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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Hellboy – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 26

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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Hellboy (2004)

Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt.

I’m not going to try to write a full synopsis for this movie, because, frankly, I’ve seen it twenty times and I’m still not sure I really understand the plot. If you have seen it, this review will make sense to you. If you haven’t, no synopsis can help you. Trying to explain all the plot threads of Hellboy is not a rabbit hole I want to go down.

tumblr_mvtf0poptT1r4z8l1o2_r1_500The truth of it is, Hellboy’s plot is convoluted, confusing, and ridiculous. Some things will not make sense if you haven’t read the comic it’s based on, and other things will not make a whole lot of sense even if you have. But for a movie like Hellboy, that is all entirely beside the point. There are hellhounds. There are strange and dubious prophecies. There is a cat loving, cigar smoking, big red antihero who is in love with a mentally unstable pyrokenetic. There is the reanimated corpse of Rasputin and there are massive ancient beings frozen in space/another dimension. And all that is wrapped up in a ball of action and tied with a bow of Guillermo Del Toro.

It’s. Awesome.

Continue reading “Hellboy – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 26”

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”

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”

Tremors – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 20

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.

Tremors-1990-Movie-Poster

Tremors (1990)

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and and Finn Carter

Synopsis: Two feckless handymen, Val and Earl, work in around the tiny town of Perfection, Nevada. One day, they begin to notice strange happenings, including people disappearing. They find the body of a local man dead of dehydration at the top of an electrical tower, still holding his rifle. When their truck is attacked by a snake like creature coming up from under the ground, they realize everything is connected. On their way to get help, they encounter the creature again, which they name the graboid, and discover that the snake like things are just the tongues. The graboid is much larger than they thought. They manage to defeat it by running it into a concrete wall, but Rhonda, a local grad student doing seismology research in the area, tells them her equipment indicates there are three more of the things on the loose. They narrowly escape one of these by using the erratic boulders present in the landscape and pole vaulting between them to get to their truck, as the graboids can only move through loose soil. The three return to warn the town, but there’s no time to escape and although they are able to kill one graboid, the remaining two corner the townspeople and eventually drive them out of the buildings and onto a boulder. They manage to kill one of the graboids with homemade explosives but the final one is too smart. Finally, Val gets the idea to lure the graboid to the edge of a cliff and set the explosive behind it. The graboid bursts the cliff edge and plummets to its death.

Tremors-1990I’ll be honest, Tremors isn’t really my kind of movie. I mean, I love a good monster movie (think The Host). And I love a really, really bad monster movie (think Lake Placid). But Tremors is not quite either of those things. It’s a straight-up monster movie, not intentionally bad, not fantastically great, but definitely all about the monster. Tremors is the classic 50’s monster-attacks-small-town movie (think Night of the Lepus or Kingdom of Spiders) remade for the 90’s, with a funnier script and better creature effects. Unfortunately for Tremors, I’ve never been truly in love with that genre, although I’m not entirely unappreciative of it. I can recognize that the movie does a great job of playing tribute to and freshening up the mid-century B monster classic, even if it’s not that enchanting to me personally.  Continue reading “Tremors – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 20”

What We Do In Shadows – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 19

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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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Johnny Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer

Synopsis: Set up in mockumentary style, What We Do in the Shadows follows four vampires (Viago, Vlad, Deacon, and Petyr) who are flatmates in a New Zealand suburb. The first part of the film largely shows their daily lives and routines and explains their histories. The plot gets going when one of the vampires, Deacon, enlists his human servant, Jackie, to procure some victims for them. One of the victims, her ex-boyfriend, Nick, ends up being turned into a vampire instead of simply being drained of blood. He begins to hang around with them, and is kind of a drag. He often brings his still-human friend, Stu. At first the other vampires want to eat to Stu, but eventually they become friends with him and he helps them learn how to use modern technology. Unfortunately, Nick’s loose lips about his vampire secret attract the attention of a vampire hunter, who follows him to the house and kills Petyr, the oldest of them. Nick is shunned from the group and takes Stu with him. After several months, they all reunite at the undead masquerade ball. They also discover the ball is being hosted by Vlad’s ex, “The Beast” and that Jackie has gotten Nick to finally turn her into a vampire. A fight breaks out over the fact that Nick brought Stu, as pretty much everyone there wants to eat him. The group escape the ball but run into a pack of werewolves. It’s a full moon, so the werewolves attack and Stu is turned into a werewolf. In the end, Nick makes up with the other vampires and they decide they like Stu enough to still hang out with him. They even agree to be friends with the other werewolves. Viago, using the internet with Stu’s help, reunites with his lost love (who is 90 years old now) and turns her into a vampire, Vlad gets back together with The Beast, and everyone is generally happy with how things have turned out.


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What We Do in the Shadows is a pitch perfect, Christopher Guest-style mockumentary. Made in New Zealand by Taika Waititi and one half of Flight of the Conchords (Jemaine Clement) and using all local actors, it had a tiny budget and an even tinier initial release. Pretty much every scene was almost entirely improvised, with the actors told only the basic structure of the scene they were to be performing. Somehow, these conditions all combine to produce a hilarious, critically-acclaimed vampire satire that has finally managed to get the world-wide distribution it deserves. It’s a movie that sneaks up on you and makes you happy to be caught. Continue reading “What We Do In Shadows – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 19”

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.