Monday, November 5, 2012

Movies I watched this Halloween (2012)

...excepting the ones I've already properly reviewed, of course.

Drag Me To Hell (2011)

When Drag Me To Hell came out in 2011, I filed it in the back of my mind as a potential title to watch, because I love to see the theme of hell in movies (not even just horror movies). I think hell is a fascinating concept, and I love to see different people's interpretations of it. And I thought the premise of this movie was going to be some person who gets dragged down to hell. Which, essentially is what it is, except that the movie is all about this girl being cursed and trying to fight her fate, and not what happens to her after she (huge spoiler) fails to lift the curse and gets dragged down to hell, literally in the last moments of the film (although we see nothing lower than ground level). So, huge disappointment in that respect. As for what the movie actually is, I should have known that coming from Sam Raimi - the man responsible for the slapstick hijinks of the Evil Dead trilogy - I wouldn't like the style. It gets pretty ridiculous at some parts, to the point that I consider it a waste of time. Alison Lohman is beautiful in the lead role, but it's not even worth it to watch just for her performance.

Zombieland (2009)

I had no expectations of loving Zombieland, given that it's more of a horror comedy, and is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Shaun of the Dead, another zombie title hailed as a modern masterpiece by people who don't typically watch horror (hence their ability to appreciate horror comedy). But I was willing to give Shaun of the Dead a watch, and people kept coming to me praising Zombieland, asking if I'd seen it, and it stars both a really hot-looking Emma Stone as well as Abigail Breslin (who was in the fantastic Little Miss Sunshine), so I gave it a watch. It's actually pretty good. The style of the movie is way too light-hearted for me - someone who prefers dark, serious movies - but I can see why a lot of people like it.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby is a masterpiece of suspense horror directed by Roman Polanski. It gets talked about a lot (for good reason), and I recall seeing at least some scenes from it on TV in the past, but I don't think I'd ever actually sat down and watched the whole thing before, so I made a point to do that this Halloween. It's a fantastic movie, with a fantastic premise - a devil worshipping cult tricks (very cleverly) a young woman into bearing the son of Lucifer. Mia Farrow is sensational in the lead role, as a vulnerable and attractive young mother-to-be. And mad props for actually including the scene where she's raped by the devil - and, better yet, actually including some nudity! Awesome. This is a well-deserved classic horror film and I highly recommend it.

The Omen (1976)

Continuing in the 'devil child' vein, I decided to follow Rosemary's Baby up with The Omen. I remember when the remake came out in 2006 (on the date 6/6/6), though I didn't watch it. But ever since then I've been aware of the original movie from 1976 as a horror classic, and this year I decided to watch it. It's actually very good. There's some mystery and some suspense, and a good bit of horror in the classic, chilling (rather than shocking) vein. And the one scene with the priest and the infernal storm is just awesome. And the dogs manage to actually be intimidating. And the graveyard scene is unforgettable. Great movie, in spite of its age.

The Bad Seed (1956)

This is a movie based off of a stage play about the sweetest little girl you've ever met, who turns out to be a cold-blooded killer. As it is based off a stage play, there is a heavy emphasis on character, and character interaction - which I find to be pretty fascinating (one of my favorite films of all time - Bug - was also adapted from a stage play). Patty McCormack plays the part of the bad seed magnificently, perfectly mixing her innocent charm with a hauntingly believable childlike malice. For a film that's over fifty years old, I rate it very highly and recommend it enthusiastically.

Wilderness Survival For Girls (2004)

This was a fascinating twist of the usual premise in slasher films where a group of young adults head up to a cabin in the woods and get bumped off by some psychotic killer. This time around, it's not so straightforward. Three girls head up to their cabin in the woods, and a suspicious stranger shows up, who claims to have been squatting in their cabin. But the girls have the upper hand, and tie him up in a chair at gunpoint. They wonder if he's the same guy that killed two girls several years ago and was never caught, but they have no hard evidence. The power shifts balance a few times, and the movie addresses the question of what sort of treatment of the stranger is justified by these girls. One the one hand, they're girls, and he's a full grown man. On the other, it's three against one. He might be dangerous, but then, they have no proof. It's an excellent dilemma, with some feminist undertones.

The Gate (1987)

Pretty terrifying for a children's movie. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw this as a child, but all I remember from it is a scene with the eye in the palm, and the feeling that it was a very, very scary movie. As an adult, okay, it's not that terrifying, but it's still a really good movie. I miss the days when they made movies for kids that were actually good and not cheap schlock to placate the whiny runts. And the fx - I assume it's claymation - are really pretty good. I mean, like, you can tell they're not real, but they're infinitely more effective than shoddy CGI. And the creature design - especially the big daddy (which recalled for me the excellent monster design in Howard The Duck) - was fantastic, not ridiculous like a lot of today's monsters. And my favorite part of all (aside from the cute teenage sister) was the fact that the movie didn't shy away from being epic. This is sort of a spoiler, but most movies would build up to the end of the world and stop short. This movie doesn't pull any punches. Bravo.

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

The Mothman Prophecies is a movie that constructs a really creepy atmosphere. It's more of a mystery thriller than a straight-up horror, but I thought it was scary in its own way. Unfortunately, the cryptid angle leaves a little to be desired, but what you get in place of that is a very fascinating premise about prognostication and determinism, with some very haunting scenes. It's also a very sad, sad story. But I definitely get a feel from it that it could totally have been an extended episode of The X-Files - it's just missing Mulder and Scully...

Candyman (1992)

Candyman is a movie that I've been meaning to watch ever since I read Clive Barker's Books of Blood. Clive Barker is a horror writer who is the mastermind behind Hellraiser, and the story that the movie Candyman is based on was in the Books of Blood I read. The movie, I'm sure, expands and modifies the story to a full feature-length format, but I think Clive Barker was involved in its production, and anyway, the result is pretty good. In the story, Candyman is something of an urban legend - he's a real, supernatural villain, but he derives power from the beliefs of those he frightens. And the movie is the story of one woman's journey to discover the truth behind the myth, and the subsequent horrors she is then confronted with. It's pretty good.

Red State (2011)

After the debacle that was Drag Me To Hell, I could be forgiven for skipping over Red State, being that I'm not generally a fan of Kevin Smith's other forays into cinema, however popular they are. But, I had heard that this - horror - movie was actually pretty good, so I wanted to give it a watch. It was worth it. It is ostensibly the story of a fundamentalist religious group (obviously inspired by the Westboro Baptist Church, which was in the news for picketing the funeral of a gay man beaten to death), and the ungodly horrors they get up to in their private church, which involve online entrapment schemes and very criminal 'neutralization' of perverts. Anyway, this is kind of a spoiler, but the movie takes a left turn midway through and introduces the government by turning the situation into something very much like the Waco Massacre. The result is actually very fascinating in my opinion (although others seem frustrated by the lack of thematic focus). In the end, I think the movie provides a good opportunity to criticize the errors of both religion and government, with only the perverts really making out well in the end (at least image-wise). But, that could be my bias, since I am a pervert (and proud). Anyway, it was a really fascinating movie, and I do recommend it. And, as most people who have seen it agree, Michael Parks does a hauntingly captivating job in the role of the crazy, bigoted preacher man.

Alone With Her (2006)

Alone With Her is pretty much your typical crazy stalker story, although it cleverly uses the 'found footage' angle to its advantage so that we get to see the story unfold entirely from the point of view of the stalker's cameras. Which, gives it a kind of creepy feeling because it's almost like you're participating in the stalker's crimes. People will naturally criticize the voyeuristic element, but especially from the perspective of cinema, which is an inherently voyeuristic medium (and that's why we love it!), it's only natural to be curious. It's when the stalker uses voyeurism as a method to criminally invade another person's privacy, and then take advantage of that inside perspective to exercise unknowing control over that person's life, in a futile attempt to construct a scripted scenario that's doomed from the start, that it becomes creepy. Anyway, it's certainly a unique perspective, even if on a somewhat cliched narrative.

Megan Is Missing (2011)

Megan Is Missing purportedly claims to be an open warning about what can happen to teens who meet strangers on the internet, loosely based on any number of real life abduction cases (but no one in particular). But rather than a preventive education piece, it's climax is so horrifying as to make it a startlingly effective horror film instead. That's not to say that it's actually a good film, by cinematic standards - for one thing, the acting is terribly shoddy, as the majority of the characters try way too hard (or not hard enough) to behave like caricatures of either way-too-slutty or self-pitying teens. But the film takes the found footage technique to its logical conclusion by documenting via webcam and mobile phone what it is teens get up to when parents aren't around, and then marrying that with footage taken by the killer after one or more of those teens is abducted. Where this film succeeds is in going farther and being bolder than any movie before it (that I know of), in an attempt to document the true horror of what goes on in those most terrible of cases - the very thing most people instinctively desire to turn away from. The last 22 minutes of this movie is, in fact, so effective, that I describe it as pure nightmare fuel, and one of the most disturbing cinema experiences of my life - and I've seen both Irreversible, and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Really, it's a shame the movie is so terribly acted, because as a horror it's terrifyingly effective. But, I can't really recommend it to anyone, because it's just that bone-chilling, and merely thinking about it scares me - me!

Little Sweetheart (1989)

This is not actually a horror movie but more of a crime drama, but it features a character that is very much a "bad seed", not unlike in the movie of that title. She's nine years old, and played by a very charismatic, though unknown (like this whole movie, apparently), Cassie Barasch. She gets up to all sorts of misdeeds with her reluctant friend and cohort, including spying on a couple that just moved in nearby who are on the run after committing insurance fraud. Little Thelma (that's the girl's character's name) ends up blackmailing them for shopping money, and things just go downhill from there. It's a really fun movie, and the leading character's natural penchant for criminal mischievousness is fascinating to watch. It's a seemingly unheard of movie, but I recommend it highly.

Texas Killing Fields (2011)

Texas Killing Fields is a heavily atmospheric little number with an excellent swampy soundtrack. It's a bit of a crime suspense thriller, and the story was a little hard to follow, but I honestly didn't even mind, because the characters' motivations were pretty easy to suss out - and, I'll be honest, I really go for a movie that can construct a good atmosphere. Plus, Chloe Moretz stars in a supporting role, and she always lights up the screen, even when she's playing (as she frequently does) a downtrodden child with a lot of things to be depressed about, but nevertheless with a good head on her shoulders, and the ability to somehow maintain a fragment of her innocence through it all. I don't think this movie got much acclaim when it came out (I wasn't able to get around to seeing it, though I wanted to), but I liked it.

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