Monthly Movie Journal: Halloween Edition
Newer releases to shock and terrify...
650 5.3 5.71. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Don't strain your eyes, there's nothing going on in the above frame...much like the rest of the film. And that would be fine by me if some kind of credible and effective mood or atmosphere was ever established. But unfortunately the "realism" of this project ended about 20 minutes into the ordeal, at which point dull conventions and contrivances took over.
This is the kind of sequel that makes me question why I ever liked the original. Well probably because, among the other things it had going for it, the first one was effective. Bright side is that I now know I don't need to spend 10 bucks to see Paranormal Activity 3 on the big screen.
305 6 6.22. Red State (2011)
Kevin Smith takes aim at religious fundamentalist crazies and U.S. Government agencies but misfires the entire way. What could have been a boldly sinister and controversial eye-opener lands with a flop as a laughably amateurish and crude exercise in self-aggrandizement. Had Smith populated his film with people instead of paper-thin caricatures, and if he'd have kept his tendency toward misplaced, self-satisfied humor in check, I'd maybe be able to somewhat forgive the other glaring structural faults of this cluster-fuck of a film. Instead the welcome presence of John Goodman (why he agreed to this is beyond me) serves as the only respite from the mind-numbing brainlessness of it all.
82 6.1 5.73. The Reef (2010)
Pretty people with accents in bathing suits traveling exotic locations. It's a classic setup, and one in which I've never not found something to enjoy. But of course when the strength of those aspects alone begin to fade, we have the promise of blood-thirsty sharks to rekindle our interest. But... it never quite plays out that way. Though the performances here are actually quite admirably strong, the script and direction lags too far behind to lift this title too far above other entries into the survival-horror genre. The scares just aren't there and neither is the suspense. If you ask me, the very similar film Open Water is far better and more effective in nearly every capacity.
53 6.5 5.64. Seconds Apart (2011)
158 6.4 6.55. Stake Land (2010)
Imagine Zombieland but replace the zombies with vampires and the humor with straight-up awesomeness. Then throw in some spectacular (anti)religious and social commentary and you've got Stake Land, a film that not only satisfies on a horror level, but is now one of my favorite films of 2010. This is not to be missed!
...but the language of horror is universal
82 7 6.56. Fear(s) of the Dark
5 short B&W animated stories linked together by a somewhat pretentious narration delivered by an uneasy liberal-guilt-ridden French woman. Some of these shorts are better than others (isn't that always the case) and the animation ranges from aesthetically interesting to dull and lifeless. Overall I was left a bit disappointed, though not enough to say I'm sorry I watched it.
Some of you may very well love it. Others will find it utterly useless.
54 5.1 5.57. Frostbitten (2006)
29 4.9 4.98. Harpoon (2009)
Thought I'd take a chance on this. It's Iceland's first ever horror movie and they've left themselves all kinds of room for improvement.
*@the giraffe-- (and anyone else that happens to be interested) I know it's not technically and strictly Bjork's song, but I feel you should know that this movie does horrible things to "It's Oh So Quiet"- twice! All the more reason to skip it, I say.
55 6 5.79. Hidden (2009)
Much of it is shot well and the performances are decent even if I wanted to punch the lead actor in his stupid looking face. The problem is that it's utterly devoid of its own identity. It's little more than a collection of "creepy" images and flash-back sequences presented at an achingly slow clip that in the end doesn't amount to much of anything at all memorable or rewarding.
For a bloody-good laugh.
301 6.9 7.210. Cemetery Man (1994)
118 6.1 6.111. The Cottage (2008)
256 6.7 6.912. Ravenous (1999)
An oddly enjoyable movie that has more than a few problems, and yet there's something undeniably and...deliciously entertaining about it. A strong performance from Guy Pierce goes a long way as well. Give it a look if you're in the mood for something different.
Because sometimes a good B-horror movie is just the thing.
26 5.7 313. Hisss (2010)
6 7 5.114. Night of the Scarecrow (1995)
Where I see what all the frightened fuss is about.
231 7.4 7.115. Carnival of Souls (1962)
It's a bit uneven during it's "serious" scenes, but most of this film works really well inside its horror elements. And my gosh do many of the shots look great, especially when you consider that the film was shot in Lawrence, Kansas on a $30,000 budget. You can't tell me Romero didn't see this one.
Also it's uncanny how modern this film feels in many ways. I'm no expert, but I'm inclined to say that it's one of the earliest origins of the "modern" horror film. Countless variations of this same film seem to get made every year.
20 5.6 5.616. Nightmare Castle (aka The Faceless Monster) (1965)
Nightmare Castle (1965)
Clumsy dialogue and delivery, especially from the male leads (the women fare better- especially Barbara Steele in a dual role) bog this one down a bit. The overall story isn't as bad though, and much of the photography and music is pretty good. The film really drags throughout the halfway point and beyond, but is partially redeemed by a strong final 5 or 6 minutes, where the makeup effects go on full display and S&M talk rules the day. Not one to go out of your way for unless you've got strong underlying motives. It's 5.6 IMDb rating feels spot on.
139 7.1 717. The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
292 7.9 7.618. Vampyr (1932)
WTF is right so, I'll leave it up to the pro:
174 6.6 6.419. White Zombie (1932)
I found it a better film than its rating suggests, even if only slightly. The mix of voodoo at work combined with the at the time entirely novel 'zombie' phenomenon makes for a darkly unsettling atmosphere. Perhaps most notable from the technical side is the film's highly unsettling (at times bordering annoying use of sound. Especially in regards to the various screeching birds and the giant, wooden wheel of zombie-dom.
And then there's of course Lugosi who plays his character in extremely bizarre and convincing fashion, crazy eyebrows and all. The film lies on the minor side of classic, but it's more or less essential for any avid horror fan.
No talkie here, just wide-eyed, mouth agape horrors.
1264 8 820. Nosferatu (1922)
327 7.4 7.721. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Wow! I couldn't believe how huge a production this thing was! Giant set-pieces, angry mobs, networks of sprawling underground tunnels, cellars, dungeons. And even an underground lake "hidden from man and the sun".
This one starts a bit slow and there's a lot of hamming it up going on, but this is a cheerfully awesome and darkly frightening horror film with a lot going for it, not least of all Lon Chaney's incredible, self-applied make-up job. The final third of the film is non-stop action and suspense that pulls out all stops. One final reason to appreciate the film is that it's success apparently helped pave the way for the production of many of the rest of Universal's classic horror films to follow.
Big Screen Scares
Watched 'em in the dark on the big screen.
456 6.8 6.622. Attack the Block (2011)
This one is about as much fun as you're likely to have at the movie theater all year. It absolutely excels as entertainment, but is bolstered by some rather brilliant maneuvers in social commentary that add real depth. It's almost exactly the kind of film that leads me to think that if someone can't get excited by something going on in this remarkable debut work, then that person probably just doesn't really like movies.
34 8.1 7.223. The Ghost Breakers (1940)
This is a comedic romp dressed up with just enough horror elements to land it on this list. And as far as I can tell it's criminally under-seen and under-talked about. The Ghost Breakers stars Bob Hope- before he became the Bob Hope most of us think of- as a fast-talking, wise-cracking radio personality and swinging bachelor. But he's neither as greasy nor as obnoxious as that description makes him sound. Think Fred Astaire, not Vince Vaughn. Then we have Paulette Goddard, who I'm ashamed to say I've never seen on screen before. Wow. What a fetching woman and pleasant screen presence she is!
The horror elements of the film involve a dusty old haunted castle along the shores of Cuba. This invites some dabbling with the business of voodoo and zombies (Between this film and White Zombie I've noticed a common theme running through the origins of cinematic zombie mythology) so yes the horror conventions are enough to satisfy. But it's the performances, characterization, and humor that really make this film tick and it's all helped along by a sharp screen play that absolutely pops.
Track this one down some time, it's a great deal of fun!
428 5.9 6.224. The Thing (2011)
For anyone still confused, this is NOT a remake of John Carpenter's 1982 Sci-fi horror film of the same title, nor for that matter is it a remake of the original The Thing from Another Planet. This is a prequel to Carpenter's film that tells the story of what happened at the Norwegian research camp just prior to the events captured in the 1982 film. The question then is, "Should anyone care?" Well I'll leave that for you to decide. Personally I loved the 1982 film and the fact that some studio decided they wanted to expand upon it isn't something that in any way offends me. Great. Bring it on!
So then, what have we got here? Well the film (perhaps wisely) never betrays the overall tone and look of the 1982 film. At times this really does feel like the same movie. The setting is of course more or less the same, the alien creature is essentially the same, and the same intense suspicion of one another settles in amongst the characters. This film might satisfy die-hard fans of Carpenter's vision for these reasons, but at the same time it plays everything so safe and follows such a similar path that 2011's The Thing never achieves its own identity. At times this prequel seems to mimic its sequel as closely as the alien species mimics its human hosts.
Sure there are some notable differences here, most obviously the fact that the lead-role is given to a woman whereas the previous film featured a strictly male cast. The woman in question is the American archeologist (played competently or better by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that specializes in, I dunno, frozen tundra wasteland digs I suppose. And we get a few looks at the vessel that brought malevolent life-form to Antarctica to begin with. (I remain unconvinced however that this creature would begin knowing how to fly the damn thing.)
Much like its predecessor this movie is more gory and kinda disgusting than it ever is scary- though I'd argue Carpenter's film had more in the way of fright than this one ever achieves. But I gotta tell you, the effects here look good, even if it's sometimes only in that trashy horror way. And I do like the fact that this film takes characterization more seriously than modern horror films are apt to do. I was reminded at certain points about why I love the Alien trilogy (Resurrection? Never heard of it..) as much as I do, though I don't mean to suggest that this movie ever achieves that level of cinematic awesomeness. All in all this was an agreeable enough creature feature, even if it refused to be anything more special.
What's left over.
201 6.5 6.725. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Been meaning to check this one out for a few years now and it definitely didn't disappoint. Combine the dark ingenuity of Man Bites Dog with the fun, self-aware style of Scream and you've essentially got Behind the Mask. Except in my mind it's arguably better than both those films, even if it does feature a couple of its own minor problems.
The premise here is really neat and slyly original and chock full of clever humor. In many ways the movie acts as a love-letter to the slasher films of the 80's and the entire film is designed to celebrate a horror fan's enthusiasm for the genre. This is a great movie to get you into the spirit of the season and I strongly recommend watching it, the earlier in the month the better!
currently streaming on Netflix
91 6.6 626. Lake Mungo (2008)
If you didn't think much of the original Paranormal Activity you likely won't care much for this. But while the overt scares are pretty infrequent there's a decent creepiness factor at work in this documentary-style movie. At times it feels akin to a "Ghost Hunters" episode, but at others the performances are fascinatingly fresh and authentic, keeping the film compelling enough all the way through.
46 7.2 6.427. Mad Monster Party? (1967)
195 6.7 6.728. Night of the Creeps (1986)
The blowtorch/shotgun show-down is about as much fun as anything out of 80's horror, but you really have to sit through a lot of shitty jokes and insufferable characters before you get there. One measly shower montage at times just doesn't seem like enough boobage to make it worthwhile ;) But on the other hand the opening 10 minutes are truly great and the film has just enough of it's own charms in between to bridge the gap.
564 7.6 7.529. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
54 6.3 5.730. To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Horror movie revisits.
768 7.6 831. Frankenstein (1931)
This can barely be considered a re-watch, it's been so long. I'd forgotten how drastically different the film is from the book (merely an observation, not a criticism) and I also maybe didn't realize just how remarkable this film is in many different ways. Really, it's one hell of a technical marvel, and the characterization and performances are very good. Glad I finally sat down to this one again!
3184 7.3 7.632. The Others (2001)
Deliciously Gothic and possesses a unique, confident, and fully realized identity. Nicole Kidman delivers an arresting performance that works as the backbone for the entire atmosphere of the film. The set-design and cinematography are marvelous and the music channels the classic ominous fright of classic horror, but also lends an intensity that we love from effective modern horror scores. The child-actors are capable here too, while the trio of house-keepers strike a nice balance between harboring dark, unknown mysteries in certain scenes and threatening to give the game away in others.
Much is made of the twist-ending, but the real joy (and sadness) in experiencing the film don't rely on the final act reveals. While it's been a decade since I last saw the film, I remembered more or less exactly where it was heading. But I didn't remember just how great the film is as a whole.
3625 6.4 7.133. The Ring (2002)
Assessing the Damage
Halloween month in review...
355 7.3 7.334. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)
My Quick Pick Six (Scares)
Good: Attack the Block // Cemetery Man
Bad: Red State // Harpoon
Weird: Vampyr // Fear(s) of the Dark
14 6.7 6.535. Surprise Cinema (2000)
There's too many contenders for most welcome surprise of the month, but I have to say that Behind the Mask, Stake Land and The Ghost Breakers all generated far more excitement from me than I ever would've guessed.
The biggest letdown goes to Paranormal Activity 2 with Red State right behind it.
3 8 6.136. Looking Back (1969)
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