Thursday, October 31, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: Entire collection

All of my 31 Days of Halloween write-ups all together. All the horror movies I chose at random to write about this October.

1. The Last Exorcism

2. Suspiria 2018

3. The Last Man on Earth

4. Evil Dead

5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978

7. Blade II

8. Carrie

9. Nightmares in Red, White & Blue

10. Black Christmas

11. Sleepaway Camp

12. Psycho

13. C.H.U.D.

14. Anna and the Apocalypse

15. Monster Squad

16. The Ritual

17. Scary Movie

18. Scary Movie 2

19. The Haunting 1998

20. Rosemary's Baby

21. Mad Monster Party

22. Cloverfield

23. Coraline

24. Zombieland 2: Double Tap

25. Evil Dead II

26. The Birds

27. Jaws

28. Candyman

29. Demons

30. Shaun of the Dead

31. The Ring

31 Days of Halloween: "The Ring" 2002

When I think back on middle school, I don't think there was another horror movie that was more talked about than "The Ring." Hell, when I think back on the 2000's at large, I don't think there was another horror movie that was more talked about.

I was behind the curve on "The Ring," which was something I wasn't used to. Even as a budding film geek that I was in middle school. I had an internal notorious feeling toward the movie. All of my peers at seen the movie and it was all they seemed to talk about. I didn't see the movie for the first time until it came on video. I always tried to see beforehand, but I just never got the opportunity. But I heard how scary it supposedly was. I remember I had one friend who told me that when I eventually see the movie, he gave me three rules. Don't watch it alone, don't watch it at night and don't watch it in the dark.

One day during spring break, the movie landed in my mailbox via Netflix (remember when Netflix used to do that??). My parents were both at work, and I was curious as hell. I remembered what my friend told me. In was in the middle of the afternoon, it was a bright, sunshiney day, my whole house was lit up like a Christmas tree. I would only be breaking one rule. I quickly threw the disc into my player. Was it really as scary as everyone said it was? While I was pretty freaked out after that first viewing, I was obsessed with it. I loved every moment of it. I began talking about it to anyone who would listen. I told my mom about it, I told my dad about it. I was so smitten with it that I had my dad watch with me a second time that night. So I had watched the movie twice the first day it came to my house.

I seemed pretty jazzed up until the moment I tried to sleep. Then I couldn't sleep. Creepy images from the film kept slipping into my memory, and I was unable to shake them loose. I did not sleep at all that night. I tried several times, but Samara and her crazy creepy mother made sure I did not. When the sun rose the next morning, I took that Ring DVD, put it back in its Netflix sleeve and marched it right back to my mailbox.

The movie wasn't just a sensation for horror fans. It did fairly well at the box office. It was a critical success, something that didn't happen a lot that decade for horror films. I think why the film was so successful was for many reasons. First, it was nice to have a horror movie that was actually scary. It seemed for much of the 1990's, the horror genre took a break. Yes, we got stuff like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project" sneaking in but it was a dead-end for horror for the most part. So it felt fresh in the early 2000's to see something that was actually scary.

In more ways than one, "The Ring" was structured like a normal horror film at the time. It didn't feel or look like a typical mainstream horror film entry. Where were all the teenagers who can't act? Where were all the unlikable characters who make dumb decisions? Where were all the cheap thrills and buckets of blood? "The Ring" wasn't made for that, it was made to scare the absolute shit out of you and that's exactly what it did. The characters in the movie weren't dumb, they were proactive trying to save themselves and save the ones they love. The characters were relatable, they seemed like normal people, they didn't make dumb decisions. So when their lives were in peril, it mattered much more. Plus, Naomi Watts is an amazing actress, one of my personal favorites, and she really sold the thing.

The movie had near perfect cinematography, it had great music, and Rick Baker's make-up? Dear god. I can't even think about it. I don't want to think about it. It gives me chills thinking about it. There are always a bunch of little things that make a movie work and when those small things are all adding up, it can make the movie even more amazing.

"The Ring" also just feels like an assault. It worked on alot of people because it showed us things that even most horror movies don't dare. Children dying? Nope. And the scene with the horse is truly unforgettable.

"The Ring" is always going to have a special place in my heart, no matter what.

31 Days of Halloween: "Shaun of the Dead" 2004

Rom-Zom-Com. That's what "Shaun of the Dead" is. A Rom-Zom-Com.

It's the first of its kind, and we really haven't seen anything like it since.

What is a Rom-Zom-Com? Why, its a romantic zombie comedy of course. Its a movie that is tremendously funny, sincerely sweet and bloody disgusting all in equal measure. This is a romantic comedy that I can truly get behind. Directed by Edgar Wright, who gave us the likes of "Hot Fuzz," "At World's End," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and "Baby Driver," "Shaun of the Dead" is also a movie I love very, very much.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have collaborated on a few movies with Edgar Wright and they always create some spectacular results. Pegg plays Shaun, who is just another Joe Schmoe in this world trying to make it. Shaun's best friend is Ed, played by Frost, they live in a flat together and spend lots of time together as buddies. The thing is, Shaun has been in a committed relationship with a girl named Liz for awhile now. She's ready for more and she's not sure Shaun is ready for more, though. They break up, and Shaun is heartbroking. All the while the early stages of a zombie apocalypse is happening all around them.

There are some great gags hidden in every inch of this movie. I have always been interested in what happens in the time when the zombies begin to take over to the point where these movies usually start, at the tail end of things. One of my favorite openings to any movie is Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead," which ironically came out the same year as "Shaun of the Dead." It's both scary and exhilarating watching the world unfold into madness in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. "Shaun of the Dead" does something similar, just in a very funny way.

Fighting zombies with vinyl? Classic. Finding refuge in a pub? Funny. Fighting the undead to the sound of Queen? I love the scene. It's clear that Edgar Wright has soaked many comedies, zombie films and yes even romances to so gleefully poke at them the way he does here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Demons" 1985

Produced by the horror icon Dario Argento. Directed by Lamberto Bava, the son of the acclaimed horror filmmaker Mario Bava, "Demons" is quite something.

As someone who has been obsessed with movies all of my life, I used to dream up ideas for movies I'd make myself. One thing I always wanted to see was a movie where something bad happens in a movie auditorium. What if a bunch of patrons were in an auditorium were trapped watching some kind of cursed movie? Think about it, its a closed area, no much wriggle room to run. You can maybe hide, but even that is slightly limited depending on the size of the auditorium. It could be great fun in the right hands.

When I thought of this idea, I had no idea that Lamberto Bava's "Demons" was already in the world. The movie begins with several people in a sleepy little, unidentified town are all given invitations to a sneak preview of an unnamed movie. The guy giving out the invitations is wearing a mask, he doesn't talk, and looks like he's got scarring of some kind in places where his mask isn't covering his face. Still, those who go the invitation end up going to the sneak preview. The theater looks like any other theater, except there is a strange mask on display in the lobby. One woman tries it on, gets a scratch. Nothing too terrible though. The patrons enter the auditorium.

It's interesting what we see. We watch the movie-in-the-movie as the characters we just met are watching it too. We experience the same experience they are. A character in the movie-in-the-movie uncovers a mask that looks exactly like the mask on display in the theater's lobby. A character in the movie tries on the mask, they get a scratch similar to the woman. The characters talk about how the mask is vessel for demons, that the mask has the power to turn you into a demon.

Soon enough, the things happening to the characters in the movie, begin to happen to the people watching the movie. The girl that tried on the mask slowly becomes a vicious, killing-machine, monster lady. Anybody that she attacks who is still alive becomes a monster too. Essentially, its a zombie movie in a movie theater. Except its not zombies, its demons. Demons that have make-up so similar to the music video of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," that I had a good cackle every time I watched.

I don't know if the movie was intended to be a comedy, but its hilarious in certain parts. How actors act, how the script is written...it all just made me laugh. It was a fun laugh though. There's kind a screwball mentality to much of the movie, but it sets a fun tone. This might be a good one to throw on if you don't want something super scary. Unless you found the make-up affects in "Thriller" to be scary.

31 Days of Halloween: "Candyman" 1992

Do me a favor real quick. Go to your nearest mirror in your house. Shut off the lights. Say the word candyman while staring into the mirror, say the word five times in a row. If you do supposedly the Candyman appears and kills you. Are you brave enough to do it? Even though "Candyman" is just a movie, there are some people who aren't brave enough to say the word five times in a row in a mirror. 

I hadn't seen "Candyman" in a few years, and I kind of forgot how jumpy the movie is. Usually the jump scares really don't work for me, but I was pretty taken aback by the jump scares in this movie. That's one component to how scary "Candyman" is. Then there is Tony Todd. Man, I have always liked this guy but he comes alive in this movie as the title character. Todd has one of those voices where each character he plays becomes instantly iconic. At the same time, no two characters he plays are ever alike. You see the "Candyman" then see who he plays in something like "The Rock," two different characters entirely. But he is super spooky in "Candyman" and he's one of the reasons the movie works so well.

For anyone who hasn't seen this gem, long ago a man was viciously murdered for being black, then his body is burned and the ashes are spread in an area that will become inner city Chicago. A curse slowly finds its way into this part of the city. That's where the urban legend of the Candyman comes from. Virginia Madsen plays Helen Lyle, a graduate student who is writing a thesis on urban legends. She eventually becomes swept up in the Candyman legend and she slowly becomes entranced by the power of the Candyman. He eventually begins to frame her for his murders, and she must prove her innocence. 

The movie has several genuinely scary scenes. I also love that the movie ends in a fashion that isn't typical to happy endings. While something good happens, something sinister has taken evil's place, and that is a jetblack happy ending if I've ever seen one. It's a great little creeper. Jordan Peele is gearing up to be involved in some type of sequel/revival, and I'll be interested to see what he does with it.  

Monday, October 28, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Jaws" 1975

One of the best things Bravo ever put together was their 100 Scariest Movie Moments syndication. The top honors went to "Jaws." Thinking about it today, I don't really consider "Jaws" a horror movie, its a thriller if you ask me. Sometimes though, thrillers and horror can walk hand-in-hand. I get why many people consider it a horror movie though. There is something scary about an animal that wants to eat you. There is something scary about being a snack for something constantly on the move. There is something scary about being eaten. Its definitely not the way I'd chose to go if I ever had the opinion.

"Jaws" is a landmark of a movie in many regards. Up to this point (that being the year 1975), horror movies were B-movies. They were pretty much independently made. They weren't made by giant studios. That changed with "Jaws," the horror genre went mainstream after that. "Jaws" also created the event film. Growing up in the 1990's and the 2000's and being an adult in the 2010's, its hard to imagine a time when summer was a dead time for movies. But prior to 1975, that was the case. The summer simply wasn't used for the big, mainstream, blockbuster movies. When "Jaws" came out in summer of 1975 though, and the world saw how much money it made at the time. There was no going back after that. That's why summer movie seasons take on a personality of their own each year, you can thank "Jaws" for starting that trend.

"Jaws" is more about a giant shark that eats people and three guys on a boat trying to capture it. This is a story about a community not wanting to listen to the obvious. Once its too late, bad things begin to happen in the community. Another great example of that is "The Bay," a movie so creepy I have vowed never to watch it again. Because I simply can't.

Not trying to say "Jaws" is all scary. Richard Dreyfuss makes me laugh from start to finish. There are funny parts, there are thrilling parts and there are parts you can't believe you are actually seeing. It's really no surprise when thinking about it that it became such a sensation and set a new standard for summer movies. It has everything a summer blockbuster requires.

But we all know the best character is Quint, right?

Yes, yes we do.

31 Days of Halloween: "The Birds" 1963

There was a time when I was a teenager, It was the summer before I went to college, and I got my first speeding ticket. I went downtown of my hometown of Peoria, to the city's courthouse to pay it. I remember parking in a garage not far from the courthouse. While I was walking to the courthouse, I was attacked by a bird. Some people who worked in the downtown area made some comments. But I couldn't believe it. I was already aware of the "The Birds" movie by Alfred Hitchcock, but I would have never guessed that a bird would actually attack a person.

That's the charming power of "The Birds." It takes animals that always come off mostly harmless and turn them into savage monsters. Somebody said something pretty powerful. Swarms of anything is scary. Whether its bees swarming, locusts swarming, even birds swarming, things swarming is very scary and I think Hitchcock understood that. Imagine if a swarm of birds randomly attacked you. Imagine being pecked to death slowly. That's sounds like a terrifying way to go, and its something you can't help but think about.

Hitchcock usually didn't focus much on exposition. We never find out why the birds decided to terrorize a town. Can you possibly think of an explanation which would be satisfactory? Its scarier just not knowing why the birds decided to attack. The movie is about trying to survive a time when everything goes to hell, we don't really need an explanation. The movie works without it. Once the characters have survived, that's the end of the movie.

That's really why we watch, right? We want to make sure the characters live in the end?

I'm not sure any of you will look at birds the same way after this one. Even today, this movie still holds power. In the early 1960's, movies really weren't that violent. So a movie featuring bloody bodies was taboo at the time. A dead body missing both its eyes was taboo at the time. Hitchcock was obsessed with breaking rules, ignoring the traditions of the day. I can only imagine that audiences of the 1960's had to have lost their minds over this.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review: "The Lighthouse" plunges viewers into a waterlogged Hell

The Lighthouse Review
If you are willing to trudge through my writings back to the year 2016, you'll see that I gave "The Witch" and enthusiastically positive review. I still think its a great movie, a movie that helped revitalize the horror genre and put writer and director Robert Eggers on the radar. Now, I have finally seen "The Lighthouse," Eggers' sophomore effort. 

As much as I loved "The Witch," I know it was a very divisive film. There are plenty of people that didn't like it, but it seems just as many did like it. It's pretty clear after seeing "The Lighthouse" that Robert Eggers is going to be a guy that doesn't offer up easy answers. So, I would highly recommend that if you didn't like "The Witch," you should just go ahead and skip "The Lighthouse." This is an adventurous and playful filmography Eggers is creating. Each film he makes is reeling with ambition. While I feel "The Lighthouse" was a hypnotic film, a brilliant film, I can't pretend all horror fans are going to have even remotely same experience as I did. As the lights turned up in my auditorium earlier today, I heard the familiar sighs and nervous laughs. These were the same sounds I heard once "The Witch" ended when I saw it for the first time. Lots of people don't really get what happened as the final images play out, hell I loved "The Lighthouse" and I'm not exactly sure what happened.

This is definitely going to be a film I am going to have to pull apart, something I will watch several times to find more clues. I know that isn't everyone's cup of tea. So if your adventurous a movie lover as I am, you should check this out. "The Lighthouse" is a big meal, which could have multiple meanings. Much like "The Witch," this is a movie where you question reality. Could the movie be apart two men growing mad as they work as lighthouse keepers on a remote island? Could the movie be a metaphor for toxic masculinity? Could the movie be a version of Greek myths? Could the movie be nod to the work by H.P. Lovecraft? Or could the movie be all of those combined? Most of what you see is up to you to interpret.

The movie focuses on Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) a new lighthouse wickie who works under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Wake has been working on this lighthouse for a very long time and seems fairly coo-coo when we Winslow first meets him. Winslow is a private man, a quiet man, a man that's just trying to do good work and earn respectable wages. He seems to be drifter, but Wake wonders if there is more to his story that Winslow isn't telling him.

That's definitely one of the movie's biggest themes, secrets. Wake never allows Winslow to take a shift watching from the lighthouse, and Winslow seems to believe there is something that keeps drawing Wake to the light. Their relationship begins to implode as Wake gives Winslow much to do and is often critical of his work ethic, while Winslow believes he doing good work. Again, Winslow is no saint either. He may not be who he says he is. This back-and-forth between Wake and Winslow is what drives the movie. It's the thematic meat of the movie. That's before all the weird stuff starts happening.

What kind of weird, you ask? Well, Winslow sees a mermaid in the water. He also sees a large tentacle coming from something at the top of the lighthouse. Much like "The Witch," we are left to wonder if Winslow is really seeing what he's seeing. Or is he dreaming? Or is he losing his mind working for a madman on a remote island, miles and miles from a shore? You're never really certain when we leave reality and exit to fantasy. You may just lose your own damn mind trying to make up your own on what's happening here.

I don't think I am going to delve any further in the story. This isn't a story where you lay all the cards out. Watch it yourself and you can deduce to me what you think might have happened. I will just say that Robert Pattinson is definitely ready to tackle Batman. I think he's got enough complexity and creativity in him to pull off the character. He definitely proves he can play somebody who is deranged enough to dress up like a bat and fight crime. Seriously, I think he's going to surprise plenty of naysayers in a couple of years. Willem Dafoe is Willem Dafoe, in the best possible way. When it comes to creepy characters, Dafoe is a National Treasure. He's got at least three scenes that feel instantly iconic. These two actors carry the whole movie, there are really no other characters, and they do impressive work with each other.

Telling cinematic stories in black-and-white is a lost cause these days. It seems like these days, black-and-white is used to illuminate something within the story its telling. "Dead Man" from 1995 was very much a story about how the American West was in its last leg, and there is a melancholy feeling to that movie that made the black-and-white appropriate. "Sin City" while stylized, is a tribute to the old film noirs of the 1940's, and feels appropriate for that film to not wholly be in color. "Nebraska" has some downer tones to it, even while you laugh out loud to it. As per "The Lighthouse," I think Eggers didn't choose to shoot in black-and-white simply at random. Its a movie that is built around secrets and lies, and I think the stark tone to the movie is more illuminated in the black-and-white. I am not sure if the movie would have worked as well in color. I think it only adds to the experience.

That's essentially what "The Lighthouse" is, an experience. I wouldn't say all horror movies make sense, because they don't necessarily have to. There are several movies that I am not sure have any sort of linear storytelling going on, but they deliver the scares, play out like nightmares. So I am forever impressed by them. "The Lighthouse" leaves plenty to chew on, and the more your willing to give yourself over to it, the more fun you are going to have. The thing is, you have to be ready to engage in the text exclusively, because this one doesn't offer up simple interpretation.

Much like I did with "The Witch," I may write a more spoiler-driven piece to see if I can tackle the meaning of the movie in clearer detail.

FINAL GRADE: A

Friday, October 25, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: Evil Dead II

I didn't realize until I rewatched "Evil Dead 2" tonight how much of a great set up it is for "Army of Darkness." But "Evil Dead 2" is a great set up for "Army of Darkness."

Earlier in this series we looked at "Evil Dead," which was a great little cabin-in-the-woods movie. It launched Bruce Campbell into cult stardom and it created the "Evil Dead" series, which has featured three movies and three seasons worth of TV show on Starz. Possibly other movies on the way as well, maybe. While the first movie was very low budget and gerry-rigged. The second one, well, you can still tell there isn't a whole bunch of money on this thing yet, but Sam Raimi sure did do what he could with what he had.

This sequel is all about excess. There is tons more blood. The angry molesting trees are much more sinister. Things also get much weirder. Take a scene where a possessed deer head begins laughing at our hero, followed by a lamp. Take a scene where Ash (Campbell) gets into a fight with his possessed hand. Yep, that's right, why possess a whole body when you can just possess a hand? Take...well...several scenes where characters are literally showered with blood. Showered with blood. It is quite nuts.

We learn a tad bit more about the Necronomicon, which is the book of the dead. It can summon evil powers that work to possess people and turn them into deadites. Deadites are basically undead spirits that try to possess something to feed on other souls. Much like the first film, Ash takes a girlfriend to a cabin in the woods, and plays an archaeologist reading from the Necronomicon, which brings an evil force to the cabin. What ensues is one of the highlights of the film, as Ash battles with his undead girlfriend.

There is also a side-story about a relative to the archaeologist that Ash is listening to, who is looking for missing pages from the Necronomicon. Which just gives the movie more people to kill. There seems to be two films in one here, one where Ash deals with the cabin by himself and then another about what happens when the others get to the cabin. There is fun all over the place here with imagery that you likely will not forget.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Zombieland: Double Tap" 2019

Tonight, I am hitting two birds with one stone. A new edition to my 31 Days of Halloween series as well as a new review of "Zombieland: Double Tap." I loved the first "Zombieland" that came out a decade ago. I wondered, if a sequel could work all these years later. That sort of thing was always hit or miss. I can tell you from the opening frames, this sequel gets too you. The very image of the girl from the Columbia Pictures logo starts fighting off zombies, this was going to be something that was going to be fun.

We are quickly reacquainted with our heroes from the first film. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are all thriving in a world taken over by zombies. In fact, they've made the former White House their home. But there is trouble in paradise. Little Rock is struggling because she doesn't have anybody her age to relate to and hang out with. Columbus also wants to take his relationship with Wichita to the next level, but she doesn't want to commit to marriage. Fed up with the same old, same old, Wichita and Little Rock leave the boys behind.

Columbus feels heartbroken, Tallahassee is mad they took his car. Columbus bounces back in a relationship-of-sorts with a girl they find named Madison (Zoey Deutch), and the boys plan to just move on. Its only when Wichita comes back because Little Rock ran off with a pacifist that they regroup to make sure Little Rock is okay. We then get a road movie as the newly formed group go on their way to find Little Rock, having a whole host of adventures and misadventures on the way.

There is a slick sense of humor throughout the whole movie. This film is just as funny as the original, just as bloody as the original. The action seems to pop out at you more than the first film did. It's a big ball of bloody fun, from start to finish. The zombies are both deadlier and funnier this time around. Some zombies have evolved and have become harder to kill, while others are dumber. I love that the movie recognizes that time can change and presents new challenges for our heroes.

The thing is, this could have easily been maybe a short film. The journey from point A to point B is actually pretty small. There is tons of filler in this movie. There's a scene where its possible Madison might be infected. There's a scene at the home of Elvis where Tallahassee meets a crush. There's a scene where we meet parody versions of Tallahassee and Columbus. Had all of this been edited out, it would feel like a bunch of deleted scenes you find on a DVD, and it cut the film down enormously. People like zombie movies because of the zombie action. No doubt about it, but this feels more like filler than anything else.

So its good thing its funny, otherwise the movie wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.

This is very fun entertainment. There is a handful of predictable yet joyous outcomes, everything wraps up in a nice bow and nobody important dies. But hey, this is the type of movie that is self-aware enough to evoke laughs from its simple premise. There are moments where the movie works as self-parody. This movie, much like its predecessor, plays for laughs and is never really scary. No matter what, its fun until the end. Where a certain someone makes another cameo.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Coraline" 2009

Most of the movies I've recommended so far on this series are all horror movies, R-rated movies. I haven't recommended many movies that were age appropriate. Many kids look forward to Halloween. They love dressing up, they love the candy, they love being out at night. I certainly thought it was cool, and was always one of my favorite times each year. Still is, actually. I am happy I get to share this holiday with a little one of my own.

I figured I should recommend something for the whole family. If you think your kids will be horror crazy kids, if you want to slowly begin to introduce the creepy and the spooky to them, "Coraline" is a nice place to start. "Coraline" is a beautiful, brilliant little animated film. It also features some spooky atmosphere, but nothing that should disturb little ones.

Coraline is a little girl who recently moves into a new house. Her family seems distant, and as she explores the house, she finds a hidden doorway. When she opens the locked doorway with a ghost key, there is a brick wall in place. The brick wall disappears at night. When she is taken behind the wall, she meets different versions of her parents. These versions are much nicer and attentive to her needs, but they buttons for eyes. As she spends more time in this alternative world, she discovers that something much more sinister exists there.

The movie is full of crazy ideas and concepts. I love the bat dogs, literal bat dogs. I love the talking cat voiced so perfectly by Keith David, I love all the song numbers. Children will be delighted by what they find on screen here. There is also some interesting commentary on how family dynamics change, how we need family and how we argue with those we love sometimes.

31 Days of Halloween: "Cloverfield" 2008

Even though I don't think many people think of them this way, and many of them are more silly then scary, giant monster movies are technically horror movies. They were derived from the 1950s, a time when the Cold War was in full swing. Many Americans had a terrible anxiety that Russia was going to blow us up with nuclear weapons. We all thought what radiation could possibly do, and what it could to everything. The "Godzilla" movies and "Them!" and "Blob" were made in the shadow of the bomb, and we've had a huge fascination with giant monsters ever since.

Sometimes when you over-think it, its humbling. What if there was something bigger than us humans? What if there was a bigger creature, a top to the food chain? What if they accidentally stepped on us the way we accidentally step on ants? Its definitely something to think about, something that I weigh in on with each new giant monster movie. The idea of a giant monster coming out of the sky would terrify me deeply. Even if another one popped out and started fighting the other, it would be very scary.

I don't know how many of you remember back in 2007, but the hype machine surrounding this movie couldn't have been any higher. We got a single trailer attached to "Transformers" in summer 2007. It wasn't set up like a normal trailer. It was one continuous scene. Followed by just a date, that date was 1-18-2008. We didn't get a title, or anything like that. Just an image of the head of the Statue of Liberty flying through Manhattan, landing in the street with slashes on its face, followed by a date. It was a great hook. The next day, movie forums and websites were up in arms trying to figure out what it could be. Was this a new Godzilla movie? Was this a rampage movie?  Was it a Cthulhu movie? What does the monster look like? Is it definitely a monster? Could it be something else? There was an image that supposedly spoiled the monster design, which was a multi-armed giant killer whale. It was goofy looking, but the wanting of answers was felt every day until release.

The viral marketing campaign at play was also something. The 11808.com website was always dropping pictures, giving information surrounding the story of the movie (story that, at the end of the day, didn't play out in the actual movie, which drove some people nuts). The mythology around the story grew month by month. This viral marketing plus that of "The Dark Knight" was just amazing at the time. If you spent too much time on the 11808 website, you were startled by the roar of the mysterious monster. There were some things that were supposedly connected to the movie, but then really weren't, and it got wild trying to keep up with everything. It got you ready for the movie before it was even out, much like Artisan Entertainment did with "The Blair Witch Project" a decade prior. Even the title "Cloverfield" was shrouded in mystery.

When the movie finally came out, it divided viewers. Like I said, lots of people didn't like that the movie ignored all of the mythology set up on the website. Some people just thought it was dull. But I had a great freaking time. I still love watching it. I remember reading that people got motion sickness from the movie, but how the found footage is handled in the movie really worked for me, and the bad focus added to the crazy confusion of the movie.

I also liked that this movie at least tried to get us to care about he characters in peril here. Many people couldn't connect with the characters, but I did. I never thought that they were "rich douchebags" which they were regarded as online. Usually in these types of movies, the characters are secondary, because what we care about seeing giant monster mayhem. The Cloverfield Monster (as it was eventually called) was still very much a mystery throughout the movie. We don't know why this monster is attacking, what its goal is. So we have the characters to focus on, and we care just enough that when things get bad, we care what happens to them. The development isn't the most original thing in movies, but was executed well and it was enough to get me to care.

I still can't describe the Cloverfield Monster to save my life. It crawls on all fours, its got a bat-like face, without the ears. You can see a breathing apparatus on the back of its head. We never get good focus on it all movie, so it always feels like a mystery, which is fun. "The Cloverfield Paradox" would prove that the monster we saw was a baby, and these monsters can be much bigger then the one we saw in "Cloverfield." I also love the Hugger Alien-like mini-monsters that fall off the big one and they carry a crazy scene in the middle of the movie.

As far as found footage goes, this made for a fun time at the theater, and I was glad to see all the effort in the marketing paid off. I hope you all enjoyed this one too.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "The Haunting" 1998, "Rosemary's Baby" 1968, "Mad Monster Party?" 1967 Party"

I am really sorry I have not been keeping up with these. Its been a busier month than I originally figured it would be. But here I am with three new recommendations as October keeps chugging along.

When you watch the 1998 remake of "The Haunting," one thing you'll notice is that the visual effects are really outdated. That's because the movie was made in the late 90's, it makes sense. Recently when I rewatched this one, and I remember being much more scared of it when I was younger and I guess at a time when I believed more in special effects. Those effects may not have aged well, but the genuine creepiness of the film sure did. Its got a small yet effective cast including Lily Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Liam Neeson. Its always great when actors you admire are taking something hyper-real serious. The 90's were defined by teenage slasher flicks, so it felt fresh to watch a modern day haunted house flick from this era.

As a first time father, I have been riddled with anxiety, over things that way off for my child and things that are out of my control. It's a roller-coaster being a parent, but the best kind. I have noticed ever since becoming a father that my perspective has certainly changed, and anything regarding children affects me much more now then ever before. "Rosemary's Baby" was always a great horror movie, but it didn't haunt as much as it did recently. The entire movie feels like a dream, and you are never really sure what's real and what isn't, until the end. I love that movie constantly keeps you second guessing what is or isn't real, and for much of the movie, it really can go both ways. There is a creepy atmosphere all throughout, which gives the movie its power.

So far during this countdown, I haven't recommended anything that's very age appropriate. I think if kids are going to be into horror, they start to slowly push their boundaries at a young age. If you want something for the Halloween season that is fun for the whole family, track down "Mad Monster Party," a wonderful little stop-motion animation movie about all your favorite monsters. It is literally "Hotel Transylvania" before "Hotel Transylvania." Its a goofy, funny little plot that even features Boris Karloff himself as Baron von Frankenstein. It would be a fun way to introduce the classic monsters to your kids, and just see if horror is a genre that interests them. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

How much hate does Marvel actually earn?

Shots have been fired. Citizens are arming. The knives are out. Honestly, we all should have expected it, no matter if you watch Marvel movies or not.

The success of Marvel Studios has been staggering to say the least. Nobody would have guessed that an interlocking superhero franchise would have garnered so much praise from millions of fans, tons of dollars earned and hell even three Oscars. This franchise has been trucking along for eleven years now, and it doesn't seem like its running out of breath. This, of course, leads to criticism. Even though Marvel is getting plenty of flock lately from Hollywood's crowd, we actually do see this stuff happen all the time. Anytime something is popular, there will come a time when people will come out of the woodwork to trash it. There are people out there who are watching eagerly, waiting for a big failure, ready to watch Marvel Studios topple over.

I've read what Martin Scorsese has had to say about the studio. I have read what Jennifer Aniston said, and what Francis Ford Coppola said and what Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have said over the years. You all know how much I love Marvel, but here's the thing. These guys and gals are half right and half wrong. At least in my eyes. I think Marvel Studios has graced the industry with many blessings, but I think they also have plenty of sins to answer for.

I've been noticing something ever since I was in middle school, and its seems to get progressively worse as the years pile on. I've written about it before on this blog. But every time a studio becomes successful, all the studios will try to copy and imitate that success. When "Lord of the Rings" was successful, we got a avalanche of fantasy films. Also, when the superhero movies "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" were so successful in the early 2000's, that's when this big superhero craze began. (Funny, because the only way Fox got Bryan Singer to direct X-Men was by NOT calling it a superhero movie, they called it a Sci/Fi film)

It wasn't until the 2010's where the business really discovered what could be done with superhero movies. The studios saw what Marvel was doing and again, tried to imitate it. Except these days, the studios seem to take that to the extreme. Each studio is so obsessed with creating their own shared universe that they are collectively pushing everything else out. Original movies don't seem to be made anymore, if its not contributing to a company's universe, it doesn't get made. The movie market seems so small these days because of these practices. In passed years, studios would make these "tentpole" movies so they could finance other, smaller visions. But today, these tentpole movies have become the go-to, and if one should fail, a studio is in danger of watching their whole company crumble to the ground.

These movies have also given Disney the power to buy other properties. If there is no competition, there really isn't much creativity or vision on display. Disney has a very specific voice to their work, and if everything looks the same, is that really a good thing? It also leaves the little man in the dust. When Disney recently bought 20th Century Fox, some of Fox's independent studios shut down. Any time the little man is incapable of voicing themselves, that is definitely a problem.

But most of that has little to do with what Marvel has done, and the movies they've made. For better or for worse, Marvel has carved a space for themselves in the pop culture pantheon. Now everyone knows about them. After eleven years, it seems like Hollywood has finally decided it is now okay to shit on that success. It is now finally cool and hip to rip on a studio that has accomplished so much. Scorsese says they aren't cinema. Coppola says their despicable. Spielberg says they will eventually go away.

I've always respected Scorsese as a filmmaker, and have always considered him a great auteur. At the same time, I am puzzled why he thinks any of this matters. There is no textbook definition of what cinema is and what it isn't. So because Scorsese has made some world-renowned movies and he's got a shelf full of awards, he somehow knows something nobody else does? Art is subjective, and movies are art. Once someone releases that art, it then, in a way, belongs to the people. So when was it collectively decided what constitutes as real cinema and what doesn't?

There are always going to be pompous film snobs who will only like things with deep metaphors and deep thoughts. Then there are people who are action junkies and superhero fanatics, and those types of movies are the only movies they will be willing to see. And yet, can you honestly tell me why either of those groups are really wrong? Is it because as superhero movie has colorful costumes and they use green screens that they are somehow not cinema? Do we honestly think there are no deep messages hidden in superhero movies? Why not?

As a lover of all movies, I think cinema can be more than just one thing. I love movies that transport me. I love movies that challenge or confirm my beliefs. I love movies that have something on their mind. But I love a big, crazy, action-packed thrill ride at the same time too. It's all valid to me because they both have the capability of emotional empathy. A lifelong comic reader can get wrapped up in the characters and their journeys. A Oscar lover can see the things nominated each year and feel emotionally and intellectually whole. At the end of the day, each person is different. We respond differently to art. We all get different things out of it. Therefore, nobody is right and nobody is wrong when it comes to discussing films. It all comes down to personal preference and personal taste. Seriously, somebody's favorite movie somewhere in the world is "Mannequin."

For my money, I can tell you that becoming a father has changed how I view art. I can say that my own personal experience shapes how I view art. I think we all bring our own biases and our own baggage to the theater, which is why we all have very different opinions on movies. Also what we want and need from movies changes as we get older. If you asked me as a teenager what my favorite movies of the 90's were, I'd no doubt say "Fight Club," "Pulp Fiction" and "The Usual Suspects" were my top three. In that order. At 30 years old, I'd say "Fargo," "Heat" and "Goodfellas" are my top three of the 90's. That doesn't make me a liar, its just that our tastes change as we change. I am still madly in love with "Fight Club," "Pulp Fiction" and "The Usual Suspects" but their importance has dimmed just a bit. Other movies have stepped up and I think I get more out of certain movies as I've grown more mature. A favorite film critic of mine actually said something interesting. Movies are like time bombs and sometimes it takes years and possibly decades for them to go off. What may not have seemed important then can be important now.

Cinema is something that is constantly changing, constantly evolving. So trying to figure out a concrete definition seems almost silly. This world is full of billions of people, and we all react differently to art. What may be universally panned may be somebody's lifeline on the other side of the world. So for me, all film should be treated with respect, and let's let time be the deciding factor on what's important. Some movies fade, but that doesn't mean people don't like them. So we should allow all movies into the cinematic conversation. Yes, some movies may be viewed as more important than others simply because they inspired many people and lots of directors take ques from them and even if you haven't seen them, you know them. But just because a movie is important doesn't mean you are required to love it in return.

Someday this whole superhero craze could end, so what's wrong with enjoying it while its happening. No matter what you like to watch, its all art. So let's celebrate, huh?

Review: "Jojo Rabbit" is several important messages wrapped in hard (truth) candy

Jojo Rabbit Review
There seems to be a current outcry that comedy doesn't work anymore. That certain topics are off-limits. That people are too offended and too uptight for "real comedy" anymore. All I can say is I am glad something like "Jojo Rabbit" exists so I can point to that to shut those naysayers up. There is a fine line between finding the humor in something dark or off-color and then being a total prick and calling it humor. Comedy is not even close from falling apart and dying. If we get more people making movies like "Jojo Rabbit," people like Taika Waititi are pushing the genre and the medium forward and we will all be richer for it.

I have said already that Taika Waititi is a comedic genius. "What We Do In The Shadows" was the first Waititi movie I saw. A mockumentary about a group of vampires who live together, and how they live out their lives. Its proof that it doesn't matter how many vampire movies you've seen, you can still approach these archetypes in very unique and original ways. Then there's "The Hunt For The Wilderpeople." Its a movie that I can barely describe, but it announced Julian Dennison as a capable actor and its hilarious from start to finish. I've begun to thaw surrounding my feelings on "Thor: Ragnarok." Those first two "Thor" movies are pretty cookie-cutter and dare I say, bland. Waititi was unafraid to throw out the original Thor models and just start over with something else. The end result was a Marvel movie unlike any other. 

He may have leveled up quite a bit with "Jojo Rabbit," a movie that feels like the wildest mixture of "Duck Soup," "Schindler's List" and "The Great Dictator." Except, its really not like any of those movies either. It's not quite the movie you think it is, and that is important as we navigate through the rest of this review. In the simplest terms, "Jojo Rabbit" is a comedy about a boy who wants to become a Nazi and runs around with an imaginary Adolph Hitler. Now, many of you may have just vomited in your mouth a bit, reading that last sentence. As you read on, remember that context matters on every front.

Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo, a boy who has become smitten with the Nazi way and will do anything to prove himself at his Hitler Youth Camp. The thing is, everything about Nazism seems pretty rad to Jojo, except anything to do with killing, and this gets him a lot of flack from the older boys in the Youth Camp. Jojo will do anything to prove himself meaningful to Germany's cause, but if he is unwilling to use his knife in combat, how will he ever be any use to Germany's cause? He is alienated for having no father, who vanished under unknown causes. Which may reinforce Jojo's need to belong to this group, he is adrift, which may explain his overwhelming need to become Hitler's best friend.

The movie really picks up when we find out Jojo's mother Rosie (Scarlet Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home, which alarms Jojo to a high degree. Elsa and Jojo begin hating each other with a furious passion. Jojo then sees a silver lining, one that could get him closer to Germany's cause. He plans to write a book about Jews, and he rigorously begins to interview Thomasin, hoping to use the information to get closer to the Top Brass in the Third Reich. Elsa, in turn, begins to make up the craziest falsehoods as fodder for Jojo's book, because Jojo promised as long Elsa participates, she will be kept a secret.

This is the material that pushes "Jojo Rabbit" passed simple satire. If we are ever going to extinguish hate anywhere in the world, we have to be willing to stare at the void without blinking. We need to see hate dead-on, learn from it, see how it courses itself inside someone and reach an understanding on how it spreads. One thing that makes me angry these days is the good people of our country are more comfortable bickering with each other instead of mobilizing to stop hate. It's easier to see somebody on TV and think you have them all figured out. It's easier to soak up the buzzwords political pundits spew out on a daily basis, perhaps not realizing that they get paid a pretty penny to pedal a bunch of bullshit. It's easier to point that the people on the other side of the fence and say everything wrong with the world is their fault, so they should fix it. The thing, we can fix the problem together, its just that nobody is willing to thaw.

There was a movie I saw about a month ago that I really liked, but I was nervous to write about it. It was a documentary called "Hail Satan?" Can you perhaps understand why I was nervous to write about it? Its a movie about people who worship the worlds biggest supervillain, right? Except it doesn't glorify them, it simply discusses their beliefs and the things they fight for as people. It asks the tough questions. What if your neighbor was a loyal, honest, uncorruptable figure? What if they did dozens upon dozens of good things for your community? What if they were always there to give you advice and were never judgmental. You could go to them with anything? Imagine if the only rub was they go to Black Mass every night. Does that change your opinion of them? Why? Can you honestly answer that question? Does it make somebody a bad person if they read the Bible and think instead of Satan coming to Jesus in the desert as a snake trying to tempt him, he instead just wanted to make sure Jesus didn't die?

"Jojo Rabbit" knows that we can't reach the Richard Spencers or the David Dukes or the Christopher Cantwell's of the world, but there is a way to help make sure more Richard Spencers and David Dukes and Christopher Cantwell's don't replace them. If we understand hate and what it stands for, we begin to educate others on why its not good for them. For a director to so eloquently preach these ideas while also shaking out a laugh is a miracle. In fact, its necessary. Because a movie like this needs to be as accessible to as many people as possible. Especially right now, because it seems like racism and fascism are fighting for breathing room in the world again and we need to educate as many people as possible to spot what this looks like. We need to be willing to call out everyone for their hatred, no matter what political party they belong to and no matter how they come off in the public light.

Taika Waititi is proving more and more to an unbelievably talented director of children. The work by both Roman Davis and Thomasin McKenzie is absolutely impeccable. Their relationship sells the movie and Davis in particular is both laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sincere throughout. They've got a great cast to bounce off of, including the likes of Sam Rockwell (who seems awesome in everything), Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant himself. Waititi himself plays the imaginary Hitler that hangs out with Jojo throughout the whole movie and oh my goodness. Great chemistry doesn't even begin to cover it. They are just fabulous together.

The script by Waititi is both nimble and whimsical, and I give him big props. Any time something is a little too whimsy, it can flop. But Waititi maintains control the whole time, even though its fairly evident that there is a heightened reality to it all. That control over transition and tone is another thing that sells the movie for me. There is a scene in the last 1/3 of the movie that, literally, made me gasp. Because it was a moment I wasn't expecting at all. It proves that Waititi isn't messing around with his message. I found the last 1/3 of the movie completely unpredictable, and just when you think you have this figured out. You don't.

Its up to us whether or not hatred wins in this world. If we are willing to take things at face value and understand what words means and what rhetoric stands for, we just might be okay. It's going to take a big swing though. You can go ahead and not see this movie and keep your mind closed and think you know what this movie is based on my review. Or you can see it for yourself and allow yourself to question certain aspects of this world. Make up your mind if you want a better tomorrow. It's up to us, we can do it. "Jojo Rabbit" is more than satire, more than simply pointing your finger at something and laughing at it. Its up to you if you are ready to understand it, though.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Saturday, October 19, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Scary Movie" 2000 and "Scary Movie 2" 2001

I really wish the Wayans brothers would have stuck it out with the "Scary Movie" franchise. I think Keenan Ivory Wayans really got what made the spoof movie tick so well.

You know why so many of Mel Brooks' spoofs are considered classics? When you look at something like "Blazing Saddles," its pretty clear that Westerns were a genre Mel grew up loving and appreciating. Same can be said about the Universal Horror films, because every beat of humor in "Young Frankenstein" is amazingly realized and terrifically staged. When Mel got his Hitchcock on with "High Anxiety," its clear that Hitchcock was a guy he very much appreciated. The best spoofs come from love, at least that's my perspective. I think the Wayans brothers loved grew up on a steady stream of horror movies, they understood what made them tick, what made them scary, and they drew their humor from those situations.

What's also amazing is how they made some pretty year specific jokes in both movies, and they both don't feel dated. I watch both again last night for the first time in a long time, and I am still laughing. Some movies that make dated jokes end up not aging well, and I think what Wayans pulled off here goes really well through the years. 

I am not sure I can say the same about the rest of the franchise. The rest of the "Scary Movies" fail to be very funny. They just seem to set up random scenes from random movies (most of which aren't even scary movies.) replace the characters from random movies with A List celebrities and then have them partake in poop and fart jokes. They get really old really fast. Wayans understood the mechanics of the movies he was spoofing, which is why the humor works. In the first film, he made great puns out of all the slasher movies of the 90's. For the second film, it was time to make fun of the haunted house films throughout history. 

If you don't like the scary but still like to celebrate in festivities this time of year, you know where to look!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "The Ritual"

It seemed like any other day at the pub. Five friends were planning their next guys trip. One of the friends, Rob, suggests hiking in Sweden and the others turn down that spot almost immediately. Later that night, Rob and one of the other friends Luke go into a shop real quick to buy vodka when they are right smack dab in the middle of a robbery in progress. Luke retreats behind an aisle. While Rob is held up, being told to give up his wallet and watch. Luke is contemplating using the vodka bottle as a weapon, but he can't bring himself over to the robbers. When the robbers ask Rob for his wedding ring, he stands firm and says no. He is killed for it. This will go on to haunt Luke for a long time, since the last thing Rob saw was the whole of Luke's eyes.

Luke wakes up from a nightmare recalling the incident, he wakes up in a tent several six months later. To honor Rob's friendship and legacy, Luke along with their other friends; Dom, Phil and Hutch all go to Sweden for the hiking trip Rob suggested. Everything seems to be going okay, even if feelings are still a little raw. But that mostly changes once they begin having severe nightmares, and they start getting lost in the woods. 

If you think this is a simple slasher movie, you'd be mistaken. "The Ritual" takes some ques from "Blair Witch Project," "The Thing" and "The Wicker Man" and blends them into something that is solely its own thing. There is striking mood and atmosphere throughout the whole movie. There are some wickedly gruesome deaths. There is a creepy cult and quite possibly the creepiest creature I've seen in a movie in a long while. This is a movie that has a little bit of everything, and it relishes every moment of it. 

This is a British production, and the only actor you'll probably recognize the most is Rafe Spall. But the acting is amazing across the board. This is a modern movie that really delivers the scares and its one of the very best Netflix originals around right now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Monster Squad" 1987

What would you do if the classic monsters of yesteryear got together to try and kill you?

That's essentially "Monster Squad" in a nutshell. It's a crazier, yet more fun version of "The Goonies." The Monster Squad is group of pre-teen friends who are obsessed with the Universal Monster movies. They know all of their trivia, they know each old movie and each character by heart. They have a strict code and you really need to know your shit if you are going to join them. They club consists of Sean, the leader and his friends Patrick, Horace and Rudy. This being a 1980's movie, of course Sean has a obnoxious sibling who wants to join the club, and of course these poor guys get bullied at school.

Sean's family was given a diary, one that apparently belonged to monster hunter Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. The only problem is that the entire diary is in German. There is an elderly man in their neighborhood, one they sort of fear. Again, because this is an 1980's movie there's a creepy neighbor who happens to be German. Once the kids officially meet him, he's a kind gentlemen. He gladly translates the diary for the Monster Club.

The club learns of an amulet that is full of good energy. Once a century, when good and evil are in balance, the indestructable amulet becomes vulnerable for destruction. The monsters are searching for the amulet so that they can destroy it, that way nothing can stop them from world domination. The kids learn further in the diary that they must find the amulet, and on the balance day at the stroke of midnight, use it to cast the monsters into limbo. Count Dracula gets the Wolfman, the Gill-Man, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Mummy to help him look for he amulet.

Its broad stroked and goofy fun. The make-up effects are pretty nifty. It's a pretty fun concept. Like I said, kind of like "Goonies," even though I have to admit, I think I prefer this.

Review: "3 From Hell" is a oddly structured, yet typical Zombie movie

3 From Hell Review
Rob Zombie is a filmmaker in the 21st Century working like he's still in the 1970's. He makes movies you used to be able to find at the crackjack theater on the wrong side of the tracks, back in the glory days of the grindhouse. They are shock value, through and through. "House of 1,000 Corpses," "The Devil's Rejects" his "Halloween" movies, they all take on the exact same anesthetic. They are extremely violent and gory, they are full of sex and sexual violence, they are vulgar, filled with cursing. The thing all of the movies above have in common is that they all seem to run out of steam before Rob Zombie crosses the finish line.

I thought he was turning a new league when he made "Lords of Salem" Watch all the movies I listed above then watch "Lords of Salem," I'd be hard-pressed for anybody to find similarities in style and tone in those examples. The only thing that connects "Lords of Salem" to Zombie's other work is hiring his wife as the lead. "Lords of Salem" is nothing like the rest of his filmography. I was hoping his movies moving forward would be more "Lords of Salem" in tone and style.

But when returning to the story of the Devil's Rejects killers, that is simply not the case. Baby Firefly (Sherri Moon Zombie), Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) are all back, taking place some years after "The Devil's Rejects" and they are finally captured and been through the prison system. We learn Spaulding gets the lethal inejection (may Haig continue to rest in peace), we learn Baby Firefly is deep in a sentence, and Otis has...well...escaped custody. Because of course someone had to. Because of Haig's untimely death, Otis is now running around with his half-brother Fox (Richard Blake).

The movie seems to suggest that its going to be about how Fox and Otis plan to break Firefly free from prison. This being a Rob Zombie movie, Fox and Otis kidnap all the family and friends of the prison warden in order to get the warden to free Firefly. What ensues is an overly-long, explicit stretch of movie where there is plenty of gore and depravity onscreen. Sometimes, its shot in strict seriousness, which brings on a certain level of creep factor. Other times, its shot with some stylized cornball wit that only Zombie can muster. It's inconsistent work, and I have to say I was more repulsed than I was scared. Anybody who was too disturbed by "Joker" should try and sit through this.

After the three evil people are reunited, you'd think that would be the end of the movie. Unfortunately you have a whole other 40 or so minutes left. The movie feels like a drag and the last half feels like a completely different movie. The three retreat to Mexico to stay away from the police, and while they are South of the border, they get tangled with a drug cartel. The cartel wants revenge on Otis for killing their leader in prison (a tiny cameo by Danny Trejo). Rob Zombie tricks us now that we've seen the Devil's Rejects do some pretty appalling things to a group of innocent people, we now have to cheer for them because they are fighting drug dealers? Again, it all feels like we suddenly stumble into a completely different movie, and the transition is tone deaf.

Sherri and Bill have pretty much become these characters at this point, and these aren't the type of performances that get you nominated for awards. It's fine work acting wise, but nothing special. I think the appeal of these movies are equal to endurance tests. Zombie wants to see how much he can push the envelope. I am sure there is a certain audience for this movie and this series as a whole. I'm just not sure it's me. We've seen horror come a long way this past decade, and it seems to me what Zombie did here is a bit of a downgrade.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Monday, October 14, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Anna and the Apocalypse" 2017

Say it with me: Christmas...Zombie...Musical.

That's what "Anna and the Apocalypse" is...a Christmas Zombie Musical.

Yes, its just as wonderful as it sounds. Its a British movie too, so if you liked the flair of "Shaun of the Dead," you'll absolutely love this.

So what are you waiting for?

31 Days of Halloween: "C.H.U.D." 1984

This might end up being the goofiest thing I write about all month long.

It's also probably the least scary movie on this whole list.

"C.H.U.D." which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, was one of the VHS spines clearly visible in the opening moments of Jordan Peele's "Us." After explaining the type of experience you'll be in for, you can see how Peele was inspired by the movie. Both movies have to do with the underground, deserted tunnels that run under this country. Both have to do with civilizations unknown to regular people rising up from within. Both movies deal with some kind large-scale cover-up and both have to do with people who come out of the ground to kill you. The creatures from "C.H.U.D." were once human, but the dumping of toxic waste has mutated them, and has allowed them to feed on the homeless, and now they are rising to the top to feast.

It is a goofy movie. The mutants themselves are never really scary. Some of the scenes in the movie do fall flat. But it is kind of a fun reminder of how greasy and gross 1980's effects were. There was a certain reality that was present in many 1980's movies, and this definitely feels like a movie from that era. Daniel Stern, who was one of the wet bandits from "Home Alone" is absolutely hilarious in this. Plus, John Heard, who was the father in "Home Alone" is the main character, and he's very good here. It's also funny knowing where we'll see these guys again later.

Take the ride, its goofy fun.

31 Days of Halloween: "Psycho" 1960

There was a lot that went into "Psycho" that could have easily hurt the film.

In 1960, the movie was taboo-breaking. The movie opens with a married man laying in bed with a woman who had no top on, revealing her bra. Up to that point, a man and a woman in bed together was never seen, forbidden due to the Production Code. There would never be a movie about infidelity. A woman would never bare themselves like Janet Leigh did in the opening moments of the movie. At that point though, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock was only getting started. (Movies definitely didn't feature transvestites either.)

Had "Psycho" only been about a lonely secretary who finds true love with a married man, who is down on money. Only steal money from her employer to go be with him, that would have been enough for one movie. There are plenty of thrills in the first half of the movie when Janet Leigh is taking money from work and driving cross-country to be with her boyfriend. She makes mistakes along the way, and she isn't very convincing about getting out of hot spots. The first half of the movie really tricks you in a lot of ways. You don't realize you are watching a horror movie until much later in the movie.

Once Janet Leigh gets off the highway on her way to California, stopping at the Bates Motel, things start to slowly build towards horror. Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates, he was an actor known for the playing the boy next door. While there are a couple personality traits that feel a little off, he still has that boy-next-door feeling to much of the introduction to Norman Bates. All of that goodwill built up slowly leaves as we see him looking through a peephole and Janet gets undressed for the shower.

The shower scene is a famous scene that has been parodied over and over again at this point. But even in black-and-white, even though no real explicit violence is shown, its still a harrowing scene. It might also be because I have the movie on blu-ray, but you can almost see Perkins glaring in the darkness, which makes the whole scene scarier for me.

The movie features some of the best music in all of horror movies and how Hitchcock uses music and silence to punctuate scenes is rather remarkable. The sounds effects used when Bates kills someone have equally grown iconic over the years, again constantly parodied. But those sounds still hold much water when watching the movie start to finish. "Psycho" hasn't lost any of its dread, no matter how old it is.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Sleepaway Camp" 1983

This is going to be a silly slasher movie.

That's what I told myself when I spotted this on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. It's just going to be a silly slasher movie. I mean, the title is a simple "Sleepaway Camp." the poster is an old Adidas tennis shoe with a bloody knife through it. No harm in that, right? I thought it was going to be like every other slasher at a camp movie from the 1980's. Plenty of crazy killings, plenty of sex and drugs, plenty of silly dialogue. 

For the most part, that's how "Sleepaway Camp" plays. We meet young Ricky who goes to a summer camp with his cousin Angela. It is Angela's first time at the summer camp and Angela has been living with Ricky's family ever since a tragedy that happened to Angela eight years prior. Ricky shows her around and is really sweet to her, but she's very reserved and introverted. Ricky tries to spark another romance with last year's flame, Judy but she's now popular and going after the older boys. Judy and the popular kids terrorize Ricky and Angela, which brings lots of tension to Ricky's feet.

All while this is happening, a killer is going around killing kids around camp. Much like many of the slasher films of the 1980's, the killer makes up very interesting ways of killing people. Many people around camp are investigated for the killings, including Ricky. It seems like people he's butting heads with are the people who are getting killed, so is Ricky behind the killings? 

For much of the running time, this is going to feel like a typical slasher. It's got a quasi-predictable ending. You can probably guess who the killer is, but that's not the whole story. There is a huge bombshell of a story dropped right at the end of the movie. I don't want to get too much into it, but there is a twist thrown in right before the credits roll and its a reveal that really makes the movie. It isn't a cop-out ending, because it actually does make sense if you really pay attention throughout the film. But its one last shocker right before the credits. The twist makes the movie, and for those reasons, you should see it just to see what you think of it.

31 Days of Halloween "Black Christmas" 1974


"Christmas is one of the most joyous times of the year, despite the suicide rate"

So said Bob Clarke, the writer and director of the original "Black Christmas," it almost seems like uncanny genius to set a horror movie around the Christmas season. The only worries we should be having around this time is how much money we are going to spend on presents, right? Or how we are going to handle all of our possibly obnoxious family in one house, right? Wrong, not this movie. In "Black Christmas," there is a rabid serial killer on the loose. He decides to visit a sorority house right before the girls leave or their Christmas break.

The movie is structured like a mixture between "When A Stranger Calls" and "Halloween." At the beginning of the movie, we see from the killer's point-of-view him climbing to the top of the sorority house and making his way inside. We never see the killer's face. Who is this guy? We never find out. The movie begins when one of the girls goes up to her room to pack for Christmas break, and the killer stops her and kills her in the now popular way of suffocation through saran wrap then propping her body in the attack on a rocking chair. Where she will stay for the whole rest of the movie. An investigation between the girls in the house commences, and every time one of them goes up to the attic, they die. We never find out why this guy is targeting the girls, and again, we never learn his face. He sneaks off at the end of the movie, never to be seen.

The movie also works like "When A Stranger Calls" due to the fact that the killer, whoever he is, keeps calling the girls and saying disturbing, vulgar things. A list of suspects builds over the course of the film, and of course they all turn out to be the wrong people. The phone calls continue and the killings likewise continue.

This slasher movie in particular interesting because the movie isn't all just women going upstairs one by one to get killed off. They try to develop the characters, moreso then we are used to in these types of movies. One girl gets pregnant by her boyfriend, and contemplates abortion, while the boyfriend tries to persuade her to marry him. A father comes down to pick up his daughter to take her home for break, but she is missing. The searches for various characters features better-than-average banter between characters. They tried harder for this one, so its easier to get wrapped up in carring about these characters.

Christmas horror is a very special, yet very small sub-genre of horror and we'll look at one other later this month.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

31 Days of Halloween "Nighmares in Red, White and Blue" 2009

There's a documentary I like to watch each year around this time. It is a tad dated at this point, because it only examines the history of the horror genre from 1910's to the end of the 2000's. Still, what it has to say about the genre is so strong that I am always fascinated by it. 

One of the reasons I love the horror genre so much, is that it really examines us. As people, although this documentary in particular focuses on how the horror genre changes as our country changed over the years. It slightly focuses on other other countries too. Horror is our fears, our doubts and our anxieties reflected back at us. You see that as this film slowly follows us through the years, discussing what was happening in our country at the time. As people were coming back from World War I, the "monsters" in early films were regular men. As Germans and other Europeans artists were fleeing Europe to avoid the rise of European Fascism, they brought their old legends with them. As the Cold War heated up, there were many movies about "The Other." Many end-of-the-world type scenarios. So on and so forth. It really is amazing how the entire genre has always been an examination of us as people.

If you look at the horror movies made by other artists around the world, many international filmmakers have spoken volumes about their countries through the movies they make. Guillermo del Toro had lots to say about the Spanish and Mexican journey on this planet through his films "The Devil's Backbone" and "Pan's Labyrinth." The horror genre can almost be used as a history lesson, albeit the darker history that you don't learn in a classroom.

This documentary best describes why I think horror is an important genre. A genre I wish was taken more serious. A genre that I wish was considered for Oscars. These movies do speak for us, and they are by us.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

31 Days of Halloween: "Carrie" 1976

I have a daughter, and even though she is one years old, I worry all the time about when she goes to school and the possibility that she will be bullied. I know that's probably extreme, and that anything like that is completely out of my control. But, I've always possessed a nasty habit of jumping to conclusions. I'm a big, fat worry-wart. I love my daughter very much and I want what's best for her at all times, even though I'm thinking way too ahead and there's nothing I can do to stop any of that. Rest assured, she won't be treated like how Margaret White treats Carrie White in "Carrie."

It wouldn't be a Halloween-themed October without some Stephen King. The original novel was the first book King got published, and it coincidentally was the first King book I ever read. The book gave me the creeps, and the 1976 movie adaptation certainly did too. For anybody unaware of the novel or any of its many adaptations. Carrie White is an unpopular girl at high school who is vicious bullied by everybody at her school. She then gets to go home and spend time with her hysterically religious mother Margaret. Carrie slowly begins to learn that she has telekinetic powers and begins harnessing those powers, practicing with them. Essentially when the bullying goes a step too far at her prom, she uses her powers to get revenge on those who mocked her. Basically, its the Stephen King version of Cinderella.

Sissy Spacek plays Carrie White and she is to die for in the role. When it comes to Stephen King adaptations, very few of them ever end up being revered as great. "Carrie" has stood the test of time, and its because it remains spooky. But I do appreciate how tender and innocent much of the first half of the movie plays. You really do feel tremendous empathy for Carrie. She's introverted yes, but her social life sucks, her home life sucks and she just wants to be left alone. Its really easy to feel for her, and when the movie moves into its darker territory, it never feels like a cop out. 

In fact, the movie never really gets super scary until the last half hour, when Carrie finally lets loose on her powers once she's finally had enough of her tormentors. When two kids prank her via dumping pigs blood on top of her head, the film enters hallucinatory mode, we are never really sure if all the students and teachers are really laughing at her. We just get the idea that she's tired of her bad hand in life. The scene of Carrie taking out all of her classmates still holds water today. It might look a little outdated watching a fire hose shoot water by itself, but much like the movies of the 1970's, there was a very matter-of-fact way people died in movies. It always felt very raw. Even though we are in the 21st Century, fight scenes and deaths in movies just seem very fake these days. 

Can we go ahead and talk about Piper Laurie's work as Margaret, the evil mother in this movie. She literally stalked my nightmares growing up when I finally saw the movie. Not just the twisted way she spews religious rhetoric. There's a scene when Carrie gets home from the prom and goes upstairs to her bathtub to clean the blood off of her and the camera slowly follows her into the bathroom. For a whole five minutes we kind of see Margaret standing by herself behind a door. She never once says anything to Carrie during this scene. It's the weirdest fucking scene in any movie and it gets under my skin every time. Such a simple scene that has so much power. And the way she wide-eyed smiles while carrying a bloody knife down the stairs, I am getting shivers thinking about it. Stellar casting, just stellar.

Look for John Travolta, he doesn't have many scenes, but he does make them count. P.J. Soles was also one of the most adorable actresses of the 70's and she appeared in many of my favorites of that decade and she doesn't disappoint here. The acting is solid across the board and there are small things that really freak you out. (I get the willies starring at the White family's light-up Jesus). I wish when someone sat down to make a Stephen King adaptation, they used this movie as a template. We'd probably get more good adaptations.