31 Days of Halloween Days 28-30 – Must See Halloween

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.

Partially because I ran out of time, and partially because my penultimate three Halloween movies have been so well-written about that I doubt I can say anything new, I decided to do a quick, joint write-up about them. Tomorrow, I’ll post my final Halloween pick, the instant classic “Over the Garden Wall”. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Most-meta – Cabin in the Woods, Day 28

MV5BNTUxNzYyMjg2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTExNzExNw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Synopsis: A group of college students go away for the weekend to a cabin, where unbeknownst to the them, they become part of an annual ritual to protect humanity from the Old Gods, which involves their suffering and deaths. Things don’t go quite as planned, as not just the “virgin” survives but one of the others as well. She refuses to kill her friend, the Old Gods rise, and the world ends.

tumblr_m3tykz3bng1rodf0wCabin in the Woods is Joss Whedon distilled into a single movie. A brilliant satire of horror tropes, a take-down of the torture porn genre, and stuffed full of references, it’s hilarious, scary, and everything you might expect from Whedon. The concept is brilliant – what if this cliched scenario of hunted teens was really run by a high tech group of normal guys, tasked with protecting the world by making sure the regular sacrifices take place on schedule. They’re detached from the pain they are causing, running an office pool on what monster the teens will self-select and casually celebrating while our Final Girl fights for her life because “the virgin’s death is optional, as long as she suffers”.  The redundency built in around the world is also interesting, the idea that this goes on in multiple places just to be sure nothing goes awry. Although I do wonder if all the rituals have the same requirements – the one we see in Japan seems to abandon the slut/jock/nerd/loser/virgin set up in favor of a bunch of school girls.

The movie surprised a lot of people when it opened, as it was marketed as a straight-up horror movie of exactly the kind it was mocking. A lot of Whedon’s favorite themes are evident here. His fixation on the Final Girl, who is the ultimate Final Girl this time when the world is destroyed by her actions. The idea that the ultimate evil can be caused by regular folks, just doing their jobs, and the concept of a larger group pulling the strings and ordering the lives and deaths of young folks for some kind of twisted greater good (see most notably the origin of the Slayers in Buffy). The main concept Whedon wants to hammer home, though, is that there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. If a yearly sacrifice is what it takes to keep humanity alive, then we don’t deserve to be. And then he kills everyone. But he has a lot of fun along the way, with an all-out slaughter of everyone working in the bunker that involves all the monsters they’ve been keeping. Stabby unicorns, tentacle monsters, werewolves, creepy girls, cannibals. It’s a horror fan’s wet dream, gruesome, bonkers, and funny.

Rating: 8 out 10 – You couldn’t wish for a better commentary on horror, our love of horror, and human nature, while still having a good time.

Runner-up: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Funniest – Young Frankenstein (Day 29)

young-frankenstein-movie-poster-1974-1020294653Synopsis: The grandson of the rather more infamous Doctor Frankenstein, returns reluctantly to Transylvania to take care of his family’s estate and finds himself overtaken by the family obsession, creating his own monster who then escapes and must be recaptured and healed of his abnormal brain.

young-frankenstein-gifThis Mel Brooks classic is easily the funniest Halloween movie ever made, if not quite the funniest Mel Brooks movie ever made. Not so much a parody of but a tribute to the early Universal horror movies, particularly the 1940’s Frankenstein and its sequels, it lovingly recreates the setting and feeling of these classics (Brooks even went so far to retrieve the original laboratory props to use, which had been languishing in the propmaster’s garage for decades) and then uses it as a springboard for ridiculous, corny, slapstick humor. Young Frankenstein has the highest gag-per-minute rate of any movie I’ve every seen. They throw everything – puns, sight gags, innuendo – at the wall and sees what sticks. Most of it does. Young Frankenstein is one of the few movies that gets funnier the more times you watch it.

The cast is superb, with more comedy geniuses than you can shake a stick at. I honestly can’t imagine this movie being nearly as good with even the smallest casting changes. Gene Wilder wrote the script with Brooks, and as such perfectly inhabits the character of Fredrick Frankenstein, hesitant mad scientist. The cast was clearly having a blast during filming (so much so that Mel Brooks added more scenes to film because everyone was having so much fun) and it shows. Some movies are magically perfect, with not a hair out of place, and will stand the test of time forever. Young Frankenstein is timeless, feeling forever old and new at the same time. There are lots of funny horror movies, but few that rely on classic comedy techniques instead of splatter.

Rating: 10 out of 10 – Wouldn’t change a thing, will rewatch at least once a year till I die.

Runner-up: A distant second, but in a similar (if less sophisticated) vein is Ernest Scared Stupid

Kinkiest – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

the_rocky_horror_picture_show_posterSynopsis: An innocent, newly engaged couple stumble into the castle of mad-scientist/transsexual/alien Dr. Frank N. Furter and find themselves tangled in a web of sexual escapades and alien invasion plots.

983c7a0d90f1022471475017e439cfb9Rocky Horror is one of those movies that has to be seen to believed. It’s more than a horror movie. It’s more than a sex comedy. It’s more than the self-billed science fiction double-feature it claims. It’s more than a cult musical hit. It’s about desire, particularly the kind we sublimate, and the dangers both of denying those desires and of letting them get out of control. And it’s also a crazy, sort-of drag show whose purpose is titillate, confuse, and entertain. Rocky Horror taps into something deep in all our psyches we might not totally understand, but are fascinated by. And the movie suggests to us that it’s okay to explore these urges – provided we don’t over-do it.  The longest running theatrical release (40 years), it’s more than a movie, it’s a phenomenon and a deep part of our culture.

Rating: ? out of ? – There’s no way to rate a movie like this, it must be seen to be believed.

Runner-up: None.

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ParaNorman – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 25

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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ParaNorman (2012)

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Synopsis: Norman is an 11-year-old boy who lives in the Salem-analogue town of Blithe Hollow, which which has made an industry of its’ own witch hunting history. Norman is obsessed with zombies and the dead, largely because he can see and talk them. Unfortunately, this also makes him an outcast and no one understands, not even his own family. He meets one boy, Neil, who insists on being his friend even though Norman tries to reject his invitations. One day, after Norman has experienced even stranger than usual visions, a crazed old man comes up to him and tells Norman he’s his uncle, and that Norman will have to follow in his footsteps by performing a ritual every yeah on the anniversary of the famed Blithe Hollow witch’s death to keep her from rising and destroying the town. Shortly thereafter, Norman’s uncle dies. Norman reluctantly retrieves the book (which turns out to be fairy tales) and goes to the graveyard to read it as instructed, but is interrupted by the school bully before he can finish. The men and women who sentenced the witch so long ago rise from their graves as zombies, and the spirit of the witch begins to grow and exert power over the town, causing a huge lightning storm. Norman ends up teaming up with his sister, Neil, Neil’s older brother Mitch, and the bully to try and escape the zombies and find out what to do next. After a lot of chasing and the town getting up in arms over the threat, they find out that the zombies only wanted to talk to Norman to make sure he was going to perform the ritual correctly, because they were sorry for what they had done to the witch and didn’t want to make it any worse. It turns out the witch was just a little girl with strange powers named Agatha Penderghast, a distant relative of Norman’s. She was killed by the town council because they were afraid of her, and the ritual each year was to read her a bedtime story so she would stay asleep and not take vengeance on the town. Norman seeks out her grave and talks to her angry ghost, explaning that he understands what it’s like to have people afraid of you, but it’s not okay to hurt others just because you were hurt. He helps her to think about her mother who loved her, and she finds peace. She releases her hold on the town and sleeps, and the zombies return to their graves as well. In the end, Norman’s family accepts his abilities and they all hang out together – with his dead grandmother.

tumblr_mperbq8QZp1rhbco5o1_500ParaNorman, from the makers of Coraline, is one hell of a sweet movie, particular given that it’s all about death and dead people, and faces some historical ugliness head-on (although the reality is that far more of the witches killed in the 1600s were old women than young girls). Aside from being an incredible feat of stop motion and CGI animation with fun character designs and a well-realized mythology, it’s is just bursting with humor and the exact kinds of messages both kids and adults need to hear. It doesn’t shy away from some of the more gruesome aspects of its plot, nor does it try to sanitize them. Although it does make death less scary – there’s even a scene where Norman has to pry the book out of the rigor mortised hands of his dead uncle which is both funny and disturbing.

tumblr_mh4kx9lu3x1qctv6lo2_500The notion that a parent might be afraid for their child, and that this might cause them to take it out on the kid, is not one that is often addressed in kids movies so directly, but one I feel is hugely beneficial. I think it’s great for kids to see examples of loving parents who get it wrong, because they all do at some point, and to try to see things from their parents perspective. When you’re young, you don’t quite get that your parents are just people. Norman’s relationship with his parents is imperfect, and they may never totally understand him, but by the end they’ve moved to a place of mutual acceptance and love, which all any of us can hope for from our families, really.

Continue reading “ParaNorman – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 25”

Ghostbusters – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 18

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.

ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (1984)

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver

Synopsis: After three parapsychologists, Venkman, Stantz, and Spangler, are fired from Columbia University for their questionable research methods, they set up shop in NYC as “Ghostbusters”, promising to investigate and dispose of any haunting spirits that might be troubling the public and containing them at their offices. They have some early successes and soon their services are in such high demand they need to hire a fourth team member, Zeddemore. One of their clients, who Venkman immediately begins to pursue romantically, is a cellist named Dana who has been experiencing hauntings in her building. Dana becomes possessed by a spirit called Zuul, the Gatekeeper, and her annoying but well-intentioned neighbor by a spirit known as the Keymaster. If the two come together, it would open a portal and summon the ancient Sumerian god, Gozer the Gozerian to wreak destruction on the world. The Ghostbusters work to prevent this, but unfortunately their celebrity has attracted the notice of the EPA, who arrests them for disposing of waste (the ghosts) improperly and accidentally sets all the captured spirits free to haunt the city. The team talk themselves out of trouble, but Gozer has already been summoned, along with the Destructor, who takes the form of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The team manages to defeat Gozer and destroy the portal by crossing the streams of their proton packs, which is dangerous but causes the burst of power they need. The spirits are banished, the marshmallow man explodes, Dana and her neighbor are rescued, and the team is hailed as heroes by the very sticky city.

ghostbusters-image-100294Ghostbusters was originally a summer blockbuster. It was a fairly (for the time) big budget film with big special effects that was actually a really funny comedy. Such a beast was rare at the time and even rarer now. Even though the ghosts look a little hokey today and the gender politics are a mess, Ghostbusters holds up surprisingly well after over thirty years. It’s well paced, tightly plotted, and the comedic dynamics between the main characters are unsurpassed. The original script, written with John Belushi in mind for the role of Venkman, was much darker, much weirder, and would have cost up to ten times as much to film. Although I’m sure Belushi would have been fantastic, this movie manages to hit a very particular sweet spot while a move massive budget endeavor would likely have collapsed under its own weight.

Continue reading “Ghostbusters – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 18”

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”

Coraline – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 8

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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Coraline (2009)

Starring: Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher

Synopsis: Coraline Jones has moved with her garden-writer parents from her beloved Minnesota to a old house in Oregon that has been divided into apartments. Bored and sad about having left her home and with parents who are stressed out by the move and looming deadlines and who have no time or patience with her, she begins to explore. Coraline finds a passage in the house that leads to a mirror image of her home, but where everything is more interesting and glamorous. There live her Other Mother and Father who have buttons for eyes and want nothing more than to shower her with attention. Back in the real world, Coraline visits the neighbors in the house, two aging theater broads and a Russian circus performer, who warn her about some danger lurking through the door in the house. The neighbor boy, Wybie, who annoys Coraline greatly, finds a doll that looks just like her but with buttons for eyes and gives it to her. Mrs. Spink gives her a “lucky” stone to help her but with what is unclear. Coraline keeps going through the door to the other world, wary but taken with the wonders she finds there, including much improved versions of her neighbors who perform a miraculous show and a real life mouse circus for her and a magical garden that looks like her face. One night the Other Mother tells she can stay with them forever if she just lets her sew buttons over her eyes. Coraline is understandably spooked and runs for home, only to find her parents missing. She confronts the Other Mother about this, who locks her up behind a mirror with the ghosts of several other children she trapped there by taking their souls. Counseled by her cat friend, who lives in both worlds but can only talk in the Other World, she challenges the Other Mother to a game for her freedom and the return of her parents, using the stone she was gifted and her wits to find the ghost children’s souls. The Other Mother is angered by her success and reveals her true, awful, spider like form, trying to trap Coraline again. Coraline escapes and manages to free the ghost children souls, and after one final battle with the Other Mother, traps her in a well and returns home, where her parents are waiting. They throw a garden party for their neighbors and Wybie’s grandmother, whose lost sister was one of the ghost children, and Coraline tells her the tale of what happened.

tumblr_ly3yoiSJrz1qmr448o1_r1_500I think Coraline might be the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. I love stop-motion animation to begin with and the attention to detail on this film, is without parallel. The work that goes into a movie like this, from the hand knitting of tiny sweaters to the scope of scenes like the magical, light-up garden, are mind-boggling. With so much done with CGI these days (which is it’s own kind of meticulous craft), I admire anyone who has the nerve to try and make a movie by hand like this, frame by frame, and even more so those who succeed in creating a fantastical and believable world.  I also love Neil Gaiman’s work and the book this movie was based on, and I also love creepy, macbre stories for children (probably because I wasn’t allowed to enjoy them when I was an actual child). Continue reading “Coraline – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 8”

Beetlejuice – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 6

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.

beetlejuice-poster

Beetlejuice (1988)

Starring: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, and Winona Ryder

Synopsis: A completely charming and lovely couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin at his handsomest and Geena Davis at her most-permed) who want nothing more than live quietly in their dream house together are killed while on an errand and wake up to find themselves now ghosts, confined to their house. They’d be totally cool with this if a new family hadn’t moved in a set about redecorating the house like a bad 80s nightmare. Mr. Deetz just wants country style peace and quiet, but his wife Delia is an odious nature-hater who creates ghastly modernist sculptures. Despite creative attempts on the Maitlands’ part to drive the new family out, the Deetzes lack the imagination to notice, except for their goth darling daughter Lydia who cannot only see the couple, but befriends them. The Maitlands consult their Handbook for The Recently Deceased and visit the DMV-like help center, but nothing works to rid them of the new family. Despite being warned against it, they call on Betelgeuse, a disgraced former dead-world bureaucrat who’s set himself up as a “bio-exorcist” ,to help them. Predictably this back fires wildly, with the Maitlands finding his methods too distasteful and the revelation of the Maitlands existence causing the Deetzes to attempt an exorcism which puts Barbara and Adam in danger of disintegrating. Lydia comes to their rescue by promising Betelguese she’ll marry him if he helps. The Maitlands are restored and manage to defeat Betelguese before he can do too much damage and both families are shown to be living in the house peacefully in the aftermath.

Growing up I was not only forbidden from celebrating Halloween in any way, but also forbidden from watch anything featuring magic, ghosts, the undead, or the paranormal. For some reason, aliens were fine. As result I came late to a lot of the classic movies of my generation’s formative years. I remember other kids asking me to play Beetlejuice or Ghostbusters and having no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t see Beetlejuice until my mid-twenties but I instantly adored it and still do. Continue reading “Beetlejuice – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 6”

An American Werewolf in London – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 4

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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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Starring: David Naughton and Jenny Agutter

Synopsis: While on a backpacking trip in England, two American students (Jack and David) are attacked by a werewolf on the moors. Jack is killed and David wakes up in hospital in London, three weeks later. He is told he and his friend were attacked by an insane man, but he clearly recalls it being some kind of animal. No one believes him and he begins to have strange symptoms and dreams. Jack begins appears to him in various states of decay warning him that he is becoming a werewolf, and that Jack (and any future victims) are doomed to wander in limbo until the werewolf bloodline is ended. Jack encourages him to kill himself for all their sakes, but David doesn’t listen and instead goes home with the pretty nurse Alex from the hospital for a dirty weekend. The full moon arrives while she’s at work, and although the doctor of the hospital has figured out what happened, it’s too late. David has already gone on a killing spree in wolfed out form. He doesn’t think the doctor can help him, so first he tries to get himself arrested and then goes to a porn theater where he is visited by a moldering Jack and his recent victims who cheerfully urge him again to kill himself. While they are talking the moon rises and Peter turns again, killing those in the theater and going on the run. The police track him down and Alex arrives on the scene and tries to help him, but he lunges at her and is shot. The moment he dies, he turns back into human form and the movie ends, abruptly.

IMG_7277This movie is an odd duck. It’s a black comedy horror film. Emphasis on the black. There are very few true laughs in this movie and the ending is as dark as it is inevitable. And yet there is a quirky, off-beat sense of humor to the whole thing that prevents it from being unbearable in its bleakness. Maybe it’s the inclusion in the sound track of nothing but songs with the word “moon” in the titles. Maybe it’s the fact that the emotional climax of the movie is a conversation between a werewolf and his bloody, undead victims while a pornographic movie with a plot that appears to revolves around people having sex but being interrupted by wrong numbers plays loudly over them. Maybe it’s that from the moment we hear the howl on the moor we know exactly what’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of how.  Continue reading “An American Werewolf in London – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 4”