Friday, October 19, 2012

October Horror 2012: V/H/S

V/H/S is a recently released found footage horror anthology with segments written and directed by: David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, the directing team Radio Silence. The framing story was written and directed by Adam Wingard.  Again, expect spoilers, but I'll try to spoiler tag the juiciest bits.

The framing story is titled "Tape 56" and centers around a group of professional hoodlums who tape themselves committing various crimes like destroying lights and windows at an empty building or tearing off a woman's shirt and filming her boobs.  I think one of them was also taping himself having sex with his girlfriend but the other activities are taped over it.  They get hired by an unknown person to break into an empty house and steal a specific VHS tape.  Each other story is a tape found in the collection at the house.

Amateur Night
This segment is about 3 guys who've purchased a set of eyeglass with a hidden camera in the frames with the intention of filming themselves having sex with women they bring to their hotel room from nearby clubs.  Most of the short is filled with the lead guy being an absolute jackass and all 3 of them getting really really drunk.  Eventually they get back to their room with 2 girls, one of which looks a little weird and only ever says "I like you" to the cameraman.  The lead guy tries stripping one of the girls, but she passes out and his friends convince him not to have sex with her while she's unconscious.  So he decides to have sex with the weird looking girl while she constantly reaches for the cameraman trying to involve him.  He's too wasted from all the drinking and drugs so he goes to the bathroom while the 3rd friend strips naked and tries to initiate the threesome.  While in the bathroom the girl goes crazy and starts ripping into the leader.  The cameraman and the naked 3rd wheel try to escape but she kills nudie during the chase.  The cameraman's hand is injured and the girl is revealed to be a succubus.  She still likes the cameraman and tries to seduce him, but he's too afraid to get it up.  In a rage, she sprouts wings and flies away with him.  This short was a bit weak, I thought, because the 3 guys were absolute assholes.  Unlikable in every way.

Second Honeymoon
The next short, directed by Ti West, is the only short that doesn't involve a supernatural element.  The segment follows a hipster couple as they travel out west for their honeymoon.  There's a forshadowing fortune telling scene and an implication of a creepy character being introduced off camera.  While the couple sleeps on their first night, an unknown person sneaks into the room and wanders around with the camera.  They pull the covers off the wife and stroke her skin with a switchblade, then empties the husband's wallet, drops his toothbrush in the toilet and leaves.  This builds a lot of mistrust as the husband accuses the wife of stealing the money.  They have some stilted moments and then enjoy some time at a canyon.  The person sneaks into the room again, this time stabbing the husband in the neck.  The film cuts shortly then returns to a short shot of the wife and an unknown woman making out in the mirror, before she asks the new girl if she erased the camera.  I like Ti West and this short is pretty tense and decent.  However, it really feels like nothing happened because of Ti's signature snail-like pacing.  He also didn't have enough time to give his characters the depth he normally does.  Good show, but it stumbles.

Tuesday the 17th
This obvious play on Friday the 13th was directed by Glenn McQuaid who also directed I Sell the Dead.  The story centers around a group of friends who travel to a cabin in the woods to do the typical things.  There are some nicely creepy flashes of mutilated bodies in the footage while they tour the woods.  Out of freaking nowhere the "nice girl" starts talking about horrible things that happened.  The typical initial kills, sex offers, reveal of understanding are kindof awkward because of the tight timeframe.  The killer is actually kindof cool, he's like the love-child of Jason and Slenderman.  A supernatural slasher who uses knives but can only be seen as heavy distortions on camera.  Despite the awkward bits, I enjoyed this part as well.

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
This story happens entirely in webcam chats between a girl who inexplicably flashes her boobs and her boyfriend who is away at medical school.  Emily is showing off her new apartment but is complaining about strange things that go bump in the night.  Despite not believing her, the boyfriend eventually sees odd things happen on her webcam behind her.  Eventually she comes up with a plan to use him to guide her through her apartment with her eyes closed so she can try to talk to the spirit-children we've been seeing without being scared.  A few moments later she does see the children, and they attack her knocking her unconscious.  The boyfriend miraculously enters the apartment just a few seconds later and flips Emily over while the ghost kids watch.  He makes an incision in her back and removes a small alien-looking fetus thing.  He asks the ghosts how many more of those he'll have to remove from her before they stop growing back, then punches her in the face and breaks her arm.  The camera cuts to them on webcam again with her arm in a cast, telling her boyfriend about how a doctor diagnosed her with mild schizophrenia which explained the children she saw and why she ran in front of a car without remembering.  They hang up the webcam and after a short moment we see another girl on webcam with the same boyfriend.  She also flashes her boobs inexplicably.  This is probably my favorite short of the movie.  It's a little mind-bending and the scares are delivered wonderfully.

The final short is 4 guys who go to a Halloween party at someone's house only to find it empty.  Undeterred they wander around the house in costume looking for people or beer.  There are a few brief flashes of some sort of ghostly figure, but nothing that the characters react to.  Eventually they make it to the attic where a few hicks are trying to either exorcise or assault a woman in a nightgown.  The friends flee and make it to the door before deciding they can't not doing anything and run upstairs to save the girl.  During this bit all sorts of crazy things manifest in the house: stacked chairs, crows, projectile vases, etc.  The group makes it out with the girl and into car.  They drive away and make it a decent distance before a strange fog envelopes the car.  The girl vanishes and appears outside of the car.  The poor bros have rescued a demon or demon-possessed girl.  This short is bananas, but really fun to watch.

We now return to the framing story, which has randomly flashed in between the shorts.  During the story a supposedly deceased man in a chair had vanished from the chair.  He's undead or something and has been picking off the other criminals, and finally chases down the leader of the group.

This is a really good movie.  Some of the shorts are a little awkward, but the concept is decent and there are some standouts in Second Honeymoon, Sick Emily Thing etc, and 10/31/98.

More anthologies coming up: Trick 'R Treat

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Horror 2012: Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror

I was not expecting much here, but this movie is actually surprisingly well put together.  Yeah, some of the acting is hammy, but it's good with its mythology and its stories have a good central theme.  The production is definitely passable.

The movie starts with a short animated sequence in which Devon, voiced by Snoop Dogg, is involved in a gang shootout during which his sister is shot and killed.  It's a strong possibility he fired the shot that killed her.  A demon named Liore offers him the chance to save his sister's life by killing himself and giving his soul to Liore.  In exchange, Liore also makes Devon a Hound of Hell: a pimp demon with the ability to offer people the choice to damn themselves or save their souls.  Snoop now appears in person and gives a short tour of hell, involving a puking midget demon.

Crossed Out
A tagger named Posie is haunted by the gang-related deaths of her parents.  After interfering with two thugs trying to make unwanted advances on a girl, she spars verbally with the leader then sprays him in the face and runs away.  She's abducted by a mysterious hobo played by Danny Trejo who drugs her and gives her a totally bitchin' skeletal tattoo on her arm.  This tattoo gives her the power to kill by tagging over people's names.  After crossing out the tag of the thug who chased her the other day, she overhears news of his untimely death and realizes she was the cause.  Drunk on power, she begins crossing out the tags of his entire band of thugs.  There's a short montage while she gleefully takes out a swarm of low level street scum.  However, after a time she begins tagging her own name and Danny appears to tell her she abused her power instead of using it to break the cycle of violence in the city.  He strips the tattoo from her and raises some of the recently deceased gang members from the dead.  They kill her, spraying her brains along a wall.  The spatter is later revealed as a beautiful painting of flowers and Snoop reappears to admire the mural with Danny before taking Posie's soul.

The Scumlord
This story concerns a bigoted white trash Texan named Tex and his trophy wife.  Tex's father ran a retirement house for 4 black war veterans whom he had served with, where he treated them with respect and friendship.  The elder Tex included a provision in his will that his son would have to live with the vets for one year so that they could teach him honor and respect before getting his inheritance.  After moving in, Tex and his wife harass and defraud the elderly veterans, led by Ernie Hudson, with the intention that they'll move out leaving him the property to flip and resell at a profit.  Unwilling to report Tex to the VA since they'll be split up, they comply with his demands.  Eventually the money he's stolen from the vets causes them to begin starving and become unable to afford their medications.  When Tex eventually kills the friendly maid/cook, the veterans decide it's their duty to retaliate.  Hudson beats Tex to death while the wife dies in a freak accident.  The veterans inherit the elder Tex's fortune and the wife's yap-yap dog, so they celebrate.  Snoop reappears and informs them that he's their new landlord before he drags off Tex's soul while the puking midget hauls off the wife.

Rapsody Askew
The final story is about a rapper, SOD, who begs God for a chance to spread His word if God just helps him gain fame.  Immediately outside of the church he meets Quon, who had just broken a window with a ball, and they instantly become partners.  Flash forward and the rapper is cleaning house at an awards show following the tragic shooting death of Quon.  During an after party he's trapped by a mysterious woman played by Lin Shaye who removes the door to the room.  She then begins to replay his life for him, culminating in the death of his friend.  A zombiefied Quon then enters the room carrying another tape, showing another perspective on the crime revealing SOD was wearing a bulletproof vest and had orchestrated the assassination with the help of his bodyguard.  Quon was constantly trying to keep SOD's ego in check and keep him from ruining his career or his life with senseless crime and hard drugs.  Even turning down a solo career to keep the team together.  The bodyguard appears as a hysteric SOD tries to tell him Quon is in the room, but he doesn't see Quon.  After the bodyguard reiterates his crime, the deceased MC then grabs two knives and shoves them into his eyes.  As SOD picks up the knives and tries to attack the undead Quon with them, two girls open the door and see SOD standing over the dead body.  The woman offers him a choice: stay in the room, go to prison for murder or leave the room and go out in a blaze of glory.  SOD grabs the bodyguard's gun and commits suicide by cop.  Snoop then appears and takes his soul to hell along with the two Texans and Posie.

I actually really liked this movie.  It's pretty dark and gruesome, with decent effects, but there's a light-hearted swagger lent to it by the tone of the framing story and some of the writing during each story's climax.  Posie's story is probably the weakest because of its timeframe.  Rapsody Askew is probably the best.  Scumlord is decent but the characterization of Tex and his wife is beyond caricature.  I understand it's done for a reason, but it's so over-the-top you have no sympathy for them at all while Posie and SOD felt more like real people done in by their own flaws.

Anyway, anthologies continues with: Campfire Tales.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October Horror 2012: Sinister

This movie didn't make the official list this year, but the previews looked really good and the festival circuit enjoyed it so we went out to a theater to see it.  Aside from a pretty vapid middle aged housewife who insisted on narrating everything that was happening on screen to her husband, who tried valiantly to make her stop, the audience was very good.

Sinister's plot centers around a true-crime writer, Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) and his family, who move into a house in rural Pennsylvania while Ellison researches and writes his next novel.  Ellison has been in a bit of slump since his breakthrough hit "Kentucky Blood" and hopes his next book will put him back on top so he can retire and his family can live happily ever after. Soon, he finds a box of super 8 reels and a small projector labelled "Home Movies".  Each tape is titled with some innocuous phrase like "backyard BBQ" or "pool party", but they contain recordings of brutal family murders where the method of execution is a pun on the title.  As he watches these tapes to uncover the mystery, weirder and weirder things keep happening to him and his family.

Ellison is having a really tough time of the whole thing even outside of the haunting because his family is so absurdly antagonized by the nature of Ellison's work, they've instituted a set of strict rules involving his office which they joke about.  They have a son who suffers from sleep-walking and night terrors and a pretty normal seeming daughter who really enjoys painting, but prefers walls to canvas.  All indications are Ellison is a man who is, for all his want of money, devoted to his family and committed to keeping them safe.  Which makes it really odd that his wife constantly gives him crap over his choice of genre.  She has a tendency to support him one moment while using the same breath to deliver an ultimatum.  Aside from that issue the characters are all pretty real feeling which helps this sort of movie.

The movie itself is directed by Scott Derrickson who also directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Sinister, I think, is probably going to be one of the better new releases this year.  It's respectful of the audience in the way that no characters really ever show up to spell out exactly what the backstory of anyone is or what the latest discovery in the central mystery is.  The conversations feel very natural, like people actually talking about things they know instead of exposition via As-You-Know-Bob.  They expect that if you've been following along you're intelligent enough to make the same breakthrough as the characters are at any step along the way.  It's also very deliberate and Insidious-like in the way it approaches its scares.  While it's heavy on jump scares they have psychological weight to them and the movie builds to them slowly and deliberately.  Another thing that's really good in here is the lack of false scares.  They will have situations where the movie is building tension and then appears to reveal something, but it's not done with a soundtrack punctuation or quick editing so the build up isn't broken and the fake out has just served to get you on edge expecting the scare.

The super 8 tapes are a really good use of traditional found footage, incorporated into a narrative instead of the whole movie being "found".  Another bit that I really liked about it was the way they used a super 8-like feel during the supernatural scenes, where the frames stutter and skip slightly like they're being played back on an old reel-to-reel, sort of blurring the lines somewhat as the demon pulled the family closer to his world.

This movie is really good.  I wish it was as good as Insidious, and while it doesn't go totally off the rails in the 3rd act like Insidious did it's not quite as good in the bits before that which keep it from hitting that level, but it is solid and very scary.

October Horror 2012: Creepshow

Creepshow is a classic 1982 horror film in the anthology style. The stories were written by Stephen King and everything was directed by George Romero. They use the Creepshow comic as a framing device and even use comic panels as transitions, it's pretty cute. None of this is particularly suspenseful, but you should expect spoilers.

The framing story is really simple, it's a kid gets caught reading the Creepshow comicbook which his father disapproves of. He throws it out "with the rest of the trash". As the page blows open, the panels animate and we see the title card for the first story.

Father's Day
The story starts in the parlor of mansion where an older woman, a young woman and her husband, and her faaaaabulous brother are waiting for Bedelia, the family matriarch, to arrive so they can celebrate father's day. They tell the story of her father, a miserable old bastard who emotionally abused her all her life. The rumor was that she had enough of it and bashed the old man's head in several years ago while he was demanding his father's day cake. She arrives in full-on Boss style: barreling down in a luxury car, smoking a huge cigar and swigging straight out of a bottle of Jim Beam. She checks in then goes to visit the gravestone. After spilling her whiskey, the zombiefied corpse of her father breaks through the surface and goes on a murder spree demanding cake. The short ends pretty quickly after this when the grandfather presents his "cake" to the young woman and her faaaabulous brother.

The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
Starring Stephen King himself as Jordy, this story takes obvious inspiration from Lovecraft's "The Colour of Outer Space". A meteorite crashes in a dimwitted farmer's yard, and he decides he could sell it to the local college to pay off a bank loan he recently took out. He tries to cool it with water, which cracks it and makes it ooze a strange goo. He picks up the pieces and puts them in a bucket then goes inside to watch TV. Over the course of the night mysterious bright green alien vegetation grows at an alarming rate over anything that has touched the meteorite, or anything that has touched anything that's touched the vegetation or the meteorite. Jordy eventually becomes completely covered by the growth and pleads with God before shooting himself as the radio makes a highly ironic announcement. Stephen King is absolutely HILARIOUS as Jordy, and the whole short has these really comical dream sequences as Jordy imagines encounters with college professors and doctors (both played by the same person). It's one of the more fantastic bits, but it's short and really funny.

Something to Tide You Over
A horror short with Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen? No way this can be scary! Ted Danson is in his swank bathrobe when Leslie appears and demands entrance to his apartment to talk. You see, Leslie plays Richard, the husband of the woman Ted's Harry is having an affair with. Richard plays as completely insane. He jokes, threatens, makes odd references, and generally has a great time while kidnapping Harry and driving him to the beach that he owns. I don't want to give away too much because I really enjoyed it.  Nielsen is amazing as the wealthy psychopath.  He's funny, charming, and absolutely nuts.

The Crate
This story is a bit odd.  One of the main characters is an utter bitch of a wife played by Adrienne Barbeau and her meek husband who constantly fantasizes about killing her.  The story starts at a party where she's really drunk and making an ass of herself while her husband tries to hide from her and speak with a friend of his from the local college.  The friend gets a call from the college from a janitor who found a box under a stairwell from an expedition over 180 years ago and leaves to check it out.  He and the janitor take the box to a lab and open it, at which point some weird beast attacks and eats the janitor.  The professor runs into the hallway to tell someone else and get help.  The person he finds doesn't believe him and then the thing eats him too.  He phones up the husband, and babbles the whole story to him.  The poor man decides this will be a great way to dispose of his wife and concocts a plan, that despite some minor glitches goes off quite well. At least until the *DUN DUN DUUNNNN*

They're Creeping Up On You!
This story is probably the most dull, but is also kindof disgusting. It's about a ruthless and wealthy businessman who lives in a hermetically sealed suite in a NYC high rise. During the story he deals with an increasingly numerous and impractical cockroach infestation. He fields business calls, and spends many of them threatening people and generally being a deplorable human being until the infestation is too much. At which point he retreats to a super-sealed panic room in a mad craze. He's overcome by an absurd amount of roaches before the end of the night and when the exterminator he's been yelling at people to get finally shows up, he can't answer.

The framing story wraps up with the comic book being picked up in the morning by the garbage man who flips through it and decides to read some of it, but is disappointed the voodoo doll has already been sent out for. Then it moves to the family where the father is at the table for breakfast, still mad at the son. Then he clutches at himself and screams in pain as we see the son, with the voodoo doll.

I'm concerned with my ability to keep write-ups of this length, but I'll try at least a few more times.
Tomorrow's movie is: Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Horror 2012: The Signal

The Signal is really pretty interesting.  It was written and directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry and released in 2007 for Sundance.  The movie is actually broken into three "chapters" of a continuing story, where each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character which brings about a radical shift in genre.  This does make a nice segue into Anthology week.

The basic setup is that Mya is having an affair and wakes up with Ben (her lover) to weird looking TV static.  They're so invested in each other they ignore it.  This is the Signal, an unexplained broadcast that turns normal people into violent psychopaths.  She returns home to her husband Lewis, who is jealous because he knows she's cheating.  Lewis and his friends are arguing about the TV static interfering with some sports game before Lewis snaps and beats one of his friends to death with a baseball bat.  Mya flees and hides overnight in a closet, listening to her CD player.  This seems to be her main defense against the Signal: she's constantly shutting everything out and listening to her walkman.  After she wakes up the first chapter begins.

Crazy In Love
The first chapter is a play on the slasher genre, complete with a hilariously gnarly looking weapon and an abductor who's immune to pain.  Mya escapes him by crashing her car and running away, passing the narrative to Clark, who was outside at the time and offered to help her.  This is amusing, and kindof tense.

The Jealousy Monster
The narrative passes briefly to Anna, who is setting up a New Year's Eve party despite having just murdered her husband in self-defense.  Clark comes over and tries to calm her and hides the body.  Shortly after, Lewis shows up, on the trail of Mya and the story takes a turn for the awkward as Lewis...and Clark...try to play party with Anna.  This is where characters start hallucinating a lot making it much harder to tell for sure what exactly is going on.  Does the Signal give people powers?  Does it make them nuts or does it just make them see everyone else as nuts?  This is probably the funniest bit, but it's really dark.  Lewis eventually snaps and tortures Anna to death before Clark reveals where Mya has gone.  Ben appears and knocks Lewis out, escaping with Clark and following Mya.

Escape From Terminus
After some brief flashbacks showing Ben's progression over the last 2 chapters, we shift to him and Clark convincing each other of their sanity and discussing the nature of the Signal.  Clark wraps his head in tin foil.  They arrive at the train station to discover Lewis has beaten them there and strapped Mya to a chair directly in front of the Signal.  This bit is the shortest part of the story so it's hard to discuss the overarching developments without giving away how the movie ends.

Suffice to say, it's suitably mind-bending after the hallucinations and questioning of the characters' sanity.

Overall the movie is brisk, darkly witty, and violent.  It's really satisfying to watch because it keeps hitting great beats and then quickly moving on to a different mood somehow managing to not seem schizophrenic.  The way the narrative follows the characters is very fun, and lends a certain amount of non-linearity keeps it from feeling too breakneck.  But it's kept in check so you never really lose where you are in the story.

It's a pretty great close to internet week.

Tomorrow the marathon moves on to Anthologies, starting with the 1982 classic: Creepshow.

I'm going to try to follow this format of giving brief synopsis of the framing story, followed by a quick overview of each short and then final impressions.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October Horror 2012: Kairo

Kairo (also known as Pulse) is a 2001 Japanese horror movie about a web cam site that promises visitors interactions with the dead.  It was remade in 2006 as the American film Pulse.

Kairo is possibly one of the most serious movies we've seen this year.  The movie is very slowly paced and almost 2 hours long.  There are a lot of lingering shots, and the color palette is really muted.  It feels like it was filmed in the 70s, using fashions and computers from the 90s.  It's also really creepy, if more than a bit confusing.  For most of the film the view switches between 2 unrelated stories of people being affected by what's going on, which seems to be a city being slowly depopulated via mass suicides that don't leave traces.  There's one thread that follows the staff at a greenhouse discovering the website after their techie friend commits suicide, and a 2nd one following a modern Luddite who spontaneously uncovers his keyboard and connects to the internet, stumbling upon the site for some reason I can't really remember.  It just sort of happened.

What's impressive is that the movie is almost entirely bereft of special effects, presenting its ghosts as mostly people in shadow in the corner and using clever editing to make ghosts vanish into black stains on walls.  It raises a lot of questions about if you're seeing the ghost, the person before fading away, or a hallucination of some sort as the character is initially unwilling to accept the death.  It's incredibly creepy without really using a single scare, shock, or death.

It does falter a little bit because the plot is really hard to follow, I don't know if that's a virtue of the plot itself or just my missing something in the subtitles.  I wouldn't mind a dub of this movie at all, I think it might help comprehension.

This is probably something that should be analyzed in much greater depth, but unfortunately I don't have a lot of time with the October marathon schedule.  I may revisit this later and probably do some comparisons of it with the remake Pulse, which I also enjoyed, but it's a very different kind of film.

Anyway, internet week comes to a close with The Signal.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October Horror 2012: Devour

Devour is a 2005 horror movie directed by David Winkler, who unfortunately bears no relation to Henry.  It stars Jensen Ackles and Dominique Swain, probably best known for Supernatural and Lolita, respectively.

The movie is about Jake Grey, a pretty upright seeming kid who's stuck in a small town filled with morally tanked and bored delinquents.  However, he's been plagued his whole life by ultra-real visions of torture, murder, and self-mutilation.  One night at a party his friends introduce him to an online game called "The Pathway".  When playing the game, players get phone calls from an unknown voice telling them to do specific acts ranging from sex, to vandalism, to violence, promising good fortune and power.

After some of his friends die while playing, Jake uncovers that "The Pathway" is a front for a devil worshipping cult that killed his mother.  The cult is using the game to try to find someone, probably him.

The movie itself has bits where it's maybe over-stylized, but overall it's pretty sharp.  The characters aren't terrible, but a bit flat and hammy.  The movie shines in its visuals and scenarios.  It's pretty imaginative in its setups, and the shooting and editing makes it all feel really fresh.  It's got a lot of good stuff that's disturbing and uncomfortable without going too far and becoming ridiculous.  The story isn't particularly impressive and I did zone out a bit towards the end, but for the most part I enjoyed it.  There's a lot in there about facing fear, or facing temptation or the devil, but it's mostly window dressing to support its style.  It's just deep and open ended enough to not be a complete wash but it has no illusions of grandeur.  It's good.

Internet week continues with: Kairo, the original inspiration for Pulse (which I mention briefly in the 2009 overview).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October Horror 2012: Chain Letter

Chain Letter is a movie.  Ok, seriously.  Chain Letter is a 2010 horror movie written by Diana Erwin, Michael J. Pagin, and Deon Taylor.  Also directed by Deon Taylor.

The movie is about a group of friends in a highly technological suburb who inadvertently attract the attention of a serial killer that determines his victims by seeing who fails to forward a chain letter.  He also kills all his victims using chains.

The story is a bit silly, but the characters and acting are alright.  We dislike who we're supposed to dislike, we're suspicious of who we're supposed to be suspicious of, etc.  Unfortunately the characters who are supposed to be long-lived enough that we're supposed to root for aren't very well developed so it feels bit flat.  Also, I'm not entirely sold on Keith David as the heroic cop figure.

The kill scenes are mostly creative and always very gruesome, which plays in the favor of this sort of movie.  I do like that they illustrate sometimes the killer having to haul his victim elsewhere to make the kill because the original location where he abducted the teen wouldn't do.

There is an oddly heavy-handed social message about the faith we place in telecommunications, which given that this is an election season comes off as political and makes me reflexively dislike it.  The movie's so obvious about it in the beginning and during a few moments with Brad Dourif's character, but aside from that they're pretty calm about the whole thing which is nice.  The overall ideas are somewhat interesting, but I didn't realize the true nature of the killer until reading the wikipedia page on the movie which made the last act of the movie feel like it was leaving something out.

Non-linear story telling is used to surprisingly entertaining affect to connect the opening of the movie to the final scene, but there are a few steps to set that scene up that are a bit contrived.

While I imagine the movie doesn't have much to offer repeat viewings it's entertaining enough as a stock slasher with a technological twist to serve the first time through.

Tomorrow, internet week continues with Devour.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October Horror 2012: Hellraiser: Hellworld

Hellraiser: Hellworld is the last movie of the original Hellraiser continuity, released in 2005 before they rebooted the series with Hellraiser: Revelations.

The movie is set in a world where the Hellraiser series existed, and they made an MMORPG out of it.  A kid named Adam got obsessed with the game and crafted a replica of the Lament Configuration puzzle box used in the series to summon the Cenobites.  He then digs a large hole in his basement, presumably to bury the box, but then lights himself on fire and dies.  Two years after his funeral, his friends have all gotten cooler and the "pretty" one has stopped playing the game entirely.  The ones who are still playing discovered a "secret" in the game that allowed them to solve a virtual Lament Configuration for an invitation to a super-secret invite-only Hellworld party hosted by Lance Henriksen.

They go to the party, which is filled with the expect drunken sex debauchery and then shit goes totally south as they split up.  There are a few OH SNAP twists, but the ending feels a little unsatisfying.  Some of the kills are fun, but a lot are just throw-aways.  There are even a few good mind-fuck scenes for a direct-to-dvd sequel.

The movie has token references to Hellraiser that while they could have done without, lends a certain aesthetic and mythology that really helped elevate it above a pretty flat horror mystery.  The fact that we all know the mythology lets them play a little bit with the question of whether the legend is real or is it just a game.  It's fun.

There are definitely worse movies in the series and Revelations was way crappier.  Hellworld is entertaining enough to watch once or twice, the twists are OK and not too crazy.  It's better than a lot of direct-to-dvd horror so it gets a solid "not bad".

Next up: Chain Letter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October Horror 2012: .com for murder

.com for murder is terribad.  Let's just get that out of the way:  This is one of the worst movies I have ever watched.  The only things that kept me from stopping midway through was that I wasn't expecting much to begin with and it was on the list for this month's marathon.

So .com for murder is a 2001 internet/crime/thriller written and directed by Nico Mastorakis and starring Nastassja Kinski, Roger Daltrey, and Nicollette Sheridan.  Though, realistically I noticed Huey Lewis and Melinda Clarke more.  Roger Daltrey is barely in the movie and the other two I didn't recognize at all.

Nastassja is presumably Roger Daltrey's wife and inexplicably in a leg cast.  They have some chit-chat where he proves he's the MAN and insults the entire female gender as being technologically inept, then leaves for a business trip.  The wife is left alone with her sister to take care of her since she's in a cast, and immediately guesses the password to Daltrey's internet account and hops on an erotic chat room.  She hits on a girl that seems like she knows the screen name and then trolls some guy who is doing stuff in the room no one else can do.

This guy, woah, this guy.  In his intro scene he is: Butt nekkid in a dark room with a huge TV-monitor, watching naked dancers blue-screened onto fire backgrounds.  He's wearing a beanie, and has a ring painted around one eye.  He's using a wireless keyboard that glows and has these little lights velcro'd to his fingers.  He spends the entire movie quoting angst-ridden poetry, apparently from Faust.  His only motivation to kill is for revenge since he thinks Daltrey's character had trolled him, and then curls up in his HUGE bathtub and cries.

The whole thing is non-sensical and character motivations are bizarre.  The technology in the movie has absolutely no resemblance to anything that has ever existed.  In one scene the killer is signed off and there are just low flames animating on his screen, I jokingly said "That must be his FIRE WALL, OHHHHH!"  However, I was right and the screen was labeled "Firewall active".  Literally the worst pun I could think of was what the writers decided to go with.  It's just silly, poorly conceived, nonsense.  Maybe Internet week was a poor choice.

ONWARD!  To Hellworld!

Monday, October 8, 2012

October Horror 2012: feardotcom have to say that I actually forgot to write this for several days after watching the movie, it really sort of washed over me.
feardotcom was directed by William Malone and release by Warner Brothers in 2002.  It stars Stephen Dorff, Jeffrey Combs, and Natascha McElhone.  There's a brief cameo by Udo Kier in the very beginning of the movie.

The movie itself is about a NYC cop (Dorff) teaming up with a Health Dept. Officer (McElhone) to uncover the cause behind a seemingly unrelated string of 4 deaths.  I don't recall why the health department was involved, I think it was because of the black eyes on all 4 victims, but I don't exactly recall.

It turns out they all died exactly 48 hours after visiting a website, "".  I'm serious.  At the time they made the movie they wanted to purchase the website "", which was owned by someone else who refused to sell.  So they went ahead and made the movie anyway, but this led to some confused branding where you'd see "", "", etc.  The website is the webcam site of a serial killer known as "The Doctor" who tortures his victims until they beg to die.  But sometimes it's possessed by an alluring woman asking visitors if they want to hurt her, then tells them they're lying and demands they find her.

The movie is visually creative, but nothing hits.  So you think it's cool while you're watching things but then forget exactly what had happened.  The actors seem really disinterested, so none of the characters provide any emotional engagement.  It's a pity because it looks interesting, but is too dull to resonate.  The thing feels really similar to 2008's Untracable, except with a supernatural element and much weaker mystery.

A pretty unfortunate way to start internet week, but I wasn't expecting much.  Horror doesn't usually seem to get technology.  Anyway, we continue tomorrow with: .com For Murder.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October Horror 2012: In the Mouth of Madness

So we are a few days behind but tonight we watched John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness and most of 2007's Cthulhu.

In the Mouth of Madness was released in 1994 and based on a screenplay written by Michael De Luca.  It's got a pretty stellar class including Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, Charlton Heston and Frances Bay.  This is the only movie this week that's not directly based on a Lovecraft story, but is a completely original screenplay.  Obviously it's heavily influenced by Lovecraft's work, but oddly doesn't have a lot to do with H.P.'s At the Mountains of Madness aside from some token mentions of Shoggoths.  It's got more in common with The Shadow over Innsmouth.

It's a what-if story that deals with 2 major points:  What if H.P. Lovecraft was a contemporary author, hugely popular in the 90s?  And what if stories have the power to become real if enough people believe in the reality?

The movie once again uses the framing device of having the story told in flashback while John Trent (Sam Neill) narrates the events to Dr. Wrenn (David Warner).  Trent is a freelance insurance investigator, which seems to be an oddly specific form of private detective, who is hired to track down the missing author Sutter Cane. Cane is some sort of modernized version of Lovecraft himself, possibly with a dash of Stephen King thrown in for good measure.  He sets most of his stories in a fictionalized New England town and writes about indescribable other-worldly horrors.  There's an added wrinkle that his books are rumored to be so deranged they actually make some people go mad.

The publishing company needs Trent to find Cane's latest manuscript because the book is due out soon and they've already started to market it.  The story is called In the Mouth of Madness...oh, hey, I see what you did there!  Trent manages to find a clue in Cane's cover art, leading him to a small town which seems to be a real-life manifestation of Hobb's End, the town from his stories.  Hobb's End is another common fictional town used by several authors in several stories, very similar to Lovecraft's Arkham. There's a nice mashup of insanity, hallucinations, sea creatures along with the meta aspect of meeting the author of the story with the same name as the movie.  The ending is wonderfully meta.

The soundtrack was a little odd.  Carpenter's usually involved with the music in his own movies but the soundtracks in his 70s and 80s movies were a lot more fitting, once he hit the 90s he started featuring rock guitars.  It fit decently in Ghosts of Mars, since that movie was really action-oriented.  In this movie it just feels a little awkward.

The creature effects were better in The Resurrected, so this movie kindof fails to scare with those.  It does have some good camera work, but the narrative is what's creepy here.  It's unsettling, but only if you think about from the perspective of Trent's character.  Even if you can't get into his skin, the movie is still fun because it is a great what-if story.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

October Horror 2012: Re-animator

Re-animator is the 1985 cult classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation directed by Stuart Gordon, who went on to direct a lot more Lovecraft adaptations based on the success of this.  The movie is loosely based on Herbert West: Re-Animator and stars Jeffrey Combs in the lead role.

The original story was published in 6 parts in Weird Tales magazine, and maintains both of Lovecraft's hallmarks of the use of a framing story and of having the timeframe last several years.  The movie departs from this by using a highly compressed timeframe of days, maybe weeks, and also telling the story with more a traditional 3rd person dramatic narrative.  The story is also the first Lovecraft story to use the location of Miskatonic University.

The movie itself is an amazing exercise in pure 80's horror cheese.  The acting is hilariously over the top and the soundtrack is almost cartoony.  It was a lot of fun to watch, not being particularly scary or even disturbing.  It felt a lot like The Evil Dead movies, but maybe a little more restrained.  Gordon doesn't spray fake blood out of a firehose at people like Sam Raimi enjoys doing, but he definitely showers the set and actors in lots of strangely colored liquids.  The movie is also a lot more perverted than anything from The Evil Dead.  Some of what happens is downright nasty, but the movie sprints by almost gleefully.

The special effects are almost impressive for the time, but do look pretty weird and fake.  I think it's by design, though.  The movie revels in that odd sense of humor that calls attention to how corny everything is, but it's also got a massive sick streak.  Well worth the watch.

Coming up, we close out Lovecraft week with John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October Horror 2012: Cthulhu

Cthulhu, released in 2007 and directed by Dan Gildark is a vague adaptation of The Shadow over Innsmouth.  Their use of a gay protagonist is often discussed, but thankfully the film doesn't entirely hinge on it.  It's just a point.

The story is moved from Innsmouth to a small coastal town in Washington state called Rivermouth and begins when Russel Marsh receives a phone call informing him of his mother's death.  He's now living on the East coast with his partner, but drives home to attend to funeral and help his father put her affairs in order.

While there he spontaneously shaves his head, gets involved in uncovering a deep secret about his family, rekindles some old relationships, and gets drugged by Tori Spelling.  It's a bit weird.

I liked the movie, the 1st and 3rd acts where both really good.  It was disturbed, kindof creepy, mysterious, and uncomfortable.  The psychology was good, the imagery was fantastic, and everything going on was pretty interesting.  I guess it had a cliff hanger ending but the action building up to it was fun.

The 2nd act was where I wasn't enjoying myself.  It was weird in all the wrong ways.  Mainly the amount of time spent with Tori Spelling character was too damn high, and it was monumentally awkward because her and her wheelchair-bound husband effectively date rape Russel so that they could have a child.  I understand that the fact the he's a Marsh and needs to have a child for the good of the cult, which most of the town are members of, but it just seemed really out of place and tasteless for a movie that for the most part was being really even and real about how a gay man might be treated when returning to his conservative and highly religious small town home. Yes, it's a religion based around Deep Ones and immortal half-breeds, but still a religion.

It was a good movie, I liked it, but that middle bit was just a bit off-putting.

Lovecraft week draws one step closer to its inevitable end, but before that comes the classic Reanimator.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October Horror 2012: The Call of Cthulhu

Alright, this one's a bit odd.  It's a black & white silent movie based on the story of the same name, released in 2005 and produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.  They call the filming style "Mythoscope" which is a blend of traditional and modern filming techniques that produces a film which very much adheres to the aesthetic of a movie from the 20s or 30s while still respecting certain modern sensibilities.

As such we have a lot of static cameras, but a few moving shots.  What's funny is the static shots feel appropriate and refined but a lot of others that technically look better seem amateurish and out of place, like someone's home movie.

From what I can tell it's also the most accurate to the original story, aside from a few minor changes which do seem like they would make it easier to hook the narrative or make certain scenes easier to film. As an example, according to wikipedia the original story had the Alert crewed by cultists which would have required another scene with many many extras so they made it that the Alert was abandoned which required no additional cast members.  Basically the sort of rigid adherence to the source material you'd expect from a group calling themselves the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Beyond that I can't really judge anything because the movie is so far out of my realm of experience.  It moved pretty briskly, and the music was nice.  More dramatic than the silly scores I usually imagine going with silent movies.  It was fun to watch...but it's really not my thing.

Tomorrow will be the 2007 Cthulhu, based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth.  It will probably be the most "artistic" thing yet.

October Horror 2012: The Resurrected

The Resurrected (aka Shatterbrain) is a 1992 direct to video horror movie directed by Dan O'Bannon, who's only previous directing credit was 1984's Return of The Living Dead.  He'd also written the screenplay for Screamers and Total Recall and created characters for Alien.  The movie starred Chris Sarandon, John Terry, and Jane Sibbett.  It was based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which Lovecraft actually wrote immediately prior to The Colour of Outer Space.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this one.  I wasn't sure what to expect since it was early 90's VHS release, but the movie was really good.  It was tense, had a pretty compelling story, was decently acted, and had better effects than some movies I've seen that came out last year.  The movie also seems to fit the pace of the original story the best, and may have actually extend the story.  They've borrowed the framing device that Lovecraft is fond of and the story is told to the audience by someone else after-the-fact, often resulting in multiple levels of flashback.

Oddly, for as much as they seemed to respect the source material they changed the name of the narrator from Marinus Bicknell Willett to John March and changed his occupation from family doctor to private detective hired by Ward's estranged wife.  I don't actually fault the movie here because it was a convincing angle and enabled them to add a few fun support characters.

The movie has token nods to Lovecraft's Cosmic mythology, but the horror elements here are the result of a person accessing an unnatural power.  There aren't really far-reaching ramifications, there's no manipulation by unseen forces, just a power-mad alchemist discovering a secret to prolonging his life and even returning from the dead with a hunger for blood and super-human strength that almost makes him vampiric.

The mystery is tense and twists naturally, but the effects are stand-out.  They really had some nasty looking blood and gore effects and a lot of a super-gross creature effects.  It lent a lot of good creepiness and tension, especially to a certain underground scene involving a matchbook.

This was pretty much great.  I think this is the strongest movie of the season so far and so far the only one that was actually scary in the traditional sense.  The age on the first two movies this year made them a bit campy.

Tomorrow we watch the 2005 silent Call of Cthulhu from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October Horror 2012: Die, Monster, Die!

Die, Monster, Die! is the 2nd entry in Lovecraft week.  It was released in 1965 and was directed by Daniel Haller who would also go on to direct The Dunwich Horror in 5 years.  This stars Boris Karloff, Suzan Farmer, and Nick Adams.

The movie is loosely based on Lovecraft's The Colour of Outer Space, which was his attempt to create a truly alien outer space creature.  However, aside from the crashing of a meteor that strangely affects life, the movie is very different.  The original story is the second hand account from Ammi Pierce of what happened to the "blasted heath", an area outside Arkham where a metorite had landed years ago.  The metorite was examined, but no one could explain its effect on the nearby vegetation.  The media seeps globs of "Colour" that eventually drive a nearby family insane while eroding the vegetation into grey dust and tainting the water.  The family goes missing one-by-one before Pierce shows up with several other men only to discover everyone is dead as the "Colour" and the metorite leave the planet.  This also takes place over years.

The movie is significantly quickened, and most of the cast are inventions.  Some of the family members are loosely based on their equivalents in the story, but the names are changed.  They've also created a romantic plot between the Ammi-clone and a member of the family.

So while these changes are a little disheartening and detracts a lot from the Lovecraftian spirit, it's still a pretty good movie.  It plays a lot like a great 50s-60s style ghost story with a mysterious secret and a figure in black stalking the woods.  It was actually really fun to watch.  Some of the character motivations and behaviors are a little strange in the beginning, but when cool stuff starts to happen it doesn't really matter.

As far as faith to the source material this is probably the weaker of the two, but it was actually a more entertaining movie.

Next up: The Resurrected, sometimes known as Shatterbrain.

October horror 2012: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

We begin H.P. Lovecraft week with The Dunwich Horror, released in the first few weeks of 1970.  It was directed by Daniel Haller and starred Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee.  It also involved the Michael Fox who forced Michael J. Fox to use the J, which is kindof cool.  The movie itself is an adaptation of the Lovecraft story of the same name, written by Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, and Ronald Silkosky.

The story is only loosely based on Lovecraft's short, some of the major differences being the timeframe that it takes place during and the Nancy character.  The original story unfolds over the course of several years, while the film is covered in less than a week.  Also, Sandra Dee's character doesn't exist in the original at all.

The core concept, however, has remained intact.  That is that Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) wants to "procure" a copy of The Necronomicon from the Miskatonic University library so that he can summon the Outer God: Yog-Sothoth, one of the Old Ones.  Since this is Lovecraft week, this is going to come up a lot.  The Old Ones were a race of other-dimensional beings that are coterminous with our space-time continuum.  There's a lot to suggest the Old Ones were also the gods of various ancient poly-theistic religions.  The mythology suggests they ruled the earth before the ages of men and are now trapped outside our universe, having been overthrown and all but destroyed by the shoggoths, a slave race of their own creation.  Now that I type it out it also sounds a lot like the Goa'uld from Stargate.  Moving on.

The cult imagery they use is kindof a hodge-podge of early Meso-American and Egyptian symbols, which seemed very unfocused because it was largely treated as dressing.  Lovecraft is all about this sort of magic, where words and symbols have mighty power and simple drawings can drive people mad.  So this seems like a missed opportunity to make the images actually symbolize something.

It's disheartening that the actual Dunwich Horror has become a B-plot in its own movie, with the mysterious entity sequestered in the Whately house being referenced visually only a handful of times and barely ever during dialog.  When it eventually escapes it racks up maybe 2 casualties before straight up vanishing, presumably during the climax at the end of the movie.  Its origins remain the same as the story but there is so little focus on it that it almost doesn't make sense its included at all.

In the film, everything that happens is the direct result of human action.  In the story, like most of Lovecraft's cannon, humanity is just along for the ride.  Wilbur is killed in the original during a pretty chance encounter, so there is no ceremony.  In the film the ceremony is an easily relatable and tangible thing that Armitage has to stop in order to save the day.  In the story, the thing to be stopped is an invisible monster that explodes out of the Whateley house to rampage across the countryside where it terrorizes the locales for several days before being killed by Armitage and several others from Miskatonic University.  So the Horror, the evil, was not called immediately by a human in a way that killing the human would stop it.  It is worth pointing out that this is one of the few Lovecraft works where a human manages to stop the monster, possibly because this is just a purely terrestrial creature with possible cosmic parentage, not an Elder God itself...or even a cult.

It's a fun movie that seems to nod strongly to Lovecraft while trying to update his pacing to something much more brisk.  Although, to be totally honest they may have moved things along a bit too quickly since it feels like something is always happening which prevents anything from having weight.  The summoning ceremony, which seems to have been basically invented for the movie, fits really well into the story.  However, it does make the climax seem really strange, since it basically consists of Armitage and Whateley shouting gibberish at each other until Whateley spontaneously combusts and falls of a cliff.  It's so early in the 70s, it really seems like it should be considered a 60s movie and the animated title sequence and cheese theme-music reinforce that.  Though one of the things I found really interesting was when the composer was making the contemporary theme music go off-kilter with theremin and merging it with the generically "exotic" theme they've been using as the cult theme.

Tomorrow: Lovecraft week returns with Die, Monster, Die! also directed by Daniel Haller and based on the Lovecraft short story The Colour of Outer Space.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October Horror 2012 Movie List

We're back to October once again, so horror movies are back in season.  And! My apartment decorations are finally appropriate again.

So we've made our list, checked it Se7en times, or 666, or whatever.

Anyway, as is tradition we've split October into 4 weeks, each with an oddly specific theme.

This year we've got:
  • H.P. Lovecraft adaptations - Anything obviously Lovecraftian or directly inspired by a story by Lovecraft.
  • Internet Horror - Any movie where a computer game or the internet is a major plot point.
  • Anthologies - Mostly just an excuse to watch Trick 'R Treat again, also V/H/S due to Ti West's involvement.
  • Stephen King adaptations - Any movie based on a story by Stephen King.

First on the list, kicking off Lovecraft week and going up in a few hours is going to be the 1970 "The Dunwich Horror".

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Horror Pre-Season: The House at the End of the Street

I'm going to be back-publishing this entry so it's chronologically near when I actually watched the movie, so that it fits into the pre-season and doesn't bloat the 28 movies in the actual October viewing list.

Hoo, boy.

House at the End of the Street is a psychological thriller directed by Mark Tonderai and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Shue, and Max Theiriot.  It was filmed mostly in mid-2010, and originally intended for release in April 2012 before being moved to September 2012.  What's interesting about that is that had it been released in April, another Jennifer Lawrence movie would have still been playing in theaters.  The Hunger Games was released in March 2012 and made an absolutely absurd amount of money, also making a massive star out of the then relatively unknown Lawrence.  They then enacted a 6 month advertising campaign heavily focused on letting us know Jennifer Lawrence is in this movie, also moving the thriller's release into that late-September to early-October timeframe I mentioned in The Possession's review.

It's quite clear that this movie was never intended to have such a major release, but decided to capitalize on its star's suddenly heightened profile.  The major problem again is the characters don't feel real.  This time I don't think it's a problem of acting, I think the writing is just poor.  The things people do just doesn't make sense, their motivations are practically non-existent and the relationships absolutely don't work.  A significant amount of the first act is devoted to showing off Elissa's (Lawrence) multiple artistic and devious talents and how utterly charmed her life is.  Instead of the traditional new-kid difficulties settling in and problems fitting in at a new school, Elissa immediately makes friends with everyone.  Getting invited to a massive drinking party with all the "popular" kids seemingly on the first day, and being invited to join a band by the second day.  She plays guitar, keyboard, sings, has a popular myspace music page, looks amazing, lives in a gorgeous house and the only enemy she has is the slimy alpha male that tried to force himself on her but had the decency to stop when asked.  The only tension seems to be between her and her mother, who she deliberately antagonizes presumably because of some past faults or indiscretions which are never elaborated on and just mentioned as existing in passing.

Also, I'm pretty sure there was a bit that included the phrase "trying to do this mom thing" 3 times in as many minutes.  The mom also said that Elissa liked to "make projects" out of people or "fix" them and tended to "find the most damaged" person around so many times I lost count.  It almost felt like lines where just copy-pasted around.  To say the movie repeated itself is an understatement.

The look of the film jumps from ultra-realistic handheld camera to this repeated shot where the camera cranes from below a character up past them and then shoots them from some point above the house to this "artsy" style with psychedelic colors, POV shots, and fast cuts.  It's jarring, but the worst part is that all of it fails to convey internal geography.  I don't know where locations are in relation to each other, and I don't even know what houses are shaped like.

As to the plot, if you're at all familiar with the Paul_Millander plot from season 2 of the original CSI series, that's basically what's going on.  There are some twists to get there but it's pretty predictable.  There's also a bit of some other TV plot in there, but I can't actually remember enough specifics about it.  And that's the problem, really.  This is a 100 minute long movie that tried to create an effective mystery centering around a serial abductor.  They've tried to include a well-characterized lead character, add a lot of psychosis to the antagonist and create a complex plot of misdirections to avoid their twists being obvious.  This is something TV shows have been able to do really well recently, since they have a few episodes to do it.  The movie tried to do a lot, but managed its time poorly and wound pulling out a lot of random "oh yeah...his parents also did meth!" things that came out of nowhere, didn't add much, and were sometimes inconsistent with previous scenes.

I don't know why I was expecting a lot out of this movie, but I really feel let down and the problems were so myriad and obvious I felt really bad about seeing it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Horror Pre-Season: The Possession

Late August through mid-September is when studios like to release horror movies outside of the shadow of whatever late-October juggernaut franchise is popular.  I guess either because they're unsure of the movie's ability to stand up to the competition or they want to give something a bit different a chance to flourish.  I'm honestly not entirely sure which The Possession is.
Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie.  I thought it was pretty decent and a largely unexplored concept with a pretty great 3rd act.  However, there was something about it that made it hard to take seriously, and if you can't take a horror movie seriously it loses all ability to scare.

Firstly, I really enjoy it when a possession story takes a different approach to the mythology it's going to use.  Most entries in the genre focus on the Catholic rites of exorcism, so I take particular interest whenever a movie bases itself on a different culture's possession myths.  In this case, the Jewish dybbuk, which is more of a ghostly possession than the traditional demonic one.  I recall The Unborn being about a dybbuk as well, and though the movie wasn't too creative with its scare design it had a few really good ones and I thought the unique concept elevated it a bit.

So The Possession is a story about broken family and their experiences after one of the daughters convinces her father to buy her a Dybbuk Box at a garage sale.  She falls under the influence of the box and becomes increasingly dangerous to herself and her family as the dybbuk takes hold, while her father tries to convince his ex-wife that something is wrong with the girl and eventually to get an exorcism.

Jeffery Dean Morgan does a decent job as the ex-husband, Clyde, conveying a real sense of a father who just wants his kids to like him.  His character is pretty well developed, without spending a lot of time on him which is really nice.  Another standout in the cast is Natasha Calis is Clyde's daughter Em.  She reminds me a lot of Chloe Moretz, and has some real acting skill.  She does a great job here developing the character's mannerisms as the possession continues.  There are some nice creepy moments that rely on her acting being convincing in order to carry them, and she sells them well.  I wish there were actually more bits in the movie like that.

The sound design is also pretty unnerving.  I've noticed this is something that does a really good job scaring me when it's done well.  It's probably why I like Ti West's movies so much, he had the same sound designer (Graham Reznick) on House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, and he's really good.

The exorcism sequence itself was also very nicely done, being chaotic while still clear and focused.  There are some contrivances to set the scene, but it is an effective setting once you forget how we got there.

However, I think the movie falters at a few points.  One being Kyra Sedgwick is pretty unconvincing as the ex-wife.  There are only one or two scenes where she seems to be putting the correct emotions into her lines.  It's heavily implied she's angry at Clyde, and really into her new boyfriend and the various yuppie lifestyle trappings he brings, but the way she behaves never conveys that.  She actually seems to be happy to see her ex most of the time.

Another issue I had is that the dybbuk is absurdly powerful, even when it's still trapped in the box it's able to send a grown woman flying across the room and snap her back.  It ruins all sense of proportion, so nothing can escalate properly and the whole movie winds up feeling pretty flat.  There are peeks and valleys with the action, but the average line doesn't move much.

It feels like the script had been rewritten or heavily edited several times.  They make a lot of hints at what would have been really interesting bits of mythology to play around with, like in one scene Em finds a small carving of some sort of animal in the box, like a dog or a boar.  A few scenes later some sort of animal you never see is shown having wandered into Clyde's house and raiding his fridge.  Could it have been related?  I dunno, would've been cool, though.  They have a similar thing with a moth from the box, but then moths are made really prominent.  I wish they had given some indication of why moths were so important.  As nocturnal creatures they have obvious symbolism, but is that the intent or is it just "bugs are creepy"?

Scenes alternate tone drastically as well, and that keeps breaking the immersion, which makes the attempts at drama fall a little flat.  You kindof lose the tension they're trying to develop, so the whole things feels a bit scattered.  They also didn't really make use of the dybbuk mythology, and treated it more like a standard demonic possession with a sprinkling of Judaica.  So yeah, it was entertaining.  Not nearly as bad as everyone seems to be making it out to be, but it does fall a little flat.  It's got a few good scare moments, but it never comes together as anything so it winds up being pretty forgettable.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Horror Off-Season: Martyrs

It's no secret by now that I dislike gore-porn/gorror/whatever.  I'm not going to deny that Hostel piqued my interest when it first came out.  It had a pretty flimsy story with a few predictable reveals, but the visuals were really uncomfortable since nothing in recent memory had really done that level of torture in a movie.  Of course, then I watched Cannibal Holocaust, the granddaddy of it all, and the 5,000 clones whose sole purpose was to do what Hostel did except MOAR! and the whole concept quickly wore thin.

So I knew I was going to have a hard time being objective about Martyrs, the 2008 French horror film directed by Pascal Laugier.  Especially after last week's misadventure with The Loved Ones, I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to get into a movie from what is quickly becoming the most trite subgenre of horror.  But I felt that if I didn't give it a fair chance I'd feel like a complete hypocrite.

One of my main defenses to the outright damning of any and all remakes is that a film should be allowed to stand or fall by its own merits rather than impossible comparisons.  Martyrs sort proves my point in that I should really hate this film since it is literally about torture.  However, I actually wound up walking away thinking this was something that provided some food for thought.  If I had rejected the movie because it looked like it should be terrible, I would've missed out on this.

The story that unfolds is actually damn interesting.  It's one of those narratives that gives you plenty of information but really doesn't like contextualizing anything.  There's a tremendous amount of dots strewn about the screen and the movie actually respects me enough to trust that I can connect enough of them myself.  It's something I can actually think about after the movie's runtime is over, and almost begs for it since the plot just doesn't make sense so you want to try to explain it.

What I'm not going to say is that Martyrs is the amazing or mindblowing film that scratches every possible horror itch imaginable because it's so multifaceted and amazing.  The key problem is that it thinks its most interesting qualities are the visceral: The blood, torture, beatings, skinning, etc. So that's where the movie lays its focus.  Even when it tries to slow down to let an emotional impact sink in, it's focusing on the impact of the physical torture instead of the more emotional hallucinations or flashbacks.  It's almost bro-horror in how vehemently it denies the emotional engagement of its own story.

It's also somewhat strange in that the first 40 minutes seems like a totally different movie.  So you've got a home invasion plot, then the invader starts to go a little crazy.  She kills herself and then the movie sort of meanders for a few minutes before going into some cult/abduction/torture plot.  There's a lot to explore in regards to the psychology of what's going on, but the movie kindof glosses over it so it can lovingly shoot and edit the repeated beatings of the protagonist.

Martyrs has an interesting story with the potential for a lot of good depth, but it's squandered because the movie is more interested in kicking the snot out of its characters and drilling things into people's heads.  It's a decently well shot movie, and the special effects are really good.  One thing that struck me was that even though it is really up front with the torture, it's not done in the typical "LOOK AT THAT, DUDE! THAT'S SICK!" fashion that a lot of these movies tend to do, it's actually somewhat artfully done.  It's a pretty good movie that could have been a great movie if it just focused on story and character instead of trying so hard to be gory and shocking.  In a lot of ways it's more like Saw than Hostel because it's not actually about the torture.

It's definitely got me interested in Pascal's other features: House of Voices and The Tall Man

UPDATE: I recently rewatched the movie and that has caused me to downgrade my opinion of it.  The movie has illusions of profundity but utterly fails to live up to it.  It's visually slick, but structurally jumbled.  Each question to be explored was actually just answered with "Because MARTYRS, that's why!", or specifically with "Because the cult thinks torturing girls can reveal truth." which doesn't actually lead anywhere as a line of questioning.  My original statement remains, this could have been a great movie if it cared about characters instead of just slapping them around, but I have downgraded it from "pretty good" to "...ok"


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Horror Off-Season: The Loved Ones

What the hell did I just watch?  It claims to be a movie called The Loved Ones, an Australian horror film written and directed by Sean Byrne.  What I think it actually is, is a prank in some absurd contest between horror directors for who can come up with the most deranged, over-the-top, stupid-bloody, bizarre and senseless crap possible.

I'm sure a lot of this is going to mirror my complaints about Asylum Blackout, but that movie actually had a character or two, a setup, and an ok ending.  The Loved Ones exists solely to bombard the viewer with as much twisted violence as possible, delivered by some cute but mentally disturbed girl.  Which I'm sure is part of its angle, a sort of "Oooo lookie she wears pink and lobotomizes boys with a power drill while giggling about it" thing.

Well, that jokes gets old pretty quickly and the movie has nothing else that makes any sense to offer.  The beginning of the movie is a perfect example:  It starts in teen movie mode, with pretty-boy Brent doing school, buying drugs, talking about condoms with his friend.  There's a dance coming up and Brent is going with his girlfriend, Holly.  This requires him to turn down a sweet, comely girl, named Lola.  Brent goes to screw his girlfriend in the car, and after he gets to EXPERIENCE BIJ he goes home and acts depressed.  Suddenly, he's decided to go into the wilderness and climb a rock face.  After staring at the sun he for a while he's assaulted by an old guy and dragged off to a pickup truck.  If that seems jarring and inconsistent, it's because it is.  I have no idea why our protagonist went from getting laid, to listening to heavy metal, to mumbling at his mom, to free climbing, except to provide a conveniently isolated location for him to be abducted from.

The rest of the movie plays like a mating of the Mickey Mouse Club and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  With lobotomized cannibal pseudo-zombies.  Can't forget those.  They're in there, in some secret basement pit with blast-doors under the living room floor.  And I think the worst part is that everything that I've mentioned, aside from the heavy metal and the rock climbing, are in the preview.  There's nothing this movie has, plot wise, that hasn't already been shown.  So the only reason to watch is to see everything that was hinted at get revealed in uncensored glory.  It's like they made a trailer and then filled in the blanks.

The Loved Ones also does that high-contrast, slightly desaturated thing that seems pretty popular now in movies like yellowbrickroad, though the scenes in the torture house are sharply lit and over-saturated to make everything look even more screwed up and garish.  I was half expecting low-angle shots with a fish-eye lens like a 90s grunge music video.

The one shot I actually enjoyed was right at the end where Lola's in the prom dress, bloody and beaten, crawling down the street with a cleaver in-hand.

Outside of that, this was like...Disney presents iCarly in HOSTEL.  I am so sick of torture porn.  I'm gonna go watch Absentia again.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Combat's place in horror games

I got a lot of flack from a few people for disparaging Dead Space as much as I did and engaging in the typical exalting of the early Silent Hill installments last time I talked about games.  In the first post, the bit about Dead Space was mainly a footnote so I didn't really explain myself.  I never wanted to leave something like that without a good explanation, because that's not fair to the game.  But in seeking to flesh out my stance on Dead Space, I started thinking a lot about combat in general since it tends to be such a contentious aspect of horror games.

For the sake of this exercise let's define combat as your single player-character in a direct, weaponized altercation with one-to-n enemy combatants.  This should be broad enough to encompass everything I want to talk about while excluding squad-based combat and other non-first person forms of combat.

Combat is obviously the core gameplay mechanic in games like Modern Warfare, Call of Duty, God of War, Prototype, and all their forefathers.  Even games like Arkham City and Arkham Asylum where navigation and puzzle-solving often take center stage, combat is a huge mechanic and part of what makes these games notable.  And in all these games the purpose of combat is to serve the emotional engagement of making the player feel like a badass (or in the Arkham games: Batman, the ultimate badass).  That's what they're for.  These games all serve to immerse the player in an environment where they can experience the visceral joy of dominating one's opposition without moral ambiguity.

However, the same sort of combat exists in the survival horror genre in games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dead Space, etc.  A lot of these games are about that moral ambiguity, they force the player to make uncomfortable decisions or confront uncomfortable reality.  There is no visceral joy to be had here, yet they still involve combat.  So in this genre, combat isn't around to make you feel like a badass but why is it around?  An easy theory is that combat exists in survival games to place a strain on your resources which forces you to ration instead of simply horde.  Without something depleting your supply of ammunition and health restoration items, the game simply doesn't have the stress factor involved with making sure you have enough of everything to make it to the end, which is a significant amount of the point.

While this is true, I think there's deeper engagement.  First, the focus on resource maintenance inherent to these games makes each combat situation you survive a Pyrrhic Victory: You live to fight another day, but at what cost?  Forcing the player to ask that question in any form keeps them in a state of introspection, and makes sure they don't get too cocky.

The combat also feeds you hope.  Survival horror games often have a puzzle solving or key-quest component to go along with their oppressive atmosphere.  Unfortunately this can quickly become demoralizing because if your experience of a game is a constant stream of endless puzzles in similar environments it doesn't feel like you're making any progress.  But the thrill of combat, of facing down the mutated hellbeast zombie creature and emerging victorious gives a sense of accomplishment.  It lifts you up and gives you the feeling that maybe you're capable of making it out of whatever situation you're in alive.  Also, the tense and immediate nature of combat raises the pitch of the game briefly making the experience feel more varied, similar to the rising and falling action in the story structure of a book or movie.

Part of the reason combat is so tense is because of how quickly it happens.  Decisions have to be made and executed so fast that a wayward second being taken aback by a monster will get you killed.  Simply put, you don't have the time to be scared during combat, you just have to react or you probably won't make it out of combat.  In an FPS after the post-combat relief you get congratulated, it's a positive payoff because you're told you've done well.  In survival horror after combat you have to examine your situation and resources, and get to reflect on whatever unholy face-craving scarecrow you've just seen.

Closing thoughts?

The combat in a horror game serves the same basic purpose of tense action with a feeling of victorious exhilaration when its done, but its use and context within a horror game let it evoke a much wider range of emotions.  However, in order for it to evoke the intended emotions it needs to fall into context of a resource-limited survival horror game.  Trying to include long combat scenes or waves of enemies doesn't make sense because it becomes too stressful and gives the scene a Contra-like failure rate which prevents it from making the right impact.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Beerening: Decoction Mashing, Take 2

Recently, my boss went on a business trip to meet with out clients in Germany and while he was there discovered Kellerbier.  Kellerbier, sometimes referred to as Zwicklebier or Zoiglbier, is sort of a German lager version of British cask ale.  It's a very young, fresh beer, often served just a few weeks out of primary fermentation with very little carbonation.  Unlike cask ale, to which a fining agent like isinglass is added, kellerbier is usually very cloudy due to a lack of extended secondary fermentation.  It contains much more proteins and yeast than traditional lager which has been filtered or aged for weeks or months at very low temperatures.

Not much kellerbier is produced commercially and even less of it makes its way to the states, but I did manage to find a bottle of Mönchshof Kellerbier at my local liquor store.  After drinking this and reading about the style a little, I set about trying to make my own because I found it an interesting challenge to try to duplicate a traditional style with origins dating back to the middle ages by description alone.  Also, trying to impress my boss with a home-grown version of a beer he really liked would probably not go amiss.

What I had tasted was a beer towards the dark side of golden, pretty well balanced without much overt hop character.  The beer had a pale malty backbone, evoking buttermilk biscuits.  It had a slight aroma of the herbal character European hops are known for as well slightly sulfurous twang of lager yeast.  With all this in mind I started to think about a recipe.

Since the unfortunate Wee Heavy incident I've been favoring simple grists and using the process or other means to achieve certain kinds of complexity.  This is really similar to Drew Beechum's "Brewing on the 1's" idea from his NHC lecture, see the video here.

Schloss Westtor zweikatzen mit zweimaischverfahren altbier im keller

10lbs Munich
1lb Flaked Barley

1oz German Northern Brewer @ 60 minutes
1oz Perle @ 5 minutes

Ferment with Wyeast Bohemian Lager (2124)
As I mentioned in the last post a decoction mash is a mash where you pull an amount of the thick mash and boil it in a separate vessel before adding it back to the main mash to raise the temperature.  This is a good way to do a mash with rests at multiple temperatures when you're not able to directly heat your mash, like if you're mashing in a wood vat or...a Rubbermaid cooler.  Beersmith's default double decoction schedule includes a 35 minute protein rest at 122F before adding the first decoction, which is why I included the pound of flaked barley.  Low protein rests like this can sometimes be detrimental to modern malts, actually breaking down too many proteins and ruining the beer's head and mouthfeel while having the opposite affect on older, less modified malts.  A low temp protein rest like this is recommended when working with significant amounts of flaked grains, so I added some.  I would use decoction boils to step up to 147F and then 156F before mashing out at 168F.  All this would get me an OG of 1.052 with 36 IBUs.  Also, I'm using the Bohemian Lager yeast because of the Lager Workarounds episode of Brewing TV, where they fermented that strain at ale temperatures and still had the beer turn out very lager-like.  Or at least, that was the plan.

When I got to the homebrew supply store I found that at some point during the week a crowd of thirsty brewers intent on making their Marzens for Oktoberfest had descended on the shop and cleared it of Munich malt.  So I had to modify my malt bill.  So, err...ahem
Schloss Westtor zweikatzen mit zweimaischverfahren altbier im keller

2.5lbs Munich
3.75lbs Vienna
3.75lbs Pilsner
1lb Flaked Barley

1oz German Northern Brewer @ 60 minutes
1oz Perle @ 5 minutes

Ferment with Wyeast Bohemian Lager (2124)
My mash was a downright disaster.  Unfortunately instead of using Dawson's 1qt thick mash/1lb grist formula from the Brewing TV Decoction Day episode, I elected to trust Beersmith's decoction volumes and only pulled 7 quarts for my first decoction instead of 11.  I boiled the decoction during the protein rest, but when I added it back in I didn't quite hit 147F.  I had to pull a few more quarts and boil again to make up the difference before starting the beta-saccrification rest.  My second decoction, which I started just a few minutes later was plagued by similar conditions.  So while I've technically performed a viermaischverfahren, I'm going to continue calling this the double decoction it would have been had I listened to Michael Dawson.

One thing I should mention, since I didn't know this when I was just reading about decoction mashes.  When you pull the thick mash it will be very dry looking, like a porridge without enough water.  It will have very deep cracks and seem like it'll scorch long before it bubbles.  It's not needed to add more water because as the mash sits on the heat getting stirred it will soften up and liquid will come out of it.  It's similar to making egg nog, when you add the sugar to the yolks it's very dry and crackly, but as you mash it it slowly becomes a thick syrupy liquid.

Also, this took me by surprise as well.  When you decoction mash, I think because of the protein rest you get this weird film that settles on your grain bed.  It looks kindof like break material from the boil, which it sort of is since it's also coagulated proteins and peptides.  It's nothing bad, it just looks really weird.

Check it.

As my punishment for misplaced trust, I was mashing for almost 5 hours.  When I finally went to sparge, it was absurdly cloudy.  I normally don't recirculate, but I felt like I had to this time.  Also, it was draining incredibly slowly.  I'm not sure if there is something wedged in my braid/valve or if the sparge was sticking as a result of degrading the grain husk material by boiling it.  Eventually I managed to collect just over 6 gallons of 1.049 SG wort, which slightly undershoots the volume I was hoping to collect, but is a slightly higher gravity than what I was predicting.  I probably could have drained a little more but it was taking forever.

I've yet to have a problem with DMS from using pilsner malt, but I decided to err on the side of caution and extended my boil to 75 minutes.  I hit my boil, waited 15 minutes and started my regular boil schedule adding Northern Brewer, Irish Moss, and Perle at the appropriate times.

When the boil was done I chilled down, but after running for about an hour I was only down into the 70s.  By this point I'd been at it for almost 9 hours, so I decided to just rack to the ferment, leave the sediment in the kettle instead of trying to strain it out and call it a day.  I wound up pitching a 2L starter of Wyeast Bavarian Lager into 4 gallons of 1.053 OG wort.  If I leave the fermenter directly in front of an air conditioning vent I discovered I can get down into the mid 50s, which is perfectly adequate for a primary lager fermentation.  Since this is a kellerbier, I won't be doing a long and cold secondary fermentation.

It's taken about 40 hours to start showing signs of life, so I'm going to let it ferment as cold as I can justify keeping my apartment for about 14 days.  Then I think I can let it rise to the high 60's, maybe 70 for 2-3 days for something resembling a diacetyl rest before racking it to the keg where I'll probably condition while carbonating under about 8PSI at 45F for a week before starting to serve.  Here's hoping it works out.

Drink on!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Horror Off-Season: Asylum Blackout

I don't have too much to say here, but since I had put it on the to-do list I should make an entry about it.

The Incident was released in Europe in 2011 and released in the U.S. in 2012 as Asylum Blackout.  It was Alexandre Courtès', formerly one half of the music video directing duo Alex and Martin, feature directorial debut.  Despite the English script and American cast, this seems to be part of the New Wave of French Horror that has been making quite an impact lately.  The movement seems to be characterized by gritty realism, extreme graphic violence, and a left-field psychological twist ending.  That last one is mostly just my observation from the few movies I've seen.

Asylum Blackout is set in what looks to be the late 80s in an asylum for the criminally insane.  It focuses mostly on the kitchen staff at said asylum, who are also in a band together.  Their relationship is oddly antagonistic for people who are supposed to be friends, although they do have some good moments where they show that they really are looking out for each other before the insanity begins.

The inciting event here is that there is a very bad storm raging outside that blows out the power at the asylum, which for some reason has no backup generators and I think like 3 security officers.  The lights go out, which for some reason triggers a group of inmates led by Richard Brake (he played the creepy pervert in the Doom movie) to riot.  They free all the other inmates who proceed to brutally maim and murder the staff.

Most of the meat of the movie is really dark, with a lot of contrast.  It makes everything look really sharp and dangerous which lends to the unsafe atmosphere they seem to be going for, but it also makes it really hard to follow sometimes.  I quickly found myself disoriented and lost.  I didn't know where we were in the asylum, who people were, or what they were trying to do.  I was just watching "things" happen.  It led to me losing interest and realizing I missed huge swaths of movie that I would then go back to try to rewatch, only to realize I'd actually seen these parts but couldn't tell the scenes apart.

The gore is really convincing and uncomfortable and the setups for the tortures are really deranged.  I was doing a lot of "'t do... oh.. just... ew."  But that's about all it was.  There's no motivation to the inmates' actions except to be cruel and violent, so the writers may be trying to make some point about the senselessness of violence.

The film seems pretty well put together, narratively, but the low lighting made it hard to follow.  The extreme brutality without purpose thing has really become quite boring to me at this point, and while I would call it horrific it's just not what I want out of a horror movie.  The very end of the movie is also one of those left-field moments that I don't think anyone saw coming.  I guess it's supposed to be showing that George's shattered psyche has trapped him forever in some hellish nightmare version of his workplace because of what happened.  It's a bit confusing, but probably my favorite part of the movie because of how surreal it is.  It's bizarre and actually creepy, instead of just shocking.

If it's your cup of tea, it's probably a very fun watch...but you've been warned about how weird the ending gets.