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Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Forgotten Ones (2009) Horror Creature

The Forgotten Ones (2009) - aka "After Dusk They Come"  aka "Tribe" is a creature movie where a groups of wealthy people get shipwrecked on an island. The problem is there are creatures living on that island and soon the group is fighting for their lives. Well mostly they are looking around for the location of the sounds they are hearing, and oh yeah, dying. This was a straight to video feature that borrows some creature elements from the film The Descent (2006) while not capturing the interpersonal charisma of that movie.
  We open with a camp on an island decades (early 1900s maybe) before our story takes place. A man and woman are the last survivors of a group studying a before never discovered species of "ape" man. Unfortunately the creatures are aggressive lead by an alpha male and enjoy the taste of human flesh. So the tight scene where the final demise of the couple is well done and sets a foreshadowing for our main story.
  There is some initial character setup as a group of five set sail to deliver a sailboat to the wealthy owner. Liz (Jewel Staite) is the insecure in her relationship lead. She is the girlfriend of Peter (Justin Baldoni) an arrogant rich guy who is trying hard to leave his loose and carefree ways behind and get serious with Liz. She is reminded of his cheating not so subtle ways early in the film giving the couple some tension. In screenwriting conflict works better than happiness is giving characters depth and the writer / director of this film Jorg Ihle fills out the group with all kinds of interpersonal conflict. The first mate is Jake (Kellan Lutz), who was dumped by Lauren (Nikki Griffin) who is also friends with Liz but is there with her new boyfriend rich and obnoxious Ira (Marc Bacher). By casting we see Ihle wants to contrast attitude and looks where Jake is young and handsome but a working stiff and Ira is heavier and older but is said to have lots of money. Lauren is depicted as selfish and superficial. It seems more of a high school drama way of approaching it and really only succeeds to make the viewer dislike the characters.
  The setup of the plot is the group is going to sail the boat to another island and turn it over to the owner. We see early on though that the GPS is not working correctly but this malfunction is overlooked by Peter. When they get lost he still is a bit casual about the issue really only Liz is taking it seriously. Lauren and Ira are partying and sunbathing and Jake is staring at them jealously. It is only when in the night the boat hits some rocks and sinks does it become clear just how callus Peter was. They all manage to survive but are stranded on an island not quite sure where they are. Peter saved the radio and at least can call for a pick up, if they can be found. All and good as far as it goes but unknown to the group they have landed on that same island that we the audience saw in the opening. There are weird ape men living on the island and soon the movie become a fight for survival. But not until Peter proposes to Liz and the group celebrates.
  In the night Peter is dragged away apparently quietly by the creatures. Showing the two bottles of empty champagne suggests that everyone is sleeping heavy but come on two bottles between five people is not enough to sleep through being dragged off far into the forest. When Liz awakes she sees a lot of blood and no Peter. Having already had an encounter with something in the bushes, but not seeing it she is super concerned. Jake wants to go searching right away but Ira and Lauren being the great friends they are want to take the life raft and leave the island. The conflict between the group members is eventually settled after some annoying posturing and they all go looking for Peter. He wakes in the woods with a stick stuck in his leg. Not a life threatening injury mind you, not bad enough for the amount of blood we saw on the beach. He deals with it wraps a bandana and wanders trying to find his way back to the others. He never does with is a real flaw in the writing, in fact he stumbles around in the woods hearing sounds for the most part and then later is killed by a creature. He never sees the group again and the only reason I can see for his existence in the film is that Liz gets to find his body and is sad, which the  feeds her determination to live? It just feels like a dead end character that is underutilized.
  The group searching for him meets chaos fairly quickly, when Laura steps into a 80 something year old sneer and is pulled high into the trees. Jake climbing to loose her has to fight off the creatures who are just now starting to be shown. He is knocked from the tree and takes a painful tumble while Lauren is carried off by the creature across the treetops. Ira enraged chases after her on the ground. He is a goner as the ape men are onto him too. Liz and the amazingly not broken Jake find the camp from the opening scene. It is in amazingly good shape considering how old it is and Liz find the journal of the man and woman from the opening. It is a flashback giving detail on the creatures in the woods and his intention to capture one. The locals he says call them the "Forgotton Ones". Unfortunately for the survivors they are also being hunted, and after Jake meets his maker Liz is knock unconscious and taken.
  The third act is all about Liz her battle to survive in the caves of the Forgotten Ones and her escape. She wakes next to the dead Lauren and tries to make her way from the cave. The creatures for their part are semi blind ape men with long clawed fingers and gorilla fangs. Similar to the creatures in the  film The Descent they seem to make a clicking type noise to determine where prey is and follow that up with a good sense of small. Liz has to figure this out and when she learns that there is a tree slime that masks her scent she is clear to make a getaway. Of course though things are not that easy. When she reaches the beach the raft is gone taken back to the cave by the creatures. So she slimes up and heads back to the cave for the raft. Escaping is not quite as easy as she would wish but she gets back to the forest. The finale is her and the alpha male facing off in a battle that unnecessarily becomes a bit sexualized on the creatures part. Seeing as this is a final girl film we after some gnarly fighting get to see our conquoring hero get in the raft and paddle away from the island.
  This movie was a bit disappointing to me. Starting with some shitty characterizations for the sake of interpersonal tension meant that really only Liz was likable. Why she wanted to be around these horrible people is a "who knows"? As a viewer I had really no reason to pull for anyone but Liz the rest of the characters were fodder. The island story was all well and good if  seeming a bit derivative. I don't know if it was actually derivative this idea may have been kicking around in the writers head for years before the film was made. Once we started seeing the creatures which is nearly half way through the film they were decently presented and scary in their wildness. The third act is what it really is all about and it almost got me to a place of recommending this but just missed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Black Scorpion (1957) Horror Monster

The Black Scorpion (1957) - The film starts with some great footage of a newly created volcano in Mexico, and some horrible paternal voice over about the Mexican and there only response to the devastation caused by it. The character open is on Hank Scott (Richard Denning) and Artur Ramos (Carlos Ramos), Hank is an American geologist out to study the volcano with his Mexican peer. They have been driving a long time and still find themselves too far from the volcano. Coming across some carnage that does not seem to be created by the natural phenomenon makes a puzzle for them to solve. After visiting a village San Lorenzo they head to the crater where they meet the third main character Theresa Alverez (Mara Corday). She was riding up there but was thrown from her horse so they give her a ride back to town. It's a fifties movie so naturally Hank is attracted to the strong independent Theresa. Once these three are together we start to really get into the plot. Like many of the films from this era this relies on some scientist explaining what is going on is a flurry of exposition. In this case giant scorpions have been trapped in obsidian underground for thousands of years and the earthquake accompanying the formation of the new volcano has broken them free. We first hear of some creature in the village as the residents are shown as superstitious  simple folk who fear a demon is killing their friends and neighbors. This representation is one of many that we need to discuss.
  It sees them as a simplistic people who are more likely to pray for God to save them than to understand the phenomenon. The volcanic activity is important too it is the cause of the monster movie to come. Basing this film in Mexico as opposed to the classical early monster movies where the atomic bomb creates the monster is something to note. It also creates some really uncomfortable to watch scenes with its stereotypes and attitudes towards the people of Mexico. Remembering that this film was released in 1957 well before we ever used the word "problematic"  to point out in a nicer way that racism, sexism and paternalism in the media we consume. Besides the opening voice over we also get to here conversations all in English between the cops and our protagonist where the cops are Mexican but the hilarious voice that was more like a game show announcer than Mexican. We see simple villagers mildly chastise or maybe convince to help the White American hacienda owner on her ranch even after their safety was shown not to exist. Worst is the small mischievous Mexican boy who is constantly saying cute lines in his broken English and also continually get into places where the American protagonist has to save him. I think the one that struck me the most is when Hank and Carlos come across a farm that was attacked by the creature. They find a baby all by itself and hank takes it in his arms and jokes about the baby's quiet behavior  saying:
  "Look at this kid, not a peep out of him. If ever I have any of my own, I think I will feed him beans and tortillas too, and I'll be able to get some sleep nights. Later on a character mentions needing a Tequila and old hank blurts out "In your country I believe you call it a coffee break." All in all this film is not the best representation of how american film makers should depict another country and culture.
  The plot continues almost into classic Godzilla mode with the scorpions attacking people and a train, scenes of people running and screaming from them. Until our trio with the help of scientists from Mexico City and the Mexican army come up with a plan to end the scourge.  First the two geologists have to go down into a hole created by volcanic activity to investigate where all these scorpions are coming from. With a stow away hidden on there cart they are lowered into a nest of at least 50 scorpions. There are some really great creature feature stuff while they are down there and naturally have to save the little Mexican boy who hid to join them down there. Somewhere in the making of this movie they realized that they did not have a method to kill all the scorpions that they started with in the film. So first they blow up the nest but then still have to deal with the pack that is already on the surface. Early on a bunch roamed the country side destroying and killing. It was effective for the terror and the effects were really cool but the plot had a poison as the solution and a weak spot in the scorpion throat was the only way to administer it. So something had to be done to reduce the number of scorpions. The writing of a couple lines that the main characters hear is hilarious in its effectiveness to reach this end. Something to the effect of the reporter saying the big black scorpion has killed all the others and is now heading towards Mexico city. Problem solved.
  Mixed in with the monster movie is the ridiculous love story between Theresa and Hank, in that movie time period the movies had character go from meeting to spending their lives together in ninety minutes or less and in this film we get just that. The character of Theresa is a strong woman and she is almost equal in her pursuit of Hank as he is for her. Still that wonderfully entertaining banter leads over the course of the story to a life long commitment. Luckily there are at least a couple weeks between when the story starts and concludes unlike some of these relationships which go from "Nice to meet you" to "I love you" in a day.  So when Hank is at risk at the end of the film , and has to take the big shot to kill the black scorpions he is trying to get back to his love. Strangely the film does not end with the lovers back together kissing but instead just ends when the creature is dead. All that prepping us for a romantic ending for nothing.
  Leaving it depictions of Mexico out of this film I have to say I really enjoyed the scorpion attack part of it. I grew up on Creature Double Feature in Boston and always have a soft spot for these fifties monster movies. This one was fun for the most part but not great by any means.  Again if you can separate the story from the horrible stereotyping you can probably enjoy the monster part of this. I find it really flawed with some real logic gaps necessary to make the plot work so I won't recommend it. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Midnight Son (2011) Horror vampire

Midnight Son (2011) - The vampire has been replayed over and over in the movies and with each new incarnation writers try to build on the myth adding rules what they can and can't do. Trans-configuration, lack of reflection, super strength, quick healing,  hypnotism, fear of the Christian cross, sparkling in sunlight each new vampire builds something into the mythos. Midnight son on the other hand purposely strips away the special powers of the vampire and instead creates what could be read as a metaphor for addiction. I doubt that this was the actual message behind the film but it certainly could be read that way. Built more in a reality closer to ours it is a story about a young man, Jacob (Zak Kilberg) who has photo-sensitivity to such an extent that his skin burns in sunlight. This vampire trait means he lives at night. He is a security guard at a building on the night shift. He blocks the light from his basement apartment and sleeps all day. When we meet him he is about to under go a change that impacts his lonely isolating life.
 Scott Leberecht in an interview on the special feature talks about Carl Jung and his idea of a shadow self, a part of each one of us that has been repressed, maturing we wrestle that demon and acknowledging and coming to terms with that "bad" part of ourselves. In the film we see this journey in what may or may not be the most successful wrestling match. Jacob is and his sudden infatuation with blood as a struggle of self control. He needs to acknowledge this shadow and find  way to live with it. Or as the janitor (the great Tracey Walter) in his building says, in a bit of on the nose philosophy. It's like a butterfly bursting from its cocoon transforming into a mature creature.
  There is not a lot of background given about how he got to his twenties and managed to survive and if not flourish at least build a life for himself. He is a lonely guy making his way in the world. We join him at the start of the change, suddenly his appetites are changing and instead of the meat and potato diet he has always had he suddenly wants the taste of blood. Writer / Director
  At the same time of his new dietary needs Jacob meets Mary (Maya Parish) and feels the desire to be connected to another human. It is an interesting contrast between the animal desire he is feeling for blood that is dangerous and consuming, and the sex impulse, physical attraction that is interconnecting and sharing but equally consuming. The relationship comes haltingly because Jacob's blood impulse holds sway and the trust that comes with emotional attachment is not yet in place. His need to hide the desire makes it harder to connect. I appreciated the complex and nuance writing and acting in the character of Mary. She like in life is a complicated women with her own baggage that also slows the roll of the relationship. Parish is subtle in her portrayal with small facial reflections that heighten the character.
  The other main character is a hospital worker Marcus (Jo D. Jonz) who sees Jacob's desire for blood as a money making opportunity. He has access to blood that will be disposed of and can supply as much as needed. Again I appreciated that the character is developed and not just 'that guy with the blood'. Marcus also does not make things easy and plays a growing role as the movie progresses. He has his own motivations and compulsions that make for a more complex relationship with Jacob. Hints of a predatory nature makes his character a bit threatening, besides the fact that he is actually threatening to Jacob. The same can't be said for the Police in this film. they are investigating a murder or two but the entire subplot of their involvement and interaction with the main character is under written. Jacob's  connection to the murder is too weak in my opinion and the suspicion of the cop too strong. Even with that criticism overall the characters are well defined even if the relationships can seemed strained at points.
  As the desire for blood grows stronger the addiction aspect and comparison can be seen. Jacob making worse and worse choices because of the desire for more blood is inevitably going to create the crisis of the story. In that build up to the climax there are a couple of real nice reveals that build a mythos for this world and this kind of vampire. Where the story is so character-centric we never really get any origin story for the Why? question of Jacob's transformation but we do get a complete story arc and a conclusion which many times horror films fail to deliver.
  I can't say I loved this film but it was okay. Even though the pacing of the scenes was good the musical score accompanying them made it feel more of a slow burn than it should have. I know the director liked the music but as the plot got more tense I don't think the music properly kept up with it. As noted earlier the character relationships were in fits and starts and that, although desired over canned characters, made the film feel a bit uneven at times. It starts and stays a small movie which felt appropriate and I mildly recommend it to those who want a slightly different take on the sub-genre. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Train (2008) Horror Tourist Trap

Train (2008) - Eli Roth in 2005 came out with the first Hostel film and followed it in 2007 with Hostel part II, in those films Roth capitalizes on the unknown corners of a newly liberated eastern Europe to stoke our fears about travel to those lands. In the films young tourists staying in a hostels are enticed to find a party but are instead captured by sadistic locals and sold into a torture murder ring who wealthy clients get off on harming other humans. Roth although a bit mean spirited in his approach touched on the hidden fear we have of 'the other'. His use graphic torture scenes to and nihilistic attitude did strike a chord in the horror community and those films were well received. I bring this up to connect to the subject of today's subject Train. Coming out after Roth's trend setter it works really hard to imitate his work. It takes the eastern Europe setting and visceral graphic violence contains it on a train instead of an abandon industrial factory. Unlike Hostel or the sequel it stereotypes the American wrestlers as a group of ignorant foreigners who may not need the viewers empathy. The bad guys are far worse though, horrible villains and lowly scum whose characters definition is simplistic and cartoon. Plot points are exposed way too early in the film taking much of the mystery out of the film. Some of the lines are so cliche that they make the film stale. Other than that it was great.
  Thora Birch) she at least has the slightest of story arc, and learns a new wrestling move. I think in the end the horrific experience she has teachers her to reach for that little extra you need to survive a torture train as well as in the wrestling circle. She is joined by teammates Sheldon (Kavan Reese), Todd (Derek Magyar), and Claire (Gloria Votsis), as well as assistant coach Willy (Gideon Emery) and Coach Harris (Todd Jensen).
The opening credits give away the theme right away as we see a big guy cutting up a body in a less than sanitary environment. where we see that parts are saved we know either this is a human butchery or that someone else is in need of a human liver. We quickly move past that to defining our victims, uh I mean characters. It's an American wrestling team on an international tour in eastern Europe. There is nothing really defining here we get introduced to personalities and the main character Alex (
  When the wrestlers and Willy sneak out to go to a local party they miss the train to the next leg of the tour. Coach is angrily waiting for them at the hotel the next morning. There is this moment where as they are searching the dark streets for this party where they pass a steam engine sitting in the dark and Alex pauses to look at it. This foreshadowing by Writer / Director Gideon Raff was just a bit too on the nose. His writing gets better though but not in this film, he wrote extensively in the room for the great series Homeland so this early work was a step towards better things.
  Stranded and frustrated with the lack of anyone in a foreign country being able to speak his language the Coach plays the ugly American shouting what he wants at the train station attendant. He is "rescued" by Dr. Velislava (Koyna Ruseva) who tells him that you purchase your tickets on the train not in the station. She suspiciously directs them to her train that happens to be heading to their destination. I say suspiciously because it was like she was directed to act that way. As the creepy as shit helper load them into the train you see they are also told to treat the Americans as mush as objects as possible. Be slimy and creepy and then take their passports. Ugh. Unless this is a very clever satire that I just did not get, it is a poorly executed series of cliches that fail to create any kind of suspense or originality. the added insult where we see the passports thrown into a fire  was so on the nose it stings.
  What follows is a long series of kills and close calls as we unravel the non mystery of this train and why foreign tourists are abducted and killed. The particularly annoying one is Todd who when playing Truth or Dare, takes the dare and has to run the length of the train in his underwear. He reaches the dark dirty part of the train that we the audience have already seen and know this is the cutting room where the parts are harvested in the least sanitary conditions possible. I know that is stupid but really not what we need to talk about. Todd gets there and is creeped out and just says the absolute most cliche things anyone could say.  He hears a sound and says "Guys, this isn't funny." then "Look I don't want any trouble" then "Is anyone out there?" These three lines encapsulate everything wrong with the film. It is like it is trying not to be original.
  After several of the Americans are taken comes the unraveling of the mystery for the rest of the characters. As they search for the others they are thwarted by the not so nice Conductor Vasyl (Valentin Ganev) Played like a game of cat and mouse except these American mice are slowly finding that the entire train is full of cats, and it is too late for them. Once it is revealed that the train crew is taking the passengers organs, again in a way that is so dirty visceral and unsanitary that it is unbelievable and really takes the viewer right out of the movie. Logic dictates that this is not how organ transplants are done so you just have to call bullshit. I know they are going for what was so successful by Eli Roth but boy they really did not nail it. The cruelty that is shown does not make sense and you can't outRoth Roth. They do try though with some rather mean pieces. Like cutting Sheldon's balls off and the nasty bit where they give injured Claire to a group of soldiers who stopped the train. They try to make it poignant by having Alex watch her friend carried away screaming by the five soldiers knowing she is going to be raped and killed. Really it was the writer wanting to be as mean to the character as possible again though there are others that do this better.
  Eventually with the mystery unraveled the film turns into a survival film and when the train reaches a destination the film goes on even longer and it should really end. Alex is our final girl and tries to help any of the still surviving companions she runs into but really all she does is get them killed. I don't know what else to say, the ending with the big Russian cutter guy is inevitable and her using that cool move her boyfriend taught her in the beginning of the film was totally appropriate, set up and paid off. Overall the acting is not bad but some of the lines they have to say and how they chose to act was off putting.  I know I seem to be too critical but I still watch these films with an open mind. Still this film leaves you wishing it was just better.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Going to the Movies so far 2018.

  I have a hard time with the movie going experience and wonder if this is the same for others. It is not that I don't like to watch films on the big screen, it is a great way to see them. It is everything else about the experience.  Start with the cost, a  theater experience in my area is about $13-$15 depending on the theater. That ticket price I am sure is driven by the distribution model in place. Theaters have to take the larger giant budget blockbuster type films and run them even after interest for them has waned. Filling 4-8 screens all day, and long after the film has made bank. Still i can afford the ticket price. Now the fifteen dollar price for a bottle of water and a medium popcorn is ridiculous and I often bring my own snacks in my pockets to avoid that leaching. Certainly complaining about price is a small piece of squabbling. I spend more on beer in a month drinking expensive micro-brews that I do on Movie going in a year.
  The second area to look at is kiddie time. Getting older I want to get into a film and have everyone keep there mouths shut during it. This seems particularly difficult to tweens and teens who come in the theater in packs and proceed to either not be able to handle the material in the film and squeal and yap at every tense moment or get bored and whisper throughout the film because they did not take their ADD medication. It my not be every time but a good number of viewing have been spoiled by these groups. Recently though I had a couple really good experiences where I thought for sure the kids coming in were going to be loud but they were not. So give credit when do, they don't always spoil the experience.
  When it is a good experience movie going is really worth the price of admission. When the sound is not too high, I get a nicely centered seat and everyone is settled in and into the film it is amazing. The group experience can enhance the film and hearing reactions and post film chatter can be a rounding of the film. I always hope for that and recently have had a few experiences just like that.  I have seen some really great films with solid movie going experiences and right now am feeling pretty good about the process, so complaint get laid aside and lets talk about what I have seen. I have not been more than five times this year choosing to watch quite a bit of really good streaming content, but here is a look at what got me in the theater.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) - Having read all the various comics that covered this story  I was seriously anticipating this film. I decided an afternoon show during the week would minimize the chance of children. When I walked into the theater I immediate saw my favorite position in the theater was taken, but it was a buddy of mine in the seat. He had the exact same idea as I and we got a great film and a decent crowd. That movie was everything I wanted, sure you could complain that there were so many characters that you don't get a enough of any. But I don't think that is really true. This was a story about Thanos and his arc was full and compelling. The action was great and the expected shocking ending was what I was looking forward to.

Black Panther (2018) -  This was one of the best Marvel films to date. A well rounded story with solid characters and story. My wife and I never seem to be able to agree on a film when we go to the theater. One of us ends up settling or even both of us at times. This was a film we agreed on and both enjoyed.It was a fine origin story that was uplifting and with defined rounded characters great actions sequences and what felt like real consequences. (which is often missing in comic movies) It was the story we needed before the Infinity War,  glad I saw it beforehand.

Annihilation (2018) - Such an interesting film, solid science fiction is hard to come by but that is what this is. Asking big questions about what it is to be human both in the characters drives to take part in the mission and in the affects of being on that mission this film was a real winner. It was also one of those times where a crowd member was a bit talkative. One of two guys just was not getting the plot and so the other kept whispering explanations to him. Ugh!

A Quiet Place (2018) - I have seen this film twice, the first in a theater as one of five audience members. I was blown away by how well constructed the film was. Sure any film can be picked apart because really getting the logic of a post apocalyptic monster movie correct is a hard thing to do. That said you can not come out of that film without appreciating the relationships of the family members in the film. You feel there pain and cheer for their triumphs. The monsters are great and the tension in the silence that is the film are really well done. The second time I saw this film was just this weekend, with my sister Lee. She will claim that she doesn't love horror movies so when I recommend something it better be good. She was also blown away by this film. We where is a full theater of recliner seating and there was not a sound in the place for most of the film.  I hope Hereditary is this good.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Terror Train (1980) Horror Slasher

Terror Train (1980) - Jamie Lee Curtis was quickly making a name for herself in the horror genre, 1978's Halloween really put her on the path. Coming into this film just two years later she had already appeared in The Fog (1980)  released in February and Prom Night (1980) release in July. She was everywhere and stardom was already in the cards for her. This third film in a year may be the lesser of the three, a classic revenge slasher where we know who the killer is all the way through even if we can't identify him at times.
 Derek McKinnon) three years earlier. Setting him up with the idea he was going to have sex with Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis) they lead the young man up to a frat house bedroom, except the switch is on and Jamie Lee is hiding whispering to Kenny to come kiss her. While Kenny moves to the cadaver prop up in the bed in the darkened room. When he kisses her and flips out while the six schemers bust in laughing, and Jamie feels guilt for her role in it. Kenny becomes unstable leaving school and spending time in a mental institute. So now out he has a plan to get back at this group of mean people.
A group of seniors plan there last college party before the leave pre-med and head off to medical school. It is a costume theme party. Naturally the costumes will work well in hiding the killer and the theme, a steam train excursion puts the group in an isolated location far from outside help. But why is there a killer you ask? Well this particular group of seniors played a very nasty trick on Kenny (
  This film is not so great as far a pacing or creativity in kills, It trudges along with the characters trading places in the train cars enough to hide where the killer is and what costume he is wearing. Early in the film he kills Ed (Howard Busgang) with a sword, but where Ed is a jokester everyone thinks he is kidding. So the killer starts by wearing Ed's Groucho Marx outfit and mask. once on the train it is a bit of a slog. We have a bunch of scenes with David Copperfield being pissy about having to do the performance. His assistant trying to please him is around through the film. When Kenny, now the Groucho killer hooks up with Mitchy (Sandee Currie) we get teased into thinking she is next but No Jackson comes by and suddenly the killer has a higher priority.. The killing starts but it also sputters. The film is ways back and forth when it comes to getting down to killing. Eventually though the six are hunted down one at a time. Jackson (Anthony Sherwood) killed in a bathroom face through a mirror. Mitchy seduces who she thinks is Jackson and is choked out in a sleeping birth. Mo (Timothy Webber) is poisoned and dies next to the prankster Doc (Hart Bochner). He in turn dies thinking the hand on his shoulder is Mitchy trying to console him but instead is beheaded by the killer.
  While the kills are slow and mostly shot off screen, the drama is not and it is all about  Alana and the train Conductor Carne (Ben Johnson) trying to keep everyone left on the train safe. At one point we learn from a yearbook that Kenny was really into magic. The idea that the magician is the killer gets in there heads and they work the crowd trying to isolate him in a locked session of the train. Several attempts are made against Alana as this drama unfolds and she narrowly like the final girl she is just gets away a bit bloodied but alive. When finally cornered and having to confront the killer, we get a twist that I won't reveal here. It is pretty good though and the final battle between Kenny and Alana although short is final.  The acting was fine for the most part, Ben Johnson was great as the conductor. I think the execution of the train and the on the nose writing were the bigger problems.
  My closing thoughts on this film is that it is sort of a not so well executed slasher. I don't hate it but I doubt I will revisit it anytime soon. I just found it too clunky with the on the nose revenge plot and a twist that was not that big, it all just fell flat for me. You can't like everything so I guess this is one of those. Certainly you could be driven as a complete-ist to want to see every slasher ever make and this is probably not the worst of them so have at it if that is you. No recommendation from me.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Lure (2015) - Musical Horror Myth

The Lure (2015) - Loosely based on the Hans Christain Andersen story "The Little Mermaid" but with wonderful horror moments and songs! That story is where the mermaid falls in love with a human and wants to become a real girl. She trades her beautiful singing voice to get legs to be with her prince. When the prince then is betrothed to another for political reasons the little mermaid is lost, can not return to the sea and can not be with the man she loves. The mermaid's sister trades her hair for a knife that she must use to kill the prince before dawn on his wedding day, breaking the spell and allowing the little mermaid to return to the ocean. In that story like this the plan does not come out as expected. This film is a tale of two mermaid sisters, Golden (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) who join a trio of musicians and try to make a go of it in the human world. Silver falls in love with Mietek (Jakub Gierszal) a curly haired blonde bass player she hears singing on a beach. She and her sister sing in return to get Mietek and Perkusista (Andrzej Konopka), the bands drummer to call them from the ocean. This allows the women to transform into somewhat human form and join the band. The film follows the girls and band as Silver attempts to get Mietek to return her love. This includes Silver attempting to become more human for him and ultimately having to make a decision about the relationship that breaks the heart. Golden has her own path in the world of humans, she is not like her sister and sees humans not as love objects and more as food. Her navigating of the world has its own weirdness and twists that make her story the more interesting of the two.
  One great thing about this film is the world building. In this world the mermaids are just something that exists. So when the girls join the band the club manager ( Zygmunt Malanowicz) is shown the girls transformed so their long fish tails can be seen. He just accepts this and allows them to sing in his club. There is no disbelief, mermaids are there and the magic is mundane in this world. Already the world is one where clubs are for older people where they go to see bands do disco era covers and dance and drink. It is a fantasy and as such anything is possible. That magic includes siren like voices, and apparent pheromones that are toxic when humans withdraw from them. At least that is what I take from the scene where the band members get sick after the mermaids leave for a while.
  Another really winning point is the contrast between the mermaid sisters. Silver is the lighter haired sweet girl looking for love. Not that she gets what she wants, she works hard to try to seduce Meitek. He is pretty clear that he sees her as an animal and can't love her. There is a magic that the girls have that holds influence over the humans around them but it is not quite enough to give Silver the success she wants. That in turn drives her to more drastic measures to become human for Meitek. Golden sees Silver in her obsession and is not thrilled. At first it seems like jealousy, but as the story progresses it seems she sees the tragedy coming for her sister. Golden is in the film to contrast Silver in she recognizes that the mermaids are not meant for the human world. They are predators and although they can play the part for a while in the end their natural impulses must win out. She is experimenting with the human world but she is not part of it. Golden needs to feed and that in turn leads to a very strange interaction with a female cop who suspect her of eating a guy in a car, but then uses the information to have sex with golden in mermaid form. She is the dark half of the mermaid nature and all her warning can not save her sister from heading down the road to ruin. The message must be that being ad remembering what you are is the safe path while trying to become something you are not is dangerous.
  The musical aspect of this film was so strange that it ended up being completely magical. From the opening tune in the club with the groups lead singer Wokalistka Krysia (Kinga Preis) singing "I Feel Love" a Donna Summer song from 1977 to the more traditional singing their feelings and plot this element works. On a personal note I really dislike musicals, I mean I remember being exposed through film as a child to them. Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, I sang in choir doing Jesus Christ Superstar in middle school, and have seen plays as a young adult A Chorus Line and Rent. I don't really enjoy them too much with the possible exception of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but I can tell if the musical elements are working or not. In this film I don't think the music is a classic representation but I think it works within the world of the film. I don't imagine I would ever seek out a soundtrack for The Lure but it was okay in watching it.
  Enchanted by this film as a fantastical piece of art, I recognize it may just be not for everyone so use caution going into this that it does not fit into categories well. There are some really nice horror elements to the film that I wish were longer. The mermaids at feeding could have been more frightening but what is shown works. The exploration of sexuality (bestiality?) was interesting also but again it was limited to a couple scenes and could have been more. Still I come away from this film liking what it did and recommend a viewing to all of you. It is a strange journey but I think one that is rewarding.

Monday, April 30, 2018

My World Dies Screaming (1958) Psychological Horror

My World Dies Screaming (1958) - aka "Terror in the Haunted House".  This is a pulp horror film that used the gimmick of Psychorama to pull in audiences. This subliminal image flashing was thought up in the advertising world and this is the first time it was used in a film.  It is pretty silly single framed cartoon images of a devil, or a googly eyed man etc. that is suppose to subliminally create an emotion in the viewer.
The film is told through the point of view of Sheila Wayne (Cathy O'Donnell) a young woman who after some childhood trauma has lived in Switzerland into what is now her twenties, well there was that two year stint in an insane asylum but after that Europe is where she called home. Having met an American Philip Wayne (Gerald Mohr) and quickly fell in love and married. It opens in a voice over as Sheila tells us about a house in her dreams that terrifies her. She describes it in detail and how she enters and makes her way to the attic, then we see the character for the first time coming out of her telling screaming that this is where she knows she will die. She is in a psychiatrist office and he psycho babbles her about what the dream represents. We learn that her husband Philip is going to take her back to America and that this may be making her dream come back.
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Director Harold Daniels who both worked mostly television do a nice job of create doubt about  Philip Wayne. They make him a suspicious character, about 10 years older than Sheila and a bit domineering. You are led to believe that maybe there is some secret he is hiding. Sheila catches onto inconsistencies in his behavior but he always has some excuse to explain his behavior away. Later we learn just that.
   When they return to the States, Philip takes Sheila to a house in Florida to rest, but unfortunately it is exactly the house in her dreams. She does not want to stay but she is a character with little agency and Philip sort of brow beats her into entering. Then makes the excuse that the car won't start making her stay the night. They are not welcomed by the old caretaker of the house. A simpleton named Jonah (John Qualen)who tries in vain to chase them off. Scary times for Sheila who begins remembering more about the house in her dreams.
  When the house owner hears of the couple staying in his place he arrives to confront them. Philip remarkably knows the owner, Mark Snell (William Ching) and there are major revelation of who Snell, Philip and Sheila really are and what their relationship is. It is a convoluted story of madness, love and murder as well as a bit of inheritance swiping. When all is said and done Sheila's memory comes back to remember one horrible night where the lives of all the main characters were changed.
  This is not a great movie, it rolls from suspenseful mystery to weird family drama on a dime, leaving the viewer to wonder why the quick turn. The need of the characters to explain the plot instead of showing us reflects the low budget nature of this production. Still the acting by Cathy O'Donnell is solid even if the characterization of her as a fragile oppress woman does not hold up in these more feminist times. Mohr plays his part with the proper suspicious overacting so we can't miss the cues to the fact he is hiding something. Ching is stiff and not quite up to par with the other two. Even with all this said I have to say I sort of liked this film, it is a short little story that comes around in the second half to be more than it started out as. Available free on YouTube this may be a waste a bit of time on.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Veronica (2017) Horror Possession Ouija

Veronica (2017) - Director Paco Plaza made a big splash in 2007 with the film [Rec] it really hit big. Its tight quarters and excellent use of the found footage technique made it a favorite in the horror community. He followed it with some would contest an even better sequel [Rec] 2 (2009) which really established him as a creator to watch for. Even though the third in the series [Rec] 3 : Genesis (2012) was accepted with less enthusiasm Plaza was on the radar of many a horror fan. Veronica is the first feature since and I have to say when my daughter sent me a link to the trailer I was excited to see it. Now with the film streaming on Netflix I am more than happy to watch it and write down a few thoughts. It is impossible for me not to spoil movies in some way. In this case Plaza is a really good director and so I want to write about the shot choices he makes. Sometimes this adds way too much story context to the review so be warned SPOILERS may abound.
 Ouija: Origins of Evil (2016) what will the market be for another film based around that game just a year later? Chances are that work on Veronica started well before "Ouija" was released but as is often the case similar subjects in film often pop up around the same time. This sometimes make for unfair comparisons which is something I will avoid here, but can hurt the popularity of the later film. Or if the first film bombs that fact turning viewers off from seeing that subject mater again so soon. There is a flip side that someone wants more also but it's hard not to make comparisons. I promise to speak no more of that other film.
There is a risk this film may be finding an audience that appreciates its subtlety. With the success of
  This is a film with starts with a mystery, a call to the police where the person on the phone is frantic about someone being in her house. We see the police heading to the apartment building while listening to the frightened person on the phone. They arrive and find there way inside, dark halls greet them as they make there way into the apartment flashlights and guns in hand. A cross on the floor is rehung by the detective. They enter a room and all we get is some strange squishy sounds a shot of the horrified faces of the police. It's a decent start that shows us nothing of whats to come but indicates that it won't be nice. I better see what the cops see by the end of the movie or I will be disappointed.
  We cut to three days earlier we see Veronica (Sandra Escacena) getting up to start the morning routine. She is maybe 14. She wakes her three young siblings, Lucia (Bruna González), Irene (Claudia Placer) and Antonito (Iván Chavero) and gets them ready for school. She makes a point to keep them quiet while her mother who works late hours sleeps. Before leaving the house she picks up and resets the crucifix that has come off the wall, letting us all know that this is the apartment the police entered in the opening. Off to school a caring older sister with too much responsibility. Veronica is a 14 year old thrown into a caregiver role after her Father's death. Her Mother now runs the family pub by herself and is stretched to thin to take care of her children besides earning the money needed by the family. It is also a driving force for the plot that brings the scares. She misses her Dad and it motivates her to bring in a Ouija board and to study how to talk to the dead with it. This simple need the girl has escalates into the crisis that is the plot of the film.
  At School the subject matter is the coming eclipse and how the ancient peoples of the world believed they were evil and would often do human sacrifice when one occurred to appease their Gods. A significant setup for Veronica who has her Ouija board so she and her friends, Diana (Carla Campra) and Rosa (Ánglela Fabián) can play at it while everyone in the school is on the roof looking at the eclipse. The three girls head to the basement to talk to her father through it. We cut between the two scenes, the school on the roof watching the eclipse and the girls using the board in the basement. It is just wonderfully creepy when the other two girls need to take their hands off the glass because it grew too hot, while Veronica does not feel the heat of it at all. She is the chosen and it happened at the evil time of the solar eclipse. The girls get scared and supernaturally things happen that let us know spirits are about. It goes sort of wrong with Veronica the focus so much so the other girls are scared. The editing between the roof and the girls is great and with the earlier classroom talk make a really firm connection between the eclipse and the girl's experience. The foreshadowing with the blind nun is well done also, Plaza sets things up by showing us without having to tell us and as viewers we should appreciate that.
  Veronica now has to deal with what she encountered. There is quite a bit of Christian religious symbolism here with crucifixes , nuns and the such that add the the eerie feel of the setup. Plaza has some nice shots from over head or from low looking up at the schools blind nun who one of the kids calls "Sister Death" (who is good for some exposition later on) and we know from the previous scenes that something supernatural did happen to Veronica, so we are ready for the slow revealing of the consequences of what the three girls did. Is this a possession? Strange things start happening and Veronica knows they are. The Ouija board moving from it's hiding place, her incident with the television, the marks on her shoulder all point towards something coming for her. It is when her little brother gets burned by bath water that we see that she is not the only one at risk.
The script does a really good job reminding us that she is a kid herself. Her older friends Diana and Rosa are ostracizing her having been freaked out by the  Ouija session. Still Veronica even though she is younger confronts this. She can make it up by going to a party Diana is throwing. She can get back into this click. Unfortunately the realty that she cares for her siblings is never far from sight.  From dealing with complaints from the lady downstairs to getting the kids clothed and fed each day she is the adult. Instead of support from a peer group she is left to try to figure out her situation on her own. When the things she try don't work she realizes that the threat is really not just for her but for the whole family. An incident leads to a chance to get help from her Mother but that help is not there for her either. She is isolated and will have to deal with this herself.
  It's an interesting thing that all the decisions she makes as the adult in the family seem so right. She loves her siblings and shows it to them throughout the film. It is the decision she made as her 14 year old girl self that has the real negative consequences. Then when she believes that the spirit, the consequence of her actions is real her Mother is incredulous believing she is acting like a child, and expresses she needs her to be the reliable adult. Netflix is selling this film as one of the scariest of all time and that certainly is not fair. Good horror is not necessarily the scariest. In fact the best horror allows the viewer to care about the characters making real for the viewer the horror the characters are experiencing. This film does that we are voyeur of the family and we care about the kids and Veronica as people. So when Veronica has her really disturbing dreams they are not just frightening to her but we are frightened for her.  They second dream coming after the talk with her mother and being the on the cusp of her first period plays well into the real family drama that we are experiencing through her. ( A side note the camera shot of her laying in bed and the getting up is really well done.) She realizes that the children she cares for are at risk and instead of relying on adults she seeks the answers she needs to end the haunting. Again the blind nun is used for exposition and it leads Veronica to the place where she has to fix her mistake in the Ouija ritual, fixing a child's mistake to solve the problem of the spirit following her and allow her to continue to be the adult.
  Can she do it alone and without her school friends who are over the incident and do not want to revisit it. A telling information is shared by Rosa about what Veronica whispered when she was under the influence of the Ouija board. She is spiraling as we head to the climax, with no help from friends or family and the dread that comes with knowing what she whispered, torn by her mother's inability to notice her stress enough to intercede. She ends up alone with her siblings trying to fix her mistake but with her little sisters and brother in the know. The climax has important little details so pay attention.
  Knowing the opening scene we have a general idea how things go. The climax has a mix of setup, the kids and Veronica setting up another session with the Ouija board. Kids don't make good stand ins and this as we say in the horror world is where go horribly wrong. The climax is wonderfully seeded and it is so dread filled for those poor little kids, Veronica included. Some great shots by Plaza as he builds the anticipation of the shit hitting the fan. This one strikes particularly close to home for me because as a child I was in a few terrifying situations and understand the mania a group of children can have at a time of crisis. As the final scenes unfold we are reminded about the connection between the coming of adolescence and mental instability. Like in the film The Witch (2015) we see a young woman hitting puberty and the effects of the events on her life in the most horrifying way. Still The structure is set in the beginning where we know this is seen by the police, but in the moment it is about a spirit not leaving Veronica and we were promised a final shot.  The lead up  to the final scene the one promised in the beginning is some really fine work by the director and cinematographer using mirror projections very effectively.
  I really loved this film. The family characters, the dynamic of the teen and the supernatural were so well meshed that it hit all the rights spots as far as depth of character within a story. You cared for Veronica and her siblings and even though the outcome was not the happiest. Set in 1991 I appreciate the music when Veronica was listening to her head phones, Heroes del silencio, I think. Camera work was exceptional with interesting shots that added to the mood of the film. I am not sure we needed the true story aspect of the film with the police bookends but it was not too intrusive. I hope there is no backlash over being called the "scariest film of the year". What it is is a wonderfully executed horror drama where you can care about the characters. Plaza and cinematographer Pablo Rosso for the great look and movement of this film. It is very good and should be seen by as many people as possible.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Temple (2017) Horror Demon

Temple (2017) - On the heels of The Ritual (2017) let me dig into Temple these two with my entry last year, The Shrine (2010) should make a nice trio of films on the subject of gods and monsters. I was excited to see that this film was written by Simon Barrett, The Guest (2014), Blair Witch (2016), You're Next (2011). A great writer but something about the story having credits from three producers made me worry. Not that producers don't also come up with great story ideas but how did this writing job come about for Barrett? Seems a strange thing but whatever, if a producer thinks they have a good story idea, Barrett would not be a bad guy to have write the screenplay. Unfortunately I think the film suffered from a bit too much convoluted storytelling.
 Opening is Japanese cops searching for someone and then making a gruesome discovery. Credit include newspapers saying that six children went missing and showing the Temple we will later see. The monk of the temple was suspected and ominous rumor spread.
  There is a storytelling structure where we see a scene in a hospital, a man in a wheelchair sort of covered like a bubble, an detective asks the patient questions. This is going to be one of the characters we follow but his identity is hidden.  They show him a video, it starts with Kate (Natalia Warner) and her camera. Her boyfriend James (Brandon Sklenar) is flying in from San Francisco to join her and her childhood friend Chris (Logan Huffman). Chris is  a damaged friend coming on the trip because he speaks Japanese but he still struggling with his brothers death. Kate is studying how religion influences myth and vice versa and wants to photograph Japanese shrines. You think that since the cops questioning the injured person is a repeated setting it is key to the story, but really it is just a framing device for telling the tale. You eventually learn who the character is but there is a weird not very satisfying ending to this device. It leaves the watcher not knowing what was real and what was imagined as the movie plays out. On one hand it definitely does imply the survivor killed the other two, but circumstances at the site leaves the viewer thinking that it would be impossible.
  The stage is set with scenes of the three out on the town and Chris envious that James gets the girl?
Chris is not at all what the boyfriend imagined. He seems fine but his voice and face is betraying him. He can't believe Chris is not attracted to Kate. She sort of likes he may be a bit jealous of this long time friend. Awkward travel conversation on the train creating a dynamic between the two men. Maybe the point here is to paint Chris as an unstable person and a relationship triangle to keep tension between the characters and to reduce trust. Chris and he telling her he feels like a third wheel but also obviously digs Kate. (Talk about over doing the triangle dynamic and how in the end it is not serving the story) Finding a folktale book in a second hand store they see an old temple in it in a myth about a shape-shifter. The woman running the store does not want to sell it.
  Later at the club reinforce the Chris dynamic as he watches the couple dance. He is having no luck with the locals so leaves the bar and goes back to the shop, sees the book and buys it off the little kid that is watching the shop. He finally gets to look at it in more detail at a quiet roadside bar the bartender knows where the temple is. Chris gets a warning from the the other customer in the bar that the temple will make you sick, crazy some of this is lost in translation. Now Chris know where the place is and you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be the first place they go. Chris is spooked in an alley [suddenly film's the music and visuals are darkening] but he makes it back to the house and leaves the book for Kate. Director Michael Barrett includes flashes of scary scenes to let us know that the horror is coming.
It seems that the relationship triangle is building as a trigger when things go horribly wrong. It really did not turnout that way though. Seems that all the build up of rivalry between the men is for not. Sure Kate has shared a secret with Chris that she did not share with her boyfriend but it really didn't really matter because as soon as the audience learns this, Kate tells James so there is no consequence to the James / Chris relationship. These men competing though is so odd going as far as when they are all bunked in one room, Chris watches with camera as Kate and James get it on. Why would James and girl be screwing around when they are all sharing the room? Fucking alfa dog shit right there.
They head off to find the temple the next day. They are dropped at the village below the temple. We see the kid from the bookstore, in flashes we see a long clawed hand. So maybe the women who refused to sell the book acted to protect them from the creature. The shape-shifter, who may be the kid that sold the book, was the creature seen in its true form in the flash and then he reappears at the village and says "When I was a kid I played in the temple. I can show it to you."  The kid did not talk when the old woman poked in her head, pretty sure just Chris is the only one seeing him. They find the statue from the book, the Shape-shifter statue. Musical queue when the little boy looks at it so we know something will be up with that later, or the director felt like raising a bit of audience anticipation. When they reach the temple Chris says goodbye to the kid, he warns them with a another musical queue to get back before dark. James does not want to stay long there is a bit of tension between the couple. Photos as they look about by Kate and Chris but they both get spooked separately. Kate is so spooked she wants to leave immediately thinking there is someone watching them.
  In the temple a hand pulls Chris through the floorboards. He is unconscious for a second. He is hurt enough that they have to spend the night split up his leg and starts a fire. James and Kate are a bit at odds because of the secret and James does not even know about that yet. Kate never told James about the fact that she aborted James baby. James come back and thinks the thing she has not told him is that she is going to break up or something. Tension fills the air at this point. Kate told Chris but not James about the pregnancy. So James and Kate wander off together to have it out. I guess she told him because his ass is out of there. When she comes back and James has stormed off, she is doing the I'm upset but rebounding on the guy that is there, of course Chris is like quietly accepting her attention. She lays with him after caressing his hair and wants to be held. Animal like breathing and growling outside.
 Now is about the time where the editors went into overdrive, cutting from one character to another. I am not sure it really works so instead I will try to explain what happens to each character without cutting back and forth. So the scary climax comes on in the night which is dark and full of terrors. We cut to James trying to hike out in the dark. He finds himself confronting a shape-shifter statue in the dark. He sees it come to life.
  Kate hears the Screams and heads out to find him. "He needs me" James running being pursued by the statue come to life falls in the dark. Kate follows the sounds towards James. James in the meantime is caught by the creature? Kate follows some whimpering sounds into the mines, this may not turn out well for her.  Kate really far into the mines, she so is never going to find her way out. Kate finds James but he looks all mangled, could be the creature? She runs blindly now. Animal growling and shrieking as she runs shouting for help. She finds a dead end, and breaks down crying. Deep in the mines as we see Kate whispering as the creature finds might have found her.
   Chris is left at the temple with he hurt leg, tries to follow Kate but falls because of his leg. He sees a visage of the monk sitting by a fire, struggles to get back in the temple before the being reaches him.  He pulls himself in and I guess feels more secure with the wall between he and the monk visage.
From the hole he was pulled through Chris sees the boy and other children crawl from the hole in the temple floor. Then all the children and they have sharp teeth and attack Chris.Chris being finished off. Question whether Chris imagined the children and mangled himself? Is he imagining everything? He can't be the responsible for the other's deaths since he is injured. Then the hospital interview seems to shit on that? A bit confusing.
  I was not pleased with how this film was worked out. If as the cops say Chris was an unstable dude who killed his friends why add the supernatural elements. Sure it make his story and that of the monk accused years earlier parallel but then why the imaginary friend and the scary creature sounds? All three did not seem to be having hallucinations. Why also the scenes that establish the shape-shifter coming from the book? If it was supernatural why have the last stabbing scene? This film just did not come together for me. Maybe I missed something but it just did not make a lot of sense to me. Then there was the general classic gray blue tinge and that most of the film was dark. It did not particularly look good. I would probably pass if I knew all these things ahead of time.