben, Tom, and Judy make a run for a truck near the house while Harry throws molotov cocktails at the zombies. Tom accidentally spills fuel on the truck, causing it to eventually explode, killing himself and Judy. Ben runs back to the house, but is unable to enter because Harry refuses to unlock the door. Ben is forced to break down the down, and after securing it, assaults Harry. Harry threatens to shot him, but Ben takes his gun and shoots Harry, who stumbles down the cellar. With the plan failing and zombies surrounding the house, how will Ben and Barbra survive?

Welcome to the gun show

Night Of The Living Dead is the movie to which all other zombie movies are compared. While there were zombie movies previous to this one, like White Zombie and King Of The Zombies, Night Of The Living Dead set the standard for the modern zombie films. George Romero crafted a horror movie that is both smart and graphic, appealing to all types of horror fans. The combination of suspense, thrills, and action makes the movie an intense and gut-wrenching experience. The movie's graphic nature was shocking at the time as we see the zombies tearing at and eating human body parts. Before NOTLD, most zombies were simply the product of voodoo and mind control. Romero created zombies that are far scarier with added aspect of cannibalism. They are violent monsters with an insatiable hunger and virtually limitless numbers. Despite being in black and white, the movie is still quite gory and bloody, especially for a movie in the 1960's. The movie cleverly leaks out bits of information about what is happening, putting the audience in the same position as the characters, causing us to relate to them. By doing this, we learn why there are zombies and how to stop them. We also learn that armed posses are combing the area, a foreshadowing of things to come.

"Oh, tombstone. You're such a great hugger."

More importantly, though, the zombies in Night Of The Living Dead are not the true monsters. As is now common among Romero and other zombie movies, social commentary is in full effect. Romero's casting of a black man in the hero role was seen as slightly controversial at the time. By doing so, the audience is forced to deal with their own personal feelings of prejudice and race. This is one of the main themes of the movie as hatred, mistrust, and deceit are all at work in the movie. Harry is a coward who is clearly out of his element, but refuses to listen to Ben, despite clearly being in control. Harry thought the best idea was to hide and hope for the best while Ben is proactive, boarding up the house and getting the radio and television to work. We all hope to be brave like Ben, but we secretly fear that at the moment of truth, we may be more like Harry. It was disappointed that Barbra was virtually useless for most of the movie and even Romero himself has stated that he was unhappy with the way she was written. The acting is good all around which helps make the movie emotional and believable. 

These flash mobs are ridiculous

Night Of The Living Dead was George Romero's feature-length directorial debut, but you would never know it. Scenes are shot with a competent confidence with a mixture of interesting angles that help convey a sense of frantic horror. The film opens up like any normal event, but quickly disintegrates into an uncontrollable horror that never ens. Less than ten minutes is all it takes for the movie to become a dire struggle for survival. Rather than having the movie take place in an easily recognizable area, Night Of The Living Dead takes place in a rural area that could be just about anywhere. Shot in central Pennsylvania, the natural open setting is all the more terrifying because it appears to be calm and comforting. The movie has a good amount of action and scares that still make modern audiences jump. The musical flourishes are great and make certain scenes far scarier than one would initially expect.

"Hey, put Cougar Town on."

Night Of The Living Dead was not the first zombie movie, but it did manage to completely change the genre. Bland mind-controlled zombies were replaced by the living dead who's only motivation is to feed on the living. The movie established new rules, like shooting zombies in the head, that are still followed to this day. The movie is shockingly violent and gory, still capable of scaring modern audiences. The story is great from the intense and frantic beginning to the brutal, depressing ending. The movie is full of important social commentary that still resonates today. The acting is great and Romero's direction is perfect. Whether you're looking for a straight-forward and scary horror film, or a smart, thoughtful movie with lots of action, Night Of The Living Dead is an all-encompassing and entertaining movie. There is a reason why the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Unfortunately for Romero, but fortunately for you, the movie entertained the public domain because the original distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, did not put a copyright on prints of the film. The movie is now available through many different mediums, including for free on various websites. Night Of The Living Dead is an incredibly entertaining and incredibly important movie. Aspiring film makers, writers, and actors should watch the film as a blueprint for making a great movie on a limited budget. As for horror fans, it's required viewing. A movie like Night Of The Living Dead makes horror fans proud of the genre they love.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Day 364: Suspiria

Cleanup on Aisle 3

When it comes to Dario Argento movies, people usually fall into one of two categories: those who “get” them and those who don't. I say usually because I am an outlier and fall right in the middle. I understand what and why things are happening and at the same time have no clue what is going on. They are complicated pieces of cinema with a unique, unmistakable style. The stories are not always clear and easy to understand, which alienates a lot of people. Other relish in the sheer bizarre nature of his movies, soaking up the the director's impressive ability to create beautiful works of art from acts of violence and bloody bodies. Some horror movies go straight for the jugular while others go for a slow burn, letting the audience absorb the deep atmospherics. Argento does both in such a way that can split an entire audience and a single reviewer.

Suspiria is a 1997 Italian horror movie written and directed by Dario Argento (Inferno, Masters Of Horror:Pelts). Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper, My Favorite Year, Stardust Memories) is an American Ballet student enrolling at a prestigious dance academy in Germany. On the night of her arrival, a student named Pat Hingle exits the academy and runs out into the storm. She mutters something about “secret” and “iris”, but Suzy cannot make out what she is talking about. Later that night, Pat, who along with a friend, is brutally murdered by an unseen assailant. The next day, Suzy meets Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows, Father Of The Bride) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli, The Third Man, Senso) along with a few of the girls attending the school. During her first lesson, Suzy becomes mysteriously ill and is moved into the dormitory against her wishes. The doctor treating her insists that she drinks a special glass of wine a day in order to stay medicated. During this time, Suzy befriends Sarah (Stefania Casini, 1900, The Belly Of An Architect) and the two room together. One night, maggots begin to fall from the ceiling and all the girls room together while the house is fumigated. That night, both girls hear a distinct whistling snore from a sleeping woman that Sarah identifies as the school's director, despite her supposedly being away from the school for several more weeks. Sarah reveals that she and Pat were friends and that Pat had been talking about strange things occurring at the school right before her murder. They search for Pat's notes, which appear to have been stolen, and Suzy is suddenly overcome with sleep. Sarah is chased by an unseen figure and her murder is covered up. Suspicious of Sarah's unexplained disappearance, Suzy reaches out to one of Sarah's aquantances, Dr. Mandel (Udo Kier, Blade, End Of Days) who informs her that the school was founded by a witch named Helena Markos. His colleague Professor Millus tells her Markos was very powerful and lead a full coven of witches. Before Suzy departs, he tells her that a coven can only survive if they have their queen. Will Suzy be able to find and stop the queen before it's too late? 


Dario Argento's movies are known for being surreal and Suspiria is no exception. The movie is a strange fever dream of intense violence and strange events that are hard to piece together. Things don't always make sense in Suspiria and it does take some effort to stay interested. The story isn't very clear on exactly what is happening, though it is easier to follow than the follow-up movie Inferno. A decent mystery is coupled with a few scenes of extreme violence, which is entertaining, at least for a while. The bit about witches and Helena Markos doesn't occur until the last 1/3 of the movie. Why not have that in the beginning, giving the audience something to think and worry about. Instead, we're left in the dark for most of the movie. I suppose it puts us in the same position as Suzy, in terms of knowledge, but a little hint or foreshadowing would have made the previous two-thirds of the movie far more interesting. The final ten minutes actually saved the movie for me as they manage to make sense of what is happening while being incredibly thrilling and scary.

Someone teach this girl how to apply lipstick

While the story and pacing could have been better, Suspiria's greatest strengths come from the audio/visual department. Like most of Argento's other films, Suspiria is a feast for the eyes. He employs beautiful radiant colors throughout the film, using them to convey atmosphere and feeling. Deep blues and rich reds splash across scenes, washing the actors in unnatural, but understandable, colors. These visually interesting scenes could easily be shown at any arthouse or museum. The amazing music in the movie is provided by instrumental band Goblin (erroneously named “The Goblins” in the credits). Their synthesizers and vocalizations create music that is both eerily beautiful and utterly terrifying. The music sets the atmosphere and emotion in every scene and the constant repetition bores it's way into your brain. Without their score, I truly believe the movie would not be as good as it is. (Side-note, if you like the music of Goblin, I highly recommend checking out the band Zombi. Give them a listen here, here, and here.) The acting is good throughout, though as usual, I had a hard time with the voice dubbing. It always throws me off, especially when someone is clearly speaking English, but the voice doesn't match up. I'm pretty sure Udo Kier is dubbed, which is just ridiculous, since he speaks English.

The Kool-Aid Man is a wonderful interior decorator

Suspiria is an intense and unique horror movie unlike anything seen before. The story is a bit difficult to follow and the pacing is a bit slow. There should have been more foreshadowing and an earlier mention of witches just to keep the audience on their toes. The talk of witches towards the end comes out of nowhere and feels out of place. When everything comes together, though, the movie becomes much more entertaining. There are a few scenes of violence spread throughout which keeps things interesting and scary. The acting is good, but the real pleasure of Suspiria comes from Argento's directing and Goblin's music. Patience is required for a movie like this, but it is well worth it. While I did not particularly care for Inferno and struggled at times with this movie, I felt that Suspiria was able to pull things together to be an interesting and unique watch. There are plans to remake Suspiria, but watch the original first. If you can deal with a movie that makes complete sense and no sense at all, I think you'll like it.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Day 363: Frankenstein

In the name of Science!

There is only one monster from the golden era of horror movies that has managed to spawn countless sequels, remakes, adaptations, and spoofs while staying almost exactly the same: Frankenstein's monster. Though commonly referred to simply as “Frankenstein” the monster has changed very from it's major motion picture in 1931. When people think of Frankenstein today, they are still thinking of Boris Karloff 's stone face and neck bolts. Even the remake starring Robert De Niro in a much more realistic interpretation of how the character looks could not change the public's perception. It is a true testament to how important the 1931 movie really is. Of course, our knowledge of things get distorted over the years thanks to all the various appearances of the character. Sure we remember the big lines like “It's Alive!” but do most people know who said it? When you ask “Who was Dr. Frankenstein's assistant in the movie?” most would be incorrect in saying “Igor”. For a character so beloved in the horror world, sometimes people get the simplest facts wrong.

Frankenstein is a 1931 Universal Pictures horror movie based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. The film stars Colin Clive (Bride Of Frankenstein, Jane Eyre) as Heinrich “Henry” Frankenstein and Boris Karloff (The Mummy, Bride Of Frankenstein) as The Monster, though in the beginning credits, the Monster's role is billed only with a question mark. Henry Frankenstein is a young scientist determined to reanimate dead tissue and create new life. With the help of his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye, Dracula, The Invisible Man), Henry steals corpses in an effort to piece together a human body for his ghoulish experiments. To continue with his morbid work, Henry has become reclusive, setting up a laboratory in an abandoned watch tower far from town. Elizabeth (Mae Clarke, The Public Enemy, Waterloo Bridge) Henry's fiance, grows concerned over his increasingly strange behavior and, with the help of her friend Victor Mortiz (John Boles, Sinners In Paradise, Curly Top), reaches out to Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan, Dracula, The Black Room) for help. Dr. Waldman informs Elizabeth of Henry's dark experiments and all three agree to go see him. They find Henry in the last stages of his experiment. They watch in horror and amazement as thunder and lightning start up Henry's machines and give life to the patchwork of dead body parts, giving life to a hulking monster. Unfortunately, because of a mistake by Fritz, an abnormal brain was put into the monster's body and he proves difficult to control. Though he is hideous to look at, the monster is a simple, gentle creature. He is like a newborn baby, discovering the world for the first time. Fritz takes sadistic pleasure in torturing the monster with a torch. His fear is mistaken as an attack so Henry and Dr. Waldman chains him up in the dungeon. Later, they discover Fritz strangled to death by the monster and determine that he is unfit for society. The creature eventually escapes, strangling Dr. Waldman in the process. While Henry and Elizabeth prepare for their wedding, the monster wanders through the countryside where he meets a little girl. Much to his delight, they throw flowers into a lake. When the flowers run out, he tosses the girl into the water, drowning her by accident. An enraged band of peasants pursue the monster who is headed right for Henry and Elizabeth's wedding. What will happen to this misunderstood creature and will Henry be able to save him?

"Look at that manicure! Look at that manicure!!!"

Though it doesn't have the same supernatural elements as it's counterparts Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman, Frankenstein manages to be the most frightening. Though tame by today's standards, the movie truly frightened audiences in the 1930's. Multiple scenes were censored, including the one involving the monster throwing the little girl into the lake. The movie begins with a rather ingenious warning to the audience about what the shocking things they are about to see. It is a clever introduction that sets the audience up nicely. While the monster looks are unnatural, it's the basic human emotions that are both touching and unnerving. We feel for this creature, born into a world that does not understand it. Like a baby, it is innocent, with only the most basic functions of understanding and comprehending. That touching, childlike humanity makes the monster a truly sympathetic character. That sympathy is shattered when we see how strong and violent it could be. Combined with Henry's all-encompassing obsession, Frankenstein has an incredibly sad and somber tone to it despite being a horror movie. Every character suffers in some form or another, making the film a surprisingly tragic experience. The movie does have some differences from the novel, but the overall tone is very much the same. If I have any real complaint with the story is the relatively happy ending.

"Flower Power, you say?"
What really helps make the movie work is the great cast and solid directing. Boris Karloff's performance conveys the monster's frightening strength and incredible weakness. Though he never utters a word, Karloff is able to use simple sounds and movements that speak louder than words. His stone-solid, emotionless face also seen in The Mummy gives an unnaturalness to the monster that still unnerves audiences to this day. Colin Clive is highly enjoyable as the mad scientist Henry Frankenstein. His iconic scream of “It's Alive!” conveys his absolute madness and has been used in countless forms of media and entertainment. Universal Pictures regulars Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan help round out the cast with good supporting performances. Director James Whale (The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House) creates a dark and winding atmosphere, giving the film a Gothic feel. The sets are classic Universal horror and actually look better than if they were shot in a real location.

Frankenstein Meets Swamp Thing never fully materialized

We have seen Frankenstein's monster in all forms of entertainment, whether it was in the wide number of sequels, remakes, and cross-overs, or The Munsters, comic books, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Throughout it all, it has essentially stayed the same (Frankenberry doesn't count). The iconic monster was able to reach it's status through great acting, incredible directing, and a story that truly touches the audience. One can view Frankenstein as simply a black-and-white monster movie from the old days, but they would be missing the bigger picture. It is an existential story of man's fragile nature and society's inability to understand. It is a deep and incredibly sad story that most can relate to. The movie has a decent amount of action and some scenes deemed “too controversial” when it was first released. Thanks to the hard work and talent of all involved, Frankenstein has rightly become a classic, taking it's place on the Mt. Rushmore of Universal Monsters.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Day 362: End Of Days

End Of Days
Schwarzenegger should never be sad. He should always be punching something.

Arnold Schwarzenegger fights Satan on the eve of the new millennium. That plot sounds like it was written on the back of a high school notebook next to “Metallica Rulez” and doodles of pirates battling ninjas. While it sounds like a wacky idea it also sounds like a fun one. Schwarzenegger is not exactly known for his work in horror and the supernatural so the idea of him battling the forces of evil is at least different. Even in the late 90's, Arnold was still a draw as an action hero and slightly more believable battling the devil than, say, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal. Add in a well-rounded cast and some fun special effects and you can't go wrong, right?

End Of Days is a 1999 supernatural horror/action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Running Man, Total Recall) as retired cop Jericho Cane and Gabriel Byrne (Stigmata, The Usual Suspects) as Satan. In 1979, newborn Christine York is chosen to bear Satan's child 20 year's later on the eve of the new millennium. The Pope sends out priests all over the glove to find the child and protect her from Satan. Twenty years later, Satan comes to Earth and possesses a Wall Street Banker, leaving death and destruction in his wake. Jericho Cane is assigned to protect the banker, unaware of his true nature, and saves him from an assassin. The would-be killer is revealed to be a priest named Thomas Aquinas (Derrick O'Connor, Dardevil, Deep Rising) who was sent to protect Christine. Jericho and his partner Bobby Chicago (Kevin Pollack, Wayne's World, Canadian Bacon) discover Aquinas's hideout and eventually find a now-adult Christine York (Robin Tunney, The Craft, Empire Records). She is attacked by the Vatican Knights, a group of Catholics that believe the only way to prevent the End of Days is by killing her. Jericho saves her, but Bobby is killed by Satan in an explosion. As Jericho and Christine escape, they first stopped by Christine's adoptive mother and fellow police officer Marge (CCH Pounder, Warehouse 13, Avatar), both who are in league with Satan. Satan visits Jericho in his apartment and tries to tempt him, offering to reunite him with his murdered wife and daughter. He refuses and shoots Satan to no avail. Eventually, Christine is captured by Satan and taken to a secret location in order to fulfill his evil mission. With New Years fast approaching, how will Jericho be able to save Christine and defeat the devil himself?

Don't leave the Prince of Darkness hanging

On the surface, the basic premise of End Of Days doesn't sound that bad. Sure, it's been done before and is fairly cliché, but it's not a terrible idea. Throwing in a mega star like Arnold Schwarzenegger, even at a price tag of $25 million, sounds even better. Unfortunately, that's where the good ideas end. The movie is a poor patchwork of various other Satanic horror movies and the final product is a confused mess that is high on explosions, but low on logic. It's never really clear why Satan chose the body that he did or why he chose to stay in it for so long. If he can control people, why does he have so much trouble finding and keeping Christine? Why is Jericho able to resist his control? Why does he need protection at the beginning of the movie in the first place? And if both the Vatican and Satan's minions have been planning for this event for two decades, why are they both completely inept? If the movie went at a quick pace, maybe some of these gaping plot hole. Instead we get a movie over two hours long full of extended fight scenes. I like fights and explosions as much as the next person, but it really kills any horror and suspense that the movie may have had. Another thing in the movie that I really didn't like was the hyper-sexual nature of the story. The entire plot is based on Satan raping a girl and along the way, he molests a few other women. There is even one scene involving incest. Implying these things would have been bad enough, but they are up front and in your face. It made me quite uncomfortable and took my focus away from the rest of the movie.

When you think of a depressed, suicidal cop from New York, do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger? Of course not, which makes his casting in the role of Jericho Cane (nice name) a little strange. He does his best to show emotion and range, but really, it's just Arnold Schwarzenegger. He runs, he jumps, he shoots. He gets a lot of help from a pretty good cast that includes Kevin Pollack, CCH Pounder, Rod Steiger, and Udo Kier. Gabriel Byrne is out of place in his role since Satan is strangely portrayed not as evil, but mischievous. There was one funny scene where Satan told a skateboarder that he liked his “Satan Rules” shirt. The movie's soundtrack is also notable as it is a snapshot of what was popular at the time. Songs from bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rob Zombie, Eminem and a new song from Guns N' Roses find their way into the movie at random intervals. The movie uses a lot of special effects, some good while others look dated through modern eyes. Thanks to international numbers and DVD sales, the movie did fairly well, but not as well as studios were expecting. Maybe the world just wasn't ready for a depressed Arnold and a goofy Satan.

Look at that emotion!

End Of Days sounds decent on paper. It has a big-name star, a good supporting cast, lots of violence, special effects, and a hip soundtrack. Unfortunately, the movie's story is all over the place, leaving huge plot holes and focusing more on action than horror. There aren't many scares to be had and certain overly-sexual scenes will make just about everyone reach for the remote. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne look out of place in the movie. No one wants to see a depressed Arnold trying to show emotion and no one wants a boring Satan. End Of Days is good for a nostalgia trip and for an explosion fix. That's about it.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day 361: Poltergeist

"I love you, TV"

When we think of haunted house movies, we inevitably picture an old, gothic mansion harkening back to the Vincent Price days. There's usually an evil spirit involved making all sorts of scary sounds, but staying hidden for most if not all of the movie. They're all fairly standard affairs with just a few differences thrown in. Even most modern-day haunted house movies still revolve around the same basic haunting tenets. The ones that don't tend to veer off into the exorcism genre. The select few that take place in modern times, but blaze their own trail are far more interesting and entertaining, but also riskier. When you have Steven Spielberg writing and producing with Tobe Hooper directing, you're off to a good start.

Poltergeist is a 1982 horror movie starring Craig T. Nelson (Coach, The Incredibles) as Steven Freeling and JoBeth Williams (Baby M., Dutch) as his wife Diane. The Freelings live in the nice planned community of Cuesta Verde in California with their children Dana, Robbie, and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Steven is a successful realtor, selling houses in the community while Diane has her hands full with three very active children. One night, while everyone is asleep, Carol Anne wakes up and begins talking to the television which is only transmitting static. The same happens the next night and an apparition leaps from the television and vanishes through the wall behind her. Knowingly, Carol Anne states, “They're here.” Throughout the next day, strange paranormal events occur, such as a glass breaking and chairs in the kitchen inexplicably moving. That night, during an intense storm, an old tree comes to life and grabs Robbie through window. As Steven frees him, a portal opens in a closet and pulls in Carol Anne. With her physically missing, the family is able to hear her through their television calling for help. Steven reaches out to a group of parapsychologists at the local college who investigate the paranormal activity in hopes of finding Carol Anne. They discover that is not one ghost, but many ghosts in the house. Steven meets with his boss Lewis Teague (James Karen, The Return Of The Living Dead, Congo) who reveals that they are planning to build new houses on top of a cemetery. Teague reassures Steven that they will move the bodies down the road before construction. Dana and Robbie are sent away for their safety and Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein, Picket Fences, Teen Witch) a spiritual medium, is brought in to help rescue Carol Ann. She explains that the spirits in the house are not at rest and are attracted to Carol Anne because of her life force. This attraction is keeping the spirits from crossing over while a demon referred to as the “Beast” is keeping Carol Anne in order to manipulate the spirits. Will The Feelings be able to get their daughter back and what horrible secret does the house hide?

Are we sure she's not from the Village Of The Damned?

Poltergeist is certainly different from most other haunted house movies up to it's release. Gone is the musty and dark mansion with the eccentric owner. Instead we have a healthy and happy family living in a house that oozes 1980's in a cozy suburb. The inclusion of a cute and precocious little girl as the victim makes the horror much more real than, say, an older socialite trying to win money by staying at a haunted house. We see the family in their everyday lives, much like our own, and truly feel along with them when their daughter disappears. Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem's Lot) is no stranger to scares. The same could be said for Steven Spielberg, though the horror in Jaws and Duel are much more cerebral. Poltergeist gives us a few different things to scare us. The most memorable scene involves a creepy looking clown that comes to life and starts to choke Robbie while his mother is being dragged across the ceiling. I didn't quite understand the scene where the tree comes to life and grabs Robbie. No one else seemed to be concerned that a plant was suddenly moving around and stealing children. It really bothered me that it was never addressed or came up again. Some of the special effects are good for the time while others are embarrassingly cheesy by today's standards. Apparently, they used actual skeletons in the movie rather than plastic ones because it was cheaper. That raises so many questions that I don't even want to know the answers. The movie has occasionally great atmosphere, but it doesn't sustain throughout the entire film. This becomes evident towards the end when it appears to be a happy ending only for the movie to continue an extra 20 minutes with the best scares of the entire movie. They would have been better off switching things around instead of hurting the movie's horror momentum.

"Crap Yourself the Clown"

Despite having two young children in the film, Poltergeist manages to mostly avoid the “annoying child” trope that plagues so many horror movies. JoBeth Williams is great as the loving mother and Craig T. Nelson is solid as the distraught father. One small thing in the movie that I found funny was when he was reading a book in bed about Ronald Reagan. Craig T. Nelson is a staunch conservative and generally made an ass out of himself when on Glenn Beck's show, talking about no one helping him while he received food stamps. Zelda Rubinstein is also very good, exuding a loving confidence that one may not expect in a haunting movie, but will appreciate. Tobe Hooper gets some very good shots throughout the film and Spielberg's hands-on approach is evident. 

Shout! Shout! Shout at the Devil!

Poltergeist took the haunted house genre from the drab far-off mansions and stuck them right into suburban America. It was risky move, but for the most part, it paid off. We still see references to Poltergeist in pop culture today. Whether it's in South Park, the Scary Movie franchise, or The Simpsons, iconic lines and scenes always manage to spring up. It's even the subject of The Misfit's song "The Shining". The story in Poltergeist is decent, if a bit predictable. There are elements of tradition haunted house movies as well as some fresh takes. There are some good scares, but the movie's momentum is frequently cut off. What should have been a pulse-pounding thrill ride was instead a disjointed and occasionally jumping ghost movie. The movie has a lot of special effects, some very good and some laughably bad. The acting is good throughout and the direction is fairly solid. Some like to shower praise on Poltergeist, but I feel there were some things that could have and should have been better. Overall, it's a decent horror movie with some fun scares and good acting.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Day 360: Black Christmas

Black Christmas
I'm dreaming of a Black Christmas

Merry Christmas to those celebrating and Merry Tuesday to those who are not. Hopefully you're spending time with your loved ones or at least people you can tolerate, having fun and eating good food. If you're working, at least you're getting bonus money while reading a blog about horror movies. That's a win in anyone's book. Since today is Christmas, I had no shortage in horror movies to choose from. As I expressed in my review of “Rare Exports”, there are a lot of Christmas horror movies. While holidays like Passover and Columbus Day are frequently ignored by the horror world. Christmas gets all the love. Granted, a lot of the movies are just slashers with someone dressed up like Santa. Creativity only goes so far for some people. The only way to properly celebrate this day is to watch one of the very first slasher films. Before Freddy, before Jason, before Michael Myers, there was Black Christmas.

Black Christmas is a 1974 holiday slasher film written by A. Roy Moore and directed by Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story). The movie stars Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet, Virus) as sorority girl Jess Bradford and John Saxon (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Enter The Dragon) as Lt. Kenneth Fuller. During a Christmas party at the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house, an unknown man climbs up a trellis and sneaks into the attic. Jess receives an obscene phone call from a man the girls have dubbed “the moaner”. The calls have been going on for some time and have gone mostly ignored until tonight. An inebriated Barb Coard (Margot Kidder, Superman, The Amityville Horror) begins to provoke the moaner which causes him to utter “I'm going to kill you!” before hanging up. Another sorority sister, Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin, Strange Brew, True Identity), goes to her room to pack for a trip and is attacked by the man who snuck into the house and asphyxiated with a plastic sheet. He carries her body to the attic and places her in a rocking chair with a doll in her lap. The next day, Claire's father comes to pick her up only to find her missing. A campus wide search begins to find Claire along with a 13 year old girl that was reported missing. Meanwhile, Jess meets with her boyfriend pianist Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Good Shepard) who is preparing for an important audition. She informs Peter that she is pregnant and is getting an abortion. Peter is upset by her decision and ends up failing his audition. Back at the sorority house, Mrs. MacHenry, the house mother, is murdered by the killer who hangs her in the attic with a crane hook. The search party finds the body of the missing girl in the park, so Jess, Barb, and fellow sister Phyllis return to the house and receive more disturbing phone calls. Lt. Fuller puts a “bug” in the phone so the police can listen to the calls and trace them. Peter comes to the house and argues with Jess about the abortion. Soon, another call comes in mimicking the conversation she had with Peter. The police are able to trace the calls and discover that they are actually coming from inside the house. Who is the killer and will the girls be able to survive?

"No, my refrigerator wasn't running. Thanks for the tip!"

Being one of the first of anything allows you enormous amounts of freedom to do what you want. You are not hindered by previous ideas or expectations. This freedom allowed Black Christmas to be incredibly creative and extremely influential on future horror films. Up until Black Christmas, most horror movies were fairly straight forward with a strong hero and a clear, decisive ending. This movie gives us neither, which makes it truly disturbing. While Jess is considered the heroine, she spends most of the movie being harassed, by both her boyfriend and the killer. Even at the end, she is still shown as utterly vulnerable. While there is an ending, the movie does not have a true conclusion. We never see the fully killer or learn why he is there. We only have his disjointed, terrifying phone calls which come in different voices and tones. There's occasional talk about a baby and the line "Agnes? It's me, Billy." is repeatedly, though what it means is never clear. Later slashers focused on silent killers, but there is something truly scary about the incoherent rambling of the killer in Black Christmas.

From the very beginning of the movie, we see the film's creativity, shooting from the killer's perspective. Nowadays, that's fairly common, but in 1974, it was new and daring. What makes these shots so interesting is that they are done so in a disorienting way. The camera is uneven and wobbly with a semi-fish-eye lens, showing that the killer as unstable. There is plenty of suspense throughout the movie as we, the audience, know that the killer is in the house, but the girls don't. Added to the suspense is a dark, creeping atmosphere the never lightens, even at the end. There is some good violence and a decent amount of blood spread through out. While the movie is influential for a lot of good things that horror movies do today, it also had a bad influence in my mind: inept police and characters who ignore common sense. While I don't think either of these were intentional, most of the events in the movie would not have occurred if the police were not terrible at their jobs and the girls weren't completely oblivious. From the very beginning, the police do multiple things wrong and leave the girls in a lot of danger. Even the very ending is capable because of a complete failure to a) do a through check of the house and b) stay with the one surviving witness. The willful ignorance of the girls are also frustrating. Jess is told that the killer is inside the house and to just walk out. What does she do? She screams for her sorority sisters and then goes upstairs. Come on, if the police told you a murderer was in your house, would you make as much noise as possible and go wandering around? These things don't hurt the viewing experience, but it is fairly aggravating.

He must have seen mommy kissing Santa Claus

Black Christmas is a fun and creative horror movie that really set the standard for all future slashers. It's basis comes from real-life murders in Quebec which help give credence to the plot. It's funny how many horror movies involved prank or obscene calls, a plot device that is now moot thanks to Caller ID and cell phones. The acting is good and the direction is really solid. It's funny to think that the director behind such wholesome movies as A Christmas Story and Baby Geniuses also directed such a dark and disturbing movie. I really like that we never see the killer or learn his motives and the ending is quite unsettling. The obscene phone calls are also very uncomfortable and make the movie that much more frightening. There are some good kills and a decent amount of blood in the movie along with a few laughs. Black Christmas's influence can still be seen today in horror movies, an incredible accomplishment for a Canadian horror movie that received mixed reviews. Merry Christmas and Merry Tuesday to all and to all a terrifying night.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Day 359: Rare Exports

Rare Exports
Do not feed the Santa Claus

Happy Christmas Eve to all those who celebrate the holiday! If you don't, like me, Happy Tuesday Eve! 'Tis the season for gift-giving, face-stuffing, and terrible music. There are plenty of holiday horror movies out there, but Christmas seems to be the go-to holiday for horror. Most Christmas horror movies are slashers, which is a bit disappointing. Why not a vampire Christmas movie with Santa biting naughty children or a psychological horror Christmas movie where Santa plays mind games with bad kids. Actually, those sound like awesome movies. No one steal them! Trademark! Trademark!There's so many Christmas movies to chose from that I actually went in a different direction for today's review. Something a little colder. Something a little international.

Rare Exports is a Finnish Christmas horror movie written and directed by Jalmari Helander (Rare Exports Inc., Viimeinen Pisara). A man named Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen, Hotel Caesar, Elling) is leading a secretive excavation in the Korvatunturi mountains of the Finnish Laplands. His team drills deep into the mountain and discovers something strange: sawdust. Riley explains that people of the area would bury things in sawdust. He reveals that they are in fact on the largest burial mound in the world. As the crew digs deeper, young Pietari Kontio (Onni Tommila, Last Cowboy Standing, Eetu ja Konna) and his sort-of friend Jusso cut the fence surrounding the mountain and spy on the crew. Pietari thinks that they may have discovered Santa Claus, but Jusso makes fun of him. Pietari lives with his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila, Priest Of Evil, The Cradle), a butcher who is having difficulty raising his son alone. When the annual reindeer flock fail to show up in the village, Rauno, Pietari, Jusso, Jusso's father Piiparinen, and their friend Aimo discover hundreds of reindeer slaughtered right outside the fence surrounding the mountain. They blame Russian wolves for killing the reindeer and Pietari thinks it's his fault for cutting the fence. The men go up to the mountain and discover the crew is completely gone. Pietari is afraid that Santa Claus is now free and will come after him because he has been naughty. The next day, Rauno discovers that something has fallen into his wolf trap outside their home. It is not a wolf, but an old, naked man. With help from Aimo, Rauno brings him into his butcher shop and discovers that the an is an American named Brian Greene. Pietari sees the man and runs away, so Rauno has to give chase while Aimo watches the man. Pietari is picked up by the sheriff who is on his way to Piiparinen's home. A series of strange robberies have been occurring all over town, including heaters, hair driers, ovens, and now Piiparinen's potato sacks. Also, all the town's children are now missing. Back at the butcher shop, Aimo has his ear bitten by the old man. The three men and Pietari take the old man and try to ransom him to Riley. It is revealed that the old man is not alone as hundreds of similarly old, naked men surround them. They are, in fact, Santa's elves, who have kidnapped all the children and are thawing Santa out of his icy tomb. How will Pietari and the men stop Santa from awakening and spreading his reign of terror?

At least the kid likes hockey

Well, I wanted something different and I got something different. The concept of an evil Santa Claus isn't a new one as several countries traditions are steeped in Santa snatching up naughty children. Sounds like a great idea for a horror movie, right? Unfortunately, Rare Exports doesn't really focus on horror enough. There are a few scenes throughout that skirt the edges of horror, but never reach a full scary potential. Instead, we get a little bit of fantasy, action, and adventure. The story is decent, if a little predictable and moves at a quick pace. I was happy that movie is mostly in Finnish, with a little English thrown in. Finnish is such a unique language and was nice to hear rather than having a bad dub on top of it. The cold, snowy mountains of the Finnish Laplands are a beautiful, if bleak, backdrop for the film, truly giving the audience a sense of isolation and hopelessness. One strange thing in the movie that I noticed was that there are no women in the movie. Absolutely none. Why is that? Pietari doesn't have a mother and we're not given any explanation as to what happened. It's briefly touched upon, giving the movie some much needed emotion, but nothing more.

The biggest disappointment of the movie is that we never actually see Santa Claus. What a tease! Instead we get dirty, old naked men running around with pick axes and other weapons. Now, some people may enjoy that, and there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not the type of horror movie I was expecting. I would much rather have had an evil Santa terrorizing people, much like in Sint. Another issue I had with the movie is with the character of Pietari. He goes from the typically annoying kid in a horror movie and does a complete 180 into the hero. The switch comes pretty quickly and without much warning, making it hard to believe. In about 80 minutes, he goes from walking around in his undies and constantly ignoring his father to saving the entire world. At least give us an inkling that he is capable of saving the day. The movie has some humor, keeping things a bit lighter than I would have liked. 

Grandpa got into the box wine again

Rare Exports had a lot of potential, but didn't really live up to the good idea. There are some touches of horror, but nothing particularly thrilling or scary. There is a little bit of action, some adventure, and a bit of humor, all of which actually take away from what could have been a scary movie. I was greatly disappointed that we never actually see Santa in action. Instead, we get his old, naked elves. The movie does showcase the natural beauty of Finland and the uniqueness of the Finish language. If you're looking for a fun Christmas horror movie, I'd say look elsewhere. Rare Exports is probably good for people who don't want to watch Rudolph and Frosty, but still want something with a little holiday spirit. It's a decent movie, sans old naked men, but it's not a particularly good horror movie.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Day 358: Dead Alive

Dead Alive

“Horror movies are nothing but violence and blood.” Horror may be one of the most maligned genres in all of cinema. There are those who want to blame scary movies for all of society's failings and those who regard them as nothing more than filth. We know that this is not true. Horror movies can be beautiful, poetic pieces of entertainment that can make us laugh, cry, scream, and yell. The same can't be said for some other genres. The point is that despite the blood and gore horror movies are not just splatterfests, dumping gallons of blood and guts in front of the screen to the delight of weirdos and neerdowells. Unless of course, that's the entire point of the movie.

Dead Alive (also known as Braindead) is a 1992 New Zealand zombie movie written and directed by Peter Jackson (Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit). The film stars Timothy Balme (The Tattooist, Mercy Peak) as Lionel Cosgrove and Diana Penalver (El comisario, Mediterraneo) as Pauita Maria Sanchez. An explorer visits Skull Island and captures the legendary Sumatran Rat-Monkey, a hideous creature who, legend has it, came about when large rats infested the island and raped all the monkeys. Natives try to stop him from leaving with the monkey, but he evades them only to be bitten in the hand by the monkey. His assistants chop off his hand to prevent the effects from spreading, but upon seeing scratches on his head, they are forced to kill him. The rat-monkey is then shipped to the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand to be put on display. Lionel Cosgrove, a Wellington resident, lives with his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody, The Lord Of The Rings, The Scarecrow) and has very little in the way of a personal life. He meets Paquita at a local shop who quickly falls in love with him after he fulfills a prophecy given to her by her grandmother. They go on a date to the Wellington Zoo where Vera follows them. She gets too close to the Rat-Monkey and is bitten on the arm. Lionel takes her home to care for her, but her condition quickly deteriorates. He calls a nurse to check on her, but Vera, now a ravenous zombie, kills the nurse, turning her as well. He keeps them sedated in his basement, but Vera escapes into the general population. She is hit by a trolly and Lionel is forced to tranquilize her during the funeral. That night, he returns to the graveyard to tranquilize her again, only to be attacked by hoodlums. Vera rises from the grave and turns the gang into zombies. Father Jon McGruder (Stuart Devenie, The Frighteners, Jack Of All Traders) uses kung-fu to fight off the zombies, proclaiming, “I kick ass for the Lord!” Unfortunately, Father McGruder is also turned into a zombie and Lionel is forced to keep him in his basement. Lionel's uncle Les (Ian Watkin, Charlotte's Web, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) pays him a visit and discovers the zombies. He blackmails Lionel into giving up the house and inheritance in exchange for keeping quite. Lionel poisons and buries the zombies while Les throws a party at the house. The zombies awaken and start attacking the partygoers. Will Lionel and Paquita be able to stop the zombies before they spread throughout the country?

At least his jacket is still in one piece

Dead Alive is possibly one of the goriest films ever made. When someone describes a movie as being too gory, just point to Dead Alive and say “Is it gorier than this?” The movie has gallons of spraying blood, dismemberment, slashing, and flesh-eating all in the name of fun. If that sounds too tame, there movie is famous for a scene where Lionel uses an upturned lawn mower to shred a horde of zombies in what can only be described as the blood version of Old Faithful. The film is loaded with obscene violence, but presented in such a way that you can't help but laugh. Whether is a priest using martial arts or Lionel trying to feed zombies, the movie is full of legitimately funny scenes. Granted, there are some things in the movie that don't work, like the pile of guts chasing after Lionel or just about anything involving the zombie baby the shows up later in the film. Things progress at a quick pace which helps keep the movie going since the plot is fairly simple. 

Red Skull, is that you?

To the fans of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, it may come as a shock that Peter Jackson was involved in such a crazy movie. If you can get past the shock of such intense violence, you can see Jackson's creativity and keen eye. He includes lots of odd angles and plenty of closeups to really capture the emotion and overall strangeness of the movie. The movie has a good balance of action, comedy, and horror which should appeal to fans from different genres. There is also a nice little romance between Lionel and Paquita. Towards the end of the movie, the story is pushed to the side for the extended zombie fighting. It's a fun culmination, but there is no real progression until Vera reappears at the end. The acting is good by everyone involved which is impressive considering the movie traverses various different genres. The special effects, makeup, and prosthetics used in the movie are truly impressive and far better than any computer could do. The film quality is a bit dated, making the movie appear to be from the early 80's rather than the 90's. 

He'll need a lot of club soda to get that out

Dead Alive is a wild, gore-filled horror movie that has almost as many laughs as it does horrible acts of violence. Squeamish types may want to stay away because the movie is filled with more blood and guts than some medical school text books. Throughout all of this, though, the movie retains it's sense of humor with a mixture of slapstick, physical comedy, and clever lines. Director Peter Jackson captures the horror as well as the laughs while including a bit of romance and action. The special effects look great and are the real star of the movie. Without that effort and skill, the movie wouldn't be as good as it is. If you can, seek out the original version of the film under the Braindead title as it has extended scenes and even more gory violence. Dead Alive is a fun horror movie with an absurd amount of violence and is highly recommended.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day 357: Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell 
This poster is one dragon away from being a heavy metal album cover

Sam Raimi's career is quite impressive when you look at it. From humble beginnings directing low-budget horror movies like Evil Dead and Army Of Darkness, Sam Raimi has become a household name by directing summer blockbusters like Spider-Man and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Not content with just directing, Raimi writes, produces, and even acts in a myriad of movies. His career helps legitimize the horror genre and shows young directors that anything is possible. While he has moved onto other genres, Raimi is most beloved for his work in horror. His incorporation of humor, special effects, and old-school style scares have created multiple classics. After his work on the Spider-Man movies, no one would have blamed him from staying away from horror movies. That's why a roar of approval came from the horror community when Raimi announced that he was writing and directing a new horror movie.

Drag Me To Hell is a 2009 supernatural horror movie written and directed by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) with writing help from his brother, Ivan Raimi. The film stars Alison Lohman (Gamer, Beowulf) as loan officer Christine Brown. Christine lives a fairly normal life in Los Angeles with her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long, Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball) while trying to get a promotion as the bank she works in. Christine is insecure about her humble farm upbringing as well as her previous weight. One day, an elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver, The Caller, Breaking Waves) comes into the bank and asks Christine for another extension on her mortgage. Christine informs Ganush that she has already received two extensions, but asks her boss Jim Jacks (David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night, State and Main) what he thinks. Jim leaves the decision up to Christine and, knowing her promotion depends on it, denies Ganush the lone. She makes a scene, begging Christine to reconsider. Scared, Christine calls security and Ganush is deeply shamed and insulted. That night, when Christine gets into her car, Ganush is waiting in the backseat and a fight ensues. She rips a button off Christine's coat and places a curse on her. After the attack, Christine and Clay meet with a fortune teller named Rham Jas (Dileep Rao, Avatar, Inception) to get her fortune read. Rham sees that she is haunted by an evil demon spirit and asks her to leave. Over the next few days, Christine is haunted by the demon known as the Lamia who is now after her soul. Christine goes to Ganush's house to try get her to remove the curse, but it is revealed that she has died. Desperate to stop the attacks, Christine kills her pet kitten to appease the demon, but it does not work. With the help of Rham, Christine has a séance with Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) who has tried and failed to defeat the Lamia once before. The séance does not work and San Dena is killed in the process. Rham informs Christine that the only thing to save her now is to give her cursed button to someone else, passing the curse onto them. Will Christine be able to free herself before she is dragged to hell?

Robbing graves is still more respected than being a banker

Drag Me To Hell may be the first movie during this entire year where I was legitimately conflicted about my feelings. The movie had plenty of things I liked, but a good amount of things that I didn't. Normally, when there's something I don't like in a movie, whether it's a plot hole or a stupid scene, I can just write it off and move on. With Drag Me To Hell, the scenes I didn't like were actually done well and I couldn't just say “Oh that's stupid” and continue watching. A lot of these scenes revolve around the movie's humor. Some label the movie as a “horror comedy” but I think calling it a comedy is too far of a stretch. The jokes in the movie are very much in line with the humor from the Evil Dead series: gory over-the-top violence with improbably situations and clever one-liners. My problem with the humor in the movie is in the execution. The jokes tend to pop up out of nowhere, killing the actual horror. One good example is during the séance when the demon spirit is put into a goat. The evil goat then proceeds to talk and say dirty words. It's kind of funny, but not exactly a kneeslapper. More importantly, it renders the fear in the scene useless. It's a good, scary scene that turns into a goof off. Then there's scenes that are just plain silly, like when Christine's nose starts to bleed and then sprays all over her boss. It was just too random and unnecessary for my tastes, but it was still executed well. The movie takes a decidedly Evil Dead-esque turn towards the end which will delight fans of those movies, but may confuse the casual viewer. A scene in a graveyard has a strange cheapness to it unseen in the rest of the movie, using an obvious set with a green screen as the background? Again, it's not a bad scene, it's just jarring for the movie to just change like that.

The story itself is good, if a bit predictable. A gypsy is wronged and places a horrible curse on someone. Sound like another movie that I reviewed? How about Stephen King's Thinner? Sure the details are different, but the basic premise is similar. Even the big surprising ending reminded me of Thinner. Speaking of the ending, I found it a little disappointing and rather bothersome. It would have actually been nice to get the happy ending we were teased with. Instead, we get an ending that felt rushed and convenient. Raimi gets to flex his horror muscles once again, creating a spooky atmosphere and using lots of old and new tricks to get scares. The movie properly mixes current special effects and traditional effects that will entertain all types of horror fans. Alison Lohman is a good scream queen and would do well in other horror movies. Justin Long is fine though I still prefer him in comedy roles. Lorna Raver is very creepy as the gypsy Sylvia Ganush and helps make the movie far more scarier than you would expect. 

You complete me

Overall, Drag Me To Hell is a fun horror movie with a few problems. The humor feels out of place to me which really kills the horror. It's not bad humor, it just doesn't feel right. It's always difficult to balance horror and humor, but I think Drag Me To Hell should have just stuck with the horror. The acting is good and the directing is solid. Fans of Raimi's work will have a lot of fun from start to finish. Those unaccustomed to his brand of horror and humor will still enjoy the movie, but may be a little put off by how the movie jumps from horror to humor too quickly. The special and traditional effects are both good and the horror is fairly enjoyable. It's a good watch, but with a few tweaks, it could have been great.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Day 356: The Gingerdead Man

The Gingerdead Man 
I wonder if he knows the Muffin Man

Sometimes you just need to see a bad movie. There's nothing wrong with purposely watching a bad movie, it's an indulgence, like eating a piece of chocolate or an entire White Castle Crave Case by yourself. You know it's bad for you, but it doesn't matter. You want to enjoy this bad thing for all it's worth. It's one of life's joys. There are plenty of terrible horror movies out there and some even have a cult following. Full Moon Features/Entertainment specializes in putting out ridiculously schlocky horror movies like Evil Bong, Demonic Toys, and Puppet Master. When you pick up a movie called “Evil Bong” you pretty much know what you're going to get. Despite making a whole lot of “so bad it's good” movies, they still managed to screw one up starring the human dynamo known as Gary Busey.

The Gingerdead Man is a 2005 horror movie starring Gary Busey (Under Siege, I'm With Busey) as crazed killer Millard Findlemayer. At a diner in Waco, Texas, Findlemayer goes on a shooting spree killing Jeremy and James Leigh. As the police are closing in, he fires at Sarah Leigh (Robin Sydney, Masters Of Horror: Right To Die, Evil Bong), but she manages to survive (or it misses her, it's not really clear). Some years pass, and Sarah is running a bakery on the verge of closing thanks to businessman Jimmy Dean (Larry Cedar, Deadwood, The Crazies) starting his cafe business across the street. We learn through a voice-over that Millard Findlemayer was executed and his ashes were given to his mother who happens to be a witch. Sarah receives a package of gingerbread spice left at the back door by a cloaked figure. While mixing ingredients, Brick Fields (Jonathan Chase, Gamer, The Mentalist) one of the store's bakers, accidentally cuts his hand, spilling blood in the mixture. The contaminated dough is then cut into the shape a large gingerbread man and placed in the oven. Jimmy's daughter Lorna (Alexia Aleman, Close Call, Mad Men) brings a rat into the bakery in order to get it closed down and a fight with Sarah ensues. Lorna's boyfriend Amos (Ryan Locke, American Gun, Supercross) breaks up the fight, but not before Lorna causes an electric surge to hit the oven and reanimate the gingerbread man with Millard's soul. The murderous Gingerdead Man, as he is dubbed, goes on a violent killing spree, murdering Jimmy, cutting off Sarah's mom's finger, and encasing one of the workers in frosting. With the doors booby-trapped and the Gingerdead Man seemingly impossible to kill, how will Sarah and Amos survive?

Pictured: Gary Busey in his natural state

I knew it was going to be bad. There was no “maybe” about it. When you pick up a movie about a killer gingerbread man voiced by Gary Busey, you know you're not watching the next Ben-Hur or Schindler's List. With movies of this caliber, you want lots of murders, ridiculous one-liners, and perhaps a little nudity. Instead, The Gingerdead Man feels the need to try and be a real movie. There are far too many scenes filled with boring dialogue and exposition and not enough insane, laughable violence. The movie starts off so promising as the very first scene of the movie involves Gary Busey, who may or may not have been acting) walking into the shot and firing a gun. No dialogue, no setup, just a disheveled Busey and a gun. That's magic right there. Unfortunately, that's all the live Busey we get as he voices The Gingerdead Man for the rest of the film. For whatever reason, we never see him arrested or executed, instead getting a 2 sentence voice-over explaining his death and his mother's witchy abilities. The movie is barely an hour long, they couldn't spare an extra minute to show some of this? It's not like the rest of the movie was crammed with action either.

When the movie finally gets around to the violence, it becomes immensely more entertaining. It's still not great because a movie like this needs to be ultra violent and ultra bloody. While it's funny to see an gingerbread man driving a car into Jimmy, it's not the most creative way they could have killed someone. With a bakery full of all sorts of tools and machines, don't you think they could have been a little more creative? As a former baker, I couldn't believe that a) they work without gloves and b) used a mix that someone bled into. Lorna didn't need to bring a rat into the bakery, it was already worthy of an “F” rating from the health inspector. The movie is strangely very dark making some scenes difficult to see. There are some laughs in the movie, mostly coming from Busey's foul-mouthed Gingerdead Man and goofball wrestling fan Brick. The actual gingerdead man puppet is kind of funny looking with a scrunched-up typically evil face. I think it would have been better if it switched back and forth between a normal, sweet-looking gingerbread man and the evil one. Kind of like the snowman in Jack Frost. 

"Welcome to Wal-Mart!"

The Gingerdead Man is ridiculous and absurd, but for all the wrong reasons. Despite being only an hour long, the movie moves incredibly slow thanks to unnecessarily long dialogue scenes that go nowhere. We don't need or want dialogue with this type of movie. We want lots of over-the-top violence and lots of Gary Busey. When you have a loose cannon like Gary Busey (see here, here, and here for proof) in your movie, just let him go nuts and have him on screen as much as possible. We only get a little bit of him and it's incredibly disappointing. The violence is good, but should have been far more extreme. I almost feel bad for criticizing a movie about a killer gingerbread man. Almost, but not enough to stop me from doing it. The movie doesn't reach the “so bad it's good” level of C-list movies and tends to annoy more than entertain. And to make things worse, they made multiple sequels. If you're with a group of friends or have been drinking heavily, you may get a sarcastic laugh or two out of The Gingerdead Man. If not, do yourself a favor and avoid it and stick with donuts.

Be sure to check out another review of The Gingerdead Man by Josh Langland (@TheHorrorGuru) from Blood Splattered Cinema. It's far funnier than the actual movie. Buse-anity!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day 355: Event Horizon

Event Horizon
Infinite terror comes with your choice of toppings

Space: The Final Frontier. It's cliché, I know, but when it comes to horror, it's true. Despite us knowing more about space than the ocean, the audience has a general idea of what something from the sea will look like. When it comes to outer space, anything and everything is possible. There are no rules which frees up writers and directors to create the movie they want to make. Sometimes it leads to great results like Alien and sometimes it leads to brain-crushing stupidity like Jason X. Either way, you never know what to expect.

Event Horizon is a 1997 science fiction horror movie starring Lawrence Fishburne (The Matrix, Mission Impossible III) as Captain Miller and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, In The Mouth Of Madness) as Dr. William Weir. In the year 2040, the spaceship Event Horizon disappeared on it's maiden voyage to another star system. Seven years later, a distress signal is received from the Event Horizon. The rescue vessel Lewis and Clark is sent to the rescue the ship which is floating near Neptune. The ship is captained by Miller whose crew includes Lt. Starck (Joely Richardson, The Tudors, Nip/Tuck), pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee, Dog Soldiers, Soldier), engineer Justin (Jack Noseworthy, There's Something About Mary, The Fifth Element), doctor D.J. (Jason Isaacs, The Patriot, Armageddon), medical technician Peters (Kathleen Quinlan, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Apollo 13), and rescue technician Cooper (Richard T. Jones, Kiss The Girls, The Wood). The ship's creator, Dr. Weir, joins the mission, revealing that the ship was built to test an experimental form of space travel that generates an artificial black hole. When they enter the ship, they see the remnants of a bloody massacre. As they search for clues as to what happened, the ship's gravity drive starts on it's own, dragging Justin into a portal. When he is released, he is left in a catatonic state. The gravity drive damages the Lewis And Clark, forcing the entire crew onto the Event Horizon. They begin to experience terrifying hallucinations, all surrounding fears and regrets, especially towards lost love ones. Justin wakes from his catatonic state and tries to kill himself, saying that he has seen horrible things inside the portal. Dr. Weir begins to see visions of his wife, who committed suicide, urging him to “join” her. The crew is able to decipher the ship's log, revealing that the crew went insane and horrifically mutilated each other. Miller and DJ believe that the ship's original portal jump led them to another dimension, one of complete chaos and evil. In fact, they believe that the ship has in fact been to Hell. Now, that evil lives on the ship and has taken over Dr. Weir. Weir begins to sadistically murder the crew members while the ship itself causes more hallucinations. Will Miller be able to stop Weir and get back home before it's too late?

And will he join the Ghostbusters?

Writer Philip Eisner (The Mutant Chronicles, Firestarter 2) originally pitched Event Horizon as “The Shining in space” with no actual story planned. Well that may sound like a funny thing to do, Alien was pitched as “Jaws in space” so it's not without merit. It's a pretty apt description of how Event Horizon is laid out, both in story and action. Initially, the audience has an inkling that something bad might happen, but the true horror slowly unfolds, enveloping the characters as well as the audience. The ship has an evil presence, much like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, coupled with the mental breakdown of one of the main characters. Event Horizon uses the same combination of isolation, depression, and despair to twist characters as well as test the audience. All that being said, Event Horizon isn't on the same level as The Shining. This movie focuses much more on physical action and violence rather than the psychological horror of The Shining. Full of explosions and fight scenes, this movie is made more to frighten you up front rather than terrify within. The hallucinations may make you jump, but they're not on the same level as say, an elevator full of blood rushing towards you. Speaking of blood and gore, this movie has a lot of it. More than lots of slashers, actually. Test audiences and the studio found the original cut to be too gory and scenes were cut, which is a shame. The movie does have religious imagery, like a window shaped like a cross, but it's not overly religious like an exorcism movie would be.

Another major difference is the quality of story. Event Horizon uses an interesting idea and a creative setting to get started, but when it comes down to details and specifics, the movie tends to gloss over them in an effort to get to more visually exciting scenes. It's never entirely clear if the ship actually went to Hell or just a scary dimension. How did the ship create hallucinations? Was the ship alive or did everyone just go nuts? Why are people smoking inside a spaceship? The movie is entertaining enough where you can mostly overlook plot holes, though they may stick with you when the movie is over. The cast is really strong in this movie with everyone playing their part very well. Sam Neill is really good as a villain and should play one more often. Two funny things I noticed while watching the movie. At the beginning, they say that the first colony on the moon started in 2015. Looks like that's not happening. I always get a kick out of things like this in movies that predict something in the not too distant future and get it wrong. I love Escape From New York, but always laugh when they say the year is 1997. Just pick something like 100 years in the future so if you get it wrong, no one will really care by then. The second thing was the crew communicating with each other using what looks like iPads. I think someone should sue Apple for that. Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) captures both the violence and fear well enough to please action fans and horror fans equally. 

You got a little something, never mind

Event Horizon is an enjoyable science fiction horror movie with a decent amount of scares and some interesting ideas. It's easy to see how the story parallels The Shining, always a good movie to emulate. There is a true sense of isolation and claustrophobia throughout the movie that makes the audience feel what the characters are experiencing. The movie has a lot of blood and gore which may make some people squeamish. The movie uses a large amount of special effects, some good and some clearly from the 1990's. Direct Paul W.S. Anderson does a solid job and the cast manages to make the movie, which could have been silly in the wrong hands, believable and entertaining. There are some issues with the plot as details tend to be rushed or completely ignored, but there's enough going on to keep you entertained. While it didn't do well when it was first released, Event Horizon has gained a cult status among horror and sci-fi fans. It's fun, scary, and different. A winning combination.