Monday, October 31, 2011

Fright Night (1985)

Many many years ago, I caught a segment of a horror movie on television, that featured a transformation sequence so shockingly gruesome that it was etched into my memory. Yet, I hadn't the slightest idea what that film was (I guess I didn't have the foresight to check at the time), and I promptly pushed that memory towards the back of my mind. Until last month, during a discussion with a fellow horror fan at a local horror convention. He mentioned the movie Fright Night, and how it was known for having one of the best transformation sequences in horror film history. Could this be the film I remembered?

Indeed it was. Fright Night starts out favorably, planting itself as one of those fun horror movies that doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters are amusing, and the premise - a high school boy suspects his new next door neighbor is a vampire - is cozy. It was almost shocking for me to see Amanda Bearse, who plays Marcy on Married With Children, not only in a different role, but cast as the high school sweetheart. I thought some of the decorations in the lead protagonist's bedroom were amusing - like the neon beer sign (he's in high school, so it's pretty cheeky for him to advertise his appreciation for alcohol), and the "Girls' Locker Room" sign that I wouldn't mind having in my own room. ;-)

The "Fright Night" concept is itself perhaps the most clever element of this story. In the film, Fright Night is a horror franchise (probably not unlike Hammer Films) that hosts horror movies on television featuring a character named Peter Vincent, who plays a vampire killer in many of those [fictional] films (his favorite being "Orgy of the Damned" - mine too :p). So when Charley (aforementioned lead protagonist) suspects his neighbor is a vampire, he attempts to enlist Peter Vincent's help - giving him, reluctantly, a chance to be a real vampire killer like he is in the movies. The only thing that would make this premise more clever is if "Fright Night" was a real life franchise outside the film (which I began to suspect part way through the film) - like Creepshow or Tales From The Crypt or one of those titles.

Unfortunately, once the film starts to pick up momentum, it begins to drag, and - particularly in the night club scene - becomes far too entrenched in eighties culture, to its detriment. Watching that scene, I began to speculate - and that's all this is - that maybe the reason so many people dig the eighties is because, despite the horrendous fashions, everything was so safe during the eighties. Think about it. People in the sixties were waging a revolution, the seventies fostered the fallout of that revolution, and by the nineties, we've got the alternative culture picking up. The only thing safer than the eighties was the fifties, and I know some people who really dig on fifties revisionism, too. (And let's not talk about the hypocrisy of the oh-so-popular Victorian age).

Luckily, the movie picks up again in its last act. The creature effects in this movie are truly top notch. As mentioned, the transformations are amazing, and the death scenes for the monsters are particularly gruesome. The best one of all is the scene that I remember from years ago, which is incredibly intense, on both a visceral and an emotional level. It's really amazing, because this could be a scene from one of the greatest horror movies of all time - if only the rest of this movie were better than it is. It's a shame these creatures and effects weren't used in a more serious, more psychologically heavy film, because they could have been downright terrifying. Here, they're still impressive, but they're more of a cool effect to admire than something that adds to the atmosphere of the film.

Still, they're so good, it's worth seeing, even if the rest of the movie doesn't live up to their promise. And anyway, it's still a fun movie to watch. I'm just the type that prefers more serious movies. I'll leave you with what I thought was a funny quote given by Peter Vincent on being sacked due to the changing nature of horror fandom in the eighties. It really seems to capture the zeitgeist of the times (for better or worse - and I don't necessarily consider it a bad thing):

"Nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires either. Apparently all they want are demented madmen running around in ski masks hacking up young virgins."

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm is a wonderfully creepy film. It feels a little off, in that the editing is choppy, and the acting a bit wooden, but what it excels at is maintaining a very creepy tone throughout the film. The music, and the images, and the sounds, all work together to create a strange and foreboding atmosphere.

The horror elements are infused with a healthy dose of science fiction (I noticed what must have been thinly veiled homages to both Dune and Star Wars), which makes them both unusual and unpredictable. Mike's exploding hammer is brilliant! And the dwarves sound positively ferocious, which adds to their menace.

One of the best scare elements in this film is utilized a lot in the beginning, perfectly capturing the unease of seeing something strange in the corner of your vision, just as it dodges out of view. Very creepy. And speaking of the beginning, I love that the film opens with a scene of two people making love in a graveyard (though as you can imagine, it quickly turns sinister)!

I'm sorry, but isn't she just gorgeous?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 3 (Save The Last One)

Spoiler Warning!

Holy shit.

Episode 3 of The Walking Dead's second season shows us how Shane and Otis fare in the zombie-infested high school while trying to bring medical supplies back to the camp to save young Carl's life. Meanwhile, Glenn and T Dog join the group at the farm, and Dale and the others keep watch for Sophia back at the RV on the highway.

I have to admit, I really like Daryl as a character. I haven't read up on the comics that inspired this TV show (even though I had planned on doing so - and I intend to in the near future), but judging from Robert Kirkman (the writer of those comics)'s comments on the Talking Dead special that's been airing on AMC, Daryl is an original character for the TV series - and thus a wild card, since readers of the comics don't know his fate.

His brother Merle didn't ingratiate himself to the group very well, but Daryl seems to be a good person, and above all, he knows how to survive - while keeping a relatively positive attitude, too. He almost has me convinced that Sophia really is okay, after all, and that they'll find her. And with Rick starting to lose it over his son's condition, the group really needs a level-headed leader. But he's not as sympathetic towards the walkers, judging from his attitude towards the hanged man. On the other hand, his passive attitude toward meddling in the fate of others demonstrates his conviction not to make other people's choices for them, which seems to be the theme of this episode.

For example, Lori begins to consider whether letting Carl die here and now is not the more merciful decision, than fighting for him to stay alive, to have to endure living in such a hellish world any longer. Which is partly surprising, giving Lori's strength in the face of adversity, and her love for her son. But she has a good point. Still, I truly admire Rick's unswerving faith in his will to live, and his dedication to hope beyond reason. So though it's not as dramatic as his earlier silent pause in response to Lori's question of why it's worth living on in this hell, I was glad that he later found a reason to give her.

It was a combination of there still being beauty in this world (the deer), as well as the fact that Carl, during the brief period when he was lucid, focused on that - the good feelings he had been having, and not the fact that he had just been shot and must have been in great pain. But the most important point of all was that Carl seemed to want to live, and it's not really Lori nor Rick's decision to decide whether to kill him mercifully - whether to live on in this hell or not is something every person has a right to decide, but only for themselves.

Which brings us to Shane. I was really, honestly, truly, starting to like Shane again, even after all the questionable things he's done. He really stood up and did what needed to be done for Carl in terms of getting those medical supplies from the zombie-infested school. I've also come to like Otis - the man who accidentally shot Carl. I was prepared to totally hate this guy when that happened, but he turned out to be such a nice guy, and genuinely resentful of his accident, and so insistent on doing whatever he could to make up for it, I couldn't help liking him. So it's sad that he ended up allegedly sacrificing himself for Carl's sake, though poetically just. That rocketed my appreciation for him up even more...until I found out the truth.

In doing everything he could to accomplish his task, Shane may have finally crossed the line he's been walking for so long. I thought in my mind how perfect it would have been for Otis to sacrifice himself, using his larger size as an advantage to stave off the zombies long enough for Shane to make it out alive. But then when I found out Shane had effectively killed him - making that decision for him - for that very reason, that changed everything. The outcome is the same - and I'm sure that's what Shane was focusing on - but the difference is merciful sacrifice versus murder for advantage.

The ultimate question is, was Shane justified in committing murder in that instance, thinking there was no other way to get out, knowing that the success or failure of his mission could determine the fate of Carl's life? To what extent are we bound by a code of ethics in a world without law, where the dead walk the earth, feeding on the living? Can exceptions be made, or is it more imperative than ever that we follow that code and choose right actions?

Regardless of the answer to these questions, it's very clear that Shane is dangerous - to the point of almost becoming a villain. He may be on our side, but for how long, and what lengths will he go to against someone he perceives as a threat to his own survival, or the survival of those he cares about? Clearly, he's not comfortable with his actions - is there room for forgiveness, and is he obligated to tell the rest of the group the truth about what happened to Otis? Does the answer to that question depend on how it would affect the cohesiveness of the group, or not?

This is what makes The Walking Dead such a great series. Tough questions, with even tougher answers. And continuing on the God front, Maggie from the farm group makes a good point about the absence of God in a world practically devoured by the walking undead. Whether he's up there or not - and the evidence that he is isn't very strong - it's up to us to do what we can to make things right, not to rely on God to fix our problems for us...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Requiem (2006)

Requiem is the most realistic exorcism movie I've ever seen. There are no demons (not explicitly, anyway), and although there are some emotionally intense scenes, it's more of a drama than a horror. But that's what makes it so intelligent. Unlike The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was based on the same true story, Requiem's purpose is not to scare you with hellish visions of demonic possession, but rather to take a restrained and sensitive look at the situation and consider, without sensationalism, what may have actually happened.

In other exorcism movies, you hardly care at all about the girl being possessed, beyond the fact that she's innocent and being harrassed by the devil. In Requiem, we get a chance to meet the girl, named Michaela in this adaptation of the story, and observe how her condition develops. She suffers from epilepsy, and while there's enough ambiguity to preclude me from stating straight out that she was definitely not possessed, it's pretty clear that her problems were more physiological than spiritual in nature. But what makes this story so fascinating is that we get to see how this girl, Michaela, confronts her own condition, and how, even though her reluctance to rely on medical help (and I can't entirely blame her, considering how doctors are) in lieu of spiritual assistance may have contributed to her death, that she actually finds meaning in her possession, and perhaps died happy, believing she was a martyr for God.

Of course, it's sad, because given the proper psychiatric treatment, she may have lived a much fuller life. But the frightening thing is that a lot of what she believed in, and the arguments she used, I can relate to. The frustration of having to deal with being dealt a crappy hand by God, and wanting to believe - not that God doesn't love you - but that you are being tested in some way. That the desperation of your condition is the cost of being special in His eyes. That there's some kind of point to it. One must not neglect the psychological effect a physical condition can have on a person - even to the point of believing the medical condition is caused by a spiritual affliction. But again, I think this is where psychiatric intervention would have made a crucial difference in the outcome.

This is every bit the story I had wished The Exorcism of Emily Rose had been, after reading into the true story that inspired it. Although I anticipated a more obvious antagonism via the girl's parents and religious upbringing (though her mother was a significant problem), this film is not as critical against religious belief as I would have made it. In fact, the film doesn't seem to have a driving message at all - it is very passive in its presentation of the events, which I think serves it well. In the end, you get the sense that the filmmakers are trying only to emphasize the girl's struggle, in a way that shows her respect, without necessarily signing off on the things she believed in. (On the other hand, they do seem to de-emphasize the grueling nature of the exorcism process itself).

I feel like that's how I approach religious people in my life - I try to respect what their beliefs mean to them, without believing in them myself. And yet, the lingering tragedy of this story is the knowledge that this girl, though she may have found peace with her condition before her death, may have lived to accomplish so much more given the right opportunity. Yet in the end, it really was her choice, though we can argue how much that choice was influenced by the suggestions of those around her. (I totally spotted a poster for The Exorcist in the corner of one scene, which came out in Germany around the time that the true story occurred, and was said to have been a potential catalyst for the girl's behaviors).

All in all, Requiem is a very good dramatic horror, if I may call it that, that feels quite like a good arthouse film. Although the camera's a tad bit shaky at some parts, the characters are likable, the soundtrack is fantastic, and this novel approach to the very popular story of demonic possession and exorcism is quite compelling. I recommend it to those who are looking for something a little bit deeper than your typical scare film.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

[Rec] (2007)

Well, I think I just found the highlight of this season's batch of horror titles (that I've decided to watch). I went into [Rec] knowing it's gotten lots of praise, and I expected it to be good, but I came out of it being impressed even beyond my expectations (and that's rare, especially with titles I already expect to be good). If I hadn't long ago given up on the futile practice of rating movies, I would unhesitatingly award it a 10/10 (which I did over on immediately after finishing the movie). In fact, I'm still basking in the afterglow of the experience right now. What can I say in a review? Well, two things. I can tell you what the movie's about, so you can decide if it's worth seeing, and I can tell you what I liked about it in particular, and what made it so good.

[Rec] is, for better or worse (and in this case, it is most certainly for the better), a foreign language (Spanish) found footage film that my good friend The Found Footage Afficionado described to me as Resident Evil the movie - done right. Now, hearing that, don't be discouraged by the poor quality of the Resident Evil films. That's just the point - [Rec] is what Resident Evil should have been as a movie, and it taps into everything that made the game series (specifically, going back to the basics of the original) so good. It's much the same concept as how Jacob's Ladder is what Silent Hill as a movie (adapted conceptually, and not literally) should have been. (Though in that case, Jacob's Ladder came before Silent Hill, and has been officially acknowledged as one of many inspirations for the game). While, as a Silent Hill fan, I think the Silent Hill movie was good, it doesn't quite reach 'masterpiece' status the way the original game did. Jacob's Ladder, on the other hand, is a cinematic masterpiece, and it embodies a similar spirit as Silent Hill the game. The same can be said about [Rec] - that it, generally, embodies the spirit of Resident Evil, but is a cinematic masterpiece of its own, and not just a name brand cash-in like the Resident Evil movies are.

But enough with the comparison to Resident Evil. Like most(?) found footage films, the movie opens with our leads engaged in a rather different pursuit than they'll later be unexpectedly thrown into the middle of. We have a two man (cameraman plus reporter - well, the reporter is an attractive young woman) local TV crew filming an on-site report of what it's like to spend a day (or night, rather) in the shoes of a local fireman. As they conduct interviews and find other ways to pass their time, an emergency call is received, and the crew heads out with the firemen to investigate a domestic complaint at a local apartment building. When they get there, they come face to face with an uncommunicative and violently psychotic old lady who attacks one of the police men on call. Things go from bad to worse when the entire apartment building is quarantined, trapping everyone inside in an effort to contain an unknown and unpredictable infection. Tensions run high, and all attempts to keep things under control eventually fail as the chaos spreads.

Ultimately, any movie can be made to sound good or bad in a synopsis, and what really matters is how the movie approaches its premise, and whether or not it's successful at crafting an effective and exciting cinematic experience. As you no doubt will have guessed by now, my opinion is that [Rec] succeeds at this with flying colors. Rather than sit here and pontificate on why it succeeds, you should really just go and watch it for yourself. But I will say a few things. First, that I actually screamed out at one part in this movie - and that's something that I never do! Also, I think the "zombies" (if they're even technically that) were portrayed rather well, in their mannerisms. They weren't stereotypical shambling corpses - they behaved erratically and unpredictably, and seemed to exhibit symptoms of psychological imbalance - though in other cases, frightening intelligence and even strategy.

I wonder that maybe the reason a film like this succeeds where, say, George Romero's Diary of the Dead (also a found footage take on the theme) fails, is because at this point Romero is too caught up in zombie subculture, and all the predictable tropes that go with it, whereas [Rec] taps into the basic fear of zombism, and the immediacy of that terror, in a fresh way that someone who's been making zombie movies for decades would have a lot of difficulty doing. And one more comment I want to make is that [Rec] provides one of the most original - or at least creatively inspired - explanations for the zombie condition/outbreak that I've ever seen or heard before. It's not space dust from a fallen meteorite, nor is it hell being filled to capacity. Telling you would be a huge super-duper spoiler, but it's so clever, I want to say it anyway. Close your eyes and stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled.

Begin Spoiler (highlight to read)
It's the same 'disease' that causes demonic possession, except that in studying it and trying to find a cure, man has inadvertently made it contagious! Genius, I tell you.
End Spoiler

And by now you know enough to understand why [Rec] is so good, and why you should go watch it if you're a horror fan and haven't seen it yet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Thing (2011)

John Carpenter's The Thing from 1982 is a cinematic masterpiece, and one of my favorite films of all time - horror or otherwise. So you can imagine that I went into the unfortunately titled The Thing (2011) (which can't seem to decide if it wants to be a prequel or a remake) with a mixture of excitement and trepidation: excitement that I would get to see another story like 'Carpenter-Thing'; and trepidation, because Carpenter-Thing was perfect, and you can't improve on perfection. The result is, 'prequel-Thing' is a pretty good try at recapturing the magic of Carpenter-Thing. It doesn't succeed, but then it never really stood a chance. It does manage to be entertaining, however.

In fact, prequel-Thing succeeds best where it tries to be its own movie, and worst when it tries to replicate what made Carpenter-Thing so good. Unfortunately, though, prequel-Thing spends a lot of time trying to be Carpenter-Thing. The movie starts out well, successfully capturing the appropriate mood of the piece, even bringing back the bass-driven theme from the older movie (what is it about slow, driving bass lines that suits creepy movies so well?), and utilizing a title sequence that recalls the previous one.

But where Carpenter-Thing was a paranoid, claustrophobic pressure cooker, prequel-Thing can manage only a dull imitation. The characters are not very compelling - you've even got the cliched egotistical scientist who values a novel discovery (especially when it's an extraterrestrial lifeform with the potential to be used as a biological weapon - have we heard this before?) over the lives of the humans he works with. And it's quite clear from the start who the "final girl" (to use slasher parlance - it's a shame I have to stoop that low, as Carpenter-Thing, despite using a slasher formula at its base, managed to rise above the widespread mediocrity of slasherdom) will be (and thus, you're pretty sure she's not going to be 'replicated'). MacReady was a great character in Carpenter-Thing, but even then, I don't think there was as much certainty that he would make it out in the end (and it's still up in the air whether he actually did).

But, as I said, where prequel-Thing gets interesting, is where it expands upon the story and tries to be its own movie. This involves spoilers, however, so if you haven't seen it, you might want to skip ahead to the next paragraph now. This time, we get to see where The Thing came from - not his home planet, but his resting place in the ice. And we get to see his spaceship too - in fact, we get to go inside it at the end of the movie. I'm tempted to say that the whole spaceship thing jumps the shark, but the fact is, it's actually pretty cool, and if this movie didn't have that plot point, then it would be nothing more than a dull rehash of Carpenter-Thing, and then it wouldn't have anything new going for it.

One item that simply cannot be neglected in a discussion of The Thing is the creature fx. Carpenter-Thing had some of the best creature fx ever put to film, and that, in addition to the great story, characters, and mood, elevated that movie to the status of legend. The Thing (as conceptualized in John Carpenter's version of the story) is one of the greatest sci-fi/horror creatures of all time, and one of the rare few that can stand up to H.R. Giger's xenomorph from Alien. Naturally, I was curious to see how today's modern computer graphics would compare to the brilliant practical fx that brought The Thing to life decades ago. Anyone who's anything in the movie world knows that CGI doesn't hold a candle to good practical fx.

And the verdict? It seems to me that the makers of prequel-Thing tried very very hard to do the creature justice. They couldn't match the brilliance of the earlier fx, but I have to admit, they did a pretty damn good job of trying, and probably ended up with the best CG creature fx you'll see anywhere. And I'll tell you, The Thing is a pretty awesome creature. Though here, it did end up looking almost like some kind of mutation out of one of the Resident Evil games. Later on, in its more tentacled form, I got a craving for someone to create a live action tentacle porn movie. With the right amount of effort and attention to detail, that could be simply amazing... But I digress.

I don't think this is much of a spoiler, given that the entire premise of prequel-Thing is that it's a direct prequel to Carpenter-Thing - depicting the Norwegian camp's discovery of the creature before it makes its way to the American camp. But the movie ends as you would expect - on the very scene that opens the older movie. I think it would be a bizarre experience to watch these two films in narrative order, to see the creature move from one camp to the next, only to experience a 30 year devolution in special fx. Better or worse, the difference alone would be funny to witness.

And one further point - without saying too much, the ending is pretty open-ended (though not in the brilliant way that the older movie's ending was), and even sets up the potential for another story to be told, occurring after (or even concurrently with) the story of Carpenter-Thing. I don't know if the studio intends to continue this series or what. Frankly, I'm concerned about turning this series into one more sequel-happy cash cow. There's a difference between making a movie because you have the inspiration, and making one because you know people will pay to see it. Genius like Carpenter-Thing is rare and unpredictable. Then again, even that was a rehash of a story that had already been made into a movie once before...

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Wicksboro Incident (2003)

Chances are good you've never heard of The Wicksboro Incident. I hadn't heard of it until The Found Footage Afficionado gave me the heads up. It is a mockumentary in the classic found footage style, centered on an interview of an old man who was involved in government research that he believes was tied to the truth about extraterrestrials living disguised among us, and the following investigation of a small Texas town that was wiped off the map, leaving only one survivor. If you dig found footage movies, and/or have an interest in the government conspiracy/alien phenomenon theme, then I recommend this movie. It's simple and effective, and doesn't try too hard to go over the top like big budget Hollywood movies do.

Now let's discuss a few spoilers.

Apart from the style and basic theme, I didn't know exactly what to expect from this film as I sat down to watch it (and I think that uncertainty is part of what makes these found footage films so exciting - you don't know what's going to happen, and it may not be what you expect from watching thousands of Hollywood plots). So going into it, I was already ready to suspend my disbelief, thinking this would be a movie about aliens. But the more old Lloyd talked, the more my belief waned, and when it got to the point where he was waving his "alien detector" around, I thought, "this guy is clearly a nut". But then it became apparent that the documentary makers felt the same way. So it's like, oh, alright, we're not really supposed to believe him. But then where does it go from there?

Of course, it turns out Lloyd was right. And the whole experience from the moment they find the fallout shelter and begin to be hunted by government agents is wildly exciting. Yet I wonder, if in the end they wanted us to believe Lloyd, then why did they make him sound so ridiculously crazy from the start? Do they want us to believe all his crazy ideas are true? Or do they want us to lend more credibility to the crazies out there, so as not to be so quick to dismiss all their crazy theories just because some of them are easily disproved? I feel like it must have something to do with the whole theme, that Lloyd discusses, of inundating the public with crackpot theories in order to reduce the credibility of those few wild theories that are true. But, ultimately, seeing as we're supposed to believe Lloyd in the end, the film would have been a bit more believable if his ideas were - while still crazy - less ridiculous, from the start.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that not a single alien appears in this movie (unless you count the ones identified by Lloyd's alien detector, who are allegedly only disguised as humans). And yet, it's still a good alien movie, and also pretty scary towards the end. That chase through the abandoned building at the end was very harrowing. When the cameraman was running through the dark, I was half-expecting something very scary to come up out of the darkness. I was actually afraid that it would happen, because I knew how much that would freak me out. But I was spared. And when he used his lighter to light the way, everything about that made it feel like I was playing a video game in first person perspective. I thought that was pretty cool. It was much more effective than in the film version of Doom, even without trying to be.

But as I said, in the end there wasn't a single alien. Yet, the underground laboratory was there, and the government was keen on protecting something - so keen as to be willing to kill for it. I think a plausible alternative hypothesis is that Lloyd was in fact working on something very secret to the government. Not necessarily extraterrestrial-related - maybe a weapon or something. His beliefs may even have been influenced subtly by the government to discredit him in case he ever decided to leak information about the project, so that noone would believe him. The documentary makers made the mistake of humoring him for their project, and got too close to the truth, even if that truth wasn't extraterrestrial in nature.

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

The big question on my mind going into the movie was: will Paranormal Activity 3 live up to the precedent set by the first two entries in this film series? To get myself in the mood beforehand, I pulled up my reviews of Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 for a read-through. At the risk of sounding immodest, both of those reviews are really good, and probably two of the best reviews I've ever written. So in addition to hoping PA3 would live up to to its predecessors, I had the additional pressure of writing a review of it that would do its predecessors justice.

For better or worse, the pressure is off. I can say two things about Paranormal Activity 3. It was a good, scary, fun movie. Yet it didn't feel quite as satisfying as the previous two Paranormal Activities. And I may be able to guess at the reasons, but I can't quite put my finger on exactly why that is. Though the scares are still effective in the same way they've always been, perhaps the edge has been blunted and the novelty worn off. Then again, I can't rule out the possibility that something in the way the story itself was put together missed the mark in a subtle but significant way.

Perhaps it's that Paranormal Activity has become more of a phenomenon than an experience. As before, audience reactions in the theater were uncharacteristically (judging by the standards of your average movie experience) enthusiastic. But though there were lots of screams, I've become more skeptical than ever that they were genuine. It's very possible that these people were genuinely scared, but it seems to me that PA has become that movie that comes out around Halloween that you go to with your friends to have a good time and scream your head off. I mean, the advertisements certainly butter you up to the point that anything less than audience hysteria would be a letdown. And also in addition to that, while there were a lot of funny scenes in PA3 (more, I think, than in the previous titles), there was perhaps more laughing (and a little bit of talking) than was probably appropriate.

And the movie itself? Let's talk spoilers.

PA3 is a prequel. It fleshes out Katie (from the first one)'s initial encounter with the demonic spirit that haunts her, during her childhood. It's her sister who has taken this spirit on (in time-worn cliche fashion) as an apparently imaginary friend named Toby. But we know he's much more than that. In the hyped-up climax to the film (which threw me off because I was expecting a house fire that the movie never delivered), we discover that Katie's grandmother is a member of a witches' coven who has, apparently, summoned this demonic spirit upon the family, and it has chosen Katie's sister to be its "bride", ostensibly for the purpose of producing a male child (judging from the explanation we got in PA2 - though for what reason I don't know or recall) - though not in the exciting way; it appears the demon is content to wait it out, perhaps because his own "seed" is not compatible with humans.

Frankly, I think the imaginary friend thing - as creepy as the concept of a child befriending a ghost is (it's been done better in differently styled films) - kind of endears the demon to the family in a way that, while it's still a frightening and clearly dangerous entity, makes it slightly less of an unknown threat. Moreover - and I'm not alone in thinking this - the addition of the witches' coven subplot, while a fun theme to play with, seems to lessen the demon's impact even further, almost lowering it to the level of a pet (albeit a supernatural and deadly one) at the beck and call of very human (if magickal) owners.

Spoilers begone! I cast you out!

If you ask me, it seems like we're getting more exposition to fill out the story (though with as many new questions as answers). And you know what? It makes for a fuller story. We get lots of humor, and lots of action, and it begins to feel a little bit more like all the other (scary) movies that are out there. Paranormal Activity was effective because it was so unique. Paranormal Activity 2 built upon that. PA3 builds further, and while I can't say that the progress it makes is a bad thing (I think the use of PA-type scares in more mainstream movies could be a very fruitful partnership), it has the side effect of making it feel less special, less groundbreaking, and while still quite scary, less spine-tinglingly terrifying.

At least while watching it. As the scenes flood back into memory as I sit here writing this, the fear is amplified, and I remember how I felt after the first two Paranormal Activities, and I become afraid to go to bed and shut off the lights. If PA3 falls short of its goals, confusing as much as it explains (a situation exacerbated by the intentionally misleading trailer), it still remains an effective entry in the series. And it would seem that there is nothing stopping the studio from continuing that series for at least another year, if not longer. I am very excited to see both more films in this vein, as well as to explore further the increasingly convoluted and inconsistent plot of this series. I only hope that the series doesn't (continue to?) suffer from profit-inspired degradation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 2 (Bloodletting)

Spoiler Warning!

In episode 2 of the second season of The Walking Dead, Rick races his unconscious son Carl back to the farm where the man who accidentally shot him lives. Luckily (in a relative sense), there is a doctor living on the farm, and there is a chance that Carl may survive. But not without extra medical supplies that need to be recovered from a nearby zombie-infested high school.

One of the real strengths of this series is, as I've said before, how much it focuses on the real human drama at the heart of the zombie apocalypse. We've seen, time and again, the horror of a zombie onslaught - and this series certainly dishes them out - but what other titles don't do as much of is show just how much of an indirect effect the zombie apocalypse has on people. It shows the tension that exists among the survivors even when the zombies aren't just around the corner.

The doctor on the farm has his own, tempered philosophy on the zombie apocalypse, that I thought was rather intriguing. He compares it to the AIDS epidemic, and while this is a problem on a whole different order of magnitude, one can imagine the drastic effect that the black plague had on civilization in the middle ages. Many died, and prospects must have been very bleak to those living through it, but society pulled through, and we came out the back end stronger for it. This perspective, above all, seems to suggest hope for mankind. Yet there is still not much hope for any one man having to endure the struggles in the meantime.

In this episode we can really see Rick's strength of resolve breaking down. He's been so strong so far, always knowing the right thing to do (if not without self-doubt), and always having the strength to do it. But now, with the life of his son on the line, he seems to be losing it. Shane really steps in here and for once, his dominance works well for the good of the group in his support of Rick, and his go-to attitude when it comes to recovering much-needed medical supplies from a dangerous area. Rick, on the other hand, doesn't seem to know how to sit and wait in a crisis - even when it's the one thing he can do to help the most. You'd almost begin to think that his instinctive jump to action is as much a way of running from his problems than dealing with them. He can help others in their times of crisis, but he can't seem to take care of himself when he's the one who stands to lose so much.

I can't wait to see what happens next!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stigmata (1999)

Spoiler Warning - I'm gonna go ahead and spoil the whole plot of the movie, because that's what's really worth talking about.

Stigmata is a pretty effective dramatic thriller, with a religious theme, but what's so fascinating about it is the premise. Allow me to outline the plot. A priest discovers a new gospel, never before found, which, in the process of translation, he determines are the words of Jesus himself, spoken on the night of the Last Supper. However, instead of rejoicing at this discovery, the Vatican excommunicates the priest and tries to cover up the existence of the Gospel of Jesus. As it turns out, the church will let nothing interfere with their authority - not even God himself.

In the words of Jesus: "the Kingdom of God is inside you, and all around you, not in mansions of wood and stone."

So when the offending priest dies, his spirit travels across the world (attached to the priest's rosary, nicked from his coffin by an enterprising young thief), and possesses a young woman who lives in what I think is supposed to be Pittsburgh (it looks nothing like Pittsburgh). And our primary protagonist, other than this young woman, a self-described atheist, who begins to experience the stigmata - a souvenir from the excommunicated priest whose soul inhabits her body - is another priest who is rather more of a scientist, that goes around on the Vatican's orders, investigating claims of miracles. But his skepticism and desire for the truth will pit him against the church in the end.

Apparently, the basic story (of the gospel, not the possessed woman experiencing stigmata) is based on true events, surrounding the Gospel of Thomas, which was alleged to be closest to the words of Jesus himself, and is not officially recognized by the Vatican. Of course, the truth of any matters regarding religion is muddy at best, but the idea itself I find intriguing - the idea that the words of Jesus himself contradict the entire foundation of the church that was greedily enacted in his name. That the true spiritual path that Jesus recommended not only does not demand the presence of the church, but is actively hampered by it (to say nothing of its corruption). Now that's a religious message I can get behind.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Diary of the Dead (2007)

In Diary of the Dead, zombie movie king George Romero tackles the zombie apocalypse - again - this time in a cinéma vérité/found footage style. As an established film director, Romero makes good use of the format, casting the main characters as film students working on a low budget, independent horror film of their own, when the zombie outbreak occurs, and they find themselves in the perfect position to record the decline of modern civilization. As film students, they know how to use cameras, and we actually get multiple angles of view in many scenes, as well as some on-the-fly editing performed on laptops before their videos are uploaded to youtube (as long as the server lasts) for the world to see.

The one major flaw of this film, however - other than the amateur acting - is that it beats you over the head with its social commentary. Romero's zombie films have always been a social commentary - most notably on the effects of consumerism - but in the past the commentary was subtle. It was something you only thought about after you watched the movie - it wasn't necessarily obvious during viewing, and it certainly didn't distract you from enjoying the action and horror. But here, in Diary of the Dead, we are bludgeoned with it - and the bulk of it isn't even directly related to the zombies, from what I could tell.

The worst of it was the commentary on how people "hide" behind their cameras to distance themselves from the world. It's a valid concept, and worth exploring, but the way the film approached it was too preachy. It seems a relic of a bygone era, the pre-internet age that the older generations are still trapped in. They have a hard time adapting to the new, digital world. As a photographer, I am frankly insulted when somebody suggests that standing behind my camera causes me to miss out on experiencing life. In a sense, it's absolutely true, but that view completely ignores all the good that standing behind a camera can accomplish - to say nothing of the fact that some people are more suited to be behind the camera than in front of it, and that that isn't a bad thing or a character flaw or whatever. We need all kinds of people in this world. Different ones will have different roles, and we shouldn't disparage the ones who choose to live (and record) life differently than we do.

There are, however, some potentially clever devices in use here. Like how the zombies so frequently avoid the man holding the camera, as if he weren't actually there. And then there is the mirroring of the opening scene towards the end, which I thought was pretty amusing to see. On the whole, though, the film lacks the "oomph" of Romero's classic Dead trilogy, and as I said, the commentary has a tendency to leave you rolling your eyes. It's certainly worth a look if you're into these kinds of films (zombie films, found footage films, or films that comment on modern society), but if you're looking for a good zombie movie, I would recommend instead Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead.

Notes on The Order of the Phoenix (book version)

Warning: Harry Potter spoilers!

* When Harry was waiting over the summer for news of Voldemort's return, it reminded me of what it was like after 9/11, when we all (or at least I) thought World War III was coming, and then nothing really happened.

* I am in love with Nymphadora Tonks' special ability. I would kill to be a metamorphmagus. I used to think that if I could have one magical item or ability from Harry Potter, I'd take an Invisibility Cloak; but upon further reflection, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to be able to willfully change my appearance.

* I love how Hogwarts descends into chaos after Umbridge ousts Dumbledore. It just goes to show, you can only push so far, before the oppressed begin to push back - when the cost of obedience outweighs the fear of punishment. It's just a shame it takes that long, and that it's only effective when enough people are willing to fight back that they can't be easily stifled and singled out.

* I can't believe Umbridge was prepared to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry! I was convinced at that point that I would view Umbridge as a Dark Wizard (Dark Witch?) - even if in no way affiliated with Voldemort. But then later, when even Harry used the Cruciatus Curse in his anger after Sirius was killed...I figured, as much as I still hate Umbridge, I have to at least give her the benefit of that doubt, else I'd have to consider Harry a Dark Wizard too.

* I was thinking that Voldemort must have been allowing the Ministry of Magic to go about its business, because out of coincidence, it happened to be working in his favor. Not believing the rumors of Voldemort's return meant that the Ministry was helping the Dark Lord to stay hidden and unknown. Plus, their meddling with Hogwarts was directly undermining Dumbledore's authority. But Voldemort was so focused on getting the prophecy, and scared to face down the Ministry head on in the end, that I guess maybe it wasn't necessarily part of his strategy, but just a coincidence in his favor.

* Finally, evidence that Dumbledore is not infallible, even if it has nothing to do with his trusting Snape - and I could see it all along:

"Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young..."

It's obvious that Dumbledore's plan wasn't working re: getting Harry to learn Occlumency. His mistake - a mistake that too many make too frequently - was to try to control another person's behavior, believing that lying to (or withholding information from) them is the best way to trick them into following your path. In this case, it was Dumbledore tricking Harry into learning Occlumency, when Harry's instinct was to resist those lessons. How could he be so blind as to not see that being honest and forthright with Harry was the best (indeed only) way to accomplish what must be done? But yes, it was his love and protective instinct that precluded him from being able to do it.

It's like in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. The old househand warns the new occupants not to open the bricked-in fireplace. He doesn't tell them why, apparently not realizing that their curiosity (and lack of a good reason) would only make them more eager to open up the fireplace and see what's inside. Maybe they wouldn't have believed him if he told them there were evil murderous spirits inside, but it couldn't have hurt their chances of opening up the fireplace against his wishes.

I'm getting diverted, but it's the same concept. Trying to trick someone into behaving a certain way by lying to them or withholding important information, instead of being honest and open and giving them the opportunity to choose to do the right thing, with full knowledge. I really thought Dumbledore of all people was better than that. Not to give the wrong impression, I still respect him and all that - and indeed, his blunder makes for a great example. And after all, he is aware of his mistake and regretful of it like few would be.

* Snape came off pretty pathetically in the third book. In this book, it's Sirius who comes off pretty pathetic, ignoring his tragic demise. Cooped up in his old house that whole time, eager to be reckless... It's a shame his hands were tied and he couldn't go out and be more of a hero.

* On a related note, James Potter doesn't come off very well via Snape's memory. Not very well at all. Of course, it's a little unfair to judge his character based on what is Snape's worst memory (or one of them), and quite possibly one of James' least proud moments in his life. We all have bad moments like that, when we do things we are not proud of, and it would be grossly unjust to judge a person's character based entirely on one of those moments. Still, James' arrogance does not come off well at all.

* Still looking forward to learning more about Snape's past, and his motivations, in the last two books.

* I was kind of underwhelmed to learn that Hermione's patronus is an otter. What's so great about otters? It's kind of unremarkable. On the other hand, it's only one letter shy of "Potter", so maybe it's an indication that Hermione truly does belong with Harry. :3

* I was relieved when Harry finally did his interview and told his story to the wizarding world. I really felt, all along, that the majority of the people sneering at him didn't necessarily disbelieve his claim about Voldemort's return, or believe the things the papers were saying about him. I think they just wanted to hear his story, to know just what happened, before coming to any kind of conclusion. Granted, I know it's not easy for Harry to talk about it, but I think he should have at least understood that - that they just needed to know more.

* In this book, one of the characters asks Hermione the question I've been dying to ask her - why isn't she in Ravenclaw? Predictable answer - the Sorting Hat considered it before finally putting her in Gryffindor - but it's nice to actually hear that confirmation that Hermione is total Ravenclaw material. Of course, given Cho and her friend's behavior, that may indicate the difference between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, with an emphasis on Gryffindor's honor.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Rather than being simply another exorcism movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose puts a unique twist on the story by marrying it to a courtroom drama. The story actually begins immediately following Emily Rose's death, at which point the priest who administered the failed exorcism, Father Moore, is charged with negligent homicide (not an unbelievable outcome, considering modern attitudes toward demonic possession). The story then follows the court case, as the truth behind Emily's ordeal is told, one piece at a time.

I enjoy a good exorcism story, and I think this was a very clever way of presenting the story from a new perspective, without changing the basic formula. However, where this film stumbles is in its attempt to enact a war of facts vs. beliefs in the courtroom. Instead of a situation of "was this girl really possessed or not?", it's more "can we convince the jury that this girl was really possessed or not?", because the narrative unambiguously takes the side of the defense. We, the viewer, are shown all the supernatural goings on that the jury is not privy to. And if there's one thing that corroborates the supernatural explanation, it's that the phenomenon seems to follow those that get involved in the case, rather than sticking to the [potentially psychologically deluded] possessee.

There's a great story to be told here (closer to the true story the film was based on) about the damage that dangerous religious beliefs can cause - essentially, the prosecution's argument, which seeks to charge the priest with negligent homicide, for emphasizing spiritual over medical treatment for the girl's condition (a theme that The Last Exorcism touches on, though it ultimately has a different purpose) - but this film shies away from that in favor of telling a traditional supernatural exorcism story. Thus, it manages to be entertaining, but misses an opportunity to be truly groundbreaking. There was, however, another film based on those true events - a film called Requiem - and I am going to have to try to get my hands on it.

(And now for some spoiler stuff, for those who have seen the movie:)

When the evidence comes out that Emily Rose saw her experience as an opportunity (with help from Father Moore's testimony) to give the world evidence of the spiritual realm (with the Virgin Mary's blessing), I think the case lost a lot of credibility. For one thing, it showed that Emily had a motive to convince people that her demonic possession was real - thus presenting the possibility that she may have been willing to fake it. Also, if we are to take her written statement at face value, it begs the question of why Mary would be willing to have an innocent, faithful girl suffer when there are much better, less sacrificial ways to convince the mortal world that the spirit realm exists.

I also wonder at how when the devil tends to meddle in the affairs of men, there's plenty of evidence, whereas God's touch is so subtle as to be imperceptible. Of course, believers arguments' tend toward the thought that proof of the existence of the devil will imply existence of God - but still, why the hell does God not just provide some evidence himself? And anyway, the whole ordeal is moot, because in the end, not even the agnostic defense attorney manages to be convinced in her faith by the end of the movie. I have to believe that there are far more effective methods at God's disposal to convince people of his existence...

(end spoilers)

I'd like also to mention that it didn't skip my notice that the prosecution emphasizes that the victim, Emily Rose, was a "young girl", as is often the case with exorcism episodes. However, the fact is, she was a young woman - a university student. Of course, emphasizing her innocence and vulnerability plays into the prosecution's hand, given that they're trying to convict the man allegedly responsible for letting her die. And I certainly couldn't fault the devil for choosing to pick on such helpless, sympathetic victims - but I think he, at least, would have the ability to see through man's self-deception with regards to treating young adults as if they were still children.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse is a fun little slasher flick from the [early] eighties, directed by Tobe Hooper, who you might know as the man who brought us The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's not as impressive, terrifying, or as influential as that earlier film, but it manages to be effectively entertaining. I would say that it's in the wave of slasher films that comes after the genre-defining originals (of which TCM was the shining beacon, preceding even John Carpenter's Halloween), whose purpose is more entertainment than innovation, yet before the later wave in which the slasher formula became tired and cliche. Indeed, The Funhouse is not free of slasher cliches, but it manages to make them genuinely interesting, in its freshness (for its time).

The film opens with a truly inspired scene, that the rest of the movie hardly even manages to live up to. Critics will be quick to point out that it's an homage to the opening scene in Halloween, as well as the infamous shower scene from Psycho, but despite being derivative, I found it to be an interesting and highly effective twist on both those themes, while being enormously entertaining. After that scene, I was immediately hooked on the movie.

The rest of it changes gears slightly, as a group of four teenagers on a double date visit the local carnival, and make the very ill-informed decision (considering the carnival's prior newsworthy reputation) to sneak into the funhouse ride and stay over for a night of illicit lovemaking. But they end up unintentionally spying on a terrible accident involving one of the (horribly mutated) carnival freaks and his call girl. If anything, carnies stick by their own kind, and when they find out some kids could get in the way of their cover-up story, the murderous rampage begins.

The flashing lights, spooky sounds, and creepy decorations inside the funhouse ride contribute to a chaotic and distracting atmosphere as the teens try desperately to find a way out of the ride before the carny and his freak get to them (and you can guess how that will turn out). I wouldn't be surprised one bit if the movie Dark Ride (from After Dark's first year of Horrorfest) was a spiritual successor to this film. The chase may drag on a bit towards the end, and the mutant freak, while highly disturbing at first sight, loses its creepiness factor the more you look at him. But apart from that, The Funhouse is a quality classic slasher flick, that I would recommend to those looking beyond the first tier pinnacle of slasher titles.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 1 (What Lies Ahead)

I almost missed tonight's premiere of season 2 of The Walking Dead. Almost. I've been looking forward to it ever since the conclusion of the first season. But I assumed that the season premiere would air on Halloween (or Halloween weekend, anyway) like last year, so I wasn't looking out for it, yet. Luckily, I went online to check the schedule for this year's FearFest on AMC just yesterday, and saw an ad for The Walking Dead indicating that the premiere was scheduled for today. The flesh-eating fun begins again!

Spoilers ahead! Proceed at your own risk.

At the end of the first season, we left the group on their way out of Atlanta, after their short and harrowing stint at the CDC. En route to their next location (I think I heard "Fort Bragg"), they come across a vehicle blockade on the highway. In addition to being an inconvenient obstacle, it provides a great opportunity to forage for supplies - gasoline, water, clothing, and weapons! Unfortunately, the group is soon overtaken by a migrating herd of zombies in a demonstration of how quickly and how easily things can all go to hell in this post-apocalyptic landscape.

The group lays low while the zombie herd marches through, and manages to stay relatively unnoticed. But in the chaos, 12 year old Sophia is chased off into the woods and gets separated from the others. Sheriff Rick Grimes rescues her by diverting the pursuing zombies, but she gets lost on the way back to the highway. The rest of the group tries to track her down, but she's nowhere to be found.

One of the highlights of this episode was the exchange between Dale and Andrea, after he takes her gun away from her, fearing that she'll use it to off herself. If you remember, in the climax to the last season, Andrea had been prepared to take Dr. Jenner's offer of a quick and painless death, after losing all that was left of her family. But Dale, not wanting to go on without her, threatened to sacrifice his own life, prompting Andrea to run off with the survivors. Dale expects some gratitude for saving Andrea's life, but Andrea views it a bit differently. She makes a great argument that what Dale did was not honorable and righteous, but actually quite selfish, and Andrea is not at all grateful for the opportunity to live in this god-forsaken wasteland any longer. The only reason she chose not to die at the lab was because she didn't want to be responsible for bringing Dale with her.

Looks like this series still has its bite in the second season, doesn't it? I have to admit, I wavered a bit at the end of the episode. While searching for Sophia in the woods, the group comes across a (nearly) abandoned church. Naturally, some of the survivors' thoughts turn to God. Carol prays for her daughter's safety, but in bringing back the topic of her late abusive husband, I started to wonder if maybe Sophia ran off intentionally, instead of merely getting lost. Rick, as the leader of the group, has been getting a lot of gruff from Carol about losing sight of Sophia when she first ran off, but his wife Lori does a good job of defending him. After all, Rick's in a tough spot, and he's honestly done the best he could (and far more than could be expected of anyone in his shoes) to keep the group together and alive.

But one can't fault Rick for beginning to doubt himself. After all, it's very hard to know whether you're doing the right thing. In a moment of weakness, Rick enters the church and asks God for a sign, any kind of sign. He's not much of a believer, but right now, he could use the extra help. Then, he and Shane and his son Carl head into the woods to look for Sophia one last time. They come across a graceful buck in the forest, and Carl approaches to touch it. It's a truly magical moment, beautiful even, and I was thinking to myself, as I watched, is this really the direction this series is heading? Religious sentimentalism? Rick gets his sign that he's on the right path, maybe the buck leads them straight to Sophia, and all is well?

But then I thought, this is The Walking Dead. The series where nothing is sacred. The series that's supposed to be really gritty, the series that holds no punches. Something really gruesome has to happen here, or the series will have lost its guts. And I knew, as Carl approached the buck, that this would be the defining moment. What happened in the next few seconds would determine whether The Walking Dead continued to deserve my respect, or whether I would have to consider it to have jumped the shark. And you know what, I honestly expected to be disappointed. And I guess that just goes to show you how pervasive that spineless sort of attitude is that I thought the chances of them going all out and making this show fucking rock were too slim to hope for.

But you know what? The Walking Dead pulled through, and the season 2 premiere ended on a horrifying note that left my jaw gaping into the credits.

You've got me for another season, The Walking Dead.

The Amityville Horror (2005)

The Amityville Horror is probably the most iconic haunted house story in modern history. Based (though probably loosely) on a true story, it starts with a man named Ronald DeFeo, Jr., who woke up one night and inexplicably slaughtered his entire family (Jim Morrison-The End-style), claiming to have been guided by the voices in his head. Later, the Lutz family moved into the house where the murders took place, and experienced a slew of paranormal activity, escaping the house just in time to avoid ending up like the previous family. Their story (the authenticity of which is under question) inspired a novel, which was adapted into a film, and then remade decades later. It is the latter film remake I intend to review here.

It's been a while since I've seen the original film from 1979, so comparisons may be sketchy. My enduring impression is that, though dated, it was a good film, with some good scares, although (like many things) its execution may have fallen short of its inspiration. In particular, I recall a fireplace in the basement that turns out to be a tunnel to hell, but little more is made of it than that. In the 2005 remake, we do get to see a little more of what's hidden in the basement, but rather than a tunnel to hell, it's a set-up for the extra back-story I presume was invented for this remake to flesh it out - and while sinister, has a more human than demonic origin.

The greatest thing about this story is that it's not simply a case of a house being haunted by ghosts of an unjustly murdered family. The house itself becomes a character, and a rather menacing one, at that. For example, when a priest attempts to bless the house, he is assaulted by a swarm of flies and commanded by the house, in no uncertain terms, to "get out!" Though there are angry ghosts present, the question remains, what led Ronald DeFeo, Jr. to commit those initial murders? The voices in his head - was he insane, just making excuses, or was he actually being egged on by the house? Well, the Lutz family's experience would indicate the latter, as Mr. Lutz begins to follow down the same path as DeFeo. When the family first moves into the house, he shrugs off the superstition about the previous murders committed therein, saying that "houses don't murder people. People murder people." But as it turns out, he may be dead wrong.

I'd say the 2005 remake is a pretty effective movie. It manages to be both tense and scary, and I would hesitantly say (considering how much time has passed since I saw the first one) that it provides a richer exploration of the theme than the original film did. However, there is one aspect that I have mixed feelings about, but it's spoileriffic, so if you don't want to be spoiled, skip ahead to the next paragraph now. The remake builds up a back-story for the house, indicating that a sadistic reverend who dabbled in black magic used to torture indians in that house, and killed himself in a ritual that allowed his evil spirit to embody the house, presumably for eternity. It's a good story, don't get me wrong, but even though the original film didn't follow the thread far enough to my liking, I think I prefer the house's evil to have a nonhuman (or at best, ambiguous) origin. It's just that much more unsettling, don't you think?

So it's a pretty good movie. It was interesting to see Chloe Moretz again in a role very similar to the one she plays in Wicked Little Things - the little girl who befriends a child ghost(s) of ambiguous threat. I also like the one musical theme that occurs in the movie with the driving bass line. I don't recall if it's a reprise of the theme from the original movie, but I really like it, and it works very well in this context, capable of building a sinister and foreboding atmosphere.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wicked Little Things (2006)

Five years ago, After Dark Films premiered their pseudo-annual Horrorfest featuring 8 independent horror films ("to die for") shown in theaters nationwide for only one (or two) weekends. Horrorfest lasted for four years before evolving into something different, and I had the luck of discovering it in its first year (as well, that was a time in my life when I was really starting to become engrossed in my horror fandom). But of those first eight films to die for, I did not get a chance to see one of them - the one titled Wicked Little Things, which I have just, tonight, had a chance to see.

The titular monsters of Wicked Little Things are a cabal of child zombies, who, in their former life, were child laborers in a mine in Pennsylvania. They were buried alive in a mine collapse, and are now, in their undead state, intent on getting revenge on the descendant of the mine owner who put them in danger. Though in the meantime, they like to roam the mountain woods every night to feed on warm, living flesh. And a young widow with her two daughters (one teenage, one younger) has just moved into a house near the mine that was owned by her late husband, who tended to keep quiet about his family history.

Wicked Little Things falls into that category of horror films that has certain things going for it, but ultimately falls short of greatness, not least of which due to an over-reliance on genre cliches. It occurs to me that these sorts of cliches may work on an audience uninitiated into the realm of horror cinema - as those audiences must have been who went out to see the defining films in horror's early days. But today, there is such a body of expectations in how horror movies go, and how people in them act, that it's more formula than inspiration. And as evidence of how bad it's gotten: to an extent, even many inversions of time-worn cliches have by now become cliched.

What Wicked Little Things has going for it is a great atmosphere - very dark and creepy; the foggy woods and dilapidated house provides a great environment for a scary story to develop. The zombie children make fairly interesting monsters - if not super scary. As zombies, they look rather pristine, instead of decayed, more like dolls than walking corpses, but maybe that's what zombies look like as children ;). But the weapons they carry (nothing like a murderous kid shouldering a huge pickaxe), and their flesh-hunger (watch them dive eagerly into their bloodfeasts), certainly mark them as a threat to the living. I happened to like the gushing blood effects, and even the decision - however bizarre - to shower the characters in it during the climax.

But the most shocking thing of all about this movie was putting it on and seeing Chloe Moretz' name in the title credits. I had no idea! Not that it's any surprise that she'd do a movie like this - she was, after all, the vampire in Let Me In - but to think that she'd starred in one of the Horrorfest films? Crazy. She doesn't own the role as much as she owned Hit-Girl, but it's always a delight to see her pretty face up on the screen. Scout Taylor-Compton - who played the elder, teenage daughter - on the other hand... She's a genre favorite, but after all the incessant screaming she did in the sequel to Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, and her successful job of capturing Lita Ford's bitchiness in The Runaways biopic, I don't think I like her all that much. But that's just personal taste.