Friday, October 23, 2015

Horror Season: Crimson Peak

Guillermo Del Toro's 2015 film Crimson Peak is an utterly gorgeous love letter to horror film history.  But it's just not very scary.  I don't think that makes it a bad movie, but you need to know what you're getting into.

Crimson Peak is about a young American woman in the early 1900s named Edith Cushing who dreams of becoming an author.  Her father is some sort of local business magnate.  She's seduced by an Englishman named Sir Thomas Sharpe who was trying to get her father to fund his clay mining machine.  When they marry, she moves into his decaying family manor in England with his sister Lucille.  Once there, she begins seeing ghosts.

The movie is absolutely dripping in gothic style and is about the most colorful horror movie I've seen all year.  Even more than Woman in Black, this makes me think of Hammer classics.  Especially with the absurdly saturated reds and greens.  The melodramatic emoting and slightly over-the-top violence is also highly evocative of Hammer's style.  Even the presentation of the various ghosts has much more in common with the "Look at this.  It is awesome, and shocking!" school than more contemporary that go creepy, disturbing, or startling.

The cover itself looks like the ghost effects used in William Castle's 1960 13 Ghosts, and many of the ghosts are a garish red, as if it needed any more connection to the class color-filtering effect.  The look of the actual ghosts themselves in this movie also look like a glorious combination between the classic analog film-composite ghosts of that era with Ring style movement realized in surprisingly meaty feeling CGI.  Probably due to performances by Doug Jones and Javier Botem.

As a fan of horror movies and horror history I love this stuff.  It's like, this is a movie for me, by someone like me with waaaaaay more budget than me to update the look and feel of beloved classics.  Also, it's a plain pretty good movie.  The acting is really good, though I would've preferred a bit more out of Mia Wasikowska.  I think I get what she was going for, and she hit it, but felt a bit flat for a lead to me.  The story is interesting with a fair mystery, and the romantic elements aren't overplayed.

But if you're looking for the movie to be actually scary or frightening, you'll be disappointed.  It does what it set out to do beautifully.  It was just marketed as a more traditional period horror movie, which probably set incorrect expectations.

And here's where I hit some spoiler territory:

The story plays some clever screenwriter tricks.  Looking back, I should've seen it spelled out in the first 5 minutes.  Not necessarily the nature of the Sharpe siblings' relationship, but the nature of the story.  This movie isn't a ghost story, and the mystery has absolutely nothing supernatural about it.  I spent the whole movie looking for dates on photos or some other giveaway that the Sharpes were really vampires or ghosts or something, but that's not the case.  They're simply brother and sister in an incestuous sexual relationship using a marry-then-murder scheme to finance Thomas' experiments in clay mining using the inheritances of young women.  That's it.  The ghosts just happen to be there.  The clever trick comes in the form of a novel young Edith is writing that people read as a ghost story, but she claims it's just a story with ghosts in it, and the ghosts are a metaphor for the past.  Which is exactly how the movie itself is.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October Horror 2014: 7 - Silver Bullet

The Stephen King adaptation is a mainstay of any good October marathon.  This year's is the Werewolf-themed Silver Bullet.  This was the directorial debut of veteran TV director Daniel Attias and stars Gary Busey and Corey Haim.

What's going on here is that a small town in Maine is suddenly terrorized by a series of bizarre animal attacks.  A paraplegic boy becomes convinced that the attacks are made by the town's preacher, who is a werewolf.  He enlists the help of his sister and his alcoholic uncle Red to get proof and eventually kill the wolf.

The werewolf transformation is pretty cool, but a standout is a middle sequence where the Reverend begins hallucinating during a service because of his wolfyness.

Some of the acting is actually pretty nice, but then there's also Gary Busey.  Now he's not really bad so much as has a completely bizarre character.  Busey apparently acted each scene as scripted then did additional takes where he ad-libbed all his lines.  The producers liked many of the improvised scenes better, so the performance in the movie is mostly ad-libbed Busey.

The things that fall down the most are the bits Stephen King weirdness.  I don't really think that having the protagonist in a wheel chair was used to advantage at all.  Midway through the movie Red gives the kid a custom-built, motorized, wheelchair that they call the Silver Bullet so they can give the title a double-meaning.  But now he's basically rolling around on a motorcycle so when he has to run away, he's faster than a person on foot would be.  His only problem is running out of gas.

Regardless of any Stephen King-ness it was a pretty fun movie.  The werewolf design was a bit meh, but the transformation was good, the story was decent, and there were some good moments around the preacher's mental state.

Next up, Home Invasion week begins with Funny Games.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October Horror 2014: 6 - Werewolf Hunter: The Legend of Romasanta

Also known as Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt this 2004 thriller/historical fiction is based on the 1850's account of mass murderer Manuel Blanco Romasanta who claimed at his trial that he committed the murders because he was a werewolf.

It's a really interesting movie to watch, it does delve into the supernatural aspect a little bit.  I would've liked a bit more on that, mostly since a huge part of werewolf films is the transformation scene and this one was a little dull.

Another tenant of werewolf movies is the struggle against the animal nature of the wolf, but this character doesn't seem to have that.  He's a little sad about it, but doesn't really seem to struggle until the end when he's claiming the woman he was with helped him overcome it.  Which is doubly odd considering he seemed to be embracing his animal passions in their scenes, if you catch my drift.

Anyway, I'm writing this weeks after watching it so my recollection is getting foggy but here's the takeaway:  It's a decent movie.  Pretty well made with some good effects, though I wish it had more.  It mixes in a nice subtle amount of supernatural to play with the drama and make it a bit more "What-if".  Worth watching.

Next up: Silver Bullet

Sunday, October 5, 2014

October Horror 2014: 5 - Transylvania 6-5000

I first heard of this movie on a list from Obscurus Lupa of some of her favorite ridiculous genre movies, so when it also showed up on some site's list of werewolf movies I figured it'd be a good way to get something I'd been meaning to watch off the list and fill in one of the marathon's weeks.

I'm not really disappointed by this movie, but it's only barely got a werewolf in it.  It's an offbeat comedy about a town in Transylvania that is obsessed with shedding the reputation of "Spooky Transylvania" to become a modern tourist town.  To that end the Mayor has opened a lavish full-service hotel and is actively covering up any sightings of monsters.

However a Frankenstein's monster sighting gets out and a tape is sent to a state-side tabloid.  The magazine send the owner's son/toady and Jeff Goldblum to Transylvania to uncover the monster.  However, the Mayor views it as a sale's pitch for his new hotel.

A lot of the comedy is pretty awkward and strained.  Some of the jokes do land, but there's a lot of trying too hard.  It's also got a super cheesy everyone-is-happy heartwarming ending, but for the type of comedy it is, it sort of deserves it.  I don't particularly recall what was said about it, but it was an inoffensively bad horror/comedy.  Anyway,

next up? Werewolf Hunter: The Legend of Romasanta

Saturday, October 4, 2014

October Horror 2014: 4 - Skinwalkers

Skinwalkers is a movie I was originally interested in since during a round of IMDb surfing I found out it was co-written by James Roday, who plays Shawn Spencer on the show Psych.  As the show is really funny, in part due to the grasp of the character Roday had from his audition reel onward.  So I was curious to see if his writing chops matched up.

However at this point I hope he didn't have too much to do with the movie since it was kindof a mess.
As near as I can gather, the movie's about rival werewolf clans who fight over the realization of a prophecy.  There's a half-breed child born to a human mother with a werewolf father who will end the curse of all werewolves when he turns 13.  He's protected by one clan who keeps their nature secret from both him and his mother, and hunted by another clan who wants to kill them because they like being werewolves.  If that sounds like an interesting setup, it kindof is.  However the movie tries to make itself more interesting by never really being clear about what's going on, instead dropping the audience into the middle of things with no explanation of even the characters.  I still don't know some people's names.

About midway through after a lot of really confusing running around and some context-less character death, one of the characters drops a plot dump on the mother and the whole thing lurches into the final act.  Elias Koteas and Kim Coates are woefully underutilized because the movie would prefer to spend time with the "Prettier" characters, unfortunately Elias is the one with most of the plot information.  And I almost don't want to mention the perfunctory sacrificial Indian they included so they could make some sort of tangential connection between the modern werewolf curse and the original "Skinwalking" ability of the native tribes.  See what I did there?  Title drop.  Awww yeah.

It's just really a lazy and very thin story with a thin veneer of Werewolf draped over it that just doesn't work.

Next up: Transylvania 6-5000

Friday, October 3, 2014

October Horror 2014 - 3 - Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps was released in 2000 and has gained significant reputation among horror fans as a very creative Werewolf movie.  Also, as an obvious allegory for puberty and menstruation.

Ginger Snaps stars Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as heavily emo sisters.  Obsessed with death and suicide, the sisters are constantly antagonized by more "normal" teens at school.  Ginger often defends her sister who is clearly far more awkward.

One night they sneak out of the house to steal another girl's dog as revenge for attacking them during gym class.  While out, they're attacked by a massive wolf-like creature and Ginger is badly injured.  Surprisingly she heals quickly and after a few comatose days is not in full health but is far more lively and social than she used to be.  This begins to drive a wedge between her and her sister who feels the new "popular" Ginger is a betrayal.  She begins to realize the changes aren't late-blooming puberty but is actually Ginger becoming a werewolf and enlists the help of the local *cough*herbalist to try to find a cure and save her sister.

All told, it's a good movie and definitely deserves its reputation as a very creative take on werewolves.  The sisterhood and puberty themes are simultaneously beyond over-the-top and understated, with the superficial aspects taking front and center but the more subtle character beats just being.  Also the creature effects are pretty damned good.

The movie has two sequels that came out in the same year as each other.  The leads both return, which is nice.  But given that Ginger Snaps 2 and Ginger Snaps Back came out within a few months of each other, I don't have much confidence in either of them being much good.

Next up: Skinwalkers

Thursday, October 2, 2014

October Horror 2014: 2 - Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood, re-imagined as tween girl supernatural romance.  Directed by the director of Twilight and starring Amanda Seyfried, Max Irons, and Gary Oldman.

Actually the cast here has a lot of recognizable faces.  Shiloh Fernandez makes an appearance, as do Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Michael Hogan, and Michael Shanks.  And unfortunately, at least in the case of Hogan and Shanks, act way below their ability.  Max Irons seems drunk the whole time, too.  That's not to say the movie is bad, oddly.  The sets and are really good and for all its obligatory "supernatural teen romance" tropes the story is competently put together.  Even the mystery is decent.  Gary Oldman is entertaining and wonderfully hammy.

It really seems like it was a movie that had all the potential to be a good but unremarkable lazy day movie but got kneecapped by shoehorning in a bunch of romance tropes.  Ironically what held it back quality-wise probably made it infinitely more marketable.  Though spending so much on name actors and marketing probably reduced the effects budget to the point where the CGI wolf looks pretty asstastic, but the practical work was good.

All in all, it was alright.  Better than I was expecting.

Next up: Ginger Snaps