Grizzly 2 – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 27

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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So, this isn’t so much an actual review as a notice of a future one. I watched Grizzly 2 for the premiere episode of a new podcast, Monster Mixtape, and instead of writing about it here, I’m going to let that episode stand in for a blog post. Because really, there’s nothing else to say. Except that it truly is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

If you don’t know the history of this movie, here’s some background. No, it was never released. Yes, you can find it easily on the internet (YouTube). Yes, that is George Clooney (talk about a guy who improves with age). You should watch it, and then look for for the first episode of Monster Mixtape coming soon!

Halloween – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 23

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Halloween (1978)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance

Synopsis: The story begins in 1963, when 6 year-old Michael Myers murders his sister while wearing a Halloween mask, in some kind of weird psychosexual fantasy. After fifteen years in an insane asylum he escapes and returns to his hometown, where he begins stalking high school student Laurie. On Halloween night, she and some friends are babysitting and/or messing around with their boyfriends, when Michael begins to pick them off one by one. First Annie is killed after she drops her young charge off with Laurie and the boy she is watching, Tommy, in order to go pick up her boyfriend. Then Lynda and her boyfriend are killed after having sex in the house where Annie was babysitting. Laurie goes over to check on them after receiving an alarming call from Lynda and discovers their bodies, staged dramatically, before Michael attacks her. He chases her back the house she was babysitting at and she manages to hide the children and then fight Michael off with a knitting needle. He’s not easily killed and is about to overcome her, when his psychiatrist, who has been tracking him all this time, comes in and shoots Michael multiple times. He falls off the balcony, but when they look down his body is gone.

tumblr_m7b519p4dt1qj7u8ao1_500Going back and watching the original Halloween now is like going through a time warp. Although hardly the first slasher film and owing much to Psycho and other of its ilk from the 50’s and 60’s, Halloween is definitely the origin of the modern slasher flick and kicked off a flurry of them in the 80’s and 90’s (with the 2000’s we got the torture porn genre, which is its hillybilly cousin on steroids). Frankly, it’s not scary. Maybe it was, watching in a dark theater for the first time, or maybe I’m so inured to terror and violence that it seems almost quaint. There’s little blood or gore, and really very little real tension until the last third. I mean you know Michael is stalking Laurie and her friends, but most of the movie is them chatting, getting high, and arranging their social lives. Even at the climax, the level of fear is nothing compared to modern day horror. Continue reading “Halloween – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 23”

Ginger Snaps – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 16

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Ginger Snaps (2000)

Starring: Katherine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers

Synopsis: Brigette (Perkins) and Ginger (Isabelle) are high school outcasts, anti-social and obsessed with death to the point of having made a suicide pact as children. Their main hobby is filming and photographing elaborate, realistic, and gory scenes of their own demise. They are each other’s only friend, and their parents, particularly their overly cheery, pushy mother, don’t understand them. Suddenly, during a string of mysterious attacks on neighborhood dogs, everything changes. Ginger gets her first period and then is attacked by a creature of some kind while she and Brigette are in the middle of playing a prank on their main antagonist, a cheerleader named Trina. Ginger heals swiftly from the attack, but over the course of the next month begins to change. Her teeth become fanglike, she sprout hairs from her swiftly-healing wounds, and even grows a tail. Her behavior changes too, she fights with Brigette and becomes more outgoing, sexual, and even predatory, leaving her younger sister behind. Brigette figures out that Ginger is transforming into a werewolf and getting increasingly out of control, to the point where she savages and infects her boyfriend and kills Trina, who comes looking for her dog. Brigette, with the help of greenhouse worker and pothead, Sam (Lemche), figures out how to make a cure from the monkshood flower (wolfsbane) and attempts to save Ginger. But Ginger isn’t interested in being saved. Before she can be cured, she transforms fully into wolf form, killing Sam and finally attacking Brigette who defends herself with a silver knife, stabbing Ginger. As wolf-Ginger lays dying, Brigette puts her head on her sister’s chest and cries.

tumblr_mmfck28jDk1rdecj3o1_500Ginger Snaps is a low budget Canadian horror movie that somehow manages to be the most interesting werewolf film I’ve ever seen. In historical and popular culture werewolves are primarily used as a symbol of the monster who lives inside of a man, the part of himself that he hates but can’t control. To a lesser degree and more recently they have been used as a metaphor for puberty, a less dramatic but no less upsetting change we all go through. Ginger Snaps relies primarily on this latter comparison, though with a heavy dose of the former, but it does so in a far more gritty and gory way than the average teen werewolf flick, and twists the usual narrative to focus on the specific troubles of female adolescence. Continue reading “Ginger Snaps – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 16”

Trollhunter – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 17

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Trollhunter/Trolljegeren (2010)

Starring: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck

Synopsis: In Norway, a group of students are making a student film about bear poaching when they discover that Hans, the man they are looking to question in the most recent incident, is not, in fact, a bear hunter but a troll hunter. To be specific, he works for the Norwegian government as a sort of animal control officer. Trolls are real, and it’s his job to help conceal this from the people and to kill trolls that come out of their territories or endanger humans. Part of the Norwegian Wildlife Board is devoted to the cover-up. Hans agrees to let the students film him in his work, partially because he’s kind of tired of his job and keeping secrets, although the head of the Wildlife Board tells them they won’t be allowed to keep the tapes. The trolls are acting strangely, coming out of their territories much more often than usual and Hans is to control them and find out why. While following him, one of the students is injured by a troll, and the cameraman is killed (it turns out he was secretly a Christian, and trolls can smell Christian blood, of course). They hire a new camera person (a Muslim, which hopefully is safe) and track the largest of all the trolls, a Jotnar, to the far north where he is supposed to be contained by power lines but has gotten free. It turns out the trolls are suffering from rabies, which what’s making them act so recklessly, and what’s infected the bitten crew member. Hans manages to kill the troll while the film crew runs for safety but they are intercepted by a group from the troll control office. The footage ends with them scattering and a note that says the the tape was found on the road and none of the students was ever seen again. The final scene shows the Prime Minister of Norway slipping up and admitting the existence of trolls in a press conference.

The technique of found footage has been overused in horror over the last couple decades, but in Trollhunter it’s generally put to good effect. The setting of beautiful, rural Norway also helps freshen up the format, and most the it feels more like a wildlife documentary than a genre film. Trollhunter is definitely a dark comedy, and the humor is as dry as the Nordic tundra. The film takes advantage of Norway’s cultural obsession with trolls and its long history of folk tales and art, referencing stories, legends, and paintings wherever possible. I got a lot of the jokes, but as with any foreign film in another language, I had the impression that there were a lot of things I was just missing. Honestly, that made it all the more enjoyable, the feeling that I didn’t totally understand everything about it immediately and might never and that is totally fine.  Continue reading “Trollhunter – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 17”

Shadow of the Vampire – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 14

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes dramatization of the filming of the horror classic Nosferatu. The director (Malkovich) reveals to the crew that he hired a unique and extraordinarily talented method actor named Max Schreck (Dafoe) to play the role of the vampire, Count Orlok. While they film on location in Czechoslovakia he will stay in character the whole time, filming only at night. Unbeknownst to the crew, the director discovered the “actor” in one of the castles in which they will be filming and he is, in fact, an actual vampire. The director has struck a bargain with him to appear in the film, including allowing him to feed on the starring actress in the final scene. Quickly things begin to go wrong during filming, including mysterious accidents and the film’s photographer being drained of blood during a blackout. Despite muttered warnings from locals, the crew still continues to believe that Schreck is merely a very devoted method actor – even when he catches and eats and bat in front of them. Continue reading “Shadow of the Vampire – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 14”

Crimson Peak – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 15

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! 

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Crimson Peak (2015)

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain

Okay, I know I’m skipping some days, since I’ve gotten behind due to illness, but I wanted to get this up for the weekend. The movie offically comes out today, but I was lucky enough to see it last night. Even though I was sick I still dragged myself to the theater and proved the universal rule that when you are seeing a movie alone, sick and looking like shit, you will run into someone you know at the theater. And they will be seated next to you as you try not to cough up a lung during the screening.

The premise is simple enough, Edith (Wasikowska), aspiring novelist and daughter of a wealthy American industrialist has a deep seated belief in the supernatural. She meets Sir Thomas(Hiddleston) and his sister (Chastain), impoverished English gentry, when they come to New York to raise funds to improve their situation. Inevitably, Edith falls in love with Thomas, marries him, and moves back to England with him and his sister, into their sinking ancestral home. Once there, Edith begins to see and hear strange things and begins to suspect that nothing is as it seems.

The primary word I find to describe this movie is sumptuous. Much has been made of Guillermo del Toro’s attention to detail, from the fabrics to the set design, in creating Crimson Peak, and it shows. It is sumptuous even in its depictions of the decay of the ancient mansion. The scenes of violence are filmed almost luxuriously, letting camera linger lovingly on the blood and wounds. Ever scene is beautifully filmed and meticulously framed, and I have a feeling even twenty viewings would not be enough to catch all of the little details and hints hidden in every single shot.

The use of older, practical effects for the ghosts and supernatural occurrences was a strong choice, and they held up much better in the stylized setting than pure CGI would have done. The attention to detail is most evident there, and in the costumes. I watch a lot of costumed period pieces, but I’ve never seen clothes as beautiful and lavish as these. You can see the quality in choice of fabric, stitching, draping, and every single outfit choice, from the slightly out-dated clothes of the siblings who bring Edith to Crimson Peak to Edith’s fashionable turn-of-the century heiress wardrobe. The costumes in this movie are practically characters themselves, and often provide the primary source of color and mood in many of the scene set within the decrepit mansion. Although there is an argument to be made that all of the strange goings on in the movie are simply a result of everyone’s collar being too tight.

The actors are perfectly cast, with Mia Wasikowska giving Edith all the innocence and sincerity of the archetypal Gothic heroine, although a slightly more intelligent one than average. Tom Hiddleston is in his element as the darkly troubled romantic lead with Jessica Chastain putting in a chilling and almost unrecognizable performance as his sister. The dialogue is often clunky and distractingly predictable, and if the actors were less convincing it would be downright cringe-worthy. The plot, too, is thin and doesn’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny. Not that you would expect it to.

Guillermo del Toro set out to pay tribute to classic Gothic Horror, and he’s made a nearly Platonic example of it, amplifying both the good and the bad facets of the art form. Crimson Peak is not a subtle movie. Every move is telegraphed, every revelation heavily foreshadowed. Although one or two tropes are subverted along the way, it is largely predictable from the get-go. And perhaps that was intentional. I don’t think del Toro was trying to make a movie to keep the audience guessing, I think he was trying to make a movie that celebrates a particular style through the sincerest form of flattery. In this, he succeeds.

I also didn’t find this to be a particularly scary movie. Tense, yes, and at times upsetting. But I spent much of the movie poised on the edge of my seat for the jump scare that, for the most part, never came. And while the supernatural was featured prominently, all the scenes that really made me wince were due to entirely earthly causes.

I find it difficult rate this movie. When rating a movie it’s important to look at what it is intended to be and how well it performs it’s function. You don’t give a child’s adventure movie a poor rating because it wasn’t Shakespearean enough. This movie is the epitome of the genre it attempts. And yet, if del Toro had loosened his grip on that vision just a tiny bit, he might have made Crimson Peak objectively better. It’s an enjoyable show, particularly on the big screen where you can best appreciate all the fine scale work that is the movie’s strength. But it doesn’t beg for endless rewatches and it doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before.

The Babadook – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 10

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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The Babadook (2014)

Starring: Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman

Synopsis: Amelia (Essie Davis, about as far from her glamorous Miss Fisher as is possible to get) is a struggling single mother raising her young son, Sam. Amelia’s husband died in a car accident while driving her to the hospital to have Sam, and it’s clear she’s never recovered. Sam is a difficult child, clingy and demanding, obsessed with monsters and death. He doesn’t give Amelia a moment’s peace, keeping her up at nights and screaming constantly for attention.  He makes weapons to fight the monsters and gets in trouble for bringing them school, as well as breaking stuff around the house with them and scaring his mother. Amelia clearly loves her son, but she’s worn thin. One night, he picks out a book to read called Mister Babadook that Amelia has never seen before. She begins to read it to him, but the monster described in it frightens her and terrifies Sam. He’s convinced the Babadook is real and acts out when Amelia doesn’t believe him, getting kicked out of school and accidentally injuring his cousin. Amelia tears up and throws away the book, but it shows up on the doorstep with new pages, showing Amelia killing the dog, then Sam, and then herself. She burns it in terror but soon begins seeing and hearing strange things, manifestations of the Babadook. Stuck in the house with Sam, Amelia becomes possessed by the creature and begins acting more and more erratically, saying horrible things to Sam and eventually even killing the dog, just like in the book. When she tries to kill Sam he stabs her leg and then ties her up, but encourages her to fight the creature within her. Finally, through sheer willpower and love for her son she manages to expel the Babadook and defeat it. But as the book says, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook”. It retreats the basement. Later, Sam is shown gathering insects, which Amelia takes down to the basement to feed the creature, facing it everyday and telling it that everything will be okay.
The Babadook

I’m not really a horror fan and I had heard this movie was very scary, though extremely good, so I resisted watching it for a long time. I’m glad I finally went for it, as it is a masterpiece of psychological terror that has some important things to say about motherhood, grief, and trauma. And that’s just for starters. It was quite scary, although not nearly as frightening as I had expected. I probably would have found it more viscerally terrifying had I seen it on a big screen in the dark instead of a small computer screen in the middle of the day. If I were a mother, I probably would have found it blood-curdling.

Continue reading “The Babadook – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 10”