Thursday, October 17, 2013

October Horror 2013: 17 - American Horror Story: Asylum

I don't know what I was expecting when I first went to watch American Horror Story.  I picked it up at the tail end of our 2011 viewing season (Which ended with The Last Winter, which also stars Connie Britton), and it surprised the hell out of me.  The show was weird, weirdly sexual, started off bizarre but reality based and then started throwing in ghost story elements.  And the amount of what they were able to get away with showing, considering it was a TV show on FX, was amazing.  Which isn't even to say it was gory or had a lot of nudity, since it didn't really have any of that.  But the situations were definitely more extreme than what normally is allowed on TV and the direction and shots they use allowed them to convey that a lot more was really happening than what they were showing.

That tradition keeps up in fine form in the 2nd season of American Horror Story, subtitled Asylum.  I like that they've gone for an approach similar to a stage theater company where the majority of their cast from the 1st season has returned, but they are now playing different characters in a totally different and unrelated story.  Season 1 was centered on a strained family moving across country into an old house with a horrific reputation that their realtor didn't disclose.  Season 2 takes place mostly in an asylum, called Briarcliff, run by the Catholic church in the 1960s.  Our main cast involves 2 nuns, a mechanic wrongfully accused of the murder of several women including his own wife, a psychiatrist, a lesbian newspaper reporter, a woman properly accused of axe-murdering her family, and a mad doctor played brilliantly by James Cromwell.

On the framework of the daily workings of a mental ward they hang a story that involves demonic possession, the Angel of Death, Nazis, feral mutants, freaking Aliens, and a serial killer who makes furniture out of his victims.  And an almost uncomfortable amount of sex.  Ooze is the word but not really in a good way.  And again, they do this on TV...all created by the guy who also came up with Glee.  Dang.

We were generally only watching 2 episodes of each series, but this show got incredibly compelling and we've watched all but 2 episodes.  The pacing seems to drag a bit towards the end of the series and one episode even includes a musical number that I'm not sure if it's brilliant way of illustrating a character's perceptions or just a ploy to eat 5 minutes.  There are a lot of plot lines to follow, and it's a very strange show...not confusing, just strange.  Season 1's story is much tighter and more focused than this which has a tendency to go all over the place, but it's still fun.  Well worth the time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October Horror 2013: 16 - Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow is a currently airing TV show on FOX, starring Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones and Tom Mison along with recurring guest spots from Clancy Brown (WOO!) and John Cho.

The show aims to be a modernization and serialization of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which tells the story of Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher, and his ill-fated attempts to propose marriage to Katrina Von Tassel.  After a night of ghost stories, Ichabod is chased down by a Headless Horseman...the ghost of a Hessian mercenary killed by a stray cannonball during the Revolutionary War.  The Horseman does not vanish over a certain bridge as per legend, and instead supposedly kills Ichabod with a thrown, decapitated head.

We watched the first two episodes of Sleepy Hollow in which Ichabod Crane, a former British schoolteacher, has defected from Britain's army and joined George Washington in the fight for American Independence.  While on the field of battle he faces a hulking mercenary wearing a terrifying mask.  He decapitates the soldier, but is mortally wounded and soon passes from his injuries.  250 years later he wakes up buried under some weird waxy mess and dirt in a cave, and stumbles on to a highway where he's nearly run over by a truck.  At the same time, a headless horseman has risen from somewhere, and murders Sheriff August Corbin at a farm.  Ichabod partners with ...Abbie Mills.  Dear god, we went from watching Harper's Island with an Abby Mills to Sleepy Hollow with an Abbie Mills.

Anyway, Crane and Mills become unlikely allies in what is revealed to be a plot to bring about some sort of apocalypse.

I like this show after 2 episodes.  They have fun with the man-out-of-time shtick Ichabod is pulling and counter balance it with a lot of really well done and spooky supernatural surrealism.  I really like the demon's appearances in mirrors, it's crazy looking.  The show's been renewed for a 2nd season, though I dunno how much life there is in something with this sort of premise, it could be fun to watch it evolve.  It's quite entertaining.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October Horror 2013: 15 - Harper's Island

We started watching Harper's Island quite some time ago, maybe even over a year.  Harper's Island aired for 1 season in 2009 on CBS.  It's rare to see a TV show that aims to tell a single coherent story without aims for a second season.  So we've seen most of the episodes, for the October watching season we watched late-season episodes Seep and Snap.

So we've got a mystery-thriller TV show starring Christopher Gorham and Elaine Cassidy among ~23 other characters and partial-season guest stars.  The story is set in a small island community, to which Henry Dunn and his fiancĂ©e Trish Wellington return for their wedding.  In each episode between 1 and 5 characters die.  For the majority of the show the killings are taking place in secret and the wedding part is not aware of them, until the climactic and very public murder of Richard Burgi's Thomas Wellington.  Each episode is an onomatopoeic hint based on how victims die in each episode.

The setup of the show was initially interesting based on setting up all the characters and resurrecting old tensions as people who grew up in an insulated community, but left for greener pastures suddenly come back.  There's some initial interest, also, in the sub-plot of the murder of Abby (Elaine)'s mother by John Wakefield many years before, but they harp on it so much it gets old and begins to feel like an obvious red herring.  I haven't finished the show and also remain unspoiled, so I don't know if it is.

Aside from the mystery, if you're invested, there isn't much to hold interest and the show is in a weird situation where it's best to watch in a marathon, but too long to watch in a marathon.  There are so many characters it's hard to keep the plot in mind as time passes between episodes and there's no recap.  It's still well made and fun, so if you like the idea of murder-mystery over an entire season of TV, check it out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

October Horror 2013: 14 - The Howling

This is a short recap of movies watched during a weekend trip in which I wasn't able to write more full reactions in a timely fashion:

The Howling is a 1981 Werewolf movie directed by Joe Dante and based off a 1977 book of the same name by Gary Brandner.

The movie was, seemingly, an attempt to modernize the werewolf movie as by the 80's the Universal monster movies had taken a back seat for some time and the Slasher was just beginning to rise as a popular force in horror.  I assume it succeeded due to its place on this list of ultimate horror movies.  The movie I thought was alright for the most part, not great...a little silly at times though the many nods to classic werewolf movies were fun more than obvious.  Probably the strongest thing, conceptually, was the very end during the news report that Karen gives when returning from The Colony.  Werewolves tend to make better supporting characters than stars, though I really did enjoy An American Werewolf In London (Though I'd argue that the ghosts and the human form of the lead were more main characters than the werewolf form).  I wouldn't say it's a bad movie, just a bit dull and missing the man-vs-man's animal nature character battle that really should be a part of the werewolf genre.  Incidentally, this is played really well by Sam Huntington in the US Being Human (not to snub the UK's Russell Tovey in the werewolf part, I just think Sam does a better job at the more extreme ends of the emotional range).

The remake/re-imagining The Howling: Reborn is a bit more fun, and the effects are better...but it is quite silly.

October Horror 2013: More Haunted houses: Screamer's Hollow & Fright Nights at the Fair

Screamer's Hollow
Screamer's Hollow is an outdoor park-style attraction with a loose "Village of the Damned" theme that is staged on the grounds of the Sterling Renaissance Festival.  Though most of the festival grounds are roped off.  They've got a maze, a walk-through, and a hayride through the nearby apple orchard in addition to the base "Village of the Damned", with the walk-through being the weakest thing and the hayride being surprisingly fun.  The maze was very intense and though sparsely populated, very effective at being scary.  I think one of the standout parts was the Village itself.  During the night, they use the stages around the grounds to set cute little Halloween themed plays and tell ghost stories around campfires.  I wish they did a little more with haunting the festival grounds, and had a few more actors wandering around the Village part to make it feel a bit more village-y...fog machines wouldn't go amiss either.  But all in all, very good.

I originally wanted to go to Halloweekends at Sylvan Beach, but due to my inability to read both Screamer's Hollow and this were only available Saturday night.  So as consolation on Sunday we went to:

Fright Nights at the Fair
This is a small haunted park in the New York State Fair fairgrounds, specifically a small building near the farm expo portion by the parking lot.  It was pretty cheap looking and had the traditional midway food trucks. They had 5 walk-throughs of various themes and a 3D hayride.  All the walk-throughs were actually surprisingly scary, making tremendously effective use of non-shouty actors and strobes of differing frequencies to keep things scary and tense and only startling at a few times.  The hayride, however, was crap.  It was a short, well-lit, ride in a tractor-pulled trailer where the seats were all facing inward around a few of the extra buildings with panels with those diffraction 3D neon painted panels.  At random points small groups of masked actors would board the trailer and shout at someone, stand around awkwardly, then jump off.  I think they could've made it work even with limited actors and the well-lit setting if they had made actual sets there instead of panels, worked in a good story, and rehearsed their actors a bit better.  As it stood, it was pretty lame and I actually entertained the notion of jumping off the trailer and wandering back to the main building so the ride would be over quicker.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October Horror 2013: 13 - The Frighteners

This is a short recap of movies watched during a weekend trip in which I wasn't able to write more full reactions in a timely fashion:

The Frighteners is another early Peter Jackson horror film, though with much better production and less "Weird" than Dead Alive/Braindead.  Our lead character, played by Michael J. Fox, is a former architect-turned psychic investigator in a small town.  Except he's a sham.  He can really see and communicate with ghosts, that's not the sham bit.  The sham is that ghosts aren't actually haunting his clients, well no...that's not true.  They are.  But the sham is that he's friends with the ghosts, they haunt houses because he asks them to so that he can charge people to "exorcise" their houses.  See, his wife died in a car accident years ago before he was able to finish building their dream home, and he's been grief stricken and financially devastated.  He's living in the half-finished house while saving the money he gets from his semi-cons (there are ghosts there, and he does make them leave...) to someday finish the house.

Really the plot isn't that important, and to be honest it's a bit silly.  However, the movie looks really good and is really funny.  It's got a lot of good slapstick and some nice "ghost" humor.  The pacing is lively, though it does get mired down attempting to work in a muder-mystery sort of thing.  The ghost look is particularly standout, though a lot of the later "creepy" sets wind up feeling more haunted house than horror movie.  The only real tough bit is that Michael J. Fox has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, but has not yet officially revealed it so some of his expressions and mannerisms look awkward as he's trying to hide it.

p.s. Jake Busey has huge teeth.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October Horror 2013: 12 - Scream

This is a short recap of movies watched during a weekend trip in which I wasn't able to write more full reactions in a timely fashion:

Scream is one of those classic horror revival flicks that tend to be hated on quite a bit, having done some good but far outstayed their welcome.  Horror in the 90's was often regarded as a bit of a dead and niche genre with the majority of releases being straight-to-video or sequels to existing franchises like the once incredibly popular Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm St.  Theatrical releases often having much lower budget than their predecessors.  Scream came out in 1996, directed by Wes Craven, who previously created the Nightmare on Elm St franchise.  Ironic, considering the film often lampoons horror movie "rules" than Nightmare had a hand in establishing.

Having seen Scream ~17 years too late, it probably didn't have as much of an effect on me as it would've had on the original audiences, but as a horror fan I really enjoyed it.  I feel like its self-aware nodding to horror tropes and formula is something that has allowed movies like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Cabin in the Woods, and even Grave Encounters to exist.  I did enjoy it, but it might feel a little cheap in relation to more modern movies.  Still well written and worth watching for the legacy, but don't expect to be amazed and blown away.  Amusingly, for being regarded as saving horror from the glut of long running franchises with endless sequels Scream spawned 3 of its own.

Friday, October 11, 2013

October Horror 2013: 11 - Jacob's Ladder

This is a short recap of movies watched during a weekend trip in which I wasn't able to write more full reactions in a timely fashion:

I have not seen Jacob's Ladder but the little woman has.  Apparently it makes much more sense the 2nd time through.  Jacob's Ladder is very twisty 1990 movie concerning Jacob Singer, a Vietnam veteran living in NYC in the early 1970's.  It does a striking job making everything look like it was really set in the 70s, so much that I had to double check the release date a few times.  Also, Tim Robbins would've been somewhere in his teens in the 1970s and Macaulay wasn't born yet so it has to have been released in 1990.  I mention this because it makes some of the nightmarish imagery look surprisingly real.  It couldn't have been a special effect because that type of effect/technology didn't exist in the 70s...when this movie was clearly made.  The plot is confusing as all get-out, but not so hard to follow you're can't figure out what's going on.  I'd imagine just a few of the finer points or revealing references wouldn't jump out until you knew how things would play out.  The movie prefers to play with general discomfort or longer scenes with creepy setups and strange action to simple jump scares, which is quite nice.  It's a very well done mind-bender.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

October Horror 2013: 10 - The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the Rainbow is a 1988 Wes Craven movie based on a book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis regarding the case of Clairvius Narcisse, a Haitian man who was declared dead, then stumbled into his home village 18 years later with stories of a Bokor (dark voodoo shaman) who drugged him with Tetrodotoxin (puffer fish) to make him appear dead, then dug him up and forced him to work on a sugar cane plantation.  The Bokor kept Clairvius subservient and confused using constant doses of Datura.  He is presented as the first real-life Zombie.

The movie concerns anthropoligist Dennis Allen, played by Bill Pullman, who is employed by a pharmaceutical corporation to got to Haiti and procure a sample of this supposed "Zombie" powder.  His contact in Haiti is a local psychologist who's been treating a few former Zombies who've managed to escape and make it back to town.  From there he winds up being pulled into a power struggle not only for Haiti's government but the souls of its population.

Between Craven and dealing with Voodoo we're pretty much guaranteed some cheese, but it's actually surprisingly well integrated.  Especially towards the end there are little bits of humor which are nice.  There are some attempts earlier, but I feel like they fell flat and seemed weird or forced.  However, the exploration of Voodoo is done in a much more interesting way than in other movies I've seen where it comes off as "and this is a voodoo thing THAT IS SPOOOOOOOOooOooOKY!", while here it's given a certain real-world weight while still having the quality of myth.  This works especially because of the rational behavior of Dennis, who is clearly a scientist the whole time just a bit over his head in a world of legends and magic.

The pacing is good and I like the ramp up as Dennis initially ignores then believes his hallucinations and comes to terms with a world with voodoo magic.  There's some minor faltering here and there but nothing egregious, and there are several nice bits with very good creepy imagery like the scene with the flaming boat they drew on for the cover.  The last half of the movie is the one with most of the good stuff but I don't think it would stand up without a passing familiarity with the first half.

It wasn't really scary in any major ways, but hit a lot of good notes.

We're traveling this weekend so updates will be hard to come by, so the next few movies may be rolled up into a multi-movie update with short paragraphs just so I can catch up more easily.  Not sure yet.  Stay tuned.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Horror 2013: 9 - Ju-On (2002)

Ju-On is the original Japanese horror movie that inspired 2004's The Grudge.  The film itself is a sequel to 2 direct-to-video j-horror movies.  I remember The Grudge and The Ring being pretty big back in the day, though I never really felt a major need to watch the originals until I started getting really into horror and then figured that comparing the source material to the native interpretations would be a nice exercise.

For the most part the story is the same, although as is often the case for adaptations of j-horror many elements are trimmed to make for a tighter narrative.  But the core story of a husband killing his wife, son, and pet cat before killing himself, causing their house to become cursed place of sadness and rage.  Anyone exposed to the house becomes a bearer of the curse until it kills them, and they can also bring anyone they care for into the curse.

The flow of time in this is somewhat difficult to lock down.  The film opens on the murder, but the scene is quite obfuscated with heavy effects, close shots, and many cuts.  After that we go through a series of almost short segments, like an anthology, following each person affected by the curse.  I think the first segment happens before the first, though I'm at a loss to explain the need for a social worker in the first segment if the wife is at home as in the second.  It could be a weekend/weekday thing, but then why would the husband put on a suit and go to work?  But then again, if they're backwards and the first happened afterwards, why would the old woman continue living in the house?  I had similar issue with The Grudge, since these two sequences were almost exactly alike apart from the nationalities of the characters.

From there it's mostly straight forward until one sequence in which a man has a vision of something happening in his future, that sets up what happened prior to the next segment which takes place years later.  After that it's possible some of the last few bits happen in parallel.

It was a good movie, I was confused a bit because of the time lapses, which may or may not have been helped by the subtitles.  What was particularly difficult was that apart from the opening scroll and the title cards before each segment with people's names, very little on-screen text was subtitled.  As is often my issue with foreign films I had some trouble following along and had to discuss the movie while it was happening to keep everything straight.  Also, I have a hell of a time keeping peoples' names straight in Japanese movies because their names are so dissimilar from Western names that I have no basis on which to associate the name with the person.  In a Western film if Brad, Frank, and Jenn are in a room's easy to figure out which one is Jenn, but in a Japenese movie and Takashi, Katsuya, and Kayako are in a room...I got nothing.

Anyway, it still pulled off some great creepy bits and really did unnerve me in a few parts.  Some of the scenes where the ghost manifests as a black cloud look really bad, effects wise, but the acting and the sounds the ghost makes when showing as a full person are profoundly creepy.  It's also got more to it, so the variety in haunting is nice.  I do like the increased production values in the remake, and there are a few places where this one looks cheap or much older than it should be, but it's still very solid and I liked seeing where a lot of the elements of The Grudge originated.

Next up was supposed to be Don't Look Back, but Netflix apparently expired it off streaming so we're going to have to substitute something else.


October Horror 2013: Off-topic: Haunted Attractions

I mentioned in the writeup for this month that we're going to be visiting haunted attractions, but up until now I've been too busy to write about any of them.  However, due to a really late night and owing to the need to wake up and go to work, we never actually got through The Mummy which was scheduled for last night.  So, temporarily lacking a movie for today, I'd like to go over some of the haunts we've been to so far.

Barrett's Haunted Mansion
We first went to Barrett's in Abington 3 years ago.  It's an indoor haunt but the line is outside.  I've always held it as noteworthy in that the ticket booth is part of the attraction and you usually get a scare on the way in before you've bought anything.  While the interior of the house changes, the tickets are always sold in some sort of Diner of the Damned, and the booths are stocked with various undead monsters and corpses.  The ticket line usually works its way through some sort of meat locker or walk-in freezer where you get boo'd.  The first year we went through they included a false stop in the middle of the house where they placed a gift shop, upon being greeted in the gift shop and told the tour was over you were chased from the room by a monster and finished the house.  It was great, but they've never quite managed a scare so amazing since.  This year the main house includes a heavy Alice in Wonderland theme, which is very surreal.  They've also added a 2nd attraction called "The Cell" which is a foggy maze walkthough set in an insane asylum.  It gets really breakneck at times, especially when you get turned around and run back into the lunatic you were just trying to escape from.  My only complaint is that the 2nd half has issues with the fogger, they can't run it too long or else it wafts into the main house and sets off fire detection equipment, plus makes it impossible to see in there.  While not being able to match up to their first year, Barrett's is a great house.  The Abington Ale house which they are right next door to, is not so great.  Their food is mediocre for family dining fair, and while claiming to be an Ale House their beer selection is neither impressive nor respected.  I'm pretty sure they served me the wrong beer the first time I was there 3 years ago, and they haven't improved as of this year.

Lakeville Haunted House
Lakeville Haunted House is a youth-run outdoor walkthrough in Lakeville.  It's a cheap ticket, and includes a nice covered waiting area with picnic tables, food, light up toys, etc.  They play music videos against a sheet, it's generally pretty nice.  They then take you in small groups every few minutes into the haunt where volunteers shepherd you through.  They have an interesting system where there is a gatekeeper up front after a short walk through some scenery that takes your ticket.  And a few other points where they bottle neck you behind a gatekeeper, presumably to control flow as they like to have skits acted out in many rooms, though groups are sometimes paced poorly and you can get stuck into a super-group and ruin a skit.  It's not the most high quality attraction or even the scariest since it's all kids, but it's got "heart".  They've expanded this year and have several new sections, including Slender Man.  I guess the meme is about over, but he's still a creepy bastard.

Zombie Apocalypse
This isn't so much a haunt as it is a semi-interactive indoor adventure.  After waiting in line, you're grouped into a squad of 6 people and armed with a fake automatic rifle that basically just makes noise and shakes.  You've been "enlisted" and now you have to debrief with your squad's commanding officer, who gives you the rules and the situation.  The city outside has been overrun with zombies and your job is to clean out some key tactical points and then make it out the other side.  The interior is a little sparse, which makes sense since it's basically a warehouse.  It's all a pretty fun sprint through a few interiors.  There's not a lot of variety, it's mostly go across this open area, clear this building, back out, along a wall, through this tunnel, etc.  But the squad leaders pretty lively and make things fun.  At $20 for the regular line and $40 for the VIP it's pushing it for the length of what it did offer, but if you can find it on groupon, it's worth.  We went early in the season and the regular line wasn't terrible, but they can only have one group inside at a time, so it takes quite a while to work through their queue.

Ghoulie Manor
We'd never been to Ghoulie Manor before, it's a newish attraction (I believe in its 2nd year?) in the Silver City Galleria in Taunton.  (or at least that's where it was this year, I'm not sure if they move yearly or not)  It's entirely indoors, which is nice and probably makes it a great late-season house if you don't want to be too cold.  While not a reason in deciding to go there this year, Ghoulie Manor was featured in a documentary on Netflix called The American Scream as being the result of a home-haunter being laid off from his Sysadmin job at State Street financial and deciding to take the opportunity to go pro with a haunted house.  As a former financial services IT employee, I can sympathize.  The haunt itself is super-professional and incredibly well done.  Also, tickets are quite cheap, especially for the quality of what you get.  The entire house is put together in a very coherent Victorian theme as the Goulet Manor family home, magically transported from the early 1800's to modern day.  The line is walked by several well-developed characters who you are free to chat and interact with.  They're not so much line-scarers like at many other parks as line-creepers.  They send you through in extremely small groups, and we were able to go through as just the 2 of us.  It's quite well paced and there are a lot of rooms.  Even interstitial areas to make it more home-like, including a freaking scary little girl on a set of stairs.  There's also a very good graveyard section.  This has definitely skyrocketed to a position of favorite haunts, especially of indoor haunts.  We decided not to go to Factory of Terror this year as they're too crowded and basically send people through in a continuous line rather than a group, this is probably a better house than even the best walk through Factory of Terror we did.

So that's the update as of today.  This weekend we're making the journey out to Central New York for a haunted village that's held on the same campus(?) as the Sterling Renaissance Festival, and a haunted amusement park in Sylvan Beach.  Fun times.  Also we're going to be catching up with the movies at some point, so that entry will be back-dated to the correct time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

October Horror 2013: 8 - The Mummy (1932)

Similar to last year's Call of Cthulhu, I find myself somewhat ill-equipped to react appropriately to a movie like this.  Now, while it at least has sound, it's still black & white and comes from an era far removed from modern horror cinema.  Camera placement back in the day was a very different animal than it is now.

That said, 1932 was in a pre-steadicam era and as such the camera was generally placed on a tripod and operated mechanically in the few instances they required panning.  There were some shots where the frame shook violently, and I'd believe those to be where the camera was handheld for close shots or some more complex movement.  One particularly impressive movement was of a camera from behind two characters in an arc before stopping suspended over a pool of fog, which then became a sort of flashback/film-within-a-film.  I'd assume it was thought of as impressive back in the day when all effects were done with optical compositing, and this would even be the early days of compositing.

The Mummy's plot concerns an archeological expedition to Egypt which unearths the tomb of Imhotep.  Against the advice of their occult consultant the expedition leads decided to bring up the mummy and also read aloud a found scroll which inadvertently brings Imhotep back to life and he wanders off.  10 years later the original archeologist's son is leading a somewhat fruitless expedition in Egypt when he's interrupted by a man named Ardath Bey who shows him where to uncover the tomb of princess Ankh-es-en-amon, claiming that Egyptian natives aren't allowed to dig up their dead and he must tell a foreign archeologist where he found an artifact.

As to reactions I thought the shots and camera action were surprisingly lively feeling.  It didn't feel that far removed from a more modern movie most of the time, but the lack of dynamism was noticed as a whole.  The plot included an oddly stilted feeling romance sub-plot that almost felt obligatory so they could have a female lead pursued by two suitors, which is a pretty common trope.  These early Universal horrors tended to have that Damsel in Distress, and this feels quite formulaic.

That said, I definitely enjoyed it as an artifact.  It wasn't too tough to watch, though a bit slow sometimes.  One or two of the early creepy scenes were quite effective, and like a lot of great modern movies worked on the strength of the actor's performance.

I believe we're including one "old" movie and one subtitled movie in this week's "Ultimate Movie List" subset, so this is the old and tomorrow is the sub'd: Ju-on


Monday, October 7, 2013

October Horror 2013: 7 - Misery

Closing out Shit We Missed week is the Rob Reiner directed Misery starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, based on a story by Stephen King.  Misery is considered by many to be a classic, and I think it deserves that distinction but I am never watching this movie again.

Author Paul Sheldon (Caan) has published a series of successful romance novels centering around a woman named Misery Chastain.  He wanted to focus on more serious work so he retired to his traditional writing cabin to put together a manuscript.  Upon finishing it, he began driving down the hill in the middle of a blizzard.  Unfortunately he can't hack the weather and drives off the road, where he's rescued from the wreck of his car by Anne Wilkes (Bates), a local nurse who takes him to her home.  When he wakes up she claims to be his #1 fan, however her devotion makes Paul pretty uncomfortable.  I'm going to leave it there because this actually a very good movie and although the elements aren't really twists and are pretty easy to see coming, it's worth it to let the movie reveal things at its own pace.  One thing I will say is that when I saw the movie I thought Paul's new manuscript was the final part of the Misery series that incites the conflict, and not the recently published Misery book.  In checking wikipedia's summary, I discovered I was wrong.

Anyway, the movie really succeeds on the strength of the performance.  Specifically the stark contrast between Caan's mostly passive smile-and-nod Paul and Bates' completely manic-depressive Anne.  Woman plays a good psycho.  Most of the camera work is very good and tension building but some of it when Anne flies off the handle is a little cheesy at first.  Though it plays a major part in producing that uncomfortable feeling you get when you're stuck in a room with someone who's taking something way too far and reacting way too strongly and you don't want to contribute to the situation, but you can't leave and don't know how to make it stop.  Uncomfortable is the word of the day here because it's very hard to watch this movie.  Very worth it, though.

One more important caveat is this, like Secret Window, is very difficult to play the Stephen King drinking game to.

Week 2 begins with the first of mega-ultimate-super-classics: The Mummy.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

October Horror 2013: 6 - Campfire Tales

Campfire Tales is not a spectacular movie, but I do enjoy it.  It was originally slated as part of our Anthologies week.  This was the one from 1997, not the 1991 movie of the same name starring Gunnar Hansen.

Campfire Tales is interesting in the sense that out of the rest of the Anthologies this one is only retellings of classic scary folk stories and urban legends instead of original stories.  The framing story, as far as I know, is mostly original but relies heavily on a darker version of a very common TV and early film trope.  I like it because it's fun, not because it's particularly good.

Eschewing the Anthology format I've been using thus far, I will talk about the framing story then mention the classic stories included.  These are classics so I won't be spoiler tagging them.

After an opening classic tale from the 50s, our intrepid heroes are driving wrecklessly along a country road, probably drunk, before crashing their car.  They setup road flares and light a fire in the woods then wait for rescue.  To pass the time, they tell each other scary stories.  I understand the need to set the lead up as the irresponsible one in order for the reveal to drive home the appropriate moral epiphany on the repercussions of your actions, but it was just a bit trite.  Oddly, despite the obvious moral I never felt the movie was terribly preachy, which was pretty welcome.  The framing story otherwise is the least entertaining but most interesting segment in the movie.

The other classic stories are:
"The Hook": Set in the 50s, two teens are at makeout point in a car when the radio announces an inmate from the local prison has escaped.  He has a hook for a hand that he's used to kill people.  The girl claims she hears a noise and forces the boy to take her home, but instead he takes her to the local burger/shake/diner at which point he steps out of the car and is horrified to see a bloody hook embedded in the side of the car.

"The Honeymoon":  A newlywed couple is driving in an RV to Las Vegas for/as their honeymoon.  Eventually they stop to rest for the night but are confronted by a nervous man with a shotgun telling them the area isn't safe because "they" (heavily implied to be werewolves) come out at night.  The couple leaves, but runs out of gas shortly and the husband decides to walk to the nearest gas station.  During the night the RV is attacked, but the wife manages to lock herself in and defend against the attackers.  When she wakes in the morning a police officer has arrived and attempts to escort her away from the RV without her looking at it, however she turns around and sees her dead husband hanging from a branch over the camper...his wedding ring scraping the roof.

"People Can Lick Too": A young girl lives with her older sister, parents, and dog.  The dog will often sit under her bed and lick her hand if it drops over the edge of the bed.  One night her parents leave her alone at home, which she mentions to another young girl she's chatting with online.  This girl turns out to be a creepy older stalker who breaks into her house that night.  When she drops her hand over the bed, she assumes it's the dog licking it but then sees "People can lick too" written in blood on the window and sees the reflection of a man under her bed.  She flips out and runs away.  When her sister returns and checks the scene, she finds the dog's corpse under the bed.

"The Locket": A younger guy decides to go on a cross-country motorcycle ride in search of adventure.  He runs into engine trouble outside of a country home and seeks help.  A pretty girl answers the door, but she is mute.  They seem to connect and she allows him to stay the night while her father is away driving cattle.  A brutal fight, and possibly a murder/suicide are played out by ghostly figures and voices throughout the night, until the guy runs away with the girl.  They wake up under a tree in a field and he removes a locket she wears around her neck.  Opening it, he reveals a picture of both of them, dressed in obviously 1800s clothes.  The girl wakes, asks what's happening, and then her head falls off.  A cut forms where the locket was originally tied.

It's kindof lame and camp, but for some reason I've enjoyed watching it.  You can see some actors before their famous roles and they're decent adaptations of classic urban legends.

Tomorrow Shit We Missed concludes with Misery from Stephen King week.

October Horror 2013: 6.5 - The People Under the Stairs

So I neglected to mention that Campfire Tales was not actually missed.  We hadn't gotten to it during the month itself but did watch it for kicks during the off-season and just forgot to update our spreadsheet.  So while we did watch it, we felt like we owed ourselves a new movie.

This has recently shown up on Netflix and I was urged to check it out if I liked bad horror.  There is, however, a difference between cheesy horror and bad horror. I kindof like cheesy or cheap horror, it can be endearing in its own way or try so hard it pops a vessel and becomes so-bad-it's-good.  There is also bad horror, which is just something somewhere going horribly wrong.

This is a 1991 Wes Craven movie starring Ving Rhames.  The story is about a black family living in a ghetto.  Faced with rent increases demanded by their landlords, The Robesons, and the mother's medical bills for cancer, they're unable to afford the apartment and are being evicted.  Leroy (Rhames), who I assume is a family friend or older brother or something, decides that they will organize a robbery of the Robeson's house for vengeance and cash monies.  The child, "Fool", played by Brandon Adams goes along.  After gaining access to the house everything goes south and Leroy and another friend called Spenser are killed.

My number one problem with this movie is tone.  Namely that no one seems to be able to agree on what genre of film they're acting in.  The male Robeson (just called Daddy) plays his parts as an evil and psychotic version of the robbers in Home Alone, while the female Robeson (Mommy) seems to think she's in some sort of live-action Disney venture.  She plays the "exasperated rage" thing so many live Disney villains do where they go cross-eyed and steam comes out their ears.  Fool's read is somewhere between straight and actually thinking he's in Home Alone and making cracks.  It's all over the place.  This is supposed to make the action mad-cap, but it just feels confused like no one is getting any direction.  The action also seems like the director/editor envisioned cutting Benny Hill music over half of it and freaking Mortal Kombat over the other.  Also, why would you want mad-cap action in a movie about feral children living in the walls of a house?

It's all just disjointed and retarded.  Not worth the effort.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October Horror 2013: 5 - The Shining

I really do enjoy Kubrick's The Shining.  I haven't read Stephen King's original story and I am aware of his dislike of this version.  I do have the King-approved version on my watch list but I haven't gotten around to it yet.  For now, I really like the unsettling atmosphere of this movie.  There's not a lot I can say about it since it is such a classic.  This was part of Stephen King week, as though I had watched it entirely my partner in crime hadn't watched the entire thing in one focused sitting.

The movie itself is legendary already, spawning other documentaries and countless homages and references.  Kubrick built sets using impossible geometry and drove his actors to their breaking points to create amazingly "off" performances.  Except Danny Lloyd.  I always thought his performance in the movie was strange, especially in the face of the often cited report that Kubrick made him think he was acting in a drama film and he didn't realize it was a horror movie until years later.  With the shots of him shaking in bed and frothing at the mouth, the various close up "horrified" faces he had to make, and all the Tony/"Redrum!!!" stuff, how could you hide the nature of the film?  Either way, maybe that's why his performance has always seemed not-entirely fitting.

Child actors tend to be a mixed bag and I feel like this one was a slight ding against the movie, and I really wish I knew what was up with the fursuit blowjob bit right near the end.  Freaky shit.

Anyway, it's up there as one of the few horror movies that is regarded as an amazing work of film in its own right and well worth checking out.  Also, the documentary "Room 237" is currently on Netflix, I haven't seen it yet but theories and observations for The Shining are generally pretty interesting.  There's a lot going on in most of Kubrick's movies, but this one seems especially dense.

Friday, October 4, 2013

October Horror 2013: 4 - The Others

This one was really good, not going to dance around that one at all and try to play the somewhat non-committal "Yeah, it was ok.  Nothing spectacular and nothing horrid" tone my writeups have been tending to take.  We got to the movie really late after getting home from Barrett's Haunted Mansion and a semi-interactive adventure called Zombie Apocalypse which was right down the street.  So we started the movie pretty low-volume hoping to not be too loud for anyone, which caused a problem because of just about everyone in the movie whispering almost the entire time.  The only major complaints I have are that everyone was whispering and that both Nicole Kidman's character and her daughter were kindof a bit of a bitch.  The daughter more often I think because she was pretty mean to her brother a lot of the time.

So the movie is set in England in the 1940's sometime after World War 2 and stars Nicole Kidman as Grace, a woman with 2 children alone in their large manor.  Grace's husband, Charles (Christopher Eccleston), had gone off to fight in the war on the side of England but has likely been killed.  A few weeks prior to the beginning of the story the house servants had suddenly left without informing Grace or collecting their final wages, leaving Grace alone in the house with her children Nicolas and Anne.

We open with the arrival of 3 people, led by a Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) who claim to be responding to a request for new house keepers to assist Grace in taking care of her children who suffer from extreme photosensitivity and require special treatment.  This treatment consists of a bizarrely ritualistic way of life in which all doors in the house are closed and locked before another door is opened, and all curtains must be closed in a room before allowing the children in.  Most of the light sources in the shots are implied to be leak from around the curtains (which is explained as the children being tolerant of a low level of light) and hand-held oil lanterns.  Grace claims that during the war the electrical power was continually being knocked out so the family just decided to leave it off and rely on natural fuel sources for light and heat.  I would add that, probably for practical reasons, a lot of the movie felt much brighter than it should have been for a house that is being deliberately darkened.  It's not bad and I stopped noticing quickly but it seems strange that this movie is better lit than Sinister, which took place in a house with electricity.

It's all a very interesting setup that lends a very oppressive and uncomfortable atmosphere.  I was initially taken aback by the adversarial posture that Grace takes a lot of them time but it really fit her character when I think about it.  She's effectively cut off from the nearby town by an oppressive fog, and the spooky happenings during the movie are spurring a belief in ghosts in her children that is clashing with her strong Roman Catholic faith.  The children, Anne particularly, feel like they're being treated unfairly (which they are, being punished for telling the truth of things but then being told to tell the truth) and begin to draw away from Grace and gravitating towards Mrs. Mills.  Grace then sees the new servant as a competitor for her daughter's affections and possibly even an active force driving a wedge between her and Anne, so she lashes out at the new servants.  It's all drama which I normally wouldn't care for since I did sign up for a horror movie but it's really well done as a backdrop to the things that go bump in the night.

There aren't actually a tremendous amount of explicit scare scenes in the film, they mostly just serve to ramp up the tension as Grace unravels and the servants are revealed to have their own agenda.  The character drama and the implication of things happening plays amazingly on the imagination and even though you're not really imagining ghouls and etc, there's a certain amount of feeling things are not quite right needed for the ending to work, which to me it did.  While the ending was not exactly something completely groundbreaking and new, it brought the movie together really tightly and paid off the excellent atmosphere building that had been going on.  Very spooky and focused.  I'm glad we finally got to this one.

Next up is The Shining from Stephen King week.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

October Horror 2013: 3 - Secret Window

Secret Window (2004), written and directed by David Koepp and starring pre-Burton/Disney Johnny Depp and always-great John Turturro is possibly the tightest adaptation of a Stephen King story I have ever seen.  Though it is a bit dry to play the Stephen King Drinking Game to.

The premise here is that a writer {DING!  Take a drink!}, Mort Rainey (Depp), catches his wife cheating {DING!} on him at a motel and has a mental break.  After initiating divorce and moving out, he retreats to a small lake town in Upstate New York {Aww} to work on a book.  However, he has horrible writer's block and can't think of anything so he spends his days napping and talking to his dog.  Until one day he's woken up by John Shooter (Turturro) at his door, claiming in a ridiculous southern drawl that Rainey had stolen, word for word, a story he had written several years ago but is mad that Rainey botched the ending.

Rainey spends the rest of the story attempting to prove he wrote the story first, by producing a magazine in which it was published which predates when Shooter claims he wrote his, while avoiding finalizing the divorce with his wife and being tormented by Shooter who continually asserts Rainey cannot prove he wrote the story.

As his life spirals out of control, Mort...really doesn't do much.  It's an entertaining movie with a solidly built twist reveal and well delivered climax but it's odd thinking about it that Mort barely deviates from his busy schedule of napping in a ratty robe and running out the door without a shower.  I suppose I can see how it would fit, but it's striking how not-proactive he is.  Also it's pretty refreshing for a Stephen King story that alcohol is only given a brief mention.

There are a lot of signature quirky Johnny Depp behaviors in his portrayal of Rainey, and while it was amusing in the beginning with cigarettes a lot of it seemed out of place later.  In fact, more of the movie seems to be occupied by Depp's mannerisms that King's signature tropes.  Except for the very end of the movie following the climax, which is pure Stephen King.  And really the falling action and resolution taking so long is a very literal thing, most movies ends much more abruptly after the climax without nearly as much epilogue.  It's definitely one of King's hallmarks to resolve things like that in a way that might feel awkward, but it makes sense since it's a horror story and wants to get under your skin and make you uncomfortable.

If we're making distinctions I'd say this is more of a thriller because the majority of the movie is a study of Rainey's unraveling mental stability.  It was really pretty good and there is a lot of the performance that Depp gives that shines wonderfully but almost as much is weird and awkward.  Turturro's take on John Shooter is incredibly entertaining to watch and the kind of giddy psychopath that is absolutely perfect in this sort of movie.
P.S. You're gonna want to watch through the credits for the stinger. It's freaking hilarious.

Moving on to The Others.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October Horror 2013: 2 - The Uninvited

The Uninvited was originally from our Ghost Stories week.  I wasn't aware of it at the time but it's also an English language remake of the Korean ghost movie A Tale of Two Sisters, however it has several differences from that story and neither movie is particularly faithful to the folk story on which they're both based.

Anyway, The Uninvited is about Anna (played by Emily Browning) returning home after being institutionalized following an explosion at her home that killed her infirm mother.  Once there she has to contend with her rebellious sister and a strained relationship with her new step mother, who was previously her mom's home nurse.  It's an awkward situation, only made worse by her father's lack of engagement and the reappearance of the boy she used to mack it with.  Oh, and hallucinations.  She begins hallucinating at night, first an incredibly creepy version of her dead mother that slide and crawls stiffly along the floor and a pale red-haired girl who keeps jumping out and telling her she's next.

There's a lot of great surreal imagery like a falling glass of milk that turns into blood when it hits the floor.  It's got a pretty good creepy atmosphere but eventually it loses it to procedural mystery work, which was a bit disappointing.  I will say that I found it much less mind-bending that the Korean version, which I think at one point had 2 levels of hallucinations.  However the Korean movie had a much more darkly oppressive atmosphere while The Uninvited is set in absolutely beautiful places, which lend it a nice contrast when things go bump in the night.

The story is nicely coherent while still being interesting, though I think most audiences will figure out at least one of the twists way before the movie decides to reveal it.  It's definitely worth it for the hallucinations in the first half.  There was only one thing I really didn't like and a few minor disappointments.

Tomorrow's film is Secret Window, originally from Stephen King week.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Horror 2013: 1 - The House that Dripped Blood

The House that Dripped Blood, not to be confused with The House that Drips Blood On Alex, is a 1970 anthology film directed by Peter Duffell, who would become the 2nd unit director on Richard Donner's Superman, and written by Robert Bloch.  Bloch was probably most famous prior for penning Psycho and numerous other collaborations with Hitchcock, as well as Lovecraftian short stories.  The movie stars several well known actors including Denholm Elliot, John Pertwee, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing.

Framing Story:
Film star Paul Henderson (played by Pertwee in the 4th segment) has disappeared and a detective from Scotland Yard has arrived to investigate.  While interviewing the local police for background, Inspector Holloway is told repeatedly that there's something evil and wrong with the house.  He then interviews the landlord who owns the property and is told more stories about the horrible things that have happened there.

Method for Murder:
The first story concerns a horror novel writer (Denholm Elliot) who moves in to the house to focus and finish a novel concerning a strangler named Dominic.  He imagines his character coming to life and tormenting him and threatening his wife. Except he's not hallucinating, Dominic is real and strangles the author's psychologist after the wife suggests that he was strangling her when he saw Dominic doing it.  Except Dominic isn't Dominic, he's a failed actor the wife is having an affair with.  They planned to make the writer think he was insane and that his killed the psychologist, except Dominic has really gone mad and killed both of them, then strangles the wife.  It's pretty fun as a story and though I liked the idea of Dominic, he looked retarded.  The story worked really well in short format, while a longer movie would need to have a lot more superfluous elements to distract us from that the base story is a bit simplistic.

An older gentleman played by Peter Cushing moves into the house next and spends his days listening to music and reading.  At one point he goes for a walk into town to find out if anything cool is there and discovers a wax museum.  He becomes transfixed by the wax sculpture of the museum curator's wife, who he's told is a murderer who was hanged.  A friend comes to visit and he also becomes transfixed by the figure.  It turns out the curator was the murderer and he kills the friend for coveting his wife, then when Peter's character comes to investigate what happened to his friend he finds the severed head on the platter the wife sculpture holds.  The curator then attacks him and we cut forward to someone else being transfixed by the wife sculpture that now holds a wax version of the head of Peter Cushing's character.  I thought this was the weakest, the killing took place outside of the house and the person who went mad had nothing to do with the house at all.  While the idea is nicely twisted the execution was lacking.

Sweets to the Sweet:
I wonder if the tagline to Candyman was a reference to this, or if it's just an older phrase?  Anyway, this segment concerns a widdower named John played by Christopher Lee who moves into the house with his awkward and withdrawn daughter.  Forbidding the daughter from entering local school, John hires a nanny/homeschool teacher for her.  The teacher and the daughter connect while John spends significant amounts of time being a complete bastard, at one point throwing a doll the teacher had bought for the girl into the fire.  The twist here is that both John's wife and daughter were powerful witches and he was fearful of them.  He restricted access to dolls and noneducational reading because he feared his daughter would construct a voodoo doll of him and use it to kill him.  Which she does using books on witchcraft from their private library and some candles.  This one was interesting initially because I was watching it just to understand why John was being such an asshole to his daughter, and then when the reveal happened it was over quickly enough and all the odd references earlier in the segment got nicely tied up that was a fun a tidy little segment.

The Cloak:
Famous actor Paul Henderson moves into the house where he will stay while filming a Hammer-style horror movie in which he plays a vampire.  He's a bit of a snobbish prick and after deciding that the cloak provided him by the wardrobe department won't do, he finds a business card for a local costume shop and then decides to check it out.  While there he buys a cloak the owner repeatedly tells him is "authentic" for his role as a vampire.  When puts on the cloak it legitimately turns him into a vampire, he no longer has reflection and despite being freaked out goes on to do the scene with his costar.  He bites her and she gets pissed at him.  As a way of making amends, he invites her over for dinner the next night and confesses he believes the cloak really turns you into a vampire.  He puts it on but it doesn't work, then it's revealed she's slipped him the prop cloak and already believes in the real one.  She puts it on, becomes a vampire, and attacks him.  This was probably the most fun to watch, although the premise was quite silly.  The acting is pretty tight, especially in the film-within-the-film where they're playing bad actors acting.  But the faces Pertwee makes are so freaking stupid looking they're hilarious.

Framing story wrap-up:
Deciding he's heard enough, Inspector Holloway enters the house to investigate, against everyone's advice.  He enters the basement and discovers a coffin containing a vampiric Paul Henderson, who turns into a bat and attacks him.  The landlord appears to give a "Spooooooky" sales pitch about the house needing a tenant, perhaps it could be you? Roll credits.

While not bad, this movie feels very shlockey and not particularly creepy, I don't know if the original reaction was to take it more seriously but I don't feel like it aged well.  Admittedly my modern sensibilities skew me into thinking that saying AN AXE MURDER HAPPENS does not do much to shock me, so for an audience not so well conditioned it may have been more visceral.  However I will give it that the stories were well constructed, if not having aged well and the camera work was good as far as I can tell.  The title is ironic because there's actually no blood in the movie, though it may just be "Dripping blood" in the sense that it has a very death-filled history.

And that's our first movie of the season.  Tomorrow we cover more tales from lists past with The Uninvited.


October Horror 2013: Plans and movie list

And we're here again, and I'm listing out the movies in this horror season's marathon list.  This year we're doing another 4x7 split, leaving 3 days at the end for catchup and other entries.

Without further ado, the categories and films this year are:

Shit we missed:
At last, a chance to make up for past digressions and grab some of the movies we never quite made it to in previous years.
  1. The House that Dripped Blood (1971) - Originally on 2012's Anthology week
  2. The Uninvited (2009) - Originally on 2010's Ghost Stories week
  3. Secret Window (2004) - Originally on 2012's Stephen King week
  4. The Others (2001) - Originally on 2010's Ghost Stories week
  5. The Shining (1980) - Originally on 2012's Stephen King week
  6. Campfire Tales (1991) - Originally on 2012's Anthology week
  7. Misery (1990) - Originally on 2012's Stephen King week

Bloody Disgusting:
This list derives from a list found here.  Apparently when I originally compiled that list into a Google doc for my own use (checking things off) I misattributed it to, hence the name.  In an effort to view many missed classics from this list, we've included it as a category this year and cherry-picked 7 films that either one of us hasn't watched.
  1. The Mummy (1932) - #100
  2. Ju-On (2000) - #15
  3. Don't Look Now (1973) - #52
  4. The Frighteners (1996) - #71
  5. Scream (1996) - #98
  6. The Legend of Hellhouse (1973) - #79
  7. Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - #37
Horror TV Shows:
Horror TV has become quite a bit more popular lately, and there are some shows we'd like to check out, so this week will involve 2-3 episodes from that night's show.
  1. Harper's Island
  2. Sleepy Hollow
  3. Fear Itself
  4. American Horror Story: Asylum
  5. Hannibal
  6. Hemlock Grove
  7. Masters of Horror
Comedy Horror:
It's got zombies! And it's funny! How novel!
  1. Toxic Avenger
  2. 100 Bloody Acres
  3. Idle Hands
  4. Bubba Ho-Tep
  5. I Sell the Dead
  6. Fido
  7. The Stuff

And there we are, folks.  Reviews will come in as I have the energy to write them.  Also scheduled to appear this month will be haunted attraction tours, as this has become a large part of our October traditions.

Currently we are planning on visiting:
  • Ghoulie Manor (Taunton, MA)
  • Lakeville Haunted House (Lakeville, MA)
  • Screamer's Hollow (Sterling, NY)
  • Sylvan Beach Halloweekends (Sylvan Beach, NY)
  • Witch's Woods (Westford, MA)
  • Spooky World + Spooky World lights out night (Litchfield, NH)
  • Barrett's Haunted Mansion (Abington, MA)
  • Spooky Acres (Millbury, MA)
  • Fright Kingdom (Nashua, NH)
  • Haunting of Barrett Park (Leominster, MA)