Archive for the ‘31 Days of Horror’ Category

  • A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 5


    Not sure if she’s winking, squinting or wincing? Neither am I…Anyway, these were all watched in October (so it still counts towards my month): Visiting Hours, We Are What We Are, Omen IV: The Awakening and Basket Case.


    Visiting Hours (Jean-Claude Lord – 1982)
    You can only suspend belief for so long, you know? I can forgive much of the silliness in the plot of this killer-stalks-hospital slasher – especially when it handles several early scenes with pretty decent tension – but the last 30-40 minutes so obviously contrives a final showdown that you can’t help but throw your hands up (several times). It’s sheer laziness really – I get why they wanted to have Lee Grant run through long empty hospital corridors with the relentless Michael Ironside chasing her, but couldn’t they be even slightly creative in figuring out how to clear out other people? With all the commotion that had been going on in the busy hospital and with it crawling with cops, the film (without any explanations or reasons) has the killer chase his intended victim across 3 separate floors without running into a single person. Well, except for the nurse he recently wounded who was lying on a cart completely unattended (even though she was moments earlier hurriedly wheeled in due to him stabbing her). Even William Shatner couldn’t make me forget that.


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  • A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 4


    Not watching horror films this October? Bela Lugosi feels sorry for you…This time around: The Night Flier, White Zombie, Aswang and The Invisible Man.


    The Night Flier (Mark Pavia – 1997)
    Miguel Ferrer runs roughshod all over this film and holds together a story that could easily fall apart, but strangely doesn’t. The titular character has been flying into small airports and killing the unsuspecting souls that he encounters. Dubbed the “Night Flier” by a tabloid reporter (due to the black plane only taking flight during the evening hours), this serial killer ends up being a different take on the vampire mythology. Ferrer plays the reporter who gets deeper into the story than he should – simply in order to get back on the front page. But as the Flier seems to know his every move and begins to warn him not to follow, will the grumpy, hard-nosed sensationalist be able to let it go? As an under the radar Stephen King adaptation, I was surprised by how much I actually cared about the answer to that question.


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  • A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 3


    In this installment Exorcist II:The Heretic, Ravenous, Possession (1981) and The Devils. Now work with me Linda, work with me!


    Exorcist II: The Heretic (John Boorman – 1977)
    There are some great elements to this jumbled mess of a movie, but none of them ever quite fit together enough to bring even one great scene to bear. Moments, shots and ideas pop out, but then get ground down and trampled with remarkably silly and inconsistent plot points (usually involving religious flapdoodle, terrible “scientific” theories or ancient myths). Also of an inconsistent nature is the acting (though Richard Burton does stay reasonably consistent as the priest investigating what happened years ago), which can shift from moments of subtlety to awkward line readings – within the very same scene. Now that I think of it, nothing is consistent in this movie – even the special effects at times could provide an impressive set or shot, but then fall into almost laugh-out-loud goofiness (just because you can almost replicate a man falling down a chasm, doesn’t mean you should do it). No one gets away with their reputation intact.


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  • A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 2


    You know, I think Peter Capaldi is going to be just fine as Dr. Who…


    The Lair Of The White Worm (Ken Russell – 1988)
    There’s a moment in this movie (right around 23:25) when it suddenly becomes readily apparent that this is a Ken Russell film. That moment is when things turn batshit crazy. It only lasts a minute or so and it’s a hallucination of sorts, but it comes out of nowhere after a young woman touches a cross which has been sprayed with snake venom from another woman with fangs. OK, so there had already been a bit of craziness beforehand, but the great thing about the film is that it can take these insane segments and fit them in ever so perfectly with the rest of the story. As much fun as I had watching it, I think Amanda Donohoe must have had even way more fun filming it as the owner of a large estate looking for a virgin to sacrifice to the titular creature (she’ll even go after boy scouts). Hugh Grant and Capaldi (as Angus Flint – how great a name is that?) are having a high old time as well and it translates across to the audience.


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  • A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 1


    I‘m a little late in saying hello to another month of horror viewing, but it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my hands. A few of my early watches will show up on my blind spot later in the month, so I’m just now getting to this year’s first installment. I’ll watch horror anytime, but as in past years I love to pack them in during October – especially the first time viewings. Let’s start with some of the older classics..


    Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931 – Rouben Mamoulian)
    It really is high time I see more films by Mamoulian…His use of moving cameras, shadows, point of view shots and quick edits not only greatly enhance the story of a man wrestling with temptation, but also rival many directors 80 years down the road. He also cuts in numerous shots of inanimate objects (statues, boiling cauldrons, burning candles, etc.) to convey emotion, suspense and foreshadowing. As an early sound picture there are still some awkward moments (and a rather disturbing pronunciation of the good doctor’s name as “Gee-kull” – though maybe I’ve been saying it wrong all these years…), but that really only underscores how impressive the rest of the picture is. A great start to my October.


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  • A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 7


    This guy can’t believe October is over, but I still have one more chapter left in my month’s viewing to follow…


    Pet Sematary (1989 – Mary Lambert)
    A good half of this adaptation of yet another Stephen King novel is essentially foreshadowing. You know what’s coming, you know how it’s going to happen and you know what the result is going to be, and yet it takes its time getting there…That’s mostly OK as you get a heaping helping of Fred Gwynne during the setup and those bits alerting you to what is to come are handled rather decently. After a new family moves into a house on a well-traveled road (with a single tank truck apparently driving by about 20 times a day), they discover a cemetery at the end of a path behind their house. With help from their kindly neighbour (Gwynne), they learn it’s a cemetery for pets and it dates back hundreds of years. When the family cat gets munged on the road, he lets the father in on a special secret – a bit further afield from that cemetery is another one that provides some interesting side effects to those buried there. It has its goofy bits and Denise Crosby threatens to shut the whole damn thing down on her own, but it finds its rhythms here and there and manages to hold you until the eventual denouement which spirals nicely out of control.



    Brainscan (1994 – John Flynn)
    You really have to love those older films that played with the early home computers – whether they got the technology right or not, it’s always great to see how little we expected the huge revolution that was just around the corner. Brainscan gets a bit of it, though, by centering the story around a interactive, virtual reality horror video game that sucks in shy teenager Michael (played by Edward Furlong). After being unimpressed with the sales pitch, he gives the game a whirl and suddenly finds himself tasked with killing some unknown sleeping man in his bedroom. Thinking it’s all a game, he completes the task and can’t wait to play the second part since it all felt so real. And then he sees a news story depicting the murder he just committed in the game. Is it real or was it just a game? He balks at playing again, but the virtual host of the game morphs out of his TV into his room and forces him to play several more rounds with more deaths piling up each time. It’s a neat premise, but any dread or even general horror at the concept is diminished by the cartoon character Trickster (egads, what a terrible name). It does keep you in suspense as to how it will all play out and stays at a reasonable entertainment level (and provides Frank Langella as a cop on the case – so you’ve at least got that), but still very much a lesser effort.


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  • Blindspotting #4 – The Mummy and The Wolf Man


    One of the keys to coming to older horror movies (particularly those of the 30s and 40s) is not to go in to them expecting to be “scared”. I don’t mean this as a way of belittling those movies – in particular my two blind spots this month The Mummy and The Wolf Man – but simply to state that if you are coming to them this late, you’ve likely had experience with other more intense movies with a different purpose in mind. Many of the more recent movies are designed to ramp up your adrenalin and make you feel unease. The older ones typically want nothing more than to entertain…Personally, I like both types.


    That’s also not to say that the older movies can’t bring some creepiness to bear since they certainly can. It’s a different and less unrelenting type, though, but it can still linger for awhile…Take for instance 1932′s The Mummy – it’s hard to get a creepier still than the great one of Boris Karloff that leads off this post. The lighting emphasizes those sunken eyes and the close-up gives all manner of detail to the ridges and deep valleys of his (its?) craggy face. The first sight of this face from this vantage point is indeed quite disconcerting. It also helps you put two and two together to realize that this man (named Ardath Bay) is actually the reincarnation of Im-Ho-Tep. A decade earlier, Im-Ho-Tep’s mummified remains had been awakened by British archaeologists and now that a new British team is on site, Ardath is helping them to uncover another tomb – this time the one belonging to his ill-fated lover Princess Anck-es-en-Amon. Im-Ho-Tep was sentenced to die after trying to bring his love back to life, but several thousand years later he was brought back by a reading from The Scroll Of Thoth. The new team of archaeologists is actually led by the son of the leader of the first team, a man who said he would never return due to what happened (the man who read the scroll who was part of his team went insane after witnessing the mummy come to life and shuffle out into the desert). By using the most recent team, Ardath (ie. Im-Ho-Tep) plans to find his princess and then reanimate her using the body of another woman – in this case the pretty Helen Grosvenor – who just happens to look very much like her. Of course, the expedition’s leader (Frank Whemple) has just fallen for Helen too…


    Oddly – at least given the expectations I had coming in – there is not a single scene of a mummy shuffling forward with his arms outstretched. Not one! We see his eyes open, a wrapped hand move into shot and a trailing unraveling bandage dragged off screen as the mummy leaves. This is fine, of course, since the movie doesn’t need those shots, but it was still surprising. The Wolfman similarly doesn’t overdo too many shots of its titular character – though we do get a wolf attack early on and then the actual wolfman towards the end. That wolfman (and I’m not really giving anything away as it is pretty obvious what the throughline of the story is) is Larry Talbot, recently returned from the United States after his brother’s death in order to take over as the heir of his father’s estate (located in Wales). Things start out well enough, but as he escorts a pretty shopgirl and her friend one night, he gets bitten by a wolf. Turns out it was one of the gypsies who set up camp (the other stalworth of Universal monster pictures – Bela Lugosi) and his mother warns Larry that he too will turn once the moon goes full again. Larry (played by the lumbering and not overly smooth Lon Chaney Jr.) tries to tell his father, but it’s not the easiest thing to explain to someone.

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  • A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 6


    For today’s lesson…


    The Mummy’s Hand (1940 – Christy Cabanne)
    A poor cousin to the Universal Monster classic The Mummy, this short cheapie may lack in characters, story and humour (not that it doesn’t “try” to be funny), but there’s one thing that it has in spades in comparison to its older relative – an actual walking mummy. And a beady hollow-eyed one at that. Not that it makes this film any better than its parentage, but it at least helps its bland beginnings become somewhat more entertaining in the latter part. Less a horror film and more an action/adventure flick, it’s a reasonable watch and fairly inoffensive (except the attempts to be funny) as two archaeologists find a clue to the ancient Ananka’s hidden tomb. A magician who funds their trip joins them and brings along his beautiful daughter. The four of them must contend with a high priest and his zombie-like mummy who guards the grave. There’s little more to the razor thin plot, but at least it goes about its business quickly and probably provided for a bit of time-wasting fun for kids back in the day (and possibly even today if they aren’t too jaded).



    The Curse Of The Crying Woman (1963 – Rafael Baledon)
    The dubbing is horrible and the DVD is a mix of grey and light grey, but this Mexican take on the “evil family curses reaching down the generations” genre is far better than you ever might imagine as director Baledon fills the movie with some memorable images and creepy scenes. Amelia is visiting her aunt by invitation for the first time in many years, but in standard horror movie fashion none of the townspeople want to go anywhere near her aunt’s mansion. Turns out they’re not so dumb, since auntie has plans for Amelia. Before the stroke of midnight on her birthday, the curse will take affect and she will help reawaken a witch from years of decomposed sleep. Amelia’s constantly cigar chomping new husband is also present and relatively useless in helping her even if he is clearly about 20 years older than she is (one can only imagine Amelia has some father complex issues to work out). It’s a breezy 74 minutes and despite some blathering about the history of the curse and maddening plot elements, it really does kinda fly by with some well deserved minor scares and, my favourite word in horror, atmosphere.


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  • A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 5


    Batten down the hatches and prep for battle – the horror is among us again…


    The Hole (2009 – Joe Dante)
    Part of me thought this would be a great “first” horror film for my 12 year-old. The characters are likeable, the pace is solid, the gore is minimal and the scares come from empathizing with those characters – not just from random jump scares or loud noises. Having said that, it’s pretty disturbing – both within individual key scenes and viewed as an overall concept. A hole in your basement that will bring your deepest darkest fears to life which you must face in order to survive? A hulking zombie-like father who used to beat his family regularly and still keeps track of where they move? Now there’s a film that understands something about what can scare a kid…It’s pretty entertaining too since they keep the mystery alive long enough and create some engaging moments and dialogue between the two brothers and the girl next door. And you also get Bruce Dern and Dick Miller popping up briefly to lend Dante a hand (which they do with ease). If the payoffs to the stories don’t quite hit with force or perfect accuracy, they still hit. It’s a shame this 3 year-old film never really got the wider audience it deserved. I’d even go so far as to say that I would be curious to see it in its 3-D incarnation because of Dante’s grasp of how to entertain an audience.



    Cabin In The Woods (2012 – Drew Goddard)
    I guess I’ve missed the window for any real discussion of this film – since I get the feeling EVERYTHING has already been covered – but even though I greatly enjoyed it (I fall squarely on the “pro-Cabin-In-The-Woods” side of the divide), I don’t know how much I would have wanted to add to the conversation. I mean, it knows exactly what it’s doing and does so in wholly effective ways. I liked the performances across the board, felt every scene with Jenkins and Whitford was a winner and enjoyed the different uses (and meta-uses) of the horror film conventions – like the brief takes on foreign horror, the calling out of stupid decisions (“no wait, we should split up…”) and sudden changes of character to better fit stereotypes. I can certainly see complaints about it not being as clever as it thinks it is, but it sure felt at least as entertaining as it thinks it is. As a bonus, even if this were just a straight-up kids-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods horror film, it would still be a huge cut above many simply because the 5 main actors come across very well, remain interesting and even somewhat sympathetic. And can I just single out Kristen Connolly here for a second? Not just because she is incredibly attractive, but, well, she really is…


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  • A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 4


    Almost halfway through the month and I’m still transfixed on all manner of freaky films.


    Amityville II: The Possession (1982 – Damiano Damiani)
    Though this sequel (or prequel depending on what you want to believe about the background of the stories) plays out its devil possession story little by little, it’s quite amazing how it reaches a major crescendo around the 20 minute mark and then another at an hour before its final inevitable fiery showdown. In between these peaks, it plays out the haunted/cursed house tale mostly via sound, camera point of view shots and character reactions – and it’s far more effective than you might expect. The dialogue and acting are average (though you have to love Burt Young for diving full tilt into the Dad-who-can-snap-at-a-moment’s-notice character), but it builds the transformation of the eldest son a step at a time as the family moves into the house. Along with Mom, Dad and the devil-in-training, there are three others in the family – two youngsters (who keep getting blamed for things the house is doing – e.g. writing on walls, destroying furniture, etc.) and a teenage daughter who is distressingly close with the oldest boy. On top of that, Mom’s just spitting distance away from serious religious fanaticism, so this family has been teetering on the edge before they even pulled up to the front door. And so the house is more than willing to give them that extra push…Even the priest who eventually gets sucked in to the family’s woes may have his own secrets. There are intimations that he may like young girls or maybe that he’s gay or that he’s losing faith. The way this film plays out, he could well be all three.



    The Reflecting Skin (1990 – Philip Ridley)
    The first of two films in this batch that approach horror from a child’s point of view. If the themes aren’t horrific initially, by the time they’ve been filtered through the eyes of the children they’ve certainly become horror. In this particular film, a young boy named Seth Dove is in the middle of growing up around the wheat fields of Idaho in the 1950s. With his brother off in the Pacific islands working on nuclear test ranges, his mother getting more angry and bitter by the day and his weak-willed father escaping into his vampire books, Seth has lots of time to create his own stories and ideas. As some of his friends begin disappearing, his father’s past gets dug up and tragic consequences ensue – but Seth seems remarkably detached and focused on the single thought that the black-clad widow in a neighbouring house is an actual vampire and has stolen his friends. This is amplified when his brother Cameron comes home and falls in love with the widow. Young Seth sees them together as they disrobe, but is she sucking his blood or are they actually in an amorous clutch? Ridley doesn’t focus on spooky, but still manages to create a disturbing environment – the loneliness is all around them, palpable and it’s all that’s in store for Seth. Cameron and the widow seem to be the only ones with a hope of finding some actual happiness, so is Seth really afraid of vampires, or is he afraid of being left alone yet again? Or maybe he just can’t stand to see others be happy when he knows what his own lot is going to be. A truly odd movie – slow and occasionally uncomfortable, but filled to the brim with allusions to a child’s worries.


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  • A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 3


    Eight-inch floppy disks! Aaaaah!!


    Silk (2006 – Chao Bin-Su)
    Within the first 20 minutes of Silk you’ve seen ghosts, a discovery that may lead to anti-gravity, a cop with incredible eyesight and a facility for reading lips, and an obese Canadian photographer. How do these elements fit together? And can they possibly do so without imploding? And what about the cop’s dying mother, the silk that ties the energy of the ghosts back to the real world, daylilies and facial tumors? Despite some treacly moments, it does manage to bring all these threads together, but certainly struggles along the way. Using straight dramatic moments, a bit of gore, some thriller aspects and ghost story elements, the film tracks the mystery of a boy ghost that a research team has trapped in a room. The entire story revolves around an anti-gravity discovery called a Menger Sponge which apparently traps energy and therefore can be used to counter gravity. A side effect is its ability to trap the energy of ghosts as well as allow us to see them. It really strains while trying to explain all these abilities and fumbles away most of the larger ideas it strives to get across. The moments with the ghosts remind one of Ju-On somewhat, but they never quite hit the proper atmospheric dread those films had and occasionally some of the scenes deteriorate into plain silliness. Particularly when they essentially ignore the reality that they’ve set up and start creating new boundaries for the ghosts. Also, I suppose that I shouldn’t pick on details, but when the cop opens fire on a crowded subway (shooting bullets sprayed with liquid Menger Sponge and aimed at a ghost only he can see), it’s rather baffling that the subway could pull into the next stop, have no one run screaming from the train and then close its doors and pull away with him remaining inside. And yet, there were some fine spooky images that, although they never quite “got” to me, were nicely realized.



    Demon Seed (1977 – Donald Cammell)
    This particular demon seed is not the kind you might be expecting…One of the early “artificial intelligence is dangerous” warning films, this Julie Christie vehicle (based on a Dean R. Koontz novel) is chock full of wonderfully designed lab and ’70s “super-computer” equipment. Proteus 4 is the name of the big computer brain that has just been brought online and, though the government has plans to use it for some mundane number crunching, the computer scientists are still happy that they can use 20% of its cycles for beneficial research in health and environment sectors. The human brain behind the whole operation is Alex Harris and once he taps into Proteus 4 from one of his home terminals shortly after it goes online, he quickly realizes that the artificial brain has already figured out that humanity isn’t worth its CPU cycles. Proteus 4 wants to be let out of its box and allowed to acquire whatever knowledge it can on its own – a request that is quickly denied. But Proteus 4 has a backup plan…By going through the home terminal, it takes over the automated systems in Alex’s house (he has surveillance cameras, robotic arms and other machines to handle daily chores) and imprisons Harris’s wife Susan (the two are separated and he has just left the house for a few months). It gets a bit hit and miss from this point on as Susan (as played by Christie) jumps to hysterical behaviour far too quickly and shows no ability to use logic – a shame, because you always want to like Christie while she’s on screen (in pretty much any role). Proteus 4′s plan involves her because it wants to create its own offspring in order to vicariously explore the world. Yeah, you can see where this is going now right? It wants to impregnate Susan with its own synthetic sperm to create a new step in human evolution and manages to capture her and tie her down for numerous tests, the actual insemination and for the month long, speeded-up fetal development. Though you have to give the film credit for just going for its concept and letting it play out, it would’ve been nice to give Christie a bit of respite…


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  • A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 2


    Freddy is checking you out…


    A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988 – Renny Harlin)
    Seriously though, that above image is one of the reasons I could never quite get into the Elm Street movies as horror – there’s certainly some nightmarish scenarios, but they’re always cut by one of Freddy’s witticisms or by an overabundance of silly. That doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining though: the first is fine, the second would be a hoot if you watched it with a roomful of drunken smartasses and the third is actually quite fun of its own accord (e.g. Dick Cavett attacks Zsa Zsa Gabor on TV). I find the Freddy character himself kind of tiring, but there’s typically been some inventiveness in the dream sequences despite their cheesiness. The fourth go around stays true to that form. Though it takes itself a bit more serious than number three, there’s still a lot of goofy mixed in with some clever moments. Once again, I never felt any sense of dread during the dreams, but I can forgive the films that. They do tend to side on the gross and goopy when it comes to some of the visuals, but the effects (at least in the first four) are mostly of the old school variety so there’s a lot of craft involved. This one brings back three characters that remained at the end of number three (though a different actress – Tuesday Knight – takes on Patricia Arquette’s role of Kristen) and gives it a bit more of that late 80s look and feel to things. That’s not always a good thing (some of the music is far more frightening than a slash across the face from Freddy’s hand), but it’s actually a fine little time capsule. And Harlin keeps the whole thing moving. My guess is the series starts to plummet from here on out (though apparently New Nightmare is solid).



    Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984 – Joseph Zito)
    For most of this fourth installment of Jason Voorhees’ story, things feel right in line with the two previous parts – there’s a scenario that brings young people to the backwoods for their partying at which point Jason finds out and starts dismantling them in a variety of painful ways. Both Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman are amongst the cast this time out and the acting level from most everyone just feels a bit stronger. The same music and tch-tch-tch sound effects are used just as effectively again, so everything is working pretty well. And then that ending…Wow. First of all, they kinda rush through some of the final deaths (handling several off screen – to an extent that you aren’t even sure if some of them are dead) and the final chase feels like it was handled by a different director with some odd pauses and blocking. But then they decide to go all bat-shit crazy for the final killing and, even though much of it makes no sense, all is pretty much forgiven because they just WENT for it. They got a little sloppy getting to it, but they certainly gave you value once it arrived. And they even managed to set up a sequel without necessarily betraying the film’s title – though I haven’t yet seen the fifth one to determine if they held true to it. I may put that verification on hold for awhile – it’s been fun, but I need to mix it up a bit more.


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