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Archive for October, 2013

Watching this 1992 opus from future LOTR director Peter Jackson, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see both films are from the same man. Both have strong characters, both carry their tone well, both have interesting camera angles, and both have lots of living dead things.

Dead Alive is a great film that reaches to the far ends of the zombie spectrum. There are things in this film that are mesmerizing to watch. Where else will you see a man strap a lawnmower to his chest and mow down a horde of zombies set to a Lawrence Welk type waltz? Or a man taking a zombie baby for a leisurely stroll in the park while mothers with their babies look on?

Again, like several other films I’ve talked about, comedy and horror are blended very nicely here. While the horror aspects of it can be intense, the comedy is interspersed and makes sense to what is going on. While there is some obvious staging of events, the comedy is within the realm of the character. The lead character Lionel is a sheltered momma’s boy whose interpersonal interactions are amateurish at best. So when a zombie baby is born, he doesn’t have the heart to kill it, but instead takes it for a walk because that’s what new mothers do. He tries to treat the baby like a normal baby but it isn’t a normal baby and reacts in unforeseen ways. It’s interactions like this that set this movie apart from the average horror fare.

Not that it’s all about comedy. At one point, this film used more blood on set than any other film in history, the lawnmower scene having a big part to do with that. It’s so much that it reaches ridiculous levels of gore that you can only laugh or stare at what is happening on screen. There is plenty of zombie killing here but what makes it fun again is that the zombies have their own personalities. They don’t just act like brain-dead automatons. They have their own story lines, which are short in some cases but interesting all the same. And while they don’t have the character arc as the main characters, they do have thru lines that make it fun for the viewer to track.

I’ve seen this film several times since I first saw it in high school (again, introduced by my friend Devon) and I still enjoy it every time. The ridiculousness of what happens in this film is fun to watch and it still holds up today. It’s one of the granddaddies of the zombie genre so if you’re into zombies and the killing of zombies, you need to see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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As strange films go, most are unwatchable. They hinge on they’re strangeness to keep the viewer interested, hoping that highly stylized camera effects and strange character actions will sustain an entire film. Most fail. Ever seen any SyFy channel originals? These are great examples of trying to be loveably low budget, as if to say, “People love Evil Dead because of the low budget and gruesome yet silly effects. Let’s concentrate on that!” No. The problem with these is that the makers think that slapping together some shitty CGI and laughable plots that fans of B-movies will flock to them so we can laugh at how bad they are. But they’re just bad. They’re not redeeming to watch in any way besides the knowledge of knowing that nowadays, anybody can make a movie. When you watch Evil Dead, you can tell they were trying to make a great movie, they were just hampered with a budget. They had to make things work with what they had. They didn’t have the ability to depend on digital effects to just create whatever they wanted like many movies do today.

That brings me to House, a Japanese horror film that is somewhat stylized but it manages to succeed where other films in the genre fail. How? After the argument I just made about effects, it might seem like I didn’t like this film. The effects are strange for no plot reason and seem to be something ‘cool’ that the filmmakers wanted to put in there simply because they could.

But, it works. Maybe because the effects are so stylized and out there that it feels like the film could have been made last year instead of 1977 when it was. That’s the same year as Star Wars. Both movies relied on more practical effects where the CGI was secondary, mostly because CGI at that time looked like shit and they knew it. So, practical effects were used more and it adds that bit of realism that CGI still can’t fully express.

This film’s plot is simple: a girl goes to her aunt’s house in the country with a group of friends and strange things happen. It’s a standard horror plot but what happens in the house is far from standard. Like my thoughts on Jacob’s Ladder, I was watching this movie with such interest because things were so strange that I wanted to see the next thing. The horror in it was almost hidden by the strangeness and weirdness of it. It’s along the lines of Evil Dead with a fair bit of Monty Python thrown in. It’s very watchable, if for nothing else to see what comes next. The mix of silliness and scares is jarring at points but always interesting to witness.

This is a great Halloween film in that it’s not too gruesome and the parts that are, have an equal amount of fantasy to hedge most of the horror. Kids might have nightmares but it’s a fun horror/fantasy that adults will get a kick out of.

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This has been a Halloween season of putting things to rest for me. Films I’d been deathly afraid of have been tame upon watching. I’ve built these films up too much in my head that they can’t possibly match my fears. I’ve also seen a lot of films at this point, films that have built upon and improved what the older films started to the point where it’s difficult to tell where some concepts began.

 

Jacob’s Ladder was a film that had me freaked out growing up. From the scenes I’d seen flashes and parts of, I thought it would be a nonstop nightmare of demons and hellish beings. While it isn’t that, there are some creepy scenes and startling jump scares that are effective scare points in a tense and multi-layered story. The more hellish aspects of this are great and an obvious inspiration for my favorite horror game series Silent Hill. From the start, the film creates a creepy vibe the sets the groundwork for the journey Jacob Singer must take as he deals with the happenings around him. The early scene in which Jacob makes his way home through the vacant subway is dark and creepy and replicated to great effect in the Silent Hill games. I’ve written about this before, how common areas bereft of other people makes for an uncanny feeling in the brain. It’s a primal feeling we all experience when something we expect doesn’t match what we see. It’s the commonality of all horror and it’s created to great effect here.

Tim Robbins is good here in the title role and a friend of mine who normally doesn’t like him, thought his performance was one of his best. That being said, I didn’t find him terribly different than his other roles and he lived in this role as a Vietnam vet quite nicely. There are also a few other fun cameos that may not have been as noticeable back in 1990 but now they stand out. They don’t undermine the story though, like The Ring 2‘s cameo which was a laugh out loud moment that shouldn’t have been in a movie like that.

Anyway, I’m glad I finally saw this and put my fears to rest. I wanted more out of it but overall it was an effective story worth seeing. If you like your horror stories told in a mind bending kind of way, check this one out.

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Before I had ever seen this movie, my friends and I used a clip of this for our German class video project. It was one of the most disgusting things I had seen at that point; a still living man held up by chains and hooks through his face, his arms, his legs then getting pulled apart, his blood and guts spraying everywhere. Having seen the entire movie since, it’s debatable if that was the most disgusting thing in that movie.

Hellraiser is the story about an unfaithful woman whose back-from-the-dead lover has her bring him people so he can suck the life out of them. By returning, the lover has broken rules which brings the cenobites, a group of hellish beings with the goal of bringing him back to hell.

It’s a fun romp.

I enjoy most movies that has a travel between worlds aspect to it. In this film, that world is hell. Though we only see a glimpse of it, the idea that it is an actually place one can travel to is frightening but interesting all the same. It makes for true fear because it’s just as easy going to hell as it is going to Norway. Well, maybe it’s a LITTLE more difficult but it feels like you could get dragged there at any time. The movie Event Horizon had a similar aspect, as well as the Doom video games. All of these feature Hell as an actually travel destination that, under the right circumstances, you can walk around in. That is horrifying.

For those that don’t know, this is Clive Barker’s first foray into directing. He has gone on to create some strange and disturbing things but this may be his most enduring creation. Part of the reason is the genesis of the creepy Cenobites, masochist demons who hunt down escaped souls. The leader of them is Pinhead, a demon that is so unique that he has entered the public lexicon of scary monsters. There’s even a reference to him in The Cabin in the Woods, a movie released only last year. That’s some pretty good staying power from a horror film that was made in 1987.

The weak of stomach will probably want to miss this one but those looking for a great horror experience, some old but gross-out effects, and some truly unique and crazy characters will find the movie to be deserving of it’s classic status.

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Counting this as a scary film might be stretching it but there is enough here that elicits its inclusion by instilling the same feelings of dread and tension of other films like Saw or The Silence of the Lambs.

Like SawCube is a limited storytelling tale about a group of people who somehow find themselves in a cube. Each door on all six sides leads to another cube. Some are safe but others contain booby traps designed for killing in the sickest of ways. The ragtag group must somehow find their way out of the puzzle before they die of thirst so the clock is ticking.

I’ve mentioned several times now how much I enjoy these types of stories, where characters are locked in one place and for whatever reason, don’t leave. Here, they can’t leave but each new revelation is completely satisfying as they slowly put together what’s going on. I can’t give away too much since that’s most of the fun of these movies, but the intensity builds to a slow boil so that when one new thing is discovered, it totally works. You feel like you’re solving the mystery along with the characters and you share in their excitement. It’s also fun to learn more about the characters themselves. When we, the audience, is introduced to these strangers, we know nothing about them. Over the course of their journey, we learn their strengths and possible reasons why they’ve been included in the cube. I do have to warn you that the ending may not be completely satisfying to some (my girlfriend HATED it) but there are two more movies in the series that explain things a little bit.

I also have to warn you about one thing that keeps this movie from being truly incredible – the acting. It’s horrible. It makes the entire film feel like a student project. The overacting puts anything Nic Cage has ever done to shame, and either this was most of the actors first acting roles or they were brought in directly from broadway where they have to act for the back of the room. It’s cringeworthy but it does add to the B-movie aesthetic that some will find endearing.

If you can get past the bad acting and constant environment of the cube, I would give this one a try. It’s an interesting concept film that stays strong to the end.

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I read this book in college. Even though it’s a horror novella, it transcended the pomposity of the intellectual community because it’s just so good. It’s also a great example of the unreliable narrator, a literary device that shrouds the events of the story in a layer of cellophane that makes the reader doubt or question what they are reading.

Originally published in 1898, the characters and dialogue show their years but the setting and plot still feel real. Henry James creates a subtle and surreal world that makes the reader feel uneasy throughout. He does this in big part to the ambiguity of the language he uses and the unreliable narrator. The beginning of the novel sees a group of friends telling ghost stories around a fire. One of them, Douglas, produces a manuscript ‘written’ by a friend of his, known as the Governess, and he begins reading her tale. The way this story begins, we are unsure if Douglas is being truthful or embellishing for the sake of upping the story-telling ante. We are also unsure if the Governess is accurately describing the events she witnesses, if the strange things she sees are actually happening or are figments of her imagination. We are never sure and this creates that sense of unease and dread the reader feels.

It’s one of my favorite novels. It’s simple enough to get through in a few hours but complex enough that you’ll think about it long after you put it down. It’s a great mystery that omits the scene that yanks the mask off the the bad guy. We don’t get that resolution here and the novel is all the better for it. Modern day movies can learn a lot from this technique as most things are spelled out for ease of understanding. But this ghost story has stood the test of time because it doesn’t placate it’s readers. It allows the reader to make up their own mind about it. They can brush it off, or they can become swallowed by the fogginess it creates.

BTW, there was also a movie based on this called The Innocents back in 1961, that is just as creepy and just as ambiguous. Check it out also.

 

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There were a few years (from 2004-2010) when each Halloween was accompanied by a new Saw film. While I didn’t see all of them in the theater, I looked forward to each one with a gleeful excitement that I couldn’t quite explain. I’m not into ‘torture porn’ like the Hostel films or some of the newer horror remakes out there. The only thing interesting in films like that for me is finding out how they accomplished the effects and nowadays, they’re mostly digital so it makes things even less interesting. On the surface, the Saw movies are like that and to many people, they are that.

But I’ve always been intrigued with the moral dilemmas the characters find themselves in and the way the films interlock with each other like puzzle pieces. This is always fun for me; when one film references another, either with similar characters or events. I think that’s a common conscious or subconscious thought with people. That’s why sequels are usually met with such fervor by fans of the original. They want the story to continue. This series meets that expectation very well.

The original Saw set the path for the rest of the series: a good mystery, tough moral decisions, brutal torture traps, and a gritty tone that made me feel like anything could happen. What I really like about the first one is that the main story is set in a bathroom. Two men are chained to either side of it with a body in the middle and they have to figure out why they’re there and how to escape. It’s quiet and slow in a great and horrific way and as they slowly figure out what’s going on, it’s like giving one more turn to the vise around your heart. The other films in the series are great in different ways but none match the balance of suspense, intelligence, and tone like this one does.

If you’re going to give this series a try, start here. It’s like Lost in that sense. It’ll be a hard time getting the full story by just jumping in. Unless you’re just into the the gore. Then you can jump in anywhere. There is a particular one with a fishhook I still get queasy about. <shudders>

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