The Mummy, (1999) G.O.A.T.

On the twenty-ninth day of Halloween, my first dream woman gave to me: The Mummy (Stephen Sommers, 1999)

Today’s Halloween G.O.A.T. is part of a Halloween tradition in my household. Every Halloween night for the past two decades, my parents have set up shop in either the living room or front porch of my house to pass out candy. And every year, my family sets up a little TV set and watches Halloween-themed movies in between trick-or-treaters. While the selection of films has rotated over the years, we’ve decided on two movies to watch this year : The Mummy and Young Frankenstein.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that The Mummy is a piece of cinematic art, because it’s not. It’s not a deeply emotional movie, and you won’t walk away feeling like your cinematic experience has been transformed or anything. In some respects, The Mummy just a fluffy action blockbuster with little-to-no substance, but a high production value. Nothing to write home about.

But despite the fact that this movie should be sort of forgettable, I almost cried when I saw that it got put on Netflix this spring. I was in the middle of my last semester of college and struggling with all of the “last semester ever” emotions, when BAM: like manna sent from heaven, I was gifted a throwback from my childhood. This movie is a perfect blend of my favorite things: spooky things, comedy, historic settings, silly action, and Rachel Weisz.  I watched it three times that week, and reveled in its brief stint online. I now own it on DVD I also have it on VHS but our player broke, where it will no longer be subject to Netflix’s whims.

The plot, if you will:

Shy librarian and Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and her brother Jonathan (John Hannah) enlist the aid of the roguish Rick O’Connell in an attempt to locate Hamunaptra, the fabled Egyptian city of the dead. Despite the odds, this unlikely crew manages to locate the mythical city: and its vengeful ancient inhabitant, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). As the former High Priest arises to reclaim his lover, the group must figure out how to stop him, and send him back to the world of the dead.

First things first

While I wouldn’t classify The Mummy as a horror movie per say, I think it works well as a “Halloween” movie. It’s got enough scary stuff in it to keep it creepy, but is funny and “action-y” enough that it can appeal to a wide audience.  To be fair, there is still some pretty nasty stuff shoehorned into this “family film”: living corpses, not-so-willing organ donors, and the ever popular bugs that crawl under your skin. It’s Spooky Lite ©, but sometimes that hits the spot.

I….I am a librarian!

The Mummy is more of an action-adventure movie than anything else, and a pretty standard one at that. The fight scenes in The Mummy are practically ripped out of an Indiana Jones movie, with secret doorways, bubbling pits of doom, and conveniently placed ropes to swing on. Nothing groundbreaking to see here.

And to be fair, I’m normally not super into action movies to begin with.  That said, I am always down to watch action movies that don’t take themselves seriously. The Mummy is one of the above, and manages to combine moments of gravity with an incredibly goofy cast. The repartee between the characters is delightful, and Evelyn is a wonderfully stubborn-but-clumsy gal who’s intent on blazing her own path. While the romance between she and Rick is incredibly cut-and-paste predictable, it’s sweet nonetheless.

this movie showed me the glory of both Rachel Weisz and Oded Fehr, okay

This movie is like comfort food: it’s simple and probably not that great for you, but is satisfying every time. There’s one review of The Mummy that strangely nails how I feel about this movie:

“There is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it. I cannot argue for the script, the direction, the acting or even the mummy, but I can say that I was not bored and sometimes I was unreasonably pleased. “

-Roger Ebert.

He could always say it best.

“Unreasonably pleased,” is about the best description of my love for this movie. It’s predictable and trite and basically just a pile of fluff, but The Mummy  hits all of the right notes for me in a way that defies reason. This movie is a weird little slice of magic for me, and maybe it’ll be the same for you.

At any rate, the next movie on the chopping block – Young Frankenstein– is a movie that needs little defending, and is a particularly poignant watch this Halloween season.

Two reviews left, friends!

 

5/5

 

 

 

—-Further reading/Sources—-

Ebert’s review: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-mummy-1999

Featured Image Source: http://www.impawards.com/1999/mummy_ver2.html

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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=

 

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/