Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Graphic Novel Determination: Pretty Deadly Volumes I (2014) and II (2016)

So, this is a new thing that I'm doing here. Pretty Deadly is a graphic novel series, or a collection of comic books- whatever you feel like calling it. It is a single story over a period of time that was in comic book format at one time, but the way I read it was in the two collections that bound together comics 1-5 and 6-10 respectively. So, I'm considering it a graphic novel and reviewing it as such.

I guess this will be similar to my "Manga Judgment" series, but with "western" comics. I have a few of these graphic novels to explore, but this one will be the first I touch upon.

Pretty Deadly is by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios, and it is apparently the third comic that they have collaborated on together. This is a good thing. They work well together matching the story and visuals to bring together a very elegant Neil Gaiman-esque story together. While I do have some complaints about certain story paths, the comics themselves are incredible to behold. I bought the first volume based off of a random recommendation of the story and art. And it took me a while to actually read it after I had bought it.

But when I did read it I was enthralled. When the second volume became available more recently, I bought it as soon as it was out. The series had drawn me in completely, and I was powerless to resist. The art and the characters remain the strong points of the comic, but the overarching ideas are quite something as well.

The basic premise is that Death (or some personification of Death) wants a little girl dead and gone for unknown reasons. The little girl's protector, an old man blinded by a terrible injury, tries to get her to realize her full potential. He does this while they are both being pursued by some pretty rough-and-tumble Wild West bounty hunter things sent by Death himself. And that's only the premise of the first few issues!

The comics themselves blend together The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, American Gods, and an artistic and surreal horror story about a child chosen for great and terrible things. I guess not everybody will find the first volume horrific. The pursuit has its moments of terror, but, for me, most of the real horror came from the second volume, which takes place during World War I and deals with some personification of War.

I'm not going to get into the story in a heavy way. I think the art and the writing speak better for themselves than I will. And spoiling the story seems like it would be in bad taste considering the fact that the comic is not extremely widely known. To put it mildly, it is very similar to American Gods, as I mentioned before, except make those gods more personifications of certain attributes associated with humanity, and you kind of have the basic premise. Now, set it in the old American West, and you essentially have it.

While I'm not going to go into the plot, I am going to go into some of my criticisms of the series as it stands after the first two volumes. I will state my recommendation for the series right now before I go into it though. The art and style, story and writing, and characters and dialogue are all good enough to try this one out if you want a new graphic novel to read. But, my recommendation comes with a single caveat: read the comic in a vacuum. Don't try to find more about the way it is classified, or what people try to describe it as. Those are my biggest annoyances about the comic, and they literally have nothing to do with what is in the comic proper. So, stop reading here if you've never read the comic and/or don't want more ranting than you should ever read. Because I have a lot to rant about, and almost none of it actually has to do with the comic as it is written.

Anyway: criticisms.

First is that the art and lack of dialogue or narration at times can make the story very hard to follow. It has a confusing and flowing nature to it that makes it sometimes very hard to figure out what is actually going on, especially in the second volume's fight scenes. I have to imagine this is what is meant to be conveyed, but I think it is a misstep. The story is already dealing with personifications as often as it deals with real people. Why be even more confusing to the readers when they're already having to focus on a lofty story? Why obscure details in the art?

It is a minor gripe for me at best, but some people will be really turned off by the focus of ART and STYLE over being able to tell what is going on in certain panels.

Secondly, the story of Volume I itself is a bit of a slow burn with good reason. It takes its time to build up its characters, plot, and setting. Everything flows very nicely over the course of the early parts of the comic. And then- and this is where my problem starts- the story climaxes suddenly and brutally, with very little lead-up, set-up, or difficulty for the main characters to overcome. They are thrown into the climactic battle with barely having a first battle to their names. The story effectively ends there in a way that takes one aback. It's not badly done, per se, but it is really quite jarring.

I guess my problem with all of that is that the pacing, which I feel is very consistent and slow (again, for good reason) over the first part of Volume I, races at a break-neck speed to finish the story off. The consistency of pace kind of goes out the window, and this is probably my biggest complaint about the first volume.

Pace is also my biggest complaint about Volume II, but my complaint is literally the exact opposite for the second volume. I feel that the climax is long, drawn out, and confusing, while the set-up is very fast and brutal with very little characterization of the characters that headline Volume II. It very much expects the background from Volume I to transition into Volume II, but it doesn't, in my opinion, and the pacing is a bit of a mess because of it.

Pace in stories, is incredibly important to me. And I kind definitely understand somebody being turned off of the comic because of it. That being stated, I think the story is told well enough to be able to overcome these flaws, but that doesn't mean I can't complain about them.

The rest of my complaints are not really about the comic itself, but rather about what I've heard about the comic. Some of the words that I've heard thrown around about Pretty Deadly don't seem to actually fit what I've read or seen within it. I don't know who said these things about the comic, if it were the publishers who were trying to fit it into a genre, the authors who were trying to sell the comic to a certain demographic, or people who were reading something in the comic that I just didn't. I have no idea. But in reading these descriptions of the comic, I expected some things that were simply never realized. This is both good and bad. It's good because I read a story that I simply was not expecting, and I liked it a great deal better than what I was expecting. It's bad because somebody is not explaining the comic correctly, and I can see that really hurting the audience.

So, the first thing that I've seen and heard about the comic is that it is very heavily feminist in nature. Now, a feminist comic is absolutely fine. I have no problem with that (case in point another comic I'll be reviewing later this month that is 100% a feminist comic). I simply do not see this comic as one that is "feminist" intrinsically. I guess the male-to-female character ratio is roughly equal, but is that all it takes to have the comic be feminist in nature? Because that's all there is from where I stand. Nothing else about the comic implies a heavy sway into feminism. While, yes, some of the main cast are definitely women in some way or another, some of the main cast are definitely male.

I have to assume the "feminist" nature of the comic has to do with the creators being feminists themselves. Or maybe that the comic is written and illustrated by women? I don't see either of those really being a reason as to why the comic is feminist in nature though. As read, if I had no foreknowledge of the creators (and I really don't beyond vague Wikipedia entries and my own personal knowledge that Kelly Sue DeConnick is also a creator of Bitch Planet, which I would consider feminist in nature) I would have never read it as a feminist comic. It would have simply been a comic with both men and women in it.

I know I'm getting into semantics here, and I tend to in these cases, but I don't understand how it can be classified in this way as it is presented. I think it is misrepresenting itself ultimately. And that actually does the story disservice. I went into the story expecting a feminist comic. I came out of it feeling baffled as to why it wasn't that at all. And maybe the vague equality in the comic is the point, but why call it feminist when it seems to have no hard line in the sand about the nature of itself in that regard? It's like saying a movie that has half of its cast female is feminist simply because of the tautology that half of its cast is female. That doesn't define that movie as feminist in nature. It defines it as having half of its cast as female.

Anyway, coming off the rant of the year there-

The next thing that I don't understand about this comic's classification is that I had thought that the genre of the comic was "superhero" in nature. That's what I had been told by a few different sources. And it is completely and utterly untrue. While the comic is difficult to classify in genre, "superhero" is probably the classification I would least like to give it. It has no superheroes in it. None.

I mean, I guess if you consider American Gods a superhero story, you could also call this one the same. But nobody that I know of has ever considered American Gods a superhero story, and for the same reason this comic is certainly not a superhero story (as it stands now). Maybe it being a superhero comic lets it sell more copies? I have no idea. My opinion is that calling itself simply a story of superheroes is lessening the impact of the story and characters upon the world. They are forces of nature, personifications of human nature- not Iron Man, not Captain America, and certainly not Batman. The story is much more nuanced than a superhero story, and anybody who thinks that it is that, is oversimplifying and dumbing down a very complex story.

Okay, last thought and then this long rant that is going on forever will be over. This one will have me talking about one of the characters in a slight way. Everywhere I see the main character of this series being Ginny, the daughter of Death and a mortal. While Ginny has a great character design, I could not consider her the main character of the story as it stands now.

The cast of the story is an ensemble one. While some characters are certainly more of a side variety, there are possibly five or six that could be considered main characters at any given time. And not a single one of them overtakes the story in a way that would make me consider them the lead over all of the others.

And yet all I ever see is that Ginny is the main character by a landslide. While she is important and pretty well-realized, other characters have a central role as well. Alice, Sissy, Fox, Johnny, Sarah, and even Death are all decent candidates for pieces of an ensemble cast that each have as much characterization and page time as Ginny does. And maybe it's because the creators have a special liking for Ginny, but it doesn't work well here. It's like saying there is a main character is The Lord of the Rings, which is much more an ensemble cast than it will ever be about a single character. This is no Harry Potter where we only ever see one character's perspective for the most part.

Anyway, thus ends my rant. The story is really good. The horror is well done. The characters are well realized. And the art is superb. If you go into reading the comic with literally never seeing anything about it online, you'll never get annoyed at how it classifies itself or how other people(?) classify it. So, I recommend that.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Movie Appraisal: Oculus (2013)

It is late at night, and I just finished this movie. And I don't know what to do. I'm not alone in my apartment. I shouldn't feel this nameless fear striking me in the gut. My fiancee, who does not like horror movies, is asleep in the bedroom as I write this review. She did not watch the movie either. She probably does not even know that I watched it.

I only say that because I am not even alone here, and yet I feel more alone after watching this movie than I have in a very long time. I have, for the past two years, done as little as possible with the horror genre. Sure, I've watched a few movies that I've definitely watched and reviewed on this blog before, And I've played a few horror video games as well. But for the most part my life has been devoid of horror because I like saying my thoughts on this blog about horror movies, and couldn't bring myself to watch them without being able to write a review up. It's my own failing really. I could have watched them and not had my life of loving horror movies on pause, but I felt that the new horror movies I would watch should have a fresh experience of review, rather than a review of someone who has definitely seen it more than once.

I'm explaining myself too much. Suffice it to say, I was thoroughly terrified by this movie.

It succeeded in being both very scary and extremely unsettling. I'm not sure if I'll be able to sleep tonight. And that's great because I love great and scary horror movies. It's also terrible because I have work tomorrow and my fragile mind should not have to deal with this much psychological horror all at once.

I guess I should get started with my extremely positive review of this film. Oculus is brilliant. This is exactly the type of movie I search for, especially in the more "mainstream" horror movies. It's exactly the type of movie I spend my waking hours seeking. The whole "very old object" horror works so well. It is almost Lovecraftian in nature, something beyond the scope of human ken. And that's a huge reason why this movie works so well for me.

Oculus is directed by Mike Flanagan, the man who also directed Absentia, a movie I look back on a lot more fondly than my review does, I'll say that much. It could be that I think better of it because Doug Jones himself commented on a blog post I had written up for the movie, or maybe I just have a very fond memory of the tunnel idea itself. I still do not think it is a wonderful movie, but time has been kind in my mind to it. So, seeing another movie by the same director was exciting for me. It's seeing how somebody has grown and developed over time.

And grow Mike Flanagan did. His directing chops are really quite something to behold. And so is this film.

The word "oculus" is Latin, It usually means "orb" or "eye." But it can also mean "eyesight" and a couple of other less relevant things. I'm kind of a Latin nerd. Sorry. But I find it fascinating that they focused on a word that means "eye" as the title of the film. I think it might be one of the most telling parts of the movie itself.

Anyway, the plot revolves around a brother and sister, whose parents were both killed when the siblings were younger. Their mother was "tortured" and killed by their father, and their father was killed by the brother, Tim. Tim is put into a mental hospital, which he stays until eleven years later on his twenty-first birthday as the film begins. The sister, Kaylie (played by a manic Karen Gillan), believes that she has all the answers to what happened all those years ago, and she recruits her brother to help her citing the promise they made to one another years before of destroying the evil that plagued their family.

And there's the premise. The thing that Kaylie blames for all their troubles is a very old antique mirror that her parents had purchased and put into her father's study. And the mirror is the true source of "evil" or malignancy or whatever you want to call it. It makes both parents go mad in different ways, but the children don't seem to go mad, not until they have become adults and try to best the mirror themselves.

The film blends both past and present together seamlessly. It is a wonderful mixing of time periods into this terrifying story. It messes with one's own perceptions when watching the film. I love the psychology that has been taken into account in the movie, talking about fuzzy memories  and blocks in the mind. The mirror uses weaknesses and strengths against the siblings and all whom it comes into contact. And that is truly terrifying.

Oculus is a cross between 1408 and Sinister or maybe Insidious or something. That sounds like a vague comparison to make, but there are a great deal of these movies that have come out recently that have very similar design and conceptual qualities to them. It is definitely mainstream-ish 2010s horror is my ultimate point here. I hope that doesn't sound like an insult. While current horror is not my favorite horror to watch, there really have been some amazing gems that have come out in well-known movies. It just so happens that a lot of these movies, if popular, get endless sequels that beat the premise into the ground like a hammer to a stake.

And that is the real problem of these well made and original horror movies. Sequels will ruin the novelty and brilliance of these ideas if given the chance. But, I will say that I am glad that I have avoided most of the 2010s horror sequel craze. So, there's that, at least.

Anyway,  I have to say that this movie was something I wasn't expecting, I can't even deal with the ending right now after just watching it. I won't spoil it here. But having it comparable to 1408 was not a bad thing to me. It just happened to be a lot worse in the end. Maybe. It's hard to say.

I have a few more musings before I wrap up. Obviously, because I liked it, I really don't want to spoil it for anybody. I had heard nothing but recommendations for this movie. And that's all I really have to say about it. The film is really excellent at getting its points across, and while it gets really heavy-handed with some of its ideas, it also is very subtle in its approach of character building, especially if you consider the mirror one of the characters.

Anyway, random musings time. There was a reference to a "South Windham Whale" in the movie as Kaylie is listing the history of the mirror. This reference is an oddity for me specifically. I know the majority of the readers here will literally not think twice about the reference as anything but a one-off joke. But I grew up in a town right next to South Windham, Connecticut. I know that town like the back of my hand. So, it's weird to hear it mentioned in a pretty major horror movie motion picture thing. It doesn't happen very often, and it made me regard the movie with a bit more interest.

It is terrifying and so well put together as a movie. I haven't seen a new horror movie this good in quite the long time, probably three or four years at the least. Holy hell is it good though. I loved this movie from every angle. It is superb storytelling. It gets you involved, . The movement between the past and the present is seamless, and I can't state that enough.

Anyway, it is a strong recommendation. If you are sensitive to gore, realize that, while there isn't a ton, there definitely is some vicious moments of it in passing. But beyond that, I can't say enough good things about it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Movie Appraisal: The Collective (2008) (2006?)

"Evil is not traced back to the individual...
But to the collective behavior of humanity."
- Niebuhr

The Collective is yet another odd indie horror film. I say "odd" but what I truly mean is that it is a bit obscure. I say that because I cannot find the exact year it was released. I believe it was released in 2008, but a few websites place it as being released in 2006. It could be that it was shown at some film festival before 2008. I'm not sure. If I get any more research done on this movie before I post this review, I'll update my knowledge.

That being said, it's a bit of a crawl of a movie at times. I won't say it's boring, but it moves very slow with a great deal of tension. I have to say that I enjoyed that aspect of the film. I watched with rapt attention through the front half of the movie, as the lead character Tyler (played by Kelly Overton) tries to find her sister, Jessica, through a network of contacts that Jessica had had in the weeks leading up to Tyler coming to find her and that she has subsequently dropped out of her life.

The camera work in the movie is absolutely great. I have to point that out first. The directors (Kelly Overton and Judson Pearce Morgan certainly knows how to use a camera correctly. It has a very artistic feeling without being pretentious, which I appreciate. The acting in the movie is also quite good. I love these indie ventures because sometimes the acting just feels like regular people interacting, which is what I love in these movies.

BUT! And I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, BUT while the front half of the film is tense and extremely good, once the mystery is out, the film takes a dramatic turn into the mediocre lane. It becomes a case of New York City is too small. The antagonists are around every corner even though there are only four of them searching for the two sisters once they meet up and decide to split the group that's holding Jessica.

I don't want to be a jerk here. The first half of the movie with its intrigue, questions, and ultimate mystery is extremely well done. The feeling of not being able to trust anybody and being paranoid constantly are so well put together. Tyler's first meeting with Jessica is also really well portrayed and acted, showing tension that I wasn't expecting.

But once the story is all put out there, it is much less interesting and much less horrific than it starts out being. I figured the whole cult-group had undergone some kind of "groupthink" thing, hence The Collective, but that wasn't true at all. It's just some shitty name for a group of thirty-somethings who meet up at a random man's cathedral and play-worship and take drugs. And that disappointed me. Why set up everything so nicely only to have it be the simplest and most boring explanation? There is no horror there and the tension only just exists at all.

And when I say that, I mean that because the movie makes NYC into this small place, there is more tension than there would be if NYC had been treated as how it actually is. I live very close to NYC. I'm in the city about once a month or so. It's BIG. If you've never been there, it is so much bigger than you expect it to be, what with the subway tunnels, the vertical building littered constantly all over the city, and mostly the amount of people that exist. NYC is extremely populous. If you dive into a large group of people, you are EXTREMELY LIKELY to not be found. And somebody showing up on the same subway you're taking accidentally is almost beyond the realm of reason.

This is something to focus on because it is a flaw. These four people who are going after our protagonists are not omnipotent. They shouldn't be able to find the girls as easily as they continue to in the last ten minutes of the movie or so. It breaks me right out of the movie and frustrates me completely. They had a perfectly good beginning of a plot, and they ruined it by using the most boring and laziest conclusion possible.

Eh. I don't have much else to say. I wouldn't recommend watching beyond the halfway point of the movie. The front half is really good, but the back half will just make you angry.

Oh, but I do have to admit that I think this is the only movie I've ever seen that portrays the Metro North in a positive light. I love that simply because I used to use the Metro North every once in a while when I lived in Connecticut. So, it's great to see that hope resides in some of the shittiest cities in Connecticut, if only for my own personal amusement.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Movie Appraisal: Butterfly Dreaming (2008)

"Ordinary representation of stable thoughts"

So, first of all, I couldn't even find the picture of my DVD box cover art anywhere online. I wanted to include the specific art for my version of the film, but I must own the only copy of it or something. Very weird. Anyway, getting that odd bit of trivia out of the way, let's get this movie started.  I'm hoping for a trippy and creepy movie with some psychological twists. But let's see...

Butterfly Dreaming  is directed, written, and produced by Rufus Williams, who only has one other credit to his name as far as I can tell. I kept thinking that this movie has another name somewhere along the line, that the version I have is named Butterfly Dreaming, but the "real name" of the movie was Man Who Falls Down Stairs  Amusingly or Chickens: You Can't Keep 'Em Caged. But no, this is the only title of the movie I can find.

I'm being a bit silly with my last sentence, but I'm having a very hard time finding anything out about this movie. I've seen two reviews online. One is glowing. The other is extremely negative. And nothing else at all. This is weird. Reviews of movies exist everywhere. And this being an American movie, I would have thought somebody who reviews indie horror films would have scooped this up and talked about it, especially owing to how readily available I thought it was.

My inability to find all that much about the movie really makes me that much more interested in the film itself. Why is nobody talking about it? I found it easily (and cheaply) enough. Why does it have fewer reviews than tiny budgeted obscure Japanese horror movies that nobody but like five people in the US has even heard of? I don't have answers, but my questions will linger.

I brought up the DVD box art before because my specific copy of the movie says on the cover: "For fans of Memento and Mulholland Dr." These two movies are extremely different types of films with only pieces of the filming style being even somewhat similar. Memento (which is an okay, but extremely over-hyped noir-ish thriller movie) and Mulholland Drive (which is nothing like Memento with more of a psychological mystery feel, with it being David Lynch and everything) are weird movies to have people be huge fans of. This whole thing intrigues me though. How does a movie hit a middle ground between those two very different films?

We'll see if it does, I suppose.

The movie starts off with some mediocre music over an interesting credit sequence. Not a terrible start. And then the movie itself hits. My first thought is, "Was this actually made in 2008? It looks like an early 1990s film." I'm not sure if this is a good or bad start. And this will be a theme going forward.

The movie stars Andrew Bowen as Rob Pollack. He is our main character whether we like him or not. I'm still unsure of what to think about his performance. It lies somewhere between extremely subtle and over the top. But the character of Rob is a good one. While not a character one can relate to, the performance is extremely genuine. I'm just unsure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

The movie skips around a greta deal of the time. We skip from one time period to another with no real moment in between. Flashbacks happen throughout scenes. And some scenes go right from reality to dreams or vice versa. By the end of the film reality and fiction have blended together to the point that there is no longer a dividing line anymore. I have no idea what ended up true and what ended up completely made up dream reality.

My personal interpretation is one that requires the end of the movie to explain. So, if you don't want spoilers, don't read on.

I think that the whole movie was an amalgamation dream after Rob got into a car crash. I think the passenger was obscured and never truly shown at the end of the movie because the movie itself wanted to be vague about just how much of the movie did or did not happen. I found the move somewhat clever, and I hope I'm not just missing something obvious in the meanwhile, reading deeply into pieces of the film that just aren't there.

Officer Lowry appearing multiple times in the film before he is "formally" introduced in the ending, kind of helps me with my interpretation, but that's about it. If I'm reading the movie correctly, it would be similar to Stay and Jacob's Ladder, but is probably most similar to something somewhere between Memento and Mulholland Drive-

-well, fuck-

Rufus Williams pulled it off, didn't he? This movie is the perfect weird blend of those movies. It never gets as noir-y as Memento, nor as logical. And it certainly never gets as weird and depressing as Mulholland Drive. But it does a good job at walking a tight middle road between the two. I'm impressed for the most part. I was not expecting that.

Anyway, the movie is about a man (Rob) whose wife has just died in a car accident. He is deeply in debt, cheating on his wife, and is losing track of reality with some severe memory issues. The whole movie kind of plays out as a psychological way of interpreting his life and his relationship with his wife. He has deep-seeded guilt that has left him both emotionally stunted and absolutely paranoid for no reason.

The emotionally-stunted comment comes from the death of the chicken. He never truly grieves for his wife. There are no tears shed, no true sadness over the death of someone he promised to love. Instead everything about his wife Katrina is shown and interpreted through his guilty conscience. He doesn't want Katrina's things moved (as shown with her toothbrush). He wants to blame himself for her death (even though he was nowhere close to her when she died). His debt and cheating cost them their relationship, but it also seems to have cost him his own mind.

Most of the movie is just that, collections of scenes that don't always make sense together (especially in the beginning of the movie) that all add up to a single revelation that we never really see as a viewing audience. Now, I like movies like this, but I can definitely understand when somebody doesn't. It makes the whole movie into this weird otherworldly story, which, in the end, may have very little to do with anything.

So, that's about it with the plot. The only other thing that I enjoyed was the main character of Rob starts running down a variety of stairs towards the end of the movie, Eventually he falls down one of these stairs. The main character running and falling down stairs may be the best part of this movie. It's just humorous in a very stupid way. Even though him falling down is supposed to be handled seriously, it just looks so silly. But that's just my opinion. I'm probably being mean.

Dr. Timothy Baldrica played by James McDaniel is a highlight of the movie. The rest of the actors vary only a small amount in how well they act in any given scene. I suppose you can say that I wasn't impressed with the rest of the actors at all. But none of them were terrible either. James McDaniel did a good job at both being very slightly antagonistic while being amusing and a bit of a straight man all at the same time. It was pretty good in general.

Okay, I think the last thing I have to mention is that this movie, at times, feels very similar to Secret Window, the Johnny Depp movie based on a Stephen King novella. I think it's mostly Lowry that gives me that impression. His odd words and personality, as well as the main character focusing his annoyance at this character kind of hits the same beats as Secret Window. But maybe I'm the crazy one here.

I wouldn't call this a horror movie per se. It's more psychological with some heavy mystery vibes thrown into the mix. But it does have a few somewhat unsettling moments, mostly involving Rob staring. Would I recommend it? Eh. It's better than its budget and resources should have allowed it to be. It can be compared to gaints while not being a giant at all itself. That's not a terrible thing.

It's a movie that plays around its limited budget in clever ways. Even the acting, which isn't always great, works well for the film's dreamlike quality at times. Hell, I liked it all right. While not a perfect movie, what with the hilarity of Andrew Bowen running down stairs like a madman, cinematography that looks like it happened twenty-five years ago, and odd acting from some of the actors, it still is pretty solid. I would say I recommend it with a caveat. If you do not like some of the movies I've mentioned earlier in this review, you should probably stay far away from this one. Other than that, try it out. It's a decent indie film that plays with reality in an interesting way.

October Nights Reborn

Hello there, everybody who might actually see this!

It's been a while- about a year since my last review and almost two since I really took this whole review blog seriously. There have been a bunch of issues that have prevented me from really keeping up the blog. And it basically comes down to that I've been focusing on jobs/moving around/life for the last two years.

That's about it.

But I really enjoy writing down my bad opinions about fiction and trying to justify myself. So, I'm going to continue in this tradition and finally make some content for this near-dead blog. I'm out of practice- so, I might be a little rusty. I seriously have barely watched a horror movie in the last two years because of the fact that I knew I didn't have the time or energy to review it. I should be coming into this year from a fairly new perspective.

I wouldn't be writing reviews again if I wasn't truly looking forward to doing this. I might be going for easier choices than previous years, but that isn't to say I won't touch upon some obscure choices as well. I will say that most of the movies I plan on reviewing this month I don't expect on giving bad reviews- although that is often true. We'll see what tat actually means.

Tonight the first October Nights review of 2016 will be posted. I'm excited to get back into the game of review.

Welcome to the Saquarry Analyses, and my October Nights!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Video Game Assessment: Until Dawn (2015)


It's been a long time, hasn't it?

Whoops. I seem to have forgotten all about this blog for a great deal longer than I wanted to.

Anyway, getting back into the swing of things can be trying at the best of times, and these are certainly not the best of times. It's been nearly a year since I mysteriously disappeared, reemerging only now for October 1st- and (perhaps) more of October than that even? Who's to say?

I can't promise anything right now. My schedule and my life are way up in the air right now, but I'm going to endeavor to get at least some reviews up this October. Because October Nights is an important series for me. And I care about giving opinions about horror. I think this will be the second year in a row where I don't review something every single day in October, but again, I have no idea what's going to happen. I'm simply going to write opinions and see what happens. No promises though!

So, getting off of all of that trite conversation, let's talk about Until Dawn, the game where you try to get eight playable characters to- you guessed it- survive, UNTIL DAWN.

It is a horror video game of several different genres of horror. It involves eight "teenagers" (and since most of the actors are not even remotely teens, my head-canon is that they're all like mid-twenties) that have seen a fairly awful tragedy strike their group of friends about a year previously. Namely the two sisters of one of the eight characters disappear under mysterious circumstances after a nasty and very mean prank gone wrong.

The whole premise sounds like a crazy and very bad teenage slasher film rip-off. And it kind of is for part of the game. We have a "mystery man," a bunch of clues to find and extrapolate from, and a seemingly deranged killer on the loose. It plays more like a mystery game from the start, following more of an adventure game premise at first, rather than the full survival horror game it kind of becomes in the latter half of the game.

I really don't want to spoil the game, so I'm going to have fairly tight fingers in this review. Don't expect a ten-page diatribe about why _____'s character is extremely tragic or that the _____ design is really creepy and well put together. I'm certainly not going to talk about ______ __________ and his absolute obsession with ______ so much so that he made the movies ________ (2001) and ___ ____ _______ (2006) about the _______ that are so prominent in this particular narrative. Also, Saw (2003) and similar types of movies have has a fairly decent influence on what Until Dawn is.

And it's actually quite good for what it is. While I figured out the entirety of the plot within my first ten minutes of playing, I also found the characters interesting, the plot well put together, and horror very well played in the latter parts of the game. It can be easily compared to other games of similar play-types and genre, like Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, and even Telltale's The Walking Dead (with Clementine and Lee), but it really does stand apart from them on a fundamental level, up to and including that, I believe, this particular game is much better for this type of gameplay and style than any of the other previous games like it. There's a great deal of narrative choice and input from the player to get the kind of story desired. The more you put into exploration the higher the chances are that your characters will survive and have knowledge of what's actually going on. Limited exploration puts the entire cast at risk and leads to a narrative that might make much less sense as well. I like gameplay rewarding narrative though.

The game puts this idea out there that choice is ultimately up to the player. This means that what happens in the plot, how characters react to one another, and the information found out and talked about are all up to the player, who can decide some aspects of the direction the game will take. While it is a fairly simplistic system here, it is much better implemented than a great deal of games of a similar type. I really like choice systems in games especially when the outcome can be extremely varied. RPGs tend to do it best, but even RPGs tend to not go very deep into the system. It's overly complicated to program, I get that, but the payoff is so good when it works right.

Until Dawn takes some time for the plot to get moving, but when it does finally get there, it also never stops. As a horror game, it has everything you might expect, from abandoned mental institutions to abandoned hotels. It has everything from a nearly abandoned ski lodge to a completely abandoned creepy mine. There's also an abandoned fire tower, abandoned ski lift depots, and a nearly entirely abandoned mountain.

So- uh- I think "abandoned" might be the word of the day today.

Just like a slasher movie, certain characters are more likely to die than others. The flirtatious and playful blonde girl who talks about sex more than the other characters, and then screams she is going to have a very good time sexing her boyfriend, is more likely to die than the girl who never talks about sex at all in any context. The (sorry to even bring this up) black guy character is more likely to die and be forgotten than any other character period, especially when a player decides to screw with ______ like the game explicitly tells you not to. The guy and gal that are more central to the plot though, the heroic antihero of questionable values and the brave but detached heroine, tend to both have the most screentime and the highest chance of surviving the night.

The other characters are the two (movie-styled) geeks who are supposedly perfect for one another, the grade-A witch of a girl who constantly browbeats her boyfriend, but has the best gameplay sequence in the game, and the troubled brother of the two sisters who died the previous year. The two geeks are pretty fun, but their whole story relies upon the other.The grade-A witch has the most conflicted nature to the narrative in terms of playable character, but also the most information revealed to her. And the brother of the two missing/dead sisters is a bit of an oddball with some of the most creative pieces of the narrative attributed to him.

A great deal of combinations of these characters can survive or die in the course of the story, including the entire cast or none of our "teens." While this latter outcome can be considered the best ending, it isn't necessarily the end of the story, for good or ill.

The changeable aspects of the genre are also probably the most interesting piece of the game to me. It switches genre constantly, and this is where I'm going to get just slightly spoiler-y, so there's your warning in advance. Jump out of this review with a hearty recommendation from your pal Saquarry if you don't want spoilers.

The game starts out with the isolationist vibe. While it never strays from that, there are certainly moments when you start seeing a larger world, most notably in trying to get some outside help and learning about what befell the inhabitants of this seemingly cursed mountain. There are also a great deal of jump scares in the beginning parts of the game, most of them, I hope, purposefully poorly handled. It seems to me that the game seems to want you off-balance constantly, and the characters are even willing to put each other off-balance for the desired results. Jump scares aside, the game delves into survival horror, supernatural horror, mystery horror, revenge narrative, slasher horror, and psychological horror at any given time. These all can pop up throughout the story, giving the whole thing a very off-kilter vibe to it. I certainly like it. It shows the metamorphosis of the narrative, starting at a place of ignorance and ending at a place that could be called "understanding."

The game itself follows that pattern, showing more fake horror in the beginning, evolving into something much more psychological and not shown, and finally ending on both understanding and a kind of body horror with supernatural elements that explains some things, but leaves enough ambiguity as to be worth exploring later (mostly after one is finished playing the game). That might be an overly complex way of saying that the game starts out with cheap scares, goes for a strong atmospheric feeling in the center part of the game, and finishes out with existential questions and outstanding visual designs.

The understanding the game gives to you in the end isn't just of the plot, but rather of the other characters, the supernatural elements, and the history behind everything around this mountain. The understanding changes the genre, and that is such a cool transition of genre, such a valid way of using genre like a tool to get a desired result.

Again, I'm not going to spoil very much else. Until Dawn is very good as a horror game. While the gameplay can be awkward, don't let that stop you from trying it out or from watching somebody else play it. It has quick-time events (QTEs) and plays very similarly to something like the David Cage games of Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls, the two closest comparison pieces. But I think it would be unfair to compare this game to those, if only because the quality and polish of this game is much stronger than those others.

I really enjoyed the game. It was thought-provoking, very creepy, and also very fun. The narrative left me wanting more. I want more games like this, more games that try to scare, but also try to do something beyond simply scaring.

I don't have much else to say other than recommending it. It is one of the best horror games of recent memory. It is also part of a string of horror games that have come out or that are coming out that have been or seem like they will be very, very solid entries into the genre.

I guess I do have a postscript to the review in the form of a little story. When I went out to buy this game the first day it had come out, I was nearly left wanting. I hadn't pre-ordered it because the previews had not impressed me even slightly. I saw a few good reviews come out, and decided that I would go pick it up because (and I even said this at the time I'm so ashamed) YOLO. The problem was I had a gift card at a particular video game store. I wanted to spend as little actual money as I could mitigate, so I found it necessary to go to this EXTREMELY POPULAR game stop if you will to find the game.

The problem arose that the first four stores I went to did not have the game at all. Somehow a video game that shouldn't have ANY scarcity somehow definitely had it. I was shocked at the first store not having it, in awe that the second didn't have it, and actively annoyed and peeved that the others didn't have it either. Okay, the game might be popular for some reason on the first day it's out, but they must have known what kind of response a fairly anticipated horror game would get, no?

I don't know. I guess I found it very sad that it took me nearly three hours to get to one of the only copies of Until Dawn in this particular store franchise in my area (my area being central New Jersey nowadays). AND I had to essentially ask a store that was nearly forty minutes away to hold it for me so that nobody else who also REALLY wanted a good horror would take it from me.

So, why the scarcity, guys? I'll never understand it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Hey, no new review tonight! I thought I'd have it all set, but today is my 1 year of engagement anniversary, and to top it all off, I've been at NYCC (the New York Comic Con) for the past four days. I kind of had an idea something like this might happen, and there's no way I can crap out a review in about fifteen-twenty minutes. It's not a big deal really, just no review today. I'll try to have two out some day soon.

Sorry, everybody!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Television Series Examination: The First Season of The Strain (2014)

I haven't reviewed a television series in a good long while. It's a difficult prospect simply because of the hours of content to a series of television shows. Characters are much more complex than they are in movies. Things move much slower as the episodes tend to be EPISODIC in nature, relying more on episode long plots rather than just focusing on the main narrative. It makes the television format incredibly different than movies, and incredibly different to review.

So, I guess my review should be on the merit of the program, how well it works at what it does, and if the characters and plots are compelling enough to make me keep watching over and over again. I think it succeeds in many arenas. I've obviously watched the entire first season, and I've enjoyed it enough to continue watching the second season as well. While I've never read Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's books about the same story, I find the story compelling nonetheless. I can't compare the written work to what's on the screen, but I do like what's on the screen.

Kind of.

I find the plot compelling in its simplicity. It reminds me of 'Salem's Lot in a big city. And coming from me that's certainly not a bad thing. It uses a plot of a vampire using vampire rules (kind of) to invade and corrupt New York from the inside out. The vampire, The Master, wants to invade the world of men and probably remake them all as this vampire worm-virus thing. He uses a former Nazi as his main lieutenant as well as a sick and dying businessman as his main force to control the information getting into and out of New York City. It's pretty well plotted for the most part, although some episodes are much better than others for that.

The characters are both the biggest issue of the show and the best part of it. For one, most of the actors here are relatively unknown or, at the very least, niche actors. I like that. I like that I don't recognize anybody but Argus Filch from the Harry Potter movies, and what a different character he plays here. The rest are all various forms of interesting, with my personal favorite being  Vasily Fet, who has the oddest human accent I have ever heard. And that's one of the major boons and issues here. The acting varies from fantastic to absolutely atrocious. It has to be something to do with the directors of the episodes or something, because the variance is bad enough to be incredibly noticeable. Vasily (Kevin Durand) is a great example of this. Sometimes he is absolutely questionable in his delivery. There are times that I wonder if he actually comes from this human Earth world. And then there are times when he is incredibly well put together. I don't blame the actor so much for this, although that could be an issue as well, but rather something about the WAY he delivers his lines. And he's not the only one. Every single actor at one point or another (with the exceptions of the Nazi and the Master) has the exact same issue. I've never seen it before. Sometimes one actor will be bad while the rest are perfectly acceptable. Sometimes all of them but one will be incredibly bad. And sometimes they're all fine except for a single line that is delivered in an utterly alien way.

I'm stressing the point, but it is such an important thing to stress. It takes me right out of the show while simultaneously maybe making the characters more human? I have no idea. I mean, I haven't stopped watching, and I enjoy watching it. I think the episodes have gotten better rather than worse as the season has gone on. But there has been so many little issues from the actor, the characters, and the plot. The fights ending in draws without any lasting victories is a big issue. It feels like a maintaining of the status quo rather than moving on with the plot at all. The final episode, although very solid, is exceptionally guilty of this, with the only thing that has really happened with our main cast is that they learned a tiny piece of plot out that they wouldn't have known otherwise.

I can see the acting issues literally forcing people to stop watching the show. It may not be the case absolutely, but I can see people being turned off by it. And I don't blame them even slightly for that. Somehow, it only bothers me when it shows up. Maybe because I've seen such bad acting in movies that slightly off acting really only bothers me slightly. I don't know. I'm focusing on the point though because it is a sticking point, and the one REALLY GLARING issue I have with the show.

I mean everything else is solid. The story is good. The production values are excellent. The make-up is superb, excellent to the point of being one of the best things about the show. And some of the acting is really good as well. The action is also quite good, definitely an important piece of the compelling nature of the show.

I guess the last thing I should talk about is the horror. And let me say that the horror is also quite excellent here. One of my biggest gripes about vampire stories is that they tend to not be scary. Beside Dracula and 'Salem's Lot I would have a very hard time really finding horrific vampire stories. Possibly 30 Days of Night as well. Maybe I Am Legend and The Historian, although neither of those books scared me at all. My point is, while the vampire is my favorite creature, I find very few of their stories compelling or scary. I've listed all of five other works that contain well done vampires that I can think of right this second. While there may be several others, this does not bode well in an age when vampires are considered more for their sexual prowess and passion than for their actual monster status. To me that's incredibly disappointing. I want scary vampires. I want frightening vampires. I want the creatures of the night to make me afraid to go out after dark.

I always have a focus on vampire movies or books with my reviews. The reason is that I love vampires. I love scary vampires. I love Nosferatu and its ilk. I love 'Salem's Lot and what has come from that.  And I love the granddaddy of great vampire stories, Dracula. And I want more of them in the world. Vampires as monster creatures are just so interesting and compelling, and so few people want to do anything with it.

And maybe that's why The Strain means something to me. Maybe that's why, in spite of the so-so pieces of the show at times, it gives me what I want in terms of vampire horror. It makes them scary again, frightening again, and worth it again. I don't think I'll ever forget in the first episode when the Master just slams a man's face into pulp. That's a scary vampire that is absolutely stunning to see on television. And that's really all I have to say. I love this show because it brings fear back to the vampires. And that should be enough of a recommendation from me.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return (1999)

"I don't have a soul."

Well, I guess I have to say that not all dread can be realized. Sometimes a really pretty decent horror movie can come along and impress me. This movie was the reason I did this stupid Children of the Corn review series. I've always heard about it, heard about one of the worst titles a sequel movie can have, and I wanted to review it. I thought it would be bad. I thought it would be a travesty of film, something so utterly abhorrent that it could be likened to the Necronomicon in what it can do to people who watch it. This was supposed to be that movie. I was looking for so bad that my head would explode from watching it. Instead-

Instead I watched a really decent horror film, on par with the third movie of the franchise, and certainly better than the four other movies by quite a stretch. I actually really enjoyed the movie. Its nuances mixed with its storytelling really worked for me. The horror elements along with the mindscrew moments and the dream-visions made me really get into the plot. Then again I have a thing for dream-visions and mindscrew plots.

I think the cinematography alone puts this above the other Children of the Corn movies. It is extremely stylized at times. And it works on almost every conceivable level. Kari Skogland did a really good job with this movie, having the focus on a young woman, like the fourth movie, but without that movie's meandering plot. While I barely recognize any of the actors of this film besides Nancy Allen, Stacy Keach, and, of course, John Franklin as the titular Isaac, everybody is putting on their game faces in terms of acting. I was actually brought into this movie. I kind of cared. I haven't given a damn for a single character in the course of these films. But I actually kind of found a modicum of actual concern in this film. Bravo, Isaac's Return. Bravo!

The horror here, the gore effects, and the atmosphere are all well done. While never really scary or terrifying, the movie does have its moments of being unsettling. It's also much creepier than the other five films, which in a horror franchise is actually phenomenal. I've never really found any fear in these movies, but this one at least tries really hard to be something more than the others.

One thing that does kind of bother me is that this movie is nearly devoid of children. In a franchise whose title has "Children" in it, there are remarkably few children in this movie. Throughout the last two movies, children had been focused on less and less as well, with much more focus on "teenagers" or adults in some fashion. This movie moves away from the pretense of the actual title of the movie series, and just becomes about "old people of the corn." I kind of wish I were jesting more than I actually am. The "child" possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows (or He Who Walks Behind the Rows himself, we never really get an answer on that) is basically a full grown man in his mid-twenties. And the main character of Hannah is also in her mid-twenties trying her damnedest to pass as a teenager. So, the premise of the "children of the corn" basically dies with this movie. And I don't mind that. The children of the first few movies are now adults. And it seems like there's a restructuring for the future happening. Not enough scary kids, it seems.

I really thought that whole thing of no children (or very, very few) was a good idea. I wasn't expecting "Mid-Twenties People of the Corn." I guess it doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Anyway, so, Hannah is looking for her mother. She meets some weird folks in town. Isaac, who I could have sworn died in the first film, is in a coma and has been for nineteen years. He awakens with Hannah's touch and really wants her to bone his kid. And that's the plot of this movie. Hannah has limited crippling psychic visions as well that give her some plot information. But mostly the plot is about the older people of the corn trying to get Hannah and Matt to bone. Some interesting things happen on that front, like Hannah being led away form the ceremony by Matt's girlfriend, and her getting away because these creepy leather wearing twenty-five year old named Gabriel has decided to save and then bone her. Matt's girlfriend (I think her name is Morgan, although I never really heard it mentioned in the movie) gets killed with an awesome line.

And then Randall Flagg happens.

Okay, if you're not a Stephen King fan, let me explain. It seems a theory on the internet, of all places, is that He Who Walks Behind the Rows and Randall Flagg are the same person. I guess there was a mention of them being POSSIBLY synonymous in The Stand, but it's this movie that cements that somebody certainly thought they were synonymous. Gabriel is Randall Flagg. The writing and character are dead on. There is nothing else even slightly like this in any of the other movies or in any of the other depictions of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Hell, in the third movie, the character was an eldritch corn abomination. This movie goes a very long way to showing the Randall Flagg i've always known and loved. Gabriel joking around, killing Isaac, planning meticulously for what he wants to come to pass, well, it all makes sense. Even impregnating Hannah. If you've ever read (or watched the miniseries of) The Stand, he was a bit obsessed with an offspring of his own.

So, I have no idea what the writing intention was here, but it seemed like a very clear cut Flagg reference from where I was watching. And I loved it. I think every movie should have a Randall Flagg in it.

Anyway, that's the movie for the most part. It's very short and goes pretty quickly. It was a good ride of a flick with some decent horror besides. The scenes felt very authentic and well put together. The sprinklers were a clever device to have the girls fleeing in the rain. I thought it rode up the tension more than a little bit. Mostly this felt like a film of a great deal of good decisions. I mean, the title was a very bad decision, but Nancy Allen and bringing John Franklin back were both good decision. Gabriel's character association with Flagg and the actor of Paul Popowich behind him was also incredibly well done.

This is another movie of this franchise that I recommend. And you really don't need any prerequisites to watch it besides the first film, which wasn't bad either. I actually find it quite interesting how very few of these films line up in continuity with each other. They all feel like completely separate entities with completely separate continuities from each other. I know they are supposed to line up, but the differences in quality and story are very apparent. And with very little bleeding between films, it feels less like a franchise and much more like a bunch of films that share elements and He Who Walks Behind the Rows. This is the only movie that really feels directly connected to any other movie in the franchise, and it works here really well.

I'm kind of heaping praise on this movie, and I wasn't expecting that. I thoroughly and completely enjoyed this film. While there are some boring and stupid moments in the film, specifically the wandering around bits in the beginning of the movie, I really found the pace well done when looking at the film as a whole. Check it out if you have any interest. It's a really decent movie that has a good deal to offer. And it reinvigorated me to get through the rest of these movies. Four and five almost broke me. If six had been badly mediocre, I might have stopped there. Instead I'm going to hope the quality will continue.

(I know it won't.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

At least I know that these movies are getting worse and worse with each installment. That's a small comfort. I realize it and understand that I am in the hellish domain of this franchise of movies, and there is no escape for me. Save yourselves, I say. Do not venture on this path as I have. There is no quality here, only pain and misery and very mediocre movies as far as the eye can see.

And that's the problem. The movies aren't BAD per se. They're not horrible and painful to watch. There's nothing about them that make me angry or make me want to punch my hand through the DVD case. These movies are just boring. They make no attempt to be interesting, exciting, or engaging, instead dwelling in this realm of utter mediocrity. I barely remember this movie even though I just sat through it all of ten minutes ago. I barely remember the characters, the plot, or the situation because the movie had no passion to it (and a plot that made very little sense besides).

Should I tear this movie down? I guess a little, but how much can I really say? This isn't a scary movie. There's nothing here to be frightened about. There's about one decent gore shot in the entire film, and it just so happened to be the most engaging moment in the entire film, when the two most interesting people in the movie, David Carradine and Fred Williamson die together. Spoiler alert, I guess.

The movie involves a group of "teenagers" who I thought were college kids or even older than that until I read the synopsis. These teenagers go to do something with their dead friend who has been cremated. I think they're putting him to rest, but why in the town they get to? I have no idea. Well, two of the friends die immediately. And this bears mentioning: why the heck does this first "teenager" who dies have a thing about putting blow-up dolls everywhere? I frankly do not understand at all, but I found it utterly fascinating and more than a little bizarre. I wouldn't have minded an entire movie of him plastering blow-up dolls around town for reasons only his addled mind can comprehend. Even more than that, I seriously believe that this guy has a bottomless bag full of these blow-up dolls. When those kids killed him, they actually killed the creepiest magician in the world: the one who can only conjure up blow-up dolls.

Is that it? That's basically all I took away from this movie.

I don't know. Some people die. The children of the corn come back again and this time He Who Walks Behind the Rows doesn't walk behind the rows, but is instead a fire monster captured in a silo. If the silo were a pokeball, He Who Walks Behind the Rows would be a pokemon. He never leaves. He doesn't really do anything at all but burn a bit throughout the movie. Ezekial, the prophet kid of this movie, is one of the worst prophets yet. I think the fourth movie is still worse about that simply because most of the movie is without the major prophet, but Ezekial is quite ridiculous and more than a little annoying.

What else? What else?

I laughed out loud when Eva Mendes implied she was under eighteen. She totally looks about twenty-five, all of the "teenagers" do. And mentioning Eva Mendes, why does this movie seem like it's shot like a softcore porn movie? Something about the way Eva Mendes in particular is shot makes it seem like at any moment she's going to remove all her clothes. I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but it really feels like it's shot like a porno rather than a horror movie. Nothing about the movie is even slightly scary. Even the moments in the dark just seem like a softcore flick.

I think I've said everything I'm going to say about this movie. It's pretty awful and completely forgettable. It's worse than the last Children of the Corn movie just because most of the characters here are also extremely unlikable on top of being bland and uninteresting. At least Naomi Watts and father of the year in the last movie had something going on. This movie has about two minutes of David Carradine, one good scene, and Fred Williamson being cool for about a minute. And that's all I have to say.

Avoid this movie.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Movie Appraisal: American Mary (2012)

So, this is a Canadian film, right? With Canadian money clearly shown in and throughout the movie? We're on that page with each other right now, correct? I wasn't imagining things while I was dreading going through the entirety of the Children of the Corn movies this month again, was I? Because if I decided to be both coherent watching this film and in my own right mind completely, then something is just a tiny little bit amiss, wouldn't you say?

Okay. If it's true that this movie takes place VERY CLEARLY in Canada, then why is the movie called American Mary? It clearly should be called Canadian Mary. That has a bit less of a ring to it though. I mean, it certainly doesn't sound like a horror film. Maybe they simply meant that she was from the Americas. North America more specifically. North American Mary? Well, now it just seems like it's a movie about finding a person who's been frozen in a glacier in northern Canada for the last thirty thousand years.

I'm focusing on this point too much. I mean, it's a dumb title that doesn't work in the context of the movie. But, I'll leave it alone for now. Instead I'll focus on the movie itself.

This film is mostly pretty decent. While it does have some issues (like how it isn't scary at all, but does have some very good gore effects), it actually does a pretty good job as a story, although I have to admit that it could have used another ten-fifteen minutes of extra exposition or character development.

The bare minimum plot of this movie is that a woman, named HINT HINT Mary is studying to become a surgeon. She's good at surgery but is struggling to pay bills. She applies to a strip club because she's Katherine Isabelle and doesn't look half bad. Instead of getting the stripping job, she helps keep a tortured man alive. This starts her relationship with the medical and surgery underground. She is approached by a woman who has surgical modified her body to resemble Betty Boop. this woman proposes a business arrangement involving taking another woman and removing some of the erogenous zones of her body, including her nipples and labia so she can more resemble a doll. This leads her to making more and more money with the body modification surgeries. This would all be good and fine, but she is drugged and raped at a party that she was invited to by a group of surgeons at the hospital she is now working at. The man who rapes her is the host of the party, her former teacher who had given her a hard time previously. He had thought she was prostituting herself to make money and decided that she was asking for it or somesuch disgusting stretch of human thought. Afterward, Mary is upset for a little while, and rapidly reaches a plot of revenge.
She hires some people from the strip club to kidnap him. And then the movie jumps in time a bit. Mary is now a successful body modification surgeon who keeps the mutilated body of her former teacher and rapist in an underground vault so she can practice the modifications on him before she does them to other people. It is sick in every conceivable way. It definitely begs the question of whether he deserves it or not. Rape seems to be one of the worst crimes in our society besides murder, and because of that, this penalty- while cruel and unusual- does get a rapist and a very awful man off the streets. I mean, there is no way he's raping again.

The second half of the movie, after the time jump, meanders about a bit before eventually focusing on Mary's little bouts of insanity and sadism, her murder of a security guard, and her eventual death at the hands of the husband of the woman she modified at the beginning of the movie (the one she removed labia and nipples from). Throughout this, the strip club owner, Billy, is shown to have a thing for Mary that literally comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere in the end. The movie disappointingly trickles to an end, leaving a movie that had begun as a roaring waterfall to a very mediocre (but memorable) fate.

So, to put it mildly, this movie is extremely graphic with gore and body modifications. There are times when the screen is hard to look at because of this. The Soska sisters outdid themselves with the visuals and the directing style. It is a beautiful if somewhat sterile movie. The first half of the movie is near-brilliant, emotionally charged and full of both character and moments. The second half feels almost gratuitous in its gore and deaths. It just doesn't feel right or seemingly end right. Something about it left me feeling both cold and distant, thinking the movie worse overall than the beginning of the film would have had me think.

This is a good movie, but not a great one. It also happens to be one of the only body mod movies I know about, so there's that. It works well as a horror movie even if it doesn't quite deliver the scares. The gore is most definitely there as well as the moments when I really wanted to look away from the screen. I probably like this movie more than I ought to because of the heavy feminist themes. It's like an MRA (Men's Rights Activists) nightmare, full of a strong woman, revenge from said strong woman, and a real lack of fetishism for men. The mods are all about fulfilling one's own physical wants, The men seem to want a perfect woman in their minds, but the women of the movie seem to want another way, one that involves them being able to love their own bodies and themselves. It's not about men being attracted to the women. It's all about the women changing themselves to be happy with themselves all on their own.

I don't know. I guess I find that theme really touching and very important. Coupled with the disgusting and dehumanizing rape and how most men in this movie are portrayed as sleazebags who only think about one thing, I see this as a very strong feminist film, one that has a ton of value as what it is.

The acting is always good. The filming is great. And while the second half of the movie is much weaker than the first half, it still works. I recommend this film, but not to the weak of heart or stomach. This is a violent, gory, and sometimes absolutely degrading film. It's the kind of movie I could see someone sickened by. While never scary, it instead delivers a message and a lot of thought- also a ton of blood, gore, a body mods.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)


I don't want to review this movie. It's terrible. I feel bad and angry even looking at the poster. After the highlight of the third movie in the series, Children of the Corn IV feels awful in almost every way. It's the exact opposite of the last movie to its own detriment. While this movie has some decent actors in it- hell even a few KNOWN actors with Naomi Watts and Karen Black- the acting of the movie cannot save this pile of garbage.

It's the writing and plot that let's this movie down. The focus is all wrong throughout the movie. The children should be the focus, not the adults, not Naomi Watts and Donald the father of a random boy. Give me more about the children. Are they now possessed by dead children for reasons instead of by the corn (CotC III) or a charismatic leader possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows (CotC and CotC II)? Why is this a thing now? Why did it all have to be ghosts? Ghosts aren't scary in this context, and they're also very certainly not interesting either. And retconning the events of the previous movies to simply have He Who Walks Behind the Rows be a vengeful boy preacher spirit is disrespectful to that previous material at best. I can't even deal with the fact I actually watch this thing.

The movie is about Naomi Watts coming home from school to see to her sick mother who might be going senile. Her sister (who is revealed to be her abandoned(!?) daughter later) is there being annoyed and worried all at once. Eventually the little girl gets kind of possessed by the boy preacher ghost because she was lied to and abandoned, never mind the girl is all of four, seems to have a decent life, and maybe not being raised by a young woman trying to make something of herself is a little warranted? I don't know. Mistakes are made, and in this case, a solution was found that seemed right. Calling it a lie when the girl is barely old enough to understand what a lie is seems ridiculous.

I don't even know what else to say here. Children are possessed. They kill some adults. The plot probably happens. A ton of characters complain. The children have dead ghost blood and were diseased for some reason that remains unexplained to me and the rest of humanity. Mercury is somehow bad because the ghost preacher boy was poisoned by mercury. Well, that's all good and find. His silver bullet is a mercury bullet? Ugh...

Worst of all are the sprinklers being laced with mercury. There's so many things wrong with that. one, Mercury is a metal, heavier than water. Two, Naomi Watts probably has heavy metal poisoning now. So much for your goddamn happy ending. This is what happens when you're very stupid.

I want to purge this movie from my head. Please let this movie leave. I don't want to think about it anymore.

It's not scary. It wrecks large amounts of the franchise which is already treading the mediocre line. It's a terrible and nonsensical plot. And it actually made me angry. So, I refuse to recommend this THING. Go wash your eyes out with bleach before trying to get through this trash.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

"I'm not in here with you. You're in here with me."
Honestly movie, you can't steal from 
Watchmen. Although I did laugh when I heard that line actually uttered in a film about evil children and corn.

I really thought I would hate this movie. After watching both the first movie of this franchise, then the second, and thinking that both of them were fairly mediocre, I came into this film with an undeniable feeling of dread that did not abate as the movie started. I saw Urban Harvest and was afraid. They are only three movies in, I thought, and they're already resorting to going into an inner city environment with Children of the Corn, a franchise supposedly about rural Nebraska. Oh dear, I thought, this cannot be a good thing. But-

But I was wrong. This is the best movie of the franchise so far, full of excitement, actually scares, and an amazingly well put together ending. The actors don't really matter here. None of them sell the film and none of them blew me away. They were there as set dressing for an interesting and shocking story. For once this franchise wasn't afraid of killing off protagonists. In fact this movie is the first of them that actually has a bit of a Stephen King feel to it despite having a very, very, silly premise.

The plot involves these two brothers (not blood brothers, but adopted ones) being yet again adopted after Eli, the younger brother, kills their father in Nebraska. Joshua seems a little slow compared to Eli, but that character trait is dropped fairly quickly, which I'm glad for. These two brothers get adopted by a husband and wife in Chicago and subsequently go to school, a Catholic private school, in Chicago. And it works quite well, I think. The urban environment contrasts well with Eli and Joshua's sensibilities. As a result Joshua is taken in by the culture and makes friends (and a special ladyfriend) in the process. This is the only romance subplot I've liked in these movies so far. It's decently explained without being completely ridiculous in scope.

Anyway, Joshua, the older brother, gets taken in by the culture and acclimatizes, while Eli grows corn and remains a creepy little boy. His own adopted mother seems wary of him as does the head priest at the school. Eventually Eli does make friends almost to spite Joshua. But his friends are simply followers to his message, the message of He Who Walks behind the Rows. Eli grows the corn in a backlot, and anybody who goes back there seems to die fairly horrifically. And this is where the movies shines. It can sometimes be slow, but it's always moving along. The horror is interspersed with the rest of the plot, actually making every moment exciting and interesting.

The deaths are extremely noteworthy for both being very gruesome and very well put together. When the adopted mother dies, I was shocked. And such a horrific "accident" it is. The bum is another gory death, with his head seemingly still animate even long after his supposed death. Even later on with the death of Joshua's best friend Malcolm, who gets his head and spine taken off his body, I think. Whatever happens, it's fairly awesome to watch. The gore is so gratuitous that it never feels scary, but it also doesn't look very pleasant either. I liked it as far as gore goes.

The movie sets up a good amount of things as it goes on as well as showing some things that happened in the past movies with some dream flashbacks. These worked well even if they were a little awkward. The setting up of the corn being sold off is a good stinger. mostly though, the thing that sold me on this movie was the ending. I think I fall in love with any movie that lets an eldritch abomination Corn Cthulhu start killing people nonchalantly while eating some action figure people. I could seriously watch the last ten minutes of this movie on repeat for the rest of my life. It's absolutely amazing.

I guess I don't know what else to say. This movie wasn't good in the classic definition, but it was a fun ride with some good gore effects, no bad CGI, and a really amazing (no sarcasm here) ending. The dialogue is hit or miss. The acting is passing. The direction is better than the last two movies. And mostly, the plot held my attention. While I can't wholeheartedly recommend this movie, I would recommend watching the glorious ending, which I seriously absolutely loved. Some of the death scenes are also quite good as well. Don't feel obligated to give this one a try, but it's actually a very solid movie. I recommend it, I suppose, although I doubt anyone should watch this one without watching the other Children of the Corn movies.

As a horror movie, I especially wasn't disappointed. And that's all I ever wanted.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1993)

This poster definitely says that this is the "conclusion" of the series.
The seven other movies I have to watch say otherwise.
The second Children of the Corn movie is incredibly baffling before anything else. Why the first movie needed a sequel is beyond me. I assume there was money in the project, but the sequel, this movie right here, adds nothing to the story or the franchise besides a Native American and everything that comes with that, and Hemingford, the town next door to Gatlin.

The movie stars a father, John, and his son, Danny, who hate each other, and the women they start liking for reasons while inexplicably in Nebraska, again for reasons. I actually like the beginning of the plot of the movie, which does explain some of my complaints about the first film. For example we get an explanation about what people did about the disappearances from other towns and avenues of life. While I don't think the three years alone for the children was necessarily retconned, it certainly was downplayed, seemingly being a much shorter time that the children were alone.

The movie begins with an aid response to the children who brutally murdered their parents. They stay, for a time with some people from Hemingford while waiting to see what the world will do with them. Things are okay for a while until Micah, a seemingly nice boy, is possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Well, I think he is at least. And then he starts the cult up again. Micah is the Isaac of this movie, although a bit less creepy. Micah also has some wonderful facial expressions. Beyond that, the movie involves the children killing some old ladies after harassing them for a bit and planning on killing all of the adults as well.

At the same time the sheriff and some of the other townsfolk are planning to sell nasty corn that would make people hallucinate and be sick. And not only is this corn bad, it has mold all over it. I have no idea about all of you reading this, but I know that I would not buy moldy corn to eat. So, I have no idea what their plan is. John, the main character, finds this out with the Native American character, Frank Red Bear. It seems like everybody is racist against him even though I wouldn't have been able to tell his ethnicity by simply looking at him. Anyway, the sheriff feels some need to kill them both, and they get out of the trap easily.
While all of this is going on there is a romantic sideplot involving Danny and a blonde orphan girl from town. They start going out, and I started losing all interest. Danny also becomes friendly with Micah and joins the cult for some reason.

The children burn down the house with all of the rest of the adults in town, like the sheriff, the priest, and a woman or two, and they plan on sacrificing the two remaining love interest girls to the corn. I think this movie stopped making any sense before this, but this is the point where any indication of a plot was out the window. The heroes get away and are captured again multiple times, the main antagonists are killed, our heroes get away and burn the Native American man- again for reasons I don't understand, and then the movie ends.

I don't even know what to say. It's a mediocre and forgettable movie. The acting isn't terrible. The special effects definitely are bad and overused. The scenery and setpieces are fine if a little bare. And nothing is incredibly offensive besides the racism against Native Americans and the way Frank Red Bear is treated, even at the end of the movie. It was inexplicable and very, very odd.

As a sequel to a movie that didn't need one, it's fine. There is one decent gore scene in the church, Micah is enjoyable to watch, and that's about it/ It's not scary, not creepy, and certainly not a movie that's anything more than a curiosity. It has only the barest minimum relevance, and I seriously think that watching it was a waste of my time. I don't recommend it. While not a bad movie, it does nothing that other movies don't do better. It just feels like a waste all around. I can't even muster enough energy to badmouth it because WHY? I'm just going to forget about it in an hour anyway.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Detention (2011)

Detention, directed by Joseph Kahn, whose only other directing credit is Torque, is an absolutely enjoyable movie. While quick-paced, it's also memorable and really fun. I probably didn't catch half of what happened in this movie just because of the breakneck speed of the film, the dialogue, and the characters. It almost seems to be made for the ADD generation while having references to the nineties literally throughout the movie. It's odd, and my awkwardness at describing it is probably already showing.

I have no idea how to talk about it, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to spoil it. It's a horror comedy, although it's also fairly light on most of the horror and pretty heavy on most of the comedy. Strangely, although I do not tend to like comedies, I really found this one guffaw kinds of funny. The witty banter along with references, and the characters giving a joke every thirty seconds made this movie really enjoyable to just watch. I had heard about the synopsis and a bit about the movie in general, and I knew I needed to watch it. It's definitely an oddball movie, but it so happens to fall right under what I love in movies. I guess I could call it the horror-comedy version of Donnie Darko mixed with The Breakfast Club (to a point). And it certainly feels as good as either of those movies.

I don't really want to spoil the plot. Let's just say it's odd, almost nonsensical, and really fun. The actors look like they're having a blast. They certainly make the characters into something memorable at the very least. The weirdness of the film mixed with everything else about it makes this a much watch movie if you've ever agreed with me on some of my more outlandish movie likes. I can't really even think of another movie like this one.

I recommend this almost more than any other movie. It's really odd, and I think it will be a love it or hate it kind of film for almost everybody. I loved it, but I can totally understand someone disliking it. I do have a hard time really calling it a "horror" movie, but it does have gore and horror elements in it, and all of them work really well although most of them are also disregarded. The movie- it almost feels like one of those teenage parody movies being put out a few years ago, something like Not Another Teen Movie or whatever. Not that I've really seen movies like that, but just watching the previews, that's what this movie almost acts like. And that might seem like a turn-off, but it does that in a way that actually works.

I'm so scattered about this film. I have no idea what to talk about. If I were having a conversation with you, I'd be trying to say three different things about this movie at once. It has so much density and so many elements in it that I find it very difficult to adequately talk about everything. I love the background moments, things that happen completely in the background that have plot relevance, but are not focused on. On love the adherence to foreshadowing, which seems to be a near-constant thing in this film. The continuity seems like it was a major consideration throughout the movie.

When I watch this film again, I may write a bit more about it. I think this might be a movie that needs multiple viewings to really get everything going on. I may not be giving you much, but this is a really fun movie and really worth watching. Yeah. I think that's all I have to say about it now.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn (1984)

Beware He Who Walks Behind the Rows!
Children of the Corn is an interesting movie. Released in the height of the Stephen King movie madness, the same year as Firestarter, and a year after Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Christine, this film is certainly a staple of the Stephen King adaptations in general. When I was young, The Shining, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine, Carrie, and Children of the Corn defined Stephen King's career for me like I'm sure they had for most people in the same time period. This was before I had read his books or had become the Stephen King fan that I certainly am today. I knew the stories because the movies had entered pop culture, and they were never going to leave.

Even today if you mention any of those movies, people, even those unfamiliar with horror or with Stephen King, will be able to tell you exactly what they're about. I do not tend to define Stephen King by these books and movies, but looking at what he's known for, it certainly seems as if the general public defines him by these films. I don't tend to review the better known Stephen King movies, but eventually I'm sure I'll do them all. Children of the Corn is a special case for me for two reasons. The first is that I do believe this is the first Stephen King film I ever saw, and the second is that I'm not just reviewing this movie this October, but the entire franchise! (Provided I can get through all of them without hating myself too much.)

To be honest, I have no idea why this movie kickstarted a franchise. While it is a solid and decent horror flick, there's nothing there that gives it a killer personality or the amazing good looks that franchises seem to need. And like most of these eighties franchises, the first movie ends in a way that leaves it as a very standalone thing. I have no idea where the franchise will go from here, and I'm certain that I won't like it.

I had the idea for reviewing the franchise in my last October Nights when I reviewed Disciples of the Crow, a short adaptation of the same Stephen King short story. It is a very close adaptation and worked very well for what it was. This movie, on the other hand, is not so close to the short story, and it suffers for it. I don't think it's bad, but it is way too long, and the ending was an extreme disappointment. Despite being the first Stephen King movie I saw, I don't believe I've seen it more than once or twice in all my years. While I remember certain scenes, the ending was something that didn't stick in my memory, and now I know that was for good reason.

The story here is simple: kids in a small town in Nebraska (Gatlin) go on a rampage and kill all of their parents at the urging and leadership of two boys, Isaac and Malachai. Three years later Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton hit a boy who is already standing dead in the road(!?) as they drive through some back roads for reasons that are never clearly explained. How this boy is dead and just standing there is never explained or shown, and it confuses me greatly. Obviously he has not entered rigor mortis yet, so the only thing that I can think of as an explanation is that Malachai propped him up with either magic or a stick. In either case, why would he even do that? They put the rest of the people into the corn for He Who Walks Behind the Rows. So, why just prop a kid up in the middle of the road after his throat is sliced? Was he hoping a car would hit him? Or was it just random happenstance?

Another thing that bothers me is that this town has been dead, except for children, for three years. Wouldn't somebody notice? What about the trucks that restock the stores or the gas pumps? What about the postal vehicles that need to pick up and drop off mail? What about the state and federal governments that collect taxes and might wonder where their citizens went off to inexplicably? My point is that even in the dark ages of the eighties, there would be questioned asked and inquiries made. Signs would be put up saying something like "A whole town disappeared one day here. Maybe it's not safe to come gallivanting around here." It would be as famous as Roanoake. People all over the world would know about it. It wouldn't just be a secret. When a couple thousand people disappear, it's something that's going to get out. Somebody's going to say something. Even if that town only supported a hundred people (and that's ridiculous, look at the size of it) people would talk and pilgrimage there to look upon the mystery. It's less a problem with the movie and more a problem with the short story in general. It has always bothered me, and while watching the movie it was the only thing I could think of. It took my mind off of the film and made it unrealistic and very silly.

So, I guess I find the premise ridiculous in the first place. I'll get that out of my fingers right now before I go further. While the movie is fine, it will never be something I love or really enjoy. And ti will always be known to me more for its atmosphere than for its amazing plot or premise.

And it does have a great atmosphere, among the corn fields and an abandoned town. The movie is shot well (except for the ending), and there are times when it can be genuinely heart-pumping. While never scary, it does have a few unsettling moments, and works well with them. I would say the oddness of the children is probably the highlight of the film, with Malachai and Isaac being the breakout creepy kids. What I find interesting is that the actor who played Isaac, John Franklin, had a growth hormone deficiency and was actually 25 when he was in the movie, which may explain why he just doesn't look quite right. I like the unsettling nature of that decision, even if it does seem slightly exploitative.

The acting is quite good in the movie beyond that, but the dialogue and script are not so good. And the ending is frankly terrible. A happy ending to a short story that has one of the biggest downer endings in all of Stephen King's written works? It seems like some sort of betrayal. The couple of the movie was supposed to fight and they were supposed to die as well. Not having that dynamic took away from a great deal of the passion of the flick, making large swaths of the movie uninteresting a more than a little boring to watch. While the imagery was mostly pretty solid as well, shots of corn and long periods of time of walking or looking around just seemed like padding more than anything else.

Oh, and the special effects were anything but special. They're one of the big reasons the ending fails so spectacularly besides the script. I can't even believe they used those effects. It was embarrassing to watch. There could have been so many ways they could have gone around the special effects, but nope, let's put really bad effects in the movie and hope it keeps people scar- oh- it looks like that? Well, that made me laugh so hard I was crying a little out of my eye holes. And then I just felt disgusted for a while.

On the whole, it's a decent film with some bad decisions. It is a whole film though, one that tells an entire story, so I'm shocked there's a franchise made from this, and I have no idea where it's going to go besides having children and corn and probably recycled plots and a bunch of blood. So, I'm looking forward to it?


No, I really don't think I am.