Thursday, February 28, 2013

Carrie - More evidence that Proms are deathtraps

Click here to jump to the boring, but SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

Carrie White, the shy and aloof high schooler, has her first period while showering after gym class (As a guy, I feel compelled to say, gross). Because of her sheltered life, she thinks she's dying. High school hotties Chris and Sue lead the locker room girls in mocking Carrie. Miss Collins, the gym teacher intervenes, but in all the commotion a light bulb bursts. Miss Collins brings Carrie to Principal Morton's office where Carrie's frustration results in an ashtray flipping onto the floor. Also a kid mocking Carrie gets knocked off his bike.

Carrie's religiously fanatical mother, Margaret, receives a call from Miss Collins about the locker room and tells Carrie that the "curse of blood" is punishment for sin. She locks Carrie in a closet and forces her to pray. That night Carrie stares at her bedroom mirror until it shatters.

The next day we meet Carrie's heartthrob Tommy Ross. Sue, feeling guilty for teasing Carrie, convinces Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Miss Collins punishes the girls in the gym who tormented Carrie. They get detention and possible revoking of their prom privileges. Chris manages to lose her prom privileges.

Carrie suspects she may have telekinesis, and researches it in the library. Tommy asks Carrie to the prom, but she fears another trick. Tommy asks her again at her house and she agrees. Carrie tells her mother she is going to the prom, and Margaret forbids it. However, Carrie causes the windows of the house to slam shut, revealing her telekinesis. Margaret believes this is Satan's power, but Carrie insists she will go to the prom.

Chris tells her delinquent boyfriend, Billy, that she wants revenge on Carrie. She goes with Billy and others to a farm, where Billy kills a pig. After draining the pig's blood into a bucket, Chris has Billy place the bucket above the school's stage.

Chris makes a deal with her friend to rig the prom king and queen election so that Tommy and Carrie will win. Though her classmates are surprised to see Carrie at the prom, they treat her normally. Sue, who was unable to attend due to lacking a date, sneaks into the prom to ensure everything goes well for Carrie.

To Carrie's surprise, she and Tommy are named prom king and queen. As the crown is placed on Carrie's head, Chris pulls the rope and Carrie is drenched in pig's blood. As the crowd looks on in silence the whole room starts laughing and jeering at her. Carrie's telekinesis takes over, closing the doors to the gym and turning on a fire hose. Miss Collins is killed by a falling ceiling rafter, principal Morton is electrocuted and the whole place catches fire. Leaving her classmates inside the school as it burns, Carrie walks home covered in blood. Chris and Billy intend to run her over with Billy's car, but Carrie flips the car over, causing it to burst into flames, killing them both.

At home, Carrie breaks down in her mother's arms. However, by this time Margaret has gone completely insane and literally stabs Carrie in the back. Carrie gets cornered in the kitchen by her mother, but sends kitchen knives flying at her mother, killing her. Overcome with guilt and grief, Carrie uses her last ounce of strength to collapse the house upon her and her mother and the house burns down to the ground.

Some time later, Sue, the only survivor of the prom, visits the plot where Carrie's house stood. As she places flowers on the ground and a bloody hand grabs Sue's wrist. The movie ends with Sue waking up, screaming, in her mother's arms.

The Good, the Bad, and the Gorey

The Good

What do the dramatic slow-mo finale in Scarface, and the intense slip-screen action in Mission Impossible both have in common? Carrie. Brian DePalma was far from an amateur when he gave us Carrie. With a number of productions under his belt, he was establishing his own directing style. Most of the shots are very wide, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg You really get a feel for the characters' surroundings. I like that just because so many horror movies are shot tight and confined.
But DePalma was ahead of his time in the 'special shots' department. His shots were meant to draw emotion out of the viewer. The spinning shot around Carrie and Tommy makes you feel lost and dizzy in love. The slow motion sequence of the impending blood bucket makes the pain feel more drawn out, like pulling off a band aid slowly. The split screen during the rampage lets the viewer witness Carrie's deranged eyes as she kills. DePalma's work was the inspiration for much of great cinematography we see today.

The Ending
It is worth noting that DePalma essentially created a horror genre staple. The last-scare shot. When the lone survivor, Sue, comes mourning she almost looks angelic. Dressed in white, a back-lit glow, bringing flowers, and a single tear she looks so sorry and so pure. Then to have Carrie's bloody claw tear up at her, it simply destroy's the viewers sense of closure and safety. It's a good scare. This last-scare shot is iconic in movies like Friday 13th and Nightmare on Elm St. Scream even makes fun of it saying the bad guy "always comes back for one last scare." On behalf of horror fans everywhere, thank you Brian DePalma.

The Actors
When Carrie came out, these were basically no-name actors:
Sissy Spacek(The Help, In the Bedroom, Hotrod), PJ Soles(Halloween, Stripes), Nancy Allen(RoboCop, Dressed to Kill), Michael Talbott (Miami Vice, First Blood), Sydney Lassick (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Unseen) and of course John Travolta. Time has proven that horror movies make good actors.

A deeper look at the casting and acting in Carrie.

The Bad
The Story
Hold on, don't stone me yet, hear me out. This movie was biased on a book written by the horror master, Stephen King. Not only was this King's first book adapted for film, it was the first book King had ever gotten published. Now I'm not enough of a Stephen King disciple to say how that reflects on the film, but I will say this, the movie feels like a book. The blood bucket doesn't drop until the 1:15min mark. The whole time leading up to it is just preparing for the prank and Carrie getting ready for the prom. Seriously, this movie could almost be a high school romantic comedy. It has all the elements. Jerk popular girl, nice popular girl, jerk popular boy, nice popular boy, understanding teacher, wallflower girl turned homecoming queen. If it wasn't for the telekinesis and murder it could be 10 Things I Hate About You.Carrie has the same problem all book-adaptation films have. It's hard to make mundane things look interesting. A book can go for chapters all about what a character is thinking while the character is doing something mundane like reading in the library. But if you try and make me watch someone reading a book for more that 15 seconds, I'm gonna flip out. So while I'm sure that in the book the lead up to the rampage is engaging and thrilling, the lead up in this film left me kind of bored.

The Gorey
This movie has a lot of pig's blood, some gross lady blood, and that's about it. The most gruesome scene would probably be the mother's death by telekinetic knives, but it's pretty tame for most horror film standards. The film is rated R due to the female nudity in the opening shower scene. If they could have re-worked that scene, it might have been bumped down to a PG-13.

My Take on it All
Ok, forget everything I said about the story. The long, drawn out set up of "the prank" is really just a tool DePalma uses to create "the scene". The Rampage Scene that is. The entire film is simply buildup to it. We see poor Carrie. Her life at school is full of ridicule and embarrassment, her life at home is full of shame and subservience. The only glimmer of joy she has is from the dreamy, untouchable Tommy. Add to that the discovery of mental powers that are new and powerful. She is a victim through and through. The pain she suffers is in innocence.
As we see a hope for happiness, because of Tommy and Sue's good deeds, we also see the set up of the prank. The viewer can figure out pretty fast that the plan is to drop pig's blood on Carrie at the prom. The dramatic irony makes the sweetness of the prom that much more painful. If that wasn't enough DePalma literally goes into slow motion, to draw out the anxiety of the impending disaster.

Then comes the scene. The Rampage. This single scene is what made this movie. It's what made a mediocre movie into an amazing movie. Carrie, covered in blood, proceeds to murder everybody. In this moment, all the innocence we saw in Carrie is stripped away. She kills friend and foe alike. With her psychic strength she is untouchable . Killing and burning it seems that she has lost control, but looking at her we see she is in complete control. I didn't know I could be scared simply by the look in someone's eyes, but the bottom-lit eyes full of intensity dart back and forth, sparking fires and dropping rafters. In my opinion, one of the scariest/eeriest scenes ever is a bloodstained Carrie, with her arms and hands tense with rage, slowly walking across the gym as it erupts in flames. It's like watching a banshee or ghost.

That one dramatic moment made all 96 mins of set up worth it. This movie is a must see for any horror fan. But this is a necessary see for anyone who wants to understand difference between cheap, gory jumpy, scare-tactics flicks and the true horror genre.

Carrie follows the tragic life of a high school girl. On top of teenage difficulties, she must face her fanatical mother and growing psychic powers. Carrie earns it's place at the foundation of the horror genre. While it is slow to start, the film brings a horror packed ending matched by few films. Take a night off from your guts and gore flicks and enjoy some iconic terror. 

Final Grade: A-

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dark Skies - Signs meets Poltergiest

Click here to jump to the SPOILER FREE REVIEW

The movie opens with shots of ideal, suburban America. There we meet the Barrett family. While blessed with great friends, a big house, and strong family bonds, there is tension under the surface. The husband Daniel was laid off awhile ago, forcing his wife Lacey to work as a realtor. While their youngest son Sam is still in the innocents of youth, their teenage son Jesse has fallen into a sketchy group of kids.

Over the course of a few weeks strange things start happening. A door opens, Janga towers are made with cutlery, photo's disappear, and Sam is seeing people in his dreams. All the while tension builds between Daniel and Lacey. Then things get kicked up a notch. Hundreds of birds ram the house, family members walk around in catatonic states, Lacey sees a person in Sam's room, and the security monitors show something coming into the house.

Lacey does some Internet research and finds conspiracy theories related to aliens. Daniel is skeptical until both their children develop brand marks on their skin. Daniel and Lacey go to see the alien expert. The expert tells them that "the Greys" are scientists and their family is the test subject. The family member they first made contact with is likely victim they will abduct.

Daniel and Lacey decided to fight. Armed with guns, attack dogs, and barricades, they prepare for the final stand. In the attack Jesse becomes possessed and wanders away from the family and is taken by the aliens.

Three months later, the Barrett family has taken up residence in a city apartment and begin a new life as alien trackers. In some boxes of Jesse's childhood artwork we find drawings of him with the Greys, implying that Jesse had been the family member of initial contact all along. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Gorey
The Good
The lion's share of the cinematography in this film was done by David Boyd. Boyd showed us his great visual work in The Walking Dead series and he brought that same skill to Dark Skies. I enjoyed the framing of this movie. Characters were shown in rich surroundings and a variety of environments  From the chaotic community pool to the cluttered alien expert's apartment, all the scenes feel very real. Using lighting, zooming, tracking and viewing angels, Dark Skies makes you see what it wants you to see. You are compelled to look in just the right spot, and that is the spot they scare you from. Overall it a visual beauty.

The Scares
I almost didn't include this under "the Good" because of the clique-ness of the scares in this movie. Almost all the scares are of the jump-up-at-ya variety or the turn-the-corner-and-see-scary-thing variety. They employ the classic Halloween/Mike Myers scare of the villain/alien standing still, unmoving behind their victim  There is even the Silence of the Lambs scare of taking the villain's view behind the victim as it reaches out almost touching. All rather basic, and rather predictable right?

But all that being said, this movie still made me jump and gave me goosebumps. I'll mention it again. The cinematography really helped Dark Skies to deliver its scares properly. I also came to the realization that tall, skinny, long limb monster must freak me out (It would explain why Dog Soldiers and Slender Man always scared me). "The Greys" in this movie are classic grey sticks with big heads and long arms and just seeing them looming over someone made me shiver. While maybe the scares in this movie less than innovative, they still get the job done.

The Bad
The Script
Director Scott Stewart is also the writer of Dark Skies. Stewart had some previous writing experience and directed Priest and Legion, but in my opinion he still needs a little experience yet. Ask horror movie fan and they will tell you this idea has been done already. I mean, if you took Poltergeist and mashed it with Signs, throw in a sprinkle of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and you would end up with this movie. We get a cornucopia of classic horror elements. The young child dreaming and drawing pictures of the monster, the skeptical cop explaining away the phenomena, the bickering couple on different levels of acceptance of the monster, the confused scientist, the crazy conspiracy theory expert, and the final twist at the end. I know this was a chance of Scott Stewart to stretch his legs away from the action horror genre, but he isn't getting any points for originality from me.

And on top of that a lot of the dialogue is weak. The emotional conflict between Daniel and Lacey is established in these big fights about the stupidest things. "He didn't tell me he was completely optimistic about a job interview!" "She didn't tell me that our kid had a nightmare!" Really? And the happy family having burgers with friends just lays on the cheese with clique back and forth.

The Acting
It's hard to act your way out of a bad script, but most of the actors do a decent job. I just want to say I was disappointed with Daniel (Josh Hamilton). The whole time I was watching him, he never came off as natural. I wouldn't say it's over acting as much as a failure to be realistic.

The Gorey
There is none. A couple dead birds is about as good as you are going to get. I actually like that aspect. It's hard to get my Mormon friends to watch horror movies because most all of them are rated R. It's nice to have a PG-13 film that will still deliver some decent scares.

Dark Skies follows the Barrett family as it experiences strange and disturbing phenomena in their own home. As things get worse and worse it becomes clear that an outside forces threatens their family.

Dark Skies is great for one who dabbles in the horror genre. It is visually appealing  it has family, good jump-at-ya scares, and no gore/violence for the queasy stomach. They will enjoy the growing suspense and development of the plot. A great pick for them.

Dark Skies is a terrible movie for those who love horror. Scott Stewart brought us a story that we have already seen, with a villain that we have already seen, with scares we know very well. While it looks good and has a good creepy factor, I  would say skip this one. There are plenty of unseen horror movies to for you to watch. Don't waste time on one you've already seen.

Final Grade: D


Friday, February 22, 2013

Slither - An "A" Quality B-Film

What do Avery Jessup, Mal Reynolds and Pam Beesly have in common?

Click here to jump to the SPOILER-FREE REVIEW


The film opens with a meteor/capsule containing an alien parasite crashing to earth. Then we are given a brief introduction to small town life in of Wheelsy, South Carolina as well as an introduction to Grant and Starla. While Starla  strives the whole movie to be a good wife, Grant is less than chivalrous from the get go. While frolicking with another women he stumbles upon the meteorite and is violently infected by it. It takes control of Grant but he continues act as Grant while it buys meat, kills dogs, and mutates.

Sensing her distance from her husband, Starla contacts town sheriff Bill Pardy (her childhood crush) who attempts to reassure and comfort her while not acting on his feelings.

Grant infects a women with hundreds of his offspring. He hides her in an isolated barn where she becomes massively obese as baby alien slugs grow inside her. Pardy leads a small group of officers on a hunt for Grant, only to be lured into a trap where a massive, swollen blob of a women explodes releasing hundreds of the alien slugs. Most of Pardy's group become infected, zombie-like creatures. The infected begin to want Starla and talk to her as if they are Grant.

Before long, the rest of the town becomes infected by the parasites and are all controlled via a hive mind connection with Grant. During a failed bonding attempt with the girl name Kylie, we learn about the parasite's history and plans to infect the rest of the world. Pardy, Starla, Kylie, and Mayor MacReady make it back to town and decide to kill Grant. Unlucky for them. the townspeople attack their vehicle and capture Starla.

The survivors, Pardy and Kylie, follow Starla only to discover the infected are melding into one giant creature. Starla charms the monster by calling him "Grant" and telling him they can be together, but as they get close to each other, she stabs him in the chest. While trying to infect Pardy with his tentacles  Pardy attaches one to a small propane tank, filling Grant with gas. Starla shoots the monster, causing it to explode. Huzzah!

The Good the Bad and the Gorey
The Good
The Humor
This is a funny movie. I feel like characters react in the same way I would react in that situation, namely, "Holy Crap! What is going on?!" There aren't gallant heroes or conniving scientists, just a bunch of really freaked out people. It's funny to take a step back from the horror movie and remember how ridiculous it all is. I feel like Nathan Fillon's character, Pardy, embodies this ideas the best. He seems genuinely shocked and confused by the bizarre events. You could say he is playing the same role as Mal from Firefly, without so much sass. There are some great one-liners, the Mayor (Gregg Henry) being particularly hilarious. Even Elizabeth Banks is funny as her zombie killing ferocity replaces her southern daintiness

The Scares
Don't let the humor fool you, this movie is plenty scary. While most of them are the tried and true scare tactics of classic horror, that doesn't make them bad. The jump-out-at-ya and the ominous-villain-starring-through-the-window are classics because they are good. The heroes are constantly getting cornered by zombies or slugs, cause plenty of tense moments. You'll spend plenty of time saying, "Holy Crap! Get out of there!"

The Gorey
This is a must see for all fan of Splatter Films. I love the gore/special effects of this movie because of the balance between CGI and make up/models. CGI makes gore unrealistic. It's easy to spot and easy to disconnect from. However for fast moving shots like swinging tentacles or slugs pouring out of a giant women, CGI works well. It's hard to call the gore realistic since it's a story about aliens and slugs. Some if has an almost cartoonist style, such as the blob women and the mutations of Grant. But when the gore was meant to be realistic, as in stabbing zombies or eviscerating hunters, it does look real.

Recognition should be given to the make up/model guys of this film for taking on some huge design projects and pulling them off swimmingly.

A behind the scenes look at the Special Effects of Slither. 

My Thoughts on it All
Slither's director James Gunn, is best know for writing the screen play of the Dawn of the Dead remake. It was a bold move to remake a beloved classic, but he pulled it off by understanding the genre. Gunn was able to take the basic ingredients of a zombie movie, add in a dash of personal creativity, and create a new pillar of the zombie sub-genre.

Part of me feels that is what he did with this movie. Gunn said he was inspired by the Splatter Films of the 80's (Evil Dead II, Return of the Living Dead, etc) and wanted to bring back some guts and gore to the horror genre. Now this definitely is a Splatter Film, I also see this as a creature movie.

James Gunn's Own words

I love creature movies. As a kid, whenever I went to the video store, they were the fist ones to catch my eye. Since then I've watched a lot of creature movies, some of them good, a lot of them bad. Most creature movies end up as a "b reel" film because of low budget, poor writing or both. But all them have the certain elements of: the creature secretly operating the around humans, the gradual discovery of the creature, the creature's grand revel  and the teamwork that kills the creature. It's a tried and true formula that works.

Slither is meant to be a culmination of b-reel creature films. It follows the same formula but adds in good acting, good dialogue and great special effects. So some people would say that Slither is uncreative or unimaginative and they do have a point. But really, isn't it just refreshing to watch a b-reel movie that is actually good? I see this movie as vindication for the formula that gave me my favorite movies like Tremors, Jeepers Creepers, and Eight Legged Freaks. And making the movie hilarious and fun to watch at the same time just makes it all that much sweeter.

Slither  is a Splatter Film that scratches your itch for gore and monsters. The film follows a man infected by an alien parasite and his need to infest others. While the movie does follow a clique horror movie formula  it brings some great humor to the mix. Don't think that just because it has laughs that it isn't scary  With some good jump-at-ya scares and some gory deaths, this movie is plenty capable of creeping you out. With some good acting and some excellent specie effects this movie is a special honor to b-reel horror movies every where. 

Final Grade: B+


Let me hear your thoughts in the comments bellow!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie Break! - Some thoughts on Horror

Being a huge nerd, and often at odds with the written word, I listen to a lot of podcast  One which I follow is from the site 'How Stuff Works' entitled Stuff to Blow Your Mind. It is a nonchalant science program which discuss the strange science all around us without getting too deep into science-y jargon, mumboo-jumbo. Good fun.

As I was trolling through their backlogs of episodes I found this gem.

The Horror

It is an episode completely devoted to the science of fear and why we like scary movies. I began drooling when I stumbled across it. While perhaps not a passion, I've always had at least and interest in anthropology and psychology  Any good horror fan should, since it is after all, it's the study of what make us human. A common horror theme. Plus, I'm always looking for insights as to why my particular depression-filled brain responds so well to horror movies.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but if not, here are some key points I found interesting.

They make the case in the podcast that the desire to be scared is an ingrained human quality. On a basic level, most everyone responds to fear the same way. We enter the fight or flight mode, shutting down unnecessary bodily systems, and cranking out a cocktail of hormones to jump start our major muscles. Everyone knows how a scary movie will tense up your whole body and literally make you jump. Well on the other side of the scare, the brain releases dopamine as if to say, "Don't worry, it wasn't really a threat, it's just a movie."

I believe it is that wash of chemicals, adrenalin to dopamine, that make horror so enjoyable. Getting sucked into the story and then removing yourself from it by remembering reality. It's an incredible rush. It's great.

They cited some proof for humanity's innate love of horror in children. Even little kids love horror. My nephews are always asking me to chase them, to pretend to be a scary monster, or to jump out and tickle them. And really, given the audience, peek-a-boo is one of the most startling games ever. We love to be scared in a game/movie/story and then remember that it's all pretend.

The High King of Horror, Steven King, had this great quote. "The horror story writer is not that much different from the Welsh Sin Eater, who was suppose to take upon the sins of the dear departed by eating the dear departed's food. The tails of monstrosity and terror are a basket loosely packed with phobias. When the rider passes by, he takes one of the imaginary fears out of the basket, and puts one of his real ones in, at least for a time."

I love that because that is exactly what horror has been for me. In my clinical state, my depression can cause debilitating anxiety. Mostly fear about the future, but also about my own self worth. It is in times like this that I'm very willing to trade my anxiety for anyone else's. Horror movies let me put my fears aside for a time, and while I am still scared of the film, any reprieve from my personal fears is very welcome.

I also liked this quote, "Control lost under the cover of darkness is rediscovered in the light of day. Danger posed by things unknown is reduced by increased knowledge and predictably." While I wouldn't consider myself a courageous person, I do think watching horror is a way of pushing past your fears. I think that for some people, when something scares them they quickly turn away. The horror fan turns towards it, stares at it, tries to figure it out. We take these smaller fears out of the 'Sin Eater's' basket and conquer them. I don't know if that is courage or simply and need to understand, but it can lead the viewer to ask questions about questions about mortality, brutality, depravity, love, humanity, etc. Topics that many in today's society don't even dare to approach.  I don't think there is a monster movie that doesn't reflect some sort of message about society or our inner humanity.

In all it would seem that horror is a relief, a drug, and a deep insight into the darker corners of our human existence  Now tell me, what about that doesn't sound awesome?   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

30 Days of Night - Alaska, the new Transylvania?

Click here to jump to the end for a SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

The Plot, as told by Bunnies.

Up in Alaska the town of Barrow is preparing for its annual month long winter-night. As the town gets ready, a stranger rows ashore from a large ship. He proceeds to sabotages the town's communications and transportation. Enter Eben Oleson (Josh Harrnet) the sheriff of Barrow. He arrests the stranger with the help of his ex-wife Stella (Melissa George).

The stranger prophecies doom and death in an apparently Cajun accent (says imdb) when someone kills the town's power and communications. Out pop a clan of feral vampires, led by Marlow (Danny Huston), who slaughters most of the town. Eben, his brother, Stella and a few others take shelter in a boarded-up house with a hidden attic.

A week passes and the group is still alive and hidden, despite sneaky vampires using survivors as bait. When a blizzard hits, Eben and the others use its cover to get to the general store. They loose track of time trying to kill a particularly creepy vampire, and to find that the whiteout ended, preventing the survivors from getting back to the attic. Eben decides that everyone should go to the police station and provides a diversion by running to his grandmother's house and blasting vamps with some ultraviolet lights. Eben escapes the house and one epic, vampire killing, tractor ride later he makes it to the station. One of the bitten survivors gets his head lobbed off and then it's back to the waiting game.

Bad-A** vampire-killin' tractor

Two weeks later, Stella and Eben see someone signaling them with a flashlight. They investigate and find Billy who has mercy killed his family. But they take him along anyway to the power station to meet up with the other survivors. On the way Stella saves a girl while Eben and Billy chase a vamp, but Stella and the girl have to hide under an abandoned truck; Eben and Billy both make it to the power station, where they find the other survivors. After killing a vampire, Eben is forced to kill a turning Billy in one of the craziest, goriest beheadings ever.

As the month comes to an end, the sun is due to rise soon and the vampires prepare to burn the town to cover their tracks. Realizing he cannot beat the vampires in his current state, Eben turns himself into a vampire via injection with Billy's infected blood. He confronts Marlow and gives him a hay-maker out the back of his head. The vamps back down and Eben saves Stella from the fire. They embrace as they watch the sun rise and burn Eben into ash.

The Good the Bad and the Gorey
The Good
30 Days of Night brings some strong ingredients to the pot. The setting and theme are the most apparent. The Alaskan landscape is frigid and desolate. The town of Barrow doesn't even have paved roads. Everything there is isolated and entrapped by the freezing weather. Now take that helpless environment and remove daylight, and the scene is perfectly fragile for the looming vampire disaster. And in general I always think it's cool when one of the limitations of a "classic monster" is removed. It makes them that much more powerful and more terrifying.

Now, I'm far from student of photography, but this movie has some really beautiful shots. With the Alaskan snow as a back drop, all of the figures and action pops out with great contrast. At one point the viewer is shown a bird's eye view of the town and the carnage being dealt out upon it. Really cool.

I am a big fan of, what I'll call, the Spielberg-effect. When Steven Spielberg was directing Jaws, his dream was to have a giant mechanical shark to use in every shot. However he didn't have any money for said giant shark robot. Instead he was forced to create the horror of the monster without ever actually showing the monster. It became a relatively common technique in horror and when it is done right, it is truly terrifying. In 30 Days of Night the Spielberg-effect only last till around the halfway mark when everything becomes very in-your-face. But that build up makes for some great shots of people disappearing into darkness. The tease makes finally seeing the awfulness of the vampires that much more awesome. 

The Villains
What I really love about this movie is the Vampires themselves. I've seen vampires of all types, shapes and sizes in the horror world, but these ones hit just the right cord with me. That cord being the freak out cord. Movies often have the very human vampires (The Lost Boys. Let the Right One In) or they might have the demonic monster vampires (from Dusk till Dawn) but 30 Days of Night gives us a spooky medium. 

They are clearly human and seem to have a Gothic/euro fashion sense. Nice dresses and slick suits aren't covered up by winter clothing. The undead don't mind a little cold. I don't know how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but all the vampire actors are funny looking. I should just say that they aren't the traditional beautiful faces of Hollywood, and it's a good thing. It made the vampires feel that much more strange. It made you want to look at them longer, trying to pick out what's wrong.

The facade of humanity they create breaks down fast. Their eyes are black. Black and unreadable, like a shark. There is something terrifying about the inability to track your enemy's gaze. You don't know what they are looking at or where they will strike. When the vampires speak or scream they do it by sucking air into their lungs. It's a great effect. The undead, speaking backwards because their existence is backwards.

Instead of the neat and tidy two fangs of Dracula, these guys got nasty snark like teeth. They look all mangled  like someone took a hammer to a bulldog's mouth. It makes them savage and bloody. But all the while they try and keep it cool. I loved the image of Marlow slicking back his neat hair with the blood of one of his victims. Chilling.

The Bad
It's hard to make an action movie that takes place over the course of a month. The subtitles actually have to pop up to show you how much time has passed. For a lot of the screen time the survivors are just sitting holed-up in an attic, dinner, police station. In a movie culture of, "Let's go out there and get 'em! EXPLOSIONS " in can be hard to watch a film where the heroes decided just to wait it out. Now that might be more of a problem with plot, but I did just find myself wishing they'd go out and kill so vamps.

Knit picking here. But I wish they would have done more with the human stranger that was essentially a scout for the vampires. Ben Foster is a great actor, but we only get a glimpse of him before he's killed off. I felt it could have added more to the story while offing some more origin explanation for this random group of vampires.

The Gorey
As to be expected of any vampire movie, 30 Days of Night is bloody. The vampires are almost always covered in blood, a result of mauling people with their mangled teeth. There is some good killings of vampires and some sadistic vampire murders. If you are a gore lover though, I doubt you'll be impressed overall (but still check out the beheading at the end).

My Take on it All
Ok, so I know a lot of people hated this movie. A lot of the criticism seemed to point to different points in the plot as "illogical" or "unrealistic" behavior of the characters. Some feel that the plot is pushed or forced unnaturally. Well I understanding thinking a character made a stupid choice, but thinking that a movie is bad because of unrealistic plot choice is stupid. Sometimes the old man wanders off at the most convenient time because we got to move the story along.

And if you don't think it's realistic for the group to spend a week in the attic without food or water, I would have to say, "You're watching a vampire movie dammit!" You're gonna have to suspended some reality in general. And as a general rule for all movies, you have to work with the director. Sometimes they don't want connect all the dots for you. So instead of trying to tear plot holes in movies, try instead to cover them up. Create the justification to make a story work. It makes movies more enjoyable in the end.

But stepping off my soapbox, I really do like this movie. In part it touches on my love of zombie movies. The community undersigned  having to hide and barricade. I just think that's cool. But this movie has decent acting and solid (but perhaps simplistic) plot. Add on top of that a unique setting and the scariest vampires ever and I think you got a really good flick.

30 Days of Night takes us to the small Alaskan town of Barrow. The town goes through a yearly darkness for one month, but this year some blood thirsty visitors are coming to town. This movie offers a unique vampire experience. With it's unique setting, it's a story of survival. While it lacks the romance of Dracula, and the heart pounding action of Resident Evil this flick does scare. With some of my favorite vampires ever, I can promise you some creeps and a few jumps. Pick it up for sure.

And in regards to the sequel...just don't.

Final Grade: B


Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Return of the Living Dead - Do you want to party?

I love me some zombie movies. I feel drawn to them, like zombie is drawn to brains. But to understand something you have to understand its roots. And after three or four George Romero movies, you will end up here on your zombie journey   So hold on to your brains for The Return of the Living Dead.

Click here to skip to the end for a SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

This show opens with Freddie getting his orientation for his new job at "Laid Back Medical Supplies". Freddie is wearing a sleeve-less t-shirt and suspenders, just to make sure we know we've arrived in the 80's. Trying to impress the new kid, the idiot Frank accidentally busts open a government barrel holding a zombie and a crap-load of orange zombie gas. When the two regain consciousnesses they discover the the cadavers, both dog and human, are alive again. They decide to call the boss.

During all this we meet Freddie's gang. With the exception of Freddie's girlfriend, they look like they were donated to the film by the Punk High-Schooler Emporium. Looking "to party", they go to wait for Freddie in the cemetery next door. There they listen to music, act tough, and get naked.

When boss-man Burt comes to the warehouse and determines they've got to kill the zombie cadaver. Follow the logic of the movies, they try to destroy the brain only to discover they can't be killed. Each separated body part is still out for murder. 

Burt determines the only way to get rid of the zombie is to cremate it at the mortuary inside the cemetery. After hauling in bags full of dismembered-zombie to the mortuary, they convince the mortician to cremate the body parts. As the ash-filled smoke rises from the crematorium  it's washed down by the ran onto the cemetery.At the same time Freddie and Frank are getting real sick. The original exposure to the zombie-gas is poisoning them. They call an ambulance to come get them at the mortuary. 

As the cemetery and the kids are getting washed down, Tina goes looking for her boyfriend at the warehouse. Instead she finds the zombie from the government canister. She ends up trapped, but not to fear, because the 80's Rock Band comes to save her. Mr. Tough Guy get's his brains eaten out, but the rest manage to trap Tar Man in the basement.

Then the action really picks up. All the zombies in the cemetery rise up, eat Ms. Naked Girl, eat the ambulance paramedics, and chase most of the kids to the mortuary. Everyone barricades the mortuary and in the process capture a zombie. The zombie (which is both conscience and talkative) explains that eating brains placates the constant pain of death.

It becomes apparent that Frank and Freddie are turning into zombies and they get locked away. Burt and Mr. Token-Black-Kid jump in a car and head over to the warehouse, leaving Tina and the Mortician to hide from the Zombie Freddie.

All the while cops keep showing up and getting eaten. The situation is really getting out of hand, so Burt calls the number on the military canister  This activates a military protocol in the form of a nuclear strike on the town.

The Good, the Bad, and the Gorey.
The Good
I love the period that this movie represents in the Horror Genre. Return of the Living Dead came out in the mid 80's. This is my favorite period of monster movies because it was all about the spectacle.  It was a time that horror movies were established enough to start looking back at themselves. The genre started with the classic movie monsters like Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstine, but as time went on, those monsters were revamped anew. The Howling and The Lost Boys were horror films that didn't establish the monster's background, assuming the audience already understood. 

Return of the Living Dead does the very same. It even mentions George Romero's zombie movies by name. We don't have to have the annoying, "What is that? I think its a zombie. No it's just a crazy person. No wait, you were right, it's a zombie." Instead we just have complete focus on dealing with the zombies.

Now, I love George Romero. He will forever be the Godfather of all things Zombie. But Return of the Living Dead was pivotal to the creation of the zombie as we know it today. In this movie, writer and director Dan O'Bannon gave use the first fast/running zombies, the first speaking/logical zombies, and the call of zombies everywhere, "Braaains!" Granted it took a silly, humors movie to establish these elements, but movies like 28 Days Later and the Crazies all developed the concepts further.

As I've said before, I'm no lover of CGI gore, and this flick gave me models and makeup too my heart's content. The over-the-top theme of this movie is seen in the ridiculous gore. While not up to any Evil Dead levels, brains and blood fly freely on screen. I loved the zombie dubbed "Tar Man". He looks like a monkey covered in tar, but there is something about they way he moves his long, slender arms and legs that creeped me out good. And the amputee zombie made me jump for sure. Sometimes the models could come off as cartoon-ish, but in a funny, ridiculousness movie, I'm willing to forgive.

Once the movie takes off, the action is top notch. Zombies breaking down windows, tricking cops, charging checkpoints, biting open heads like nutcrackers. The accelerator jams down for the whole second half.

The acting in this movie isn't great, but it isn't suppose to be. All the characters are suppose to be one dimensional, clearly seen by the stereotypical personalities of "the Gang". The movie isn't about the characters, but about the events themselves, evidenced by the fact that everyone got nuked. 

All that being said though, I do love watching James Karen loose his sh*t over the course of the film.

The Bad
My biggest concern with this film is the pacing. The zombie hoards don't start amassing until 50 min in. Maybe I'm being picky but I think that is a lot of time to get going. Especially for a farce with no need for monster-background or character development.

I could pick at the cataclysmic  everyone dies ending, but if you are watching horror movies for the neat, tidy endings, then you need to pick a different genre.

Why I Liked It   
You might recognize Dan O'Bannon from his co-writer title on Alien. That's right Alien. One of my all time scariest movie. So it's clear that O'Bannon knows horror. Which was lucky for all of us because in order to do a farce of anything, you first have to understand it. Return of the Living Dead is funny. It pokes at the horror genre in general. You have blatant unnecessary nudity, the bumbling idiots of Frank and Freddie, the innocent damsel in distress, the unscrupulous business men in Burt. Plus the zombies themselves were funny. They talk and trick policemen into becoming their snacks.

It's fun
I like this movie simply because it's fun. I love horror movies for all their classic dark terror, but it can be refreshing to see a movie break the norm every once and a while. This movie has scares and gross zombies in it, but it doesn't have the dark melodrama of most horror movies. There aren't any grave moral decisions to be made, no mirror of man's inhumanity, no condemnation of the hubris of scientists. Nope. It's just a zombie movie. Pure and simple.

I mean the zombies come out of the ground essentially singing.

The Return of the Living Dead is a must see. The film throws teenagers, medical supply employees, a graveyard into a bag, shakes it up, and spits out a classic zombie movie. With classic 80's gore and a couple of jump-at-ya scares it well fits the label of horror. However, set more as a farce of traditional, Romero-ian zombie flicks, this movie is funny. Enjoy the cliques and the stereotypes. It isn't horrifying or nail-biting, it's just fun.

A classic, humorous, fun. Let's not try and over think it. 

Final Grade: A-


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Martyrs - it's a ______ type of Movie

I'm a fan of foreign horror films. REC, Let the Right One In, etc. Terror can travel through subtitles quite easily. Martyrs came out of France with a bang and put a rather polarized hole into the horror genre. Love it or hate it, here is how it is.

Click here to skip to the end for a SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

The dark cloud that hangs over the entire film blows in with the opening credits. A young women, Lucie, is seen running/escaping from an industrial sector, bloodied and bruised. A quick recap, via doctor's medical records, tell us that Lucie has been silent about her experience while still very disturbed by them. She was starved and physically abused, but never sexually. Another young women, Anna, gains Lucie's confidence and trust, but still doesn't understand Lucie's growing paranoia and violent injuries. The movie jumps forward fifteen years to a happy French family in their well-to-do home, when an adult Lucie bursts in and methodically guns down the family. Lucie calls a near by Anna, and we learn that the family was Lucie's childhood captors. Waiting for Anna, Lucie is attacked by a tortured,  feral woman. Anna clearly sees that Lucie is delusional, that the wounds and attacks of the feral women, are Lucie's own self mutilations. Unable to deal with the delusions, Lucie slits her throat and dies in Anna's arms. Anna, grieved at her beloved's death, moves the body only to find a secret passage. Down the passage she finds a holding cell containing a women, long tortured and mutilated. Anna helps and tends to the women, but she displays the same psychosis and delusions as Lucie. A shadowy, but organized group thugs shows up and kills the women and imprisons Anna. They explain that they torture and kill individuals to watch them achieve a state of transcendence e.i. martyrdom. Then begins the painfully grueling saga of Anna's torture. She is force feed, physically abused, and totally isolated. This goes on for awhile until Anna gains a measure of situational acceptance. At which point they literally skin her alive. The handlers then observe a specific look in Anna's eyes and they inform their superiors. Anna dictates to the director everything she sees, which is prepared as a report to be given to a council of the organization  They explain that Anna has seen a vision of the afterlife and what it holds, but before that report can be given by the director, she kills herself.

What was good and what was bad
Simply put  most of this film fits into the latter, but we'll start positive.

This is a movie of very raw emotion. Abuse, revenge, despair,  acceptance. The screen is doused with bucket-loads of these powerful emotions. The exhaustively long torture/degradation scenes is literally wordless, forcing the "message" to come through the talented acting. Anna (Morjana Alaoui) rides a roller coaster of emotion; loving Lucie, disgust at the murders and abused women, grief over Lucie's death, accepting her tortured fate. It is remarkable to see an actress so believable in such a difficult role.

The Plot?
This is gonna be short review, because as you might have guessed, I didn't like this movie. Mostly I was confused at what Martyrs was trying to be. For the first bit I thought it was a demon possession movie, but that got shot down when we saw that the feral women was simply the delusion of Lucie's battered mind. Then I saw it as thriller, with the shadow organization and its clearly explained goals. Then I figured it would be a torture-porn flick, but the abuse didn't involve bizarre body mutilations  That is, until the end when Anna is skinned, and then the movie wanders around aimlessly until ending in a classic horror movie no-explanations ending. As the credits rolled all I could think was, "What the hell did I just watch?"

In my struggles with depression I have discovered via therapy that I have a tendency to label people and actions in rather simplistic terms. Or as I like to think of it, I like to categorize stuff. It makes the world easier to understand. Now add that to the fact that I'm in the midst of studying the horror genre at large, and you can see why I didn't like this movie. This movie refuses to be defined. It looks like a supernatural possession akin to The Grudge or The Ring. It looks like a torture-porn splatter flick like Saw or Hostel.  Make up your mind! 

But the biggest offence is that of the plot itself. The viewer's plot goal is for Lucie to free herself of the demons attacking her. Lucie's death ends that pretty quick and a new goal of helping the imprisoned woman is established. A quick bullet to the brain ends that and a new goal of escaping and understanding the shadow origination comes up. The end result leaves the viewer with a dead Anna, no explanation of her martyrdom, and a sick feeling having just watched 30 mins of women's abuse. This is no way to tell a story! I'm sure some devotees of foreign-film-horror, would tell me otherwise  but there was not enough of central message or meaningful cinematography to even give the plot a panacea of an artistic movie.  

If you like movies that make sense, keep going. Martyrs bounces around plot lines like a super ball down a stairwell. And it leaves you with confusion. It's not a movie for the weak spirited, but not because of gore as much as repetitive inhumanity and non-graphic torture. Martyrs does give you a few jumps with a creepy, albeit short lived, monster, but it's not enough of a scare to impress me. I was left confused and frustrated at my loss of two hours. Click skip on Martyrs and go watch Lifetime if you want to see women being beaten. 

Final Grade: D+



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pontypool - Radio Play Terror

I didn't stand a chance with this movie. Seeing as I share the rather unique first name of the main character, this movie got a lot more real for me, really fast. But I tried to smooth out my shattered nerves and review the psychological horror, Pontypool.

Click here to jump to the end for a SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

The saga opens with Stephen McHattie’s character, Grant, driving to work through the morning snow and cold. On the way he has the unsettling experience of a women pounding on his car window, speaking a few confusing words, and then simply walking off into the dark Canadian morning. Grant Mazzy is the new radio host of the small Canadian town of Pontypool. Grant doesn't have the greatest opinion of his more amateur gig in isolated Pontypool after his the more exciting shock-jock position he held previously. Nonetheless, Grant begins his morning show with the help of the very lovely Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) and the stern traditionalist producer Sidney(Lisa Houle). After some character-establishing back and forth between the three, strange reports start coming in. Through some dramatic call-ins, police reports, and official alerts, we learn that a murderous riot in spreading in Pontypool, of which individuals are acting and speaking bizarrely. Confused and suspicious of the incoming reports, Grant wants to take a walk, maybe see some of the crisis with his own eyes. They soon discover a growing mob around their building, chanting the words of the radio piped out over loudspeakers. The three lock themselves inside, and go back to the microphone. Sadly, the unrealistically attractive Laurel-Ann starts babbling, and speaking in a trance. At the same time, a plot device is literally dropped into the story, when Dr. Mendez crawls through a window and shuts himself, Grant and Sidney up in the radio booth. Dr. Mendez is connected to the outbreak of a virus in Pontypool. He explains over the radio, that the virus is carried by words in the English language. Infected words infect people and make them drawn to the speech of others. They are so drawn to others, that they try and eat their way into an other's mouth. This zombie-insanity is clearly seen as the infected Laurel-Ann bites at and charges the booth, and then dies. *Tear. After some cerebral back and forth, they decide that a word must be “understood” to infect. The massing horde breaks into the station and surrounds the booth looking for some tasty words. They use the loudspeakers to draw the horde out, but it looks like Dr. Mendez is losing it. But really the doctor is discovering that other languages are virus immune. After killing a zombie, Grant and Sidney hide while the doctor selflessly leads the zombies away. After a good build of dramatic tension, a climax is reached when the two discover a cure is created when an infected word loses its mental understanding. The culmination is a dramatic radio broadcast of the discovery as the military prepares to bomb the station. Grant and Sidney smooch in a rather Thelma and Louise type fashion.

The Good and the Bad
I am extremely impressed with the overall acting in this movie. Stephen McHattie was perfect for the lead role. With an acting record as long as his, you can’t expect anything other than a phenomenal performance. And Pontypool demanded good acting. The movie is shot in one location, without much movement, focusing on dialogue. McHattie’s leathery, hardened face is transfixing with his sly smiles, genuine confusion, and consuming terror. Strangely, it’s not boring watching a guy simply talk into a microphone for ¾ of the whole movie.
Lisa Houle does a great job as well. She easily brings across her early role, the simplistic and conservative station manager, but really shows off her chops as the crisis grows. Her fear seems real and her despair is consuming.
I don’t know whether the character of Laurel-Ann is simply one dimensional or if Georgina Reily is simply a young actor in this movie, but either way her performance was pretty forgettable. But I’ll forgive her, because she is so pretty and because she made a good zombie.

Again, I’m amazed at what the director is able to pull off with this story. It is very much a bottled-in plot. You could easily turn this movie into a stage performance with a single set. Even with that limitation though, the director hardly uses the same camera shot twice. The framing is dynamic and conveys the confusing and changing developments of the movie. The close-up is used liberally as the tension builds.

The director, Tony Burgess, was clearly influenced by famous Orwellian radio plays like The War of the Worlds. It is a type of drama/horror that is hard to expresses in film, but this movie pulls it off. Simply hearing dialogue and newscasts is more scary than you’d think. The most terrifying moments are when a reporter calls in and describes the insane mob pulling people from a car and ripping them to pieces. Hearing the football player screaming, literally, like a baby gave me shivers. Not being able to see the ensuing chaos adds a new level of terror and fear. I’m a firm believer that horror is more what you don’t see, than what you do see. The things we imagine are much scarier because it adds us into the creative process. In essence, we end up making the monsters ourselves. The radio is a perfect medium for this brand of terror.    

Plot Progression
The style of Pontypool is great for a director because it allowed him to completely control the plot progression. All the information comes from call-ins and broadcasts, so the director has complete control of timing. The timing and pacing of the movie is great. The crisis grows from confusing, disconnected reports. I was so confused when the French alert warned that affectionate words and baby talk were related to the glowing plague.
Our understanding of the plague finally becomes clear at about 1:10 mins. And then there is a bit of a zombie-holdout scenario, a quick cure discovery, and then the movie is over. I thought this was the biggest problem with Pontypool. All build up, with very little bang. I spent an hour plus piecing together this catastrophe, investing emotionally into the characters, and then the movie just ends? Where is the dramatic fighting for our lives moment? Where was the, “let’s use our new found knowledge of the zombies to defeat them”? I wanted more of the classic zombie survival scenario. And it’s probably just because I do love zombie movies so much, but I was left wanting more. This movie gets you all hot and bothered with horror anxiety and then turns out to be a zombie-action tease.

But don't take my word for it. Listen the the director Tony Burgess discussing Pontypool.

Pontypool is a George Orwell radio horror for today. If you are a big fan of fast action and bloody monsters, this isn't the one for you. Grant, the shock-jock at a radio station in small-town Pontypool, listens to and broadcasts strange reports of lunacy spreading throughout the community. This movie brings terror through your ears and into your imagination. What you don't see, can scare you. The steady build of anxiety will leave you on pins and needles long after the credits roll. The premise of the movie is entirely unique and will keep you thinking and wondering. Without a lot of violence or gore, this movie could have easily been bumped down to PG-13 if they had knocked off a couple of f-words. But don’t let a low gore movie turn you off. The terror Pontypool creates in your mind is real enough. With quality acting and quality cinematography, this movie delivers the language of fear. 

Final Grade: B