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

 

 

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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/

Sweeney Todd, (2007)

On the twenty-first day of Halloween, some gnarled trees gave to me: Sweeney Todd (Tim Burton, 2007)

Since I’m a weenie and had to take a break from watching ghost movies, I present to you what I’d like to coin a “living” ghost story: the tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s not necessarily a horror movie per say, but it’s got gore and guts aplenty.

but the work waits!

I’m always a hoe for musicals.  Once upon a time, I was a Theatre Kid ©, on top of being a Film Asshole ©. To make it even worse, I was a Musical Theatre Kid ©, which meant my awkwardness usually was set to a tune. It wasn’t pretty, but I’d like to think I carried myself with some modicum of grace. I never got deep into the obscure theatre shit- I stuck mostly to popular stuff. Chicago, Wicked, Into the Woods, Hamilton. You know, pretty basic stuff. Good stuff, but standard stuff.

Now generally speaking, “musical theatre” and “spooky” don’t necessarily go in the same sentence, unless “ is not” is wedged between them. Of course, Sweeney Todd is the rare exception. So while this musical might seem like a bit of an odd addition to this series, I think Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd is a beautifully pulpy rendition of a classic musical, and oozes with atmosphere. It’s melodramatic to the max with a dark sense of humor: if you like your revenge story with a side of cannibalism with great double entendres sprinkled on top, then read on.

Here’s the story for those who are unfamiliar:

Former barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) returns to London after escaping an injust imprisonment abroad, intending to find his family and exact his revenge. Returning to his old shop on Fleet Street, he meets Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who owns the pie shop below his room. Lovett tells Barker that a young barber and his wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) lived there, but that the local Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) had become obsessed with Lucy, and after sending away her husband on phony charges, seduced her. Lucy, reeling from her assault, committed suicide. Determined to get what he wanted, Turpin then took custody of Lucy and Benjamin’s only daughter, the beautiful Joanna (Jayne Wisener). Barker is unable to maintain his composure upon hearing what happened to his family, and Lovett realizes that he is Barker himself. Barker, determined to exact his revenge, adopts the name Sweeney Todd, and sets up shop again.

After killing a competing barber who threatened to expose him in a fit of rage, Todd and Lovett decide to use the situation to their advantage. Dismembering the body of the barber, they it for meat for Mrs. Lovett’s shop. This practice continues on and on to great success, all as Todd makes his way closer to Judge Turpin. But revenge is never as simple as it seems, and Todd’s world quickly comes crashing down.

A little Priest background

Sweeney Todd is originally a story from a penny dreadful (a pulpy, cheap story that often featured gore or the macabre) that has stuck around to present. While some have claimed that the Demon Barber of Fleet Street has some historical basis, it’s generally considered to be a fictional story. The tale of Sweeney Todd has been adapted into all sorts of art, and Todd himself is a pretty iconic character. Of course, his most popular portrayal is the famous Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This Tony-winning musical, penned by Sondheim, originally starred Len Cariou as Todd, and the brilliant Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett.

Burton adapted the stage musical into his 2007 film, and pretty faithfully too. In a surprising and totally unpredictable move,  Burton cast Johnny Depp as Todd and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.  Shocker, I know. While Burton’s style and choice of talent has become almost cut-and-paste, I think dismissing his approach here would be a bad move. While his whole schtick is definitely stale in some cases, I really think Sweeney Todd was a perfect setup for his vision.

They all deserve to die!

While not totally a “horror movie,” I think Sweeney Todd is thematically dark enough and replete with sufficient gore to toe the line. I mean, there’s a song devoted to what different types of people would taste like. That’s pretty brutal for any movie, period.

Sweeney Todd has a body count that would rival most modern horror movies, and throats are slit in glorious close-ups throughout the entire film. While the violence is thoroughly supported by a backbone of pure melodrama, it’s pretty significant nonetheless.

It’s also just a very thematically dark story: Sweeney has lost everything, and is so hell-bent on revenge that it consumes him. He’s chasing ghosts, some who are alive, and others long dead. Todd becomes twisted with rage and bitterness, and it leaves him numb to the world around him. If nothing else, Sweeney Todd is a great example as to why revenge is never a good idea.

 

—spoilers—

 

 

Of course, the ultimate kicker in Sweeney is that Todd inadvertently kills his own wife, who survived her suicide attempt, but subsequently delved into a state of deep mental distress. She is forced to live on the street and becomes the beggar woman, unrecognizable to Todd. It’s only when he is cradling her body in his arms that he realizes that she is Lucy, his beloved wife.His desire for revenge blinded him, and now he has truly lost everything and everyone he ever loved.

Ouch.

 

 

—End spoilers—

he served a dark and vengeful god

Burton’s vision was perfect for Sweeney: the grimy, grey streets of 19th century London serve as a perfect canvas for his aesthetic.  Depp and Carter, while not musical virtuoso, carry the characters well enough.

I also think Burton made a smart decision by not going re-write heavy on Sweeney Todd. He kept it almost completely faithful to the original musical, save a few tweaks here and there. The biggest difference that I personally noticed was the elimination of the townspeople/chorus.

In the stage musical, the townspeople act as a Greek chorus, narrating and ushering on the action. They have some of the best music in the whole show, so I was a little disappointed when they didn’t make an appearance. That said, from a filmmakers perspective, a narrative chorus doesn’t necessarily read well on film, and can be percieved to interrupt the flow of the action.

But still, listen to the opening number of the stage musical. Be aware, there is a PIERCING whistle about 33 seconds in:

That is some Spooky Shit © right there, folks. The film’s overture is almost the exact same music (mostly) just with no lyrics.

This is a kind of heavy film, so be aware that besides a lot of death and cannibalism, there are mentions of suicide, sexual assault, and Judge Turpin is a manipulative rapist who targets a barely-legal woman.

Sweeney heard music that nobody heard

I’m not saying it’s a horror movie, but I am saying that Sweeney Todd has got a lot going for it. There’s cannibalism, straight razors, and metric fuckton of brooding and angst. I really think Burton did a smashing job with Sweeney, and kept the spirit of the play (along with the music) very much intact. It’s good, dark fare, and is perfect for a stormy evening in.

 

I’d just like, avoid sketchy meat for a bit.

 

4.5/5

 

 

—–Further reading/Sources—-

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Conjuring, (2013)

On the 19th day of Halloween, my actual worst nightmare gave to me: The Conjuring, (James Wan, 2013)

The next theme for my reviews is probably obvious from my choice of film: ghosty shit.

Full disclosure: paranormal shit terrifies me. It’s some of my favorite stuff, but be warned that I literally think every ghost movie is scary because I am a big-ass baby when it comes to this shit. So if you’re not uber-scared by paranormal stuff, take most of my recs in this genre with a grain of salt. That said, I think The Conjuring is my own personal hell a really well-made movie, and will give even the most seasoned of ghost aficionados a thrill or two.

The plot:

In 1971, famous paranormal-fighting duo Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are called into help the Perron family, who are experiencing horrific, unexplained activity. As the Warrens investigate the house, they realize that this family is being pursued by the vengeful spirit of a witch who hung herself after being found sacrificing her child. This spirit has attacked every family that has attempted to live on “her” land, and the Perrons are next in line. It’s going to take an act of God to take down this evil, and it might just take the Warrens down with it.

James Wan, you crafty, beautiful bastard

I first saw The Conjuring in the summer after my freshman year in college: I was working with a local operetta company (it worked out of my college’s campus) as wardrobe crew. I was well into my horror kick when I decided to see this film- after all, James Wan makes some Good Shit. I had a rare night to myself, so I grabbed a friend and headed to the theater.

Now, I’m either a glutton for punishment or not very wise, because this is basically a haunted house movie on crack. Big deal, right? That’s not the most unique of premises. Well, this was also the summer that I was living in a massive frat house (this building can easily house 30+ people) that was rumored to have been a funeral home. I literally cannot make this up: I was living on the top floor of a house that was not only eternally sticky with old beer, but probably haunted.

…Thinking about the house now, the room they used as the dance floor for parties was very clearly a viewing room. I got nasty to some shitty trap music in this place for years.

Yikes.

Anyway, you see where this is going: Caroline goes to see scary movie about haunted house, returns to her own probably-haunted house, a thunderstorm happens, Caroline almost loses her marbles.

I am not a wise woman. I damn near scared myself shitless because I thought I was brave and could see The Conjuring and just merrily return to my haunted frat house. I wasn’t brave then, and I certainly am not now.

Re-watching this movie to review it, I decided to watch it alone. While my home isn’t haunted or creepy by any means, this movie still gets me. This movie isn’t revolutionary or crazily unique, but god damn it is well made.

A very scary apple pie

The Conjuring is like an apple pie that’s been cooked by a world-class pastry chef: it’s simple by nature, but really, really fucking tasty nonetheless. Like, there isn’t anything crazy twisty about this film. The house is haunted. Traditional haunty shit happens: weird animal behavior, kids having “imaginary friends,” invisible children giggling, yada yada yada. Good stuff, but standard stuff. It’s just that Wan uses these tropes so well, that the entire film has you pulled taut like a tightrope from start to finish.

The one thing that I think sets Wan and his ghosties apart from the pack is that instead of having his ghouls appear onscreen as diaphanous mists or whatever, he uses physical people instead. The FX artists make them look positively hellish of course, but they have a physical presence onscreen that is undeniably powerful.

Specific warnings for this film: ONE SINGULARLY FUCKING AWFUL doll, death of animals, suicide, harm perpetrated against children.

Cinema scary-te

I’m absurdly proud of that subtitle

But beyond knowing how to scare the shit out of people, James Wan is also a brilliant filmmaker. This man’s use of camera and color is gorgeous. Wan uses long, languid takes to establish space in the Perrons’ house, and some of the first shots we see of the estate are from inside, looking out.  The camera positively flows at some points, like it’s suspended in water. The camera lurks, it stalks. It’s  horrifying, but also gorgeous.

With regards to color, the palette in this film is all washed out earth-tones, and even colors that should be bright come off as dull. The one moment of bright color is when Lorraine experiences one of Carolyn Perron’s (Lili Taylor) happy memories: it’s over-saturated and full of vibrant, happy colors. The sense of depression that the otherwise faded palette brings to the film is unmistakable in contrast to the happiness of the memory.

The cast of the film is incredibly talented, particularly Wilson and Farmiga as the Warrens. I also personally found Lili Taylor’s performance as Carolyn Perron to especially compelling, alongside Farmiga’s. Both are incredibly devoted mothers who have been put upon by forces they cannot control, but still would do anything for their family.

BASED ON A TRUE STORY

…kind of.

So I’m big into paranormal shit, and so when I first learned about the premise of this movie I went to town. While I’m sure most of you aren’t watching The Conjuring for the historical facts, it’s always good to get the rundown.

Ed and Lorraine Warren: They’re real AF. While Lorraine is the only member of the duo still surviving, this couple has a stack of paranormal cases and investigations behind them, some of them very famous. As with any real-life paranormal happenings, the veracity of the Warrens’ findings are up for debate. I’m not here to try defend or tear down the Warrens, just to give you a little context on them. While this is neither here nor there, Lorraine Warren was totally onboard with The Conjuring and is sweet as can be in the featurettes.

 

Here’s their website if you’re interested: http://www.warrens.net/

Annabelle: Jesus Christ, this doll. The story behind Annabelle is one based in reality, insofar as there is a real doll named Annabelle in the Warrens’ possession that has been blamed for various nefarious nasty things.  Now the real doll looks more like a Raggedy-Ann doll than the nightmare-inducing prop the wiley bastards behind The Conjuring made, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s better or not. The Warrens’ website has their account of the Annabelle proceedings, but I’ll link the wiki for Annabelle if you want to get a broader sense of the Annabelle phenomenon.

The Perron Family: They’re real, and have spoken publicly about what happened to them on their farmhouse. While Hollywood certainly went to town on exaggerating certain aspects of the story, the family and the Warrens still maintain that they witnessed powerful supernatural activity on the grounds of the house. I’ve linked a fantastic article from History vs Hollywood on the “facts” of the Perron case versus the movie’s version. The Warrens and the Perrons emphasize that there was never an exorcism or anything like that performed in the house, and the identity of the “witch” is still puzzling. At any rate, both camps still hold that the land was and is still indubitably haunted.

So make of that what ye will, fellow travelers.

My one caveat

My one critique of this movie is that is sometimes feels like two movies in one: The Warrens and the Perrons have two distinct stories, and while they cross for a significant portion of the movie, the film can feel distracted or disjointed at times.

And while my soul appreciates the brief moments of levity that Wan intentionally includes, I’m on the fence as to whether or not they disrupt the tension in a way that is helpful. But I’m not one to judge, because I am literally rigid as a board throughout this whole movie, so the tension never really lets up for me.

I’m trying to keep up on reviews

I’m going away this weekend and won’t necessarily be up-to-date on reviews, so I’m trying to write as many as I can today so I’ll keep vaguely on schedule. What that means is that I’m watching a shitton of paranormal movies in one sitting.

It’s been going well.

Cleveland-Falls-Out-of-House-in-Bathtub.gif

 

But seriously, I’m going to do my best to keep up on them, but I’m unsure how many ghost movies I can watch in one sitting without actually peeing myself, so I beg your indulgence. I might have to throw in a non-ghost review in the middle to spare my sanity, so just bear with me here, folks.

I’d apologize for being such a weenie, but hey, isn’t this what horror is all about?

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go hide under a blanket and watch Bob’s Burgers on my phone and try not to jump every time my dog moves because I am a Big Girl

 

4.5/5

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source:

Gif source: http://gifrific.com/cleveland-brown-falls-out-of-house-in-bathtub/

If your soul wasn’t crushed enough by this film, here’s some more info as to the story behind The Conjuring.

Annabelle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annabelle_(doll)

The Perron case: http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/conjuring.php

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2013/07/22/conjuring-true-story-perron/2457209/

 

 

[REC], (2007) G.O.A.T

On the eighteenth day of Halloween, some hellishly long takes gave to me: [REC] (Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, 2007)

To round up my zombie-themed series of reviews, I’ve chosen one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Not only is this an entry in my 31 Days of Halloween list, but also a G.O.A.T. For those who are unfamiliar, G.O.A.T stands for “Greatest of all time,” and is how I designate my favorite films without committing to ranking them because I have a lot of favorites.

I first stumbled onto [REC] when I was working on a film paper in high school. This was the same paper that I got to interview one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project for, and the requirements of the paper were such that I had to include foreign films alongside American films. [REC] fell into the foreign category: filmed in Spain, this Spanish-language found-footage horror film was popular enough to be remade into the English-language Quarantine. I decided to use the original version to meet the requirements of my project, and holy shit I am so glad I did.

[REC] is pure magic for me: the pants-shittingly-horrifying sort of magic. While I’ve watched this movie so many times that it doesn’t hold quite the same scare factor (I show this movie to damn near everyone who has the misfortune of being friends with me) I still consider it a G.O.A.T.

This movie combines two of my favorite things: found footage and zombies. Here’s a summary:

Nighttime news reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) is stuck filimng the nighttime crew of a firefighting station for her fluff segment, While You Were Sleeping. Hoping to capture some action, Angela is relieved when the station finally receives a call, and follows two firefighters Alex (David Vert) and Manu (Ferran Terraza) into the apartment that sent out the call. As the firefighters investigate, strange things begin to happen: when the building is mysteriously quarantined, Angela realizes she’s going to get more action than she ever bargained for.

                                                                                 PABLOOOOOOOOOOOOO

[REC] is so beautifully simple. Reporter goes into building. Building gets locked down. Zombies.Fin.

It’s a basic concept that is executed with supreme terror. Much like in The Blair Witch Project, directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza withheld information from their actors, and placed them in situations that would evoke real fear. For instance, a great deal of this film is shot in in the dark, with either a single source of light or in night vision. That means that Balaguero and Plaza’s actors were actually shooting in the dark, and were thus reacting to things as they happened.

Many of the takes in [REC] are also ridiculously long  and full of a great deal of improv. From a filmmaker’s perspective, long takes are hell because so many things have to go right in order for the shot to work.  [REC] pulls off several long takes with great success: they flow so well that if often doesn’t feel like a lengthy shot.

There is no music in [REC], which means no aural cues to tell us that something is about to happen. We are instead greeted by silence, which is in my opinion far more terrifying. The sound mixing is excellent, the engineers boosting certain dietetic sounds instead to create a sense of tension (pay attention to the sound of helicopters) in lieu of music.

In addition, the choice to set the action in a small, locked-off apartment block is also brilliant: it bottles up the action, and amps up the sense of tension throughout the whole film. It also provides an easy explanation for the cast of characters that assemble- they’re tenants. No further explanation needed. The tenants are a predictably varied bunch of folks, and keep things interesting until more pressing concerns nibble their way onscreen.

Zombaes

Speaking of the “pressing concerns” in [REC] , let’s talk zombies. In some respect, the walking dead in [REC] are pretty normal for modern zombies: they bite, have weird eyes, are aggressive. That said, these guys are particularly ferocious , I gotta say. There’s a lot of roaring and snarling, all of which echoes delightfully in the apartment building’s stairwell.

The most unique aspect of [REC]’s zombies is their origin: it’s part biology, part demonology. The source of the “zombie” disease was a young possessed girl, whom the Vatican has been keeping tabs on. One of their priests was working in the penthouse of the apartment block,  which is the source of the outbreak. While I don’t want to describe the ending (I watched it in broad daylight and still almost lost my shit), the last ten minutes of [REC] are probably some of the most sphincter-tightening, bone-chilling, “whatthefuckwhatthefuckwhatthefuck” I’ve seen in a horror movie. I cannot give enough praise to Javier Botet for his work in [REC].

I’d also like to thank the parents of every member of the FX makeup team, because they do a number on this cast, particularly towards the end. It’s beautifully terrifying stuff, and I cannot give them enough praise.

The only “heads-up” I have for [REC] (besides gore) is the depiction of violence against a child. Because again, zombie children are apparently legally required to make an appearance in every zombie movie ever.

 [REC]’s brother and estranged cousins

It’s worth mentioning that [REC] has three sequels. [REC]2 is the strongest of the sequels, and  it can basically function as a direct Part 2 to the first one, if you watched them in a row. [REC] 3, on the other hand, is a fluffier film not shot in the found footage style. It’s low-key cheesy, but you could definitely watch far worse. [REC] 4 picks back up on the action of [REC] and [REC] 2, but just isn’t as engaging. Still not awful though, and could probably serve as a solid “night-in” movie.

I’m basically advising you to watch them all, because they all rank at the Solidly Good level, but then vary from there. So go ahead, marathon that shit.

As for the remake, I’m personally not a big fan of Quarantine, but to each their own.

This movie is so good. So Good.

[REC] has an energy to it that few other films do. This movie says “fuck you!” to the concept of a slow-burn, and barrels down the highway at 100 miles an hour while flipping the bird to the Slow Burn cops. [REC] goes for the throat. It’s such a simple premise, but one that is carried out with such gusto that the simplicity becomes an advantage rather than a drag. It’s gory, it’s incredibly intense, it’s primal: all things I like in my horror films. [REC] has been a G.O.A.T in my pasture for a long time, and I cannot recommend it enough.

So what are you waiting for? Go get REC’d.

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.movie-poster-artwork-finder.com/rec-poster-artwork-manuela-velasco-ferran-terraza-jorge-serrano/

Pontypool, (2008)

On the seventeenth day of Halloween, a linguistics nerd gave to me: Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008)

Today I offer up to you a brilliantly bizarre film, which is an incredibly unique take on zombieism. It was one of the first films I ever watched on Netflix, and every time I re-watch it I notice more and more about it. Pontypool is a slow-burn powerhouse of a conceptual zombie film. It’s unsettling in the way every good horror film should be, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Plot:

Former major radio personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) has found himself in a dead-end job, broadcasting from the basement of a church in the tiny, wintry town of Pontypool. Struggling to come up with stories in the midst of a massive snowstorm, Mazzy and his two crew members Syndey (Lisa Houle) and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) suddenly find that a story is making its way to them.

But then, something’s always about to happen.

Pontypool is a well-crafted horror film that has mastered the “slow-burn”. This movie drips with tension. The opening sets the whole tone: it’s ominous, slow, and creeping. There are so many little details scattered throughout the film that help create this growing wave of suspense, from the sound of the kettle wailing, to the constant obituaries on the radio.

The palette is subdued and under saturated, as though there is a gray wash over everything. This movie also takes place in the basement of a church, and the claustrophobia and stuffiness is overwhelming.

While there’s plenty of on-screen action in the last act, the first two thirds thrive on off-screen action. Grant and his crew have access to all of the town from their tiny hub: they have police radio, their outside callers and reporters, all who are piping in information about the end of the world. There’s something undeniably bone-chilling about hearing someone scream through a telephone, only able to imagine what is happening to them. The power of suggestion is just that: a power.

The prioritizing of sound over visuals isn’t terribly common in horror, where gore and visual scare tends to reign supreme. There is a fair amount gore in Pontypool, but it’s almost tasteful in comparison to other zombie movies. While this movie ups the ante big-time in the last act, the gore and the action is truly the climax of a crescendo of tension, which has been steadily building since the opening.

These walkers are different from anything you’ve ever seen before

These zombies are more rabid than decay-y, but they’re scary in an a totally different way: they repeat words like angry echoes, and have a ferocity to them that is chilling. The concept of this virus- it’s words that are infected- blew my socks straight off the first time I watched Pontypool. While it’s a very conceptual vision of a disease that isn’t necessarily biologically plausible, it’s fascinating. It’s very lofty looking on paper, but the concept is strongly grounded by the fact that Pontypool is one hell of a horror movie. While there’s a lot to analyze and discuss with regards to the interpretations of language as a disease (how humans are affected by what they hear and how language is used, etc.) I’ll let you and your watching buddies dig into that.

(PS if you’re an IB kid and need something to do a TOK paper on, this movie is IT.)

Suffice it to say, it’s an incredibly unique model for a disease, that allows it to travel in ways traditional bugs can’t. It’s food for thought, but also terrifying.

Some thoughts as always

Things to be aware of: gore, violence against children. Apparently it’s legally required for every zombie movie to show a zombie child being killed

The one thing that’s “eh” is the Lawrence of Arabia “cast” that Mazzy has to interview for a fluff piece. They’re a bunch of folks in brownface (on top of an impersonation of Osama bin Laden) who are supposed to be intentionally offensive. Pontypool tries to use them as evidence of just how much of a backwards/small town Pontypool is, whereas the big-shot Mazzy is used to more exciting interviews. I get where they were going with this, but like still….yikes.

But otherwise this movie is horror gold

Seriously, this movie is incredibly made and conceptually brilliant. If you’re looking for something a little different than your standard zombie fare, pop this in.  Particularly if you like linguistics.

Also if you can explain the post-credits scene, please let me know. I’ve got literally no some theories and I’d like some input.

(Pontypool is also apparently based on a book, so if you’ve read it and have some thoughts, please share!)

 

4.5/5

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: http://www.joblo.com/movie-posters/2009/pontypool

 

 

 

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, (2014)

On the sixteenth day of Halloween, the Land Down Under gave to me: Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (Kiah Roache-Turner, 2014)

If you put the X-Men, George Romero, and a road movie into a blender, the resultant genre-bending smoothie would probably look a little something like Wyrmwood. If it sounds like a weird combo, it totally is. On paper, this film probably looked like some 7-year-old’s zombie sci-fi fantasy world: all over the place and full of action ,katanas, and mind control.

While Wyrmwood’s tone and aesthetic is predictably jumpy, this movie is still one of the most fun watches I’ve ever had. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but Wyrmwood is a delightfully off-kilter zombie movie that is unlike any other I have ever seen.

A delicious plot:

A mysterious illness descends upon Australia, turning normal humans into zombies with no apparent warning. Husband and father Barry (Jay Gallagher) watches his wife and daughter succumb to the disease, unable to do anything. Determined to save the only other member of his family, Barry sets out to find his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradley) who lives up north in Bulla Bulla. Unbeknownst to him,  Brooke has been kidnapped by a mad scientist (Berynn Schwerdt) employed by the military, who travels through Australia- experimenting on both the living and the dead. Luckily for Brooke, she is mysteriously resistant to the doctor’s tests. As Barry and his crew rush to save her, Brooke quickly realizes that she might be able to save herself.

 

—-SPOILER—-

 

How can Brooke, who is chained to a wall, save herself?

There’s no subtle way to put this: she can control zombies with her mind. That’s what her superpower is. It’s the weirdest fucking ability, but Brooke kicks ass. She’s the perfect post-apocalyptic heroine, and I love her very much.

 

—-SPOILERS GONE—-

 

I love this movie so much

Before I get all sappy over this movie, it’s important to note that nobody’s perfect, and Wyrmwood is no exception. The storytelling isn’t the most even: it goes from deadly serious to cheeky at the drop of a hat. It’s a bit disjointed in retrospect, particularly considering how outright out-there the movie gets as it progresses.

This movie is also really strange, if you didn’t pick up on that. It’s in no way “realistic,” and has a very …bold plot. Rationally speaking, this movie shouldn’t work: it could have very easily been an unintelligible mess.

But luckily for us, it isn’t. And to be honest, even if it was I think I’d still love this movie.

Wyrmwood works because it commits to its wackiness, and does so with panache. Everything about this movie is stylized,from the combat to the lighting to the costumes: think “outback industrial.” This movie has often been described as the Mad Max of zombie movies, and that’s a really apt description. And yes, it’s just as bonkers as it sounds.

Zombies: the next eco-fuel

But the “mad max” aspects of Wyrmwood  isn’t the strangest part of this film. Let’s talk Wyrmwood‘s zombies:

These zombies are the standard shambling kind, with white-blue eyes and constantly bloody mouths. They snarl, they snap, they…

…breathe gas?

Yeah, you heard me right. These guys emit methane, because why not? It’s an utterly random concept: the zombie apocalypse has mysteriously caused all combustible liquids (ie, gas) to stop…combusting. As such, cars are useless. But guess what? Zombies breathe out that shit!

…But only during the day.

Why only during the day? Who the hell knows. I personally stopped asking questions after the “gas doesn’t work because of zombies” portion of this film. This movie is fucking wild and I am here for it.

As always, things to be aware of: attempted suicide, killing of a child, fingernails being torn out, medical horror.

Siblings who slay together stay together

One little aspect of Wyrmwood that I love is that the central relationship in the film is a sibling one. Lord knows there’s enough “saving the damsel-in-distress-lover” in horror. And Brooke and Barry aren’t the the“estranged siblings who need an apocalypse to reunite,” pair and instead are actually just really loving and supportive of each other. Brooke is clearly involved in Barry’s life, and he’s the first one she calls when shit goes down in Bulla Bulla, warning him to protect his family.  They’re both ride or die for each other, and that’s pretty cool. It’s nothing particularly groundbreaking (this is how sibling relationships should ideally be) but it’s cool to see on screen.

Side note: Leon Burchill (Benny) needs to be in more movies. He’s funny as shit, and while his inevitable demise as the comic relief was frustrating, he is what gave Wyrmwood its cheeky streak.

this movie is either going to be trash or treasure to someone

If someone told me they didn’t like Wyrmwood, I honestly wouldn’t be shocked. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s not hard to see why. There is an awful lot going on in this movie, and it might feel a bit scattered.

But if you’re into zombies and have an open mind, give Wyrmwood a shot- all you gotta do is  just sit back and go along for the ride. This movie will make you Feel Things (C), giggle, gag, and leave feeling triumphant.

Or not.

It’s 50/50, folks. But those are pretty good odds for a zombie movie.

 

4/5

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured Image Source:https://horrorpedia.com/2014/09/25/wyrmwood/

 

28 Days Later, (2002)

On the fifteenth day of Halloween, Cillian Murphy’s soul-crushing blue eyes gave to me: 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)

28 Days Later on a zombie movie list?

devilwearsprada.gif

28 Days Later is the darling of the zombie genre, and is by and large considered a modern horror classic. There’s a lot of hype around this movie, and I’d say it isn’t without just cause. 28 Days Later is a stark vision of the zombie apocalypse:  and it’s a bleak, despairing projection.

For those who have been following along, 28 Days Later is the second entry on my list of zombie movies. The first was Planet Terror, a tongue-in-cheek homage to the pulpy b-movies of the 70s. As I’ve established on this blog, I adore self-aware, campy midden heaps movies. They’re fun to watch, and require little investment.

To be quite clear, 28 Days Later is not one of those movies. There is not a jolly bone in this film, nor a single ounce of levity. When I think of this movie, the first word that comes to mind is “bleak.” It’s an unsettling film made for the modern era, one which forgoes tropes and genre conventions to create a zombie movie that stands out among its peers.

The plot:

Bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma, only to find that his hospital- and the whole of London- is mysteriously deserted.  Attempting to understand what has happened since his accident, Jim stumbles through the city, only to be attacked by mindless, ravenous humans. Survivors Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) swoop in to save Jim, and they quickly enlighten him as to what has happened: a disease has torn through London, turning people into Rage-infected monsters. As Jim comes to terms with what has happened, he and Selena do their best to stay alive, encountering other survivors on the way. Making their way to a military outpost with father and daughter Frank and Hannah (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns) in tow, the group realizes that the military is just as lost as they are.

There is a certain haunting quality to 28 Days Later: the emptiness, the austere palette, the grainy quality of the film. Watching Jim walk through the actually deserted streets of London is almost lyrical, simply because it’s such a foreign image.  The dissonant electric guitar and children’s choir makes everything feel surreal: and it is, particularly to Jim. There’s an almost art-house feel to 28 Days Later, which helps create a a rather unique atmosphere for the film as a whole.

let’s talk zombies

So one of the things that 28 Days Later became famous for in horror circles was the use of the running zombie. Some people were furious: how dare they desecrate the traditional image of the shambling, slow-walking undead? In their defense, A) slow moving zombies are the standard and B) the zombie apocalypse becomes a lot harder to survive when the zombies can sprint.

I personally loooooooove the concept of the running zombie. I mean, the market is inundated with your basic, plodding-along walkers. Running ups the ante, raises the stakes, makes everything just a little bit more urgent. I’m into that.

Gore aside, be aware that there is attempted sexual assault, mentions of suicide, and depictions of violence against children.

primal rage

Zombies aside, there is a decidedly emotional edge to 28 Days Later, and parts of it are hard to watch at points. This movie gives us brief glimpses into families torn apart: every survivor has suffered tremendously. Children lose parents, parents lose children, lovers lose lovers. It’s an inherent part of the zombie apocalypse but it’s one that is often played cheaply. Not so with 28 Days Later: memory and trauma all play out on the screen for us to see, and it’s hard to watch. Happiness doesn’t last in a post-apocalyptic world, and social relationships are constantly being destroyed and rebuilt. i’ll save the post-apocalyptic familial construction discussion for another post

While I think there’s a message about blind rage being a poison on society (and again not to trust the government) this movie isn’t didactic , and doesn’t smack of allegory. It also manages the tense balance between human drama and zombie drama really, really well.

I bring this up because most “cerebral” takes on the zombie genre focus on the infighting, the struggle for social survival, the rebuilding of society: all good, important things to think about and consider. My cynical side sees this as an attempt by filmmakers to distance themselves from the “uncultured” bite’n’fight pulp most commonly associated with zombie movies. And that’s fair, as a lot of zombie movies are trash and emotionally empty, and not in the fun way.

But a lot of these films/books/what-have-you put so much into the social element that I think they forget that they’re in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Like the marketing people probably wet themselves when the director walked in, whipped off their expensive sunglasses and quietly whispered to them with teary eyes; “The undead aren’t the real horror. It’s the living that are.

That’s true to a certain point, but like, dead people are still rising? On a list of problems in a zombie apocalypse, whoever’s banging whoever’s partner is gonna automatically rank second to reanimated corpses. I think a successful  zombie movie has got to either forgo all semblance of seriousness, or find a balance between the human and the zombie. I think 28 Days Later hits the sweet spot between the two: the audience cares about and is invested in the characters onscreen and their survival, but we are also keenly aware of the ever-present threat of zombies.

Total tangent:

My all-time favorite book, World War Z, is the perfect balance. It’s entirely centered around the human experience in the zombie apocalypse, including the rebuilding of nations, military response, cultural divides, etc. And yet, the zombies still play a crucial role in the whole thing. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s written as a series of interviews, so it’s pretty easy and quick to read. If you need a compelling, inventive read, give it a shot. The extended audiobook (it’s still abridged, just….less abridged than the original) is also delightful, and voiced by a host of talented, famous actors.

A moment for Selena and Hannah

Selena is a beautifully written and acted character (thank you Naomie!), and is delightfully multi-dimensional. She is both a hardened, cynical survivor, and yet is still a deeply protective, caring individual. This duality is most apparent in her relationship with Hannah: Selena desperately wants to shelter Hannah, in stark contrast to her statements about leaving anyone who slows her down behind. Selena’s toughness isn’t a facade, but she also wants to be strong so Hannah doesn’t have to be.  I don’t necessarily see this desire as maternal, but rather Selena seeing herself in Hannah, and wanting to protect her from experiencing what she has. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but girls protecting girls on film is rare, and I always want to give it a shout out where I can.

Cillian Murphy’s eyes and voice: a love letter

This isn’t my favorite zombie movie, but it certainly is one of the best-made ones. It takes itself very seriously, but has the artistic chops to back up this seriousness. 28 Days Later is refreshing in its gravity and aesthetic, and makes for one hell of a movie. It may not be light fare or an easy view, but 28 Days Later deserves a place on your watch list, no matter how much of a horror fan you are.

I also want you to know that I have refrained from making ANY period jokes, because this is a Serious Movie and not about menstrual rage (despite my initial thoughts the first time I heard the title of this film). For Pete’s sake, 28 days? What else am I supposed to think? It wasn’t until I saw the trailer that I realized that this was a zombie movie.

…I’m real bright, I promise.

At any rate, I highly recommend this movie, particularly for a gloomy, rainy day.

 

4/5

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Featured image source:http://fixingfilm.com/28-days-later/

Devil Wears Prada gif: http://popkey.co/m/0xLKW-merryl+streep-devil+wears+prada-prada

Planet Terror, (2007)

On the fourteenth day of Halloween, a mysterious green mist gave to me: Planet Terror, (Robert Rodriguez, 2007)

The theme for the next set of reviews is a startlingly original one. You know, I’m not sure if many people know about this really obscure genre, so I feel it’s my duty to shed light on this group of movies, none of which were ever popular or had any fans. I really feel that it’s this underdog’s time to shine, and get the recognition it deserves. These movies keep getting shot down, but they never manage to stay dead

So hold onto your butts, because I’m about to blow your mind. This week’s theme is….

ZOMBIES

/sarcasm

Jesus.

You don’t have to be a horror geek to know that zombies have exploded in the last decade or so. While zombies have always been a horror staple, zombies experienced an unprecedented renaissance in the 2000s. There are countless video games ,(Dead Island, Resident Evil, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, those weird COD maps) TV shows ,(The Walking Dead, Z Nation, iZombie) and movies (The Resident Evil series, Zombieland, The Dawn of the Dead remake), all featuring horror’s favorite child. Shit, I’ve already reviewed one zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead.

This genre is overflowing with movies and adaptations and spin-offs, but not all of them are quite up to snuff. I’ve tried to narrow down this expansive group of films to my favorites, which was pretty difficult. I have a strange affinity for zombies: I don’t know why, but they scratch a weird itch in my soul and always cheer me up.

One of the things I love about the zombie genre is how flexible it is. Zombie comedies? Brilliant. Zombie romances? Wonderful. Zombie romantic comedies? Even BETTER. They’re the Swiss Army Knives of monsters, and can be used to scare, teach, warn, or amuse.  And zombies = mad gore, so that’s always a plus.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce the first zombie movie on the docket: the first part of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature, Grindhouse: Planet Terror.

Pulpier than an overripe orange

The “plot,”:

After a mysterious gas is released in an arms deal gone south, the residents of bum-fuck nowhere must deal with a sudden influx of bite-y, melty-faced corpses. Reunited ex-lovers Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) and El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) lead a group of survivors as they seek help, only to realize that they’re on their own.

INFIDELITY! GUNS! ROMANCE! VIOLENCE! GORE! BOOBIES!

So first things first: if you’re not into weird, shitty, 70s B-movies, then you should probably pass on this one. Planet Terror is part of a two-part throwback to the campy, pulpy films of the 1960s and 70s, appropriately titled Grindhouse. Grindhouse is comprised of two movies: Planet Terror and Death Proof. Long-time partners in crime Robert Rodrieguez and Quentin Tarantino wrote and produced the duo, and both are very much in line with their earlier work.

Planet Terror is 100% a pastiche to the shitty horror films of yonder. It’s absolutely ridiculous– a woman loses her leg and replaces it with a fucking machine gun– and full of trite, canned dialogue. The gore is beyond over the top, and the whole movie is just a crude, absurd, mess.

But that’s what makes it so great: it’s excess for the sake of excess, all with a high production value and a great cast. It’s stylized in every respect: the lighting is sallow and saturated, the film is grainy and the music is all retro smoky jazz-rock. The only thing this movie is serious about is being not-serious. Planet Terror is absolutely absurd, and it knows that. And as long as you know that it knows that, you’ll have a rockin’ time.

But this is about the dead people

Style aside, this is a zombie movie. And these zombies are gross. These guys are the melty-face, boils-and-pustules, dripping-liquefied-organic-matter zombies. While they’re pretty distinct looking as far as zombies go, they’re otherwise pretty standard. They shamble, they bite, they snarl, etc. They’re not necessarily here to serve as an allegory or anything: they’re  just some grody-looking brain-nibblers. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

There are some definite possible triggers in this movie beyond gore (attempted sexual assault, needles, abuse, death of a child) so just a heads up.

And as always

Of course, this homage falls into the same traps its predecessors did (though admittedly not to the same extent): overt objectification of women, threats of sexual violence, etc. While I understand that Planet Terror is a pastiche of a style riddled with the above… it was made in 2007, not the 70s. We can throw out the bathwater and keep the baby, folks.

Also, why Tarantino has to play a creepy dude in like all of his cameos will always mystify me.

….oh wait, he’s a creepy dude in real life

und so

Planet Terror is a movie for people who  like movies, but is also a solid, satisfying zombie flick. As long as you “get” what Rodriguez and Tarantino are going for, this film rocks as hard as it rolls. It’s campy and pulpy and gross, which is all sorts of wonderful. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea to be certain. But what it lacks in heart…..

It makes up for with guts.

 

 

4/5

 

 

—-Further Reading/Sources—-

 

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