Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Countdown recommendations

We are in the countdown of the last 8 days til Halloween.  I am certainly going to do my best to review a movie for each remaining day.  But in case I am not able to watch a movie everyday, I am going to go ahead and provide a list for my top movies to watch leading up to Halloween.  These will be the movies that I plan to watch and review in this final pre-Halloween week.  Even if I am not able to watch these movies this week, I have seen them enough times before to know that they are awesome! Every movie on this list is going to be a definite must rent.  Some of them will be must buy, and others will be worth buying if you find it at a good enough price.  So here are some of my favorite Halloween movies, in no particular order:

Young Frankenstein.  One of Mel Brooks's best films, this black-&-white horror/comedy pays homage to classic horror films, most notably Frankenstein (obviously).  It's not quite as "silly" as some of Mel Brooks's other films, but in my opinion it's one of the funniest.  The fact that the actors play the roles seriously helps to serve a contrast to some of the more amusing lines.  You should be able to find the DVD for around $5, and the Blue Ray for around $10.  Regardless of extras, the rewatchability alone makes this a must buy.

28 Days Later.  This is a good take on the zombie flick, because rather than being "undead," they are filled with the "rage virus."  Great soundtrack, good cinematography, great actors, and good horror/gore.  One of the things I really like about this one is the philosophical questions that arise from the "zombies" being living beings filled with a rage virus, rather than being undead monsters.  Are they still people?  Is there any still humanity left in them?  There is an alternate ending presented via storyboards and narration.  This ending was never filmed because they kind of back themselves into a corner that wouldn't have ended up working out.  But even just the narration and story boards still provide plenty of drama.  There is a 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later combo pack, but I don't know if it has the extras.  I suggest you get the version that actually has the special features.  So double check before you buy.

Shaun of the Dead.  This movie is absolutely hilarious!  I love the use of running jokes, and this movie is full of them.  The more that I watch it, the more that I pick up on things that happen in the first half that are then repeated in the second half.  It's also a decent zombie flick, and not just "for a comedy."  Even watching it as a serious zombie film, it still holds up.

Psycho.  This is one of Hitchcock's greatests.  Everyone knows the iconic shower scene.  But if you've seen the movie, you know that there are several other great scenes with a lot of tension and a lot of suspense.  Even though this film has been around for over 50 years, I'll not spoil this one for those who haven't seen it.  There is no excuse for missing this one...go buy it right now!!

Nosferatu.  I already reviewed this one, so I won't be re-reviewing it this week.  But, it is definitely a must see.  The entirety of the movie might not be the most amazing, but Schreck's portrayal of Count Orlock is almost disturbingly creepy.  Check out my full review here.  

The Thing.  In case there is any doubt, I am talking about John Carpenter's original, not the prequel that was released a year or two ago.  John Carpenter's The Thing combined many classic horror themes, such as being trapped with no escape, not knowing who or what the creature is, and doing everything they can just to stay alive.  Some of the special effects look pretty bad in comparison to today's CGI (though, they also look better than a lot of bad CGI), but it's the performances of the actors that really drive this suspenseful thriller.  If you've seen The Thing before, check out the video below.  But if you've not seen the movie before, skip this video for now...you don't want to ruin the film for yourself.  Even though this is not a scene-for-scene recreation, it is still close enough to contain major spoilers for the movie:

30 Days of Night.  These are not your dreamy, romantic vampires that have somehow invaded teen romance media.  These aren't even your charming, cultured Dracula-esque vampires.  These are the creepy, disturbing vampires that hunt without mercy.  Part of what makes this film so scary is that the characters must survive for 30 days (of night) without access to food or resources, and must remain almost completely quiet - unlike most horror movies where they "just have to survive the night."

Rocky Horror Picture Show.  This one isn't scary at all.  In fact, there are more scenes of whores than there are of horrors.  But, it is pretty funny and has catchy songs that get stuck in your head.  The main reason this one is on the list is because it has become a cult phenomenon, and it is almost impossible to go out on Halloween and not see at least one person dressed like one of the characters.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are plenty of other movies that I would recommend for this week (Gojira, Devil's Rejects, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween {the original, and Rob Zombie's remake}, Alien, Aliens).  But, those are the films that immediately come to mind when I think about what movies to watch leading up to Halloween.  I will post reviews for the ones that I am able to watch this week.  But even without reviews, I highly recommend them!

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in this last week of Halloween movie month.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Halloween movie month: The Descent

The Descent (2005)
Rating:  3.5/5

Basic plot:  Six women go caving in the Appalachian mountains, and encounter a gruesome horror in the dark of the caves.

Most horror movies make use of the dark and the shadows to intensify the suspense.  And one of the things that makes The Descent so terrifying is definitely the dark.  This film does a very accurate job of showing how dark caves are without artificial light.  When you are completely underground, there is no ambient light.  So after they are completely underground and away from the opening they entered through, the only light they have is from their flashlights, flares, and glow-sticks.  And when they are just using their flashlights, you only see what the light is shining on.  This limited amount of light, surrounded by complete darkness definitely adds to the suspense.  Especially because it just about forces you to watch the movie in as dark a room as possible.  If there are lights on, or a glare on the tv, it will be difficult to see what is going on.  So, in order to have as clear a picture of the film as possible, it helps to watch it at night with all the lights off - which, in a way, helps to immerse you into the experience.

And it is going to be a pretty suspenseful experience.  For starters, caving is a dangerous activity, so there are plenty of dangers just in what they are doing.  They could get lost, stuck when going through the crawl-spaces, parts of the cave could collapse, and so on.  On top of all of the natural dangers, you also know that there is something lurking in the caves, and are on edge waiting for them to attack.  As they are hiking to the cave, one of the women talks about all of the things that could possibly happen in the dark, including hallucinations.  And one of the characters does have hallucinations earlier in the film, as a result of her earlier experiences.  So when you hear strange sounds in the background, or when you see something that isn't there when the character takes a second look, you find yourself wondering if those are actually the creatures, or if they are just hallucinating.

At times, this film does show things through the view of a camcorder.  But, unlike most found footage type films, the camcorder view actually really works with this movie.  For starters, it's not being treated as "found footage."  And when they use it for the infrared view...let's just say that it was definitely the right call.

Overall, this was a really good movie, but there were a few shortcomings.  Most notably was the character development.  Overall, the character development is pretty good, but there are a few actions from the characters that don't entirely make sense.  And even though the creatures are an unknown entity, there are a few aspects about them that are inconsistent.  But these are very minor complaints.  Sure, the character/creature development isn't perfect, but it is definitely good enough to care about the characters and be terrified by the creatures.

Recommendation:  this is a must see!  Good acting.  Pretty good character development.  Good cinematography.  Really scary.  Good mix of suspenseful terror waiting for the creatures, and action fighting the creatures.  I don't know if it was intentional, but I also like the fact that the title, The Descent, could be taken literally for their descent into the cave, or to describe one of the character's descent into madness.

I picked this Blu-ray up at Walmart for $7.88.  I really enjoyed it, and I will definitely watch it again, so I think that it was worth it.  This blu-ray had 5 versions of the film:  rated, unrated, commentary with director and cast, commentary with director and crew, and picture-in-picture video commentary/behind the scenes.  I only watched the rated version, so I don't know how much the alternate versions of the film add.  But I did watch the rest of the extras.  Except for one short interview with the director about the ending of the film and how the US version differs from the UK version (the UK version is definitely the better ending), the extras are kind of boring/pointless.  There are deleted/extended scenes, but they don't really add anything.  When deleted/extended scenes add a lot and seem vital, I wish that they had just included them into the movie.  But when they don't add anything at all, they are just kind of pointless.  There is some point of view footage of someone going through a cave, but there is no commentary or voice-over explaining anything - so, again, kind of pointless/boring.  There are storyboard to scene comparisons, but no commentary explaining the process.  There is a brief "blooper reel" that is set to music, so it feels like the kind of montage you would see on a comedy film during the credits.  I wish that the extras would have been more impressive, especially since they very easily could have been more enjoyable if they had just added some commentary/narration.  If you like watching alternate version, or versions with commentary, then I would say this is worth a buy if you find it somewhere for $8 or less.  But since the rest of the extra features are just kind of boring/pointless, there just isn't enough to make this a must buy.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween movie month: Lo

Lo (2009)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  Justin's love, April, is captured by demons.  In order to try to save her, Justin summons the demon Lo to help find her.

Based on the Netflix summary, I was hoping that Lo was going to be a quirky and delightfully creepy adventure.  It wasn't entirely what I expected, but it also wasn't entirely disappointing.  The movie starts off with Justin performing a demonic ritual for the sake of saving April.  Clearly, his love for her is strong enough to summon a demon.  However, this opening doesn't really set up the story as to what is so special about April, or how strong their love is, that makes it worth doing something demonic for the sake of her.  I was hoping that as the story went along, there would be an explanation as to why their love was so strong.  And I was hoping that it would at least be a plausible explanation.

The ring that Justin draws to summon Lo is what protects him from Hell.  As long as he stays inside that ring, he is protected.  As a result, the entire film takes place with Justin seated inside of a ring on the floor in a pitch-black room, having conversations with demons outside of the ring and watching flashbacks of his relationship with April.  Through the conversations and flashbacks, you come to find out more about April, and the story of her relationship with Justin.  The focus is primarily on April, so you do find out a lot about her.  But the story of their relationship, and why he loves her so much, will leave you feeling very unsatisfied. April does a really good job of playing the manic pixie dream girl character, but the love story itself is severely lacking.

This film plays out more like a theater production than a movie.  It's interesting at times, and is certainly a different experience than what you will get from most movies.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  But there were some shortcomings.  The costume effects were decent, especially for a low budget.  But, they were clearly low-budget costume effects.  The acting wasn't too bad, but it was more like theater acting - a bit overdone at times.  Even though April didn't have as much screen time as some of the other characters, I think she gave the most solid and believable performance.  There was decent character development, but the love story itself was too lacking.  It isn't enough to just say "they love each other, alright? accept it."  I want to know why characters love each other.  Or, at the very least, what about them makes them worth loving.  The ending is a little too predictable, so the final scene didn't have quite as much impact as it could have.

Recommendation:  for fans of theater, low budge/indie films, amateur filmmakers, etc., I would say this is a rent.  There aren't any scare moments, so pass if you are wanting something scary.  And the love story is too underdeveloped for me, so pass if you are wanting a romantic Halloween movie as a break from the horror.  Lo is more like a recording of a stage production than an actual movie, so the main people that I would recommend this to are theater folk.  If you aren't much of a fan of theater though, you probably won't enjoy this as much.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halloween movie month: Muoi: the Legend of a Portrait

Muoi:  the Legend of a Portrait (2007)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  A Korean writer travels to Vietnam, where her friend helps her uncover the legend of the vengeful ghost of Muoi for her new book.

Typically in my reviews, I try to give enough of a review for you to know what I like and dislike about a movie and whether or not to see it, but without giving away so much of the film that it completely ruins it for those planning on watching it.  But in order for me to give my review on Muoi, I might be revealing some major plot points.  So, I'm going to start out with my recommendation and a basic reasoning for my recommendation, before going into detail.  That way, you can decide if you want to continue reading the rest of the review, or watch the film for yourself.

Recommendation:  Pass.  There was a good production quality, good acting, and a few genuinely creepy scares.  But, that being said, the scares were way too predictable, the plot was too underdeveloped, and the entire film just felt boring.

If you continue reading, be aware that from here on out, there might be major spoilers.

This film plays very heavily on the use of the dark and shadows, in that most of the scares either happen at night, or come out of the shadows.  But, for the most part, you either see something move in the back ground before it jumps out at you, or they put the scare exactly where you expect it.  So, even though there are a few scenes that are genuinely creepy, they kind of lose all of their startle effect by being completely predictable.  The other predictable thing about the scares in Muoi is the use of grey-skinned ghosts with long black hair and a grudge.  I know that it can sometimes be quite difficult to come up with something new and original in horror stories, which means that most horror stories are going to make use of at least some horror cliches to get a scare.  But this feels like was nothing but cliches, resulting in a horror story that was pretty boring.

Overall, the plot isn't that bad.  Muoi is a vengeful ghost because she was betrayed by her love.  And Seoyeon summons Muoi's ghost because of her own sense of vengeance from when she was betrayed by her "love."  In general, Seoyeon's motives do make for a pretty good revenge story.  But the plot moves way too slow in getting to the point of explaining why exactly she wants revenge.  Beyond that, it takes too long before you even know that she is trying to get revenge.  You know that something is a bit off with her pretty early on, but it doesn't make sense as to why.  One of the keys to having a good thriller is to either know what is going on, but not why...or know why something is happening, but you don't know exactly what that is.  Muoi tries to do both, and therefore does neither.  The entire movie is a buildup to the deaths of two minor (very minor...like, a grand total of 5 minutes screen time) characters.  But it doesn't really address their role in the plot until pretty late into the film.  Overall, it is just too underdeveloped to really care what happens to any of the characters.

I think that Muoi would have worked much better if it has just focused on the revenge plot, and left out all of the ghostly and supernatural bits.  If they had done that, there could have been some genuine terror because you would have known that she was plotting something horrible and that vengeance would be hers, but you would be on the edge of your seat waiting to see how it happens.  Plus, there is a pretty big plot hole with the vengeance plot.  Even though the two characters that she focuses on were definitely involved in what happened to her, they aren't the ones who did it directly.  In case you were wondering, and if you are still reading I can assume that you are not going to watch the movie, she was raped by three men as the other two (the two she actually kills) watch and videotape it.

Again, my recommendation is to pass.  There were definitely some good aspects of the movie, and I think it could have had the potential to be a pretty good revenge drama/thriller.  But overall, it just seemed boring and a bit without a cohesive sense of direction.  There wasn't really anything about it that made it unpleasant to watch.  But to me, it fell well short of being enjoyable to watch.

I will try to watch a few more Asian horror films to find a good one to recommend before Halloween.  In the meantime, be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween movie month: Children of the Corn

Children of the Corn (1984)
Netflix, instant

Basic plot:  Under the direction of the charismatic boy preacher, Isaac, the children of a small town in Gatlin, Nebraska are led to murder all the adults in town and to worship "he who walks behind the rows."  A young couple traveling through the country has a run-in with one of the children trying to escape the town, and they are drawn into the affairs of the young cult.

I have to admit that this is the first time that I've ever seen Children of the Corn.  It is important for me to admit that, because I think that it plays a major role in my review, especially in regards to the expectations that I had going into this.  Stephen King is a master of horror, and Children of the Corn has definitely had a cultural impact ever since it's release.  So I went into this with somewhat elevated expectations.  Sadly, it did not live up to my expectations.

Some of the narration in the very beginning worked to help establish the setting, in the same way that reading the opening pages of a story help to establish the setting before any actual dialogue.  But once the dialogue kicks in, the narration didn't work so well.  And this was highlighted pretty early when the narration says that a character is scared, and then the character's line of dialogue is "I'm scared."

The opening murders in the cafe aren't all that scary, or gruesome.  But, the attitude and demeanor of the kids is what is so scary.  They seem to do it so naturally and without remorse.  Almost as if they had been reading Lord of the Flies nightly for as long as they've been able to read.  And to me, that is part of what makes Children of the Corn so creepy.  I've always thought that things that can actually happen are much more terrifying than figments of the imagination.  And a group of people blindly following a charismatic leader to slaughter those who do not fit into their view of the way things should be...that is something that can definitely actually happen.

Since all the adults in the town have been murdered, obviously the majority of the cast is children.  And some of the child acting wasn't all that great.  But the role of Isaac was played very well, which actually makes him a bit more terrifying, because who would expect a kid to play an evil preacher so naturally.  The first time you see him, outside of the cafe when the adults are about to be killed, you say to yourself "well, that kid is just plain creepy."  But then, I was doing my research on IMDB.com afterwards, and realized that the actor who played Isaac (John Franklin) was actually around 25 when Children of the Corn was made.  So, he was just a more mature actor, and not an eerily naturally creepy kid.

There were two very different types of music throughout the movie.  One was typical 80s horror movie music, and the other was a more operatic, monk-like singing/chanting.  I didn't care much for the 80s horror music.  Especially since the chanting/singing not only fit in much better with the cult feel of the children, but also has a more timeless feel to it.  I really wish that all of the music in the film had been more like the chanting.

Towards the end of the film, things take a turn for the supernatural.  Even though there is the assumption that Isaac and Malachi (Courtney Gains) are evil, the majority of the film doesn't really emphasize the supernatural.  It primarily focuses on the creepy kids and what could happen in a society run by children, much like Lord of the Flies.  And to me, a society of murderous kids is creepy enough.  If the supernatural had played a bigger role throughout the film, it would have worked a lot better.  But as it was, it was a bit of a deus ex machina explanation as to why the kids were so evil.

Recommendation:  I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I actually did.  I mean, I really wanted to like this movie.  This movie is one of the ones that has become so much a part of culture that just about everyone, whether they've seen it or not, knows that referring to a kid as being a child of the corn means that there is something not quite right, and a bit creepy, about the kid.  So, I was expecting this film to have more of an impact.  I wanted it to be the kind of creepy that stays with you and makes you feel uneasy walking past middle schools for fear that they will rebel.  But, I think that the idea of the film is much scarier than the actual presentation.  And I have a feeling that the original Stephen King story is probably much scarier than the movie, because you just have the idea and you don't have the presentation or the bad acting to get in the way of Isaac, Malachi, and the mindless child cult.  I've not actually read the story though, so I don't have anything to actually compare it to...just speculation.  As far as the plot of the movie, there is too much that is unexplained.  And that which is explained, doesn't actually really explain much.  For instance, the inclusion of the supernatural explains why the kids are evil (at least, it sort of explains it).  But, it never actually explains why the evil chose that town.  Or why no one over the age of 18 could be allowed to live.  Or why they think that their plan to defeat the evil will actually work.  There are just too many plot holes.  Even though Children of the Corn has made a cultural impact, and even though the character of Isaac is played really well, I'm going to have to say that this is a pass.  It's right on the line though.  Based solely on entertainment value (especially seeing it now, rather than when it first came out), it's a pass.  But, based on the cultural impact and some of the ideas presented, it's a rent.  You won't be missing too much if you don't see it, but you also won't be miserable if you do watch it.  So, I guess the recommendation depends more on your intentions for watching it.  Per my comment at the beginning of the post about how my expectations played a major role in my review...I think that I might have given it a slightly higher rating/recommendation (though, probably not significantly higher) if I would've had lower expectations for it.  But, as it is, the character of Isaac is actually one of the only reasons it's as high as it is.

Side note:  it can be difficult to walk the line between making those with any sort of religion look like ignorant townsfolk, and showing that going over the top and blindly following what others tell you to do is very dangerous.  The majority of Children of the Corn has a "religion = ignorant" feel to it.  But towards the end, one of the characters says "any religion without love and compassion is false."

Be sure to check back soon for another review in Halloween movie month.


Halloween movie month: Slither

Slither (2006)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3/5

Basic plot:  A meteorite carrying an alien parasite crashes in a small town in South Carolina, turning the residents into zombie-like monsters.

Okay, so there is a bit more involved in it than just what's said in the basic plot.  The alien takes control of Grant (Michael Rooker), and gradually transforms him into a squid/slug/mutant thing.  During the transformation, alien-Grant uses tentacle-like appendages that come out of his chest to "impregnate" a woman.  The woman doesn't exactly give birth to his slug spawn, so much as she just kind of explodes and thousands of the creatures go scurrying about.  When the slugs attack, they take over the residents, much in the same way that Grant was taken over.

Probably the biggest complaint that I have is about the accents.  Some of the accents aren't so bad (Nathan Fillion doesn't overdue it too much, and Michael Rooker's raspy voice lends itself well to keeping accents in check), but Elizabeth Banks's accent is just way overdone.  I don't mind accents when they help to make the setting seem more authentic.  But when an accent is done poorly, it makes the setting seem even less authentic.  Maybe it's just because I live in the south and hear various southern accents everyday, but I notice it even more when a southern accent is done poorly.  There are a wide variety of southern accents, but actors/actresses inevitably end up going with just one over-stereotypical version.  It's kind of like when someone tries to do a British accent, but just ends up sounding like Eliza Doolittle.  Aside from a few overdone accents, the acting is actually pretty good (I'm a pretty big fan of Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker).

The "horror" aspect of this film plays primarily on the fears of swarms, disease, and rape/violation.  The swarm fear is pretty evident when the slugs start taking over.  And the disease comparison is referenced directly in the movie.  As far as the rape/violation fear, there are a couple of things that really stand out to me.  The first of which is that the way that alien-Grant and his slug offspring attack their victims is a bit rapey.  The second, and maybe a bit more subtle, is that Grant (who is the first and primary monster) was already a bit of an incestual pedophile before turning into an even bigger monster.

The visual effects weren't all that great.  But aside from the scene that shows an x-ray view of the parasite going into Grant's brain, they weren't all that bad either.  At least, they were good enough to show that they were taking the horror side of the movie seriously enough to care that it didn't look horrible.

There were a few little easter eggs paying homage to James Gunn's (director/writer) beginnings with Troma films, as well as what I assume were inspirations for him when he was a kid.  The ones that I caught were:  Toxic Avenger and The Blob were on tv, Lloyd Kaufman had a cameo (no lines), and one of the kids was reading a Goosebumps book.

Recommendation:  rent.  I liked Slither, and I would definitely watch it again.  Overall, it's pretty funny.  Nathan Fillion has some good one-liners, and does the dead-pan delivery very well (plus a pretty great fight scene when he goes back to the police station).  Aside from a few overdone accents, there is good acting with good actors.  Like Shaun of the Dead (though, not nearly as funny), Slither is primarily a comedy, but it also does the horror seriously.  I enjoyed Slither, and I don't really have any major complaints about it.  But there also isn't really anything about it that makes it stand out that much.  I was going back and forth between a 3 and a 3.5 rating, but eventually decided that it falls just short of reaching a 3.5.  But it wouldn't have taken much more to be a 3.5.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Halloween movie month: Poultrygeist

Poultrygeist:  Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  A fried chicken fast food restaurant is built on top of a Native American burial ground, causing people who eat there to turn into part-chicken/part-zombie.

This is a Troma Entertainment release, and it definitely lives up to the Troma history.  Those of you who have seen any Troma films (the most well-known of which is Toxic Avenger) know generally what to expect.  But for those of you who are unfamiliar, Troma films are typically full of nudity, over-the-top gore/violence, social commentary and/or overly-emphasized stereotypes (check out the wikipedia entry here if you are wanting to know a bit more about Troma).  The first zombie chicken isn't actually seen until 63 minutes into the movie.  But before that, there is plenty of nudity, swearing/vulgarity, racist stereotypes, scatological and "gross out" humor, excessive gore, social commentary on corporate america, and singing (yeah, this is a little bit of a musical...about 4 or 5 songs).

Recommendation:  If you are a Troma fan, you will probably enjoy Poultrygeist.  Decent songs, decent acting, decent comedy (my favorite phrase of the movie, "cluckwork orange"), lots of gore, and fair amount of nudity.  So, for Troma fans, it's worth a rent - 3/5.

If you are NOT a Troma fan, recommendation/rating is going to be pass - 1/5.  Seriously, if you aren't already a fan of Troma films, you are probably going to hate this movie within the first 5 minutes.

Troma films don't really fall into the "so bad it's good" category, because Troma films are intentionally bad and (usually) intentionally a bit offensive.  While I do somewhat respect the independent spirit of Troma Entertainment, their films are definitely not meant for the general public.

Keep checking back for more ratings and recommendations of what to watch leading up to Halloween.


Friday, October 5, 2012

full review postponed

My apologies, everyone, for the delay in the update.  I was able to watch Dracula (1931) this morning, but shortly thereafter my day started getting busy.  The rest of the day turned out to be a little more hectic that I was expecting it to be, and this is the first chance that I have had to be online.  So, I'm pretty tired right now. And if I tried to write an actual review, it would probably come out something along the lines of "marhanfhgvb....Dracula...Lego-see...good....Dracooooola....Dra-cool, yo....bbahabnamfd."

I will try to post a full review tomorrow when I have gotten some sleep and am actually able to put together a coherent review.  Hopefully tomorrow won't be as hectic, and I'll actually be able to post the full review, as well as the review for tomorrow's movie.  But, so I will be able to say that I've held true to posting a daily review, here's a very brief review.  Dracula (1931) is a classic, and Bela Lugosi helps to set the precedent for Dracula being a refined and cultured monster.  The plot was a bit more developed, and there was better production quality, in Dracula than in Nosferatu.  But to me, Schreck's portrayal of Orlock is way creepier than Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula.  It's a classic, so of course it's going to be a "must see," but more so for historical value than for any sort of scare factor.  Can't decide if I would give it a 3/5, or a 3.5/5.

Ok, that's all I've got for tonight.  Hopefully I'll be able to get an actual full review posted tomorrow.  But if tomorrow turns out to be just as busy as today, I might have to settle for doing brief, mini-reviews the day of the movie...and then posting the full reviews as soon as I have the time to actually get them done.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Halloween movie month: Creature

Creature (2011)
Netflix, instant
Rating 1/5

Basic plot:  A group of friends taking a trip get lost in the backwoods of Louisiana and are attacked by a part-man/part-alligator creature.

There isn't really all that much to comment on, so I'm going to get right to the recommendation.  Pass.  This movie is pretty horrible.  And not in the "it's so bad it's good" sort of way.  This is just bad in the "it's so bad it's bad" sort of way.  It's not even bad in the "it was so bad that there is so much to talk about, as far as how bad it was."  It's just a bland and boring kind of bad - so bland that even trying to go into detail about what makes it bad is boring and bland.  Bad acting with bad accents. Bad sound mixing. Horrible stereotypes of "backwoods, ignorant, incestual, lunatic, religious folk."  There are absolutely no scares or startling moments.  There are several "twists," but they aren't surprising or shocking at all.  They try to play on the "it's over...or is it???" but they overdo it (as in repeating it a few times in a row) and it just becomes annoying.  The creature is lumbering apparently can only stand/look up if it is doing it very slowly - like the first time you see a monster in a movie, where it does the "slow reveal" to give the characters plenty of time to be horrified...but it does that every single time it stands up.  Honestly, I'm not really sure who the target audience for this movie is.  It's got too much gore and nudity (in the sense that it has any) to be family friendly, but it doesn't have enough to please those who are fans of that genre.  The production quality is too good to fall into the campy, B-movie genre, but the acting (and basically everything else) is too bad to be considered a good movie.

The only person who I think did a good job in the movie is Sid Haig's character.  But that might have been due mostly to the fact that he basically plays a cajun version of his character in House of 1000 Corpses, so the directing of him was probably something along the lines of "remember Captain Spaulding?  Be him, but without the clown make-up."  Pruitt Taylor Vince was also in this movie, and I'm normally a fan of his (for those of you unfamiliar with him, you might recognize him as Otis from The Walking Dead).  But his character was not only pointless, it also wasn't done very well.  This shows how important it is to have a good director at the helm.  Without a good director, even an actor like Pruitt Taylor Vince can give a bad performance.  A look at the director's (Fred Andrews) IMDB page gives some explanation as to why the production quality wasn't bad, but everything else fell short.  For those of you who don't like clicking on links, it's because he's a production designer.  Creature is the only thing he has to his credits as far as writing or directing.  Maybe if he's able to get some more experience, then he'll be able to make a movie that is actually worth watching.  But he's definitely not there yet.

Side note:  Not that I really expect any of you to actually watch this movie, but in case you do, SPOILER ALERT:  There's a reason that the poster has those four characters on it.  The creature, obviously, is because that's what the movie is about.  But as far as the three people, it's because they are the only three of the main characters that are introduced that actually survive (there is another character that "survives," but not in the same way she was at the beginning of the movie).

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween movie month: Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3/5

Basic plot:  A group of friends vacation in a mountain cabin, where they encounter Nazi zombies.

 This Norwegian import follows the formula for your standard "cabin in the woods" horror film (not talking about the film Cabin in the Woods, but about that genre of horror films).  A group of college students (in this case, med students) go to the mountains for a ski trip, and stay in an isolated cabin where there is no cell phone reception.  Shortly after arriving at the cabin, a mysterious old stranger shows up out of nowhere and warns them of the evil lurking in the mountains.  Dead Snow not only follows the cabin horror genre, they also acknowledge the fact that they are following the formula.  Eight minutes into the movie, one of the characters asks as they are hiking up to the cabin, "how many movies start with a group of friends on a trip to a cabin with no cell phone signal?"  The self-referencing in horror movies has started to become so common, that it is almost a horror genre in and of itself.  Thankfully, there are only a couple of scenes where a character directly makes a horror movie formula reference - so this doesn't play up too much of the self-referencing.

Playing on the horror genre actually helped to make some of the early sequences even more suspenseful.  Since you know that the cabin horror genre frequently either has something jumping out of the dark, or being there when a character turns around, you know that is eventually going to happen.  And there are a few scenes where everything is quiet, it is almost pitch black, and you think to yourself "this is where a zombie is going to jump out."  So you prepare yourself.  You are on the edge of your seat.  The tension rises.  You know it's about to happen.  And then.....nothing.  This rise in tension, without the release of a scare factor, has you even more tense the next time a similar situation occurs.  I'm not going to say how many times that happens, or what is going on when the zombie finally jumps out though.  I don't want to spoil all the suspense.

The opening chase sequence is set to the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King," and I really like that decision.  Not only do I love the song, but the crescendo and increasing speed of the song lends itself nicely to raising tension during a chase.  It helps that "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is Norwegian and is about monsters, and whatnot.  The rest of the music, I didn't enjoy as much.  I wish that all of the songs had been classical music - I think it would have worked very well.  As far as ambient music to set the tone, this film actually relies more on silence to set the tone.

Visually, it was pretty decent.  It wasn't a major blockbuster or anything, but the production quality was actually pretty good.  The effects were realistic enough, and the actors played the roles seriously enough, that it didn't have the "cheesy, B-movie" quality to it.  And honestly, when you read a description of a movie about Nazi zombies, you kind of expect it to be in the B-movie range.  The effects of the zombies weren't very zombie-ish, but I think that might have been intentional.  There were a few things about these zombies that strayed from your typical zombie, which makes me think that maybe they were supposed to be something else.  For starters, these "zombies" moved fast.  But, there have been other zombie movies that have had fast zombies...so that's not enough to think they're something different.  Beyond just being fast, these zombies have coordination.  They get into fights, like punching, rather than just grabbing/clawing/biting. Plus, these zombies bleed like they still have blood pumping through them, rather than just what is left over from when they died.  And at one point, you see the breath of one of the zombies in the cold.  It didn't look to me like it was just an oversight, or something that they couldn't edit out.  It looked to me like they were intentionally showing the zombie breathing.  There were a few other things that led me to believe that they aren't actually zombies, but I'll not spoil them...you'll know them when you see them.

Recommendation:  Overall, it was an enjoyable zombie flick.  Even though you basically know what is going to happen, there are some good moments of tension and actual suspense, aided by the use of silence and close ups (so you can't see if anything is coming).  As with most horror movies, the tension of waiting for something to attack is more suspenseful than when the zombies are actually attacking.  But after the zombies do start attacking, there is some pretty good action.  And I like the fact that these characters actually fight back, rather than just running and screaming the entire time.  It follows the basic formula for a cabin horror story, and it does it pretty well, but there isn't really anything about it that makes it stand out above the rest.  The fact that it is foreign, and that the zombies are Nazi zombies, helps to make it a little different - but not significantly so.  Although the actors do a good job, and play their roles seriously, the characters themselves aren't really all that developed.  So you don't really have a connection to any of the characters when any of them die.  Overall, it's done pretty well, and worth seeing.  But if you are sick of the "cabin in the woods" story line (again, the genre, not the actual Cabin in the Woods film), then you can skip this one.  There isn't anything about this movie that makes it amazing or a "must see," but there also isn't really anything that makes it horrible or a "must pass."

Side note:  There are several scenes where blood and/or dirt splatters on the camera.  Sometimes that works to help you feel more immersed in the world of the movie, and sometimes it just gets in the way.  And in this case, it didn't work.  It didn't really happen often enough to completely get in the way, but it definitely was unnecessary.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween movie month: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3.5/5

Basic plot:  After finding a strange and unknown fossil in the Amazon, an archaeologist, a group of scientists, and their guide go on a search for the rest of the remains.  Their search leads them down river to a lagoon (the Black Lagoon) where they eventually discover that there is still a living form of this ancient creature (they never actually say if the creature had been around since pre-historic times, or if it's a descendant).

As with many movies in the 50s and 60s, there is a narrator setting the stage in the early acts of the film.  I have mixed feelings about narration in current movies, depending on how well it is done, but I generally like the narration in older movies.  Maybe it's because it brings about an inherent sense of nostalgia.  Or maybe it's because the narration in movies was basically the same type of narration that was used in documentaries of the day - which, in a way, makes the movie seem like a documentary and suggests that you should accept that what takes place really happened (or, at least, could conceivably happen).

This movie actually does a lot to suggest that the creature could conceivably exist.  For starters, the movie starts off by saying that God created the world, and then describes the millions of years of evolution that took place afterwards (and then explosions.  Lots of explosions).  So, whether you are religious, scientific, or both (or Michael Bay...cause of the 'splosions), this movie starts off with a viable explanation as to how there can be such strange and unknown creatures in the world.  There is also a conversation between two characters over whether or not they can believe the creature actually exists.  During that conversation, they discuss the lungfish (they explain that it is a creature that has basically remained unevolved for thousands of years), as well as how people believe it is possible for there to be life on other planets but they have a hard time believing in the unknown under the water on Earth.  And after watching River Monsters: with Jeremy Wade on Animal Planet, it's not that hard to believe that there are unknown creatures lurking in fresh waters.

I talked about the importance of music in my Nosferatu review, and the same holds true for Creature - the music plays a major role in helping to set the tone of the scene.  One of the reasons that the music is so vital in Creature from the Black Lagoon is that many of the scenes with the creature take place under water.  This was in the days before scuba masks that allowed people to talk to each other under water, so the music is the primary way of conveying the characters' emotions.

The look of the film isn't too bad either, but I think that a lot of that has to do with the film being in black and white.  When they are traveling on a boat, it's clear that the backdrop behind them is a video of scenery moving and not actually following a moving boat.  But it didn't look nearly as bad as some current movies that use a green screen to give the appearance of movement.  The creature effects weren't too bad either.  Nothing terribly amazing.  But, they did at least pay attention to enough detail to have air bubbles coming out of the gills rather than out of its nose/mouth.  Even though I didn't think that the effects looked too bad, I think that was due in large part to the overall picture quality and to it being in black and white.  For instance, the creature didn't look too bad because there were less details to focus on to notice whether or not it was bad.  Nowadays, everything is filmed and projected in much higher quality.  So when something doesn't look quite right, there is a much bigger discrepancy.

Recommendation:  It's a classic - everyone should see it.  As far as leading up to Halloween, it's worth seeing, but I wouldn't say that it's necessarily a "must see."  The scare factor of Creature from the Black Lagoon comes mostly from the fear of the unknown.  There is one scene in particular where Julie Adams's character is swimming in the lagoon and the creature swims up to her and touches her leg a few times before she swims back to the boat - playing on the fear that anyone who has ever swam in nature can tell you about...when something brushes against their leg and there is instant terror of "what was that??!!!??"  You might not have a fear of a part man, part fish, part reptile creature grabbing you when you are swimming - but there are certainly plenty of other deadly creatures that hide just below the surface of the water - and that scene reminds you of it.

Side note:  expect typical 50s movie stereotypes:  guys with dashing hair (even immediately after getting out of the water), damsels in distress (and the related sexual undertones of creatures capturing women.  After all, horror creatures need love too), etc.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Halloween movie month: Nosferatu

Nosferatu (1922)
Netflix instant
Rating:  4/5

Basic plot:  Loosely based on Bram Stoker's Dracula (though, having to change the names and some of the details for legal reasons), Nosferatu is about a vampire named Count Orlock that comes to a small German town, bringing death with him.  The standard cast of vampire characters are there:  the vampire, the protagonist, the protagonist's love (in this case, his wife), the vampire's servant, and the town mob.

Nosferatu, being made in the 1920s, is a silent film.  Being from an era of classic movies not only gives it some of its charm, but a lot of its creepy factor.  Without talking from the characters to tell the story, the entire story has to be driven by the musical score and the physical acting of the characters.  Music has always played a major role in films, and to this day helps to set the tone...especially in scary movies.  In silent films, the music not only helps to set the tone...it IS the tone.  Ok, so, that's an exaggeration.  But it definitely played a much bigger role back then.  So how was the music?  Pretty good, actually.  It's probably not a soundtrack that I would listen to just for the sake of listening to it.  And there aren't really any instantly noticeable songs (such as the themes to Godfather, Star Wars, or Superman, which are known to everyone - even people who have never seen those movies).  But there is no question about what tone is being conveyed in each scene.  And there are musical themes that you will pick up that belong to each main character.  There were a few times that the music reminded me of the theme from Halloween.  To me, this shows how the tones that helped to set the scenes in Nosferatu have persisted on into today's horror.

As far as the look of the film, there are some beautifully composed shots.  And some of the effects, which must have been groundbreaking at the time, still hold up for helping Orlock be super creepy.  Unfortunately, because the film is so old, the quality of the film has not fared well and there are several times that the color will change.  Most of the time, it's a standard sepia tone.  But on occasion will have tints of blue, green, or red.

Now, onto the physical acting.  For the most part, the acting was what you would expect from your average silent movie - big smiles and over-exaggerated movements.  Except for Orlock (played by Max Schreck).  Schreck's blank expressions, unwavering stares, and cold, deliberate movements are such a stark contrast that it really helps to set him apart.  While there wasn't much "startle" factor, there were a few scenes that are downright creepy! There are rumors surrounding the movie (rumors that served as the basis of the movie Shadow of the Vampire) that Schreck himself was an actual vampire.  And with how well he played Count Orlock, I can certainly see why those rumors were started.

Recommendation:  This is definitely a must see!  Whether you are a fan of horror movies, or just a fan of movies in general, you owe it to yourself to see this classic.  There was no blood, so this certainly isn't going to be the goriest movie of the month.  And there weren't really any startling moments of loud noises as things jump out of the shadows or of closets, so this isn't going to be the scariest movie of the month either.  But Nosferatu was able to be creepy from just the music and the performance of one character (seriously, Schreck nailed that role).  It was creepy in the same way that reading a book can sometimes be scarier than watching a movie, because your imagination fills in some of the missing pieces.

On a side note:  From a film-lover's view, this film seemed to have such an impact on many other movies that I loved that were a bit creepy.  Most notably, the music at times reminded me of Halloween, and the look of Count Orlock reminded me of The Strangers from Dark City (see below) and the vampires from 30 Days of Night.

Nosferatu - doorway scene

Dark City - doorway scene

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month (if you have any suggestions for a catchy name for this month of reviews, feel free to send them my way).