Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emotion Critique: Fear

What is fear?

It is the unknown, the unknowable. It is death, pain, suffering. It is that paranoid feeling you get when you stay up a little too late with no one else around. It is the darkness, the deep of the ocean, the depths of space. It is an abandoned mental institution... closed for years, full of the souls of those who died there. It's a nightmare you cannot awaken from. It's the nighttime, a little bridge in the starless sky. It's a hurricane hitting your home. It's what you feel when the one you love decides they want to leave you or when you start suspecting they're cheating on you. It's what everybody feels sometimes. Fear is one of the main themes that I've explored while I've written this blog. I love fear as much as I love the horror genre. I like the ability to become afraid of certain types of movies or video games, books or real life stories. I have my favorites and my least favorites and, of course, some are much better than others. But mostly I love finding myself afraid. I love the tension, the rising and falling of the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck. I love wondering if there's something there just out of sight watching me. Waiting for the right moment... strike.

I think the unknown is one of the most intensely scary things I can think of or... uh... rather not think of, right? Books like House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski bring out the idea of what true fear really is, mostly through blending reality and fiction into some terrible amalgamation of the two. There is something about taking this kind of paranoid fiction and blending it with an all too real reality that makes everything that much more terrifying. There is a paranoia there, a feeling that makes one feel ever so lost within the crazy ideas presented. I find this blend of reality and fiction much more terrifying than anything that is purely fictional. Being able to wonder if scary things that are unexplained can happen in the real world is something that is all too terrifying. It is the only scary thought that will keep me up. And that is a great deal of what House of Leaves is.

"To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don't let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can't see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That's where it is. Right at this moment. But don't look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead, take an even deeper one. Only this time as you exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it's gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?, don't worry, that particular detail doesn't matter, because before you have time to process that you should be moving, you should be running, you should at the very least be flinging up your arms-you sure as hell should be getting rid of this book-you won't have time to even scream.
Don't look.
I didn't.
Of course I looked.
I looked so fucking fast I should of ended up wearing one of those neck braces for whiplash."

 Of course that's only a single quotation from House of Leaves. Think about an entire book based off of the paranoia induced by fiction bleeding into reality. I find that passage that I copied above as scary as something can be. Go ahead, read that at night when you're alone and think about what you'd think, what kind of creepiness you'd be feeling. It's intense. It's terrifying. The first time I read it, I was younger than I am now, a teenager who thought he was the master of horror. I read that and then went to take out the trash. It was late. It was dark. I thought I could hear something breathing heavily in the bushes.

I freaked out. Ran inside, and fell in love with the horror all over again. To think that a cynic like me could be scared- And scared by a book at that! A book that seemed so ridiculous in premise but perfect in execution.

I've done some crazier things besides, things that I can't spell out here lest people believe what I say. I've seen some terrifying images, breaths of air that shouldn't be following me where I have tread. I don't really believe in ghosts or true terror... or many other things, but at the same time I believe in nothing but horror, but fear, as if they are the only things that matter, the only things that drive me. I've been in places I probably shouldn't have been and heard creaking and rattling and noises that I couldn't explain even in my most cognizant moments. And there's something terrifying in knowing that right next to you RIGHT NEXT TO YOU just centimeters away in the darkest night is something staring back at you that you cannot see. Yes, there are many places that are scary on purpose- abandoned buildings, graveyards that remind us that we will die... Memento te esse mortalum... but even more than that are the places that shouldn't be scary. A water pump shaped like a well, forever spilling out water for no other reason than because it can. Or maybe a bush, a gnarled tree, a twisting and turning sky... or even something as simple as an unexplained ravine, or even a house you once lived in.

Or maybe just a simple room, like an attic...

Or a doorway long since dilapidated...

Or a simple thing. Maybe it's something we could even see anywhere... a hole in a wall.

In the background I'm watching Ghost Hunters. It's a good show if you take it for what it is. If you don't believe in ghosts, that's fine. I understand. I have no opinions on them myself, but there are certainly images and videos from that show that have at least planted the seed of... hmmm, maybe this could be true. There was one episode in a lighthouse that caused me to go, "WHAT THE HECK!?" where an eerie shadowy apparition appeared on the stairs going to the top of the lighthouse then moved quickly out the frame. Creepy as hell. Again, it was something unknown happening there, something that had a confusing substance to it. It was both weird and awesome... maybe a little scary too...

And then there are the video games. Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 4 stick out to me as terrifying games, each in their own way. Silent Hill 2 has such a melancholic feel to it. It hits the mind in all the right ways. Yes, it's a fantastic story, but what's really great about it is taking the ordinary and making it terrifying. The apartments section is easily one of the scariest. Hell, even the town itself is creepy. It's abandoned, but isn't supposed to be. The apartments look like they were just abandoned themselves, days or even hours before... or maybe months... letting the place people once called home fall into disrepair, the memories in those apartments stuck there as if they could never leave, changing the very fabric of the walls, changing the reality of the place they once were. The nightmare feelings of the game that twist the reality of the unreality make the games, all of the Silent Hill games, even more horrifying as you play them. Silent Hill 4 might not have the nightmarish sections of the second game, but the feeling of no control is certainly one that makes you feel odd. Unbeatable ghost enemies, running from a psycho, and twisted lengthened areas of such mundane places like an apartment building, a subway station, and much more add to the level of terror. And of course how could I forget Silent Hill: Downpour, which builds the tension up so slowly that you barely notice it? Walking into a movie theatre on a whim and finding yourself in a forgotten house... or walking through a theatre and finding yourself in a forest and a small house, all the while it's pouring outside, and you have no way to go but forward. It's all well done, all scary, all terrifying, and all needed.

But I don't think any of that properly explains the state, the emotion, the feeling... of fear. Look, go outside, alone, in the dark, and think of something else out there, watching your every move, not a person because people are only scary when they're trying to kill you or when they're yelling, I suppose. Ideas can be scary. Thoughts and dreams an be full of terror. Music can scare you, as can books, movies, video games, or people. Fear is an emotion of the lack of control, the lack of knowing.

Think about something totally inhuman watching you in the dead of night, in the darkness of early morning.. well, anytime at all. One thing that used to scare the hell out of me was Bigfoot staring at me through my second story window in the dead of night when nobody but myself would be awake to see him staring. I know... I know it can't happen (because Bigfoot is probably not real... and also he is not as tall as my second story window if he is real), but it scared the hell out of me at the tie, enough for me to want to have the curtains drawn across my windows for years... just so I wouldn't see that face staring back at me. Heh, it stills gives me a bit of a chill even now. Dead animals buried in the back yard were creepy too, especially if you're wondering if they'll come back to life and haunt you... or something. I don't know. I was stupid when I was afraid of these things, but that doesn't mean it didn't make sense to my mind back then.

Also freaking cellars, especially an old one with a dirt floor like I have... and I have to go down and do laundry late at night sometimes... I expect Slender Man or a homeless drunken man to come out of the darkness while I'm washing my pants and murder me. Wonderful thought to be having in my own house, huh? Nobody likes cellars though... or attics for that matter. Creepy old places nobody ever goes. Never feels lived in or anything. Just feels all empty, all forgotten...

Oh, and I'm also... uh... slightly... only very slightly... afraid of gnomes too.

Creepy bastards.

I guess there are other things to fear, but I think I'm talking about the genre of fear in regards to the unknown. Ah, this might be a bit silly in the end, but it's my last review for October Nights, and I felt like writing something appropriate to end it on what you might think of as a high note.

(So, just as a note, the artsy looking pictures you see of abandoned places and such in this review? Well, my girlfriend took those pictures (which comprise of most of the pictures in this review). She likes taking photographs of old or abandoned things almost as much as I love looking at them and creeping myself out. Her photo blog can be found here. Seriously check it out if you find her photos interesting. I'm sure she'd appreciate it. And since I'm incredibly proud of her photo work, I'd appreciate you looking at her photos too. You could also just leave a comment here about them if you'd like as well though. I'll be sure to pass along any messages to her if you decide on that. Thanks for reading and looking at my blog and this review! If you haven't checked out my other reviews and such you really should! You might find something really obscure or really cool on this blog! Anyway, another Halloween has come and gone! See you for October Nights next year (with a ton of reviews in between too... but that's besides the point)!)

Movie Appraisal: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

I don't have much to say about this movie except that if you haven't seen in and are reading this review: Stop.


STOP, and go and watch this film. Do it for Halloween. I don't care if it's not Halloween anymore. Do it for the potential of Halloween. This just happens to be the greatest Halloween movie ever made and needs to be watched by everyone. Oh, you think I kid. You think I jest. I neither kid nor jest. It is perfect. Perfect in every discernible way for a Halloween movie.

Trick 'r Treat is an anthology film written and directed by Michael Dougherty. It was based on his animated short film from 1996 entitled Season's Greetings, which also features the character of Sam (that little dude up there on the poster). The movie is also a wonderful comedy-horror movie with blood, gore, breasts, and everything a horror movie like this should be. The comedy aspect of it is incredibly well done. It's funny at all the right spots. I found myself laughing more than once at the ridiculousness of it all or some of the wonderful lines throughout the movie. I loved the ironic deaths of many of the characters, so much so that I would generally find myself gleefully humming to myself as they died. Not sure if I've ever done that to a movie before...

The characters (and acting) in it are brilliant as well, ranging from the hilarious murderous principal Steven Wilkins (played by Dylan Baker) to the virginal Laurie (Anna Paquin) to Sam (Quinn Lord) himself. Hell, even the savant Rhonda (Samm Todd) and the witchy young girl Sara (Isabelle Deluce) are nearly brilliant. Brian Cox is also awesome as Creeg, the angry old man of the film. I can't say enough great things about all of these actors. Seriously, every last one of them creates a fantastic and memorable character. And they all seem to really love being in this movie, and making a movie that finally feels precisely like Halloween.

Anyway, the movie basically involves a bunch of Halloween parables. And they all work quite well with each  of them focusing on a different aspect of Halloween culture. You have the kids who are trying to dig up an urban legend and appeal to the ghosts of that legend. You have the woman who doesn't have any respect for Halloween and wants those decorations down ASAP. You have your girls in sexy costumes going to a party in the woods. You have a serial killer type who poisons a kid. And you have a crotchety old man who has no respect for anybody but himself. All of these plots intertwine to tell the narrative, but I'm not saying how they intertwine. Watch the flick to find that out.

It is one of the first films I've ever watched that really hits what Halloween is all about. It feels appropriate in every way. It feels like Halloween. I don't know how much more I can say about it. I've been a kid at Halloween. I've been a crazy teenager at Halloween, and now I'm basically an adult at Halloween. I've loved Halloween every year. I've gone trick-or-treating with both friends and family (and been around the blocks a few times by myself). I've been to parties, stayed up and watched horror movies with people, and generally enjoyed the holiday every year immensely. If you've taken any time to enjoy it too, you will love this film. Don't be scared off by the comedy aspect of the movie, since it does hold the appropriate level of scares as well. But don't think that the movie is too scary either. While there is a good amount of gore, it is really over-the-top, never being actually realistic in the slightest. It fits in a snug little corner between comedy and horror and works well as both of those things.

The plot with the school bus massacre, the old man, and the school principal are my favorites, but all of them work more-or-less incredibly well. It's just that those three work spectacularly well as what they are. The school bus massacre especially feels like it could be a movie all on its own. And it happens to be the absolute pinnacle of terrifying in this movie. I'm pretty sure I've done stupid things like these kids did, and though it didn't end up as... uh... messy as it did in this movie, I'm pretty sure the mood was still there. Somehow Halloween was encapsulated on film, and I love that feeling so very much.

I really can't say enough good things about this movie. I'm glad I had a chance to review it on Halloween. I'm also glad that I've gotten the chance to have a great time on Halloween watching a fantastic film. Check it out right now if you haven't this year. You will not be disappointed, I almost guarantee it.

Mini Movie Appraisals Part 2: Lifeforce (1985), Eden Log (2007), and The Sixth Sense (1999)

I'd like to do another session of a bunch of extra movies I saw this October that I couldn't necessarily milk long reviews out of. These three movies: Lifeforce, Eden Log, and The Sixth Sense have literally almost nothing in common. Lifeforce is a weird vampire alien sci-fi horror movie from the 1980s. It is both slow-paced and well acted, definitely reminiscent of earlier films of the sci-fi horror genre, particularly the slow-paced 1950s sci-fi horror movies that more often than not involved scientists standing around talking to one another. Eden Log is a heavily stylized, almost avant-garde movie involving a man with amnesia and monstrosities hunting both him and the others in the cave he happens to be in. It is an incredibly different kind of movie, I'll give it that. And The Sixth Sense is The Sixth Sense, but I'll talk about that one quickly too.

Despite the title sounding like a group of cheesy superheroes, Lifeforce is actually very staunchly in the realm of sci-fi horror. Well... I probably should say that I use both of those terms very lightly in this case. Lifeforce is a long and unassuming movie that plays like a much more epic film than it could ever be. The "Lifeforce" in this case is human life energy or soul energy or whatever you'd like to call it, and the villains are space vampires. It's an absolutely ridiculous premise, certainly calling on certain sci-fi drive-in B-movies from the 1950s and 1960s as places to start from.

The whole movie has the feel of a modern-day 1950s sci-fi B-movie, like The Thing From Another World or Them! With an incredibly slow pace and most of the movie spent talking or talking about talking, it can be fairly dry at times (Okay, incredibly dry, even boring might be more accurate). The effects are cheesy, the acting somewhat overdone, but still believable for most characters, and the whole movie mostly feels like an experiment gone wrong. So many scenes make little to no sense that I found large portions of the movie insulting to my intelligence. All the while the movie talked down to me! Despite all of this, the British actors and Tobe Hooper made this movie classy even with the gratuitous amounts of nudity, both male and female.

While I somewhat enjoyed the ridiculousness of this film, it really isn't a great movie. I do enjoy the Britishness of the film though. And the actors were really doing their best to make the plot enjoyable. The space-vampire premise is silly and ridiculous, but when the astronauts find them in the first place it is appropriately weird. I liked the oddity of it all. It's average at best despite some interesting moments. I did find some enjoyment in it though, so if you want to see an odd, 1950s sci-fi paced movie made in the mid-1980s with space-vampires, this may well be the movie for you.

 Eden Log is both beautiful and dark as a movie. I think the visuals and the cinematography are the absolute best parts of the film. When the main character, Tolbiac, wakes up in a dank cave without any memories lying next to a dead man, you almost know the movie is going to be a bit interesting. And it kind of is. With elements of sci-fi horror, and psychological horror, it actually reminds me a great deal of the later Pandorum. While I absolutely love Pandorum with a passion nearly unrivaled by any other film, this one is a great deal more forgettable. Despite the initial promise of the plot, I found the look of the movie to work against itself. It seemed to become less horror as the plot wore on, and a great deal more convoluted and frankly less interesting. The monsters seemed to be hastily done albino creatures and they didn't do to much for me. There never seemed to be any tension when viewing them, unlike Pandorum and that just took me right out of the horror.

As for character, well, none of them are really all that interesting. The plot is a simple one of escape and getting to the surface, but it is accomplished by a minimalist script with very little actual spoken dialogue. I really liked this aspect of the film even if it did make the entire movie drag slowly at times. The scientist that Tolbiac meets up with about halfway or so through the movie is just about the most interesting character. She hold him despite his strength in semi-captivity because... well, the cave complex seems to make people go insane and turn into subhuman monsters. And he kind of is a monster but not a monster at the same time? I have no idea... but she's scared of him a bit. Eventually she runs away when her tent is attacked by the creatures and Tolbiac follows her, and then the best scene in the movie happens as Tolbiac catches up with her in the elevator and simultaneously makes love to her and rapes her. This is incredibly well shot, incredibly and darkly psychological, and appropriately painful for both parties involved. The horror that crosses Tolbiac's face when he realizes what he has done is palpable, as is her hatred for him.

The plot staggers towards the end, becoming far more complex than it should be, making Tolbiac the hero without any real buildup of his character, but most of the movie is a fun ride. The lack of dialogue and actual horror can be seen as a major downside here, but I think parts of the movie work quite well, and although never scary, it does tension fairly well. The psychological aspects of the movie are by far my favorites, and it is a ride of a movie, even if it isn't always a fun or enjoyable one.

I seem to be praising this movie a lot, but despite the artistry and everything else about it that I liked, I found this movie hard to focus on at times. The lack of dialogue, characters, or plot really made this one a much longer movie for me than it should have been. I was more often confused than anything else, and I came out of this film with a bad taste in my mouth. I really wouldn't recommend it unless the premise sounds incredibly fascinating. It's an artistic film, I'll give it that, but for what end? I have no idea.

Look, if you don't know anything about The Sixth Sense, you shouldn't even be reading this blog. It's as near to a classic horror film as the 1990s can offer. Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment are nearly pitch perfect in their roles as respectively a child psychologist and a troubled young boy. I won't spoil this movie on the crazy off-chance you've never heard of it. I have no idea how you wouldn't know about it, but... I'd rather be safe... and it's about as good a twist as a twist can be. I actually saw this movie in theatres back when it was actually in theatres, so I actually experienced the twist first hand.

Anyway, I haven't seen the movie since that time I saw it in the movie theatre. And while I liked it when I was ten, I had no idea what I would think about it at twenty-three. I think I love this movie even more now than I did then. I certainly appreciate it a lot more now. The acting is incredibly solid, easily one of the better performances from every actor in the production that I have ever seen. The plot is consistent and very good all around, and the writing is pretty spot-on. While I think the dialogue is a little clunky at times, and the directing can sometimes be shock-and-awe over consistency if that makes any sense at all, M. Night Shyamalan does a great job all around. This twist made him the master of twists for a time, even if that time didn't last for long. He was a master nonetheless and this movie stands as testament to that mastery over the artform of movie-making.

I don't even know what else to say. I love this movie. Everybody, horror fan or not, should watch it at least once in their lifetimes. It is brilliant and beautiful and needs to be enjoyed by everyone. I wish I could add more, but I think everything about this movie has already been said. I really liked it, and that's all there is.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Space Horror Mini Movie Appraisals: Prometheus (2012), Pitch Black (2000), and Screamers (1995)

I think it would be pretty cool to review three space horror movies that I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet. While I'd love for all of these movies to have their own reviews, I don't think I have enough to say about these movies to have content enough for full reviews of each. Prometheus itself is so incredibly popular and talked about that there's not much more that I feel I could add to the conversation. Pitch Black, although excellent, only leads me to say one major thing about it, and Screamers, while I have the most to say about that movie, has a simple yet effective story, but little else to offer.

So, starting with Prometheus, this prequel to Alien, made by the same director as that movie, Ridley Scott. It was his first time returning to the franchise since Alien and... yeah... I have a lot of the same problems with this movie that I had with the first one. While I think the movie looks absolutely gorgeous (and it really does) it relies heavily on CGI, even if that CGI is some of the best I've ever seen. The story itself is fairly bland, full of plotholes, characterization misses, and generic alien environments. It doesn't fit well looks-wise into the Alien franchise, and *probably* should have been a completely new franchise that works on its own without the Alien franchise limiting it. Now, I love Aliens, but that doesn't mean that any other movie in the franchise really appeals to me. I also truly think that this movie, even while having those stunning visuals, is basically a really awful movie.

I hate the acting. The characters, except for David, are largely uninteresting, have no discernible or qualifying features, and are really, really flat in general. David, played by Michael Fassbender, is brilliant though, and he continues the legacy of all the Alien films I've seen having the best character (and actor) being an android. The plot makes literally no sense to me. As a biology major with a concentration in genetics, I have no idea why the archaeologists somehow figure that the "Engineers" created humans or why these archaeologists have any say when it comes to actual genetic samples that need interpreting. Look, you have a biologist for a reason and you're supposed to use him... I mean, yes, he dies quickly and stupidly, but the plot could have been worked better. I'll even throw out my own hypothesis here: If the DNA of the Engineers and humans are the same, then that points out that we are probably descended from them rather than created by them. It would make a great deal more sense serving as a hypothesis rather than humans being created and still being 99.9% similar to chimpanzees in the end anyway. It basically dissolves the theory of evolution, which would be a pretty ignorant thing to do (no offense meant, but it is the best explanation of why genetic material is so similar even across large taxonomic gaps). I truly wish more thought would have been put into the science rather than the visuals, but... what is a big-budget film these days except a movie that puts style over substance?

Other complaints are more varied, including complaints about make-up, random dead people not being dead anymore for some reason, and a male only operating tube thing. None of those make me happy. They're all terrible and stick out in a movie that should be much better structured all around with a powerhouse of a director, and a ton of money behind it. I really wondered why some of the make-up effects were so bad, particularly on Guy Pearce's character. I have to mention him specifically because he looked just plain silly. The movie also delivers no tension, no real character moments, and a generally ridiculous plot that makes no sense and ultimately ends with a whimper. This isn't horror so much as stupid.

I can't help disliking this movie. I can't recommend it. If you want a good Alien movie watch the first movie or Aliens. Avoid this one.

Pitch Black is all kinds of brilliant. I've seen the theatrical version, the edited for TV version, and the Director's Cut, and I've loved them all. It's a wonderful film no matter how you watch it and a great space horror flick to boot. I can't recommend it enough if you want a really good horror movie, a really good space movie, or a really well acted story and character based movie. Riddick has quickly become one of my favorite characters movie fiction. While I don't like the second Riddick movie anywhere near as much, this one really works on every discernible level. Vin Diesel plays the perfect Riddick. It was like the role was made for him and him alone, and that's not something I say about most characters and their actors. Nobody else could ever play Riddick, and that's about the highest praise I could give about a character. Radha Mitchell also does a great job as Carolyn Fry, pulling out a surprisingly emotional performance that I thoroughly enjoyed.

While the plot is simplistic, I think it works incredibly well. I love the characters, the situation, the beginning, the end, and the middle. It is one of my favorite movies I newly saw this year. I can't help recommending this film as much as I possibly can. Watch this movie if you want a movie sort of like the Alien movies, but all kinds of different nonetheless. I found this movie incredibly enjoyable, much more enjoyable than any Alien film, and easily one of the best horror movies taking place in space/on another planet outside of Pandorum, Sunshine, and Event Horizon. It is horrific in all the right ways, has some great directing courtesy of the wonderful David Twohy, some pitch-perfect visuals, and an alien that rivals the alien from the Alien series for purely horrific and terrifying. If you haven't seen this movie you need to.

Screamers, a movie about opposing military bunkers on a planet with an important natural resource during a civil war, has an incredibly complex plot, some really interesting moments, and harbors one of the better stories I've seen in movies of this time period. Based off of Philip K. Dick's short story "Second Variety" and starring Peter Weller, I don't think I could easily dislike this movie. It has some similarities to Dick's Blade Runner as well, specifically the reliance on robots/androids for things humans cannot or will not do. In this case the robots are killing machines bent on destroying the other side of the conflict with no ethical reservations. These robots eventually start evolving, become closer to human, but never having emotions, and always bent on destruction... uh... kind of.

I guess there is some room for the robots to evolve and at least one (maybe two) of the robots seemed to develop quirks in their personalities, specifically in regards to either having emotions (love and hate) or being able to pass well as humans. The robots are named "screamers" because when they attack they give off a high-pitched shrieking sound, whether they are little underground robot or more evolved models.

The human robots seem to be both creepy and heavily advanced from humans. They can pass as humans, among humans, for days without being found out, but just like in Blade Runner their fatal flaw is that they cannot pass perfectly. In this case they show their true colors by having tics and random repeats of certain phrases or motions. Also a model will look the same as a model of the same type, which is convenient. This movie features some blood and gore, but a decent amount of actual tension as well to create the horrific atmosphere. When the main characters are in the enemy bunker they've been going towards for half of the movie to help sign a peace treaty between the two sides, but find it tomb-like and full of death- well, I don't remember too many other moments that were quite as effective at creeping me out in other movies of this type. It's actually funny just how creepy an army of murderous robotic children screaming at you can be. I would have never expected that particular thing to be terrifying.

All-in-all, this movie is fun even if it is not perfect. I would call it average if not for a few wonderfully tense scenes towards the middle and at the end of the film. Check it out if it sounds interesting. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Television Miniseries/Movie Appraisal: Storm of the Century (1999)

"The good is an illusion. Little fables folks tell themselves so they can get through their days without screaming too much." 

I assume this review will be appropriate for those affected by Hurricane Sandy like I am. I am currently in Connecticut, having battened down the hatches for the storm. I haven't lost power, although the lights were certainly threatening for a while, and thus I can watch the long hours of Storm of the Century and put out my thoughts on it. I never really expected to review this one. I've seen it a few times before, have fond memories of it, but also find it incredibly long to watch these days, especially all in one sitting. I just usually don't have the time for a long television miniseries. But, with the hurricane, all my activities cancelled, and the perfect time to watch this miniseries again, I took the opportunity. I kind of had to do it. When will the next time be that I get a chance like this to be relevant in my review choice?

I'm not sure exactly what I can say about this. Obviously Stephen King wrote the screenplay, although this was not ever based on any of his novels. The screenplay was published too. I own a copy of it. I read it along with watching the movie this time around. Some things are changed around, but a great deal of it remains the same or largely similar. While I won't say that this is absolutely the best movie/miniseries based off of something Stephen King wrote, although it is a very good one, I would say it may very well be his most ambitious and possibly also his most poignant. I've thought on Storm of the Century a great deal, particularly when the weather is stormy... or when there is snow on the ground.

Craig R. Baxley directed it, and the job he did is absolutely wonderful. Yes, there are some awkward scenes, and yes, the actors aren't always perfect, but there are some great moments in this little film, particularly in the beginning and at the end. The time spent getting everything to look perfect, specifically Linoge, is something to be proud of unto itself. But there is also making the snow and the storm look like actual snow and storm... and that was accomplished fairly accurately. I've seen snow and storms... hell, two years ago we had three or four feet of snow on the ground. So, yeah, I'd say I have an inkling about how snow looks in real life.

As for plot, well, it's certainly well done. A murderer is caught on an island off the coast of (you guessed it) Maine that is bracing for a heavy storm, a storm of the century, if you will. This murderer, André Linoge, killed an old woman, and remained sitting in the house he killed her in until the main character and constable of the town, Michael Anderson, takes him away in handcuffs. The rest of the plot is rather straightforward, although there are moments of following around relatively minor characters who either kill themselves or others under the supposed influence of Linoge. Oh, I didn't mention something? Yeah, it seems like Linoge is some kind of supernatural force of nature. His name is an anagram of Legion, as in the Legion from the Gospels. You probably know the passage from the Book of Mark 5:9: "And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." (I'm citing this as the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.) Now, whether or not Linoge is that Legion or not is of no consequence. He remains stalwart, nearly silent, and fairly creepy until near the middle portion of the movie. He seems to need to act as the people he is attempting to control to make them do his will, but sometimes even he seems to fail. He tries to possess a man named Billy at one point so that Billy will kill his own girlfriend. But the plan doesn't go as it should because Billy's a coward and won't kill her. It's the only moment of the movie where Linoge absolutely fails, and it's a moment that shows his fallibility. It's also a moment the audience needs to see to sow the seeds of doubt in our minds. Yes, he succeeds quite easily in his next plan, but for that first plan to fail is telling.

The rest of the story plays out as Linoge eventually escapes from prison, the people on the island are upset, people start going missing, and all the paths lead to one message: "GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I'LL GO AWAY."
What Linoge wants is the big question throughout the movie. It is revealed, almost at the end of it, that what he wants is a child of his own, to raise as he will- a child of the residents there. While Michael dissents to giving away a child and his soul, the rest of the town concedes, and Linoge finds himself in possession of Michael's child at the end of the movie.

There are some fairly powerful moments within the plot, and some that are slightly less than powerful. Stephen King can sometimes let a story get away from him, and although seeing many members of the town can give us a good feeling of the town, it can also lead to confusion when one townsperson seems really important when you have no idea if you've seen them in the movie before they have an important moment. The amount of townspeople in this movie may well be accurate and well-portrayed, but they are also copious, and that led to a ton of confusion from me over who I was actually looking at in parts of the movie. The problem also is that none of these extra townspeople are really important besides a select few... so featuring them seems a little dubious to me. Also, I have to complain about some of the CGI and Linoge's sharp, dirty teeth. Those things were utterly unneeded in my opinion. They were superfluous and worked on absolutely no levels. I did not like them is my point here.

The main body of the story with Linoge and Michael being featured and opposing one another is a big draw here. The other is the actual storm itself. I'm sorry, but a movie featuring the title Storm of the Century better damn well have a storm of the century. And this movie doesn't disappoint. The storm is both atmospheric and vicious, and hearkens back to times when whole places would disappear from a storm. Roanoke colony is heavily referenced within the framework of the plot. Linoge is even indicted in its disappearance. The storm is truly the big draw here... which, I suppose, is one of the reasons I'm reviewing this movie now. It's atmosphere, tension, darkness, and acting are also all topnotch so as to make this a very enjoyable film... even if it is overlong.

There are three extreme acting powerhouses in this film. Colm Feore, who plays Linoge, is absolutely haunting. The man plays creepy better than most I've ever seen. His serenity, calmness, and utter lack of emotion lends a lot to the idea that he is purely evil. The character, I mean, not the actor. Opposing him as the protagonist of the feature is Tim Daly, who has the most emotionally driven performance of the miniseries. It's hard not to relate to the hardworking man, who tries his best to be good in a world working against him. His good that opposes the evil of Linoge works very well in a black-and-white world... but... this film may not be just black-and-white, as we'll see. The last actor I really want and need to mention is Jeffrey DeMunn, who plays Robbie Beals, the town manager. Jeffrey Beals must love working in Stephen King based movies, because those are the only movies I've ever seen him in. The guy knows how to act though, and is thoroughly entertaining throughout without ever being wholly unlikable. These three really are featured the most, and definitely hold their weight up a fantastic actors all of them. As an honorable mention I should say that Casey Siemaszko, who plays Hitch, is also very well done. The actor had the exact right face and acting style for the character he was playing, although I'm pretty certain he never had a true moment to show off what he could truly do acting-wise.

Anyway, this movie is incredibly enjoyable with some genuinely creepy moments in the first half of the film and small parts of the second half. (Yes, I know the miniseries actually consists of three episodes, but I'm watching on DVD, so I'm going by halves here.) Linoge and the storm itself are the real scare factors here and both do a good job at heightening both tension and atmosphere almost to breaking points. I also love the moral choice at the end of the film. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of choice. It is not a black-and-white and clear-cut choice, but one that has no truly good answers. While I agreed with Michael that you can't deal with the devil, there would be no guarantees that any of them could ever leave that island alive... or be found at all. Maybe the dreams and the dropping of the children as they flew with him were all bluffs Linoge put on, but seeing what he did to establish himself before then, it's hard to argue that he probably would send as many as he could to their deaths, either until they agreed with his terms or they were all dead. Maybe a few of strong moral compass would survive the ordeal, but what then? Would the children still live? Would they still be damned? There is no way to know since they made the other choice. And that choice, although terrible for Michael, saved the lives (even if those lives are damned) of the rest of the townsfolk. And I'm not certain that is the worst choice in the world in this case. There are times when you should not compromise your codes, and others when it is the only choice, but here there is no truly right or wrong answer, and that's what makes the choice so fascinating to look at.

I guess that, besides my praise, I have a final and important question to raise: Why couldn't Linoge just choose an orphan to raise? I mean, there are plenty of orphans seeking adoption. Why not a baby that is well on its way to being aborted? Why not a child that is lost in the woods? Hell, if he wanted to adopt a child, couldn't he just make up an identity and go get one legally? Or enlist some nice people to adopt one for him? Why did he have to go through all the trouble and all the murder, all the complications really, when there are simpler ways of dealing with these things? I assume it speaks a great deal about the personality of Linoge that we didn't see. He wants to create chaos and disorder and ruin lives. It wasn't just for the child that he came to Little Tall Island, ME. He also came there to have his own brand of fun, causing strife amongst the people, and causing more than a few to kill themselves, kill others, or die untimely deaths. I guess that's the real kicker here. Linoge could have done this anyway of his choosing. He could have made this easy. There was no reason for him to need an island child that we know of or suspect. He wanted to watch those people on that island cave into themselves and lose themselves and their souls to that decision because he truly liked to revel in their pain, their misery, their discomfort, and their terror. And that's what makes Linoge all the more terrifying. He exists to feed off of these negative emotions. He acknowledges the evil of men, but as that first quotation at the start of this review says, "...good is an illusion."

I'd suggest this movie as a watch if there is a storm going on or the snow is coming down. It is a good watch under the right conditions. There is a lot of good things here, but a great deal of superfluous plot threads, characters, motivations, and the like. I could have done without at least an hour or two out of that four hours or so of movie. But then it would truly be a movie and not a miniseries event. So, there's that. While I liked the miniseries, I would be reticent to truly recommend it for everybody. Again, it's a great watch under the right conditions and when you know what to expect from it. But it can also get quite dry, quite boring, and quite long at other times. So, use your discretion and have a good deal of time to put aside if you do decide to watch it. You probably won't regret all of it... only the parts where nothing's happening.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Innkeepers (2011)

Every once in a while a movie comes along that I absolutely cannot stand on any level. The Innkeepers is that movie for this October. While I'm unsure of exactly what I was expecting from this movie, it certainly wasn't whatever I just saw. Almost nothing about this movie is good. The pacing is terrible. The acting is nearly atrocious in all given cases. The characters are unlikable at best and unfathomable at worst. None of the decisions made by the characters, particularly towards the end of the film, make any sense whatsoever, and there are long periods of time when nothing at all happens.

I happen to love atmospheric horror, but this is  atmospheric horror without atmosphere. It's a ghost story without a purpose. It's a character study without character. This movie is inept. It doesn't work, wither as a movie or as a horror movie. It's boring, predictable, and somewhat pathetic. Ti West, a director I've heard a great deal of very good things about, is about the only reason this movie is even watchable. His direction is passable, even good at times, particularly when the old man shows up dead. Besides that though, none of the actors even seem to be trying. Well, that's not true, Sarah Paxton, who plays Claire, is trying way too hard. She needs to tone her acting down a notch. All I received from her character is that she was twitchy, impulsive, and really dumb. I'm sure many people are like that, but this just felt like overacting to the extreme.  Pat Healy, playing Luke, does a better job, but there are times, particularly when he is scared in the basement of the inn, where it is painfully obvious what's going on in his acting. I like subtlety in movies of this nature, but this movie looked at the word "subtle," didn't understand it, probably never even heard of it, and moved on.

The plot largely centers around the last weekend of the Yankee Pedlar Inn (incidentally in my home state of Connecticut). I have seen the inn before in Torrington, and I guess it could be creepy. Honestly, anything set in this godforsaken state could be creepy, but for the most part this movie was decidedly not creepy at all. Anyway, this last weekend, involves a bunch of shenanigans, ranging from Claire freaking out constantly, to an actress who happens to be psychic, to ghosts and spooks jumping out from all angles. Luke and Claire have attempted to try to find ghosts in the hotel before, and Luke is even in the process of making a spooky late 1990s internet page about the ghosts in the hotel despite it being 2010/2011 when the movie takes place. Ugh. The inn is supposedly haunted, but they've caught very little in the way of evidence, and near the end of the movie you find that Luke doesn't even believe in the ghosts. He's more than likely doing all of this stuff to appeal to Claire, whom he has a thing for. Claire, on the other hand, is a ball full of twitch. The girl can't stand still. She can't stop touching things and moving and twitching and screaming, and it distracted the absolute hell out of me. I didn't connect with her character at all. I didn't like her at all. I had no emotional connection with her, and that was an absolute shame.

I don't think this movie had a promising premise in any case, with or without great characters. Some ghost stories work, but one that seems based on lack of creepy visuals, lack of atmosphere, and lack of actual subtle scares is absolutely doomed to fail. Now, I generally don't like ghost movies anyway, but I had this movie recommended to me by a source I generally trust for compelling spooks and creepy stories. Not this time, it seems. This movie is so devoid of character, scares, or investment that I found myself frequently getting bored, and wishing the movie would just end already. I never do that. Hell, even The Reaping and Marronnier were compelling enough to watch the whole way through. This movie just had nothing for me. It could have been okay. I do like a well handled ghost story... and I happen to watch Ghost Hunters too, so I should love a movie like this if it is well done. But this one was not.

I don't even have more of a plot analysis than that. I have no idea if the ghosts Claire saw were real or not. That seemed to be something the movie was trying to put a question mark on. But the end of the movie completely invalidated any question of the validity of the ghost sightings... or at least of the psychic sights. And that just took away any interest I was clinging too. I figured, "Oh, it might all be in her head. She might be cracking a little. She might be making it all up." But no. Just ghosts scaring her to death because she didn't have her inhaler (since she has asthma). Another thing I have to mention is that my girlfriend had mild asthma. I see her using her inhaler every once in a while. And although Claire uses her inhaler correctly in a few scenes, there are quite a few others when she doesn't use it effectively at all. That bothered me like mad.

There is also forced humor throughout this movie that completely undermines the horror elements. Sometimes humor can be used well with horror, see The Cabin in the Woods or Hausu, but more often than not, humor is not encouraged for movies like this, particularly if it isn't well acted in the first place. I was incredibly disappointed with this piece of garbage movie even though I wasn't expecting anything but some ghosts. The tension was never there; the horror was never there. I would rather watch almost any other horror movie than this one. Avoid it. Don't see it. Don't watch it. Don't encourage it.

Oh, and just to point this out, because I love feeling superior to movie critics who are precisely the worst kinds of people. This terrible movie? Yeah, it has almost an 80% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie that I hated because it was a poorly made, poorly acted, poorly executed horror movie? Yeah, give it an almost stunningly positive review number. But great movies like Silent Hill: Revelation, Ghost Ship, 1408, or even the near-classic Jacob's Ladder all have worst scores. Never trust critics. Seriously. If someone tells you a horror movie has a great score, just pretend it's a bad movie. Do the opposite for films that have terrible scores. Nobody seems to know how to precisely score horror movies, especially when most critics already hate them. Well, horror movies are awesome, and true horror movies need to be known. I will always call out the crap and praise the great ones. And this movie is absolute garbage.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2012)

Pyramid Head! What are you even doing here in this movie? Shouldn't you be tormenting James in the REAL Silent Hill 2?

Or Alex in Silent Hill: Homecoming?

Or Rose and Cybil in the original Silent Hill movie?

Honestly... why are you always there, Pyramid Head? Wait... are you... are you operating... a... a...

...carousel? What?
Why...? Why are you operating that carousel, Pyramid Head? Why do you have fish hook looking thing attached to your nipples for some reason? Why do you make it all spin? Why do I feel like I'm losing my mind?

Look the reason Pyramid Head is here is because Pyramid Head is a marketable character/creature. He has basically become the FACE (Uh... Awkward Head?) of the Silent Hill series. Now, how you feel about that can vary. Many think that his being used in every little thing involving the franchise sullies his name, makes his role in Silent Hill 2 lessened, and makes him an incredible gimmick... as well as making him less interesting/terrifying and actually making him a boring character when he actually does show up. But on the other hand, the dude with the pyramid-shaped head is hella awesome. And marketable. AND WE LOVE YOU, PYRAMID HEAD! You are recognizable and I feel comfort in noticing things.

My opinion quite obviously veers to the former. He shouldn't be in this movie. His presence, although decently well-explained away, is somewhat baffling nevertheless. He does very little towards the end and seems to have much of the same role that Valtiel has in the original Silent Hill 3, a guardian and a watcher. This becomes incredibly apparent as he makes the carousel near the end of the movie go around or when he chops men's arms off who are actively attacking and grabbing out for Heather. He is a much more active guardian than the observing Valtiel, but in some ways that works nicely... and in others it's a big, odd gimmick that never really fits or finds a place to feel comfortable in. Once you let Pyramid Head out of the bag like the first movie did, you really have no choice but to use him again, just as Homecoming did. Pyramid Head is a trap, and one this franchise seems to keep falling for. Using him once was incredible. The movie using him in the wrong context was confusing. Using him in a second game for no reason was creatively unacceptable, and bordering on self-plagiarism, and using him here just points out how far this franchise will go to pound that familiar pyramid face into the ground. It's disheartening. Even if he were used well it would be disheartening. And here he is used acceptably, but that doesn't excuse that he's being used at all.

Now, even though this is the second Silent Hill movie, it is actually based upon the third game, Silent Hill 3, which also happens to be one of the games I am not overly fond of. Most of my problems with that game stem from its paper-thin plot, its weak characters, and the motivations behind it all. I don't just mean the motivations of the characters or writers, but I also mean the motivation of the creators making a direct sequel to the original game because they were under a lot of pressure to do so. Silent Hill 2 was initially panned by critics and reviewers because it was no true sequel, rather a self contained story with nothing to do with the first game other than aesthetics. And it worked well. Silent Hill 3, to me, felt like more of a cop-out than an original plot. But I'll get to my opinions when I review the game (if I ever review the game). Right now I'm just telling you that the game this movie is based upon is one I am not overly fond of.

So, imagine my surprise when this movie starts working for me. Imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying it. Imagine my surprise when I found myself engaged and wanting to see more. Wait, I was supposed to save that glee for later. Dammit. Now the cat is out of that locker. It's wandering the school and probably being hunted by monsters.

The movie, directed by Michael J. Bassett, who also directed Deathwatch, follows the same basic premise as the third game. Heather Mason (played by Adelaide Clemens) is a seventeen year old teenager who lives with her father Harry (Sean Bean). Heather and Harry move around a lot because they are avoiding being found. Heather tries to start another new life just as things all go to hell. While the plot is basically the same as the game major and minor things are changed all over the place, with some things added and some things taken away. Douglas Cartland arrives to meet and greet Heather, but not in the mall like he did in the game, but rather in front of her school bus. He waits for her, somewhat pesters her, and then follows her, trying desperately to warn her of the impending shadow of the Order. Movie Douglas, unlike his game counterpart, dies. He dies in the mall Otherworld sequence. He never even makes the drive with Heather to Silent Hill proper. While this is slightly disappointing, I'm not overly surprised. Douglas is not my favorite character, and the plot flows in a similar manner with or without him there.

Replacing Douglas and his role for the rest of the movie is Vincent (Kit Harrington), who is easily my least favorite character (or actor) here. He is no high school student, looking more like he's in his mid-twenties than his teens. And he can't seem to hide that British accent. He was obviously not from West Virginia is my point here. Sean Bean has similar problems disguising his accent, and seems to forget completely about disguising it at all. Why not? He's still good in the role. Why have him be American when he can be anything he wants to be? Sean Bean also, for some odd reason, will not die. The man, an actor who is known for playing characters that die by the end of the movie, survives this film... somehow... even when Harry, in the third game, is explicitly dead by the middle of it. It made some sense, truth be told, to not have him die, but it was surprising as well.

Vincent and Heather also have this whole romantic subplot going on throughout the movie. I have to mention it because it was creepy. At least one person in the theatre agreed with me. I heard a hearty "Ew" when he kissed her. I concur, person in the theatre!

Most of the movie is fluff. I can't even hide that. I can't say most of the movie is even worth anything at all. The plot is a mess, paper-thin at best... although again, the third game's plot has similar problems. The characters are barely there. The actors are only needed for scary reaction shots and some decent dialogue. Most of the plot and characters could have disappeared and I wouldn't have cared. Hell, the entire movie could have been monster encounters, and I would have been happy. We could have called it Silent Hill: Encountering Monsters, and although fanboys would have hated it, the movie wouldn't have changed much in content.

I loved some of the imagery and designs though. Unlike the first movie, a great deal of the images from this movie seem to be straight from the games. Also, there seemed to be a great deal of trying to make the interiors of buildings look convincing when they are all decrepit and abandoned in the Otherworld, because they succeed a million times in aesthetics. I can't say just how much I loved that the decaying buildings actually looked like decaying buildings. And throughout the movie this was true, with every building having its own unique look and layout. I was impressed.

The monster designs were also really well done. Yes, there were some returning monsters from the last movie, but most here are new, at least somewhat. The Missionary is the really big new monster. She is even a match for Pyramid Head in a fight. She appears throughout the film until she is revealed to be Claudia somehow. This takes fetus-eating right out of the picture, and for that I am truly disappointed. Instead we get Missionary Claudia fighting Pyramid Head. And you know what? It's fun. I liked it. I'm a dumb man who liked watching the monsters fight, okay? And other "monsters" appear as well often faceless, with stitched seams or fleshy... uh... bits all over. They're all kind of hard to explain. Some of the moments in the movie with the monsters are almost hilarious... and I wonder if they were purposefully meant to be funny. I kind of have the inkling they were meant to be humorous. Maybe that's just me.

Two new monsters were absolutely amazing though. The first was a mannequin spider creature who looked absolutely stunning. The idea was brilliant. I loved watching it, and it was almost frightening and horrifying in a way. It had easily the best and most serious scene in the entire movie. And for that, I am seriously glad. I needed that monster. It kept this movie interesting and moved everything along nicely. It was the highlight of my experience except for a moment at the end, which I'll get to shortly. The other "monster" that I really enjoyed was more a collection of monsters. They were under the floor grating, these heads and hands, almost making a floor underneath the floor. I have no idea if they were people, monsters or something else, but I loved the look of them.

As for everything else... Well, Heather merges with Alessa eventually, like in the game. And they do it on a carousel that Pyramid Head is inexplicably operating. Maybe there is symbolism there? Or maybe it's just dumb. I have no idea. I just know I was laughing so hard at Pyramid Head and his ridiculous nipple piercings... His operating of that carousel was less horrifying and more incredibly and ridiculously amusing. I laughed for a while and made jokes underneath my breath constantly.

And I guess that's the BIG PROBLEM of this flick. It never feels serious. It's made for the fans. That's obvious. If you are not a fan of the games skip this movie and never see it. It's not made for people who don't like the games, pure and simple. The moments ripped directly from the games, the jump scares, the decoy characters and plot points, and the gameplay mechanics basically shown in the movie are all there for the fans. My favorite one of those has to be the nurses. Yes, they also make a comeback, but they are impressive. They're there arguably more than the first movie, and they work well. They are intimidating, well acted, and relentless. In every way they were really one of the highlights of the film. And their sequence with Vincent and Heather works incredibly well, being both tense and effective.

But the rest of the movie has hilarious moments scattered throughout, and I have no idea if they were intentional or not. All I know was that I was having a great time. I made fun of the movie, I enjoyed sequences of the movie. I loved the imagery of the movie. And I had a grand old time. Were there problems? Yes. But none of those problems ever took away from my enjoyment of the feature. None of them ever made me want to walk out or stop enjoying what was in front of me. Some character decisions were baffling though... like Heather continuing to run into the darkness under the mall for some reason rather than staying in a populated area where she could yell for help. Yes, I know the nightmare world was nearly there (or maybe was actively there) but it would have made more sense for her to hold back. Vincent running off for some reason near the end of the film is also baffling. No idea why he did that. "Promise (Reprise)," a very good song from the second game, also seems to play constantly throughout the movie, no less than five times it seems. While it is a good song, you would think that thy would have more song selection than that to choose from.

Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss also are in this movie... but I can't really say much about them. McDowell is obviously a bad guy. And Carrie-Anne Moss seems to be both albino and a monster some times. It made literally no sense and I would rather not attempt to parse it.

Now, my favorite scene is the very end of the movie. Vincent and Heather have left Silent Hill for good. They hitchhike on a semi truck. The semi truck is driven by none other than Travis Grady. I called it out before it happened. "Travis?" I nearly shouted. "Travis, what are you doing here?" I was so excited! I have no idea why but that little nod to another game made me happy. And then the next nod made me honestly giddy. I love Silent Hill: Downpour, so when a few police cruisers and then a convict bus speed by the semi as Silent Hill gets all foggy again, I was basically ready to give the movie a standing ovation. Seriously. I don't think I've been as excited for a little nod from a filmmaker to me as a fan as I was here. It made me feel good.

So, overall, this was my best movie-going experience possibly ever. I loved this movie. I loved the parts that were great and the parts that were less great (and there definitely were some of those). I loved almost everything here except Kit Harrington and some of the more boring scenes that seemed to do nothing for either plot or character. I guess I should also mention that this is not a scary film. The first movie is a much more horrific experience. Although I found myself taken in by the plot here, I never found myself scared even a little bit, although I did find myself very engaged. I would call it a suspenseful experience, but not a scary one. While there were jump scares, most were predictable and none had a lasting impact. If I had cared about the plot or characters more maybe I would have cared about the scares more... but this movie wasn't about the plot or characters... it was all about the fans, the imagery, and the games. And I can't argue that. It was a wonderful homage to the games... even if as a movie it did seem to suffer under its own weight. I will stand by the fact that I loved this movie... that neither makes it a good movie nor enjoyable for everybody though. Be ready to go in there expecting the worst if you're going to see it. Be ready to poke a little fun at the movie. And be ready to just enjoy the ride. I did, and I'm nearly as happy as I could be. I would have been happier if the movie were actually scary, but I can't complain.

If you are a fan of the games, check this movie out... just don't take it too seriously, okay? I mean, Pyramid Head is pierced through his nipples... how can anyone see that and not laugh? Also, this is the first 3D movie I have ever seen. My opinion? Gimmicky, and not my favorite thing ever, but it worked a few times in more atmospheric moments. I still would have preferred to not wear the goofy glasses.

(Okay, and now I have a special second part of the review. This is unheard of for me and this blog, but I'm going to introduce a guest reviewer: my girlfriend who bravely sat through the movie with me, expecting to absolutely hate this movie. She knows almost nothing about the series of games, although she has seen the first movie, the first half of the second game, and bits and pieces of Downpour. So, here are her thoughts, as a non-fan of Silent Hill or horror:)

 Okay, so I just saw Silent Hill: Revelation 3D. I will preface this by saying that horror movies put me entirely out of my element. I do not often watch them! I am not the expert Justin claims to be, and I don't know much about the Silent Hill series outside of what I've seen played of SH2, SH3, and SH Downpour.

Inexpertise laid bare, I had fun watching this! I was never really scared, and I am a self-proclaimed weenie about this stuff. It did have some decent jump-scares in predictable places, but jump-scares don't mean much as far as horror goes. There were tense moments, but nothing actually horrific. My heart never really jumped from fear. It was a thriller more than a horror- and, being called a thriller, I thought it was actually pretty entertaining!

The story did nothing for me. Going in nearly cold to this film and not having the Silent Hill nostalgia driving my interest, the plot came across as dry. Very dry! It made sense, especially when explained, but that didn't stop the protagonists' actions from being poorly motivated. I'm sorry, but Vincent, what did catching the Brethren's attention in the amusement park do for you? Why the hell did you kiss Heather? Heather, you're disregarding everything your father has ever told you and blatantly ignoring common sense when you dive headlong into the venture. 'Oh my dad has literally bent our lives around hiding from people chasing us and telling me to never go back to Silent Hill no matter what- so let's just make that little trip, shall we?' It seemed.... shallow. I mean, I get it, but it still came across as much more of a game-reliant plot and movie than one really meant to stand on its own, which was slightly disappointing for someone without that game experience to draw from.

I never really connected with Heather, either. It's hard to, especially when the first major speech she makes is one literally meant to drive everyone away. Effective as a troubled high-schooler, not so much as a movie protagonist I'm supposed to emphasize with. Or is that not a thing for horror movies, and the protagonist is meant really only as a scream-generator? I don't know. I might be off-base.

I liked Robbie the Rabbit. I now want a little plushie.

The monsters in the movie were... interesting. The new ones, anyway. I liked the mannequin-spider-conglomeration! It was creepy, new, and parasitic, while still keeping to the pieced-together-mannequin monster theme in other Silent Hill pieces (the double-legged monster in SH2, for instance). Probably one of my favorite monsters (except for when it opened its head, I would have preferred to not have CGI shoved in my face like that)- and the girl Heather rescued there was pointless. I knew the instant she got ripped out of that plastic thread-sac that she was a moot character, only meant as a forced kind of monster feed to generate screams. That came across as shallow to me, as well. Pointless.

The nurses are a Silent Hill staple- I think they're overused, but at least this time they were used well. They responded to the noise made, and only when noise was made! That part, with Vincent lying on the gurney and trying to silently escape, was a well-done tense moment, in my opinion.

Pyramid Head was... I'm getting tired of his cameos. His original purpose was to be James's torment in SH2, and he's been bastardized from that ever since. What is he doing turning a demonic carousel, chained in place with nipple-clamps? And couldn't he take them out any other way than by ripping them?

VINCENT IS NOT A BRITISH HORMONAL TEENAGE BOY. That seemed fan-service-y to me. I'm not a fan of that.

The rot effects were very cool. They reminded me of every single abandoned building Justin and I have ever explored- especially the Knight Hospital. That, overall, was probably what spooked me the most, the ties to my urban exploration; not the ties to the Silent Hill series, which shouldn't really be the case, I think.

Again, as horror, this movie seems to fall flat even to someone as inexperienced as me. It was thrilling, again, but never really that scary. The scares they tried to pull were predictable, at best. ...Also, it might not have helped that Justin and I were cracking jokes about Pyramid Head's nipple clamps the entire time.

The best part, for me, was actually at the very end. Silent Hill: Downpour is the game I know the most about, save for SH2, so seeing the bus and police escort pass the truck as they were leaving the town was a great stinger for me. I guess we'll see if they follow that up well!

Last note? I HATE 3-D EFFECTS.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Dead Zone (1983)

The ICE... is gonna BREAK!
A "horror thriller film," eh? This is where I'm supposed to roll my eyes and wonder how people put movies into genres in the first place. Calling a movie a horror thriller is like calling it a thrilling suspense. It's absolutely redundant. The "horror thriller" line is from Wikipedia. Just ignore that website when it comes to most of these movies. It's a terrible website to get information from in the case of 90% of the stuff I review.

Anyway, this is a "horror" movie by absolute technicality. The director, David Cronenburg, does an absolutely fantastic job of capturing the horror of a terrible curse... or a wonderful gift... whichever you'd like to take it as. It's not precisely a horror film in the classic sense. It's never scary, never terrifying, never really all that horrific. The terror comes from what Johnny sees, and what he goes through in the course of the story. The original novel, also billed as horror, is much of the same way. There is no true horror. The realism is always there, but it is realism with a twist of the supernatural. This film is also a great adaptation of the novel, something I rarely have the chance to say.

The Dead Zone is mostly a collection of vignettes told in a rough story arc. Johnny Smith, played by Christopher Walken, gets into an accident, loses five years of his life to a coma, loses the love of his life, and loses most of his reason for living. He keeps pushing on, but as half a man, one lose to time as much as he is lost to life itself. The story very much pushes the fact that he really dies when he gets into the accident. Sure, five years later he goes on living, but it is no longer him, but a man given a gift, who is eventually told to give his life for the gift anyway.

This movie is not as fun as Graveyard Shift instead relying on serious performances rather than over-the-top ones, and sad moments rather than great lines. I don't know if this is the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel to screen, but it is damn well one of the best. The serious tone mixed with great performances by almost everybody in the film brings this movie to the forefront as a brilliant one from beginning to end. That being said, it's not precisely a horror film in execution, but rather a horror film by premise... if that makes any sense. It probably doesn't. My point is that this won't keep you up nights afraid... but it will make you wonder what you might do if you were given the "gift."

David Cronenburg is at the height of his game here. Coming in the midst of some of his greatest films of all time, and directly after Videodrome, this movie, while a more more "normal" film, does exactly what it needs to do, being both a fantastic and beautiful film as well as a depressing story of a man with a terrible gift. The little stories, all taken from the novel, are incredibly well done and well paced, with the beginning of the movie being nearly heartbreaking. Christopher Walken's performance is easily the best performance I've ever seen by him, and easily one of the most emotionally investing performances I've seen in a long time. Watching the struggle of a man trying to heal his shattered body, then trying to heal his shattered mind is both upsetting and heart-wrenching  Watching as he decides to give up his own life to the greater good is damn near hard to watch. This is a man who could do a lot of good for the world, and he does, but nobody will ever know but him.

Strangely, despite being both a huge fan of David Cronenburg and of Stephen King movie adaptations, I have never seen this movie, although I have owned it for years without watching it. I should have watched it long before now. It was a wonderful experience, and while not precisely the classic horror movie, it really does bring about a melancholic feel to me in late October, a feeling I kind of like this time of year. The Dead Zone, strangely, was one of the last non-recent Stephen King novels I read as well. Not sure why I waited so long for either, but I'm glad I finally read/watched the story unfold. It was really worth it to experience.

I don't have much else but praise for the movie. Sean Sullivan plays the perfect father to Walken's Johnny. I saw that exact man when I read the novel originally, and I felt he was perfectly cast to the role. Walken, although not precisely what I expected for Johnny, worked well here. I had kind of expected a younger man to play the role, but by the end, he really worked for me. He worked especially well after the accident. You really start to feel for him. He is a broken man, and a man who you could easily feel pity for... and so much remorse as well. He's nearly dead... maybe even should be dead, but he isn't. He keeps on living through the pain, through the problems, through losing the love of his life. He loses almost everything but keeps carrying on until he has no choice anymore but to do what needs to be done. And he is easily the most likable man in history. I was endeared to him in good-bye scene to Sarah after the carnival. He walks her to her door, she asks him inside. It starts to rain. And he says no. "Some things are worth the wait." I can't help but like him after that. And when he finally does get passionate when people might die, it's almost heart-wrenching  There are times you want to punch the people who won't listen to him in their faces. Walken and Johnny are really the centerpieces of the movie and they both pull off their jobs amazingly, with Walken acting brilliantly and Johnny being one of the best characters in a movie I have ever seen.

Saying that... Brooke Adams, playing Sarah Bracknell also worked decently, although I never really saw the chemistry between her and Walken, not as much as I thought I should see. Then again, I've never really liked her character, even if I understand her decision to marry someone else; it's still a cruddy decision for her to make. Martin Sheen plays a role he was basically meant for, a corrupt and overbearing politician, Greg Stillson, who has hopes for the White House... and even more hopes to basically destroy the damned world. He works well here, both sleazy and charismatic enough to pull off this political powerhouse of a man.

While some of the scenes happen fast and others take a long time to get anywhere at all, I do believe the movie is well-paced. I don't think a knowledge of the novel itself is needed when seeing the movie either, although in my case I definitely appreciated the background the novel provided. I do somewhat wish the movie had been slightly more fleshed out, with a little bit more added into it, maybe a little bit more establishing or something, but that is a very weak complaint, and really only says that I only truly wished for more. I guess that's why a television series of The Dead Zone existed.

I guess all I can say is that I just reviewed two excellent Stephen King movies in a row, both of which I recommend heartily despite both being completely different types of movies. While this is serious and more thrilling and suspenseful than horrific, it does have its moments. It's a good watch and probably one of the absolute best quality movies I've reviewed this October at least. Give it a watch if you haven't. It's definitely worth your time.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Graveyard Shift (1990)

We're going to Hell... TOGETHER!
Graveyard Shift is the perfect late 1980s/early 1990s horror film. And what I mean by "perfect" is that it is the representation of all that is the horror films from this period of time. From the hair, to the clothes, to the acting, everything here is wonderfully representative of this time in horror... especially the dubbing. Man, I love that dubbing where a character is heard shouting a bloodcurdling scream but is barely opening their mouth. Even the credits get into the action, having lines remixed into the music. It's absolutely wonderful. This movie also has some great lines and much better acting than you might expect from a movie of this... uh... calibre. Yeah, I'm going to use that word here. Directed by Ralph S. Singleton, and starring David Andrews as the drifter Hall, it is a fun ride of a horror movie that has some genuinely creepy moments.

So, the story, based off of a Stephen King short story of the same name from his Night Shift collection, is only somewhat like its original story with a much more upbeat ending than the story at the very least. Well, more upbeat in that somebody actually survives the underground sub-basement of the story. That really doesn't mean the story has an upbeat ending though. It's honestly pretty dark. It's one of those movies people seem to forget about easily. It's fairly similar in premise to many horror movies, but this one is so well executed that I do wish that it was better remembered. With only a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I have to wonder if that website is ever effective in telling whether a movie will be watchable or not. When Black Swan gets 87% and this great horror movie gets 13%... well, that's when I stop listening to Rotten Tomatoes (not that I ever have anyway).

Graveyard Shift starts out with an abandoned textile mill being reopened after somebody dies in the beginning, presumably from the very monster that is so central to the plot. The mill has a ton of water damage in the basement (and eventually sub-basement when the characters get there), and crews are hired to see that it all is cleaned out. The problem besides the water damage though, is that there are a ton of rats all over the basement and the mill itself. And these are no ordinary rats. They are much more than ordinary rats. They seem to have evolved in the basement of the mill to be incredibly intelligent, with at least one of them becoming a "super-rat" that is more like a giant bat creature of EVIL proportions. Throughout the movie characters are killed and eaten off by both rats and the super-rat alike. It creates tension and a great atmosphere for horror. The rat-creature is effectively terrifying, and never quite shown in full. It is like a hairless bat creature, and works to evoke terror in the viewer. It is often shown as moist, with red rivulets of moisture coming off of it at all times, probably indicative of the red water the sub-basement seems to harbor.

The rats used in the film seem to be all real rats, and the effects even besides the rats are actually all quite well done. It makes the movie much better when real things are used rather than some CGI nonsense. The acting is then related to what the actors can actually see and respond to, and it works incredibly well here. The acting is also legitimately well done, with really great performances from Brad Dourif, who plays a creepy rat exterminator, Stephen Macht, who plays the actually evil foreman/manager of the mill, Warwick, and Kelly Wolf, who plays the lead female of the movie, Jane, who is also the love interest of Hall. These three actually all have really good performances for a movie of this type. You don't expect much, and then are surprised by the great performances... at least I was. They have some really great lines too, much better than almost any given "great" movie today. (Okay, I'm a little bitter at the line-up of movies I see in today's market, okay?) Stephen Macht especially shines here as the major human antagonist as well as one of the sleaziest and most interesting characters ever put to film. His voice alone is brilliant and worth watching the film for, but honestly, I just truly enjoyed watching the man act. He definitely knows his craft. I could literally make this an entire review of how awesome Stephen Macht is in this movie, but I'd be digressing all over the place. While he is fun to watch, he is also easily hateable. And it works really well when you want him to die by the end of the film. Brad Dourif is always great, so it's hard for me to say anything else about him. He definitely has one of the best speeches in the film, but is also, sadly, absent from a good portion of the movie. Again, this movie should be seen for the performances alone, but the horror, the sets, and everything else in the movie really work quite well.

The red water under the graveyard and the mill is a nice touch even if it's never explained. I have no idea why it's red, and nobody else seems to either, but it works incredibly well at being different and interesting. The whole aesthetic of the movie is brilliant, basically being set in a crypt-set throughout the movie without the movie ever acknowledging it. It's all in the "basement" and "sub-basement" even though it always seriously looks like some creepy crypt or something. There is a beauty in the set design that is both wonderful and horrifying.

The bone pit that shows up late in the movie is also an oddity. Why are there so many bones? How can there be so many bones? Are they all human? I can't imagine they all are, although in a movie like this you'd better damn well believe they're all human. A movie like this doesn't mess around. It doesn't lightly tip-toe over the fact that a thousand people were murdered by the rats, their flesh eaten away, and their bones left in a pit in the ground. I suppose the bones could be from the graveyard too... the graveyard that sits in water inexplicably above the subterranean cave of rats and super-bat-rat. It doesn't matter that none of it makes any sense. It just matters that it looks fantastic and does work.

There are some random slowdowns throughout the movie, often highlighting ACTION SHOTS. It's a very 1990s thing to do, but is also a nice touch. I can't say that I didn't enjoy almost every ACTION SHOT even if they did feel slightly out of place. Ralph S. Singleton does a great job directing, even if this was his only movie direction. I feel like this man should be directing everything and was sad to find out he's directed almost nothing at all. He makes this movie feel like a John Carpenter movie. In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness have very similar feels to them, and They Live! has so many similarities (in some ways) that I actually have a hard time believing that Singleton didn't borrow a bit from Carpenter. And this is me praising the direction of the movie. I think Singleton did a great job making this movie feel great. I can't complain about a job well done.

The music is very good as well, definitely putting me in the mood for horror. It does a wonderful job at playing the tension up as well as exciting the movie-watcher for any particular scene. And, you know something? The scenes often work. The set-up is all very good, and the pay-off at the end is satisfying even if it is depressing. And the end of the film is incredibly gory even if it is a wonderful pay-off, but gory works for a gritty film like this. Gritty makes this film work on more levels than just cheesy 1990s horror. It makes it work as a great horror film as well as a little cheesy in parts. The funny thing is that I found this film much less cheesy and much more terrifying. But I think others might have other opinions on that.

One last thing before I do my best to recommend this film, Warwick is always there. Dude seems to always be skulking in the dark of the room, appearing whenever anybody complains. I have no idea how he does it, but every time you think something bad is going to happen or people are getting riled up, it's either going to be rat-bat-monster eating somebody, or Warwick suddenly there with his smug face on, ready to call out or backhandedly insult somebody. As I said before, this movie is worth watching for Warwick alone. He is literally the worst person on Earth, but I love this character. He's so unapologetic and terrible, and with the amount of screen-time and lines the guy gets he's almost the main character. So, seriously, watch this film for him if nothing else.

Now, I have to recommend this flick. It is a wonderful watch from beginning to end. While it does have some drier parts, it often moves at a good clip, and never overstays its welcome. Clocking at only ninety minutes long, it doesn't drag, and has enough characterization, horror, and good times to go around. It's a forgotten gem, as well as being a great movie for this time of year. It works well as a horror movie, and I just can't help putting my seal of approval on this interesting slice of the 1990s.