Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Scary or Die

Scary or Die (2012)
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This is an anthology film of five short stories that are loosely (very loosely) tied together.  The synopsis on IMDB and Netflix (about a man that gets bitten by a flesh-eating clown and then starts transforming into a clown himself) is only one of the five short stories.  While that story certainly wasn't terribly amazing, it was probably my favorite of the five.  I wish that they had just made the entire movie about the clown story.  The second and third stories were decent little short stories, but I think that the clown story could potentially have stood on its own if it had been more fully developed.

The reason that I think that the clown story could have stood on its own is not because of the creepy clown (which, when you do see the guy transformed into the clown, IS pretty creepy), but because of some of the other implications.  To me, the story was more about turning into the monster you fear, losing your family and loved ones, suffering for the ones you love, and being doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Rating/Recommendation:  2/5.  Pass.  While I think that the clown story had glimmers of being a decent story, and some of the other short stories were fine for what they were, the overall film just didn't work for me.  As I have mentioned in previous posts this month, what makes horror movies good is not the gore or the startles, but the implications and the underlying fears that so many people have.  Of course, there are also the horrorible movies that are enjoyable to watch just because they are so ridiculous (e.g. Sharknado).  Scary or Die is one of so many movies that falls short of both categories.  It wasn't profound enough to make you think or to really delve into the depths of the human psyche.  But, except for parts of the clown story, it also wasn't ridiculous enough to enjoy for the sheer idiocy of it all.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review in the last few days of Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Hollow

Hollow (2011)
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Hollow is about a mysterious tree with a history of couples hanging themselves from it.  This is a found footage film that follows two couples vacationing in the country near the mysterious tree.

As soon as the movies started, my first reaction was "UGH....a found footage film."  There have been times that the found footage films have actually worked.  But, most of the time, I think that it feels too gimmicky and doesn't work as well as it was intended.  One of my biggest complaints about found footage films is that most of them don't explain why everything is actually being recorded in the first place.  That is definitely the case in Hollow.  There is one quick comment towards the beginning where a character says "if you could just record everything, that would be lovely."  But, that doesn't actually explain why it is that they are recording anything at all.

There were a few things about the found footage angle that actually worked.  Specifically, I think that the lack of music actually worked.  Without any music to let you know the mood or what to expect, there are some parts that end up being pretty creepy.  Some of the unknown and the expectation of something jumping out at you does raise some of the anticipation.  However, I don't feel like they ever lived up to the anticipation they set.  There is one scene towards the end that is pretty creepy.  But, other than that one scene, I feel like most of the horror aspect falls short.

Even though the lack of music worked in the movie's favor, I have another big gripe about the sound in found footage movies.  Rather than picking up more of the background noises to provide a more complete atmosphere, too much of the background noise is cut out so that you can hear the voices more clearly.  The only times that you hear background noises are when they really want to emphasize the "what was that noise???" of it all.

While the sound quality being almost too good took me out of the movie a little bit, the use of light and dark helped to bring me back in a bit.  During scenes that took place at night, when the light on the camera was the only source of light, you only saw where the light was shining.  Only being able to see what was a few feet in front of you definitely added to the tension.  It gave me almost the same sense of tension as Descent did with it's use of light and dark.  In fact, I feel like it played on a very similar fear, but just on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Descent played on the dark in enclosed spaces, whereas Hollow played on the fear of the dark in open spaces.  It was almost like the open spaces in the dark were too vast, resulting in feeling claustrophobic.

They were able to use some low budget techniques to build a lot of the suspense. But, I feel like there was a lot of buildup without much payoff. There are plenty of times where the suspense could have had huge payoffs! On the one hand, it definitely plays on the fear of the unknown, the fear of the dark, and the fear of too much empty space. But I just felt like it fell short somehow. With the dark and the reflection of the light on the windows, there is so much potential to be terrified – they even talk about how the reflection is limiting their view. But they just never really seem to capitalize on that.

If they had made it PG-13, I think they actually could have gotten away with more of what they did. By that, I mean that if they had been PG-13, then they wouldn't have been able to show as much...which would have made the suspense a practical choice to achieve the fear. However, to have the swearing and nudity, the horror aspect felt like it fell short for an R movie.

Rating/Recommendation:  2.5/5.  Pass.  I think that this movie had some potential, but the use of the found footage gimmick took me out of the movie a lot more than it brought me into it.  The lack of music and the use of light and dark helped to bring me in, but there were too many inconsistencies that took me right back out.  They make a point to mention that the power goes out in the house in which they are staying, but there is never any explanation about how they keep powering the camera for so long.  There are a lot of scenes that say something along the lines of turning off the camera, but it keeps recording. It's like they throw that line in a few times to remind everyone it's found footage and that the characters know that there is a camera...but then they don't actually react as someone would if they really wanted the camera turned off.  Also, it doesn't make sense that the entire movie, there are jump cuts when they aren't recording. But, towards the end, when they finally start mentioning that they are low on battery, when they cut the camera off, it goes black for a couple seconds. It should jump directly to the next footage, just like the rest of the movie.

Side note:  All I could think about the entire time was the kite-eating tree from Charlie Brown.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1910)

This is a loose adaptation of the classic Frankenstein story.  In this version, Frankenstein is a young medical student who discovers a way to reanimate the dead.

This version is from Edison Studios and is considered to be one of the first American horror films, if not the very first.  Since it is such an early recording, the video quality is understandably pretty bad.  In the version that I watched, the music was very clear - so it had obviously been re-recorded.  Since it was a new recording, I'm not sure if it is the same musical score that was used with the original film.  However, there were several different versions that all used the same score, so I assume that it is either the original score, or it is the most widely accepted one.  In some of the versions, the music is very weak, which does not help improve the quality of the film.  In the version that I watched, the music was just haunting enough that it did help to set the tone.

Even though this was just a short, silent film, there were some moments that were very intriguing.  When the monster sees himself, he is terrified of his own existence.  But, to me, the best part of the film was the creation of the monster.  The effect of the monster being created was achieved by filming the monster falling apart, and then playing the footage in reverse.  While this is a common technique now, it must have been absolutely groundbreaking at the time!!

I could see how this might have been terrifying when it was released in 1910, but it was not nearly as creepy as I was hoping it would be.  One of my favorite movies is Nosferatu (you can read my full review here to find out more about why I love it so much).  With as hauntingly creepy as Nosferatu is, I was hoping that Frankenstein was going to be a bit more scary.  The scariest part was when the monster was actually being created.  On the one hand, it was pretty creepy to see the monster form around a skeleton in a cauldron.  On the other hand, it looked a bit like Geoffrey Peterson (Craig Ferguson's sidekick) taking a bath.

Rating/Recommendation:  2.5/5.  There were some inspired moments, but overall, it didn't leave as lasting of an impression on me.  It's worth checking out though, primarily because of the historical aspects.  While the movie itself didn't have much of an impact on me, I did love watching one of the first horror films to see how far things have come in the last century!  If you are going to watch it, I recommend this version:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-fM9meqfQ4

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: The Fly

The Fly (1958)
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A scientific experiment on teleportation goes horribly wrong when the scientist attempts to transport a human.  The Fly starts out with a murder using a piece of industrial machinery.  Even though it doesn't show it in detail, it showed a little more than I expected for a movie from 1958.  The man was allegedly murdered by his wife, but there is something that seems a bit off in how she describes what transpired at the factory.  Eventually, the wife says what really happened leading up to her husband's death.  At this point, almost the rest of the story takes place as a flashback.

Overall, I enjoyed The Fly.  However, I think that I would have enjoyed it more if I had been in the mood for a classic sci-fi movie, rather than a classic horror movie.  That being said, once the half-man/half-fly creature showed up, it had some pretty spooky parts.  Not only because of the horror of the creature, but more specifically because of the torment that the scientist is going through.  It deals with more than just a monster.  It deals with a suffering existence and existential (and actual) suicide.

My biggest complaint is that it too long to actually get to the fly creature.  Rather than having to get to the point where a flashback was used to tell the story, I think that the pacing would have been much better if it had just started where the flashback started.  There were a lot of great elements, but I think that too many of them were underutilized.

Rating/Recommendation:  3/5.  I saw Cronenberg's version many, many years ago.  I was unaware at the time that it was a remake of this film from 1958 by Kurt Neumann.  While it is technically a remake, there are some drastic differences from Neumann's version to Cronenberg's version.  I was pretty young when I first saw Cronenberg's version, so there were a lot of scenes that I had to either close my eyes for or leave the room for.  However, I still remember that it was pretty intense.  With that version in mind, this version was incredibly tame.  I think that going into this film with Cronenberg's version in mind probably affected my perception.  Rather than being able to watch it for it's classic sci-fi elements, I kept waiting for the fly to show up - and I ended up waiting much longer than I expected.  While it might not have lived up to my expectations, it was still enjoyable.  I recommend watching it, but maybe not for Halloween Movie Month.  If I do a classic sci-fi month, then The Fly might get a higher recommendation..

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Carrie

Carrie (2013)
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The 2013 Carrie remake follows pretty much the exact same plot line as the original - an awkward teen with an overly religious mother is tormented at school until she discovers that she has telekinetic powers.  Since the remake follows so closely to the original, and since I just watched the original a week ago, it is unavoidable that this review will be more of a comparison between the two.  As a result, most of my comments will be direct responses to what I liked (and didn't like) from the original.

One of my complaints with the original was that there was such a stark dichotomy between the excessive religiosity of Carrie's mother and the evil of Chris Hargensen.  In the original, there was no balance between evil and zealot.  While I understand the literary and thematic reasons for having those extremes, I still did not like how there was no middle ground.  In the 2013 version, Carrie herself is presented as that middle ground.  She still has a very strong sense of religiosity, but in the first interaction between Carrie and her mother, Carrie corrects her mother by telling her that what she (the mother) is saying is not from the Bible.  While I do like that there is a middle ground that is being presented, I actually don't think that it works very well for that middle ground to be Carrie.  In the original, Sissy Spacek play awkward, underdeveloped, and tormented so well - it makes sense that she would act the way she does as a result of being raised alone by her religious zealot mother.  In the 2013 version, Carrie starts out a little too confident.  She almost seems too "normal" to have been raised in such an environment.  Something else that helped to bring some balance was the portrayal of Carrie's mother having some psychological issues (several scenes of her cutting herself), rather than just being portrayed as overly religious.

As far as the evil of Chris, I actually think that the original portrayal showed more evil.  Sure, the remake has her cutting the throat of the pig to gather the blood for the infamous prom scene.  But, there seems to be hesitation.  She doesn't seem as confidently and immediately as malicious.  Although she did not actually touch the pig in the original, the sense of pleasure that she exhibited during the killing of the pig appeared to me to be much more immediate and intense.  In other words, even though she killed the pig, it didn't seem to me like she enjoyed it all that much.  Whereas in the original, even though she did not kill the pig, she seemed to enjoy it terribly.

One of my biggest complaints about the original is that it spent too much time with the side story of what the other girls were planning to do with Carrie, rather than on Carrie's actual story.  The 2013 version definitely showed a lot more character development of Carrie, as well as a lot more interaction between Carrie and her mother.  Even though I think that Carrie started out a little too normal, I am very glad that there was more of the movie actually showing her character development.

In the original, I felt as though much of the music was almost too descriptive.  In the remake, there was more of a unified theme running throughout the score.  However, there was nothing that really made it stand out.  So, although it was unified, it became more of just a forgettable background soundtrack.  Also, there was a bit too much foreshadowing.  This would have been fine if there had been a few more drastic differences between the original and the remake.  However, since the remake stuck so closely to the script of the original, it was less of foreshadowing and more of "you already know what's about to happen, but we are going to give a little nod to that."

I think that Chloe Grace Moretz is an amazing actor and I think that she definitely brought a lot of respect to the role, while also making the character her own.  However, Sissy Spacek's portrayal of a tormented teen is just so iconic - it's hard to top it!  In the original, Sissy Spacek's portrayal of Carrie at the end of the prom scene is so disturbingly creepy because it seems as though she has lost control and is almost comatose with her powers.  She stands completely still, eyes as wide as they can be, and simply looks at the objects to control them.  In the remake, the horror is a bit more visual.  Chloe Grace Moretz portrays Carrie as having much more control and intention with her powers.  She moves around more and is more interactive with her powers.  Rather than simply flipping Chris's car when she is about to be run over, Carrie actually seeks out Chris and her boyfriend.  A lot more deaths are actually shown, but that doesn't make it any less creepy.  It just plays more on the gruesomeness of death, rather than the psychological horror of it.  This is especially clear in the final scene.  One of the things that was so haunting to me, and one of the things that I loved so much about the original, was that it showed the after-effects of Sue losing her mind as a result of seeing so many of her friends die.  In the remake, she does not appear to have any lasting effects of witnessing such a trauma.

Rating/Recommendation:  3/5.  There are some things that I think the remake definitely improved upon.  However, there were a lot of decisions that I felt were missteps and that did not work as well as the original.  I still really enjoyed Carrie (2013) and I would definitely watch it again.  The remake had more development of Carrie and her mother, and there was more death and destruction in the prom scene.  But, the original was just so much creepier and had much more psychological horror at the end - especially in the way that Sissy Spacek played that terrified terror.  I think that the 2013 version is still enjoyable and is worth adding to your queue.  However, if I were to show Carrie to someone who had never seen it before, I would most definitely go with the original version.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: ParaNorman

ParaNorman (2012)
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ParaNorman is about a boy who can talk to ghosts and is the only hope of protecting his town from a centuries-old curse.

This is a pretty standard story for an animated kids movie - an awkward kid, who is tormented because he is misunderstood, must learn to embrace who he is while the rest of the town learns how to accept those who are different.  However, I don't know how appropriate it is for young children.  The movie starts with Norman watching a zombie movie and talking to his recently deceased grandmother.  His family's reaction is pretty harsh, basically saying "she's dead, move on."  The subjects of death, loss, loneliness, misunderstanding, judging others, fear, and mental stability are some of the more mature themes that are found throughout the movie.

Along with some mature thematic elements, most of the humor is pretty morbid.  There is one scene that immediately comes to mind where there is a slapstick comedy bit - with a lifeless corpse.  Although I laughed at that scene and thought there was a good balance between humor and morbidity, I think that this kind of humor might be a little too mature for kids.  It's not that it is too explicit, but rather it's that the content and topic of death might be a little more than what most kids are able to handle.  Plus, there were some scenes that were actually pretty creepy, especially for a kids movie.

However, once your kids are old enough to handle the mature subject matter of death and the occasional creepy scene (and one time where the grandmother calls someone a "jackass"), I highly recommend it!  I loved the stop-motion animation style and the amount of detail that went into it.  In some scenes, you can see reflections in the characters eyes, as you would in real life.  There was some great cinematography, use of color, and light and shadow.  Plus, there were some nice little nods to classic horror movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.

Rating/Recommendation:  4/5.  I really loved this movie!  The characters were relate-able, lovable, and showed actual character development.  The morals were clear, but there was some ambiguity in who was "bad" and why - which I felt created more depth and complexity.  And the animation and voice-acting really brought these characters to life...even the zombies.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

Friday, October 10, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: The Fog (2005)

The Fog (2005)
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The Fog is about a small island town that becomes haunted when a mysterious fog rolls in on the day that the town is celebrating its past by unveiling a statue honoring its four founders.

This is a remake of John Carpenter's film of the same name from 1980.  I have not yet seen the original, but from what I have read and heard about it, the fear of the unknown and the use of your own imagination to fill in the gaps is part of what makes it genuinely creepy.  In the remake, the first startle is exactly where and what you expect it to be (based on the setting).  In fact, all of the "scares" were predictable.  That is part of what makes this film so disappointing.

One of my problems with modernizing movies too much is that it takes something that is a bit more timeless and turns it into something that feels very dated very quickly. I've not seen the original, so I don't know how timeless it is. But, I feel like it probably holds up better than this.

I love John Carpenter's films and his ability to draw you in and make you forget about the fact that you are watching a movie.  In this remake, there is nothing that drew me in. All of the actors were too "pretty" and lacked that sense of realism from Carpenter's films.  Most of the lines were either flat or overacted.  The sound effects and sound mixing lacked depth.  There were some plot holes - making a story about ghosts even less believable.  Since there was nothing that drew me in, the unknown did not intensify the fear.  Instead, the unknown intensified the boredom.  Also, there was so much foreshadowing, they didn't really leave much left to be unknown.

It's hard to improve on a John Carpenter film. And this movie does not meet the challenge.  The most disappointing part is that John Carpenter was one of the producers. I would have liked to have thought that meant that there would be better quality. But, I think that what it meant was that he gave them the "ok" to make it as long as he was credited as a producer.

Rating/Recommendation:  1/5.  Pass.  The Fog certainly was not the worst movie that I have ever seen, but I do not ever plan on watching it again.  With the lack of scares, the lack of connection to the characters, and the overacting, The Fog borders on being "so bad, it's good"...but without breaking the barrier back into the good category.  

Side note:  I lost track of how many times someone is thrown through a window and how many times someone says "we gotta go!"

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue:  The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)
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This documentary is exactly what the title says - the evolution of the American horror film.  Starting with Thomas Edison's adaptation of Frankenstein and going all the way up to modern (as of when the documentary was made) horror, Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue discusses the implications of horror and how it mirrors the fears of society.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It pretty much encapsulates why I love horror. Not for the blood and the gore, but for the societal and psychological commentaries. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who love horror movies for just the sex and gore. And there are people out there who love horror because of twisted pleasures. But, there are also plenty of people out there like me. They enjoy the message. Some people might argue “well, if it's just the message you like, then why do you have to watch horror?” And I think that it's because horror films let you get away with showing more of the gritty side of humanity. There are some dramas that get into the dark side of humanity, but when it comes to movies that are marketed for more of a mainstream audience, they are not able to go as deep into the concepts and into the meanings. There are plenty of other independent films (not horror) that accomplish this as well. But, still, there is just something about horror movies. They play on the Jungian archetypes and collective nightmares. Since my background is in psychology, I am continually fascinated by what it means to be human - the good and the bad.

I recently had a conversation about the difference between horror, gore, and startle.  Some people will talk about how scary a movie was, but all that really means is that there were some startling scenes.  Other people will talk about how scary a movie was, but it really just means that there was a lot of blood and gore.  But when it comes to horror (true horror) - that is something that will stay with you for a while.  True horror plays on real fears.  It shines a light on the horrors of mankind.  One of the quotes from the documentary talks about these horrors, saying "ordinary men (are) turned outwardly monstrous by cruel fate and turned inwardly monstrous by the cruelty of men."  The concept was described another way as two different types of ghost stories told around a fire:  one where the warning is about the evil "out there" and the other is where the warning is about the evil within yourself.   I think that when it comes to horror versus gore and startle, it is the evil within that has the biggest impact on creating true horror.  While it might not always be easy to kill the monsters in horror movies, it is even more difficult to confront and slay our own internal struggles.

Even though the conversations themselves are clean (I do not remember much, if any, swearing), there is a lot of footage shown from various horror movies - and that footage does not shy away from the nudity and gore that is found in many horror movies.  So, even though the discussions are appropriate for people who might not be fans of horror, the footage that is shown might still be upsetting to them.

The biggest complaint that I have is that this documentary does give away some of the endings of some of the movies. While there are some movies that knowing the end will not spoil the experience of watching the film, there are some movies where the ending is the most important part.  That being said...the majority of endings that are discussed are from movies that are at least a decade old.  So, yes, there are some spoilers.  But, they are on movies that you most likely already have some level of familiarity, or movies that you have already decided that you will never watch.

Rating/Recommendation:  4/5.  Definitely add this one to your Netflix queue.  This documentary was intellectual, educational, entertaining, and thought provoking.  If you watch it with anyone who is a fan of movies, or anyone who enjoys philosophical conversations about the nature of humanity, you are almost guaranteed to have an engaging conversation after the movie.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love talking about movies. And when it comes to horror movies, the conversations that I enjoy having are the ones about the meanings. I generally do not enjoy conversations about “did you see all that blood???” because I have found that those conversations generally do not go anywhere and get really boring really quick. So, as we go through the rest of Halloween Movie Month, share with me how the movies I review play on your fears and societal views. Or, just enjoy them for a good scream.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Carrie

Carrie (1976)
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Even though I love movies, there are a bunch of classics that I am embarrassed to say that I have never seen before.  Carrie is one of those movies.  Carrie is also one of those movies that everyone knows the plot to.  I seriously cannot remember a time when I did not know what happens at the end of Carrie.  While that does take away some of the surprise of what happens, I still enjoy seeing the how of what happens - what leads up to the dramatic end.  Also, I really want to see the remake because it looks like it is awesome!...and I wanted to see the original before the remake.

Even though everyone knows the plot of Carrie and it is almost 40 years old, let me go ahead and say that there will be some spoilers below.  If you have never seen Carrie and have somehow managed to go 40 years without any hearing any spoilers, scroll to the bottom of the page to see my rating and recommendation.  Otherwise, continue reading.

One of the things that struck me was that Carrie's mother, who played a large part in Carrie's developmental delays, was a religious zealot.  I don't like the fact that the only two characters who show any sense of religion are Carrie and her zealot mother.  It plays on the stereotype that Christians are wackos and not to be trusted.  Unfortunately, there are some people out there who do live up to that stereotype.  But, there are also plenty of people out there who are good examples of what Christians are supposed to be (since I am just focusing on the movie right now, I will not be addressing the theological and philosophical perspectives that go into what actually makes a good Christian).  I wish that Carrie had at least one other character to present some sort of balance.  But, the imbalance and extremism are also literary and filmatic techniques to emphasize dichotomies.  In Carrie, that dichotomy is between the innocent and naive Carrie and the pure evil of Chris Hargensen. The character of Chris might seem like just a bully at the beginning, but the scene where John Travolta's character kills a pig to get the blood they will later dump on Carrie - she seems to get a very sick sense of satisfaction from the brutality.

My biggest complaint is that it felt like more of the movie focused on the plot of what the other girls were planning to do to Carrie, rather than on Carrie's actual story.  Sissy Spacek does a great job, but I would have loved to have seen more of her progression and character development.  To go from abused and tormented under the stairs and living in fear, to standing up to her mother - there was a huge amount of character development that goes largely unseen.

I also have a few smaller complaints.  The music is almost too descriptive.  It's either very clearly calm, psychotic, or confusion, but I don't really hear many themes running through the different pieces of music.  I wish that there had been a more unifying theme throughout all of the music.  Also, the detention scene didn't really seem to fit the tone of the movie.  It felt like the humor was a little too forced in this scene.  I think that it would have been a better fit for movies like Revenge of the Nerds or Porky's.

Rating & recommendation:  3.5.  Carrie is a classic and is required viewing for any fan of horror.  To be such an iconic horror movie though, there isn't any actual horror for the majority of the movie.  If this was the first time that you had ever seen the movie and you had no idea about the iconic prom scene, then the ending of the movie would get seriously creepy pretty quick.  Also, even though there aren't too many deaths that are actually shown, there is the implication that so many high schoolers die a fiery death.  But, the blood and the gore is not why Carrie has become such a classic.  Like many of Stephen King's stories, it is the psychological aspects that really play up the horror.  It might seem like the end scene of Sue having a nightmare is unnecessary.  However, that does what so few horror movies do...it shows some of the psychological trauma that the victims suffer, long after the source of horror has been removed.

Side notes:

  • The movie is definitely rated R.  The second scene in the movie is in the girls locker room with lots of full-frontal nudity.  That scene also makes it very clear that the movie is from the 70s.  
  • I thought that two of the characters looked familiar - and I was right!  Tommy Ross looked like the Greatest American Hero and one of the background girls looked like the secretary from Ferris Beuler's Day Off - I was right on both accounts.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Netflix instant

House on Haunted Hill is a classic, so most fans of horror are probably already familiar with the plot (even if they haven't actually seen it).  But, if you haven't seen it, it's about a millionaire that invites five guests to his haunted house.  Anyone who is able to make it through the night will receive $10,000.  Among the five people who were invited, one of them is allegedly the only person who had ever survived a night in the house.

I saw the remake with Geoffrey Rush several years ago, but this is the first time that I had ever seen the original.  It has been several years since I saw the remake, so I can't remember too much about the quality of the film.  I remember thinking that there were some good parts, but I don't remember being terribly impressed with it (if I get a chance to rewatch the remake, I will post my review).

Even though I don't remember the remake being terribly good, I really enjoyed the original.  There is something about classic horror movies that are just plain creepy!  Rather than relying on blood, gore, and cgi to provide the scares, classic movies rely on practical effects and play on more base-level fears that stick with you after the movie is over.  The first time there is a genuine scare in House on Haunted Hill...gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh......it's creepy.  Even though some of the dialogue is presented in a somewhat cheesy manner sometimes, the stories about the ghosts are presented with a level of conviction that draws you into the story.

The biggest downside about this movie is the sound quality.  The dialogue is pretty quiet, so I kept turning up the volume.  But, anytime anyone would scream, it would almost be deafening.  I was constantly turning the volume up and down every few minutes.  It wouldn't have been much of a problem to leave the volume up, if it weren't for the fact that I didn't want my neighbors to get the wrong impression of what was happening in my place.

House on Haunted Hill started out a little slow, but as it goes along, Vincent Price's character becomes increasingly creepy.  His portrayal is one of the biggest factors that helps gives this movie it's scares.

Rating:  3.5/5

Recommendation:  This is a definite watch!  Whether you are just a casual fan of scary movies and only watch them during Halloween, or you are a hardcore horror fan, I think that House on Haunted Hill will help get you ready for Halloween.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Oasis of the Zombies

Oasis of the Zombies (or The Treasure of the Living Dead) (1982)
Netflix streaming

This movie is listed as Oasis of the Zombies on Netflix, but IMDB lists it as The Treasure of the Living Dead.  Both of those titles sound like they could be campy, cheesy movies that are enjoyable because of how comically bad they are.  Unfortunately, that isn't the case and there isn't all that much more to actually say about this movie.  The film quality is worse than a 70s home movie.  And there is so much zooming in and out that you almost need Dramamine to be able to watch it.  Seriously, just about every other camera angle change starts with slow zoom in. Technical shortcomings aside, this movie is just boring.  The only way that it would be enjoyable to watch is if Mystery Science Theater 3000 had covered it.  But, there are topless scenes, so they would never have been able to show it (even those scenes are boring too).

I wish that I could say more about it, but Oasis of the Zombies was so boring that there isn't even much to say about how bad it was.  If you want to see a movie about Nazi zombies guarding their gold (that's the plot, by the way), then skip Oasis of the Zombies and go straight to Dead Snow (the review of which can be found here).

Rating:  1/5

Recommendation:  Pass.  The only way this movie would be watchable is if and your friends are fans of MST3K and you enjoy getting together to make fun of bad movies.  But even then, it's still pretty boring.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here an on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Friday, October 3, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: Grabbers

Grabbers (2012)
Netflix streaming

Grabbers is a delightfully enjoyable Irish horror-comedy about alien squid that can't hold their liquor.  Ok, so there is a bit more to the plot than that.  A small Irish island is being attached by blood-scucking alien squid creatures and the only hope for the townspeople is to get drunk to avoid being eaten, because the alcohol is toxic to the creatures.

Grabbers was a bit of an odd mix for me.  It is definitely a horror-comedy with some good lines and a production value that makes the deaths and the creatures not be distractingly bad cgi.  I really like the use of orchestral music for the soundtrack, but it was a bit too pervasive and in the foreground when I felt like it would have been better served by being in the background.  There was good acting throughout, but the only way you know that the main character is supposed to be a drunkard is because one of the characters keeps saying that he is (rather than a convincing presentation of an inebriated individual).  The grabbers have a definite presence in the film, but in retrospect I feel as though they weren't actually on screen all that much.  You find yourself rooting for the two main characters to get together, but there isn't much to explain the relationship between them.

But despite all of the apparent shortcomings, I still really enjoyed Grabbers!  Maybe it's because it felt like an Irish version of Slither (which I love).  Maybe it's because I've not really seen too many Irish horror movies, so this felt like a relatively new experience for me.  Maybe it's because most horror-comedies go to the extreme of being horrorible, where you watch it because of how ridiculous and/or bad it is, rather than for actual cinematic enjoyment.  Whatever the reason, there is definitely something in the gestalt of the Grabbers that made it a delightfully enjoyable experience overall.

Rating:  3.5/5

Recommendation:   Watch it!  Good production value, good one liners, good cgi, and good acting help Grabbers to be a fun Friday night creature feature.  Although, there is enough swearing in it to make it not be family friendly.  But, if you are sitting down to watch a horror movie (of just about any variety), you probably shouldn't have your kids with you anyways.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Halloween Movie Month: The ABCs of Death

The ABCs of Death (2012)
Netflix streaming

The ABCs of Death is an anthology of 26 short films - one for every letter of the alphabet.  Twenty-six different directors (27, actually - one of the shorts had two directors) were each given a letter of the alphabet, told to choose a word that starts with that letter, and then create a horror short based on their word.

From the outset, I really liked the concept!  I grew up watching the Twilight Zone, so I have a special place in my heart for short stories that have a big impact.  However, in the Twilight Zone, the impact focused more on what it is to be human and how slight changes can have serious, dramatic implications.  In The ABCs of Death, the big impact that they try to make in their short time feels more like "how much gore can I cram in this short amount of time?"  While that might be the overall feel, there were some vignettes that were much darker with much deeper implications.

As the title implies, every story involved the death of one (or all) of the characters.  Since death was the central theme and you knew that there was going to be at least one death in the next 5 minutes, the stories very quickly (around the letter E) lost the surprise factor.  This resulted in many of the stories feeling like just an exercise in excess of gore.  Some stories were unrealistic and just silly (especially the letter F - for Fart), some of them played on real fears or social commentaries, but most of them were more like music videos with excessive gore and scatological humor.

All that being said, there was something captivating about this anthology to me.  It could be because it reminded me of ghost stories around a campfire (especially B for Bigfoot), it could be because it reminded me of  Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies (which is delightfully dark!) or Andy Riley's The Book of Bunny Suicides, or it could be because I'm a fan of Troma videos and their excessive independence.

Rating:  3/5 - The ABCs of Death had really good production value, a variety of thematic styles, and seemingly no fear when it came to what to show and what should be censored.  Overall, I enjoyed watching it, I'd be willing to watch it again, but I don't know if I would necessarily actively want to watch it again.

Recommendation:  Even though I give it a 3, my recommendation is pass.  If you are not a fan of horror, you will absolutely hate the excessive amounts of gore.  If you are just a casual horror fan, you will probably not enjoy how disturbing some of the stories get.  If you are a huge horror fan, you might actually enjoy it...but, you might also feel like a lot of the stories are a little stale and lacking some innovation.  Of course, that is probably because it is difficult to be completely original with just 5 minutes.

There is excessive gore.  There are stories involving children and animals that get pretty disturbing.  The stories that involve sex involve some of the more disturbed views of it.  Overall, I just don't think that most people would enjoy it.  There are some vignettes that intrigued me and I would love to see fuller versions of them.  For major horror fans, give it a shot.  But for the general public, this is a definite pass.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

-The Gargyle

Halloween Movie Month

I love this time of year.  The weather starts getting a little cooler in the evenings (although, there is still probably at least a month before it'll be cold enough for me to be able to start wearing sweaters and scarves again), there is an overabundance of pumpkin-spiced everything, and Halloween is on the horizon (with Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner)!  So, to celebrate the oncoming autumn, I am going to attempt to do my Halloween Movie Month again.  I know that I have not been posting consistently over the past couple years, so it is unrealistic to think that I am magically going to be able to start having the time to watch a movie and post a review for every single day for the month of October.  I had a full summer, things have been pretty busy at work for the past several weeks, and I am still in the process of a recent move.  I clearly do not have an abundance of free-time right now.  But, I am still going to do my best to post a Halloween movie as often as I can during the month of October.  My goal is to post a daily review on a movie that can lead up to Halloween.  Whether the movie is suspense, horror, horrorible, gore, comedy, sci-fi or monster - my goal over the next month is to let you know what movies are and are not worth your time as you prepare for Halloween.  So sit back, grab some popcorn and some twizzlers, and get ready for Halloween Movie Month!!

I will also attempt to live-tweet during the movies that I watch.  So, follow me on twitter (@GargyleReviews) and look for #HalloweenMovieMonth

Be sure to check back often this month for more reviews!  In the meantime, follow me here and on twitter, and let me know what movies you'd like me to review for Halloween Movie Month.  First in the lineup is The ABCs of Death.  

- The Gargyle