Posts Tagged ‘horror’

the-babadook1

Even though rumors about “The Babadook” have been swirling since before the show was released and have only grown more fervent since, I had never heard anything regarding plot, characters, goriness, whatever, just that it was really damn scary. That’s just how I like to go into a movie: Nearly clueless about what I’m about to experience, just that it will definitely be worth my time. I can tell you now like they told me, this uber creepy purebred horror flick out of Australia really delivers the goods. If you’re up for it, I’d really suggest following my lead and watching it alone, late at night with all the lights out. It’s a little gimmicky but it really sets the mood, and I bet you don’t remember the last time you went down to the basement and turned out all the lights to watch a horror movie. Be a kid, be terrified, and by God don’t read any books that mysteriously show up on top of your dresser. Because if it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook!

I’m just gonna go straight for the jugular here. “The Babadook” is damn scary any way you slice it. The direction is spectacular; Jennifer Kent did everything right, whether it was getting the actors to do their thing, getting the lighting and settings right, moving the camera to just that right spot, or knowing the perfect times to show that goddamn Babadook, visually this movie is awesome. Now here’s the problem: the story is really not that compelling. If this movie falters anywhere, it’s their. Now, I will fully admit as I often do, that maybe I just didn’t get the whole thing. Maybe I missed some last piece of the puzzle, but honestly I think the way the story tried to wrap up in the final act almost stabbed the movie in the back. The premise as the movie went just built and built. Every moment was more tense than the next. Even when we got some relief, some player would go and f it up again, spiraling us back into darkness and fear. And that was great. But then, the end came around and just felt disjointed. I’m perfectly fine with leaving some questions unanswered, but that was not the idea here. No, it seemed like every question would be answered, only with a bit of disregard as to whether the audience understood the answer. This is meant purely as constructive criticism here. Sure, I didn’t like the end, but I’m not saying it was wrong. I’m just saying I think that a lot of what made the monster so scary was that you didn’t know what it was, or where it came from, or how to stop it.

Okay, back to business as usual here. The basic plot of “The Babadook” centers on Sam and his mother, a young family that was robbed of their father and husband because of an accident when Sam was born. That bit comes back throughout the movie and is an important piece of background information. Well, Sam is a bit strange to begin with, but he gets a little weirder when he starts seeing things and building weapons to protect his mother from a monster. We finally find out what the kid is talking about when he asks his mother to read him a bedtime story, and in good horror movie cliché fashion, little Sammy wants to read the world’s most terrifying children’s book. Everything in the book suddenly begins to haunt the young family, driven by the titular Babadook. Is he a man, a monster, or just a figment of everyone’s imagination? We don’t really know, but we do know he’s here to stay.

There are quite a few solid actors in the movie, but obviously our two main protagonists stand out in our mind. Sam, played by first timer Noah Wiseman, is absolutely perfect as the creepy kid with a monster in his closet that no one will acknowledge. He goes through some seriously terrifying stuff, and plays it like a champ. The seizure scene is no joke, and all times where he sees things just off camera had my hair standing on end and my knuckles white. Terrific stuff from a young kid, but I worry if the filming was in any way scarring. Alongside Noah, Essie Davis plays the exhausted but loving mother Amelia. She does her job well and plays a very believable haunted single mother. While I didn’t dig some of the “going crazy” scenes, it’s probably because Ms. Davis played them so convincingly. Fun fact, and it took IMDB to point this out to me, but Ms. Davis is also the unrivaled ‘Ms. Fisher’ of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, a staple of PBS at my house.

“The Babadook” is in no way a “fun” movie, but it is a must see for any genre fan. I’ll let my issues with the story slide when I give two big thumbs up for the constant feeling of dread and anxiety you are under for the full ninety minute run time. I think it narrowly missed out on that upper echelon of truly scary movies inhabited by the likes of “The Exorcist”, but Ms. Kent made a dazzling attempt. I’d say with a lot of certainty that this was the scariest movie I’ve seen in the last five years, and I won’t go back further only because I don’t feel like doing my research. It will be hard to sleep. You will have nightmares. And you will love every minute of it, or curse me for suggesting it. I was getting goosebumps just writing about it, that’s how genuinely creepy it was. Now I’ll leave you with the sound that will haunt those who know, and entice the uninitiated:

Ba… ba… dook! Dook! DOOOK!

Story: 6

Visuals: 9

Fun Factor: 7

Classic Poster Image

The next movie on the list is “Dawn of the Dead”. While this one isn’t much in terms of Halloween, it’s a good horror movie and in this day of zombies in mainstream media, is there any better way to get people hyped about the season? Personally I’m much more of a “Night of the Living Dead” fan, but this one has more action, more gore and more mass appeal than it’s black and white predecessor. So what’s left to be said about “Dawn of the Dead”? It’s gained a boat load of notoriety in the last fifteen years, and especially in the online community. But I seached far and wide, and still never found anything written by me on the subject. So here’s my two cents.

While “Dawn of the Dead” was certainly not the first zombie movie, and is probably not the most famous, it’s definitely the one you most associate with the genre. It’s funny, calling zombies their own genre, but these days they truly are. It seems like every other piece of horror media you see is about zombies, from movies and television to video games and books. They are very successful in society as a bad guy because they are us, only hungrier. They are the dead, but mobile, and savage. Stories revolving around zombies are very simple and highly mutable, which leads to a plethora of different situations that anyone can get into. But I digress, and hard. “White Zombie” introduced us to voodoo zombies, which are very different than the zombies you see today. There were several more films in the 40’s and 50’s, but the next big jump in zombie iconography was “Night of the Living Dead.” This film was absolutely iconic and for more reasons than the new formula for zombies, but that is for another review entirely. “Night” gave us a preview of the slow, unrelenting, flesh eating zombie we have come to love. The fact that you can’t kill them. That they are deterred by fire. “Dawn” took that idea, multiplied it by a thousand, dipped it in technicolor and put it on the big screen for the world to see. And a lot of people feinted.

“Dawn”, like any good zombie movie, offers us a simple premise. A group of survivors land their chopper at a mall to resupply. They find that the mall has everything they could ever need and decide to stay a while. Who wouldn’t? They spend their days killing undead, “shopping”, eating and generally enjoying life. Once rid of the zombies, they start to have fun with the place. There’s so much to do in a mall with only 4 people in it. The only problem is that a group of roving bikers decide they want to get in on the fun as well. With them come more zombies. Cue all hell breaking loose. Romero gets a bit preachy at points, but if you’re drinking a beer like you should be you’ll hardly notice it.

A note to all you new viewers out there: When you pick up a random copy of “Dawn of the Dead” you never know what you’re going to get. When I first snagged this movie, it was at the dawn of the DVD and nearly impossible to find. No, Amazon did not have it. Best Buy and Wal-Mart would laugh you out of the store. I think I got it second hand on eBay in the end. But I had to get it, and I had to get the right version. Since it was not exactly the most well received movie in history, there are several versions out there, with differences ranging from run time and story content to music and score. You can do a little research for yourself online, but what I’ve found is that the US theatrical cut is the overall winner. It’s a good bit shorter than some of the director’s cuts (yes I said ‘some’, as in more than one; Romero was really trying to get this one right), but what you lose is the fluff and the boredom. You lose some plot points, but no big deal. You also get at least two different endings, depending on which cut you get. Music is another big factor, with one version getting a pretty solid soundtrack by ‘The Goblins’. I most recently watched it on Blu-Ray, which happened to be one of the director’s cuts. I won’t tell a lie, I got a little bored. I appreciate debauchery in an empty mall as much as the next guy, but this is why we edit films.

“Dawn of the Dead” is remembered for a lot of reasons, but the main one is the gore. Even today, this game is nasty. People bleed a lot in “Dawn”, and due to technicolor or recoloring or whatever, that stuff is red. People are getting ripped apart, bitten, shot, cut, stabbed, you name it. All in the interest of survival, after all, but it is fairly shocking. I won’t make any comments into the special effects of the day when it was made, but I know it was revolutionary if only for its content.

So it’s not the first, not the best and not the most famous, but it’s got the biggest balls. “Dawn of the Dead” set a precedent that people have been trying to live up to for more than thirty years now, and it still holds. We compare everything to what we saw in “Dawn”, even if we’ve never seen “Dawn”. How many kids make the distinction between Danny Boyle’s lightening fast zombies in “28 Days Later” and “traditional” zombies without ever seeing “Dawn”? Tons. Like “Halloween”, you have to give credit where credit is due. You might not be the best looking guy in school, but if you’ve got the biggest dick, people know. They have no way of knowing, but they know. That’s like with zombies. From your first interaction with horror, zombies, as you know them, are the bad guys featured in “Dawn of the Dead”. The first time you see “Dawn”, you will probably be surprised at how non-lethal they come off as. But just like the zombie plague spreads from human to human, getting stronger and gaining strength, so does the zombie mythology as it goes from movies to books, ever expanding. There had to be a patient zero, and that guy was “Dawn of the Dead”.

Story: 7

Visuals: 8

Fun Factor: 7

trickrtreat_still

“Trick ‘r Treat” is one of those movies that only comes around once in a blue moon. It’s the third installment of Halloween Week (Yea, I know I’m a little late on these reviews), and it’s a fun little flick that knows what it is and stays true to itself. Adapted from a graphic novel, “Trick ‘r Treat” follows several intertwined storylines to give us one great Halloween movie. Set on that fateful, frightful night, we get a tour de force of everything Halloween: Sexy girls, little kids pulling pranks, crazy old men, werewolves, zombies, serial killers… the list goes on and on. It’s not overly creepy, but the atmosphere is spot on. There’s plenty of gore, plenty of attractive women, a couple of fun, Halloween-centric stories and a creepy little demon to tie everything together. It seems like my M.O., but “Trick ‘r Treat” is best enjoyed with a bunch of friends and a big bowl of candy while your jack-o-lanterns glow in the windows.

My favorite quality of this movie is it’s timelessness. We assume it’s set today because everyone dresses modern, but in reality it could be any time. There are no cell phones, no computer, barely even any cars. The only semblance of technology we come across is the TV crew, and we don’t even see their equipment. This is a pleasant break from most movies in general, as time period is usually important to plot. In fact, it is usually a driving force. “Trick ‘r Treat” differs from the classic movie formula in that it is not one developed story, and I think it would be hard to even label it as a group of stories. What it is a bunch of legends, warnings, old wives tales if you will, with characters and settings put in. The age old classic is the concept of always checking your candy on Halloween. This isn’t really a single story that has changed itself over the years; it’s an idea that every parent and school implements in their own way. In “Trick ‘r Treat”, the creators decided to have a psychotic principal poison the candy he gives to a troublemaking kid. There is also the story of a person getting murdered and crying for help amongst a Halloween parade of people dressed like the dead. These are urban legends that manifest themselves everywhere and in every way, but are strung together here stunningly to create an all encompassing Halloween tale.

Visual effects in the movie were definitely up to par. There’s nothing too fancy, which stays true to it’s blue collar roots, but with the excellent set design and costuming it’s still fun to look at. I’ve mentioned other movies that get the Halloween-on-Mainstreet vibe down pretty well, and “Trick ‘r Treat” should not be forgotten among them. Along with the plethora of jack-o-lanterns, the creature and gore effects are worth recognition. Blood looks like blood (and we sure get a lot of it), the chocolate puke makes you want to hurl yourself, and the werewolf transformation scene is done amazingly. Lacking (in a good way) from this movie are any noticeable CG effects, which only adds to the timeless feel I discussed earlier. The ghouls and even the little demon are shown to us in a fun, believable way, even if the little sack head seems a tad corny at the end.

While it’s not A list by any stretch of the imagination, the acting in the movie is really quite good. Anna Paquin (Laurie) should be somewhat of a household name and Dylan Baker (Principal Wilkins) will forever be a face without a name, the rest of the cast is a relatively unknown bunch of Canadians. Before I go any further, to Mr. Baker I mean no disrespect, you are a great actor, I just can’t place what else you’ve been in. Back to the rest of the cast, the Canadians. They must be doing something right up in BC, because these kids are really worth their chops, and aren’t bad to look at either. Our neighbors up north have really put out some amazing talent lately, and I think some of the shows they’re producing could give Hollywood a run for their money if the could somehow convince networks to pick them up. The young talent is what’s really impressive. I think Britt McKillip (Macy) and Jean-Luc Bilodeau (Schrader) are the stand out characters in the whole movie. Bilodeau has graced the Disney Channel screen before, and McKillip is mainly in the voice over scene, but the two of them make a great pair and I’d love to see them taking on bigger roles.

As a movie, “Trick ‘r Treat” is good acting, a quick pace and an ever changing storyline. As a horror movie, it’s an original take on some old ideas and bunch of real creepy set ups. As a Halloween horror movie, it’s chock full of great scenery with an awesome set of stories to keep the kids up all night. While its release was not highly publicized and it was not particularly well reviewed by the mainstream, horror fans have been hard pressed to find another movie with the same balls as this one. It is what it is, which occasionally is campy, occasionally irreverent and sometimes downright goofy, but it sticks to its guns. My compliments to the team who put out such an ode to the season.

Story: 9

Visuals: 8

Fun Factor: 10

Good ol' Englund

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good description, and the guys at Netflix are among the best (no offense to their peers at FearNet, they’re great too). “Dance of the Dead” is described as an innocent girl going to a goth dance club, starring Robert Englund. Sold. Seriously, how could that go wrong? As the opening credits rolled, I was nearly hooked. Just a little bit of story to pull me in and… nevermind. As soon as the action started, I was very tempted to turn this one off. That’s been happening a lot lately, and I’m going to assume it’s because I have been abusing my Watch Instantly account for the past week, and because of my inability to turn away from a great tagline. However, I will say, before I go any further, that I am thrilled to have finished this one. It’s not hard, at a runtime of a little less than an hour, but those first couple minutes are a real test. Anyway, as an anti spoiler alert, keep watching. You will be happy.

Here’s how they got me in 30 seconds or less (a good formula for aspiring filmmakers):

Start by putting “Masters of Horror” opening credits to your celluloid

Next, add Tobe Hooper’s name under the “Directed by” category

For “music by”, a much overlooked title (sorry music dudes), put “Billy Corgan”

Finally, throw a little “Based on the story by Richard Matheson” into the mix

Now, that’s what I call a great recipe. But still, all those pieces had me wondering; how could a movie ever live up to those kinds of expectations? I mean, the story is obviously top notch, we’re going to get a visual treat with tons of depraved atmosphere, and the music is going to totally rock. What could go wrong?

Here’s what went wrong in the first couple of minutes: Tobe Hooper decided that since he had Robert Englund on his side, he was going to channel his inner Wes Craven and open with a mimic of “Friday the 13th”. It’s not “One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for You”, but we get an overexposed shot of kids jumping rope singing “Ring Around the Rosie”.  Then the camera starts stuttering and overlapping images. This effect I’m sure is supposed to look cool, but it ends up just hurting your head and obscuring the story. Next, you realize that this is being shot in a 4:3 ratio. Maybe all the “Masters of Horror” shorts were like that, but it’s still a knock against them. The sound mixing is horrible. I turn the receiver up to hear the characters’ voices and I get bombarded with ambient noise. Not even Corgan’s rad soundtrack, which would have been fine.

Now, after Hooper stops trying to shock the audience and settles into his paces, this flick goes from grotesque to gratifying real fast. The characters fill out, the setting is ironed out and we learn that this world is a pretty f’ed up place. World War III has already happened, and it’s after effects have a profound impact on society. The people that are getting by as respectable business owners are constantly harassed by gangs of thugs. The youth are in a permanent state of rebellion, causing trouble, taking drugs and going to Loopy shows. But more on that later. You really get invested in this sad, messed up world. The audience today can really connect with Peggy, the innocent girl who just wants to get a taste of what’s really going on outside. It seems messed up to her, and it seems messed up to us. Hooper does a great job of putting us in her shoes, really using the character as a sort of proxy for the audience. I was very impressed by the way the story with delivered.

“Dance of the Dead” really is a fitting title, but I won’t ruin it for you. It is the epitome of society going down the toilet, so you’re in for a treat. Peggy goes down to Muskeet, basically a big sin city, to go watch a loopy show. L.U.P., which stands for Lifeless Undead Phenomenon, is legal, as long as it is orally prefaced as a scientific demonstration. You’ll learn the specifics of this in the movie, so I won’t ruin it for you. I’ll just say, think about it for a minute. Try not to lose faith in humanity.

We don’t get a lot of gore in this one, but that never really was Hooper’s thing. Sure, he’s best known for the gore fest that is known as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but is there any real gore in it? Not really. It is certainly implied, and you are certainly sick to your stomach throughout the movie, but there is very little actual gore. Trust me. This film is similar, just for different reasons. There is not a lot of violence or need for gore within the story, but what does happen really rattles you. On the sex side, we got plenty, but not the good kind. Englund, being his usual self, molests and is molested by countless Loopies, which just makes you cringe. We get a couple of naked goth chicks dancing, but within the context it really just serves as another example at how far society can fall.

Please please please stick with this movie and think about it. I was hooked at first and then they totally lost me, but it was worth sticking around for. It wasn’t the fun, enjoyable experience I was expecting (I was thinking more on the lines of “Zombie Strippers”), but it got my horror bone tingling. A solid entry to the “Masters of Horror” catalog, and another gem for Hooper, I would suggest this movie for anyone that can get past the subpar sound and video quality and really dive into the world of 201X America, a world of graveyards and Blizz attacks, of muscle tusseling and Loopies.

Story: 9
Visuals: 6
Fun Factor: 6

Check out the left side of frame

Google defines “insidious” as: “Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects”. I can’t think of a better way to summarize this movie. Beyond that it was “the scariest movie to come out in years,” I had no real knowledge of what the film was about or what was going to happen in the next two hours. Before popping the Blu-Ray into the player, I decided to read up a little on the story, at least the back-of-the-package Netflix version of the story. Here’s the gist of it: Young couple with two kids and a baby move into a new house. When their oldest son randomly falls into a coma, weird stuff starts happening. They think the house is haunted so they move out. Once they settle in to their new house, weird stuff starts happening again. Cue extreme measures, i.e. ghost hunters, psychics, gas masks and more.

I have to first credit James Wan for doing an amazing job staging this thing. Him and writer Leigh Whannell performed, as their opening act, the tour de force that was “Saw”, to much critical acclaim. Wan then followed up with “Dead Silence”, the surprisingly enjoyable flick about the ventriloquist’s dummy. “Silence” was amazing from a directorial stand point. The action was sharp, the story progressed in a quick yet easy to understand fashion, and we got numerous genuinely creepy scenes (read: not jumpy). The film’s downside, unfortunately, was its story. Wan conveyed it beautifully, but it wasn’t exactly something we could all get behind. “Insidious” is a lot like “Dead Silence”. It was very highly billed (“Scariest movie in years!”), and is an incredibly creepy show. Suffice it to say, I did not have a fun time walking down to my room last night. However, as the story progressed, I felt myself losing interest. Wan kept the scares coming, but as the plot line unraveled to the point of clarity, I felt like I was watching a fantasy movie. It definitely developed a “Peter Pan”-ish vibe, which is not a bad way to go in my book, it just didn’t work in the environment “Insidious” had built over the last hour and ten minutes.

I mentioned in my review of “Devil” that the current generation of PG-13 rated movies lacked the cojones of their elder brethren. While this is usually true, “Insidious” proceeded to take that comment and shove it down my horror mongering throat. This thing could scare the pants off any horror purist, plain and simple. From the very opening credits, where ghosts and demons could be seen in the backgrounds of family pictures, to the countless creepy spirits and people creeping around corners, “Insidious” delivered. There is one particular scare that involves a ghosts sensing camera that you can see coming from a mile away, but even that is rewarding. My favorite bit is at the beginning of the second act, and involves a downright creepy version of “Tiptoe through the Tulips”. I would sincerely suggest watching the sides of the frame for the full effect.

The acting in “Insidious” was very solid. No one’s going to win an Oscar, but they are compelling and believable. Patrick Wilson first comes across as the workaholic dad, but due to the extreme circumstances occurring in the film turns out to be a great, compassionate guy. Rose Byrne plays the mom great, bringing an amount of emotion to the role that is unfortunately missing in a lot of films. The kids acted like kids, but you can’t fault them for that. Writer Leigh Whannell makes a friendly cameo as ghost hunter “Specs”, and while I found it a fairly lackluster subplot, other reviewers seem to think his part was Satan’s gift to cinema. Lin Shaye is the love-to-hate psychic, but she makes the part shine. While I am not a fan of psychics, real or in movies, even I was sympathetic to her character.

The bad guys in this film are amazing for the first hour and a half. I couldn’t get enough of the creepy ways you would see fleeting images of ghosts running across the screen or coming near people. One particular scene (just type “Insidious” into google images and you’ll see what I mean) made my heart try the hardest I can remember to jump out of my chest. Because of (or contributing to, I’m not really sure) the PG-13 rating, we see hardly any gore at all. I’m thoroughly impressed by this visual choice. It seems like a lot of people nowadays associate horror with gore. Wan’s most recent ventures into the genre, the aforementioned “Dead Silence” and our very own “Insidious”, have not only worked to dissociate that particular connection, but also prove the good camera work, sets and story build up can lead to very scary results.

I strongly feel that Insidious was one of the better true horror films of the last few years. It drew me in, built me up, and along the way scared me more times than I can remember. The acting kept us concerned and the use of anti horror clichés kept it unique. The story unfortunately falters toward the end, as does some of its visual appeal. I would liken it to if a stripper looked great with clothes on, then when she gets down to business looks strangely like Darth Maul. Tease me, James! Don’t go full frontal, I don’t want to see that. Give me just a taste, I’ll fill in the rest. “Insidious” was as close to perfect as I’ve seen in a while. It was almost there, failing to totally capture me in a few key areas, but generally a good film. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely recommend this. While I’m not sold on the Wan/Whannell combo, I’d let the former helm my story any day. Do yourself a favor and watch “Insidious”, preferably by yourself with the lights out. But first make sure there are no windows, pictures or mirrors on the way from the living room to bed. You’ll thank me later.

Story: 7
Visuals: 9
Fun Factor: 8