30 Days of Fright – 05: Wind Chill

Death is a tricky subject at the best of times. The vast majority of horror films feature a load of killing and there’s usually little in the line of remorse or consequnces, even for the survivors. I wonder how many teenage girls end up in therapy after all their friends are brutally slain one Halloween, Easter Sunday, or St. Patrick’s night? Many films have looked at the notion of death and an afterlife and spirits, some with more success than others.

Wind Chill (2007), tells the story of a girl making her way home for Christmas. She’s in college and trying to save a few quid so she checks out the notice board where people travelling home have advertised space in their cars in exchange for splitting the cost of the trip. One such ad is for a ride to her home town of Delaware. She then meets this guy (and I’m not trying to keep their details to myself, nor have I gone doddery, the characters in the film are never named, not even in the credits) who’s going her way.

The two set off, and it becomes apparent that the girl is quite the bitch and the guy a little bit on the psycho side. After a brief stop the guy suddenly detours off the highway and takes a “scenic” route (which is a bit of a waste of time considering it’s a late December evening). Along the back way the only traffic they encounter runs them off the road and they are stuck in a snow drift, miles from anywhere. During the course of the night their already dire situation gets worse and worse as they are visited by the ghostly inhabitants of what turns out to be a cursed stretch of road.

I love curry I do, but after a strong vindaloo a seat in a snow bank is often a good idea!

Wind Chill is a film that starts off so full of promise but unfortunately lets you down. The opening scenes in and around the college campus during the winter are moody and atmospheric and is, I guess, exactly what the film makers went for, all drab greys and piles of snow on concrete. The beginning of the road trip is the same with the north-eastern American contryside perfectly desolate and forboding. Once the guy and the girl get to the truck stop however the wheels come off the wagon and the film starts to slip into regular teen horror territory. Once they’re off the highway and the weirdness starts any chance of making the audience care is long gone and the viewers time is spent trying to guess what the inevitable twist is – it’s as if M. Night Shyamalan had written and directed the second and third acts of the movie.

Wind Chill is a functional horror as there are a few moments that make you jump and there are some nice creepy moments, but these fade quickly as the atmosphere from the start of the film peters out.

There’s also an odd piece about religion in Wind Chill, and after seeing the movie I was left wondering if there was meant to be more to the story that somehow got left on the cutting room floor. The guy and girl are both in the same philosophy class in college; she’s there as it’s supposed to be an easy A grade and he’s majoring in “Eastern Religions” (so a career in the food service industry awaits him upon graduation). Three of the ghostly characters encountered are Catholic Priests. This is obviously meant to mean something but it’s never explained what. And during their terrifying night, neither the girl or the guy (who’s actually studying religion) think to offer up a prayer to whatever God or Gods they believe in – if it had been me in that situation I’d have been bending the ears off the Almighty so much he’d have rescued me just to get me to shut up!

Two Thumbs Down for Wind Chill.

For greater detail (if that’s possible) take a look at:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486051/
Wind Chill Official Site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/windchill/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_Chill_(film)

30 Days of Fright – 04: Alien

Do you know anyone who’s afraid of spiders? I mean really proper scared of them? I’ve met one or two full-on arachnophobes in my time and they always make me smile as they tell me of their deep rooted primal fear of our eight-legged little friends. Me, I kinda like spiders. I think they’re cool. I especially like the way they murder flies and spin webs and were very kind to that Parker boy that time. If I were to have an equivalent fear to that of spiders it would have to be of nine foot tall armor plated Xenomorphs with concentrated acid for blood, if I were to encounter one of those things I’d probably shit myself!

Alien (1979), can be classified as a Science Fiction film but is more accurately described as a horror movie set in space. The commercial towing vessel Nostromo is on route back to Earth pulling a large mineral refinery behind it as its crew of seven lie in suspended animation. The ships computer, Mother, awakens the crew far from Earth as a signal has been detected coming from a nearby planet. The crew seperate the Nostromo from the refinery and land on the planet to investigate.

Three of the crew set out to find the source of the signal and are shocked to discover a crashed alien vessel containing the fossilised remains of the pilot and a large quantity of what appear to be eggs. One of the eggs opens and a parasite attaches itself to the face of one of the team. Upon returning to the ship, the parasite falls off by itself, but not after a failed attempt to remove it reveals the creature has a potent acid for blood.

The crewman appears to be none the worse for his nasty experience and the only side effect is a little short term memory loss coupled with a lingering feeling of having had a bad dream. At dinner, he suddenly takes violently ill and dies as an alien creature bursts out of his body and scuttles off, leaving the rest of the crew in a state of blood-stained shock. A search for the creature reveals that it’s grown up very quickly and has gone from it’s foot-long nasty worm form into it’s nine-foot-tall armour plated form that is hell bent on killing all round itself.

The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society (C.L.I.T.O.R.I.S) say: “No Thanks!”
Alien is one of those landmark movies that went on to not only spawn a slew of sequels and spin-offs but also set the tone for serious sci fi and creature-based horror for years to come. HR Giger’s bio-mechanical style alien became an icon and propelled the artist to a level of fame his work had deserved but not attained up to that point. Sigourney Weaver showed how strong female characters can really work in Hollywood movies and gave hope to overly tall girls everywhere. And Tom Skerrit went on to be in Top Gun.
Alien has in addition to the main storyline, which is a cut and dried “kill it before it kills us” type deal, a far deeper subtext about fear and morality. Ripley is against bringing the injured Kane (played very ably by John Hurt) on board the ship with the parasite as it’s against quarantine protocols. This gets over-ruled and sets Ripley up as the heroine of the piece as she’s the only one still in control of the moral high ground – if Alien had been a teen slasher, Ripley would have been the nerdy virgin who outwits the killer. The aliens physical appearance coupled with Ash’s actions (before his true nature is revealed) with Ripley and the magazine, all point to a sexual subtext, which is confirmed with what can only be described as a gratuitous crotch-shot of Ripley towards the end when she’s getting changed; and so the sexual elements of Alien have become the subject of much debate.
These deeper elements only add to what’s an already excellent movie in every department, from writing to direction, music and acting, everything works very well to make a movie that can still make you jump at the right moments.
Oh, did I mention Tom Skeritt was in Top Gun?
Two Thumbs Up for Alien.
To discover more check out:

30 Days of Fright – 03: Damien: Omen 2

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
*** This is a review of a sequel ***
*** Details of the ending of The Omen will be revealed ***
*** If you haven’t seen the original movie ***
*** You might want to skip this one ***
*** Thank you for your attention ***

Being a fan of some of the darker things in life (like being a fan of anything I suppose) can be a type of voyage of discovery. I remember being introduced to the music of Cradle of Filth and enjoying their lyrical and melodical stylings as well as the different stories, some historical and some fictional, they base their music on. One of the things I really enjoy about Cradle of Filth is the way they embrace the theatrical in their albums and DVD’s especially the creepy Latin voice-overs and gothic music they sometimes play before coming on stage to create atmosphere. It turns out though that Cradle of Filth are a bunch of thieving gypsies, as they nicked the intro to one of their gigs from the movie Omen 2.
Damien: Omen 2 picks up the action one week after the end of the first movie, the events of which had made the papers due to Thorn’s status as US Ambassador to the UK. The guy with the cool name, Buganhagen, is aware of Thorn and his son Damien and a recent discovery of his only reinforces the notion of Damien being the Antichrist. Buganhagen tries to convince a friend of his to warn Damien’s adoptive parents of the danger they’re in by showing him the discovery, an ancient wall that features images of the Antichrist at different stages of his life. The picture of the youngest Antichrist is the same as the photograph of Damien Thorn that’s appeared in the papers. As Buganhagen is showing his friend the wall the ceiling of the underground passage they are in collapses killing them both.
The story skips ahead seven years and following the deaths of his parents in the original, a pre-teen Damien is now living with his uncle Richard Thorn’s family, including his cousin of the same age, Mark. The two boys are attending a military academy for the privileged as Robert is a wealthy businessman, the head of Thorn Industries. Thorn’s company is doing well, but certain executives are making moves to change the direction of the business into new areas, which some of the board feel are unethical.
Damien is, like in the original, secretly surrounded by Satan’s little helpers including his new teacher at school and the dodgy executive who is using the company to set up Damien’s evil future. A series of deaths occur as some evil supernatural force bumps off those who get close to the truth about Damien. As he becomes aware of who and what he is Damien slips into the use of his power with ease and begins to handle his own destiny more and more.
The new season of “Deadliest Catch” would make anyone want to gouge out their eyes!

The original Omen is such a powerhouse of a movie that any sequel that came along was always going to have a hard time living up to its predecessor. Still, it’s hard not to like Omen 2, and that may be due to the unintentional silliness that crept into the movie which is in such contrast to the serious tone of the first. For example, one of the highlights of the original were the killings and Omen 2 throws in more then it’s fair share of horrific deaths, though none match the beheading of the journalist in the first movie and after a while watching Omen 2 becomes like watching one of the Final Destination movies, where you spend your time either wondering how a character will die or berating them for being so stupid as to walk into an obviously fishy (and deadly) situation. The death scene of the woman journo in Omen 2 is downright funny as is the death of the doctor, but I don’t imagine these scenes were meant to be so hilarious.

The religious aspect of Omen 2 is a little off as well and the scene where Damien is reading the Book of Revelations made me wonder if that’s what the planning meetings for the film were like – basically a bunch of adolescents sitting around highlighting sections of the Bible that either mentioned evil or had dirty words in them (like “Whore”, the makers of Omen 2 fucking love the word “Whore”!). The teenagers making the film idea would also explain the crappy dialogue that snuck in, for some reason the script writer could find no better sentence to get to the point with other then “by the way…” which sets up at least two big scenes.

My big gripe with Omen 2 however is how it ignored details of the first film that may have been a tad inconvinient, like how Damien didn’t go to live with his aunt and uncle but actually went to live with the President of the United States, a major ommission in the second flick that’s never addressed and would have had massive implications for the Antichrist’s rise to power.

Still and all, it’s hard not to like Omen 2, even if Damien looks closer to fifteen then the twelve years old he’s supposed to be.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Damien: Omen 2

For more info check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077394/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damien:_Omen_2

30 Days of Fright – 02: The Last House on the Left

Over the years I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff, mostly off the Internet. Videos and pictures of things that you’d genuinely wish you could un-see. 90% of the objectionable material out there is fake, staged to shock, but knowing this in no way lessens the bad feelings such things create.

The Last House on the Left (1972) is, quite frankly, what once would have been called a video nasty. The film follows two girls, Mari (pronounced Mary) and her friend Phyllis as they travel into the city one night to attend a concert. On route they decide to get their hands on some drugs and approach a likely looking character on the street. The man they ask is part of a gang of psychopaths who kidnap the two girls and over the course of the evening subject them to a raft of physical and psychological abuses. The next day they bundle the girls into the boot of their car and drive them outside the city. The car breaks down in some woods so the gang continue the abuse of the girls there.

In the woods the tortures get progressively worse. Phyllis tries to escape and the gang give chase leaving one of them to guard Mari who tries to talk him into letting her go. Phyllis is hunted down and murdered in an alarmingly graphic manner and the gang then turn all their attentions on Mari, raping and finally killing her.

The gang head back to the car and seek assistance from the people living in the house near where they broke down, the “last house on the left” of the title. It just so happens that this is Mari’s parents place. Being the hospitable folk they are they offer to put the gang up for the night so they can get the car repaired in town the following morning. During the night, Mari’s parents figure out what has happened to their daughter and that the gang are responsible so they exact a terrible revenge on their daughter’s murderers.

Most people pull this face during a viewing of Last House

The Last House on the Left is, in terms of content, one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. As I watched the film I seriously considered removing it from the list and dropping in a substitute as I felt a real concern that someone might read this and want to see the film and I don’t know if I want to be responsible for that. However, Last House is one of those films that should be openly discussed as it kicks up questions about censorship and artistic value and how films are classified, especially as the film was one of those banned in places like the UK for years. There are scenes in Last House that are not torture porn, they’re just pornographic. Scenes of teenage girls forced into sexual acts on each other are not entertaining or shocking, they’re sickening and could only be of interest to those with a sexual attraction to such material.

Like “adult movies” Last House doesn’t have much of a storyline and the film makers only seemed interested in moving from one scene of depravity to the next. The real shock of the movie is who the director is: Wes Craven, the guy who brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream series, movies that, while horrors, had a sense of humour and a human side, and if nothing else a hero you could cheer for. The humour that’s attempted in Last House doesn’t work at all and doesn’t bring any relief from the graphic violence. Even the features of 1970’s horror movies that we’ve come to love like the moralising over teenage behaviour and how it leads to a fall are of little consequence in the film, you never care about what the girls had done to deserve their fate as you are bombarded with one terrible image after the other.

Last House is nothing like Craven’s later work and we should be thankful he distanced himself from whatever demons possessed him to make it, but Wes Craven is not the only seriously troubled person working in Hollywood as Last House on the Left has been remade – someone out there saw this film and felt it so good that it deserved updating. Thankfully, the remake seems to have skipped the cinemas and gone straight to DVD where it likely belongs.

And so, as to my rating of the film we have a first, I have created a new rating especially for this film – The Last House on the Left gets no thumbs – I won’t rate it as it’s beneath contempt.

For more info, check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068833/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_last_house_on_the_left

30 Days of Fright – 01: Halloween (1978)

It’s easy to look at an older film through overly forgiving eyes. As the years pass films tend to date poorly, rooted as they are in the point of time of their creation in terms of their technical make-up, the fashion of the day, and the cultural notions prevalent; the films zeitgeist if you will. But think of those classic films that don’t age. Think of The Exorcist, and the original Wicker Man, and Rosemary’s Baby. Now put those great movies out of your mind as we discuss the stinking pile of shite that is “Halloween”.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie, a high school girl living in suburban Illinois, in a town where 15 years prior on Halloween night, a 6 year old boy named Michael Myers murdered his older sister. Michael has escaped from the secure hospital where he was incarcerated (I won’t say treated) and has returned home on Halloween to do some killing. Myers is pursued home by his doctor who attempts to stop the slaughter, but not before Myers bumps off a few teens and puts the shits up Jamie Lee. The End.

Mike Myers – Pre “Austin Powers”

Halloween is one of those films where there are loads of great ideas, and all the component parts are there, but they’ve been put together wrong and the result is an abomination. The story is a good one but the script is terrible and the execution on screen is barely watchable. Nearly all the actors give sub sub par performances and watching Halloween is like watching a video of your local amateur dramatics society working through a script they downloaded off the Internet.

The script itself is woeful and characters come out with statements out of the blue for no apparent reason. Why does Curtis tell herself that she’s grown out of superstition when she sees the kids trick or treating? There’s no mention of superstition until that point. And what in the name of all that’s holy is Jamie Lee doing saying that the boys in school won’t go out with her because she’s “too smart”? Too smart? Sorry love, they aren’t going out with you because you’re a dowdy cow not because you’re a smarty pants!

Top of her class or bottom of the barrel?

And what the hell was going on up at the hospital that held Myers? A six year old with violent tendencies goes in for (I assume) treatment and comes out “pure evil” (that’s the diagnosis given by his doctor, but to tell you the truth I’d want to see that lad’s medical license before I believed a word he said). The state of Illinois really needs to take a look at how it treats those with mental health issues if they get so badly abused in hospital that they come out as the embodiment of evil! And despite the young lad being totally fucking naughty beyond redemption, when he gets down to doing some harm he’s just not scary, not even to the two actual children Curtis is babysitting in the film.

Technically there’s a lot wrong with Halloween. The opening scene where young Michael kills his sister is filmed as a long Point Of View shot – the audience is looking through his eyes as he goes through the house, gets a weapon and commits the murder. The problem is that Michael’s eyes are too high – the POV is over six feet so he towers over lightswitches and other household fixtures, including his semi-naked sister! If the scene had been shot lower it would have given away that Mike is only a kid at that point and the big reveal would have been spoiled, but the cat’s out of the bag anyway once you see him reach for the knife and the fact he’s a child is no great shock anyway, at least not to modern audiences, though the thought of a kiddie killer in 1978 might have been a real wonder. Whenever POV is mis-used it can become a glaring error – just look at the POV in Robocop that starts off so well but is ruined once he stands up as his height seems to be around the 5’5″ mark, not the giant he’s meant to be.

Halloween is riddled with continuity errors and other goofs, like in the final scenes which have Michael leaving his knife on the living room floor but still having a blade when he’s upstairs with Jamie Lee, but by that stage in the flick the damage has been done.

With all that’s wrong it’s easy to miss what’s right, and that’s the elements of the story that became teen slasher classics. The young girl protagonist, the running up the stairs instead of out the door, the lack of real assistance or understanding from those around her, and all the other little details of these movies feature in Halloween, and in some cases started with this film.

John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween is a pile of shite but it’s cultural impact cannot be underestimated. It’s still getting two thumbs down from me though!

For more info checkout:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077651/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_(1978_film)

30 Days of Fright – Prologue

October is finally here, so the best holiday of the year is nearly with us. As in previous years all the gang are gearing up for big night out, especially as this year Halloween falls on a Saturday, and luckily like last year we don’t have too much to do in terms of preparation. So I’m free to sit through a month of horror films and then bleat on about what I thought of them, hopefully making you smile from time to time and definitely making me feel like a big clever clogs!

Last year’s series, 27 Days of Fright, was put together on the fly as October was already about five days old when the idea occurred to me. The films were picked out as I went along so there were some very real fears in the early stages that I’d be reviewing the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series as I had the box set and nothing else to watch. Fortunately for everyone, I managed to get my hands on a few other movies and Freddy Krueger only got the one outing.

This year a half-arsed attempt at planning was undertaken. Movies were thought about well in advance; it turns out a little too much in advance as I forgot all the films I had in mind. So, my own DVD collection was raided for suitable flicks. With this done, I only had to get hold of another 28 movies. I borrowed a number of DVDs off some friends and the rest I recorded on Sky+ (which is kinda like TiVo, for those outside Ireland and the UK). About half of the current list of films is on DVD and the other half are recorded from Sky Movies and the Sci-Fi channel.

The list is not yet set in stone, so should a good film come my way, or should something decent turn up on TV over the next wee while then my plans could change, but any changes are likely to be minor. One minor change that I hope will help those re-reading the series at a future date is that the name of each of the posts will include the name of the film being reviewed (you’ll see what I mean tomorrow).

This year the watching of the films is going to be a little different too as I’ve recently had the opportunity to put together a home cinema setup – my own little big screen, though this is only for the DVD’s, I’ll just have to settle for the 50” plasma for the others… poor me…