Saturday, October 30, 2010

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 2

I should start by mentioning that I really enjoyed the first Paranormal Activity but it's standard business for people to not enjoy sequels so that was far from a guarantee that I'd be a fan of PA2. If nothing else, I actually expected NOT to like it. However, I write this review as someone who was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining I found the movie.

I'm going to skip the synopsis, you can find that anywhere. And I'm also going to avoid spoiling anything beyond saying I found it slick how well they managed to tie the first movie to the sequel.

The night prior to seeing PA2 my wife and I went to a local haunted house with some friends just to do something "Halloween-y." That trip did a good job of somewhat reinforcing what was good about PA2. Walking through the intentionally tight hallways with the tight turns that prevent you from seeing anything ahead of you has you constantly on edge and ready to have something pop out at you. You know something is going to jump out at you eventually, it's just a matter of when.

Paranormal Activity 2 is a trip to a haunted house, not an art gallery. During each scene my eyes were scanning left and right and up and down to see if I was missing anything subtle. And there are moments where small things move or turn that are very unsettling if you catch them. And, must as with a well designed haunted house, sometimes the obvious time for a scare is bypassed just to tease the audience.

The scares are good, there could have been more of them and there is an element of "too little" happening going on at times. There are plenty of things to complain about with the movie and I'll reference Anything Horror's review:

As with the first film, some of the exposition feels forced at times, and the use of the hand-held video often seems out of place. Kristi’s step-daughter is a precocious teen who, after a disconcerting babysitting encounter, inexplicably films herself searching the internet for an explanation. Of course, she conveniently finds the perfect wikipedia-like paragraph for what could be happening in the house, and she has her boyfriend read it out loud to her – on camera. It’s fairly lazy writing, but it easily furthers the story and allows us to get back to those highly anticipated night time terrors.
I have no doubt that the fact that movie studios force a yearly schedule for sequels hurts the ability to have a great script. It isn't impossible, but it's difficult and leads to those shortcuts to push the story a bit.

The acting is better in the sequel and the characters are more "real." Which is a relief given how much I HATED the characters in the first movie while still liking the movie as a whole.

Final Score: 3/5

It's not a great movie but it's an entertaining watch that delivers on its promise. That's a lot more than can be said for plenty of other horror movies. A few more scares being delivered would bump this up to a 3.5 but this is still absolutely worth a watch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Horror Blog Meme Thing

So I've been taking a few days away from writing due to a busy schedule. But I have been slowly working my way through months and months of horror blog back articles and I came across a few sites that did the Billy Loves Stu Horror Blog Meme...thing. And that seems like a good way to kill some time since I can't sleep anyway.

1: In Ten Words or Less, Describe Your Blog:

The unimpressive and overly critical ramblings of a horror geek.

2: During What Cinematic Era Where you Born?
A: The Classic Horror Era (late 30's to 40's)
B: The Atomic Monster/Nuclear Angst Era (the late 40's through 50's)
C: The Psycho Era ( Early 60's)
D: The Rosemary's Baby Era (Mid to Late 60's)
E: The Exorcism Era (Early to mid 70's)
F: The Halloween Era (Late 70's to Early 80's)
G: The Slasher Era (Mid to late 80's)
H: The Self Referential/Post Modern Era (1990 to 1999)

'83 would be The Halloween Era I suppose.

3: The Carrie Compatibility Question:
(gay men and straight women - make your choice from section A)
A: Billy Nolan or Tommy Ross, who would you take to the prom?
(straight guys and lesbians - make your choice from section B)
B: Sue Snell or Chris Hargensen, who would you take to the prom?

Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) was an absolute bitch. But she was a bitch with 70's boobs and you totally knew she was putting out after prom so it's an easy choice. Strangely enough Blow Out is on right now which has Nancy Allen staring alongside John Travolta in a really overlooked film.

4: You have been given an ungodly amount of money, and total control of a major motion picture studio - what would your dream Horror project be?

I'm such a sucker for huge scale stuff. Alien invasions, giant monster attacks, pandemics..etc. So I need to make some sort of Signs meets Cloverfield meets The Stand hybrid. But it has to be closely focused in on the characters not some phony 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact kind of thing. And while I recognize this would have to be awful I'd have to figure out how to spend so much money that EVERYONE has to see it.

5: What horror film "franchise" that others have embraced, left you cold?

That's hard to say because there's stuff like Psycho which has plenty of sequels that were all over the place in quality but the original was so amazing that it can't count. Every franchise ends up sucking somewhere in the sequels Do two movies count as a franchise? If so, I never got on board with Hatchet. I like Adam Green a lot but Hatchet just feels really forced.

6: Is Michael Bay the Antichrist?

No. But he clearly made a deal with the devil that ensured he'd ruin as many classic films as possible.

7: Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Frankenstein Monster - which one of these classic villains scares you, and why?

Frankenstein. Not because the monster scares me, but because bodies were desecrated to create him. Corpse desecration creeps me right the fuck out.

8: Tell me about a scene from a NON HORROR Film that scares the crap out of you:

I don't consider The Wicker Man (the original, you sick bastard) to be horror so I'd say the ending scene from The Wicker Man.

Edit: I wasn't really thinking when I did this originally. Awake messed me up bad. Any of the surgery scenes in that movie bothered me deeply. This all goes back to my having nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals). Not that anyone likes hospitals but I've had panic attacks just visiting friends who had minor knee surgery. Normally I can tolerate hospital stuff on TV and in movies but Awake just played into a lot of my biggest fears.

9: Baby Jane Hudson invites you over to her house for lunch. What do you bring?

A bottle of wine (I'm a good guest) and a nice cheese tray. Also, a cell phone so I can change my mind and cancel on the way there.

10: So, between you and me, do you have any ulterior motives for blogging? Come, on you can tell me, it will be our little secret, I won't tell a soul.

I write other places "professionally" so I need a blog like this where I'm not on a schedule and I can roll with writing whatever I like. It keeps me sharp for the "real thing."

11: What would you have brought to Rosemary Woodhouse's baby shower?

Where was she registered? I don't riff, I go off the registry list. But if my wife has taught me anything it's that rather than going after a big thing, it's fun to buy a lot of little stuff and wrap it all individually.

12: Godzilla vs The Cloverfield Monster, who wins?

The Cloverfield monster was a baby, Godzilla would be too crafty. Plus, Godzilla has experience battling all kinds of giant monsters. You just can't overvalue experience.

13: If you found out that Rob Zombie was reading your blog, what would you post in hopes that he read it?

There'd need to be some posts that explain to stop trying to do the era blending where it's totally the 70's but also it's modern. I loved House of 1,000 Corpses and Devil's Rejects more than most people but the Halloween stuff was just awful.

14: What is your favorite NON HORROR FILM, and why?

I really don't think I can answer that right now. Is that weird? It's weird isn't it?

15: If blogging technology did not exist, what would you be doing?

Looking for a job.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Movie Review: Deadgirl

Let me start by saying that actors who are (roughly) 23 and 25 years old really should not be playing 17 year old high school students. There is probably nothing more distracting in the entire Deadgirl experience than having to suspend disbelief enough to go along with the idea of two men who are old enough to have graduated from a 4 year university and had a few years in the "real world" are actually high school juniors.

But we can move on from that horribly distracting mess...for a little while anyway.

Short plot synopsis: Two high school students skip class and wander around an abandoned mental institution only to discover a woman; naked and tied to a bed. One friend figures this is a good chance to get laid (J.T.), the other (Ricky) wants to try to save her. J.T. leaves, Ricky has sex with her and ends up beating her to (what should be) death but the girl continues to function exactly as before. The fact that she is clearly not human leads to a question of if she needs to be treated like one. J.T. goes a bit crazy, spending seemingly all of his time in the room having sex with the "deadgirl." Without giving too much away, it is realized that there is a way to make more just like her despite the fact that she seems incredibly violent when she has the chance to sink her teeth in to someone, or something.

The fact that a site like Bloody Disgusting talks about how the film is similar to Stand By Me is completely absurd. Stand By Me was an outstanding coming of age story grounded in reality while Deadgirl is about the evil "bad kid" and the "bad kid" with a heart of gold and their struggle with fucking a dead girl. Not to say that this means that it can't be a good horror movie, it just means that no matter how hard you want to push an odd similarity with Stand By Me, it doesn't work. Also, it's hard to tell a coming of age story when you're watching grown men who have already come of age. I mean, shit, the main "bully" in the story played a college kid in We Are Marshall three years before this movie came out and looks like he's in his 30's.

I don't think the story is that good, I don't think the acting is good at all and what would at least be an unsettling tale of young high schoolers essentially raping a zombie has its punch taken away by the fact that they're grown men.

I simply refuse to be wowed by a movie for stepping outside convention and being "shocking" in it's subject matter and as such this is just kind of a crap movie.

Final Score: 1.5/5

Monday, October 18, 2010

Movie Review: The Loved Ones

Nothing bothers me more in discussions of current horror movies than the desire to reduce seemingly every movie depicting any scene of "torture" as "torture porn." And that is what many have done with the slick Australian production The Loved Ones.

When Brent (oooh, that's MY name!) turns down Lola for the end of school dance (because he's taking his girlfriend, which seems like a good enough reason) he ends up kidnapped by her father and...well...yes, tortured by the daddy-daughter team. But, let's stop there for a second because if we're going to claim that acts of torture constitute torture porn than we need to lay the inspiration for the sub-genre at the feet of films like Misery and The Marathon Man. And honestly, Misery is a much more apt comparison for The Loved Ones than Saw or Hostel.

I was not a particularly big fan of Wolf Creek and hadn't yet gotten on the Aussie horror bandwagon but this is another beast altogether. Rather than living in a world of harsh brutality and dim colors, director Sean Byrne and cinematographer
Simon Chapman live in the brightly colored world of teenage comedies.

There is a neat, but somewhat unnecessary situational juxtaposition going on during the length of the film where we're not only following Brent through hell but we also follow his seemingly "loser-y" friend while he goes on a first date and seems to have everything go his way. It's funny at times and does add to the "80's teen comedy that lost it's fucking mind" atmosphere to have a completely horrorless subplot taking place. But it doesn't have a whole lot to it and really seems there more to pad the running time than to provide us with anything as viewers other than, perhaps, moments to catch our breath.

There is a wrinkle thrown in late in the movie that certainly changes the tone of things from a standard hostage/torture situation but seems to be well explained and is set up subtly and doesn't go too far in derailing the rest of what has and has not yet happened.

The Loved Ones is well contained, well written, well acted, well filmed and doesn't try to do too much which is astounding to me for a first feature from Byrne. Everything just feels right and fresh from start to finish. And when I say from start, I mean even the opening song is great:

This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite horror releases of 2009-2010.

Final Score: 4.5/5

Friday, October 15, 2010

Coming Soon... Upcoming Theatrical Horror Releases

Oct 22

Paranormal Activity 2 - I thought the first Paranormal Activity was the tops, the second one has the choice to either build on the first and try to capture the same moody atmospheric aura or it will be a jump scare fest of lameness. It is very "sequel-y" to introduce a kid and an animal into the mix but I'm willing to give this a chance. Given the Blair Witch Project comparisons the first time around we'll just hope that this sequel is better than what they did with Blair Witch 2.

Oct 29

Saw 3D - I will gladly put the first three Saw movies up against any first three movies in any horror series. The first was a great, dread-filled piece of genre work that changed modern horror, the second was the one that really amped up the "trap" portion of things and made for a very solid experience and the third actually went ahead and tied the three movies together into a coherent package. If they'd stopped there it would have been fantastic. Instead, we got the next three which played out like a USA Network produced cop drama with gore in the middle. Now we go to 3D where I have little hope they did more than plan on having shit pointlessly fly at the screen rather than try to tie together all the random loose ends that have been left by 6 films. Not high hopes here but I've sat through them all, might as well see this one in 3D and finish it off.

Monsters - District 9: Mexico. Not really, but the idea of aliens that came to Earth and are now "residents" is similar enough. It looks to have a totally different tone though and also looks to be pretty damn awesome:

Nov 12

Skyline - A sci-fi thriller with visual effects by the same company responsible for 300 and Avatar. I don't know much about this...but I want to learn more.

That's it through the end of November for any horror coming to the theatre. There's a lot of "could be good, could be shit" coming our way.

Scenes You Should See: The Devils

In reading The Horror Digest I came across their entry about the 1971 movie The Devils. I had completely forgotten about this bizarre, beautiful and brutal film. Due to it's mix of sexuality, violence and religion it is one of the most controversial films of all time and was banned in 17 countries while director Ken Russell still won awards for his tremendous work.

Some of the original material that was cut due to censorship has been lost, and most of the versions to ever see release have been the heavily edited form. There is, however, a poor quality full-ish version of the film that can be tracked down by those willing to look hard enough.

Regardless, most of you will probably never watch the movie so here are two of the classic scenes from the film. If you don't want spoilers, don't watch them. Also, out of context these probably don't make a whole lot of sense. So if you want the entire plot and whatnot go check Wikipedia. And no, these do not include the famous nun orgy/rape of Jesus statue.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Movie Review: Frozen

Adam Green became a darling in the horror community with his 80's-esque slasher flick Hatchet. My wife and I went to see Hatchet on our first wedding anniversary and we...well, we did not enjoy it. I have had the DVD sitting on my shelf for a few months now and I keep meaning to give it a second chance but it hasn't happened yet.

But this isn't about Hatchet, it's about Green's most recent release: Frozen.

Frozen tells the story of three young people trapped on a ski resort chair lift. It's a simple enough concept and one that seems hard upon first hearing about to imagine stretched into a full length feature. Amazingly, this is a wonderful picture. It's chilling (pun originally not intended, realized and now fully intended) and incredibly well paced.

The biggest worry with simple concept horror movies like this is that the start will be incredibly slow to build to the "good parts" as they pretend they're developing characters rather than just trying to make sure they hit 90 minutes to make it feature-length. There is a bit of character development early on but it's effective in making you care about what happens to the three main characters going forward.

There are plenty of intensely violent moments making it very much the "modern" horror film. Taking such a simple concept and developing it into such a tense movie that there were many reports of audience members fainting while watching it in theatres really speaks highly of what Green can do when he focuses in on telling a story rather than trying to be clever and "insidey" like he did with Hatchet.

I don't want to go into much detail in hopes that someone who actually reads this blog decides to give the film a watch. Frozen is must watch stuff, it's not perfect but it is one of the most well crafted and simple releases of the past few years in the genre.

Final Score: 4/5