Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #7

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983) -- Tommy Lee Wallace
Andrea was not a fan of this, but I think it's a lot of fun. Sure, there are things I wish had been different.  I wish that Tom Atkins ran through the streets yelling at everyone to take off the masks, even forcibly removing them from kid's heads instead of being a remote protagonist (so that it was more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or any "one man's paranoia" movie). I wish the ending wasn't so half-hearted and that the main threat was a national issue that will go off at 9 PM in each time zone. What? News can't travel across the country in 1982 even without Twitter? The minute the east coast went down, the rest of the country should know what happened. I wish that Joe Dante had directed this, as was originally planned. Sure, it might have meant no Police Squad! episodes or his short in Twilight Zone: The Movie (which is the best short), but he would have brought a lot more style (and Dick Miller) to the show. I wish that the Halloween series had continued making a different movie based around the holiday instead of diving back into the Michael Myers well (I'm pretty sure he ends up in a well at the end of one of the sequels).

Still, you gotta love a plot line that involves the occult and a conspiracy to kill the nation's children. Plus, the more people who see it, the more people will undertand when you start singing this:

Wilderness (2006) -- Michael J. Bassett
Wilderness started an unofficial "isolated group" triple feature while I was making my Halloween costume. Since I was going to be distracted, I tried to pick movies I didn't think I'd have to pay much attention to, so no silent/foreign movies and nothing with apparent goals other than cheap thrills.

Sean Pertwee is cornering the market on movies where groups of people are hunted down in the woods. He's got Dog Soldiers and this under his belt and he is awesome in both. The man can act. The story here is that a group of kids in juvenile detention are sent to a remote island for team building and punishment. As it turns out, someone else is there to hunt them. There's some interesting things done with characterization and I feel like it's saying something about the natures of bullying and blame, but really, it's just a pretty cool movie. The characters are pretty intelligent and no one is doing anything for the sake of plot. Quite a pleasant surprises.

Elevator (2011) -- Stig Svendsen
Speaking of surprises... wow. If you've seen Devil and are put off by the "people trapped in elevators" genre, well this one puts that one to shame. The characters start out painted with broad strokes and speak lines of dialogue that sound contrived to give the viewer more information than would normally be expected from this situation, but they soon develop distinct personalities. Much like in Wilderness, these people are reasonably intelligent about their situation (even if those outside the elevator are not). My personal favorite is Martin who is a suck-up, but subtly funny and decent (and is mind-blowingly played by the guy who played Buzz in Home Alone! I can barely believe it and yes, he has gained a few pounds), but you come to appreciate all of the characters for what they bring to the table (except for the little girl... how I hate her).

I am not lying. This is a damn fun movie. This (and Wilderness) are on Netflix Instant View.

Rogue (2007) -- Greg Mclean
I am a sucker for movies about angry animals. Especially giant, angry animals. Even the SyFy variety. They are absolutely ridiculous in most cases, but who doesn't love seeing people get torn apart by ravenous beasties? Rogue takes the giant croc/alligator pretty seriously, as opposed to Lake Placid, but we won't hold that against the movie. First off, it's directed by the guy who directed Wolf Creek, so he gets the benefit of the doubt out of the gate (seriously, Mclean doesn't get enough work. This was his last movie). Secondly, Radha Mitchell is allowed to use her native accent which automatically means she's a better actress. Thirdly, the characters make very few uncalculated risks (seriously, I must have been a good boy today and rewarded with good genre movie-watching). And lastly, PEOPLE GET EATEN BY A GIANT CROCODILE!

Interestingly, Mia Wasikowska (who plays the teenage girl) probably has the most active and highest profile career right now. Who would've guessed?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #6

Theatre of Blood (1973) -- Douglas Hickox
This is worth seeing just for the chance to watch Vincent Price play dress-up. He has more costume changes than a Lady Gaga concert (reference!). I not-so-long-ago learned that Price is a far better actor than those parodying him give him credit for. This isn't Shakespeare, except it is. Just more fun for the actor. Kevin Smith should just point people to Theatre of Blood so he can finally shut up about how much he hates critics.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) -- Bill Melendez
Classic. Plain and simple. It's easy to forget that the Peanuts specials are insanely clever and witty in ways children can't understand. I was carving pumpkins while watching this and the disc continued on to a special called It's Magic, Charlie Brown from 1981. My impulse was to stop watching and put something else on, but I'm very happy I didn't. Once you get passed the off-model voices, the story is quite amusing. Snoopy turns Charlie Brown invisible at a magic show and he spends much of the special that way. It's The Invisible Man by way of Peanuts. Charlie Brown is even feistier than usual. Plus, he finally gets to kick the football! (I'm still not sure why Lucy was holding it for no one)

Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985) -- Phil Roman
The Garfield of my youth had teeth. There are these infamous string of comics from 1989 and Garfield: His Nine Lives, which aside from having a variety of drawing/animation styles also features some stories that creeped me the hell out. Even Garfield's Scary Tales from 1990 had some pictures that made me afraid of certain pages. So don't be surprised when I tell you that Garfield's Halloween Adventure haunted my nightmares for a long time. The voice of the Old Man, the sense of dread, the ghosts (which are awesomely drawn), basically, everything after the songs stopped was terrifying. I love this special. And the songs still play on repeat in my brain.

Reflecting on my experiences watching this really make me appreciate being scared as a kid. You grow out of it and it becomes a fun memory that you can share with anyone of your age group and they will have had similar if no the exact same experience. Does anyone remember these? I don't know if I ever opened one up, the covers were so intimidating. (Sorry, I'm feeling particularly nostalgic about childhood scares after reading this... mostly the comments).

Ghost Story (1981) -- John Irvin
This started out with such promise: a frightened, naked man crashing through a window and falling to a pool side death. Awesome. Things go along swimmingly until the brother of the aforementioned man starts telling his scary story to get into this old man's club (simplified, but I really don't want to go into the intricacies of this plot). This story is a dead end and if the viewer is to believe everything is being told the the group of men as we are seeing it, then this particular storyteller must get off on telling old men how much crazy sex he's having with his girlfriend. We come back to present day and the movie gets good again until ANOTHER story is told, this time giving us critical backstory. This flashback is way too long and boring, too, and features a lot less nudity. I'm fairly certain that a decent movie could be constructed if you simply cut out the flashbacks. Conversely, had more, but shorter/tighter stories being told.

Honestly, the most notable aspect of this movie is that Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, and John Houseman are the four old men (the last film for all but Houseman). Most of the time I found myself asking what these men thought about the full-frontal male nudity and boobage on display when (if) they ever watched the entire thing. I imagine lots of "harrumph"-ing, indeed.

There's a lot about Ghost Story I want to talk about, but not here. Not now. This is a pretty effective trailer, though.

The Old Dark House (1932) -- James Whale
MELVYN DOUGLAS?! Again? What are the odds? I'm ridiculously and inexplicably happy about this coincidence (I post in the order I watch). It should be no surprise, but The Old Dark House is much better than Ghost Story, though sadly not as good as I'd hoped. It's still loads of fun with some great performances from Douglas, Charles Laughton, and Raymond Massey (who would eventually assume the role Boris Karloff, his co-star in this film, created the film Arsenic and Old Lace). Douglas is especially applealing.

This is quite different than the William Castle remake, which I'm glad about, but the house wasn't as much of a character as I was expecting. Most of the action takes place in one room and a staircase. There isn't much sense of a creeping dread and the actual threat is somewhat benign compared to my expectation. I could convince myself that that's all part of the comedy (much like Whale's Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, there is a lot of comedy featured), but I'm not sure that satisfies me.

Aside from not meetin my plot expectations, The Old Dark House is a lot of fun and totally worth checking out. At 72 minutes, there's not much of an argument against it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #5

Burke and Hare (2010) -- John Landis
The Hole is Joe Dante's first feature film in eleven years. Burke and Hare is John Landis' first film in twelve. It makes me sad that men who have made movies this good aren't finding the work/funding for their cinematic projects (these men both shot segments for Twilight Zone: The Movie, notoriously for Landis, unfortunately).

Burke and Hare comes out a bit ahead of The Hole in terms of entertainment. Plain and simple, Landis has the better cast. Simon Pegg, Jennifer Hynes (together again!), Andy Serkis, Bill Bailey, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Jenny Agutter (the female lead of An American Werewolf in London), Christopher Lee, Ray Harryhausen(!), Stephen Merchant, Hugh Bonneville, and a host of others that I'm certain if you watch enough British television, that you'd be right familiar with. It's the tale of two men who resort to murder to get a physician bodies for his research. Unfortunately, it doesn't get the balance of comedy to horror right and I'm not even sure it tried. There's potential for a terrific dark comedy here, and while Burke and Hare is fun as the dickens, it feels like a missed opportunity and a trifle.

Still, if you dig Landis or the cast, it's totally worth checking out.

I don't know why they used the voiceover guy who does all the wacky kids movie trailers, but whatever...

The Invisible Man (1933) -- James Whale
Somehow, I'd been operating under the delusion that I'd seen this movie before. I even rated it on Netflix (a sacred task held in the utmost esteem by myself. Much self-flagellation followed this discovery. A penance for my sins). I have distinct memories of watching a (non-John Carpenter directed) invisible man movie with Claude Rains, though now I wonder if I'm combining his appearance in The Wolf Man with watching Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man, though it's just as likely that I watched The Invisible Man Returns without knowing.

Be that as it may, The Invisible Man is terrific. I need to re-watch Bride of Frankenstein, but right now it's my favorite of the Universal horror classics. There's lots of action and humor (though Una O'Connor is WAY too much for me. Her wailing and screeching is enough to put me off hearing. She does the same in Whale's Bride of Frankenstein, too), but my favorite aspect is how intelligently people approach the invisible issue. First, Claude Rains has an amazing speech about all of his limitations that actually answers a lot of the silly questions people ask about the idea of an invisible person (what happens when it eats? and such). Then we have the inherent absurdity of what it would be like to pursue an invisible man. Lots of fun (and somewhat intelligent) ideas are tossed out on how to catch him and the police have to sweep across the room with a net to make sure that it's clear. It's all very silly, but stuff that has to be done. That it's done with the utmost sincerity is what makes it great.

This movie is awesome.

Dracula (1931) -- Tod Browning
Where the silliness of The Invisible Man is inherent in the story and not an accidental product of the production, a good 40% of Dracula is ridiculous. Yes, Bela Lugosi is an icon, but dear lord, there are some odd choices. The most glaring is the repeated cuts to spot lights on his eyes. If only done once or twice, it would be effective. Instead, they go to it five or six times, most within a short span of each other. Lugosi's line deliveries are often quite stilted, too. He's so much better in The Wolf Man or even Island of Lost Souls (where he's virtually indistinguishable). He has less to do, but everything feels so much more natural. Van Helsing is another character who I can't take seriously. Interstingly, Edward Van Sloan (who plays Van Helsing) and Lugosi reprised their stage roles. Maybe they didn't adjust their performances quite right for the different medium.

Fortunately, Dracula gets legitimately creepy once in England and the stalkings begin. I found it odd that much of Lucy's role is missing. I don't recall her death and they don't deal with her re-death at the hands of Van Helsing, though they mention that she's been dealt with. There's a disjointed feel to the movie. Allegedly, Browning tore pages out of the script that he felt were unnecessary and was emotionally unfit during production, so that may explain it. Whatever the reason, It's my firm belief that Dracula is the weakest of the Universal movies, even if it massively outsold our Frankenstein screenings. What does the public know?

The Hand (1981) -- Oliver Stone
The first twenty minutes of The Hand are pretty awesome, then it turns into some cliche-ridden story of a marriage falling apart. Michael Caine plays a comic writer/artist who loses his hand while arguing with his wife in the car (an amazing scene). Eventually, she finds an excuse to be away from him for a while and his anger increases and the people at whom he is angry start to die.

It's no great spoiler to tell you that Caine is doing the killing. At no point does The Hand entertain the idea that some supernatural element has caused his severed hand to rise up and kill, an uncontrollable manifestation of his Id. The pattern goes, he likes someone, gets mad at them, they die. There's some fun stylish things going on, but it's really a waste of a cool premise.

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) -- Benjamin Christensen
This is an interesting movie. Haxan plays like a documentary at times and like a fiction film about witchcraft at others. There are a LOT of intertitles and a lot of information is given to the audience through them, which makes it feel like a classroom lecture at times. However, and it's hard for me to know for sure if it's intentional, Haxan is subtly hilarious. Part of my struggle is that, while I know snark, irony, and satire existed before the rise of the internet, the use of it here feels very modern. It's almost like the teacher is undercutting his own lecture by design.

Take, for instance, the appearance of the devil. Rarely, possibly never, do we see him without his tongue sticking out and waggling at some woman. There are several times that this devil is scene churning some kind of hellish butter while looking at women. The monks featured in the film use methods to determine witches equally as mystical and absurd as anything a witch might practice and are portrayed in a distinctly more heinous light than anyone practicing witchcraft and a woman they've tortured for information gives the names of people with whom she has petty grievances.

Haxan takes place in distinct but continuing parts. The final part takes place in modern day and should be excised entirely. It's an attempt to bring some modern context into the film, but the audience is intelligent enough that they could do this on their own if they choose. Also, the score is terribly inappropriate which isn't unexpected from a silent film that probably had local piano accompanists trying to fit the mood with their normal cache of songs and probably never had a real score.

Those complaints aside, Haxan is pretty cool. There are several instances of great special effects, but I'll leave you with this description. If it doesn't make you interested, nothing will:

To achieve the scene in which the witches are flying over the roofs of the town,Benjamin Christensen and his cameraman Johan Ankerstjerne photographed a miniature town (with each house about 2 meters in height) on an enormous turntable, which operated manually and took the strength of 20 men to operate. Then, several costumed actors were photographed on broomsticks against a black background. To make the heavy costumes ripple in the "wind" Christiansen brought in an airplane motor. A total of 75 witches were photographed, each individually, and a special optical printer was built by Ankerstjerne to put them together (only about three of four appear on the screen at one time). The construction of a model town was decided upon after test footage proved the original idea of shooting from a movie train was a bad one, as too many modern structures, not to mention telephone poles and wires, were unavoidable. The test footage survives and is superimposed with Christiansen seated in a chair, acting out the part of a witch. 

Yes, Another Weird Al Post

There are some dreams you want to hang on to. You fight waking up, ignoring all the demands of the day just to live a little longer in whatever magical world your subconscious has conjured. For many, these dreams involve sex. Lots of it. With beautiful people. Not me. This morning, I tried to ignore my fatherly duties to hang out with Weird Al Yankovic.

I was in a house with loads of other people (for some reason, I think it was a Yelp get together, though my only affiliation with them is some of my volunteers are heavily involved with the organization). Weird Al was there and we were all competing in a scavenger hunt-type thing where if you wandered over the right area, awesome Al-related memorabilia or a "sorry, try again" icon appeared. I really wanted to find all the best stuff and fought waking up to the best of my ability. Of course, I failed. I crying baby is a hard thing to fight.

Normally, I'd be content just to tell a few friends about this in person and if I think they'd be interested. But Twitter (specifically, Pixar's Lee Unkrich) informed me of something very interesting, indeed. Today, October 23, is Weird Al Yankovic's birthday. Had you asked me, I wouldn't have been able to tell you this fact. But, perhaps somewhere deep in my subconscious, I knew. So happy birthday, Mr. Yankovic. You're the tops.

It's OK to wish someone a happy birthday with his own song, right?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #4

Monster House (2006) -- Gil Kenan
I saw Monster House in the theaters upon its release and I still stand by my assessment I made then: were I a child watching this movie, it would scare the crap out of me. First off, it's got a crazy old man. Second, there's a house that not only eats people, but it lures them in. Third, it goes on a rampage after the kids. And fourth, it was made with a less-creepy-than-Polar-Express-but-still-kind-of-creepy motion capture technology. But since I'm an adult, I wasn't remotely scared. In fact, the movie is quite fun even if some of the celebrity voice acting is a little glaring (I'm looking at you Jon Heder). It's no accident the kids come out best.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this viewing (my third or fourth) is that it's my first since the show Community came out and thus my first chance to note that Dan Harmon wrote the damn thing! Crazy. I feel like there's a whole world of people out there who will discover/have discovered Monster House based on that alone.

Frankenstein (1931) -- James Whale
My theater showed a 35mm print of this over the weekend and I wasn't about to miss out. The stand-out observation of this viewing was how terrific Boris Karloff is as the Monster. Much has been made about the pathos he brings to the table, but there is a wealth of subtlety in the physical performance as well (tiny movements of the hands, posture, etc). I was blown away.

I'd also forgotten how intimate a story this telling is and how invested in the character's desires one gets. No small feat for a 70 minute monster movie. This print was edited to have a thunder crash over the line "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" which made me nervous the girl murder would be excised, too. Fortunately, I fretted for nothing. And Ollie lasted almost the entire film without making a noise. We all earned a nice glass of the Baron's mother's wine that day.

The Hole (2009) -- Joe Dante
I'd been waiting for The Hole to get a release for years. Everywhere else around the world got it before we did. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it in the theater. I would have even paid up for 3-D for Joe Dante, one of my top-5 favorite filmmakers.

The Hole plays around with one of Dante's favorite scenarios, the suburbs run amok, but lacks most of the humor of his other movies. He also shies away from referencing his influences, which takes away the Dante stamp. Only at the very end with the German Expressionistic set does it start to feel like old school Dante.

Still, The Hole is pretty creepy for a movie aimed at younger folk and it has some cool effects (I was glad to see there was minimal CG until the very end and a few 3-D gimmicks. The resolution is pretty lame, but the ride there is enjoyable. Plus, Dante stalwarts Dick Miller and Bruce Dern pop up, so it's all good. Sadly, Jerry Goldsmith (a favorite film composer of mine) is no longer with us and was unable to supply the score. It's the first Joe Dante movie without his touch since The Howling (in 1981!)

Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956) -- Fred F. Sears
It's not a bad movie. In fact, it's perfectly fine. But I'd already seen all of the fun stuff so my memory of Earth vs The Flying Saucers is that there's a lot of talking. This is a problem with lots of science fiction (particularly from this era), but most of those movies don't have the reputation of this one (even if that reputation is mostly due to Ray Harryhausen). That said, I do enjoy that the first response the U.S. military has in the movie is to fire at the space ship without trying to learn anything. It's always best to shoot first and ask questions later. It's not like it might lead to the destruction of most of earth's major cities...

The Seventh Victim (1943) -- Mark Robson
I'll be honest with you. I was trying to sneak The Seventh Victim in while Ollie was napping (it's a scant 71 minutes), but about 3/4 of the way through, my eyes decided to fight my desire to watch the movie. On the plus side, it was like I was back in film school fighting to stay awake during movies and having my dreams take tremendous leaps from the last images my eyes and brain registered. On the down side, I can't really say much about the movie.

The Seventh Victim is a noir-ish tale about a woman trying to find her sister and a Satanic cult is involved somehow and they are trying to keep people from looking for the sister. It's good, but it doesn't feel as moody as other Val Lewton productions, like his collaborations with Jacques Tourneur. perhaps this is why my body started to drift away.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October Halloween Movie Watch #3

The Private Eyes (1980) -- Lang Elliott
There's something unsettling seeing an aged Don Knotts. Forget that he lived another 26 years after The Private Eyes was shot, he just seems like he lost his vitality in the 15-odd years since The Andy Griffith Show (this is based on watching The Apple Dumpling Gang recently, too). Still, there's something about his presence I find soothing.

The Private Eyes was written by and co-stars Tim Conway and I feel like I want to be easier on it because I like Conway so much (and Knotts for that matter). It's not hugely funny, though it has its moments. The movie largely feels like it plays things safe in the name of appealing to mass audiences. It's very silly, but not in a Monty Python way and it parodies Agatha Christie stories, but not in a very clever way.

Still, I look back fondly on The Private Eyes. It's the little things. It's fun to see Deputy Fife and Malcolm Merriweather reunited and there's a recurring joke dealing with death notes that never made me laugh but somehow makes me smile every time I think back on it. The Private Eyes is the definition of a breezy, light, mildly forgettable comedy that I would recommend if you like the actors.

As a side note, The Private Eyes features the worst animated credit sequence I've ever seen.

Night of the Living Dead (1990) -- Tom Savini
What surprised me most about this remake of Night of the Living Dead is that even though Tom Savini directed it, there's still a lot of cutaway violence. Don't get me wrong, there's some good gore and makeup effects, but rarely do we get a view of a zombie bludgeoning. This might lie more in the ratings board's hands than Savini's

I get the sense that there are many horror fans believe this to be a vastly underrated movie, and while it's better than I expected, it lacks the tension and atmosphere of the original. Unfortunately, they stick pretty close to the original script (with some minor tweaks, mostly at the end), so if you've seen Night of the Living Dead '68, you've seen this and little is added by the color, which leaves us with the special effects.

I'm not sure if this is true, but I read that the original crew was used and the movie was basically remade so they could make money on it since the first one wasn't copyrighted properly. At least they didn't half-ass things. The cast is pretty good (love Tony Todd) and my only qualm in that area is the angry husband who is almost a cartoon.

Personal anecdote: Before I'd ever seen the original, I caught the opening scene of the remake on TV late one night while alone in my room. It scared the shit out of me and I turned the channel the moment Barbara's brother's head hit the grave stone.

The Wolf Man (1941) -- George Waggner
Lon Chaney is a beast of a man. I don't know why I never noticed how tall he is or maybe it was accentuated by his standing next to the diminutive Claude Rains, but damn, he's big!

It's amazing how quickly these old monster movies fly by. Larry Talbot arrives in town, acts like a lecherous creep, talks about wolves, and is bitten all within ten minutes. It's a remarkable pace. I particularly enjoy the way The Wolf Man messes with Larry's mind and one of the strongest traits of werewolves in the genre is that they don't know/can't control/genuinely hate being a werewolf. There's a lot of sympathy to be had for these creatures.

There are some weird inconsistencies, like why did Bela turn into an actual wolf, but Larry becomes a man-wolf hybrid or why does he strangle his victims, but those are minor complaints about an effective movie. When I think about these old horror movies, I don't actually think of them as scary, but I can totally see someone getting creeped out by this, especially if his or her age is right (look out, Ollie!).

Lastly, I want to play in the foggy forest set. That rules.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Response to a Facebook Conversation

I don't know how to put multiple functional link in a Facebook post, so I'm responding here. I promise it won't be too long.

I'll cede the point on Kimberly's comment since it is a brought generalization about close to half the population. That said, there is certainly a push from the (Christian) conservative side for abstinence-only education. After a quick internet search for sources to back this claim, I could only find websites that are inherently biased one way or another for each side of the story. I don't think it's any surprise that, ultimately, education is the best way to delay sex or practice in it a safe way (the abstinence-only class in this study apparently did not tell people to wait until marriage and did not have an anti-condom/birth control bias). Even more than the availability of birth control, I believe that the biggest step is making sure people get a solid sexual education foundation from a younger age so that they can make educated decisions about sex.

Certainly, I agree with you that the government has limited rights as what they can force people to do (and I suspect that you might say they have no right), but I doubt it would go so far as to forcing people to take birth control. True, Oregon was sterilizing people 30-years ago, but the practice was halted and I have serious doubts that any American state could get away with something like that even if they wanted to. It's pretty rare that changes in civil rights move backwards.

In addition to what the linked article says about there being fewer births and fewer abortions, the subject of what happens to the children once they are born isn't brought up. You mention the tax payers subsidizing free birth control, but what about the cost of raising these kids? Especially the children of poor families? Certainly that is a tax concern.

Education and access are going to be the two determining factors in this discussion. If what this study is showing is factual (because, as we know, there is always more to be learned from studies and the results must be repeatable), then it seems like a great compromise. Hopefully, abortions go down (they will never go away, even if made illegal) and birth control usage goes up (including IUDs, which are more reliable). And I'm more than happy to carry my share of the tax burden for something that might help society. In fact, the government can just shift some of the taxes I pay to the military to this and I'd be quite satisfied.

Thanks for responding, John. I appreciate your well-reasoned ideas and don't even entirely disagree with your conclusions.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #2

Howling (2012)-- Ha Yoo
I hadn't heard of this until recently and only added it to my Netflix queue because Kang-ho Song, perhaps my favorite actor, stars. I could watch him in just about anything. Just last night, I Song-ed up my queue. He's amazing.

Going in, I was expecting a werewolf movie based on the title and the description. But no. There's a part-dog, part-wolf going around systematically killing people. Howling is OK and for a while it seems like it's going to have some big comment on male culture and a woman's place on the job in South Korea, but those themes drift away as the plot picks up. For the first hour, I was way more interested in the new female detective's experience than the actual plot of the movie. This was a good thing. Check it out if you like Korean cinema or Kang-ho Song (if you watch on Instant View, you have to use your computer so you can activate the subtitles).

V/H/S (2012) -- various
This is an anthology film most notable for Ti West and Joe Swanberg's involvement. It's a piece of shit. I made it through about an hour until I bailed because it wasn't worth getting motion sick watching a bunch of unlikeable people do unlikeable things then get killed. Plus, I correctly guessed the ending of the overarching story before the first short began, so I feel vindicated in not wasting my time.

A group of douchebags break into a home looking for a specific VHS that someone will pay good money for. In the search for it, they watch a series of tapes. These are our shorts. Oh, the douchebags tape everything they do, so the screen is constantly erratically moving and the shorts are similarly shot. It really bugs me that most of the shorts are shown to be shot on some type of digital device, yet someone took the time to transfer them to VHS. This is a stupid movie and I waste of Ti West's skills as a director (his main strengths are his control of the camera and his patience with storytelling, elements completely absent from movie). Lastly, it's not scary.

Die, Monster, Die! (1965) -- Daniel Haller
It's German for "The, Monster, The!" Daniel Haller was a set designer for loads of American International films and this was his first as director. It's based on the Lovecraft story, "The Colour Out of Space," though it only loosely follows it. As with many AI movies, it's good, but the advertising and aesthetics are the best parts. I love seeing Boris Karloff* in anything and it's been great discovering him in non-Frankenstein's monster/Mummy parts. I wonder if Bela Lugosi was ever jealous that Karloff's career continued with moderate success after the Universal monster movies. At least the film offered Suzan Farmer to crush on for an hour and twenty minutes.

*Apparently, he was 5'11". I'm taller than Frankenstein's monster!

Friday, October 5, 2012

October Horror Movie Watch

A year ago, I watched 31+ horror movies and wrote reviews of each and everyone. It was a lot of fun and I felt like the reviews trended upwards in quality. Unfortunately, I don't have the same amount of time to dedicate to watching and writing about movies this October (something about working more and having a son). Still, reading various friends Twitter and blog posts about what they're watching made me feel left out, so I'll updating this (neglected) space with the titles I'm digesting and a few words about them. This post is to get us all up to speed.

The Innocents (1961) -- Jack Clayton
An adaptation of Henry James' Turn of the Screw, The Innocents combines three of my favorite horror genres: haunted house, creepy kids, and decent into madness. The film is quite slow and Andrea couldn't make it to the end (the Sandman punched her in the face), but it's got beautiful photography by Freddie Francis and a foreboding atmosphere throughout. Horror the classy way.

This trailer is deeply misleading:

Fright Night (1985) -- Tom Holland
I watched this a few years ago, rated it two stars (out of five) yet somehow wound up owning it and not selling it in any of my various DVD purges. Boy, am I glad I kept it. On second viewing, I found Fright Night to be immensely entertaining. It's kind of weird to classify because it's not very scary and it's not very funny (though it has its moments). What Fright Night does well is create a believable and interesting situation with some decent characters and runs with it. Also, the ending is spectacular, featuring lots of great practical effects. I'd love a double feature of this with The 'Burbs.

Parents (1989) -- Bob Balaban
I was drawn to Parents primarily because I love Bob Balaban, but I'd never (knowingly) seen anything he'd directed nor do I associate him with horror. This movie falls into the Fright Night category of being neither scary nor particularly funny, but adept at holding one's attention. In some ways, Parents feels like a Tim Burton movie without the flights of fancy. Randy Quaid is great and it legitimately makes me sad to think of his late career and recent woes. The man was nominated for an Oscar, for christ's sake! I blame the National Lampoon Vacation movies. Definitely worth checking out.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) -- Don Coscarelli
I'm a big fan of the Phantasm series and Don Coscarelli (stoked for John Dies in the End!), but this was a piece of shit. It doesn't feel like anyone's hearts were in it. There are bizarre attempts at humor that fall flat, generally coming from the typically solid Reggie Bannister (who supplies a awful end credits song). There's little suspense or horror because the movie feels entirely confused. If I didn't know any better (and I do), they only made this in order to highlight the "iv" in "Oblivion" to make the Roman Numeral "IV." Not even completists should waste their time.

The Orb boobs were pretty fun, though.

The Lost World (1925) -- Harry Hoyt
Basically, King Kong before King Kong. An expedition to a mysterious land. Encounters with prehistoric creatures. Bring one home. It gets loose and kills a lot of people. That doesn't make it any less fun than it's more famous imitator. The stop motion effects are pretty awesome and I love that it's a brontosaurus (which, hey!, doesn't exist) on a rampage. The effects are all the more impressive when you realize that this was released eight years before King Kong. If there's one fault with the movie, it's that the characters a basically vessels to get to the spectacle and have little resonance (and in their effort to create interest in the characters, they have our engaged hero become engaged to another woman when it doesn't look like they'll make it off the plateau [which Paradise Falls from Up is modeled after], yet when they do return, it seems like our hero is going to shaft his initial fiancee after all).