Pride Prejudice and Zombies, (2016)

guess who’s back, back again

Oh boy.

Ever seen a movie and been taken completely off-guard by how much you actually enjoyed it? To be quite frank, I walked into Pride Prejudice and Zombies (Burr Steers, 2016) expecting a mildly amusing, but wholly forgettable bit of fluff. I had originally intended to see this movie in theaters, but it barely lasted two weeks before getting pulled. I’m no expert, but I’ve been told that’s not a good sign.

Yikes.

And so, when I chose to watch PPZ on my flight over to London, my expectations were pretty low. I legitimately just wanted something to pass the time that wasn’t some crusty episode of Big Bang Theory. The bar wasn’t high to begin with, folks. I just needed something that wouldn’t make me want to claw my own eyes out.

Enter Pride Prejudice and Zombies. Exit my dignity stage left, chased by a bear.

I wound up watching this movie on the way to London, on the way back from London, and then bought it on Amazon when I got home and then watched it again.

I don’t know when I realized I loved this movie. In Austen’s words: “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” While I’m talking about a strange-ass movie and Darcy is talking about Lizzie, I’d like to think the sentiments are the same.

Pride Prejudice and Zombies is delightfully weird and remarkably compelling for a movie that places a veritable comedy of manners against hordes of the undead. To be quite clear, I have never read or seen any other adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I tried to read the titular novel many years ago, and found I had no taste for it.  While I hear the 2005 Joe Wright adaptation is quite lovely, it’s just something I’ve never gotten around to watching. So in that respect, I have no idea if this is a faithful adaptation beyond the basic outline of the plot. I was here for the zombies and Lily James, and nothing else.

Here’s how Pride Prejudice and Zombies spins Austen:

The life of the Bennet family is turned upside down when handsome, wealthy and eligible Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) returns to his countryside estate, and sets his eyes on Jane (Bella Heathcote), the eldest Bennet Sister. Believing it to be a sure match, the Bennet family luxuriates in their dreams of fortune, all the while the second-oldest Bennet sister Lizzie (Lily James) finds herself constantly dogged by the infuriatingly cold Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). Lizzie quickly finds herself in a sea of eligible bachelors: her annoying cousin and heir to the Bennet estate Parson Collins (Matt Smith), the mysterious Leftenant and part-time Gaston impersonator Wickham (Jack Huston), and as always, the stoic and brooding Mr. Darcy. Finding common ground on their ill feelings towards the Colonel, Wickham and Lizzie grow closer. But all is not as it seems with Wickham: his plans for a new world order involve maintaining the undead, not killing them. As desperate letters fly and hearts are broken, the undead swiftly advance on London, breaking through the first line of defense. After Wickham’s true intentions are revealed, Lizzie must fight not only for her sisters, but for her very heart.

(I saw Lily James’ face) now I’m a believer

Well, there’s a reason this story is so damn popular. I get it now, folks, I feel it, I’m with it. Lizzie Bennet is every headstrong, vaguely awkward gal pining after an unreachable dude. I was almost angry over how much I got into the whole story; apparently, zombies are the way to my cold, dead, heart. Lily James’ Lizzie Bennet is an angry, ass-kicking dork, and I love her so much.

One day I might get into the original source material, but for now I’ll stick to this version. But seriously:I think the combo of zombies and Austen is not just a “quirky” attempt at generating ticket sales, but rather ends up being a strange, but well-integrated little romp.

Zombies and Empire Waists

Placing the Pride and Prejudice story in a post-undead-apocalypse England sounds endearingly childish at best, and woefully misguided at worst. While I’m still working out the specifics of why and how, PPZ  is not only coherent, but meshes zombies and social comedy really, really well.

The action focuses on Lizzie and her sisters, who are all beautiful, witty, well-comported highly-trained zombie-killing assassins, because what else would they be? Pride Prejudice and Zombies places regency-era femininity in direct juxtaposition with military skill and violence. This alternate history of sorts puts self-defense as a necessary quality for women at the top of the list, and shows Austen’s famous ladies wielding swords as sharp as their tongues.

While in some ways this is poking fun at the damn-near endless list of qualities women have to embody to be seen as worthy (read: marriageable), it makes for a pretty refreshing turnabout to see women kicking-ass in full-length dresses, at least for me.

Better yet, there’s only one moment where the Bennet sisters’ ass-kicking abilities are vaguely sexualized: when the sisters are preparing for Mr. Bingley’s first ball. They’re lacing each other’s corsets up, donning frilly pastel stockings, pinning up hair: it’s a typical “getting ready” montage. Of course, this sequence also shows these lovely ladies strapping knives to their garters under their dresses, and stashing other weapons in their gowns. It’s a tricky moment because it both plays into the “male fantasy” by focusing on pretty under-dressed ladies’ upper thighs and whatnot, but also skews it by showing these gals not just getting dressed, but rather arming themselves.

It’s a little bit of both, but that is the only moment where the Bennet’s abilities are seen as “sexy.” In the rest of the film, it’s completely normalized: the sisters openly haul around rifles and swords to almost every event, and no one really comments on it.

While the notion that femininity and physical strength not being exclusive qualities is a sort of loaded idea with a lot of baggage, I personally found Pride Prejudice and Zombies to treat its protagonists with a great deal of respect. They are traditionally feminine-looking and acting, yet engage in activities conventionally considered masculine, and there is no perceived disconnect.  While their fighting skills are expected of them to an extent, the Bennet sisters are still pressured to become more domestic in their activities in order to make a better wife. While Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) values his daughters’ lives over their homemaking abilities, the tension between convention and survival is still very much present.

Moving forward, this delightful little revision to good ole’ Austen means that verbal sparring becomes very physical. Some of literature’s most snappily-written arguments are now accompanied by well-choreographed fight scenes. It sounds ridiculous, but thematically the whole concept works very well into the fabric of the plot. It’s also just fun as shit to watch. I also love the whole “sexual tension being revealed through physical fighting” trope more than life, so this movie is a gift in that regard.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty of dramatic letter-reading on picturesque rooftops too. There are tears and spats and heaving bosoms aplenty: romance is definitely what drives this movie, and Darcy and Lizzie do an awful lot of heavy breathing while eye-fucking the camera.

…But honestly I would too if I was either of them.

sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters

Women being badass and beautiful aside, one of the other reasons I love Pride Prejudice and Zombies is that it never cheapens the bonds between the Bennet sisters throughout it all. While dudes are often central to the sisters’ conversations, a lot of focus is placed on how they interact with each other. Sisters fight, they make fun of each other, but would also go to war (quite literally in this case) to protect each other. The Bennet sisters are ride or die, and supportive female relationships are Good Shit ©.

But the sisters feel human, and aren’t perfect emotionless killing machines, nor are they damsels in distress. They fall in the more realistic middle ground of: “damn capable, but still human.” It prevents the sisters -Lizzie and Jane in particular- from becoming one-dimensional Sexy Ladies With Swords, and rounds them out a bit.

It also makes them hella relatable. While I too would love to envision myself as a gorgeous, stoic , bullet-slinging mistress of the night, I cry way too much and catch far too many feelings for that. I mean, shit, if Mr. Darcy wrote me a letter that passionate I’d probably find a nice rooftop to cry on too, girl.

I hate how much I’m into Darcy and Lizzie

grinch.gif

I cry every time Lizzie confesses her love to Darcy on the bridge. I know they end up together and that everything turns out okay and it all ends with marriage and I still let out a dopey little sigh.  I despise how much I love those two losers. Austen’s words are about as passionate as they get, and my dead heart goes into overdrive when I hear them in PPZ.

I’m supposed to be Cool and Unaffected ©, dammit.

But on a more serious note

As always, a couple points to consider:

Matt Smith’s Parson Collins is incredibly funny, but it would be remiss to not point out that a great deal of this humor comes from the fact that he is played as effeminate. To be clear, Collins is an airheaded, self-righteous asshole. But he’s portrayed with several “feminine” qualities that are seen as lesser, particularly in a man: he loves dancing and social events, does not do well with violence or physical labor. These are all qualities conspicuously missing in the “real men” of PPZ, such as Darcy and Wickham. The implication of gayness (and thus anti-masculine) is there, and that’s old and shitty.

In addition, the whole “let’s go to Asia to get mad skillz” thing is awful and contributes to the fetishization and “mystification” of Asian cultures and people.

There are also lots of little gender things that I could discuss, but I’ve already sort of said my piece on it earlier. Putting weapons in a pretty woman’s hands doesn’t necessarily make her empowered. While I think PPZ generally handles its women pretty well, PPZ (and Pride and Prejudice as a whole) is a mixed bag with regards to gender if you dissect it.

yet here i am, crying over two losers

While there’s some stuff in PPZ that can get a little dicey if you go too deep, in my heart of hearts I’d love to see this movie as a story about a stubborn, awkward, proud man and a stubborn, awkward, proud woman humbling themselves and falling in love. It’s a reductionist view, but when set against the backdrop of rotting corpses, it makes my weird little heart sing. Lizzie and Darcy are an emotionally-stunted duo who have no idea how to express their feelings but like….same.

Pride Prejudice and Zombies  is a goofy yet heartfelt little twist on Austen’s original work, and is definitely worth a watch if you come into it with no expectations. It’s got a great cast, a high production value, and lives in a singularly strange world of its own. While it’s not for everyone, this weirdo little zom-rom has gnawed its way into my movie collection, where it will proudly sit for a very, very long time.

 

4/5

 

—Further reading/Sources—

Featured image source: http://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies/250922/pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies-new-trailer-and-poster

Grinch gif:  https://66.media.tumblr.com/50ef5e9e63a3c8fb3a699b39c09734a4/tumblr_mmehxofiks1qgwqw9o1_500.gif

 

Trick ‘r Treat, (2007) G.O.A.T.

It’s time.

This is it folks, the most wonderful time of the year, the reason for the season, the greatest 24 hours on this god-forsaken rock hurling through space: it’s Halloween! For my final review, I’ve saved my all-time favorite Halloween movie for you:

On the last day of Halloween, the coolest horror anthology gave to me: Trick ‘r Treat,(Michael Dougherty, 2007)

Trick ‘r Treat is all about getting in the spirit of Halloween…even if by force. Tied together by the tiny hellish harbinger of Halloween, Trick ‘r Treat is a compilation of 5 stories: Each s a fun-sized morsel of Halloween goodness, all set in the same town of Warren Valley, Ohio on Halloween night.

Like I did with V/H/S 2, I’m going to go through each plotline individually, for your sanity and mine. Each of the stories weave in and out of each other and are not necessarily discrete in the film itself, but let’s just make this easier, shall we?

Opening

The first story is a brief little tale depicting the dangers of breaking tradition: married couple Emma (Leslie Bibb) and Henry (Tahmoh Penikett) return from a night of merrymaking, only to have Emma declare that she’s taking all of the decorations down. Henry warns her that it’s against tradition to take your decorations down before the end of the night, but the exasperated Emma refuses to listen. Fear not: a certain pumpkin-headed terror reminds her of how things are supposed to be done, in a very convincing manner.

This story is the shortest of the five, and basically serves to set the tone for the movie: don’t break the rules, and you’ll be just fine. It’s a fun little opening, but becomes forgettable in the face of the other four.

Surprise Party

This is my favorite story. There is a pretty solid “twist” to this one, so I’ll leave it spoilers under a cut.

Shy, sweet Laurie (Anna Paquin) is bullied into going out with her older girlfriends, who are intending to score big time with the men of sleepy Warren Valley. These beautiful twenty-somethings from out-of-town are on the prowl, but not for sex. Laurie struggles to find a date to bring to her friends’ party, but ultimately ends up being just in time for the festivities.

 

 

—-Spoilers—-

 

 

The whole set-up is as though Laurie is supposed to be having sex for the first time, coached out of her shell by her more experienced older sisters. But the “date” she’s supposed to be finding isn’t for making sexytimes with: it’s her mealbecause all of the beautiful women are a massive pack of werewolves.

THIS IS THE GREATEST MOMENT IN CINEMA HISTORY.  I cheer like a sports fan every time I watch it.

I mean, let’s talk male gaze: the pack’s women are all traditionally beautiful and dressed super provocatively . The final scene shows them feelin’ on themselves and stripping onscreen to some good ole Marilyn Manson in front of the luminous glow of a bonfire. Typical male fantasy stuff, right? Well it all goes to hell in a handbasket as they start to rip their skin off to reveal fur.

Talk about a strip show.

A werewolf sisterhood is literally what my dreams are made of, and I will be eternally grateful that it was filmed.

 

 

—-Spoilers gone—-

 

The Principal

Charlie (Brett Kelly) is the worst kid on Halloween: he’s an older boy who smashes pumpkins, refuses to wear a costume, and steals candy. He’s everything that Halloween isn’t, and local principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker) intends to rectify that.

This plotline is pretty dark, and focuses on violence against a child.

 

 

—-SPoilerZ—

 

 

Principal Wilkins is a child murderer. He kills Charlie for his disrespect, and helps pass on his serial killing ways to his tiny son, Billy. While very dark, the contrast between Steven’s domesticity and violence is darkly humorous. He’s a father who balks when his son swears, yet has been happily murdering children for years.

 

—-boos begone—

 

 

The Bus Massacre Revisited

A bunch of middle schoolers go around collecting jack-o-lanterns to bring to a quarry where several children were rumored to have been killed by a bus driver. Intending to trick the “weird” girl  Rhonda (Samm Todd), ringleader Macy (Britt McKillip) leads her buddies down to the quarry. The first part of Macy’s prank goes off without a hitch: but as Halloween progresses, it becomes clear that the kids aren’t the only ones in the quarry.

Full disclosure: this short is about a school bus full of special needs children who are killed by their bus driver, who has been paid by the parents of the children to essentially “get rid” of the students. While the kids are painted as being initially innocent, they’re still totally treated as boogeymen and a threat.

Listen, I get this is a scary movie and bad things have to happen in order to make it “horror”, but this is a shitty plot. Disabled and/or neurodivergent  kids/teens/adults already face enough social stigma and isolation; plotlines like this reinforce the fear and disdain said folks already experience. They are not burdens or fodder for scares. It’s the one point in Trick ‘r Treat that I don’t like, and as always, will not defend.

At any rate, this segment is basically Carrie for middleschoolers. Cute, popular kids play a nasty trick on the awkward loner, and it all backfires horribly for the perps. You feel positively awful for Rhonda, who is absolutely terrorized by these kids. It’s a tale of childhood cruelty that takes a dangerous turn, with bloody justice delivered.

Meet Sam

Grumpy old Halloween scrooge Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) is adamant in his attempts to avoid celebrating Halloween in any way, shape, or form. Unfortunately for him, a deadly, pint-sized bit of “Halloween spirit” is headed his way.

This is the goriest of the stories, and has the overtone of a home-invasion thriller. There’s a box cutter slicing into an achilles tendon, broken glass in hands- some viscerally upsetting stuff. It’s also got a deep vein of dark comedy, so you’ll giggle as well as grimace.

…It also has a brief clip of Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.

So we began, and so we end.

Childlike magic coupled with a very adult set of themes

As always, some warnings: Some nasty gore, lots of vomiting, violence against children. Sex things. Brief violence against a dog. This is not a family movie, folks.

That aside, Trick ‘r Treat has the Hocus Pocus storybook aesthetic coupled with gory, spooky stories. It’s a brilliant combination that makes for a scary but fun movie, that is the perfect mood-setter for a Halloween evening.

That’s all, folks

And with that, tonight concludes my 31 Days of Halloween! To all those who have stuck with me, thank you! While I will be back on soon with some new reviews, I will be taking a brief break to enjoy the season.

I wish you all the happiest of Halloweens!

 

5/5

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://collider.com/trick-r-treat-halloween-movie/

The Thing, (1982) G.O.A.T.

On the twenty-eighth day of Halloween, the 80s gave to me: The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

In retrospect,there should have been a lot more 80s horror on this list. So many classic works in both sci-fi and horror came out of fashion’s worst era, and  yet this is the first one I’m mentioning. Luckily, the cool thing about holidays is that they come once a year, so I’ll have a lot to dig into next go round.

At any rate, I’ll probably end up doing a series later in the year centered around John Carpenter, because so many of his films ended up being formative for me as a kid. In fact, The Thing was originally on my list in my first series of reviews, which focused on my earliest horror movies. I ended up saving it for later, because The Thing is a heavy hitter and deserved a better spot on the list.

And so here it is, as a part of my list of G.O.A.Ts. This movie is simultaneously my wildest dream and my worst nightmare. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly tense, stomach churning gore-fest. On the other hand, it makes me think about whether or not I’d kill a dog to save myself. And it’s a really cute dog.

Plot:

A remote American scientific outpost in Antarctica is suddenly attacked by a Norwegian scientist, who appears to be trying to kill a dog. The Americans kill the Norwegian out of self-defense, but realize that something might be wrong at  the Norwegian base. Intending to offer aid, Doc (Richard Dysart) and MacReady (Kurt Russell) fly to the base, where they discover a scene of absolute carnage : the base is destroyed, and every team member is dead. Retrieving a mangled, irregular looking body from the wreckage, they bring it back to their base for examination, unsure of what to do. Placing the dog the Norwegian was apparently pursuing with the rest of the base’s dogs, things quickly go to hell. The “dog” sprouts tentacles and sheds it skin, and that’s not a breed characteristic I’ve ever heard of.  The crew quickly realizes that it’s what’s in the dog that is the danger, and that they might not be able to stop it.

I’M CALLING SHENANIGANS

What’s causing this nonsense?

aliens.jpg

Seriously. This is a brilliant alien film, one that has a blood-borne, shape-shifting organism at its heart. Not only is this creature grody, it’s wicked fucking smart. It’s a horrifying concept, full stop.

Also, let’s think about the physical location of the action: you are unconditionally and irrevocably fucked in the arctic. There is nowhere to go and no one coming to save you. The only way to keep yourself safe from this creature is to isolate yourself, and yet the only way to survive in the arctic is to band together. Yikes.

Carpenter builds up tension in The Thing with brilliant foreshadowing, from MacReady dramatically losing to the chess machine in a “checkmate,” to Nauls (T.K. Carter) loudly listening to “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder.  The contrast between the deep blue of the cold and the bright red of the fire is beautiful, but coded for capital-D Danger.

While I’ll give The Thing’s gore its own subsection, one of the things I love about this movie is that it doesn’t necessarily rely on the gore. The Thing is primarily a tale about human drama: once the crew realizes how the organism travels, all bets are off as suspicion mounts and accusations fly. Trust is in short supply in The Thing, and it leads to a total social breakdown that has everyone looking over their backs. That’s what makes this movie a nail-biter; the gore is just the cherry on top. This organism is either gonna be forever, or it’s gonna go down in flames. There is no way out of The Thing, and it makes for one hell of a ride.

Let’s talk about gore ba-by / Let’s talk about thisdude’schest cavi-ty

I swear to god nothing turns my stomach more than the unrealistic, hyper-gory body horror of the 80s. I don’t know why, but for some reason this specific subset of special effects makes me want to actually vomit more than any other. Rob Bottin’s shit is next-level fucked up : those who’ve seen The Thing know exactly what I’m talking about. Dismembered heads sprout legs. Teeth are just everywhere. Tentacles for days. Spider legs on things that aren’t spiders. The cherry-red blood and shiny viscera.

There’s nothing like it in the world.

Warnings: nasty-ass body horror gore. Also violence against dogs. Laugh all you want at that warning, but tears well up in my eyes anytime I see a dog being hurt. Even if they are evil.

Kurt Russell’s ridiculous flying hat: a love story

This move is the perfect blend of FUBAR’d gore and genuine tension,  which is a rare achievement. I can’t vouch for the 1951 original or the 2011 “prequel”, but the 80s did good by this version. This movie is creepy and awful in the most wonderful of ways. Carpenter is the man, and The Thing is one of his greatest films.

Don’t watch this movie if you’ve got a weak stomach or are not fan of shall we say, creative gore. But if you’ve got a night to kill and want to feel claustrophobic and never want to be near another human again see a kick-ass film, get your hands on a copy of The Thing.

 

Just have a lighter on you.

 

 

5/5

 

 

—-Further Reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://tthk-18.tumblr.com/post/129351627158/film-posters-of-the-thing-directed-by-john

“Aliens” source : http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35mlvr

You’re Next, (2011) G.O.A.T.

On the twenty-seventh day of Halloween, my wildest fantasies gave to me: You’re Next  (Adam Wingard,2011)

I’ve saved the best for last, folks, and just for you. These last few movies on the list are my all-time favorite Halloween movies, all of which get my G.O.A.T. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, G.O.A.T. refers to “greatest of all time.” I’ve already reviewed one G.O.A.T on my 31 Days list ([REC]), but the next 5 reviews are going to be all G.O.A.T.s. These are the movies I can watch on repeat and never get bored, and I offer them to you with the highest of recommendations.

So get your shitkickers on , because my G.O.A.T reviews tend to be on the long side.

This movie came to me in a very special moment

Studying film in college comes with a lot of perks. You get to watch a lot of cool movies for homework, for instance. You also get to be that cool kid who knows who Truffaut is, and can answer lots of bar trivia night questions about him (even though-let’s be honest- you’ve only seen like, one and a half of his films). You get to experience things like thrill of watching some of the first films ever made, and connect with people long dead. Oh, you also get the crippling anxiety post-grad when you realize a film studies minor gets you cool points on Tinder, but not on job apps! But in all seriousness, studying film for me was soul food. This is the medium of my imagination, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

However, along with my degree and job search struggles, studying film also gave me the coveted title of “film fanatic,” (read: film asshole). This means my good friends would politely listen to my rants about the latest movie I was obsessed with, while my best friends would tell me to shut up and take another shot.

As such, there are a few movies that I am automatically and permanently associated with in the minds of my friends, because not even strong liquor can hold back these feelings, bruh. Whenever these movies come up in casual conversation, my friends send a pointed look my way as if to say “do a trick or something, IDK what film minors do.” However, because my friends are incredibly gracious, if they see a piece merch or a stray meme pertaining to one of these films, they’ll lovingly send it my way, thinking of me. To the distantly acquainted facebook friend looking at my wall, it would appear as though I really like dinosaurs, cute dogs, and murder. Which, in retrospect, is pretty accurate.

As you can probably guess, the films I get lumped in onto are some of my G.O.A.T.s, and today’s entry is no different. I first saw You’re Next in the summer of 2013 with one of my best friends in college, who also happened to be a film kid. We were the only ones in the theater that night, and it was single-handedly the most magical movie viewing experience I’ve ever had.

I became obsessed with this movie: I bought the Fangoria issue for it. I entered a bunch of contests to try and win merch. I had the DVD pre-ordered so it would arrive the day it came out. I then proceeded to watch it twice in the first 24 hours in which I possessed it. I went hard for this movie, and I still do. I then continued to puppy-eye my housemates/sisters (I was living in a small offshoot of my sorority’s house) to watch it with me in our tiny, shitty living room. They were very indulgent and watched it, but luckily genuinely enjoyed it. Or at least they pretended to, for fear of hurting my child-like enthusiasm for this movie. I then of course went home for some break and then made my parents watch it, and they liked it too.

This is to date the only movie I have ever seriously insisted another human watch. I have luckily moved past my true Film Asshole ©days, where I would act positively insulted if I found out someone hadn’t seen like, Star Wars or something. As a rational, mostly-functioning adult, I realize that not everyone A) likes movies all that much and/or B) likes the genres of movies I like. However, You’re Next is a movie I genuinely thought my friends would enjoy, and I knew their backgrounds and tastes well enough to suggest it. To be fair, they then collectively made me watch Pitch Perfect in exchange, a movie I would have never picked in a thousand years. Guess what: I fucking loved it. Turns out they knew that I have a soft spot for Anna Kendrick but like who doesn’t??? .

Anyway, back on course. I am really enthusiastic about You’re Next , and think it has something to offer for almost any viewer. And so without any further ado, here’s why You’re Next gets my G.O.A.T.

holy shit this movie is a rollercoaster

Before I get into any specifics, I want to introduce You’re Next, as it might not be familiar to some readers. You’re Next was an indie film made in 2011 that did the film festival circuit, before finally being picked up and released into mainstream theatres in 2013. It did decently well financially, and garnered generally positive reviews.

Here’s a quick and dirty of the plot:

Quiet, reserved Erin (Sharni Vinson) accompanies her former professor-now-boyfriend Crispian (A.J. Bowen) to his “family weekend” up in the mountains, where she is forced to deal with the ever-lovely familial squabbles and tension. Oh, and deadly assassins. Halfway through a very awkward dinner, mysterious assailants start picking off members of the family, turning the beautiful country house into a war zone. Without spoiling too much, shy bird Erin turns out to be far tougher than she appears, and starts to give the assassins some hell.

You’re Next is the beautiful three-way spawn of a slasher, dark comedy, and home invasion thriller. The premise is simple: masked assassins are coming after a family. It’s fight or die, and it doesn’t get more straightforward than that. I usually am not one for house-invasion or slasher movies: I prefer monsters or ghosts, something more fantasy based. It’s fun to be scared of zombies, because that’s a situation I will most likely never ,ever end up in. But someone harming me in my house? That’s a real-life scenario that has played out again and again in the real world that I’d actively like to avoid. So needless to say, I’m not the first to dive into these types of films.

But lord this movie is different. It’s aggressively different. Erin is everything that should get her killed in a movie: she’s the student who shacked up with her teacher, young and beautiful. And yet,she is the heroine of this movie, unapologetically violent and tough.

straight for the throat… and my heart

Is the fact that Erin has extensive survivalist training a cheap explanation for her badassery? Yes, absolutely. It’s awkwardly shoehorned in and given no context. Do I care at all? Not one bit. My cold dead heart was soaring in that theater three years ago. I was seeing a lady dominate a slasher movie, and not because she was a virgin, or “dumb,” or lucky. This was my first experience with the Final Girl, which -although a problematic trope- fueled my soul. I realized that I never questioned when a dude-character somehow knew how to fight/survive despite no previous experience being alluded to, so why should I care about Erin? Take your Mary-Sue accusations and shove it, assholes.

I legitimately cannot put into words how incredible watching You’re Next  for the first time was for me. My friend and I left the theater positively bubbling with energy and excitement. When we sat down to discuss it in the fro-yo place next door, we got into the gender politics of not only the film, but our reaction to it. Like, is that how guys feel like coming out of dude-driven (read: almost all) action films? We were exhilarated. This movie is one big “fuck yeah!!” for me, and I wondered if this is what I had been missing. If anyone wants to talk gender, horror, and violence with me, please hit me up because this movie is a goldmine for discussion.

tl, dr;  Erin is my favorite and is coming for your whole life.

family reunions: the actual horror

Visually You’re Next is very indie feeling, which makes sense. It’s got a sparse aesthetic and a dull palette, and the entire film feels like a tree in the last throes of autumn. All of the light is warm, but not the “invitingly cozy” warm, but rather “this is an old lightbulb and the only source of light” warm.  It’s beautiful, but always vaguely threatening.

The camerawork is subtle, but brilliant: while never allied to a specific point of view, the camera moves almost like a hand-held camera, inviting the audience closer to the action. There are also several shots from outside of the house looking in, which is a surefire way to create tension.

The music in You’re Next is also great : it’s dark and synth-y, and Erin’s theme is amazing. I’ve been trying to find a digital copy of the soundtrack for forever, and this year they finally released it!

…on fucking vinyl, the hipster bastards. it’s on youtube, I’m being dramatic

I had been looking for the score for ages, and they go and do this to me. Well, at least I can listen to The Dwight Twilley Band’s Looking For the Magic on repeat in my cabin instead. Or one of the two other versions they used in the film.

If you’ve never heard Looking for the Magic, it’s a peppy rock jam that gets stuck in your head in a flash. You’ll also never look at it the same way again after watching this movie, so enjoy it while you can.

While this is in some respects a very basic slasher film, the script is not. Simon Barrett assembles the worst family on the face of the planet, and manages to work a vein of dark comedy into an otherwise all-out slash fest.

I mean, I hate family reunions as much as the next human, but the family in You’re Next  are some next-level type of awful. This family is horrendously dysfunctional: The siblings are constantly in a struggle to impress their parents, each trying to out-yuppie the next. Aimee (Amy Seimetz) is an image-obsessed airhead with a hipster filmmaker boyfriend (Ti West), Drake (Joe Swanberg) and Kelly (Margaret Laney) are pill-popping narcissists, Felix (Nicholas Tucci) is a sketchy bastard, and Mom (Barbara Crampton!!) and Dad (Rob Moran) are well-intentioned but useless. They all bicker at the worst times, and Erin is legitimately the only useful one there.

But for realsies

This movie is brutal. While a fair amount of the kills are delivered with traditional weapons, this movie qualifies damn near everything as a weapon: boards, nails, screwdrivers, meat tenderizers, wire, knives, blenders. There’s one kill in You’re Next that had me up out of my seat in the theater the first time I saw it. Erin is one helluva deadly dame.

 

 

—-Spoiler for the coolest kills EVER and a delightful ending—

 

 

SHE USES A BLENDER TO KILL SOMEONE THIS IS NOT A DRILL

SHE ALSO PULLS THE KNIFE OUT OF HER OWN BACK TO CUT A BITCH

Also, the big “twist” at the end is that the assassins were hired by Felix and Crispian in an attempt to get their inheritance a little early. Going back and watching You’re Next is brilliant, because you watch as Felix and the rest of the family who’s “in” on the action slowly start to lose their shit as they realize that Erin is a goddamn menace. It’s like poetry in motion, people.

 

 

—-spoilers away—-

Some of these names should look familiar….

Adam Wingard? Simon Barrett? Ti West?

These guys are all well known horror writers and or directors. Wingard directed and starred in the first short of V/H/S 2, working alongside Simon Barett. Joe Swanberg is another “mumblegore” actor and director, as well as part time double for Adam Devine. Ti West is famous for movies like House of the Devil and Sacrament. These guys all know and work with each other, and it makes for a lot of fun little Easter Eggs in You’re Next.

Barbara Compton is also a decently well-known horror actress, so there’s that too.

….Also: The lead female, Sharni Vinson, got her big break in Step Up 3-D , the dance franchise. Not only can this lady maim trained assassins with random household objects, girl has groove. She’s all I want to be, basically.

This movie will literally always brighten my mood

If I were to describe the feeling this movie evoked in me with an image, it would be a picture of Sharni Vinson flipping double birds while riding in a hot-red convertible down a highway into the sunset, all to the tune of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.

There is something magic about this movie to me, and I will always be down to watch it. You’re Next is a darkly funny trope-bending masterpiece that I cannot recommend highly enough. It also has infinite replay value, because once you know the “twist” at the end, the movie is full of so many little subtleties that make the movie SO GOOD. You’re Next is 94 minutes of pure joy for me.  While I’m going to say this about literally every other film on my list after this, just like….trust me on this one.

 

Or not, you do you.

 

Happy Almost-Halloween!

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.destroythebrain.com/movies/movie-news/three-new-youre-next-posters-are-at-your-door

 

 

Deathwatch, (2002)

On the twenty-sixth day of Halloween, The Long Fuse gave to me: Deathwatch (Michael J. Bassett, 2002)

Look, another piece of period horror!

Today’s Is this Real or Not? comes from Britain, and is one of the few WWI movies I’ve ever seen, much less a WWI horror movie.

Deathwatch engages the historical reality of trench warfare with a “horror” slant, all to make a harrowing statement about human nature.  Without spoiling anything, Deathwatch emphasizes that war, is in fact, hell.

NO PLOTS FOR YOU:

British Y Company becomes mysteriously separated from the larger army during a battle in the middle of what they believe to be a gas attack. Stumbling forward, the company finds a trench occupied by three visibly upset German soldiers, and quickly discover evidence that there was German-on-German violence. As they move to secure the seemingly-endless trench, they discover a series of horribly mutilated bodies. Attempting to force information from the single captured German, the soldier tells the British troops that the Germans are not the enemy here. As Y Company continues to  attempt to hold the forsaken earthworks, it quickly becomes clear that it’s not the Germans who are the problem: it’s the trench itself.

Trench Warfare.

For those who are unfamiliar with WWI, a great deal of it was fought in trenches: deep furrows in the earth that served as battlements for rival armies. Dug into cold ground, trenches were filthy, constantly wet, and a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty diseases. They were often a solider’s home for far longer than they should have been, and “no-man’s land” was a real issue in WWI.

That’s what Deathwatch capitalizes on: the nature of the trench. Y Company gets stuck in a mysterious trench that has no end, and what is above ground is constantly covered by a mysterious fog. They are isolated, in an endless maze of earthworks- and yet the set feels claustrophobic. There is nowhere to go beyond the trench. All of the action of Deathwatch happens in this singular location, with nothing but fog and darkness and mud surrounding Company Y.

The only bright color in Deathwatch is the bright red of blood: other than that it’s slate-grey wet earth or military greens. The constant rain, the lack of any real sunlight- it all casts a sickly pallor over the film, and gives the action a constant sense of dread. The barbed wire, the mud, the rain: all becomes tools for what’s in the trench. This movie is about as eerie as they get,  and has an ending that will leave you thinking.I’ll discuss the specifics of the “reveal” at the end under a cut, but needless to say that the nature of reality in the trench is very much up for debate.

 

 

 

—-SPOILERS FOR THE END—-

 

So this is how I interpret Deathwatch.

A trench is just a trench, right?

Not really: this trench is not really “earthly,” if you will. Y Company are all in purgatory or hell, and Shakespeare (Jamie Bell) is the only one to make it out because he consistently showed compassion. The trench is a unique- however apt- depiction of an unfavorable afterlife. The cast of characters is stuck in some strange “no-man’s land” between heaven and earth, and their choices have dictated their fates. All of the company turns on each other in some way except for Shakespeare, and he is the only one who “leaves” the trench.

Of course, a new group enters after  Y Company has either “died” or “passed through”, implying that this specific trench is a supernatural testing grounds of sorts. It’s a “food for though” ending that has broader implications. Good stuff, I’d say.

 

 

—-Spoilers be gone!—-

 

It’s not a perfect film

The movie certainly feels disjointed at times, and a lot of the action is confusing. While I personally believe this adds to the themes Deathwatch is trying to tease out, I agree that at times it makes for a film that’s difficult to watch. The special effects are also very cheesy at times, but those moments are very brief and didn’t bother me very much.

But…

As a whole, I think the atmosphere and uniqueness of the story outweighs the cons. Deathwatch is 50% psychological drama and 50% horror, and uses a very unique setting to make a very specific point. While it isn’t the most well-written or well-paced horror movie I’ve seen, I think it was a ballsy concept that delivers creeps and thrills really well. So if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, I’d recommend Deathwatch. It stuck in my craw for a while after watching, and  maybe it’ll do something for you.

 

4/5

 

—Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.pastposters.com/details.php?prodId=11313&category=&secondary=&keywords=

 

The VVitch, (2015)

On the twenty-fifth day of Halloween, AP US History’s weird cousin gave to me: The VVitch (Robert Eggers, 2015)

The next entry on the Is This Real or Not? Review mini-series is a colonial witch story that doesn’t have to do with Salem! Don’t get me wrong: I studied history in college, and I truly believe that reality is plentifully horrifying. The story of the Salem witch trials is an incredibly compelling moment of American history that is as fascinating as it is gut-wrenching. Countless portrayals of the trials –The Crucible, Salem– plus the amount of tourism they generates in Salem means that bonnet-wearing witches have long become a part of our world.

To be sure, The VVitch isn’t about Salem, and purports to take place a good half a decade earlier than the famous trials in Massachusetts. But The VVitch captures something for me that no other American witch film has, and is a stark, but enlightening think-piece on puritanical religion, gender, and isolation.

And witches.

Plot:

A puritan family is exiled to the woods after expressing religious dissidence, and they must learn to live in isolation. Alone in the woods, the family is shocked when their youngest child, Samuel (Axtun/ Athan Dube), disappears. The eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) comes under her intensely religious parents’ scrutiny, particularly her mother’s (Kate Dickie). As stranger things begin to happen on the farm, the family begins to fall apart.

here we go

The thing about The VVitch that I find particularly compelling is its portrayal of early American Puritan Christianity. It depicts the spiritual landscape of this early Puritan family in an unflinching, yet non-judgmental light . In their world, devils and witches and demons are not metaphors or “ethereal” beings: they are physical actors on the human plane who are a real, tangible threat to their livelihoods. This family is literally perched on the edge of the civilized world, surrounded by what to them are very real spiritual and physical dangers. Their religion is their safety, their weapon against very non-metaphorical evils. That’s the aspect of The VVitch that I think other period witch dramas tend to leave out. In other depictions the witches are either obviously real to everyone in the town, or accusations of witchcraft are seen as a totally cynical method of gaining social power. While both have their place, I think The VVitch captures a wonderful middle ground in this family.

In their minds, the Devil is everywhere. And that why Thomasin comes into suspicion: she’s a young girl. Thomasin is a young woman who’s on the verge of blossoming into her sexuality, who is under constant supervision and dealt the blame for almost everything. She has no friends, so social group. She talks to a goat, because what the hell else is she supposed to do? Every single one of her interactions with her family, who she is supposed to cling to- is under a religious microscope. I mean, good god: there’s a scene where Thomasin and her two very young twin siblings Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) are talking by a river, and the twins threaten to “out” her as a witch. While modern viewers see Thomasin’s interactions with her siblings (she ends up “scaring” them) would read as an older sister just being an older sister and messing with her younger siblings, this conversation is deadly. Any accusation of “witch” would be taken incredibly seriously, particularly because she is a young woman, and thus more susceptible to the workings of the Devil.

Now, while the goat  Thomasin talks to ends up being a little more nefarious than just a goat, if we were to remove the supernatural element from this film, then The VVitch would be a story about how religion and gender roles serve to isolate and target a young woman, leading to a violent breakdown of  a family.

It’s the family in The VVitch who is playing Is This Real or Not, and with deadly results. Is Thomasin the witch? Is she a pawn? Is she innocent? In this family’s world, legitimately all of the above are possible, real answers that they must consider.

While the witch and the Devil end up being very real, it’s entirely human interaction that leads to Katherine’s fate in the next-to-final scene. This family falls in on itself, unable to separate Thomasin from what is happening to them, and very human emotions (misplaced rage, jealousy, confusion) are what lead to the bloody climax. Eggers strikes a really tense balance between the natural and the supernatural, and shows how potent religious belief and real-life supernatural activity are an explosive combo.

 

 

—-Spoilers for the end—-

 

 

While the first time I saw this movie the ending caught me off guard, I think it’s  fantastic. It caught me off-guard in that holy shit lots of naked flying women. While most of the supernatural happenings in The VVitch are either shown in glimpses or off-screen, this is a full-frontal depiction of a witch rave.

What I love about the ending is that Thomasin joins the witches. The goat, who was apparently Satan himself, offer Thomasin a life of freedom and pleasure: two things she was repeatedly denied in her former life. Her own mother turned against her, scorned her, and tried to kill her. Her family was going to send her away. Her siblings, unaware of the ramifications of her actions, constantly put her under suspicion. The chance to join these women, who are literally free of their earthly tethers, is almost a relief. Fuck them: she’ll become what they said she was. While this is not the place for the discussion about the model of a witch as a “liberated” woman, I have to think the choice to have Thomasin become a witch is laced with a hint of defiance.

Of course, the witches in The VVitch aren’t just some kooky women following their own path, but legit evil, child-killing monsters. So I’m sort of torn on that front.

 

 

—-End—–

Jesus this movie is tense

The VVitch thrives on implication, on off-screen or “just-glimpsed” action. While it all goes to hell in a handbasket in the final act, the majority of the movie is a tense interplay between religious suspicion and actual supernatural occurrences.

The VVitch is also stunningly beautiful: it captures a starkly austere vision of early New England, and reminds us that this land was once wilderness. And not the cutesy postcard kind: I mean untamed, untouched forest, filled with the unknown. While it wasn’t filmed in America (yikes) I think it captures the spirit of an early New England, where colonists were literally eking out a living on what felt like the edge of the world. The setting also isolates the characters, who are literally the only people for miles. It’s like a bottle movie, except there are no physical restraints to their locations except their social status. The tiny house becomes claustrophobic as accusations fly, and no one has anywhere to go- except the woods.

The gore is grody, but pretty standard. The only things to watch out for is gore and violence against a child.

This got long, sorry

Just watch The VVitch, okay? It’s tense, beautiful, scary, and captures a historical/religious moment really well, witches aside. But there are also witches. It’s a 2-fer-1 period horror suspense-fest that is as pretty as it is though-provoking.

 

But again, it also has witches.

 

4/5

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://screenrant.com/witch-trailer-poster-2015-2016/

 

 

Baskin, (2015)

On the twenty-fourth day of Halloween, the Father gave to me: Baskin (Can Evrenol, 2015)

So the next few movies are part of mini-theme, loosely titled, Is This Real or Not? (I was debating adding a the subtitle Because I Don’t Know But I’m Scared.) The movies under this category have serious undertones (or overtones, as in today’s movie) of subjectivity, and thrive off of the audience being unaware if what they are being shown is “real” or not.  These movies tend to be psychologically complex, thematically rich, and occasionally really fucking confusing. But as long as you’re just here for the ride, these movies can be fun as hell to watch and explore.

Today’s entry is the only one of the mini-series that I would consider somewhat hard to follow along with: it’s pretty non-linear and doesn’t necessarily keep to any “rules.” That said, there’s enough of a narrative that you’re not totally bumbling around in a sea of images, but enough weirdness to keep it puzzling.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the first entry in Is This Real or Not?: hailing from Turkey, today’s film is Baskin, film that goes to Hell and back.

Literally.

Yada yada yada, here’s the sitch:

A rural Turkish police unit responds to a call for backup in the town of Inceagac. With nothing else to do, the unit heads in, unaware of what awaits them. As the group journeys further into the woods, strange things begin to happen- including the ever-present road danger of naked people darting across traffic.  After accidentally crashing their van into a lake, the crew finds the first squad’s car, parked in front of an abandoned building that apparently used to be a police station. Deciding to enter the building, the police unit attempts to find their missing colleagues. What they find serves to prove that there are indeed, more things in heaven and hell than in our mortal philosophy.

My other entries may be on the tame side

This, however, is not. Baskin is Holy Motors for horror movies, folks. That’s not an entirely accurate comparison, but roll with it

If you want something scary, and not like “ooh, I’’m creeped out hold me closer lol,” but rather you want something to Fuck You Up, this is it. This is Silent Hill meets Sixth Sense meets The Shining, all with a kind of Del Toro aesthetic. And yet, it is still entirely a beast of its own. Sometimes Baskin feels like a music video. Sometimes it feels like performance art. At other moments it feels very traditional, and yet at other moments, it is blindingly unique. I may not entirely understand Baskin, but I do know that I really enjoyed watching it.

get weird or get out

Critics of this film felt that Baskin was more visuals than it was narrative, and needed more of a backbone to carry it. This is a totally, 100% accurate critique.  A lot of this movie is left to your interpretation, sometimes frustratingly so. But I liken it to watching Holy Motors. If you’ve never seen Holy Motors, I’d highly recommend you watch it. It’s a movie that legitimately no one really understands. It’s cinema for cinema’s sake, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had watching a movie. It’s utterly bizarre and makes zero sense, but to me that’s part of the allure! Once you step back from trying to impose a narrative and just go with the film, it’s fantastic.

That’s sort of how I feel about Baskin. It’s a beautiful, well-made film that values feeling, visuals, and evocation more than narrative. To be sure, there’s enough of a narrative that someone smarter than I am has probably cobbled together a coherent plot out of the film; it’s not totally random like Holy Motors is. But I think this is a movie that you just have to roll with. You can’t necessarily impose sense on it, you just gotta experience it. That can rightly frustrate people, and I totally get that Baskin it not everyone’s cup of tea.

This is a movie that forces you to think, that places the viewer in interchangeably subjective and objective environments, and without any warning. Baskin establishes several different “worlds” within the film, and forces them to collide and loop back on themselves with no real rhyme or reason.

I would have had a fucking field day with this movie as a student. My primary film teacher in college was really into the idea of films as a dream-space, the role of the eye, and shit like that. As such, I fucking dig this movie. The symbolism of the key, the keyhole, the notion of “doors”- it’s all delicious and ripe for some film student to dig into. (If you’re a film kid and want to write something academic on a horror movie, this would be SO GOOD. Send me what you think!)

On top of the themes, the artistry of the film itself is masterful. The lighting in Baskin is tight and precise, in a way that is almost theatrical in quality. Similarly, the composition of each scene- particularly in the dungeon with the Father- is delicious. I also found the soundtrack to be quite effective :it vacillates between dead silence and uneasy beats, both used to maximum effect.

Set and sound aside, the cinematography is what builds the terror in Baskin. Baskin utilizes close-ups to make the viewer uncomfortable, to imbue tension into simple actions. Who would have thought that a simple stepstool could be so horrifying? Baskin imparts deadly meaning into everyday objects and movements, and almost entirely with the camera alone.

This movie is fucking decadent with gore

But don’t let me try and tell you this is some super-cerebral arthouse circle-jerk: because it’s not. It’s beautifully crafted and non-linear, but it packs in horror and suspense right along with it. The gore is at times very traditional: you’ve got your cannibals hacking away at limbs, inhuman wailing etc.  Yet at other times, the gore is drawn out and straight-up decadent in its presentation. There’s one scene in particular that I’m thinking about, which involves some intestines and a ve-e-ery slow villain. Some parts are truly hard to watch, simply because they are deliberately slow, when we as viewers are used to a frenzied hack-n-slash.

Warnings: Hoo boy. Sex stuff. Dubious sex stuff. Cannibalism. Simulated bestiality. Eye trauma. This movie is out there, so watch with caution if any of the above might bother you.

Do I understand this movie? I’m pleading the 5th.

Baskin has enough of a narrative to keep you sort of on-track, but the atmosphere and mood is what reigns in this movie, and it is stunning. It’s is a beautiful, lyrical, horrifying film, all in equal measure. It’s truly a mixed bag, but if you’re feeling feisty and looking for a movie that’s in a league of its own, try Baskin.

Or if you really liked Un Chien Andalou.

 

…Yeah, then you’ll probably love this movie.

 

4/5

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.splatsofblood.com/baskin-basks-blood-guts/baskin-poster/

 

House on Haunted Hill, (1959)

On the twenty-third day of Halloween, the most iconic voice in horror gave to me: House on Haunted Hill (William Castle, 1959)

I had a lot of options available when deciding what last ghost movie I should choose to close out the series. It’s a big-ass genre, and there’s a lot of good stuff out there.

I was going over the movies I had already reviewed when I realized that all of them are from the past thirty years. 2007 seemed to be a good year for horror, as I have singularly reviewed 5 movies from that year alone. Needless to say, I thought that maybe I should try to do something about that.

The problem is, I tend to not like old horror movies. Call it desensitization to gore, a sign of the soulless, graphic times, or maybe just my personal taste, but older films don’t seem to hold up too well for me.  That said, there are a few gems that I really do love, and one of them is perfect for my last ghost-movie review. It’s a golden oldie from the late 50s, and features the man that gave horror movies a voice: please welcome to the stage House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price.

Plot:

Five strangers are assembled for a party in a supposedly haunted mansion: if they make the night, they get 10,000 dollars apiece, thanks to the eccentric millionaire Frederick  Loren (Vincent Price) and his hateful wife Annabelle Loren (Carol Ohmart). As the night goes on, their numbers start to dwindle as the spirits of the house begin to awaken.

Black n white movies are cool I swear

House on Haunted Hill is a spooky extravaganza, replete with plot twists and Eureka! Moments. It plays out like an Agatha Christie novel, full of psychological drama, vague ghosts, and some delightfully atmospheric music. There’s infidelity, alcoholism, young love, guns in tiny coffins! I mean,  honestly what else could you ask for?

It has some genuinely scary moments, though I think most of it ends up being creepy and atmospheric rather than “shit-yer-drawers” horror. The house itself is like Nancy Drew’s wet dream. I mean, California’s hottest haunted house has everything: acid pits, blood dripping from ceilings, secret passages, you name it! There’s also a soprano constantly wailing indistinguishable vowels in the background at all times, but I’m not sure if she comes with the house.

A lot of the horror in House on Haunted Hill is cheesy, with effects that wouldn’t really read with modern audiences. To be quite fair, this movie was probably pretty scary in the 50s and 60s, and I think a lot of why it’s goofy today is because so much of what this movie drew on then is seen as stereotypical now. Which is generally how things progress in film, so that’s just how it goes. But I gotta give it to them, 50s movies have the best screams. They’re always these full-body, high pitched, bloodcurdling shrieks, and modern movies just can’t compare.

This movie also has Vincent Price, so it has a solid leg up on other movies by that sheer fact alone. Like dinosaurs, Vincent Price makes any film better.

There is a brief depiction of suicide, so if that might be a problem I’d watch with a little caution.

Not really about ghosts

I mean, there aren’t really ghosts in House on Haunted Hill, and all of the shenanigans are of an earthly source. And the ending is very strange and abrupt. And nothing is ever really explained.

But hey, what can you do. Sometimes you’re just a strange little movie from 1959 doing the best you can with Vincent Price pushing you along. House on Haunted Hill is a wacky movie that I love very much, and if you’re ever in the mood for something a little silly but still a little spooky, pull House on Haunted Hill out and give it a whirl.

 

Also, wine is to this movie what Vincent Price is to horror: it makes it better.

 

4/5 (for the laffs, m8)

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_on_Haunted_Hill

 

 

Dead Silence, (2007)

On the twenty-second day of Halloween, another fucked-up doll movie by James Wan gave to me: Dead Silence (James Wan, 2007)

So, I somehow accidentally ended up reviewing another James Wan film. I didn’t realize it was a Wan movie at first, but I quickly realized it looked and felt kind of familiar.

I mean, it isn’t like I’m mad or anything. As we’ve already established, James Wan makes Good Shit (c). And in a thrilling turnabout, Wan’s Dead Silence brings us creepy ghost story with another fucking godawful doll.

I watched this at home alone.

I hope you’re happy.

Plot:

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) must confront his family’s past after his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) mysteriously dies after a creepy ventriloquist’s doll is delivered  with no warning. Remembering an old rhyme from his home town of Ravens Fair, Jamie returns to his birthplace, trying to pursue the myth of Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts). Mary Shaw, a elderly spinster ventriloquist, died childless under questionable circumstances, but gave birth to a legend.  As Jamie dives deeper into the mystery of Ravens Fair, he begins to realize that his town is hiding a secret bigger than he could imagine: and this secret is coming for him next.

This movie is like Once Upon a Time for ventriloquists.

But instead of the beautiful Storybrooke, it’s the depressed, gloomy village of Ravens Fair. There’s a curse involved, and everything is stylized to the point that it looks like It came out of a children’s book. There’s no tasteful restraint or sense of realism: dark, richly-appointed mansions are constantly foggy and lit by moonlight, abandoned theaters loom in the distance, and gravestones sit askew in ivy-covered graveyards. And in what must be a meteorological anomaly, it always seems to be stormy in Ravens Fair. Go figure.

I’m not complaining by any means. While a sense of sparseness can do a lot for horror movies, it’s also really fun to see a movie that gives Burton a run for his money. It’s atmospheric and visually luxurious, so I’m into that.

It’s pretty basic

This is like a Lifetime movie, but one made to kill your soul, as opposed to warming it. Dead Silence is pretty stereotypical in a lot of ways. Tragedy-struck man returning to a cursed hometown? Family secrets? A town’s shame? Creepy childhood rhymes? Mysterious unmarked packages? You get what I’m saying. Dead Silence is a basic set up and swimming in clichés at some points.

The film characters are also unreasonably comfortable with this fucked-up doll. I mean, I’m usually one of those people who rolls their eyes when folks watching horror movies yell shit like “don’t go in there, lololol omg so stupid haha.” But I  honestly cannot understand the logic behind Jamie and Lisa bringing that fucking doll into their house without literally an ounce of trepidation.

For reference, the doll looks like this:

dead silence billy.jpg

Let’s break down the opening of the film.

Jamie and Lisa receive a large, old-paper-and-twine-wrapped package with no return address, delivered by unseen hands.T

Yeah, does that not seem weird to anyone? Like, anything wrapped in mysteriously stained paper and string is fucking bound to be not something you want in your life. Slap some Amazon Prime tape on a box, and then I’ll bite.

At any rate, whatever’s in a package that looks like it came from an old-timey butcher is going to be either a loved one’s body parts or a haunted object.

Which is, of course, exactly what is in the package. Jamie and Lisa open this package and find a fucking creepy ventriloquist doll in an elaborate trunk. AND THEY DON’T EVEN BLINK. They’re just like, “this is fine, and in no way creepy!” They joke with it! They sit it up, and Lisa even tries to scare Jamie with it! There is not a single iota of fear, or even worry. They don’t question that someone unknown knew their address and then sent them a fucked-up doll. They don’t shuffle it into a closet, call someone, or even hide it.

Listen, if you aren’t afraid of ventriloquist dolls you’re either a fucking liar or a ventriloquist, and I don’t trust you either way.

I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND.

Childless old women with hobbies: the true boogeyman

So while I think there are some weak spots in Dead Silence, this movie is still Scary As Shit, and a really great watch. Of course, it isn’t hard to make a movie centered around a haunted ventriloquist dummy scary, because that is literally the scariest thing on the face of the planet. Of course, Dead Silence features 101 dummies, because fuck your sleep schedule! I mean, 5 would have been excessive in my book.

The crew of Dead Silence had to buy/create/find 101 pants-shittingly creepy looking dolls, and that’s a task that no one should ever have to complete. There are even bodies that have been mutilated to look like dolls, because if you’re not going the extra mile to scar your audience, are you really in a James Wan movie? I mean, the crew did a fantastic job with the dolls and props.

I just keep them in my prayers.

But beyond a doll that gave Annabelle a run for her money, Dead Silence is fundamentally a ghost story, and features the spectre of Mary Shaw as the primary actor. It’s when I first saw Mary that I was like, “Yeah, I guess this really is a Wan movie.” Like I discussed in my review of The Conjuring, all of Wan’s ghosts look very particular. They’re played by physical people, and are decked out in basically the same makeup. They’ve got soul-piercing eyes, dead, grey skin, visibly dark veins, grody fingernails, and are usually old women. Mary Shaw is no different. But honestly I don’t mind, because Wan’s formula works, and has a distinctly horrifying look that does a lot for me.

I also really love the use of silence in Dead Silence, which I should have predicted, in retrospect. Each burst of paranormal activity is accompanied by a complete, numbing cocoon of silence. I’ve ranted about the use of aural cues in horror before, but this one that I thought was really unique. Scares are usually preceded by music or sound, whereas it’s the exact opposite in Dead Silence. It’s fresh and creepy in its own way, and a great touch to the film.

Only real warning I can think of is fucking dolls and general gore, so take that as you will.

I only have one more ghost movie left to review so pray for me

Dead Silence is a visually delicious movie that preys on (legit everyone’s) fear of haunted dolls, and does so with guts. In some ways it’s a predictably twisty family-curse drama, and isn’t terribly groundbreaking in that respect. It’s definitely on the early side of Wan’s work, but it shows some of the same instincts that he honed in his later works.  Dead Silence is good, soul-crushing fare for all, and I’d highly recommend it for a spooky night in.

Just like, promise me that if a strange box anonymously arrives on your doorstep that you will call a religious expert of your choosing to dispose of it.

Or a bomb squad.

Or both.

 

4/5

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.impawards.com/2007/dead_silence.html

Billy, the fucking soul-sucking doll: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/94294185921215311/

El Orfanato, (2007)

On the twentieth day of Halloween, a bucket of my own tears gave to me : El Orfanato, (J.A. Bayona, 2007)

Today’s ectoplasmic entry on the list hails from Spain, from director J.A. Bayona and guided by Guillermo del Toro.

Plots for days:

Laura (Belen Rueda), her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and her adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) move into the building that once housed the Good Shepherd Orphanage, where Laura lived before being adopted. Intending to restore the grounds and re-open the building for special-needs children, Laura tries to recapture the warmth she once felt for this place. Simon begins to have contact with a mysterious imaginary friend named Tomas, who reveals to Simon that he is not only adopted, but ill (HIV positive). Simon’s relationship with Laura and Carlos sours, and during an event Laura hosts for possible future residents of the house, Simon disappears. Months pass, and Laura is still unable to find any trace of her son. Desperate to find her child, Laura realizes she’s going to have to contact the ones who know the grounds the best: the resident spirits of the orphanage.

You’re gonna need tissues for this one.

El Orfanato is the perfect example of how powerful horror can be. While I’m all for getting the shit scared out of me, I think the horror genre has the potential to dig deeper than just scares. This is a horror movie, make no mistake- but one that has a beauty and a power to it beyond the spooks it provides. It’s a tapestry of a living memory, of hope and grief and horror and the paranormal all wrapped up in one.

El Orfanato is a portrait of a parent’s grief: Simon’s disappearance pushes Laura and Carlos to the very edge, and there is no romanticism to their suffering, nothing “spooky”. There’s once scene that sticks out in my mind : Laura and Carlos are in a group therapy session with other parents who have lost children. Laura expresses seeing things in the house since Simon disappeared, hinting at the supernatural. With knowing smiles, other parents in the group describe seeing their children after their deaths, and the line between paranormal activity and powerful grief blurs. While “delusion-versus-actual ghosts” is an old trope, it’s bitterly poignant in El Orfanato. While the orphanage is of course  truly haunted,  the tension between grief and ghosts (of both the literal and figurative kind) is a powerful one. Laura is grasping at straws to a certain extent, in total denial that her son may not ever be found. The possibility of the paranormal is an escape route, another open door.

Belen Rueda is the soul of  El Orfanato, and plays Laura with bruising passion. Laura’s determination to do whatever it takes to recover Simon is heartbreaking, in both its fury and its desperation.  Her grief is “the wound that acts as a knot between two timelines,” and her personal connection with the house is what opens the door between worlds. But unlike in most other films centered on orphanages,  Laura remembers the Good Shepherd Orphanage fondly and gratefully, and wanted to continue its legacy. The spirits she encounters are spirits of old friends, not vengeful ghosts. El Orfanato is deeply rooted in Laura’s experiences and memories, and the confluence of grief and physical place.

I’ll discuss the ending under a spoiler cut. It’s about as sad as they come, equal parts tragedy and tender hope. It leaves me bawling every time.

 

 

 

—-SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE FILM—

 

 

Laura finds Simon’s body in a deep cellar under the stairs: upset with his mother, Simon went and hid there, but fell down the stairs and died.

Simon is dead, and it had little to do with ghosts. While Simon’s interactions with Tomas and Laura’s reawakening of the orphanage are paranormal, what happened to Simon isn’t. It was an accident, plain and simple. That’s the most awful art of El Orfanato : while it takes a ghost village  to bring Laura to the truth, Simon’s death was entirely within the bounds of this world.

Laura decides to end her natural life in response, and enters the world of the orphanage as she knew it to act as the caretaker for the spirits  of her friends. She’s the Wendy  to the children of Neverland, safe from the terrors of life. It’s horridly sad, but the film ends on a note of peace and hope: Carlos can still feel Laura’s love from the other side.

 

 

—–End spoilers—-

 

Uno, dos, tres, Toca la pared

While El Orfanato is certainly a tearjerker, it’s spooky as shit too. There’s a scene with a medium that’s reminiscent of Poltergeist, and it’s beautifully tense. The “toca la pared” sequence (think Red Light Green Light) is one of my favorites in horror, because shadowy children are Creepy ©.

A few warnings, as per usual: keep an eye out for fingernail trauma, harm done against children, and brief depiction of suicide.

But this movie is also beautiful

While El Orfanato isn’t quite as fantastical as work Del Toro helms, his hand is still very clearly visible here. The lyricism and beauty that accompanies the horror of El Orfanato is very typical of Del Toro’s work. The beautiful, richly-appointed house, the focus on children: all very typical del Toro. That said, Bayona still keeps the film grounded in reality, and makes it a story all his own. It’s lyrical, it’s horrifying, it’s sweeping, it’s sad: you get a lot of bang for your buck with this film.

do emotional gymnastics burn calories

If going through the full emotional spectrum counted as cardio, I’d be in model-like shape by this point. El Orfanato is one hell of film that seamlessly weaves in elements of horror, fantasy, and drama to tell a uniquely gorgeous story. I highly recommend this film to anyone who wants a good watch.

Just have a box of tissues nearby.

 

 

4.5/5

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.filmaffinity.com/es/film245378.html