Thursday, October 31, 2013

Short Horror Movie Appraisals

For this Halloween, I have a special gift for all of you. I went and saw a bunch of shorter horror movies, some very readily available and some much harder to find. Some of these movies I've seen before and always wanted to review. Others are going to be my first impressions. I've always liked the short format for movies, and I think it works particularly well with horror movies. You get to the horror, and then you get out. It works well in short stories, so why can't it work well here? None of these movies have anything else tying them together except their short nature. So, without further ado...

Our first movie is Disciples of the Crow from 1983, which is an adaptation of Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" short story in his Night Shift collection. It is also known as The Night of the Crow. This movie, directed by John Woodward, is a very solid and fast-paced adaptation. It brings its A-game in suspense and leaves you wanting more. The whole religious angle, especially that focus on the extremism of children, makes the whole thing have a very solid message, even if it's a message I won't go into on here. The focus on both corn and crows is apt and interesting. The brutal deaths are well shot and creepy. And the filming in general is something interesting at the very least. The biggest complaint that I have is that the audio isn't the best and the story is disjointed at times, over before it really has a chance to begin.

The second short is called The French Doors, a New Zealand film from 2002. Although having only a single actor for most of the film and virtually no dialogue, this is one of the best short horror films I've ever seen. It involves a man renovating his home, installing some French doors in, only to discover that in the morning the French doors seem to lead to the dark of night while the sun is in reality shining. He decides to explore it. And it doesn't go well. I don't want to spoil this one, although as an analysis of the movie, I will. So, avoid the next paragraph if you'd rather watch it.

There is something in the dark, waiting for him. While the doors are open, and he's exploring outside, the thing, the shadowy creature, comes into his house and waits. It is brilliantly handled, with first our main character seeing a person inside the house while he's out in the dark. But when he finally goes back in the house, the person is in shadow, a dark thing, and it isn't happy with him. I saw a few asking what the "thing" was, and my only response is that it is a thing from the dark. Simple as that. It's a monster creature of shadow that emerged from the dark world beyond the French doors.

This is a supremely creepy short, and watching it at night is recommended for the full scare effect.

Username: 666 is basically a creepypasta, but it's still a short and is still incredibly creepy if you can put yourself in the right mindset. Brought to us by nana825763, it's a short video about a creepy way to use the YouTube website. With some creepy accompanying music, it works quite well at doing something both very different (certainly true for the time it was released) and very spooky.It's a simple premise of finding a suspended account with some disturbing videos on it, but what happens when YouTube doesn't want you to leave? It's a great little premise and works really well. It's another one I would say to watch at night for full effect.

Another YouTube also made by the same person is a good companion piece to Username: 666. They both take a chance at grabbing the immense creepiness the internet holds, and the worlds within worlds that can be stored there, hidden away until somebody tries something...

Proxy: A Slender Man Story gives yet another take on the Slender Man mythos story directed, this time, by Mike Dahlquist in 2012. It's well shot and obviously heavily produced being on the YouTube BlackBoxTV channel with a bunch of other horror shorts. This short had been on my radar for some time since I like the whole Slender Man thing. The film is okay, with moments of psychological horror spliced into it. There is some gore as well. The biggest problem with this one is that, while well shot and with more dialogue than the other movies I featured so far combined, this one just doesn't hit that frightening spot I wished it would. While Slender Man's shadowy tentacles reaching for the main character is pretty cool, I wouldn't say I was scared at all. The point of Slender Man, in my opinion, is to show as little of him as possible and to concentrate more on a rapid decline into madness. The Marble Hornets crew, I believe, does it the absolute best. I could be biased for them though. I've met them before, talked with them, and find their videos to be the most compelling of the Slender Man mythos. Proxy is perfectly fine if you just want to eat up everything Slender Man though, but don't expect it to be the very best in horror.

Eddie Adamson's Victim, another Slender Man movie from 2013, is also very well shot. It has another very simple premise though, but this time to the film's detriment. While certain movies on this list are helped by having very short plots and a fast-pace, I really feel that this movie, like Proxy, suffers from both its pace and its reliance on its audience's foreknowledge of Slender Man. These movies need a longer build-up, a chase to find Slender Man, not being chased by Slender Man. I liked aspects of the film, specifically the way it was shot. It would have meant more to me if I could have gotten to know the main character rather than just being forced to watch him being antagonized by Slender Man. It's one of those thing where I think the long format of many short episodes works the best, again like what the Marble Hornets crew does.

I really need to stop talking about them and actually review their stuff one of these days...

The Lovecraft Syndrome is a 2013 short directed by David Schmidt. It's an odd one for me to talk about. i get the feeling that most might not like its methodical pace or somewhat trivial ending. But I, for one, found the whole thing somewhat compelling. While it's not a bombastic story and the acting is somewhat lackluster at times, I really found the visuals quite engaging even if the film itself looks like a much older film than it actually is. I liked it more than I thought I would, with the visuals of tentacles and such being the real draw for me. While not really scary, the psychological elements are also well done.

The story here is about a woman who delves too deeply into Lovecraft after a collection of tragedies befalls her. Her descent into madness or comatose response to the stimuli presented in her mind hearkens to the Lovecraftian protagonists, always being so nervous, so easily stricken down by what they've seen. I liked it in that regard as well. It's a solid short, but I get the feeling it won't blow too many people away.

Mannequin directed by Deric Nunez for 2013 is one of those short films that has a great premise, decent filming, and good acting, but never becomes memorable despite those things. Part of the problem is that the movie is shot strangely to me, not directly like a horror movie. And for some reason, despite the jump kind of scares it has, and the slow lingering fear it wants you to feel, it never has the punch that it easily could have. The end of the short is funny too- not scary- and that doesn't help much.

The premise is that a woman is going to take her trash out. She sees a mannequin just chilling near the dumpster. Then, after she leaves, the mannequin moves or is moved. Then all hell breaks loose, ending with blood dripping out of a peephole... for some reason. The best shot in the whole movie is the last second as the door opens.

While mentioning this film, I'll also mention Deric Nunez's earlier Knock from 2011, which I also found had issues, but was all right in it's own way. I probably enjoyed that short more than this one, but I also have a lot less to talk about in that one, besides the paranoia one feels at noises in a house when one is alone.

Mockingbird directed by Marichelle Daywalt in 2008. Just watch it.

Ninja Clown Monster, also 2008, directed by Drew Daywalt, is another great little horror short I've known about for a good long while. Both of these shorts are from Fewdio, which also houses a lot of other really good and effective short horror films. Films like Bedfellows (2008), again by Drew Daywalt, which is exactly what I want in a short horror film. It's clear, effective, creepy, and the story and acting are solid. I seriously couldn't ask for more.

Then we have Katasumi and 4444444444 from 1998, both directed by Takashi Shimizu, you know, the guy who directed Marebito and Rinne. Katasumi (also known as In a Corner) is incredibly odd, involving a dead girl, a ghost(?), and some iconic clicking noise that would become very well known after Shimizu's Grudge was released. The other movie is actually a phone number: (444)-444-4444. This takes a little explaining if you don't already know. The Japanese word for the number four is almost exactly like their word for death, so they are superstitious in Japan about the number four like English speakers are about the number thirteen. They omit floor number four in some buildings just as we omit floor thirteen. Anyway, this short is much funnier than scary, involving a phone ringing, a young man picking it up, and meowing ensuing. Both shorts are incredibly well put together, feeling like much longer movies in their own right despite only being a couple minutes apiece.

For the last short I'll review here, as well as the last one I'll talk about this October, here is So Dark from 2013. Directed by Al Lougher, here is the tale of a modern vampire. This short comes directly from an internet anthology series. Incredibly well directed, well acted, and well shot, this film is a solid entry into any vampire film discussion. While never exactly scary, it does leave your mind asking many questions and seeking many answers. It also makes me wish for more really good vampire movies or shows. I love Angel, the TV series by Joss Whedon, and this is a grittier and, honestly, less sugary version of that. While I like Angel a great deal, that show had one big problem: it never hit a horror high point. I don't even know if I could consider it horror at all despite the vampires. It came off to me as an emotional ride of a drama series that happened to have a vampire or two and some silly demons in it.

So Dark is what a vampire series (and I do mean series here, not short or movie) should be like. The grittiness, the grime, and the darkness of both man and beast is showcased here. It's one thing I certainly like about modern cinema, modern shows, and modern everything. There isn't that reluctance to hide the grime of society anymore. Blood, gore, dirt, and tears are all on display. And while many movies tend to either go too far or not know how to handle that kind of freedom, some pieces of fiction absolutely thrive. So Dark certainly thrives to me.

And the short to which So Dark serves as a sequel, So Pretty (2012), is also quite good. It feels like somebody's response to the love of Twilight and the sparkly and pretty vampires from that book, movie, and franchise. It directly speaks about the amount of vampire fiction out there today, and how it seems like everybody either wants to date or be a vampire despite the fact that historically vampires have been cursed monsters, feared by most, not a pretty little doll that looks cool and loves well. This short focuses on the animal nature of vampires and how they look and act when they've killed. These two shorts were incredible, although again, the horror is light. It seems to be more focused on the production than the actual horror, which is a bit of a shame, but not that much of one.

Anyway, that's another October and another Halloween down for this little series. I'll probably revisit some short horror in the future because there are a ton of things I've missed that I'd love to talk about. I, more or less, recommend the short horror genre for consumption unless they're Slender Man videos or stuff of the popular ilk. I really love The French Doors, which was my main impetus to actually doing this review. I saw it for the first time years ago and always wanted to talk about it a bit more and get the word out there that it exists. So Pretty and So Dark were pleasant surprises and I really hope more things like that can exist in this world of ours.

I'd like to thank everybody who took the ride with me this October. It's been a blast. I'm looking forward to next October already. Even though these reviews are a drain and a half, I love doing them so much. In the coming months I'm seriously going to try to get some reviews out, hopefully a couple (at the very least) each month. My R. L. Stine reviews are going to keep trucking along during the late fall and winter, and I should have a ton of new movies to keep me occupied for quite some time. I also should mention that this October Nights, I also took the plunge of engagement with my long-time girlfriend. So, there's that as well. Again, this October has been amazing. Check out my Tumblr for updates and the like. I've posted there kind of irregularly up until now, but I'm going to post much more often now that I want to talk about horror and the like on every conceivable level.

See you all soon!

Edit: Oh, I have one more video I was told I have to talk about by my fiancee. She sent it to me and likes it a lot, so I kind of feel it's a bit necessary to talk about it at least a little. I won't have any pictures or it or whatnot, just a link, which you can find here.

Cargo from 2013, directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, is a fascinating take on the zombie. I generally don't like zombies, which is why I never review any movies with zombies in them. But this short film is actually done quite well, pushing a smart premise together with overdone cliched zombies to make something very unique.

It's the story of a father who gets into some kind of accident before the short begins. His wife is dead, but strapped to the seat belt of the car. He is bitten and sets about thinking of a brilliant and sad plan to save his infant baby child. It's very effective in the way it's shot, creating a good sense of both mood and atmosphere. I loved the plan he had, and the highlight of my first watching of the movie was actually figuring out what he had planned. It was a satisfying, if very sad, ending. I don't want to spoil too much. Check it out if you haven't already. Again, this is a serious recommendation from my fiancee, who literally told me I had to talk about this one or else she'd beat me.

(I'm kidding about that by the way. But she as a non-horror fan liked it, and me as a non-zombie fan also liked it.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me directed by David Lynch is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. To put it out there, this movie is not for everybody. David Lynch is not for everybody. If you haven't seen an episode of the Twin Peaks television series, don't watch this until you watch that series. Despite the fact that this movie is mostly a prequel to the TV series, it also has elements of a sequel. And the spoilers provided by the movie would probably be best avoided if the television series is in your interest at all.

If you're reading this review and you like the other movies I've reviewed, Twin Peaks is probably the series for you. It is by far my favorite television series of all time. If I were to write my own series, it would end up looking a lot like that one. But this movie- this movie is where the heart and soul of Twin Peaks truly is. It has it's true capabilities, weirdness, and insanity out there for all to see before the end. It's a gory, visceral, surreal, and introspective look at what would lead up to the television series, but it stands all on its own as something brilliant and spectacular.

David Lynch made his career making movies that pushed the bounds of psychology, horror, and the nature of surreality. This movie has all those elements in it, often becoming quite terrifying if you can parse exactly what's going on. This is the reason the television series is a much watch for understanding this movie fully. It's absolutely needed to understand both the horror and the implications of exactly what's going on. I don't know how much and how often I can proselytize why this series and movie are some of the best works of fiction ever created.

I know that sounds like the ravings of the lunatic. I get that. but nothing this original exists anywhere else. It led to so many other different takes off of the same material. It was also, in my opinion, the Firefly before that show and subsequent movie existed. Cancelled before it should have been (in my opinion), leaving fans stranded with more questions than answers, and having a fanatical fanbase, Twin Peaks was a movement and an expression more than it was ever a simple television show.

The movie should have been there to answer lingering question and tie up loose ends, but when has David Lynch ever done anything of the sort? For every question answered in the movie more arose from it. And frankly, the movie brought me a whole new definition of small town horror when I first watched it quite a few years ago.

So, with introductions over, let's talk about this movie if we can. First off, the movie can be viewed as two different parts. The first part follows around a series of FBI agents (including our good friend Agent Cooper!) as they are involved in some odd investigations. I always found it odd how the FBI is basically comprised of some of the weirdest people imaginable, every one more surreal and interesting than the last. Agents Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley (played by Kiefer Sutherland) are looking into the murder of one Teresa Banks. And the investigation is hampered by an uncooperative police force in the town of Deer Meadow. Deer Meadow is also basically the opposite of the town of Twin Peaks. Anyway, they get their information from a woman named Lil, who dances for them.

And it's weird. They interpret the dancing, and I have to believe it all has something to do with how Lynch and his films (and television show) were received. Most of Lynch's films are surreal, often with the easiest way to view them being to interpret the plots and fill in what you need to from the information provided. A David Lynch film is something to watch. There's nothing else like them, not in my experience anyway. While not everything might have a hard meaning in his movies, I do believe the interpretations can still be there. He's such a deliberate filmmaker that I can't see him not having specific ideas on what he means to do in a film.

The investigation of Teresa Banks murder goes on, but nothing is really found out, besides a missing ring and a missing trailer. And eventually a missing Chester Desmond. And that's where the movie leaves Deer Meadow, going instead to Philadelphia to focus on Dale Cooper for a while, who has had a series of dreams over the course of the movie, prophetic dreams. He tells Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) about the dreams and a man named Jeffries (played by the man and the legend David Bowie) enters the room only to disappear again. It is surreal and odd, and probably makes no sense at all. I think he's connected with Windom Earle, although I'm not sure why I think that. (Windom Earle is form the latter half of the second season of the TV series.)

Finally we get to the main part of the movie: the lead-up to Laura Palmer's death. And what a lead-up it is. We see a visceral, surreal, dark, and often very salacious as well. I don't think I've ever seen nudity made so ugly, so feral, and so hard to look at. What it looks like to me throughout the film is victimization. And it's obvious that's what it is. Laura Palmer leads a double life. On one side, she's the beautiful homecoming queen with a nice family life, a best friend, and a boyfriend (or two). But beneath it she's a drug addict, a sex addict, a person who has no idea what she wants in her life or from her life, and mostly she's a scared young woman. She admits to being raped since she was twelve, although early on she claims she doesn't know who's been doing it.

But we find out along with Laura, and what a reveal it is. it is one of the few movies brave enough to tackle an incestuous relationship in a believable way. Laura's father, Leland (Ray Wise, basically the second lead of the movie after Sheryl Lee's Larua), has been possessed by an evil creature named BOB. he's been in love with and raping Laura for years as BOB, but we're left wondering whether or not it's been Leland all along... or if BOB is really the perpetrator. The incestuous relationship is definitely an undercurrent of this entire part of the film, with a definite focus on Leland's responses to Laura's relationship, manners, and life. But there is also Laura's odd reactions to her father, so much pointing to the idea that she knows he's been raping her, but is hiding it under the surface. The awkward moments, the nearly broken home, and the appearance of normality- those are certainly themes throughout both Twin Peaks and David Lynch's works in general, but here they are on display for all to see.

In some ways, many ways, this film is the natural progression from a film like Blue Velvet. Both involve "normal" suburban or small town life, but both also involve this undercurrent of sleaze that David Lynch captures so perfectly. And that's what this movie is at times: pure, unbridled, and unadulterated sleaze. The horror is throughout this movie, maybe not in overt murderers or copious amount of blood and gore, but rather in the normal being so awful as to not be able to be accepted. It's about the degradation of Laura Palmer, about the character's final days, and about how she was falling apart because of the sexual abuse, the incest, the being used constantly- even letting herself be used, wanting to be degraded and worshiped because of that sexual abuse. It's so well-handled, not with baby gloves, but as a visceral look at it. And it is terrifying and sickening all at once.

It's meant to be. And that might be the creepiest thing about the movie. The nudity isn't meant to be sexual, it isn't mean to evoke a sexual response. It's meant to invoke a heavy feeling of sickness. I know that's how I felt watching it at least. Leland's rape, eventual capture, and murder of Laura are also sickening. it is so awful to see, but Lynch makes it so compelling to watch. You don't want to see the conclusion, but you cannot look away.

Obviously this movie has many things, little things, that have meaning. The pictures in Laura's room mean something. The angel that was with her has left her once the ring comes into her mind. And the door opening painting that brings Laura to the Black Lodge- it has layers of meaning. The Black Lodge being the worst of entities and "humanity" alike. But the whole movie has layers of meaning- throughout there are moments where you wonder if you're even watching reality anymore. There are moments in the Roadhouse that feel like that, specifically within the Pink Room, which I would say is the absolutely most surreal moment in the film.

To me, this movie is the pinnacle of what it means to be a surreal and psychological horror movie. It brings about elements that are used to evoke emotions. While we follow Laura, we see what kind of person she is. We get to intimately know her, see her struggle, and see her fall. And all the while we get odd moments of comedy, real life, and absolutely blanketed horror- all of which culminate in Laura's murder. I can't say enough good things about this movie. David Lynch is a master as well as being one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.

I've avoided Lynch for the most part in these reviews. There is so much to say about his movies that I feel slightly uncomfortable extrapolating meaning. And since most of his movies are some of my favorite films, I find it very difficult to want to review them for fear of not doing them justice. But I have to talk about them all eventually, one way or another, and this film, one of his more direct films, felt like a good place to start our journey in exploring Lynch as a director, a storyteller, and a true artist of the screen.

This is a complex film, and I don't blame others for not liking it or really any of Lynch's material. While I think David Lynch is amazing, I can see how many think his films are crazy nonsense- and that's really their loss, not mine. So, this is a full recommend for me, but really only seriously watch it if you can get through Twin Peaks. It'll also help if you like Lynch's other movies like I do.

Putting it out there, this is the absolute scariest movie I've reviewed this October, so if you're looking for sleazy and hard-to-watch horror, this is where you should start. Well, Lynch, in general, is very good about that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Monsters (2010)

Here is yet another slow-paced film that is kind of related to horror. I mean the title is Monsters, so that must mean it's scary, right? Well, it kind of is at times. I'd call it more tense than actually frightening though. Despite that, it is an exciting and deep movie with a ton to offer. A comparison I can make would be to District 9. This film is the American commentary (by a British director, Gareth Edwards, and a British film) on the border issue between Mexico and the US. Maybe the idea isn't the absolute moving idea behind the film, but it certainly is something that the film doesn't try to hide either.

It mostly involves two characters, Sam (played by Whitney Able) and Kaulder (played by Scoot McNairy) as they try to get from Central America back to the US. Sam is the daughter of Kaulder's employer, who is some kind of big magazine or newspaper owner of some sort. Kaulder is a photographer. And Sam- Sam is engaged but somehow unhappy about it, although that's never explained.

It's an intriguing little movie on a multitude of levels. The characters are very real. The acting is very good. The directing is excellent, and I'm not surprised that Gareth Edwards was offered the Godzilla reboot as his next project. I can't stress enough how well this film was shot and how good the CGI is here. It's seriously incredible, especially for its budget. This movie is good from beginning to end, despite its deliberately slow pace and focus on anything but horror for the majority of the film.

I would call this movie an art horror alien movie thing. It has elements of horror, certainly, but that isn't the main focus except in a few select scenes. The main focus is that element of newness, discovery, and human relationships. It seems to be a movie primarily about love with the backdrop of this alien entanglement going on in the background. Like some of the better stories of this genre, it also takes place long after the aliens have become a more routine occurrence, which makes this more about the story of travel and relationship and less about the aliens, which are background for the most part.

I would say that about 90% of the movie is about Sam and Kaulder either traveling, talking, or just emerging into a relationship. I like how the movie subtly hints at things without ever outright saying much at all. The movie hints that Sam is unhappy in her relationship and with her engagement, but nothing is ever stated on that front. The way she acts says it all. And her last line about not wanting to go home cements it. We're never privy to what's going on with her, but to me that's endlessly fascinating. I don't know if she simply fell out of love or was never truly in love to begin with. Stuff like that tickles the back of my mind. I want to know why she would have ever said yes to an engagement, why the ring was so important to wear even when she clearly was having issues, and why it was so easy to just latch onto another relationship even while she told her (implied) fiance that she loves him. That's the human elements that I simply want to understand. And those human elements are a big reason why this movie works while giving you a feeling of dread throughout.

This is a beautiful and haunting movie with a lot to say about both humans and outsiders alike. But you know what worked for me the most? You know, besides how well the film was shot and how good the acting was...

I loved that the ending of the movie was really in the beginning of the movie. To really get the entire movie, you need to remember that opening. Kaulder and Sam, after finally being rescued by the army, find the convoy that they're in attacked by the alien creatures. Sam is wounded and possibly dead, we don't know for sure, and we're never told. Kaulder carries her away, be she dead or alive. There's something poignant and incredibly sad in that, especially in light of the final moments in the film with them kissing and being carried away, Sam saying that she doesn't want to go home. It can make you emotional, especially when you spend so long with these two characters, finding out who they are and really starting to care about their plight.

I haven't spoken much about the horror, but it's certainly there. Again, there is a feeling of both tension and dread permeating the movie. There are people who die, even a child who dies. These are terrifying and meaningful moments. The terror here can be likened to Jurassic Park. It's the same kind of tension that can be felt in that movie, the same kind of horror. In fact the comparisons between the two movies is probably more apt than I would have expected at first glance.

It's a good movie in all the ways people want a movie to be good. I guess it might be a little dry at times and some might even say that it could be boring. I won't fight them entirely on that. But the beautiful cinematography, the great acting, and the amazing story really give a lot to this movie. So, I can't really complain. I enjoyed it a ton and will definitely watch it again once I have some more time and a bit more of a chance to enjoy it completely. Obviously, I recommend this movie. Just don't be surprised if it's a little slow and a bit dry at times.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Apartment 1303 3D (2012)

The original Japanese Apartment 1303 was the Japanese horror movie that made me dislike Japanese horror movies for the better part of a year. Formulaic and incredibly basic in terms of plot and characters, I was more annoyed with it than anything else. It really represented the bottom of the barrel in Japanese horror films, being completely unoriginal and not trying anything new or different. I dislike the movie even to this day. And now I watch the American remake, and ask myself, "Can this be worse than the Japanese movie I already didn't like?"

No, actually, it's a much better movie. Well, let's not go that far. It's better in some ways and worse (so much worse) in others. Overall I enjoyed it much more even though it is not even close to being a recommended movie. So, upfront, I'm telling you to avoid watching this movie if you haven't seen it already. And if you have, well, uh... that certainly was a movie, wasn't it?

The acting isn't good. I can't overstate that enough. It's really not good- from anybody. The filming is mediocre and some of the make-up effects are quite good, but the acting is so bad that it makes the film hilarious rather than scary. And it's not just one actor doing a bad job here. No, it every single actor. None of them can deliver their lines. None of them seem to have any passion for doing a good job. And none of them seem to care about this movie at all. I'd have to blame the director, Michael Taverna, for this, but the directing (other than the acting) is competent. So, I don't know what to think. Maybe the actors were all just sleepwalking and looking for a paycheck. That's what it seemed like anyway.

The story here is miles more coherent and miles less creepy than the original. Calling this a horror film would be a stretch. But even saying that some of the effects (CGI and make-up effects) are quite well done. They come off as more like good ideas in a forgettable film though than as spooky things in a spooky film. And as a ghost film, you'd expect scares to be on the top of the priority list when in fact the top of the priority list here are really weird moments and nonsense character pieces. I like how there is a focus on character, sure, but none of it means anything. It's all so flat because of the acting that it's impossible to take seriously.

If you want a summary of the plot, just look at my review of the original and take out all of the mentions of groups of characters or possessions. This ghost in this movie doesn't possess. She turns into a cloud of gassy smoke stuff and pushes people a little sometimes. She's incredibly not scary even though she somehow kills three people in the course of the movie- mostly by accident it seems rather than on purpose or for any real purpose.

And the deaths are so lackluster that they're just plain stupid. The ghost must have some kind of sense of humor or something. Because seriously, the last death in the movie just made me guffaw with laughter. And that should never happen. Not in a movie billed as a horror movie.

The plot follows the same premise from the original, but tends to be a bit more focused, which I appreciate. The characters are more defined, but all the scares in the movie are literally taken out in favor of- of- I don't even know what. I found the film boring more than anything else. It made me sleepy. I kind of wished I could stop watching it. I never really felt anything for the characters and with the exception of a few well done moments, the movie is completely lackluster, although not quite the absolute mess I was expecting.

I like the homage to the original Japanese film with the Japanese store in the apartment complex. That was something that made me smile at least. And the setting of Detroit was also something I appreciated even if it was all for naught in the end.

I wish I could say more, but this little revenge(!?) ghost film fell flat for me. It gave more bores and laughs than anything else. And the acting was horrific with everybody butchering lines left and right. I didn't like the movie very much, but there's not enough there to hate. I'd call it mediocre, forgettable, bland, and unapproachable.

Don't watch it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Moon (2009)

Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, is a film I've wanted to see for a good long while. And now that I have seen it, I must admit that it's been worth the long wait. I don't know how much I consider this a horror film, even if it does have elements of horror, including gore, tension, claustrophobia, and ultimately death. I think I could put it into that genre of space horror, so often maligned and so often incredible. I can see it in the same genre as smart space movies like Sunshine, and maybe that is where it aptly should sit forever as an idol to what space movies can and have achieved.

Again, I'm not sure how horrific this movie is or how well it would fit in a horror review month, but I think that enough elements are there that if somebody complains I can defend myself by saying, "Look, idiot, this is my review month. I thought this was tense and creepy at times. It could be pretty scary if you look at it the right way. So, deal with it, fool."

This, ultimately, is a movie about love, loss, drama, tension, clones, capitalism, the horror of losing oneself and one's mind, and psychology. There is radiation sickness, seeing what you used to be laid bare, seeing lies and knowing you're powerless, and the moon, always the moon, featured.

M-O-O-N that spells Moon, a movie about a man working on a space station on the far side of the moon, mining helium-3 and mainly being there to oversee the big machines that mine it. He is alone for three long years and starts losing it little by little. Then one day, when he is only two weeks from leaving the moon base, he gets into an accident and wakes up with no memory of what happened. Kind of.

You see, this is where the early twist comes into play. The man who wakes up is not the Sam Bell we started the movie with, but rather a clone, woken up because the other one was "lost." This new clone feels that something's wrong and goes to find what's up only to find the earlier Sam still crashed in the lunar vehicle. He saves him, brings him back, and they learn from each other and figure out a plan to do something memorable.

I don't want to say much more about the plot. It's incredible and worth the watch, even absolutely worth the watch. If there's a single film about space you should watch in your life, it should be this one, absolutely this one, even over 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie is poignant at times, showing that love is something beyond the mortal bounds, showing that there is more petty evil that humans are capable of than there are stars in the sky. And yet there is also heroism, caring, and again, that love that so often drives us to do stupid things.

The story is meticulously pointed out and paced, so much so that it is as close to perfect as a story can possibly be. It's very tight at times, but it does what it needs to do to tell the most convincing story possible. This is a memorable film, and one I certainly will never forget. I put it up there with Ink as one of the most affecting standalone movies I can think of. It's a bit of a life-changing movie, but one without the great punch of an ending I really wish it would have.

Sam Rockwell shines in his role as Sam Bell, as does Kevin Spacey as GERTY, the AI companion to Sam that seems to know much more than he tells and is much less malicious than HAL, even though the comparisons are certainly apt. Both actors do a great job in being their characters absolutely. Sam Rockwell plays several clones of his own character. His portrayals of the two main Sams is actually incredible, showing both as physically and mentally very different and yet fundamentally the same.

I really want to mention the subtle love story this movie has in it. I don't usually like love stories all that much, but the tragic ones often hit me rather hard, even though the ones with happy endings rarely do anything to me at all. The tragedy here is palpable, nearly breaking one of the Sams, who had waited for three years to go back and be with the woman he loves. The love between Sam and  Tess is absolutely wonderful... but also tragic in every way possible. Again, another comparison to Ink, but one I'd rather not go into very much depth with since its a spoiler for both movies.

Maybe this movie hit me so hard because of its themes of isolation, of psychological torment brought on by loneliness, and by the main character truly loving and missing his partner in love. To me those moments worked so well to bring about some kind of emotion, to evoke a response in me. I like bringing personal input into these reviews, telling why this stuff affected me, why I personally love it or hate it so much. I know a ton of people expect bare bones facts, telling about what the movie is and interpreting it and saying exactly what's going on, and telling EVERYTHING FACTUALLY. Because that's important for some reason.

The thing is, I'm not like that. I meander and go off on other topics. And I don't like people telling me how to write or how to review. This movie, Moon, affects me personally, in a personal way. And maybe that's why I like this movie so much and why I can view it as psychologically horrific. You see, I'm engaged to a woman who lives 200 miles away from me, working a job that leaves me nearly completely alone for ten-twelve hours six days a week. I spend a lot of time by myself. And I spend a lot of time missing the person I love so much it numbs me. So, this movie hits me hard because it's so easy to see how Sam feels, and it's so easy to respond in kind.

I bring all this review stuff up here because I can't stand it. I hate when people expect me to give them answers to movies that are ART that don't necessarily have a singular answer to them. Especially these more psychologically minded movies. Lately I've even gotten people being rude to me, demanding answers to movies, or screaming the answers at me saying I didn't get it. The worst is when people demand I keep personal feelings to myself when reviewing citing it being unprofessional or wrong or just me specific.

Yes, that's the idea, numbnuts. I am personally reviewing and analyzing these movies for me. What I liked and what I didn't like. Seriously, there are many blogs out there to read, many reviewing similar things to what I review. Go ahead and check them out if you don't like the way I review. To me this is fun, watching great or crappy or mediocre movies and just writing about them, talking about them, and having people read them. It's relaxing to watch a movie or read a book or play a video game and then talk about it. It's nice. I like interpreting, but more than that I want to talk about how something hit me about the fiction. Did I like it? Why? Did I hate it? Why?

So, I liked Moon so much because of its story, characters, and setting, certainly. But I loved it so much because it affected me in a more personal way, like Ink or 1408 or other movies that I view as much deeper and more personally affected me than just a movie.

I'm somewhat sorry to get into this in this review, but it's a great movie and I guarantee someone would say something about how this isn't a good review because I should be focusing on the movie, not my feelings on the movie. But that's so dumb. Yes, the movie is about the moon, good old Luna in the sky, but its also about a person, a personality, love, loss, and realization, horrific and disheartening realization. I think this is one of those movies I'll rewatch every once in a while. It's way too good to not watch.

Obviously I recommend this movie. If you haven't seen it already, go find it immediately and watch it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Europa Report (2013)

Watching this film I am reminded of Apollo 18, only Apollo 18 with a bit more science, a bit more bite, and a lot more character. Again, as I've said a million times before, I like these space horror movies. Something about them strikes the right place in my scientific mind. Maybe it's something about the unknown and the unknowable. Or maybe it's simply that love of discovery and exploration. I don't think there will ever be a moment when movies like this won't appeal to me in even the smallest of ways.

I say it reminds me of Apollo 18, but this a movie that was made to be more than a simple schlocky horror movie. It was made, definitely made, to be a thinking person's film, one about sacrifice, science, and ultimately the unknown. While it's hard to exactly call a "horror" movie per se, I do believe it has those elements to it, relying on tension, claustrophobia, and mystery to tell its doomed story.

The plot is about a group of six astronauts going into the unknown reaches of space, to Europa (as seen in the title), which is one of the largest moons in the solar system and a moon of Jupiter. It also has scientific value, being one of the few places in our own solar system that could have liquid water on it and therefore may also have life. Thus, unlike our own cold dead moon, Europa might be a more viable option in terms of extraterrestrial life. Because of this, and a few other reasons I'll get into shortly, this movie seems like an answer to Apollo 18's questionable storytelling.

First of all, unlike that other movie, this one tells how the transmissions of what happened got back to Earth. It also gives more believable creatures for the environment. Finally, the emotions and characters are certainly there, putting this above and beyond most space horror movies. This one seems to be more in league with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon to name a few. It is a serious movie with serious science and serious acting backing it up. The musical score is excellent throughout as well, but... there are issues. And I'll get into those shortly.

The story is nonlinear, following two basic storylines. The first is the landing of the landing module of the Europa One (the spacecraft) onto the moon. The second is the loss of the first astronaut of the mission, which also was the point in the mission that the communications' devices went offline. The second story is the first in chronological order, although its climax doesn't occur until about halfway through the movie. So, throughout the first half of the movie, we know that an astronaut has been lost and the communications are not working, but we have no idea why or what happened. Then we are told, and such a tale it is.

There was an unexpected solar flare that started the bad business and bad luck of the mission. It took out a great deal of systems, but notably took the communications to Earth offline as well. The two engineers, Andrei and James, go out to fix what needs fixing. There is an unexpected accident in which Andrei rips the hand of his spacesuit and James becomes contaminated with hydrazine, which is a toxic chemical. James saves Andrei but sacrifices himself for the mission in an unbelievable and frankly upsetting way. It was an emotional scene meant to evoke an emotional response, and you know what? It got me.

It speaks to the performances of all the actors in the movie, but specifically of Sharlto Copley, who plays James, and Michael Nyqvist, who plays Andrei. They are both amazing in this movie, even though James' time on screen is limited. That's not to downplay the other actors, but those two did such a great job that they deserve a special mention. All the acting here is good though. Very solid performances throughout.

With James' death, the mission goes on but without the enthusiasm it had once had. They land on Europa, start their science, and discover that all is not right. There are mysterious lights in the distance, more radiation than expected, and something odd under the surface of the ice...

This leads to a tense conclusion that leaves you wanting so much more. And with that there's a twist that will leave you reeling, almost like you were punched in the gut. I'm going to spoil it because I want to talk about it. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to know what it is. When it is revealed that Rosa didn't escape, and therefore didn't survive the mission, it is like a blow in the face. Throughout the movie there were cuts to several interviews, one of which was the CEO of the private group that financed the mission, one was a scientist talking about the mission, and the final was Rosa. These interviews were all implied to be taking place after the fact. And it is a blatant misdirection. Rosa gave her "interview" towards the end of the mission, as a last ditch effort to talk to Earth and tell their doomed story. That hit me hard, especially because I truly believed that she had survived the mission as so many of these characters do. Like Apollo 18 though, there are no survivors, only a record. To me that's perfect and wonderful, upsetting and perfect storytelling.

I think that's my ultimate point (as I stop with spoilers), the storytelling here is fantastic even if the technical pieces of the movie are less than stellar at times. And that brings me to a few of my gripes. The first is that at times the found footage aspect of the film wears thin. I understand why it was used, and I appreciate it in terms of the narrative. That being said, I simply did not like how many cuts there were, how fast the cameras would cut at times, and the amount of shaking and video static that would appear on screen. Honestly, it gave me a bit of a headache, something I did not appreciate all that much. Not all found footage films have quite that much interference and movement of cameras, but this one had way too much for my liking.

I also did not like the creatures. While they do not show up as a true creature, full and in frame, until the very end of the movie, I did not like that aspect of it. It was the monster shot, pure and simple, and the payoff seemed sillier than I wanted out of this mostly serious movie. The CGI was not good in that moment and the Europa monster was not believable just like certain MOON MONSTERS from Apollo 18 were also silly and unbelievable. Maybe if the CGI was better I would have appreciated the monster more, but in the end it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I get the feeling my imagination would have been happier without a concrete answer to what the Europa creature was. Instead I see it as a glowing octopus monster, which takes away any thrills, fear, or mystery that it could have had.

Again, while these are legitimate gripes, it doesn't really take away from the brilliance that I see in this movie. It's very good, with some legitimately touching and terrifying moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you like space horror movies or space thriller movies or space mystery movies or space movies, then you will probably like this one quite a bit. I know I've compared this movie quite a bit to Apollo 18, but the comparison stands up quite well. You could also compare it to Sunshine (without some of that movie's more slasher moments). But out of the found footage space horror genre, this is probably tops right now. Check it out if you can. I recommend it fully.

I'm also glad I could wash the bad taste of the terrible movie I watched yesterday out of my mouth. Blegh.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Bunnyman (The Bunnyman Massacre) (2011)

"We're gonna need a lot of therapy."

You know when a movie comes along, and you instantly know it's going to be garbage? Yeah, I know it too. This movie is that kind of deplorable garbage. It is literally the worst horror movie- nay, the worst movie period- I've seen so far this year, if not since I started reviewing- if not of all time. While I know there are worse movies out there, I cannot think of a single one that bored me as much as this one did. I can't think of another movie that made me as literally furious as this one did. And I can't think of a single movie that made me dislike the story (ha ha "story"!), characters, and filming like this one certainly did. I hated this movie.

Hated it. Burning passion hated it.

I think I'm supposed to justify my feelings on this movie, saying how this thing or that thing didn't work. I'm supposed to inform you, the reader, about what was wrong, what didn't work, and how this thing, this garbage, could be improved. Mostly, I'm supposed to give an opinion, say what I thought.

Okay. What I thought was that every single second of this movie was excruciating. I hated every last one. There wasn't a single moment I could describe as even halfway mediocre. All I can do is think back on the WORST films I've reviewed like The Innkeepers, Marronnier, and The Reaping. And all of those compare favorably to this pile of excrement that somebody had the audacity to call a movie.

I don't even know where to begin or if I can begin. Despite being billed as a rated R graphic violence gore film, there is almost none of that. I don't like gore much myself, but if the movie is going to have the moniker of that, why not actually have it in the movie? I don't think there is a single truly graphic scene, with most scenes that should have blood or gore making the discretionary shot go out of frame or underneath something or other. Either that or the camera simply starts lilting upwards away from the action. What horror movie even does that? I guess if you are a director afraid of gore, this is how you would make a movie, but seriously, why? It's almost compelling in its complete lack of sense. I want to know how something can be this bad. I want to know how somebody could even do this.

And the lack of visceral scenes really stand out because there are bits of the movie that are kind of graphic. And the kills should be exceedingly graphic. But they're not, which confuses me to no end. Did somebody have a weak stomach on set? Did they think they were going too far and needed to stop the action and avert the eyes?

I'm focusing on this, but it's so weird in a low budget horror film like this to not have FUN with blood and gore effects. And that's what it truly seems like to me. It seems like a not very fun low-budget horror movie, which baffles the mind. Why even make a movie like this, a slasher movie like this, if you aren't either going to have a good time or shake up the genre a little.

This movie is no shake up. It's a rehash of a thousand other slasher films. College kids out in the wilderness stalked by a crazy family, all of them having one issue or another, with one of them the main killer who wears a mask. Oh boy. I could seriously be talking about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, couldn't I? Or any number of rip-offs of that movie and its premise. This isn't even a good rip-off, having no real personality as a movie with only a scattering of unique lines, no unique characters, and a plot that is literally bare bones.

The weird thing is that the survivors of this movie seems to not even care that their friends are all dead. The main girl is literally smiling at the end of the movie, completely ruining any tone or message the movie might have had. Then again, with a movie like this I checked out within the first five minutes, counting down every minute, every second, like it was pain all the way. I've been spoiled a bit this year, with very few truly bad movies that I've looked at. Hell, more often than not I've been watching and recommending the horror movies. That's incredible. And right before I watched this, I was watching Pacific Rim, which is a tough movie to follow, I'll admit.

The characters really have no character. The lines are often blurted out with no real meaning. There are long periods of silence and it doesn't work here. I almost feel as if the director, Carl Lindberg, wanted to make an artistic slasher film, especially with the bookends of the 8mm film at either of the real movie. It almost seems like it could have been intended to be artistic, a real art-house horror film that takes away the gore in favor of atmosphere. Except it fails. It fails literally every test a movie can fail. It is not coherent, not well shot, has a terrible audio mix. IT HAS TERRIBLE AUDIO QUALITY. What movie even does that anymore? I can take a video with my goddamn cell phone and have better audio quality than this movie does. That's not even right. This was a movie made just a few years ago, and it's this bad? That's insane to me. Hell, during one of the final scenes in the movie, when the main guy has the chainsaw and is going to kill the villainess of the movie, the sounds are literally deafening, so much so that the actors are barely heard over the roar despite screaming their lines awkwardly at one another. It's incredible and amateur and all kinds of wrong in every way.

The acting is bad, although not as bad as it could have been. There are moments of decency mixed in with the absolutely terrible acting. The film is never scary, but again, there are tense moments, even if they are few and far between. More often than not though, the protagonists do something stupid, idiotic, or just plain wrong, and all you can do is scream at your screen and hold your head in your hands as your fingers try to rip all of the hair out of your balding from rage head.

This is a failure of a movie, and not even an interesting failure like some of the movies I've watched. This one is just baffling and wrong, taking away any gore merit it might have had in favor of trying to be more artistic which falls as flat as it sounds. I know there are better known worse films out there. This movie isn't the worst in the world by a long stretch, but it certainly isn't good either. If I had been watching it for pleasure rather than for review, I would have turned it off five minutes in. That's how absolutely terrible it was.

I can't tell you enough to avoid this movie at all cost. Do not buy it. Do not give it to a friend as a joke. Do not touch it. It is better to just leave it alone. This movie has now gained the distinction as the worst movie I've reviewed so far. Now, I need a palate cleanser. Maybe I'll watch and review one of the movies I've been really wanting to rather than a movie that just kind of fell into my lap by chance.

Final verdict: not scary, really stupid, don't watch under any circumstances ever.

Oh, and just to get you to seriously not check this movie out, I described it to my fiancee as the movie equivalent of newborn puppies dying. Take that as you will, readers.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Let's Get Invisible!

Now you see him.
Now you don't!

Let's get Invisible! is my favorite Goosebumps book I've read so far. This is actually funny because this was the first book I was dreading going into. I was not fond of this book as a child and barely remember anything from it whatsoever. It took me quite a bit longer to read this than I would have liked, and all throughout the process I was fighting myself to get through it, not knowing it would be as good as it turned out to be.

This is actually quite a good book, easily the best of the six I've read so far. It's also easily the scariest. This one gave me a chill down my spine with this line, "I had the strangest sensation that the mirror was pulling me, tugging me toward it, holding me down." Something about this line and what subsequently occurs is actually quite creepy. Maybe it also helps that this has been an October full of mirror horror movies- for some reason. Not sure why. I certainly didn't go out of my way to plan these reviews all that far in advance. I just kind of grabbed random horror movies and this is what came for me to review. It might be that all of those mirror-based horror movies were getting to me a little bit as I read this. Or maybe this book does deliver the scares just a little bit better than the other five so far.

The book starts out with Max, our main character, having a birthday party and eventually finding a hidden room in his attic containing an old mirror with a light switch on it. He pulls the switch and goes invisible. So, we're talking another relatively simple premise. Max has some friends (and his younger brother) who are also involved, but they're there much more for window dressing than being actual characters. Max and the mirror are the main pieces of the story when you come right down to it.

And the mirror is basically an SCP.

Oh no, you might say, he's going on about SCPs again! Let's all hide forever!

Wait! Don't do that! It'll only be a second! Look, it's a mirror that makes one invisible by pulling the light string attached to the mirror. Nothing else is explained except that in becoming invisible it allows the reflections in the mirror to come alive. Kind of. They come alive when the person first gets invisible, but they can only do anything when the person stays invisible for a long period of time. That right there, that I like. It's about a slow burn of horror rather than a stick in the eye of horror. It doesn't happen instantaneously, and actually takes a while to actually happen. Even Max, the careful one of the group, still goes invisible on his own despite having misgivings. The mirror is so awesome! And what could go wrong, right? WHAT COULD GO WRONG, RIGHT?

SCP, that's what, you idiot.

And that's why this book is so good. It holds onto the horror with an element of mystery. Even the point-of-view character has no real idea whether he should be afraid, nonchalant, or adventurous. His fighting spirit is the only thing that saves him in the end, but so much of this book isn't even about the ultimate ending. It's about fooling around with something dangerous, exciting, and ultimately unknown. It grabs the attention by having an actual mystery to it, a mystery that is never solved, as well as showing how kids (and adults in their stead) would act around a mirror that would make one invisible. I think it's very effective. It works really well for me.

Max finally being pulled into the mirror and facing off against his reflection is an idea I really like. The execution is well done, and the fear is there as well. The inexorable pull towards the mirror while invisible makes one feel both powerless and unreasonably claustrophobic. I truly liked it.

There isn't anything else to really talk about. The story is solid, if simple. The characters are the for set dressing except for Max. And the mirror is literally the most important thing there. I mean, if anything this book would be based on some kind of body snatcher story rather than anything to do with either mirrors or invisibility since neither of those aspects of the story really feature in the main plot of the story. Other than that-

I did not like this story as a kid. I don't remember much from it, and that's actually a huge shame. This is a really good and really effective book. It's kind of creepy, and that's more than I can say for the earlier five books. I hope by this point in the series R. L. Stine finally realized that perfect spot to scare kids and adults alike. Because that's what I want: horror, even if it is horror for the very young.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Audiobook Evaluation: "Ur" (2009) by Stephen King

"Ur" is a novella of note. It shows how Stephen King has gotten so incredibly good at creating great stories out of almost nothing. And it's almost unbelievable how good he can be at writing horror even when the ideas aren't quite as unique or as interesting as they once might have been. Regardless, he writes something here that is both incredibly good, really creepy, and very compelling. His skills as an author have increased as time has gone by, and I have to say that I'm really impressed by how good so much of his short fiction has been. This novella doesn't disappoint, even starting with a simplistic premise, it really does bring on everything Stephen King is known for- and much more besides.

This could be called a love story, although I'd be reticent to really indulge in that line of thought. It has elements of a disintegrating (or reinvigorating) relationship, as well as a bunch of very well thought out elements of both horror and philosophic thought. I am going to spoil most of the plot in this analysis, so go away if you don't want it spoiled for you.

"Ur" involves an English professor coming in contact with a pink Amazon Kindle that gives him links to other realities. King seems to love the idea of multiple worlds, and this novella really fleshes some thoughts out about it. Clearly it also follows the Stephen King Dark Tower mythos as well. How couldn't it with the multiple worlds and the low men in yellow coats?

I love this story, It works in so many ways while being both intelligent and very simple. There isn't a whole lot here to really look at or think about, but the story works so well. It really made me think, and it really brought me to a level of excitement that only Stephen King novellas can. I can't think of a single novella by King that hasn't impressed me in some way. And this follows that tradition, heavily reminding me of "N." and the narrative powerhouse that that novella brought to the table.

"Ur" isn't quite as complex or rabidly interesting as "N." was, but the multiple worlds and multiple realities thing really intrigues me. I love when that comes up in fiction, and I can't think of a better author to bring those ideas to the forefront than King. He has both a passion for it and really good stories that surround those ideas.

The Ur Amazon Kindle is basically an SCP. Yeah, I bringing SCPs up again, sorry about that. But this is the classic story of an object with unnatural talents it seriously can't and should never have. It's not truly supernatural... but then again, shouldn't it be just a little supernatural if it takes stuff from all these different worlds? I don't know. I just know that the writing, the characters, and the plot all work for me. They all hit that right feeling between realistic and slightly terrifying that I absolutely love.

I can't really say anything but good things about this. I listened to it in audiobook format, just like I did with "In the Tall Grass." I would say that that audiobook was slightly better read than this one was, but this one was just fine in terms of how it was presented. I think I liked this story slightly better though, simply because it appeals to my specific likes in the horror genre just a little more than forever tall grass with ancient stones that won't let you leave. Something about this whole story has an intellectual feel to it that I simply can't stop loving.

So, beyond that, there's not much to say. The story is all there, really simple with some great twists and turns, specifically when the main characters realize exactly what they have in front of them, what power it holds, and what they can (and will) do with it. And the connections to The Dark Tower will always intrigue me. The more Dark Tower connections King does, the happier I'll be. That's just my opinion, sure, but I certainly do like that series quite a bit despite most people simply not caring about it (from my experience at least).

I don't have anything else. Check the novella out. It's really worth it, especially if you listen to audiobooks often, like short fiction, or simply like Stephen King and/or his Dark Tower books.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Mirrors 2 (2010)

I was expecting absolute garbage with this movie. Instead, I got something halfway decent. So, I'm actually pretty happy here, despite its direct-to-video status and C-grade actors, this is actually a completely watchable little horror flick. Yes, it's surprising, and, no, it isn't as bad as what the critics and reviews say. They're also the ones who semi-liked Mirrors, which was not a good movie at all for the most part. Here, at least, the plot is coherent and keeps going rather than focusing on completely uninteresting things. And the director, Victor Garcia, seems to kind of know what to do with a horror movie.

So, if you haven't read my synopsis of the original Korean film Into the Mirror, then go read it now. This plot is virtually identical to that one if the police stuff and the ending are completely removed. Well, the characters' names change too, but that's obvious. This is the movie Mirrors should have been, rather than the awkward and dumb family drama THING it turned out to be. With the focus on basically being a remake of Into the Mirror it works quite well, if only because it is literally only Americanizing that story rather than just picking and choosing scenes, excising them, and putting an inferior plot around them like Mirrors did.

I think the only thing Mirrors did better- okay two things- would be the kidnapping a nun, which I still can't get over, and having Kiefer Sutherland, who is a viably good actor. Besides that, this is absolutely the superior movie of the two. It has better scenes, a better plot, more visceral deaths, and a greater coherency and tightness to its storytelling. I honestly think that it will be a while before I forget some of the deaths of this little film.

Man, the eating glass scene is certainly something to behold. Now, that's something different. I haven't seen that in a movie before as far as i can remember, and it's all kinds of seriously awful in the best way. I don't like gore all that much, but it worked really well, making me very uncomfortable and creeping me out without actually showing all that much besides blood. The thing is eating glass is not even killing. That's just the ghost screwing around. That tells me that this mirror ghost (who hopefully isn't a nun-demon) is absolutely bent on getting revenge in the nastiest way possible.

I'm okay with this.

Surprisingly, this is one of the first films this year that I can remember any nudity in. Maybe there may have been brief glimpses of something or other in other movies, but this one is very blatant and obvious, almost a full nude on screen. I was kind of rolling my eyes at the gratuity of it all, especially in the way it was done, but whatever. While it lingered, I knew she was going to die, so I kind of shrugged it off and went, "NUDITY ALERT!!!" basically yelling it when the scene came up. It made me feel better.

Just so you know, I don't care too much one way or the other about nudity in movies. I guess, to me, it's all about how it's handled. I don't like skeevy nudity, but this was just kind of there. So, it was the kind of nudity you just kind of shrug off and say, "Those guys..." It didn't affect the film much, but I probably would have been happier if it weren't there. It seemed out of place to the rest of the movie. Maybe that's just me though. I don't really watch these films for nudity.

Well, that nude scene ends with a CGI head pulling off in a mirror. Wow. And then she goes flying through the glass of her shower somehow. Right through the damn glass. Jenna's death is kind of unintentionally hilarious, and is probably the last piece of the movie that could be called kind of terrible. The rest of the movie is actually quite well done and competent. It's just that the gratuitous nudity mixed with blatant CGI does not make the scene all that good. Plus at one point there are two reflections in the same mirror. Why are there two reflections? That- that negates the point of the movie. That... what? I kind of want to know if it could be a mistake. I have to imagine it is. Nothing like that happens in the rest of the movie. It seems like a fairly massive oversight though for a major death scene.

The goriness is actually kind of decently done. It certainly makes me uncomfortable, especially in Ryan's death scene. That scene was literally brutal to watch.

Another question: Why is the reflection scared of Max? That's dumb. It seems to disappear or not harm others when he is around. Is he some kind of mirror talker? Or one who can speak to ghosts? I think the point of the accident in the early bits of the movie was to imply that he could have died on one side of the mirror already (SPOILER ALERT kind of like the ending to the other two movies), and that somehow let's him withstand the mirrors and their influence? I guess? Then again, just like Into the Mirror, the ghost only punishes the guilty. So, those without guilt have nothing to fear. Which leads me to wonder why the ghost screws around with so many other people. I guess it's just because movie tension, but it kind of defeats the purpose of a vengeful spirit who only attacks those who hurt her.

Anyway, the direction and acting are quite good at times, so much so that I can't believe this is direct-to-video. Mirrors 2 works quite well as both a story and a nice horror movie. Some of the effects are actually quite good, like the inside the mirror stuff, with the cracking world and whatnot. It worked incredibly well for me. Seriously a great idea. Whoever came up with it should start writing their own movies now.

I don't know. I get the feeling everybody is going to disagree with me about this movie, but it works so freaking well for me. I honestly recommend it. It's a neat little horror film that's, no, not as good as the original Korean film, but is so much better than Mirrors that it's ridiculous. It works really well doing what it does. It has a very tight story, some nice effects, good direction at times, and the acting really is not half bad here. No, the nudity doesn't appeal to me. And it basically is an American remake of Into the Mirror. But that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's really quite nice. I also like some of the little added things this movie has. Max, the main character (played by Nick Stahl), can't drive after his accident. Either through refusal or his license was taken away. So, throughout the film, he never drives, and it's never outright stated he can't. That's good storytelling, which is just letting the movie happen, not explaining every single detail.

The only thing that makes this a sequel to Mirrors is the Mayflower department store that is in both movies. beyond that they basically stand alone. To me, this is the true remake, while Mirrors is simply just really terrible. I wasn't expecting much, and I'm so glad I actually got a semi-decent horror film.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Kaidan (怪談) (2007) and J-Horror Theater Wrap-Up

From the director of Ringu, Hideo Nakata, we have Kaidan, a movie about a curse and a ghost. As the fifth movie in the J-Horror Theater series, I wasn't expecting much. Hell, the fourth and sixth movies were not all that good in my opinion, with the sixth one, Kyofu, being a trainwreck of a movie. Kaidan is a masterpiece. While calling it strictly a horror movie is laughable, it is a great movie to just watch. Hideo Nakata could never make a better movie than this, and yet he would still have made one of the great ghost story movies of all time with this one.

While the story is a tradition Japanese one about a legacy of death, a curse, and love, it is also fantastically put together. A moneylender is killed by a broken Samurai in old Japan. The Samurai dies himself soon after, and their children grow up orphans. The moneylender's daughters grow to be beautiful and powerful in Old Tokyo (Edo), while the Samurai's son is very clearly of a lower status. He falls in love with one of the daughters, but their relationship is cursed, and when he decides to leave her, he is cursed as well.

And that's the basic story. I know it has been told before in movies like The Depths (1957) and others, but this is one of the more recent re-tellings of an old tale with a tragic story. The movie is art in motion throughout, showcasing both acting talent and a story that works incredibly well. It does take on the old idea that the sins of the father are passed down to the child, almost literally in the case of this movie. It shows that fate is fixed and cannot be changed. And a curse, a woman scorned, and ultimately fate... those things cannot be avoided. They will follow one around for the rest of his days.

Maybe it's a little silly, but a movie like this, made so traditionally about such a tradition matter, is exactly what I want to watch. It is one of the only period horror movies that I know about, which makes it very unique and incredibly interesting in its own right. I wasn't expecting what I received, neither the quality nor the absolute passion evident in this film.

Again, this is not strictly a horror film. While it has horror elements to it (mostly in small pieces and mostly at the end of the movie), it is much more of a historical drama of a sort. I would even call it a romance movie at times. While it doesn't always work, it damn well tries very hard to be something special, and I truly appreciate that. It hearkens back constantly to the ancestral sins as well showing that one's own sins can damn one as well. The way Shinkichi (the lead character) treats the women throughout the film can only be described as disheartening. While appearing to be a good man on the surface, he takes advantage of them, leaves them once they cannot give him what he wants, and finds another, prettier face. I know customs were different once upon a time, but I find it kind of sickening how easily he slimes his way through the story. Even then, there was a certain sadness I felt towards him at the end of the movie, before his ultimate fate is decided. It takes a great movie to make me feel something for a character I loathe, and this is certainly a special sort of movie.

Again, there really isn't horror here, so despite the moniker of J-Horror Theater, this is much more of a traditional ghost story, one of the ghost seeking revenge certainly, but one that shows very little in the way of actual scares. I would almost say that this movie is made in a way to be a throwback to early Japanese horror movies of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It has that style and feel to it, although I could be wrong, I suppose.

Anyway, this is a great movie and I recommend it all the way, just don't expect a horror movie, because this isn't really one of them, not in the modern sense of the term anyway.

So, I guess we're done with all six movies of the J-Horror Theater. What six movies they were too! We saw everything in the Japanese Horror repertoire, from Infection with its subtle gore and mindscrew attitudes to Kyofu and its terrible and bizarre story. We saw Premonition and Reincarnation, both with their slow builds and near-perfect stories, both full of so much horror and awe that they'll always remain in my mind as true quality. And then we saw Retribution, a movie that I should have liked, and ended up finding far too dry for my taste. But even that one had a certain something, even if it was simply a single perfect scene. And finally we have Kaidan, a traditional ghost story I won't soon forget. All six movies were something to watch, even if I found two of them less than stellar. All-in-all the J-Horror Theater experiment was a success, really showing the quality that Japanese horror movies can achieve when their best directors take on the task of making amazing movies.

I'm glad I finally reviewed all these movies. They've been on my plate for years and years. I have a few more series and sets of movies like this to review, probably not this year (not at this point anyway), but next year and the years after I'll need more horror movies to review, so why not? I don't think I'll forget these movies, and if this year goes down as my J-Horror Theater October, then so be it. I think I can be proud of these reviews and these movies for the most part. I will admit I really wasn't expecting much out of these last three reviews, especially since two out of my first three reviews of this series were fairly negative. I'm glad that these final three movies picked up the series, making it rise in my opinion, and making all the hours I put into watching and reviewing these movies definitely worth it.

Anyway, until tomorrow night... 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Reincarnation (Rinne) (輪廻) (2005)

Reincarnation is my kind of horror movie. Being the third of the J-Horror Theater series, this film, like the first two, Infection and Premonition, also delivers a surprisingly amazing story as well as a scary as hell film. I'm actually really glad I've chosen to review all six of these movies this year because I've seen some amazing movies. I mean, wow. Yes, The Sylvian Experiments was terrible, and I wasn't hugely fond of Retribution either, but three out of five GREAT movies makes the whole series literally worth it. Yes, I have one more film to review, the fifth, Kaidan, which just might be coming soon, but I'm so pleased to have gotten to watch so many great horror movies this year so far.

This is a movie I won't spoil. I really think it is the creepiest so far, and well worth the watch. So, I give it a recommendation right away. Go watch this movie. It's so fulfilling, dealing with more philosophical elements, reincarnation (naturally), and fate, a theme which not enough movies truly explore. One of the reasons I don't want to spoil this movie is because there is a twist towards the end that is alone worth watching the movie for. It might be easy to see coming, but man, did it work for me even though I KNEW it was going to happen. Also, the reliance on fate and the past to tell the story here is one to behold. It is a mastery of storytelling rarely seen.

Can you tell I like this movie?

I do, by the way. I really like this movie.

The movie has a simple premise: A director wants to make a movie about the murder of eleven people in a hotel quite some time ago. He has a passion for the murder and wants it all to be perfect. While most of the movie is very slow-paced, used for building tension, atmosphere, and mystery, it works quite well, doing all of those things very effectively. There are flashbacks and memories throughout, mostly provided by those who are the reincarnated souls of those who were murdered in the hotel all those years ago. I seriously can't get over how effective the story is, and how insanely creepy the whole movie is despite its obvious lack of a ton of budget. I like how there seem to be callbacks to other famous horror movies as well, most notably The Changeling and its bouncing red ball and The Shining with Room 237. Because every single movie set in a hotel must have a room 237 reference. It is required by law. If you don't have a reference to it in your hotel movie you shall be beaten until you insert one in. I do enjoy those loving (and quick) references those. They work because they don't take away from this movie, and also because this movie is ridiculously good and can live up to and (in The Shining's case) exceed those other movies.

The faces at the beginning of the movie, the white faces in the trees, are so effective at creating the atmosphere in the movie right away. It drew me in and didn't let go. The visuals are fantastic throughout the movie, and the direction is superb, obviously showcasing a man with a great deal of talent. Oh, its the director of The Grudge, is it? And Marebito, another incredibly well directed movie. Takashi Shimizu, go ahead and take a bow. You have proven yourself as a master of the horror genre.

Oh, and the creepy doll that appears throughout the film? Yeah, I don't like creepy dolls. They freak me out. So, again, the movie is very effective at creeping me out.

I hate this doll.

Beyond that, this is the kind of horror movie I want to see every time I watch a scary movie. I want to see something original, unique, artistic, and ultimately very creepy. The atmosphere is great here. There's nothing extreme or gory about the movie. The direction is almost as interesting as an actual art-film, and the ending of the movie, with 8mm film interspersed with the actual movie is a grand experiment that really pays off. I don't know of many horror films, Japanese or otherwise, that can cut this deep, intriguing and scaring simultaneously so well. I know I have a ton of movies behind me and a few to come, but this movie right here, this one, Reincarnation, would alone be worth this entire month of reviews. Any better movies than this or movies on par with this one are just icing on the October cake. These reviews let me try new kinds of horror, and sometimes a gem can be a bit unknown or hidden from the public eye. This is the kind of movie I want to feature, one of such high quality and low notoriety, one that shows that horror is neither dead nor even suffering. People need to simply look in the right spots to find the really good stuff.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Infection (Kansen) (感染) (2004)

"But he... He gets inside."

The best way to describe Infection is to call it a psychological horror mindscrew of a movie. I don't even know if the story is coherent enough to truly understand. It seems to be more focused on symbolism and interesting imagery than an actual plot. But I think that's also the point. I think it's an interesting movie, but one that is so utterly jumbled that sometimes it's more difficult to follow the psychology of the plot than just following the horror of it. As the first J-Horror Theater movie, this one is very good, giving the six movie "series" a great start. Director Masayuki Ochiai does a great job with directing, but his editor should be barred from ever editing again. It's a mess, seriously.

I went into this movie thinking it would be gory and awful to watch. I literally had to anticipate the gore effects that I really thought would be highlighting this movie, for better or worse. But this movie has very few truly gory moments to it, more lingering on characters' reactions to the offscreen gore than actual shots of gore. This is probably for budgetary reasons rather than artistic choice, but it worked well in my opinion, leaving more to the imagination and less to the eye, something that I always find effective.

Like Into the Mirror, this movie also has a focus on mirrors, to the point that this movie could have taken that movie's title and nobody would have known. I guess the idea here is that mirrors either tell the truth or give way to some alternate reality where guilt and conscience rule. And green blood. For reasons. I can't really understand the entirety of the plot or the point that they were trying to make. Sometimes these types of movies put symbolism for symbolism's sake into their movies. That could be the case here. I don't really know.

Anyway, Infection takes place at a hospital, following around a collection of nurses and doctors who are on a night shift. The hospital is overrun with patients (even though we only ever see a handful of them) and is financially sinking. Most of the first part of this movie is a medical drama unfolding, seeing how stressed these doctors and nurses are, seeing how difficult their work is, and seeing how exhaustion and the stress can lead to bad decision making.

A burned man falls from his bed, dies, is brought back to life, and then through medical error dies again, this time for good. The acting in this scene is excellent, as the doctors' both try to save one of their own by hiding the evidence of the error and bullying the nurses into accepting what they want to do to hide it. It's effective and eerie, with the whole scene playing out as if it could be pure comedy or pure sickening horror. Sometimes these things are difficult to pin down.

Throughout the beginning part of the movie, we are also treated to a collection of small scenes detailing an ambulance talking about a man with some kind of infectious disease that they found. These paramedics come into the hospital seeking help for the infected victim. Dr. Akiba, who is sort of the main character of the movie and the doctor who admitted error with the burn victim (in the scene after this), turns them away, which will have dire consequences on the rest of the movie. Again, burn victim dies from medical error, and then the chief nurse goes down to check the ER, only to find the infectious disease victim still there, the ambulance gone.

This is when the movie gets strange. Dr. Akai, the director of the hospital, has a collection of scenes being very adamant about studying the disease. His scenes are shocking in a way because of the way he acts. He is always stone-faced (except once), and he is filmed with some kind of filter, a green one, I believe, that leaves him looking washed-out and creepy. The victims organs are shown to be liquefying as well, but the person is still very much alive and coherent, even smiling at the doctors.

The movie rushes on, now being both confusing and disjointed, showing more a focus on horror than story. The nurse, four of them, die horrifically one-by-one, each taken out by the green infection starting from the chief nurse getting infected by the initial victim (whose body disappears) to each one of the others getting infected by one another, I believe. Parts of this movie can be confusing, which is why I'm kind of wondering myself what happened at times. Eventually, Dr. Uozumi, one of the lead characters, is also infected, and shown speaking to a person he had once killed accidentally. This incident cements the meaning of this movie and the infection to basically being something like guilt.

Dr. Akiba is told from the dead Akai (because Akai was the burn victim all along) that the infection is transmitted through the subconscious mind rather than through the air or by touch. This means that they were all infected in turn by the guilt they felt over the death of the patient or the way they treated someone else or how they screwed up medically once. Over this whole part of the film, and maybe I didn't catch every instance of this, but what it seems like is that the movie has the green film over it at times, showing some kind of alternate world... maybe even the mirror world where ghosts are still living as the old woman patient seems to imply many times.

The psychological elements show up near the end, as Dr. Akiba looks through a mirror and sees his blood as green blood, rather than the red blood he has in real life. And as a female doctor enters the hospital in the morning light, the awful truth is learned. The doctors and the nurses are all dead, no longer with the green blood and bile, but rather with red blood covering them, obviously killed by someone. Akiba (and the Pediatrician who wants to be a surgeon) are guilty of the crimes (at least in the eyes of the law).

And the film ends with the insanity of the final female doctor, Dr. Nakazono, after she signs off a boy from the beginning of the movie whose brain was bleeding, thus showing her the green blood world and her own infection. And then the boy with the fox mask shows up again, probably implying something with him, although I have no idea what. As an added thing, Akai, in Japanese, means red. Which probably has some meaning. Perhaps Dr. Akai was never real, more an implied person standing in for the real world or the infection. The final scene is Dr. Akiba, shut in the locker that kept opening earlier in the movie in the room they were trying to speed-decay the burn victim's corpse. His arm falls off with green blood attached. He is fully infected.

As a last point, there are some seriously scary moments to this movie, particularly the background scares that linger. Some of those moments were great visuals and left an impact on me. It will be hard to forget that chief nurse standing on the cot in the background of a single shot, her face as white as paper, knowing what will come next, and being unable to do a thing about it. Great direction all around, really showcasing the horrific elements of the story.

Oh man. This movie is both complex and very confusing at times. There are a great many details throughout the film, the blink-and-you'll-miss-them type of details. Honestly, this is a movie where a second viewing might be required just being of the complexity of detail. I would say that infection is all about guilt and that the infection attacks the guilty part of one's mind. Beyond that, I have no idea what this movie is. It's an effective horror movie, one with really bad editing, but great cinematography and direction. The acting is perfectly fine, although I wouldn't say anybody was particularly awesome in their role. It's a movie I would recommend as a horror movie for J-Horror fans. This movie is certainly not for everybody though, and I feel that to some it might be more frustrating and confusing than frightening. I liked it quite a bit, but also feel that it is far from perfect, particularly in its disjointed nature and focus on nothing at times. Check it out if you want an interesting little Japanese Horror movie. Just remember that it's all over the place in quality.