30 Days of Fright – 05: Final Destination 3

People who know me know that I know comedy. I like a good joke but, as anyone can tell you, a joke has a lifespan. There is a very limited number of times you can hear a joke and have it still be funny. This is true for other concepts too, and when you try to extend the lifetime of an idea or concept you need to work hard to keep it fresh, otherwise you end up as that guy who always tells the same tired old joke and wonders why no one laughs anymore.

Breaking away from the events in the first two movies (FD1 and FD2), Final Destination 3 (2006) introduces a whole new batch of teenage victims who are all out at an amusement park one night. Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the one this time who freaks out after she has a terrifying vision of a roller coaster crash killing all her friends, several of her classmates, and herself. Her panicked screams get her and some of the gang removed from the coaster right before it crashes exactly as she saw in her vision.

The story then unfolds as predictably as you’d imagine with each of those who were supposed to be on the roller coaster getting killed off in the sequence they would have died had they remained on the ride in funny and convoluted ways. Wendy figures out quite quickly what’s happening to the survivors but has a hard time convincing them that they’re in any danger, with the exception of Kevin (Ryan Merriman) who learns of the crash of Flight 180 (as featured in the first film) and works with Wendy to save the others.

As they work through the list of people who weren’t killed in the crash they discover that the photographs Wendy was taking that night for the class yearbook indicate how death is going to get those who dodged their fate on the coaster. Each of the pictures contains a subtle hint as to how the kids are going to die so Wendy and Kevin try to use that information to protect their friends, but not everyone is convinced that Wendy is actually trying to help…

Everyone in town wanted to nail Erin…

The first couple of films in the Final Destination series were fun little horror films that presented just the right amount of gory deaths of annoying teenagers in ways that were highly entertaining to watch, sadly though the third outing fails to live up to the standard set by it’s predecessors.

The best way to describe Final Destination 3 is to compare it to a joke that was hilarious the first time you heard it, was still pretty funny when you heard it again, and was then just flat out irritating every time you heard it after that, to the point where if you were down the pub and someone started telling that joke you’d be forced to punch them in the face in order to stop them uttering another fucking word. For a film where American teenagers are killed one after the other for ninety minutes, it’s actually really boring.

The main reason for this seems to be that the film-makers ran out of ideas for the methods of death. In the first two films the ways the victims were dispatched involved quite long and intricate set ups all of which could be spotted long before they hit, but were fun because they could go any which way and the victim was not always obvious. In Final Destination 3, the deaths are nothing special. A couple of people get crushed, a girl gets a nailgun to the head, there’s a car crash, all in all nothing highly original or particularly funny. There is an exception to this that comes early on in the film where a couple of bimbo types are killed in tanning booths that required the long lead in style that was present in the earlier films but it’s inclusion only serves to highlight how lacking the rest of the movie is.

The effects in Final Destination 3 are lacking too and seem to have been the victim of a reduced budget, which is nothing unusual for a second sequel. The performances aren’t great though Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Wendy did a good job and managed to carry a lot more of the film then she really had to.

Final Destination 3 was always going to struggle to be as good as parts one and two but it could have been saved if only it’s makers had bigged up the core element of the franchises premise, that of how the deaths work. After that, they could have upped the comedy or the frights, neither of which they did, making Final Destination 3 a poor addition to the series.

Two Thumbs Down for Final Destination 3.

Final Destilinktion:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Destination_3
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0414982/

30 Days of Fright – 04: A Nightmare on Elm St. Pt5: The Dream Child

I’m often curious about the people on the edges of the stories in horror films. The low level cops working the cases of all those baby-sitter murderers. The ambulance crews who scoop up the survivors and the bits of those that didn’t survive. The dry-cleaners dealing with all those blood stained clothes. There is however a job in horror much worse than all of those put together and that’s the poor estate agent who has to try to sell a house on Elm Street.

A Nightmare on Elm St. Pt5: The Dream Child (1989) once again continues the tale of the children of Elm Street as they now reach the end of their high school careers. Getting ready to face the real world, Alice (left over from the last movie) and Dan (also a survivor from the previous flick) are now a couple and have been doing the thing that young couples do (i.e. hiding the pork steeple in the ham locker). After one of their marathon sessions, Alice enters the dreamworld and experiences a vision of drowning in her shower right before she encounters a nun from the 1940’s – obviously same nun who’s mother to Freddy Kruger as introduced in Part 3).

Alice is worried that her latest dream experience is an indication that Freddy is planning another of his returns and she tries to warn the rest of the gang who pay no heed to her or her bullshit. The kids graduate from school and set about partying like it was 1989 (which it was), all except for poor Alice who has to go to work.

While walking through the park on her way to her job Alice enters the dream world for several hours indicating that there’s a new way to get into that world other than by falling asleep – at least for Alice. While in the world of dreams Alice sees that Freddy is, as she suspected, reborn through a vision of his original birth in the puzzle factory where his mother worked. Emerging from the dream world,Alice calls Dan, who leaves the party to go to her. En route, he apparently falls asleep at the wheel and Freddy kills him.

Severely traumatised by Dan’s death and terrified by Freddy’s reappearance, Alice is admitted to hospital where it’s discovered that she is pregnant. She soon realises that the baby sleeping in her womb is behind the unexpected trips into the dreamworld, and that Freddy is very interested in her offspring…

Supernanny places another helpless victim onto the naughty spot

As a series like the Nightmare’s on Elm Street, made as they were during the 80’s, progressed they were inevitably doomed to get worse and worse, so when sitting down to watch part 5 of the franchise it was with less than high expectations. Oddly, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child is excellent!

The central concept of the film, of the baby dreaming in it’s mother and accessing the dream world that way, is a great idea and it gives the story a nice edge. On top of that, Alice’s predicament as both the principal victim and heroine is interesting, what with worrying about the baby and her future coupled with the threat posed by Freddy and by her extended family, all putting a lot of strain on her. The additional angle provided by Fred’s mum being the key to whole Elm Street mess is excellent; her soul not being seems to be the reason why Freddy’s been able to do the things he has for five films and keep coming back.

On a more subtle level Nightmare 5 features some fantastic imagery – like the character of Gretta, the budding model, represented as a porcelain doll in a way reflective of the way her mother treated her, and even though she’s not exactly a leading character, the parts of the film and story about her work very well because of those deeper elements. Sadly, not every attempt at this kind of thing works as well.

Effects wise there’s one or two decent bits, but nothing great and in terms of “acting” what was done for Nightmare 5 barely deserves the term, but none of that mattered as the story was just so good.

I’m forced to wonder if with the fifth film the Elm Street franchise was trying to grow up along with its audience. Those who would have been in their late teens when the first film came out would have been about the right age to be starting families when Part 5 made it to theatres and so would have been well able to relate to the story (the baby part that is, not the homicidal monster from well beyond the grave spawned by the unnatural coupling of 100 lunatics and a nun part). Whatever caused it, Part 5 is a worthy addition to the story of the poor gobshites with an address on Elm Street.

Two Thumbs Up for A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child

Dream Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nightmare_on_Elm_Street_5:_The_Dream_Child
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097981/

30 Days of Fright – 03: The Hills Have Eyes

There are no super powered mutants and their absence from the world is as equally upsetting and simultaneously reassuring as the absence of flying cars, as both the mutants and the cars would probably kill a bunch of us. I count myself among that number of people who would meet their end at the hands of super-powered mutants or at the controls of a flying car. In the case of the mutants, I’d probably try collaborating if they were evil, even though it never ends well for those who try to join in; if, heaven forbid, they were using their powers for good, then I’d probably try going down the Lex Luthor route or some other type of arch-criminality, driven by my feelings of inadequacy caused by comparing myself to those super-powered do-gooders.

In the case of the flying car, I’d almost certainly crash it in an ironic way, like into a pillow factory or similar; something that would get a chuckle when the story was retold, though many people would have been killed in the tragedy (including the factory’s health and safety officer, ha!).

The Moller Skycar: Utter bollocks, it doesn’t work. Thank God!

Opening with a couple of lines of text that inform the viewer about nuclear tests in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s and how the government deny knowledge of any side effects, The Hills Have Eyes (2006) gets right into the action with a small group of government workers researching the effects of radiation on the New Mexico desert, presumably near one of those test sites. As they go about their task they’re attacked by someone who brutally murders the lot of them with a pick axe and then drags their bodies off for some unseen and unholy purpose.

Next we meet a family made up of a couple, their children, and their children’s child who are on a road trip through the desert on their way to California as part of the couple’s silver anniversary celebrations. The old couple are a set of die-hard right-wingers, with dad, Bob, a gun-toting ex-cop and mom, Ethel, a God-botherer type. The kids are made up of their teenage son Bobby, two daughters, Brenda and Lynn, and Lynn’s husband Doug and their infant daughter, Catherine.

On route, they stop for petrol (that’s “gas” to those from the US and “motion-lotion” to those who are truckers). The bloke who runs the petrol station, who appears to be mixed up in something altogether unwholesome, helpfully suggests a short cut that would reduce the journey by a couple of hours.

As they travel down the dirt road shortcut, someone throws a set of spikes across the road blowing out the tyres and making the family’s SUV crash, stranding them all in the middle of nowhere. The family make camp using the caravan (“trailer” to our transatlantic cousins, “home” to those of you of a pikey persuasion) they were dragging with them and as soon as they get settled, Bob and Doug go in search of help, each heading in an opposite direction along the road.

Doug’s wonderings bring him to a crater full of cars and SUVs filled with holiday related gear like fishing rods and camping equipment, but while interesting it’s of little help and the road dead-ends with the crater. Bob, meanwhile goes back to the petrol station and finds the bloke who gave them the bum directions in a state of hysteria right before he commits suicide. Bob figures out that the short-cut was part of a deliberate plan to attack his family, like several others had been in the past, so he makes to head back to his brood. However, poor old Bob runs into some of the locals – a bunch of hideously deformed mutants – who have some nasty dinner plans for Bob and his family…

 It’s not everyday you come across a little American flag sticking out of the head of your father-in-law’s charred corpse, but when you do…

Based upon the 1977 film by Wes Craven, who returned as a producer for this outing and provided the production company also, The 2006 Hills Have Eyes is a mightily entertaining film considering how little there is to it. Like films that fit into the pro-torture genre there are a handful of potential victims and a handful of potential torturers and the scene is set for the sole purpose of putting the two groups together as messily as possible. However, The Hills Have Eyes doesn’t feel like a torture porn movie. There’s a fair amount of bloody violence and even a rape and a half (don’t ask) but it’s not as mean spirited as some other efforts.

The Hills Have Eyes doesn’t develop the characters any more than absolutely necessary leaving them not quite one-dimensional but not far off, so that everyone’s back story can be explained in as few words as possible. Dad is a tough ex-cop. Mom is religious. The eldest daughter is a mother. The youngest daughter is a slut. The son is a skater. The son-in law is a liberal. The baby is a baby.

Not much more thought is put into the villains but the mutant’s back story is still pretty good, making them local miners who eventually resurfaced after those cold war nuclear bomb tests and went to live in one of the abandoned towns where the testing was done. Those places are remote and at the same time attract a trickle of tourists who would keep the mutants both entertained and fed. The anger felt by the mutants towards the norms who destroyed their homes and caused their disfigurements feels justified; for a moment after you hear the mutant explain their story you almost feel sorry for them, it works that well.

Doug, the lilly-livered liberal pussy son-in-law, is the hero of the piece (there’s so little to the tale that this sort of detail doesn’t really amount to a spoiler) which I found to be a nice change from movies of this kind where it’s usually one of the daughters who has to step up and become a badass. The cause of Doug’s transformation from pansy into no-holds-barred fucking murderer is both understandable and believable.

The Hills Have Eyes is well made with the desert setting doing it’s job brilliantly. This is a time where I’m glad the director decided not to show off the beauty of the desert with gratuitous shots of sunsets and other bullshit like that. The whole production has a slick well-made feel to it with the effects completely over the top but well done at the same time. While computer effects must have featured (unless there’s a bunch of terribly deformed Screen Actors Guild members out there (Sarah Jessica Parker excluded, obviously) ) those effects were well done and not overly noticeable. Even the pretty disturbing opening credits are well constructed and set the tone perfectly from the outset.

The acting is more than functional and there are some very well played scenes. I liked Ted Levine as Bob – you may remember him as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs or as the general in Evolution. Kathleen Quinlan as Ethel was pretty decent too (her horror experience includes a good turn as Momma Bear in Event Horizon), but the stars of the show were Aaron Stanford as Doug and all the freaks who played the mutants, of whom there were too many to mention.

At first glance The Hills Have Eyes is a slasher flick that borders of torture porn, but to categorize it that way is to do the film a great disservice as it’s much more entertaining then you’d expect either of those two types of film to be.

Two Thumbs Up for The Hills Have Eyes

The Hills Have Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hills_Have_Eyes_%282006_film%29
IMBD: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454841/

30 Days of Fright – 02: Don't Look Up

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of excessively high taxes on the rich. This perhaps slightly controversial opinion on the subject of progressive taxation stems from my no doubt delusional belief that someday I will be rich myself and when that day comes I don’t want to be taxed to the hilt.

After last night’s film I’m now prepared to change my opinion on the whole tax thing.

An example of a well-heeled gentleman
Don’t Look Up (2009) opens by telling the audience the story of how donkeys years ago, some chick called Matya was murdered in Romania (the Transylvania part of Romania, of course) basically because she was born with a birthmark on her face and the superstitious locals believed it was a sign of the devil. Turns out that the pitchfork wielding bumpkins were right for a change as the birthmark was actually the result of Matya’s dear old mum having made a pact with the devil where she got herself a top-notch lover (cash, looks, horror-movie review writing ability, you know the sort) and in return was to spawn a child for Satan.
The story moves forward in time to the late 1920’s where a film of Matya’s tragic story is being made by visionary director Béla Olt (played by real-life director Eli Roth – yes, that Eli Roth, the man behind films like Hostel). One night on the set of the movie the actress playing Matya is frightened by something and Béla tries his damnedest to catch whatever it is on film, thinking it to be the ghost of the real Matya. Béla chases after the spectre but instead of filming a phantom he manages to get himself killed.

Spinning forward to the present, we meet Marcus Reed, a budding young director who is cursed with terrible visions. He’s been trying to turn this affliction into an asset by using his visions as inspiration for his films but with only some success – his first film did well but his last attempt was never finished. As well as the problem with the visions, Marcus is troubled by his ex-girlfriend who is suffering from cancer and is very ill. Despite his worry for her, Marcus decides to avail of the chance to restart his career by travelling to Romania (the Transylvania part of Romania, of course) in order to make a film. The film in question is the big-screen adaptation of the story of the gypsy woman and her daughter and it just so happens that Marcus is a big fan of Béla Olt so he jumps at the chance to travel to Europe to use the same sets that still remain from that earlier production.

Upon their arrival, Marcus and his producers are told by the local fixer, Gregore, that the studio they are using is “bad”, alluding to curses and hauntings and what-not. The lads do get an uneasy feelings and Marcus’ visions go into overdrive. As production gets under way, the cast and crew of Marcus’ film discover that there is something very wrong with their studio and that someone, or something, doesn’t want a certain story told…

Great at giving direction but utterly incapable of following any, Marcus does the exact opposite of what he’s told… and looks up!

Having watched this film I now no longer think that the rich should be free to spend their money any way they like, because when given that level of freedom they will only go off and make a film like Don’t Look Up. Some idle rich prick with a desire to make a movie is the only possible explanation for the travesty that is Don’t Look Up making it to the screen. I reckon that someone with cash simply bankrolled the whole thing as that’s the only plausible way it got made at all. Within the studio/production company system someone along the way would have pointed out that the film is shit, if not someone on the crew, then at least someone in the test audience.

Don’t Look Up is another one of those remakes of a Japanese horror film along the lines of the The Ring only this time scaled up from video tape to film stock. Without having seen the original it’s impossible to comment on how faithful a version of the story Don’t Look Up contains but regardless of where the story came from, it has problems.

There’s a gypsy who made a deal with the devil and had a daughter. The daughter was tortured to death. Several years later someone tries to make a film of this story. The production is cursed and the director dies. Some more time passes. Someone else tries to make the same film. That production is also cursed and there are some deaths and the director has weird visions. There’s a twist at the end, quickly followed by another twist.

At first glance, that’s not too bad a story, but you can spot where the film-makers got carried away. If they hadn’t given Marcus the visions and didn’t bother with the two (count ’em), two twists at the end they might have been onto something. But rather than keep it subtle and interesting, they added in too much crap and the whole film ended up stinking of it!

Don’t Look Up seems to have been made on the cheap (fitting with the notion that one person paid for the whole thing), but rather then using some imagination to deal with that limitation like some classic low-budget films have done in the past, the entire production reeks of it’s bargain basement price tag. The bulk of the effects are just plain shit, with far too much really bad CGI utilised, most noticeably where flies attack people. Eli Roth’s less than gentle hand can be felt in some of the make-up effects and for some reason there’s an emphasis on scenes where there’s a mutilation of the eye. This is pretty gross and there’s one scene where it’s used very well but mostly it’s heavy handed and boring. The other recurring effects revolve around flies attacking people and overly graphic and therefore comical scenes of childbirth.

As Don’t Look Up feels so cheap and tacky, the more I think about it the more I believe that my “rich guy paid for the film” theory is right. If you were minted and planned to make a movie wouldn’t you put the actors you wanted into it? Of course you would, but no self respecting actor is going to go near a project like that out of the justified fear that it’ll turn out shite. So, if Tom Cruise or Christian Bale or Bill Pullman (I think he’s good), won’t play along what do you do? You go down the list a bit and find someone interesting who’ll turn up for the cash. In the case of Don’t Look Up the interesting person they got was Henry Thomas. “Who?” I hear you ask…. here’s a hint:

Henry Thomas in E.T. (he’s the one on the left)

Thomas’s appearance answers the question “Whatever happened to the kid from E.T. that wasn’t Drew Barrymore?” but that’s all it does. Like everyone else in the film, and I mean everyone, he was crap. Acting, Directing, Story, Effects, and even the Music were all terrible. Not even Eli Roth and Elliot could save this mess.

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for Don’t Look Up

Don’t Link Up:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1034305/

30 Days of Fright – 01: Beetlejuice

The director and all-round weirdo Tim Burton has a lot in common with the musician and all-round weirdo Marilyn Manson. Both men have looked to the darker side of life for inspiration, and a love of all things Gothic and romantically sinister permeates their respective works. However, in recent years both have suffered from ever increasing levels of irrelevancy. Tim Burton was once a respected movie-maker who was given the monumental task of creating a decent screen image for Batman, a job he did so well that the film he made back in 1989 still exerts massive influence on comic book movies to this day particularly in terms of atmospherics, costume design, musical style, and so on. Marilyn Manson’s music and stage shows were considered so shocking that he was accused of all sorts of terrible things from devil worship to inspiring the Columbine shootings. In recent years, Manson’s music has struggled to shock and his shows have struggled to fill the venues and surprise the audiences in the way they used to. Despite this, there is still a place in my heart for Marilyn Manson, but the same cannot be said for Tim Burton.

Burton’s career includes the magnificent 80’s reboot of Batman, the excellent Sleepy Hollow, and the downright weird Edward Scissorhands, but whenever I think of him lately all I can focus on is Sweeney Todd, and the love triangle of Tim Burton, Jonny Depp, and Helena Bonham-Carter. This makes it hard to remember the unbridled joy that came from my first viewing of the subtly-edgy (if there can be such a thing) Beetlejuice all those years ago.

 Tim Burton and Marilyn Manson
Set in the idyllic slice of Americana that is rural Connecticut, Beetlejuice (1988) tells the tragic tale of Adam and Barbara Maitland (performed by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis respectively) who are forced into a terrifying round of DIY as they stay at home for their two-week summer vacation. One morning, as they set about their evil task, they are visited by their friend and local real estate agent Jane, who tells them they have yet another over-the-odds offer on their sprawling colonial style home from some wealthy mucky muck in New York City. Jane, ever the sensitive type, manages to say the absolute wrong thing to Barbara by mentioning that the house is far too large for a couple without children, like Babs and Adam.
Deciding to put Jane’s rather callous remarks behind them, the Maitland’s head into town to pick up some material for a model of the town that Adam is building in the attic. On the way home from town and while struggling to avoid a dog on a bridge, the Maitland’s car swerves off the road and into the river, killing Adam and Barbara (though with her at the wheel it’s surprising that they survived as long as they did).
Being killed in a car accident doesn’t actually stop the couple from getting home where, after a couple of odd events, they quickly come to the conclusion that they’re dead and are now ghosts haunting their own home. Adam and Barbara struggle to adapt to their new afterlife and things take another bad turn when their house is sold and a family from New York moves in.

The new (living) occupants of the house are Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones), who is a reasonably sane though greedy property developer who’s had some sort of nervous breakdown and needs to escape to the country for a while to get his mojo back, and his missus, Delia Deetz (Catherine O’Hara), who is on the other hand fully bat shit crazy in the way that only wannabe artists from New York can be. Charles has a daughter from a previous marriage (though we never find out what happened to the previous Mrs. Deetz) Lydia (played by the notoriously light-fingered Wynona Ryder) who is going through the darkly moody, goth period of her teenage years, wearing lots of black and thinking about funerals all the time. The Deetz’s soon begin to make the house into their home which involves Delia and her friend Otto demolishing half the place and fitting out the remainder with what passes for their idea of contemporary art. This extensive remodelling disturbs the Maitland’s quite a bit so they set about trying to scare the Deetz’s out.

Due to Lydia’s predisposition towards death and such things, she is the only one who can see the Maitlands and she develops a friendship of sorts with them as they go about trying to get their home back. However, despite their best efforts, including the use of sheets and much moaning, the ghostly Maitland’s are unable to get their way and finally turn to the last resort for those in their situation, a sleezy bio-exorcist by the name of Betelegeuse…

Coming Soon to Channel 4 – My Big Fat Gypsy Funeral
Beetlejuice is a film from the time when Tim Burton actually had something to say with his work other than “I’m creepy, where’s my cheque?”. As one of those “artist” types who dwelt a lot on the afterlife he actually had a few things to say about current life (or pre-after-life if you will) and he was prepared to take some risks with his films in order to say what was on his mind. As a result, on the surface Beetlejuice is a fine late-eighties comedy, complete with decent actors, a great soundtrack, and a brilliant central character. But dig a little deeper and there’s more to be gained from this film, or rather, there should have been.

The main plot of the film, about the dead Maitland’s wanting to get the living Deetz’s out of their house, is a fun reversal of the traditional haunted house story where the details of the haunting are viewed from the perspective of the ghosts. The next level down looks at relationships; the almost perfect love between Adam and Barbara (almost perfect except for her shoddy driving having killed them), the less then perfect, worn down relationship between Charles and Deelia, and the substitute parental relationship the Maitland’s wish they could have with Lydia. This aspect of Beetlejuice puts a little flesh on the bones of the film but is nowhere near as interesting as how the film looks at death.

One of the principal jokes of the film is the one where people who have committed suicide end up as civil servants in the afterlife. This is a deliciously insensitive concept and a major part of the film in some ways and pretty risky when you think of someone watching the film who may have lost a loved one that way now confronted with the idea that in the next world their dearly departed are barely working 20 hours a week and spend a lot of time bitching about their pension. On the other side of that coin, image if you were a civil servant (or if you are a civil servant, don’t) and you see Beetlejuice and you realise that on the other side your job is some kind of purgatorial punishment.

And there’s the rub.

In a Tim Burton comedy, much loved and enjoyed, and eventually turned into a cartoon series for children, people who commit suicide are punished for it.

Making death fun for all the family… Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beeltejuice!

Now, I’m not entirely sure who or what Burton was digging at with that joke but it does indicate that there could have been a lot more depth to Beetlejuice and I wonder if there was a more biting version of the script that got toned down before the finished story made it to the cinema, thus leaving a few unanswered questions. A couple of  other Beetlejuice moments reinforce this idea for me, including the scene where a model satanic whorehouse appears to keep the little bugger busy for a while (something I don’t remember seeing referenced in the cartoon) as well as the name of the character being Betelegeuse (like the real life star) while the movie is called Beetlejuice (like the pronunciation of said star); things that hint at another layer of humour that must have been left on the cutting room floor.

Technically, the movie is well made and very well acted. Before he became obsessed with Jonny Depp, Burton was in love with Michael Keaton which shows how good an eye for acting talent Burton may once have had. Keaton is utterly brilliant in the title role and somehow manages to dominate the film, over act beyond belief in every scene, and at the same time create a great example of an iconic film character who proves that less is more, as despite his seriously outlandish antics, it’s surprising how little screen time Betelegeuse actually gets in the film.

There are one or two scenes where either the editing or directing slipped slightly in terms of timing; I can think of one scene in particular where Deelia Deetz suddenly says something that seems to have come out of nowhere and it feels like a few seconds of dialogue were cut out for some reason (I wonder why), but on the surface this didn’t take from the enjoyment of the film. Neither does the quality of the effects which merely reflect what could be done at the time with the type of budget available to the production. 

Beetlejuice focuses a lot on death, which it kinda had to do seeing as how the majority of the characters are ghosts, but it wrapped quite a morbid theme in some decent comedy, with good jokes and well delivered performances. Because of the comedy, and some of the other undertones, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that, at its heart, Beetlejuice is a sweet movie that’s mostly about love, the kind of love that transcends death and gobshites from New York.

Two Thumbs Up for Beetlejuice.

Linklejuice!:

30 Days of Fright – Prologue

Sometimes life moves at an incredibly slow pace, the hours creeping by at a painful rate. At other times life moves at breakneck speed and you barely have time to notice that the last time a year went by slowly you were probably still in school. Once again, from where I’m standing anyway, another year has shot past and we find ourselves staring down the barrel of another set of the most amazing horror film reviews the world has ever seen – it’s year 5 of the 30 Days of Fright!

For the last four years I’ve taken the opportunity that the month of October brings as it slides towards Hallowe’en to watch a load of horror films and then write reviews, with some pointing out the better elements of those films, though most just making snide put-downs of other people’s work. In the best tradition of film critics and hipsters everywhere I let my own conceited notion that I know best about these things run riot and take apart some much loved gems of the genre while elevating unheard of indie movies much higher then they could ever deserve, working on the simple notion that if a film’s popular then it’s probably shite.

The previous bunch of reviews are available for your consideration here: 2008, here: 2009, here: 2010, and here: 2011,and hopefully like the last few outings you’ll find year five to be entertaining, a bit of a laugh, and maybe, just maybe a little bit interesting.

As the actual reviews do take a bit of effort, and because I’m a naturally lazy person, the scoring system hasn’t changed a bit over the years and each film still gets rated on its merits (but mostly lack thereof) and assigned a final score on my rather unusual thumb-based scale:

Two Thumbs Firmly Down = One of the worst films ever, never mention this film to anyone nevermind actually watching it!

Two Thumbs Down = Utter Scutter

One Thumb Up, One Thumb Down = Meh, don’t go out of your way for it but there’s no need to avoid it either

Two Thumbs Up = A brilliant movie, well worth a look

Two Thumbs Firmly Up = A must see, a truly excellent motion picture you should make it your business to see as soon as you can

There is another score that is only used in the most extreme of cases: No Thumbs = no rating as the film is beneath contempt due to the handling of its subject matter – when you consider that these are horror films then that’s a pretty extreme rating to get and has so far, only been applied to one nasty little film.

As is tradition, the first film gets its showing tonight, so here we go again… let the 30 Days of Fright begin!

Supernanny = Super Consultant

I was at the doctor’s office the other day as I’d fallen foul of the Man-Flu and needed serious help. While I was in the waiting room a mother came in with her two young children, a boy about 3 or 4 years old and a little girl of about 18 months. It was pretty obvious, even to the untrained eye, that there was a significant problem of sibling rivalry growing between the two kids, with the boy especially in need of that careful balance of attention and discipline. He was climbing over furniture, pulling things from his mothers bag, and picking up his sister in unsafe ways, all in all being the kind of child you don’t want sitting behind you on a long flight!

I mentioned what I’d saw when I got home as I wasn’t impressed with the mother’s lacklustre attempts to deal with her son and I was surprised at the response I received: “Supernanny has ruined a lot of parents out there”

Supernanny, with her naughty spots and rules about never raising a hand to child, has made a lot of parents believe they’re child psychologists, so they go around trying to reason with three year olds in the same way that they’d try to talk to a thirty year old and then simply give up in frustration when they inevitably get nowhere. In reality, I don’t think Supernanny herself is actually to blame for this as I think what has happened is that parents have misinterpreted the message the TV show was trying to convey.

Supernanny Jo Frost… looking for her paycheque

Continue reading “Supernanny = Super Consultant”

Overcoming Initial Resistance: A Guide for the Gun-Shy

A video on the Lifehacker website caught my interest recently, so much so that I found myself repeating some of the content to a friend who was going for a job interview. In the video, author Ramit Sethi outlines what he calls the Briefcase Technique for use during negotiations for things like increases in salary or contract rates and so on. The technique is brilliantly simple, though perhaps more than a little gimmicky. The basic gist is you go into such negotiations totally prepared, so much so that you would be in a position to produce a document that outlines the benefits you could bring to a potential employer or client having developed an understanding of the issues facing the business and genuinely preparing a plan for how you would personally deal with those issues. The real heart of the Briefcase Technique is that you’re supposed to pull out this document (from your briefcase, hence the name) just when you get to the money negotiation section of the interview.

The Other Briefcase Technique

While the video is entertaining in an infomercial sort of way, I’m not sure how well the technique would work outside of the U.S., or outside any situation where money isn’t explicitly discussed (especially as many employers tend to make salary offers when later offering the job and don’t negotiate it during the interview – if you’re contracting that can be slightly different). However, in the video Sethi does make an interesting point about the difficulties around starting something, particularly a document that requires any form of serious creative thought. Continue reading “Overcoming Initial Resistance: A Guide for the Gun-Shy”

30 Days of Fright – Epilogue

Like all good things, and the worst too I suppose, the fourth year of the 30 Days of Fright horror movie reviews has come to an end. Here’s a quick break down of the final scores along with a little analysis of some of the highlights.

The Scores:
TTFD = Two Thumbs Firmly Down
TTD = Two Thumbs Down
OTU/OTD = One Thumb Up, One Thumb Down
TTU = Two Thumbs Up
TTFU = Two Thumbs Firmly Up

Year 4:
01 – Candyman – TTFU
02 – Halloween II (2009) – OTU/OTD
03 – Deathwatch – TTD
04 – [REC]2 – TTU
05 – After.Life – OTU/OTD
06 – The Broken – TTD
07 – The Fourth Kind – TTU
08 – New Moon – TTD
09 – Heartless – OTU/OTD
10 – Fright Night (1985) – TTU
11 – Saw II – TTD
12 – Let Me In – OTU/OTD
13 – Sorority Row – TTU
14 – Final Destination 2 – TTU
15 – The Ring – TTU
16 – Hellraiser – TTD
17 – The Thing – TTU
18 – Shelter – OTU/OTD
19 – Wake Wood – TTU
20 – Devil – TTFU
21 – The Descent Part 2 – TTFD
22 – Jennifer’s Body – TTU
23 – Paranormal Activity – OTU/OTD
24 – My Bloody Valentine – TTFD
25 – Creepshow – OTU/OTD
26 – A Nightmare on Elm St. Pt4: The Dream Master – TTD
27 – Angel Heart – OTU/OTD
28 – Flatliners – TTFU
29 – Outpost – OTU/OTD
30 – The Tattooist – TTU

The Best:
Candyman
I was stunned by just how good this film is. There’s some nice scares in the mix and some decent gore too. Of course, Tony Todd steals every scene he’s in with his imposing stature and creepy deep voice, but the other stands outs from Candyman have to be the music and the gritty urban setting. I had really hoped that Candyman was only a taste of things to come as Clive Barker was the man responsible for this and another film in the series Hellraiser, but sadly that film turned out to be shite. Candyman though was excellent and a great way to start this years reviews.

Devil
If Clive Barker’s name attached to a film had me excited and then caused serious disappointment, the exact opposite happened with Devil and the man behind that film, M. Night Shyamalan. Having been burned before when it came to this dude’s work I had a terrible sinking sensation when his name sprang up in the opening credits, but it turned out that he wasn’t all that involved in making the movie so it turned out to be good. The frights aren’t overly jumpy nor does the film get under your skin like some horrors can, but it ‘s just so well made, and the nervousness people feel when things go wrong in a skyscraper makes Devil worth a look.

Flatliners 
Flatliners is such an atmospheric film it should be used in film schools to show students how to film autumn. Everything about it tells you something creepy is going on and it is perfectly set as it is in a glorious looking medical school and at the perfect time of year, with Hallowe’en getting a look in too. For me though, the highlight of the piece is in the characters themselves, as they display all the egotism and arrogance that goes with being the top of the class, and then fall victim to the product of their own hubris.

The Worst:
The Descent Part 2
The first Descent movie was a good concept and likeable in it’s own way, whereas the second one was the worst form of milking out there and the kind of thing that gives sequels a bad name. The story wasn’t continued or developed sufficiently well to justify this movie and fuck alone knows how they’ll squeeze a third out of the franchise if plans for that movie go ahead.

My Bloody Valentine
Whhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaattt a pile of shit! Utter scutter from the start to the gutter! This film has a huge cult following but that just goes to show how dangerous cults are and how much brainwashing they engage in. My Bloody Valentine is the kind of film the “Two Thumbs Firmly Down” rating was invented for.

Special Mentions:
The Fourth Kind
This film gave me the creeps the first time I saw it but unfortunately I didn’t get to see it all in one go, instead I was forced to split the viewing over two days. This really disjointed the last act of the film and led me to think that it was all rubbish. This time I got to watch the whole lot in one go and I really enjoyed it. Again, this is a movie that depends a lot on a quirky concept, in this case the actors telling you they’re acting so as to convince you the film is really a docu-drama based on real events. The fact that Nome, Alaska, where it’s set, does have a bit of reputation for missing persons only adds to the intrigue. If only some of the casting had been a little better and some of the “real” footage toned down ever so slightly then it would have been easy to give The Fourth Kind the highest score.

Jennifer’s Body
This is another movie that I didn’t like that much the first time and loved the second, though for radically different reasons than The Fourth Kind. Jennifer’s Body is a film you have to open your mind real wide for and not for the A-Plot or even the B-Plot, but more for the extremely subtle stories that play out in the background; material so embedded in the fabric of the story that I doubt all of it was intentionally put into the film at all. For even the beginnings of an understanding of how teenage girls get along (or not) Jennifer’s Body is worth a look. On top of that, it’s actually pretty funny in a quiet sort of way. Only Megan Fox keeps this film from the top score as she’s a shit actress.

Final Thoughts:
Surprisingly,  the vast majority of the films on this years list came from off the TV which shows that, for a change, TV can actually provide some decent horror. There was a nice variety to the types of horror, with ghosts, vampires, aliens, and other monsters all getting a look in. There were some nice surprises and some crushing disappointments too, but that’s just the horror roller coaster. Until next year…

The End.

30 Days of Fright – 30: The Tattooist

I’ve often considered getting a tattoo but for the longest time was never able to decide what I’d get done. There were some ideas I liked but they didn’t rock my world sufficiently to endure the pain or cost of getting it done. When I settled on the avatar I use (as can be seen here) it occurred to me that it would make for a great tat. But, after some careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that, regardless of which way he intended to lean, it would probably be best not to show up in front of St. Peter sometime in the future with a big fuck-off tattoo of Satan down my back.

At a tattoo expo in Singapore Jake Sayer (Jason Behr) is The Tattooist (2007) with an interest in the healing power of certain patterns and designs associated with native cultures around the world. His deep interest in ink came from a nasty incident when he was younger when his father, a deeply religious man, took a knife to Jake’s arm to remove a tattoo of a pentagram he’d had done. Now grown, Jake has developed a reputation for his ideas on tattoo healing, though it’s not entirely clear if he truly believes or whether it’s just an angle he’s playing though he does apply a tattoo to a sick young boy whose father believes.
While in Singapore, Jake encounters a young woman he’s attracted to who’s part of a group of New Zealand based Samoans, one of which is a tattooist and is currently working on the pe’a, a large tattoo that some young Samoan men receive to mark the passage into manhood. Jake is fascinated by the designs and curious if there’s a healing side to the whole thing (which is odd because it’s really painful), and keen to incorporate the Samoan material into his gig he steals a traditional tattooing tool that was in a display case by the Samoan’s stall at the expo.
As he leaves the expo, the distraught father of the young lad Jake had tattooed arrives to tell him that the boy died and that he was now interested in helping Jake meet the same fate sooner rather than later. Flustered by this, Jake drops his gear and as he struggles to gather up his belongings he cuts his hand on the tool he’d lifted from the Samoans.
Under a little pressure in Singapore, Jake decides to travel to New Zealand, which is one of the places in the world where he learned his trade, and while there he can find out a bit more about the Samoan tradition, and maybe get off with yer one but only after returning the stolen tool as his conscious is playing up since he nicked it, giving him nightmares and not letting his hand heal properly. Once he gets to Auckland, Jake hooks up with one of his old mentors who loans him a place to stay and the use of a car and he sets about finding the Samoans while paying his way as a tattoo artist.
Jake manages to find the Samoans and gets the tool back to them via the girl he encountered in Singapore. She brings him to a ceremony to mark the completion of one of the giant tattoos that the lads get and there he meets her uncle, a high up mucky muck in the Samoan community. After leaving the Samoans, Jake is dragged to a party being held for one of his customers. Jake isn’t comfortable so he leaves, right before the guy he’d drawn on dies mysteriously in a swimming pool, apparently coughing up ink and other nasty stuff. When Jake finds out about the death he’s more than a little shocked as the tattoo he gave seems to be the root cause of the death, and the other people he inked are suffering from an ailment where their tattoos are spreading painfully across their bodies before killing them horrifically. Jake slowly wakes up to the fact that the contents of his nightmares, the strange spread of his tattoos, and the deaths are all liked to the tool he stole, and that it has unleashed something far worse than a nasty infection…
Jake dies a little bit inside as he applies his 1000th tramp stamp
The Tattooist is at its heart a simple vengeful spirit type movie that has drawn inspiration not only from the traditions of the Samoan people living in New Zealand but also other films that are based on a similar idea. The Tattooist has elements of The Ring present in the storyline, particularly with regards to a piece of technology unleashing a naughty ghost with that has badness in mind. However, the culture of the New Zealand Samoans provides that backdrop and therefore context for the story is the real influence at play in this film, which reminds me very much of how The Serpent and the Rainbow put the culture of Haiti front and centre. Just like Serpent, The Tattooist focuses on the cultural aspects of the people in the film and, just like in Serpent, uses an American outsider someone audiences can relate to as they find out about the natives at the same time as he does.

The strength of The Tattooist is also its single greatest weakness. As fascinating as the cultural aspects of tattooing are they cannot cover the fact that the story is pretty weak and has been done lots of times before. The originality of the tattoo bits are in direct opposition to the unoriginality of the vengeful ghost. It’s as if the film-makers were sitting around one day (somewhere in New Zealand) after they’d come into some lucky funding (most likely from the New Zealand national lottery or whatever) and were kicking around ideas for a film and one of them had just gotten a tattoo of a Samoan dude, so he (or she) said “how about making a film about Samoan tattoos?” and all the rest of them said “Yeah! Great idea! We can get all sorts of cool ethnic stuff into it!” and that was a far as they got with their idea for a film until they actually had to sit down and write a script and one of them threw in a bit about a ghost who was pissed off about their death.

In terms of performances Jason Sawyer is a perfectly competent lead in a small film like this but whether he’d be able for a bigger production is questionable. For me, the really impressive performance came from Mia Blake as Sina, the girl Jake fancies. The other actors and actresses were all functional and there were a couple of faces you might recognise from TV shows that need someone from New Zealand from time to time.

The Tattooist is, to be fair, a weak film. But while it’s filled with conveniences (like open doors and kids who can channel spirits at the right time) which are symptoms of a story in need of much deeper development, I can’t bring myself to dislike the film. The Tattooist is a movie very much in the same vein as The Serpent and the Rainbow but that’s fine, because Serpent managed to tap into that sense of the unknown in order to build a horror story, the big difference being that Serpent used Voodoo which is a lot scarier than inky ghosts, as fun and all as they are. The main fright in The Tattooist is that when people go in to get ink from Jake, they’re not asked what they want, he just drew whatever he fucking pleased…

Two Thumbs Up for The Tattooist

Here are some links for you to tattoo on your forehead:
Official Site: http://www.thetattooistmovie.com/
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0817228/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tattooist

30 Days of Fright – 29: Outpost

Playing soldier is something a lot of kids like to do and increasingly a number of adults enjoy to play too. As kids, little war games can teach important lessons about team work and conflict resolution. As adults, running about playing war games in a couple of acres of plantation can teach important lessons about dealing with a fucker of a hangover when on a stag weekend.

In deepest, darkest Eastern Europe, in some country that’s a bit on the war-torn side, a representative of a company that’s bought some real estate in the area kicks of Outpost (2008) by recruiting a mercenary to put together a squad of hard chaws to provide some security as he goes about his business. Hunt (Julian Wadham) hires DC (Ray Stevenson) who gathers up some tough nuts who are well up for the job. Hunt seems to be a man of the world and has experience dealing with mercenary types and some of the squad suspect that he’s not telling the whole truth about their little mission.
The lads all set off towards a particular location in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival the squad discovers a German World War 2 bunker that seems to be the focus of Hunt’s interest. As they take a look around the place they make the horrific discovery of a stack of bodies piled up in one of the rooms of the bunker. The bodies look fresh and sure enough one of them turns out to still be alive, though the poor sod is severely traumatized and unable or unwilling to speak.
The squad secures the bunker for the night but is attacked by unseen assailants who manage to wound one of the soldiers. This changes the dynamics of the mission quite severely and the problems for the soldiers grow as one of them is captured and killed in a torturous manner that puts the wind up the rest of them. DC confronts Hunt demanding an explanation of what’s really going on with the bunker and Hunt reveals that it had been used by the Nazi’s as part of a twisted super-soldier creation program that used a large machine to jimmy around with the laws of physics. Hunt shows the remaining squad members a film he found that documents some of the experiments and the extreme lengths the researchers had gone to. Hunt and DC realise that their unseen attackers are closely related to the experiments that took place in the bunker and might still be fighting a war…
Paintball in the Irish midlands is a serious fucking business! (that’s me on the right)
For some strange reason films about soldiers set in modern times and located in Eastern Europe do not feel like “real” war movies, but that is how Outpost presents itself at the start, though mostly as a way to lull you into a false sense of what the film will be about. What Outpost is about on the surface is very simple. Nazi Zombies (of sorts). For all the times I’ve heard Nazi zombies mentioned I haven’t really seen too many so it’s nice to finally run into a few in a movie.
However, the Nazi’s that feature in Outpost are not actually zombies, in fact they seem to have more in common with Dr. Manhattan from Watchmenthen they do with anything from The Walking Dead as the core of the story is the machine in the bunker and what it can do. As a plot device (if you’ll pardon the pun) it’s not the worst way to conjure up some baddies that are suitable for the type of goodies that were available, in other words it was nice and handy that a bunch of armed to the teeth soldiers were the ones who discovered the bunker as opposed to some teenage hikers as it’s unlikely that the hikers would have been as able for the situation.
Outpost is an unusual little movie that takes a swing at a bigger story then it’s really able for. The theme of soldiers being laid siege to by supernatural entities has been done a few times and there are a few common threads to these stories that you can expect, particularly things like each of the soldiers having their own quirky personalities which in Outpost is presented well as each of the squad are of a different nationality, but while good at the small stuff delivering on the idea of the Nazi’s working on advanced technology and the consequences of that work is a tall order and sadly Outpost wasn’t really able to do it.

Once an excuse had been presented to get the Nazi’s into the picture the film descends into a standard slaughter-fest with the soldiers simply fighting for survival over the course of a day or so. This is very standard fare and it happens in a very standard way. Ray Stevenson and Julian Wadham as DC and Hunt respectively are the best thing in Outpost because in a sense they’re the only thing in it. The other characters are only in the film so as to be victims and are in no way developed beyond displaying whatever traits they were assigned so that you could tell them apart as they’re murdered.

Outpost is a low budget British horror film but the lack of budget isn’t why the film feels lacking. What it’s really missing are better characters, if they’d been there then they might have told the story better and gotten across the real horror, the notion that World War 2 could have had a different outcome if some of those terrifying experiments had worked…

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Outpost.

Have you Seen Kyle (he’s about that high)? Try these links, maybe he’s there:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0892899/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outpost_%28film%29

30 Days of Fright – 28: Flatliners

Horror loves the field of medicine. Ever since the likes of Dr. Frankenstein made it cool to go to medical school and then dabble in un-natural and highly unethical experiments, horror has always had time for a good doctor, but the preference has always really been for a bad one! Medicine is kinda scary in its own right, dealing as it does with skeletons and blood and guts, so there’s a lot of material in this particular area that works well for horror. Of course, the really important thing that horror dwells on a lot and that medicine somewhat specialises in is the bit at the end, death.

Flatliners (1990) is set in the world’s best looking medical school where five students are rising to the top of their class in their own ways. Nelson (Keifer Sutherland) is poncing around with a head full of weird ideas, Rachel (Julia Roberts) is a moody sort who’s interested in her patients tales of near death experiences, Joe (William Baldwin) appears to be interested in a career in gynaecology, Randall (Oliver Platt) has his heart set on surgery, and David (Kevin Bacon) is something of a whizz in the ER until he oversteps the boundaries laid down for students as he helps a patient and gets suspended from school. This prompts Nelson to seek him out with some urgency as he’s planning on implementing one of his nuttier ideas and he needs David’s help.

Nelson is somewhat of an outside the box type thinker and he’s come up with the idea to kill himself in controlled medical circumstances and then be revived with the use of electrical do-hickeys and a variety of drugs in order to experience the afterlife, if there is one. Nelson manages to convince the others to give him a hand and they meet up one night to get down to the serious business of bumping him off. Using some gas and drugs the other four manage to get Nelson to flatline, that is they successfully induce a state of clinical death upon their classmate.
After the pre-arranged time has elapsed they set about resuscitating Nelson and manage to bring him back. Slightly euphoric from their success they quickly begin to argue among themselves as to who will go next and for how long and a bidding war breaks out as each of them threatens to “go” for longer than the others and therefore run the risk of coming back with brain damage or not coming back at all. A short time after his resuscitation Nelson begins to see visions of a little boy he bullied when he was a nipper himself, but he keeps this to himself as he’s not sure what he’s experiencing. As the others die and return they too are haunted by things from their past and an interesting side effect turns more serious as visions turn violent…
With one of the Baldwin’s lying dead on the table, the rest of the gang discuss why they should bother their arses to save him?
Firstly I’ve got to say this as it’s been on my mind from during my watching of Flatliners: the sets and locations are fucking amazing! The building where the group conduct their experiments with death is being renovated and looks fantastic, with murals on the walls and high windows and plenty of room, in fact the entire medical school is made up of rooms that look like they belong in art galleries or museums and while these must be great places to go to college it must be fiercely impractical as, for example, the room where anatomy class is held doesn’t seem to have any actual equipment for dissecting cadavers, though it does look pretty. This valuing style over function permeates the film like the stink of a medical student. From the medical school to Nelson’s apartment, to David’s truck, to Julia Roberts, things look good but don’t make a whole pile of sense. Except, they do make the film wonderfully atmospheric and actually kind of cool in a retro way.
Nelson’s apartment is right out of a 1989 music video, all bare white walls and fuck all furniture and lots of lights casting interesting shadows; David owns what appears to be an ex-military truck that’s full of stuff but has only a canvass flap for a rear door, and at one point he absails from a window to get to the ground floor as opposed to taking the stairs; Joe’s apartment (wasn’t there a film called that?*) is a split level thing with exposed rafters where he can hide video cameras for the purpose of filming his sexual exploits as he cheats on his fiancée; and Julia Roberts is the girl of the group. All these things are the trademark of the visual style of director, Joel Shumacher, the man behind The Lost Boys, and while they do make for excellent viewing just like Lost Boys they cause the film to be sadly forever stuck in 1990 which, again like Lost Boys, is a crying shame as Flatliners is brilliant!
The atmospherics coupled with the calibre of the cast would be enough for Flatliners to be well on it’s way to a place among the decent movies of the early nineties anyway, but add in an interesting story and some top notch character development and it should have been guaranteed a much higher regard then it currently manages. The characters are interesting from the point of view of audiences now very well used to the idea of driven doctors who are more than a little bit full of themselves. Flatliners uses this God-complex years before ER hit our TV’s and made this type of person seem normal. All of the group selected by Nelson are chosen because they are allegedly so good at what they do, and the archetypes used became staples of character development for shows just like ER. There’s the egotist, the slightly disturbed one, the maverick, the genius, and the philanderer; all people we now know a lot better then we did when Flatliners used them.
Having characters like this allowed for such a deep an meaningful subject as death and the existence of an afterlife to be plausibly dealt with under the auspices of an experiment designed by a  fame-hungry young man who wanted to be known for his breakthrough research into the human condition (though it seems the nickname “Dr. Death” never crossed his mind until it was said to him in the film). What happens to those characters and the developments of their relationships as a result makes for great viewing even though as a film with a supernatural slant there are very few chills and no scares to speak of. While this absence of fright might be considered a drawback for a spooky movie and seems to be a waste of a well developed atmosphere, I think adding in anything overly designed to get a reaction from the viewer would have cheapened the film and I’m glad it’s as subtle as it is.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Flatliners.

FlatLinkers:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatliners
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099582/

30 Days of Fright – 27: Angel Heart

Over the years I’ve had many items of clothing ruined by money burning holes in the pockets. While this is not a major complaint (hardly a complaint at all really) it did lead to many fine items of body-covering having to be pegged out dues to all the stuff I lost from out of those holey pockets. As I’ve gotten older and found more diverse ways to throw money away as quickly as possible, the problem with the pockets has been significantly reduced. Now I find that the things I purchased with that cash are burning holes of their own as they lie idle and begging for use. Strangely though, the DVD of last night’s movie did not suffer from that problem. Don’t get me wrong, it sat on a shelf for ages before I ever watched it, it’s just that I didn’t buy it – I stole it off a friend of mine…

The action in Angel Heart (1987) takes place in 1955 and starts off in New York city, where Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective who normally works small cases like cheating spouses for divorces and the like. He is approached one day by a lawyer who wants to engage Heart’s services for a client of his, the enigmatic Loius Cyphre (Robert DeNiro).Cypher is trying to locate a singer with the stage name Johnny Favourite who apparently ran out on a contract of some sort he’d entered into with Cypher.
Favourite had been suffering from shell-shock caused by his adventures in World War 2 and for the previous twelve years or so had been receiving treatment in a hospital outside the city. Heart takes the case and quickly discovers that Favourite had done a runner from the hospital ages ago and that he, or an associate of his, had paid off a doctor to maintain the pretence thatFavourite was still a patient. Tracking down the doctor, Heart finds him to be a barely coherent morphine addict, and in an effort to get some sense out of him, Heart forces him to go without his drug of choice for a little while. When he checks in on the good doctor Heart finds that the doctor appears to have taken his own life with a bullet to the braincase.
Now fearing he’ll be questioned over the death, Heart confronts Cyphre who ups the fee he’s paying in order to keep Heart on the case. As Heart investigates further he uncovers that Favourite was mixed up in some very shady dealings and seemed to have developed a strong interest in the occult, spending a lot of time with a fortune teller and other occultists.These people were likely the ones who helped him escape from the hospital andHeart follows them to their most likely hiding place of New Orleans.
Jumping on the train to Louisiana, Heart finds himself quickly up to his neck in the local scene, made up of swinging jazz and a bizarre mix of religious and occult practices, all with a funky Creole/French accent. The clues in the case lead Heart around in some circles and more and more people connected to the case wind up dead. While everything points to Favourite being deceased himself, something else is always hinting that what actually happened to him is far worse than that…
Overcome by DeNiro’s powerful, manly presence, Mickey Rourke cops a sneaky feel
The Angel Heart DVD has been kicking around my place forages now (well over a year!) and I’ve been trying to decide if I’ll watch it as part of this seriesor not for over a year. The reason I’ve been so unsure about this film is that,as hard as it can be for other movies, it’s really, really hard to decide ifAngel Heart is in fact a horror at all. I am inclined to think it is, but amore accurate, though not perfect, description might be “Supernatural Thriller”.
Angel Heart features a wealth of occult material from tarot readers to voodoo practitioners but none of these things really come to bear on the story until quite near the end. In fact, while this hocus-pocus is evident from early on, it always feels merely coincidental, like characters that are into voodoo could just as easily have been into gardening or stamp collecting or any other more mundane hobby. The way all this is spun makes Angel Heart quite a clever little film.
DeNiro’s character, Cyphre, is the most blatantly obvious in the film and there’s very little doubt as to his true nature from the moment he appears (manifests, perhaps?) on screen. But even while you know he’s really the baddest of the bad the film still plays out like a regular detective story.Even scenes where DeNiro turns up sporting a cool pentagram ring and long finger nails he still acts in a semi-normal fashion and you forget that there’s bound to be some sort of diabolical ending to the whole thing.
But, as clever and all as Angel Heart is, its lack of clearly defined genre lines means that it’s lacking as a horror film. The dread never builds when the end does come it plays out in the same understated way that the previous hundred minutes did leaving you with more than a bit of an anti-climax on your hands. As a broody detective story Angel Heart is excellent, as a flat out horror it needs some work; I can ‘t help but feel that if the supernatural element had turned out to be something more natural instead the whole thing would have worked much better.
For a real scare, take a good look at Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart (in which he was excellent, by the way) and take a look at the poor bugger now…One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Angel Heart

Satan’s Links:

30 Days of Fright – 26: A Nightmare on Elm St. Pt4: The Dream Master

If you’ve ever had a lucid dream (a dream where you are aware that you’re dreaming and as a result have an element of control) you know what an amazing experience that is. It can also be something of an addictive experience as if you’ve had such a dream and can remember it you’ll want to have another, and another, and so on. There are some techniques that can allegedly induce a lucid dreaming state and I’ve experimented with them once or twice, but to no avail; instead of an immersive dreaming experience where I was master of my environment, all I got was a crick in my neck.

Though it takes a couple of minutes before you realise it, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: Dream Master picks up the story of the children of Elm Street after the events in the third instalment of the series. Now home from the psychiatric hospital where they were being treated for various sleep disorders they are living back in the old neighbourhood and are living more or less normal lives. Kristen still has the power to draw people into her dreams which she tends to do on a semi-regular basis, especially if she’s having a nightmare. Kristen isn’t so sure that they’ve seen the last of Freddy Kruger and when she draws the others into her nightmares she tries to convince them that they’re still in danger.
At school, the Elm Streets have made new friends and settled into the social structures reasonably well. Among their new friends are a brother and sister, Rick and Alice, a geeky kid who’s asthmatic and good at the old book learnin’, and the usual collection of jocks and the like.
Sure enough, good old Freddy does manage to return, his bones joining back together and the flesh growing back (though still terribly disfigured) during one young lads nightmare. He then proceeds to murder all round him, focusing his efforts on the two kids who with Kristen, had defeated him last time out. With these two dispatched, Freddy then attacks Kristen, using her power to draw others into the dream world for him to kill and, in some way that’s not made all that clear, use their souls to grow more powerful.
Kirsten draws her friend Alice into the dream realm and before she’s killed she passes her power to Alice. Now, as Freddy ups the body count, Alice is imbued with the strengths of the person he has killed, which Alice uses to prepare herself to face Freddy…

Hey Freddy, did you go bald when those parents set your ass on fire?
 No, Bitch….
I got a Kru-cut!
Part three of the hugely successful Nightmare on Elm Street franchise set things up nicely for the next movie and I was looking forward to seeing how the story would develop and whether the ghost of Fred’s mum would show up again and curse at people. Part 4 didn’t continue the story as much as it simply carried on the story, by which I mean, unfortunately, that it’s really just more of the same.
The idea behind the Nightmare series is a good one and the previous film had added in a couple of new angles, with the idea that lucid dreamers could do some good in the dream world, that the dream world itself is more than just something in our heads, and that Freddy is a deeper and more complex character then you’d think due to his background and the fact that his mum is a ghost. Most of this was ignored for the fourth film so that Freddy could have some lines that were meant to be funny (but weren’t) and so that the film makers could show off a wide variety of special effects that they had available to them.
The effects in Nightmare 4 are, for the most part, excellent. I really liked the waterbed and the landshark scene sticks in my head too, but nearly all of the effects were well executed (except the bit where Freddy got a hole blown in his chest, the animation for that sucked!) The story is so weak, however, that it’s hardly worth talking about which then leads to good effects being used in places where you just don’t care. A bunch of teens get killed off in this film and none of their deaths really resonate. None of them seem as painful or horrific as those in the earlier films did, and as so many characters are new there’s a strong sense of lambs to the slaughter, so when one of them does bite it you’ve nothing invested. And while the effects are technically well done, they’re not shocking enough to make you sit up and take notice.
There are some things that you can’t help but notice in Nightmare 4. The most obvious one is that Patricia Arquette was replaced as Kristen by, and I swear I’m not making this up, Tuesday Knight (that’s her name, not sure if she’s any relation to Michael or not). One other thing is the way the character of Freddy moves more and more towards comedy as opposed to horror which is a crying shame for a little humour in these films went a long way; in Nightmare 4 the comedy gets in the way of the whole point of the movie.

Two Thumbs Down for A Nightmare on Elm St. Pt4

A Linkmare on Url Street:

30 Days of Fright – 25: Creepshow

I love a good comic book.It’s a brilliant way to tell stories and as a medium it has a lot in common with cinema, only without the chance for a load of people to get together and really make a mess of it.Perhaps this close link is why it’s now so common for comic-based movies to hit the picture houses.

Creepshow (1982) is a different kind of film as it’s an anthology of five short stories presented as if they were part of a 1950’s style horror comic book that a young boy was reading before his father took the book away. The whole film is wrapped in the story of the boy and his Dad with the start of the film about how the boy lost the “Creepshow” comic and the end about what happened next. The five stories presented are each quite separate from each other as stories in comics often are.
Story 1: Father’s Day
The first film presented in Creepshow tells of a wealthy family of sorts getting together for dinner with a dear old aunt of theirs. The aunt in question shows up on father’s day every year to visit the grave of her own father and to be a hindrance to her younger relatives. As the time for her arrival approaches, the mother of the family tells of how her aunt had killed her father and now felt a vague sort of remorse about the whole thing. Sure enough, the aunt arrives and head to her father’s grave to sit and get shitfaced with a bottle of Jack. As she contemplates what her father had done and how it affected her life a hand shoots up from the grave and the family experience the second murderous rampage in their history…
Ed Harris hits the bottle (pity it wasn’t Regaine, the now-baldy fuck)
Story 2: The Lonesome Death Of Jody Verrill
The second tale of terror follows an unsophisticated rural gentleman (fucking redneck) called Jody Verrill (Stephen King – yes THAT Stephen King) whose evening is disturbed by a meteorite crashing to Earth near his house (shack). He investigates and dreams of making a bit of cash from his find by selling the rock to a nearby college. The meteorite is too hot to pick up out of its crater (as the simple gobshite discovers by burning his fingers on it) so he throws a bucket of water over it, causing it to split in two and leak some retched looking fluid. Returning to his house (hovel) for the evening to consider his next move, Jody notices that some green mossy looking stuff has sprouted on his fingers and is spreading to anything he touches. Soon, most of the house and surrounding fields are covered in an alien plant and Jody is in danger of being overgrown himself…
The author of The Green Mile reveals his inspiration
Story 3:Something To Tide You Over
Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson) is at home one morning when an older gent Richard (Leslie Neilson) knocks on the door and barges in, telling Harry that he knows he’s having an affair with his wife Rebecca. Richard is incredibly possessive when it comes to his missus so much so that he’s done something terrible to her and if Harry wants to see her again he’s have to go with Richard. Reluctantly agreeing to this Harry sets off with Richard down to the beach where Richard pulls a gun and demands that he jumps into a deep hole in the sand. Now buried up to his neck harry watches as Richard fetches a TV set and about three miles of cable so that he can watch a feed from a camera somewhere else on the beach where Rebecca is buried in similar circumstances, the only difference being that she’s nearer to the incoming tide and is starting to struggle as she’s slowly submerged. Harry realises that he’s about to suffer the same fate and swears revenge on Richard. That night back at his place, Richard is disturbed by two uninvited watery guests…
People tend to forget just how fucked up the last episode of Cheers really was!
Story 4:The Crate
Set in a college town two professors, Henry and Stanley, are attending a social gathering during the summer holidays. The two lads are friends but Henry is married to a right old bitch, a woman who gets on everyone’s nerves and is totally different to her husband and his friends. A janitor working at the college contacts Stanley to say he’s found a crate under the stairs. Stanley goes to investigate and discovers to his horror that the crate contains a living Yeti that’s rightly pissed off for having been in a wooden box for over a hundred years.After the creature kills a few people Stanley tells Henry about it and Henry spots a chance to improve everyone’s lives by ending one in particular…

Henry utters the first known instance of “Yeah, you’d better run!” in cinema history

Story 5: They’re Creeping Up On You!
A rich old dude living in a high tech apartment hates bugs and he’s killed by them. That’s it.

A rich old dude living in a high tech apartment hates bugs and he’s killed by them

I am seriously conflicted on the subject of Creepshow. I really can’t decide if it’s muck or a masterpiece. It is defeinitely innovative and certainly manages to invoke the idea of those older horror comics that you sometimes see reprints of, where the stories are twisted and genuinely horrifying.

The thing about Creepshow is that there are no big twists and absolutely no scare worth mentioning and all the performances (bar one) were terrible and the comic book animations that kick in at the end of each story are distracting and silly.The only actor worth a damn in the whole thing was Leslie Neilson, who came across as a fucking sinister nutball and was a joy to watch as he pranced about on screen delighting in his murderous game. Even with big name actors, Stephen King writing the material, and George A. Romero directing Creepshow just doesn’t click.

Whatever way you cut it, Creepshow is shit. So why then this indecision? Because, as poorly delivered as it was, Creepshow remains a very clever film. The level of respect it gives to the material it was inspired by is to be commended and in terms of a comic book movie it was way ahead of its time. Creepshow is a film born out of a love of horror and it’s a safe bet that everyone involved in making it had a good time in the process, which is too often missing from film production. Sadly though, this wasn’t enough to prevent the shortcomings in the production from overwhelming the better aspects.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Creepshow

Linkshow:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creepshow
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083767/

30 Days of Fright – 24: My Bloody Valentine

There is a strong tradition of mining in many parts of the world but the places I tend to associate with that industry are the North of England, parts of Wales, and parts of Cornwall. It is purely because of my knowledge of the UK that I think of those places when I think of digging stuff out of the ground on a big scale.Places like Cornwall have so many legends and folklore tales associated with the practice of mining that it comes as no real surprise that a horror movie or two has been made over the years set in and around mines. What is surprising that at least one of them is Canadian!

In a blatant attempt to cash in on day-themed movies like Friday 13th and Halloween, My Bloody Valentine (1981) is set in a small mining town called Valentine Bluffs somewhere in deepest darkest Canada where, in 1960 during that year’s Valentine’s Day dance, an accident occurred in the mine that was caused by two supervisors who were in a hurry to get to the dance and left five men in unsafe conditions. The rescue attempt took six weeks and by the time they got to where the miners were only one was still alive and he had apparently only survived by letting his diet go to hell and feasting on the remains of his co-workers (whether or not they died in the accident or if he killed them is unclear).
The survivor, Harry Warden, was institutionalised for his trauma but the following year, having learned of the cause of the accident, he returned home and murdered the supervisors responsible and a few others, leaving a message for the town that no Valentine’s Day dances or other celebrations are ever be held there again. Every year since, Harry has busted out of the puzzle factory around the 14th of February and nipped home to make sure no one’s getting their groove on.
Twenty years have passed since the accident and most of the towns inhabitants have either forgotten the story of Harry Warden or now think the whole thing is just some local legend. Deciding to resurrect the towns Valentine’s festival, the centre piece of which in the dance, the towns organisers led by the mayor and the local Laundromat owner, prepare the place for the festival with decorations and sweets in heart-shaped boxes (in an apparent homage to Nirvana about ten years before that band dominated the Seattle music scene!).
The mayor is the recipient of one of those boxes but is horrified to discover that it doesn’t contain novelty chocolates but instead a human heart, recently forcibly removed from its owner’s chest. As the mayor is of the right vintage to remember Harry Warden he put’s two and two together and pisses himself as he cops what’s about to go down in Valentine Bluffs, just in time for Valentine’s Day…
Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Kurt Cobain before they turned their backs on mining for good
My Bloody Valentine is a low budget, no names, no hope, heap of crap that got thrown together and puked up onto a screen. While I can appreciate the desire to cash in on a trend in movies like those that used keys days in the year as their main reason for butchering teenagers, the shoddy way that this film was made is almost certainly one of the main reasons films like Halloween are looked upon so kindly as, despite their glaring faults, they all look like Oscar worthy masterpieces in comparison to My Bloody Valentine.
There are two main failings with My Bloody Valentine: what it’s about and the people in it.
The “acting” is fucking shit. Holy Jesus, you’d think someone on the crew, sitting down to watch the dailies or maybe in the editing suite later on would have looked at the footage and thought to themselves “Shit! We’ve made a terrible film and it’s mainly because no-one in it can act!” I’m stunned that no one intervened to stop this thing getting loose, it’s not like they had You Tube in 1981 and couldn’t have stopped some of it leaking out. All someone had to do was burn the master copy and we’d b rid of this monstrosity, I mean they lost chunks of the original print of The Wicker Man for crying out loud, why couldn’t that happen to a bad film?!
There are a boat load of characters in My Bloody Valentine and they’re all portrayed by useless plebs. The mayor, the woman who owns the laundry, the Sheriff, the geezer who runs the bar, the mayor’s young lad, the other “men” who work the mine, and their girlfriends, are all equally shite. I kid you not, there’s not one of them who was able to put in even a reasonable performance. Even if they were all part of the same amateur dramatics society you’d imagine one of them would have gotten lucky and been able to deliver their lines without sounding like an eight year old forced to read in front of the class. Even the girls, whose main function in the film was to scream at the appropriate moments, couldn’t get that right. How do you mess up screaming? I don’t know either, but sure enough at least two of the women in My Bloody Valentinewere unable to scream in a convincing manner.

My Bloody Valentine’s Harry Warden in happier times
With the bar set so low by those on screen it’s a little hard to see past them to the story they were trying to tell. Which is no loss really as that was crap too. The need for revenge by one crazed dude is a staple of the slasher flick, but in the case of My Bloody Valentine, there’s nothing supernatural going on, and the baddie, Harry Warden, is batshit crazy and has, apparently, been visiting town every year for the last twenty. Hang on. He’s been able to skip out from the asylum, travel home, make sure no-one’s throwing a Valentine’s bash, and then… goes back to the asylum? There’s a lot wrong with this idea. As we’ve learned from other horror films of the seventies and eighties, the level of psychiatric care available to those with murderous tendencies as was very poor, so it’s no big surprise that a straightforward trauma like that caused by six weeks in the dark with only co-workers to eat wasn’t effectively dealt with. That Harry is able to escape every year like clockwork is a bit of a stretch, that he goes back to the “hospital” is fairly improbable (because if you’re crazy do you know you’re crazy, if not why go back, and if so Harry must have realised he wasn’t getting any help where he was, why didn’t he break out of one loony bin and check himself in somewhere better?). The most unlikely thing though is that the audience is expected to believe that Harry goes home every year to mess up Valentine’s Day, and no-one busted a cap in his ass! I would have thought Hallmark would have hired someone.
Two Thumbs Firmly Down for My Bloody Valentine.

My Bloody Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Bloody_Valentine_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082782/

30 Days of Fright – 23: Paranormal Activity

My dislike of films made from the first person, that is as if they were entirely recorded on a regular video camera, is by now well documented. I don’t like the idea, not because it always results in poor movies, but because it’s a gimmick so flawed that there’s never a really good excuse to use this method of film production. Every time it gets trotted out new and even more outlandish reasons for the filming to be taking place have to be concocted and these reasons inevitably become less and less plausible and therefore more and more insulting to the audience. When you look back at how often this style has featured in horror you’re forced to ask why did it become so popular in the first place? I think it’s partly down to the notion of how anyone could make one of these movies (which is total nonsense really as there’s increasingly a decent sized budget and crew behind the whole thing(though to be fair, not in the case of last nights movie)), but it’s mostly about attempting to inject a heavy dose of realism into the films. If the things you’re seeing on screen were filmed on someone’s Dad’s Handycam, then they might really have happened, and that adds to the scare factor. The worst miss-step of too many first person films is that the element of reality provided by the video camera approach is wasted by the events that then take place in the film.

Set in San Diego in 2006, Paranormal Activity (2007) is the film of the material recorded on the video camera of Micha Sloat (Micah Sloat) as he filmed21 days and nights during September and October of that year in an effort to figure out and deal with what was happening to his girlfriend Katie Featherston (Katie Featherston – no I haven’t flipped my lid or hit ‘paste’ twice by accident, they play themselves in the movie). For most of her life Katie had suffered from a number of unusual problems that appeared to be related to a haunting that occurred when she was a little girl. Unlike a traditional haunting the entity involved was haunting her and not the house she grew up in. This became apparent when the strangeness returned to her new home with Micha.

Unimpressed with the situation, made up of strange noises and moving objects during the night, Micha bought himself a good quality camera and all the gear he’d need to capture footage of whatever it is, as at the back of it all he really suspects the neighbours kids are playing an elaborate prank. The first few nights footage do show some minor unusual happenings, like lights turning on and doors opening by themselves. No longer suspecting those pesky kids, Micha begins to get excited and interested in the possible explanations. Katy is less impressed with things and is far more inclined to be terrified by them. She calls in a psychic to offer some advice and after an awkward meeting the psychic reveals that whatever is after Katy it’s not a ghost in the traditional sense, in that it’s not the spirit of a human, and he gives her the number of a local demonologist who might be able to help.

As time passes, and possibly due to Micha’s interference, the phenomena get progressively worse and Katy is affected by them directly. More physical manifestations occur and it slowly dawns on Micha and Katy that what was once a bit of a nuisance might actually be a very real danger to them both…

 
Micah’s “busy” hand puts the shits up Katie

Paranormal Activity did not fare well at the cinema. I don’t mean in terms of money or box office figures or anything like that, what I mean is that audiences weren’t kind to the film. When I saw it at the picture house the audience were particularly cruel, especially for the scenes where things happen over time at night so the footage is sped up for you to see events that might be hours apart or take place slowly over a couple of hours. This kind of thing didn’t scare people, it made them laugh. The thing is Paranormal Activity had no business being in the cinema in the first place. This is very definitely a film to watch at home on a TV as it adds to the idea of watching footage from a video camera that anyone could own. In the cinema, it was a Hollywood movie offered up for your approval or otherwise. On TV, it’s a dread delivery system and quite an effective one.

Paranormal Activity works by slowly building up the tension by showing practically nothing and mixing in a very real sense of terror on Katie’s part mixed with a sense of excitement on Micah’s. As the events progress everyone is left wondering how things will turn out, even though there’s a hint at the beginning when thanks are offered to the San Diego Police Department that there isn’t a happy ending coming. A clever use of sound effects manages to ratchet up the tension at the right moment, and when something does happen you’re left feeling a little silly that you were so worried and also a little relieved. This excellent dread development does not however work all the way through the film and things do start to go awry as the story moves along.

After a while you start to wonder why Micah and Katie don’t take more drastic action to deal with their worsening problems. As far as Micah is concerned, seeing as how he does so much research on the Internet on the subject of the paranormal you’d expect him to have come up with something more action-orientated then simply filming their bedroom at night.While he seems reluctant to get outside help, it’s weird that he didn’t download a do-it-yourself exorcism kit or some such. As for Katie, the focus of all the trouble, I’m shocked that she didn’t just leave Micah as he’s quite the dickhead! The really odd thing though is that neither of them turned to God-bothering (AKA: religion) for a little help, though Katie does get a little cross at one point (you would too if you were shacked up with that gobshite Micah), but if demons and ghosts and psychics had become a regular part of your day I don’t see how an actual exorcist would have hurt.

Technically, Paranormal Activity is quite an achievement as it was made on a teeny-tiny budget. The two principle actors are very good, effectively playing themselves, but putting some effort into it. There’s no music to speak of and the only set is a house, which is fine. There are some effects and they work well considering the low budget, though the final shot’s in the film aren’t spectacular in that regard.

The most important aspect of Paranormal Activity is, like any film, the story. The one presented here works for a “recovered footage” style movie and manages to make you concerned for those involved. It’s not a terrifying movie, but it is creepy, and that’s better than nothing.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Paranormal Activity.

Paranormal Aclinkity:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1179904/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranormal_Activity

30 Days of Fright – 22: Jennifer's Body

Whether or not you’ll enjoy a film depends largely on your mood. If you’re not in the humour for a comedy, you’ll likely find them silly if you’re made to sit through one.If you’re really not in the form for a horror then you might struggle to see the highlights in such a film if it’s forced on you. Knowing this, unless you’re absolutely sure a film is crap, it might actually be worth giving a movie you weren’t in the mood for another go if the opportunity should arise.

Jennifer’s Body (2009) is set in the wonderfully named town of Devil’s Kettle somewhere slightly off the mainstream in America. Two girls, Jennifer and her friend Anita, AKA: “Needy”, attend high school there and are BFF’s (which = Best Friends Forever! Just in case you’re not keeping up with all the hip young talk like I am) and have been friends since they were tiny tots, which goes some way to explain why Jennifer, who’s kind of a cheerleader and good looking, is such good friends with a girl who would normally reside at the other end of the social spectrum. Life in Devil’s Kettle is perfectly ordinary with the girls and the boys associated with them doing all the usual things, including visiting bars while still too young to legally drink in order to see a band, as Jennifer and Needy do one night.
The band in question, “Low Shoulder”, are visiting from the city to play a gig in a dive bar because they think it’s necessary to connect with fans  everywhere, even the shitty places. Jennifer is smitten with the lead singer while Needy is unimpressed with the lot of them (and she has a boyfriend) and her opinion of them drops further when she overhears them discussing whether or not Jennifer is a virgin. Needy confronts the band and tells them that yes, Jennifer is a virgin and they should leave her alone. In fact, Jennifer is not completely unversed in the way of the boudoir; in fact it’s not unfair to say she’s a bit of a slut.
As the gig gets underway, the bands equipment causes a small fire to break out which quickly turns to a raging inferno that burns down the bar and kills a few people. Jennifer and Needy escape, thanks to Needy’s quick thinking and outside they meet the band who also escaped unharmed. Spotting his chance, the lead singer convinces Jennifer, who appears to be in shock, to go with the band in their van. Needy stays where she is and pleads with Jennifer not to go, but to no avail.
Later that night, Jennifer turns up at Needy’s house in a bit of state and looks for all the world like a girl who’d been attacked. Needy thinks the band is responsible until Jennifer starts acting very strangely, throwing up some sort of evil material over the floor, eating a whole chicken, and attacking Needy before leaving. The next time the girls meet is in school where everyone is shaken up by the deaths at the bar. Everyone except Jennifer who’s acting like a right bitch and treats Needy very badly. Needy slowly realises that there’s something very wrong with Jennifer, and that she’s not the same girl who got into that van that night. After her experiences with the band, Jennifer might not be a girl at all anymore…
 So, there are these two girls, and they’re friends…

 One’s a gobby bitch and apparently good looking (in an obvious sort of way)
 
The other’s a bit nerdy, but that might just be because she wears glasses…
  
They lez up…
One eats the others boyfriend…
And the nerdy one’s all, like, What the Fuck?!
I picked out Jennifer’s Body for reviewing as part of this series with the express intention of ripping it apart as I’d seen it before and didn’t enjoy it that much. Last night, as I watched it again, I was surprised as I found it to be more than just entertaining, I thought it was good! This threw me, I mean how come I didn’t think much of it the first time but did the second? What had changed? What was different between the two viewings? And then it hit me. This time… I was sober!
Booze had severely impeded my judgement the last time, or rather it had magnified my feelings about a particular problem with Jennifer’s Body, and that’s Jennifer’s Body. More specifically, the actress behind it, Megan Fox. I do not like Megan Fox that much. I understand the attraction with her, she is relatively good looking, I’ve seen some of the Transformers movies, I’ve even seen the stills from Jennifer’s Body where she’s swimming naked in the lake (it was a camera trick, she wasn’t nekkid at all) but she’s nowhere near good looking enough for her looks to be able to distract from how bad an actress she is. Megan Fox can only play Megan Fox, she has no range at all and as a character actress, if she’s not playing the character of a vapid young woman, she’s fucked. The first time I sat through this movie all I could do (thanks to much imbibing) was shout abuse at the screen every time Fox appeared. This time however, I was able to get beyond my blinding hatred of shite acting and was able to see Jennifer’s Body for what it is, and that’s a good laugh with a bit of depth to it.
Jennifer’s Body is a horror comedy and it works very well. There are some good laugh out loud moments, and some great lines delivered well (i.e. not by Megan Fox). The script is punchy and well written and the story moves along at a nice pace. Despite their young age the characters are well developed, have back stories (thanks to flashbacks), and you do get drawn into that alien world of the relationships between teenage girls and how they operate. One of the strengths of the film is in how it examines the way the relationship between Jennifer and Needy works and how external influences come to bear on that, not just the events that happen to Jennifer as a result of getting into the van but also things like the girl who’s always digging at Needy, a girl who’s obviously blinded with jealousy over how well Needy gets on with someone like Jennifer (though I’m not sure if she actually wanted to be Needy’s friend or Jennifer’s – if anyone could shed some light on that I’d appreciate it).
Jennifer’s Body is well directed and Karyn Kusama manages to get a great performance from Amanda Seyfried as Needy despite her having to work with a plank like Fox. Effects wise there are some clever subtle moments that are delivered well, and some that are just CGI, but that’s kept to a minimum. There’s a nice splash of blood about the movie and one or two nicely gory moments. There’s more than one good makeup effect and the pyrotechnics used in the bar scene are excellent.
Jennifer’s Body is aimed at a younger audience and therefore music is used extensively to portray that fact. The Low Shoulder tune that dominates the soundtrack is perfect – just good enough and really annoying so that you can see how it would be a hit. The other tracks, including songs from Florence and the Machine and Panic! at the Disco, that feature are well used and not too distracting.
Having now seen Jennifer’s Body both drunk and sober I find myself torn between two radically opposed views on the film. Drunk: it’s a pile of dirt vehicle for that no-hope Megan Fox who’ll no doubt follow in the footsteps of other actresses just as great as her, big name stars like Denise Richards, and someday in the future after some fun with drink and drugs and a breakdown, she’ll probably get her very own reality show. Sober: it’s a clever, subtle comedy that’s really about the interactions and relationships between women that uses the metaphor of a “man-eater” to explain one aspect of those difficult aspects of life while all the time using surrounding characters to flesh out all the other problems that face two people regardless of the nature of their relationship that features that no-hope Megan Fox who’ll no doubt follow in the footsteps of other actresses just as great as her, big name stars like Denise Richards, and someday in the future after some fun with drink and drugs and a breakdown , she’ll probably get her very own reality show.
Two Thumbs Up for Jennifer’s Body.
Meanwhile, in Devil’s Kettle:

30 Days of Fright – 21: The Descent Part 2

There are roughly three types of film that end up getting reviewed as part of this little series. There are those movies that are excellent, those that are woeful rubbish, and those in the middle. The good ones are easy to review becuae they’re so good I just want to bang on about them in a gushing fanboy way. The bad films are also easy to write about as it’s entertaining to tear a poor movie asunder. The hardest films to talk about are the ones in the middle, one’s that are so dull there’s just nothing much to say about them.

Continuing the events from the first film, TheDescent Part 2 shows Sarah emerging from the cave system and meeting a passingmotorist. At the same time as she’s being rescued, a team of people frommountain rescue are searching for her and the other missing girls who went intothe caves with her. However, Juno, the organiser of their trip, filed the wrong“flight plan” so the rescue team are looking in the wrong place.
When word gets out that Sarah has beenfound and taken to hospital, the local Sheriff goes to see her immediately, asit turns out that Juno is related to a Senator making the Sheriff highlymotivated to find her. Sarah is badly traumatised by the events in the cave andhas developed a form of short-term memory loss as a psychological protection.Unable to tell the Sheriff anything about the whereabouts of the others, heinsists that Sarah leads them into the caves to find the others.
Sarah is haunted by images of the creaturesthat she and the others encountered in the caves but she can’t remember enoughto be able to object and so she goes with the Sheriff, his deputy, and three ofthe mountain rescue team back into the caves. Once inside, Sarah is easilyspooked and her nervousness puts everyone on edge. This gets worse as theyprogress deeper into the cave system and finally discover the mutilated corpseof one of the missing girls. Suspicion quickly falls on Sarah, even though theextreme wounds on the body don’t look like something she’d be capable of.Moving on, Sarah begins to remember what happened and she attacks the Sheriffand the others in order to get away from them. Forced to split up, the group goafter Sarah and encounter all sorts of things they weren’t expecting to finddown in the caves…
Bloody woman, alway screaming all the time…
The original Descent was a bit of anunderground hit (if you’ll pardon the pun) due largely to some of theboundaries it was prepared to push relating to gore and girls, as well as thequite high production values present throughout. The second outing is reallyjust a cashing in exercise, making it a classic horror film sequel, and aboutas shite as that label indicates.
The big problem facing a follow-up to thefirst Descent movie would be how to escalate things above what happened in theoriginal. Rather than even trying to do this, the makers of the sequel insteadopted to try and convince the audience that the whole story was really splitinto two parts and that the second film is in fact just the second half of thesame tale. If that’s the case, then The Decent Saga is a woefully boringmisadventure with far too many coincidences and conveniences.
Once again, the film makers decided toallow fate to do their explaining for them, principally in giving the maincharacter Sarah a dose of amnesia in order to explain why the hell she’d goback into the caves. It’s this type of thing that puts the entire film on theback foot as the dependence on tricks to get characters into play makes youcall bullshit every time something happens. And the only reason some of the people even feature in the film is to bekilled off and while that’s true of loads of films it’s really apparent in TheDescent Part 2.

The production level is roughly the same as the first though for some reason some of the caves seem a little more fake than they did in the first movie. I don’t think the fist set of caves were all that realistic, it’s just that this time the film is so boring that you tend to pay closer attention to things like sets as there’s fuck all else to do. All is not lost in Part 2, the outside cinematography is great and the soundtrack is excellent, with just the right sort of music kicking in at the right time. But music alone is not enough to save this wreck of a film, a film so dull it deserves this low score:


Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Descent Part 2

Links:

30 Days of Fright – 20: Devil

This is the image I sometimes use as an avatar on websites and such, it’s a copy of an engraving done by Gustav Dore for an early edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and it shows Satan wigging the fuck out.
Where do bad folks go when they die? They don’t go to Heaven where the angels fly…

Over the years El Diablo has appeared in many guises and in many places, but none as weird as where the bugger popped up in last nights movie.

With a disorientating set of opening credits, Devil (2010) brings us to Philadelphia where we meet a police detective Bowden meeting with his AA sponsor who’s advising him to believe in something bigger than himself and to try to change his anger over the recent hit-and-run death of his family into something more positive. Not happy with this advice Bowden heads off to his day at work.

Which begins with the body of a suicide victim that jumped from a skyscraper window that then landed on a truck which rolled down the street. While Bowden is investigates this, fate conspires to put five people together on an elevator heading up the skyscraper. The five, a mattress salesman, an older woman, a man, a woman, and one of the buildings security guards, are heading to different floors on different business. As the lift climbs it suddenly gets stuck somewhere above the twentieth floor and the occupants start hitting buttons to try to get help.

Two security guards are monitoring the towers CCTV system and spot the elevator that’s stuck and send the maintenance man to check it out. In the close proximity of the elevator the five passengers quickly begin to get on each other’s nerves. The salesman is a bit too chatty, the security guard appears to be claustrophobic, the old woman is scared and loud, the man is a bit edgy, and the woman has all the hallmarks of being a bitch. While the maintenance man struggles to find anything wrong with the lift an assault apparently takes place inside the lift with the woman getting a bloody wound on her back that gets blames on the salesman.

The security guards watching on the monitors call in the police and Bowden responds as he’s right outside. Playing back the video shows that the girl seemed to get the wound out of nowhere. It also shows the image of a demonic face when paused at just the right spot, which one of the more religious guards puts down as being the face of the Devil himself. Setting this notion aside Bowden watches with horror as, when the lights in the lift go out as they sometimes do as maintenance struggle to get to those trapped inside, the salesman is murdered. This causes the rescue effort to escalate and the fire department get involved. But as the rescue proceeds someone else in the lift is killed and everyone, those inside and those watching, realise that no-one is safe as all the key players are somehow linked…

While attending a Coldplay concert these fans encounter the Devil… obviously

I first became aware of this film as I roamed the isles of a local DVD Rental shop and spotted it for rent. I didn’t hire it but I made a mental note to keep an eye out for it when it appeared on TV, as it did this week, so I was looking forward to giving Devil a viewing. As a horror film Devil succeeds in terrifying the audience right from the opening credits as a name appeared there that strikes fear into the heart of any rational movie audience member: M. Night Shyamalan. I saw that name and I blessed myself, for I instantly knew in my now fearful heart that this film was going to be shite and have a silly twist at the end.

I was half right. Well, more like quarter right.

Thankfully, M. Night didn’t direct Devil, so there was a small glimmer of hope from that. Secondly, he didn’t write the screenplay, so things were really starting to look up though he did write the original story, so the chances of a twisty ending were strong.

The story told in Devil is an interesting one and more than hints at a religious subtext. The second security guard who’s watching the monitors serves as narrator for the film but also, seeing as he’s Hispanic and therefore (in the wonderful world of cinema stereotypes) raised in a religious family, he provides a level of expertise and advice as to what might actually be happening with those trapped in the elevator. Though his narration and nuggets of advice we learn that a suicide can prompt the Devil to walk the earth and torment some of the dammed before they get to Hell, which will be soon as he’ll torment them to death. This is not a bad plot device and like so many horrors it will appeal to those with at least a passing understanding of all things Christian, but the suicide part bothers me for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Devil perpetuates a rather old fashioned notion of how certain western religions handle the subject of suicide and the flippant way in which it’s stated that a suicide will invite Satan to Earth is playing just a little too fast and loose with a difficult subject. The really big problem with it though is that the suicide is pretty quickly forgotten once the main event kicks off even though there’s at least one big hint that it was related to what’s taking place in the elevator. The story never comes back to the person who jumped out of the window once the suicide note is read out, even though that note references all things unholy and the victim was clutching Rosary beads when they took the plunge.

Cowabunga!

That aside the rest of the tale is intriguing enough despite every cliche in the horror-film handbook getting a look in. The way in which the rescue unfolds is believable and grounds the film nicely as supernatural events occur. As those events take place in the elevator, it’s a little hard for the sense of tension to be portrayed in a way that the audience can appreciate as you’re in on what’s really happening while those on the inside think they’re just in the presence of a murderer. The lack of palpable tension is a shame and betrays the more run of the mill approach taken when Devil was being made.

That approach does result in a slick looking film that plays out well. The character of Bowden is one of the few with any sort of explained background and he’s ably played by Chris Messina. We’re supposed to see much of the action in the film through his eyes and for the most part we do, though the audience has a slightly better notion of what’s going on before he does.

M. Night Shyama-lama-ding-dong-ding may have written the original story but once it was out of his hands Devil was turned into a more mainstream and highly entertaining film, and while not all that frightening, a little disrespectful to religion, and ever so slightly racist, it is shockingly entertaining. Devil is movie that tries to make Satan the baddie but in doing so highlights how absurd any ultimate evil would have to be considering what people are capable of doing themselves. This poke in the eye for Old Nick makes Devil more of a film then it probably wanted to be. It also makes it good.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Devil

Links:
Official Site: http://www.thenightchronicles.com/devil/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil_(film)
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1314655/

30 Days of Fright – 19: Wake Wood

The absence of Irish horror is something that concerns me greatly. There are loads of reasons why an Irish horror should be good but equally there are far too many reasons why no-one in Ireland should attempt it. But anyway, it’s been a while since the last disappointment on the Irish horror scene so another crack at it was long overdue….

Don’t fuck this up now, Donnelly!

Wake Wood (2011) opens somewhere in urban Ireland where Patrick Daly (good Irish name (played by Aidan Gillen)), is a veterinarian with a happy home life with wife Louise (Eva Birthistle) and daughter Alice (some kid). On Alice’s birthday, the day the film starts, life is great for all three of them. Sadly that is ruined when, as she leaves the house for school, Alice stops to say hello to one of the dogs her father is looking after which then attacks and severely mauls her. Alice sadly dies from her wounds despite the best efforts of her parents.

Nearly a year later Pat and Louise have moved to a small town called Wake Wood somewhere in rural Ireland (that looks a lot like Donegal). Louise has a small pharmacy and Paddy is working with a local vet Arthur (Timothy Spall) who is stepping back from the practice and letting Patsy get on with things. Life is far from good as Louise is openly mourning Alice’s death, a process made all the worse by Louise not being able to have any more children due to complications with Alice’s birth. Pádraig is also not in a happy place, but he seems to be working through them, focusing on the new type of veterinary medicine he’s practicing with larger farm animals as well as trying to keep his marriage together as Louise just wants to run off and be alone with her grief.
Louise manages to talk Patrick into taking her to the train station so she can just go away but en route their car breaks down. Luckily they’re near Paddy’s bosses place so they cut across the fields to get there to look for help. At Arthur’s house, Louise witnesses a group of people, with Arthur at their head, performing a strange ritual at the end of which a person emerges from a cocoon in something that looks like a birth. Shocked by all this Louise and Podge run home, where they find Arthur, who’d let himself in, asking if everything is alright.
Shortly after this and after an accident on a local farm kills a man while Patrick was looking after a bull and Louise was assisting, they tell Arthur that they’re leaving Wake Wood as it’s not working out for them. Arthur seems to understand their underlying pain relating to Alice’s death and he explains to them why they should stay. He tells them how the Wake Wood community maintain a strange set of pagan beliefs around the dead and the ritual Louise saw is one to bring a dead person back to life for three days in order for the family to have a little more time with them and to say their goodbyes properly.
This is of great interest to the distraught Louise and Patsy spots his chance at a little happiness and maybe some closure. They readily agree to have the ritual performed but Arthur warns that there are some very strict rules that, if not obeyed completely, can have some dire consequences; the dead person can’t be in the ground for more than one year and one risen they can’t go outside the town boundaries. Paddy and Louise proceed with the ritual even though they’re lying to Arthur about something to do with Alice…
As the contestants on The X Factor get younger, the sob stories get more extreme
Wake Wood is a proper Irish horror film and one that’s long overdue. Irish actors make up the bulk of the cast (with the exception of Timothy Spall), the locations are in Ireland and the details are largely correct, like the registration plates on the cars and such. The only detail missing is that the town signs are all only in English but I guess this was done so that the film could travel outside Ireland without too much effort.
The movie is one of those Irish Film Board/RTE/Other EU country film board collaborations that seem to be the only way to get a non-Hollywood film made in Ireland these days and it was distributed by the newly re-activated Hammer Films (the original company being bahind the Hammer Horror films) which gives this little indy movie from Ireland an unexpected pedigree without much effort. As it’s a low budget film the use of cheaper, modern film making techniques permiates the production giving Wake Wood a made for TV feel, though some of the cinematography is also to blame for this.
Aiden Gillen (you may know him as little finger from Game of Thrones) as Patrick is excellent, nicely understated as a man who’s suffered a loss and really doesn’t want to suffer much more. Eva Birthistle was good as Louise too but hers was perhaps an easier character to play. Timpthy Spall as the older vet Arthur was flat out brilliatn as he did his Englishman in Ireland/Seigfried Farnam style older vet performance. (For those among you who don’t know who Seigfried Farnam is might I recommend a read of the early James Herriott novels about his time as a vet, or a viewing of the TV series All Creatures Great and Small)
The script left a little to be desired as, like the road signs, I suspect it was cleaned up in order for the film to travel. There aren’t as many slang terms or colloquialisms as you’d expect to hear in the Irish countryside and the accents have been toned down as well. Unfortunately this lets a certain amount of blandness and stuffiness to creep in, particularly in scenes featuring the Daly’s at home or work. This has the effect of dragging out parts of the film and the transitions between parts that move the story along feel longer then they should. You’re also left guessing about the secret Patrick and Louise are keeping, perhaps for a little too long as you’re left to wonder why the resurrected Alice is behaving the way she is and where the story is going, though in fact it actually goes to a decent horror ending.The story is where the real strength lies in Wake Wood as the primary subject matter is so horrific that it features in the genre quite a lot, but is rarely handled so well. The loss of a child is enough of a horror, but only for those directly involved, namely the parents and other close relatives. The things Patrick and Louise go through show how much they’ve lost but it seems beyond imagining that they’d actually go through the steps required of the resurrection ritual as on a human level you expect something in the backs of their minds to have stopped them. Perhaps trying to understand this allows the audience to glimpse the horror and the motivations driving the main characters in the film.

There are some very strong parallels between Wake Wood and The Wicker Man; the isolated community, the pagan beliefs, the strong community leader with all the knowledge, the distrust of outsiders, and the issues around the death of a child all mirror the events in The Wicker Man. Wake Wood manages to stand on its own however as the rituals and other aspects of the towns beliefs are toned down and instead of playing on the fears of the outsiders the film works on their deepest desires instead, however human they may be.

Regardless of the problems in the film, the cast and crew of Wake Wood deserve credit for taking the risks they did with the story, and for making an enjoyable Irish horror film to be proud of.

Two Thumbs Up for Wake Wood

30 Days of Fright – 18: Shelter

I used to love chatting when I was in school, and by that I mean talking in class. I spent several years talking about TV programmes, films, and other bullshit when I should have been paying attention to the teacher. This resulted in my taking home many a report card that informed my parents that I had plenty of potential (like every kid I suppose) but that I wasn’t living up to it as I was unable to shut my gob. Now, years later, I lament that wasted potential, especially early in the morning when I’m getting up to drag my arse to work, like a pleb…

 Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus: Two Plebs

Julianne Moore takes the lead in Shelter (2010) as Cara Harding, a psychiatrist who, at the start of the film, is offering some last minute testimony to a review panel of sorts before a man is executed. As part of her testimony she lets it be known that modern psychiatry, herself included, no longer believes in the idea of true multiple personality disorder and thus undermines the last hope for the prisoner on death row. Once the bad man has been shuffled off, Cara returns to work, stopping only briefly to get herself drunk so as to put the events of the execution behind her.
Psychiatry runs in Cara’s family and she followed her Dad into the family business. He’s come across an interesting case and he asks his daughter to have a look. The patient in question, David, is a young man in a wheelchair who appears to come from a sheltered background in the mountains where life is simple and quite religious. Stepping out of the room to ask her Dad what’s up with the dude, she is stunned to find that a simple phone call made by her father to the man in the other room can trigger the emergence of another completely different personality. Wanting to call bullshit on this Cara investigates the case and comes to a rather nasty conclusion.
The second personality, Adam, actually appears to be the man’s true self and David is really the personality of a murder victim. Dr. Harding decides that Adam, traumatised as a child, heard the story of David’s rather gruesome murder and is actually impersonating him as part of a psychotic episode and isn’t really suffering from multiple personalities, as that’s all hogwash! With this theory in the bag, Cara makes the bold announcement that she’s going to cure Adam. She kicks off the treatment by roping David’s grieving mother into a visit. David’s dear old mum is a strange woman, coming from a very remote mountain community, she’s deeply religious and not keen on the whole science thing at all. When she visit’s Adam/David she’s initially shocked by the things David seems to know but then she walks out on the whole thing, declaring it to be an evil trick.
Dr. Harding then takes Adam back to the scene of David’s murder to see if her recognises the place. This sets off a nasty turn in Adam who manifests a new personality, one that Harding’s father was aware of but said nothing about.Copping onto the fact that her old man has been manipulating her into pursuing the case, Cara confronts him and is forced to look at the case in a radically different way then she’s used to, a non-scientific approach that entertains the idea that maybe Adam isn’t suffering from multiple personalities at all but something more akin to possession.
 After too long in Hollywood, Julianne Moore makes a balls of hanging out the washing

Shelter is one of those little known movies that has a couple of reasonable actors in that you occasionally encounter late at night on some obscure TV channel that is surprising because it’s so much better than you expect. The film starts off quietly enough, building the idea of Cara Harding being a doctor with a very strong set of beliefs, whose very good at her job. Things move on into the story of Adam and his potential issues. Once he’s introduced a couple of obvious plot points are thrown in your face a little, like the multiple personalities and it does take a little while to get past that and into the juicer supernatural elements. Once things get a little more sinister Shelter develops into a nice little horror movie.

Julianne Moore is perfectly believable in the lead as the strait-laced psychiatrist who has gotten into a professional rut of sorts by being good at what she does by conforming with the accepted ideas in her field. A chunk of the film is given over to how Cara Harding is good, but not brilliant, and her character serves as a metaphor for the entire film as it is surprisingly better than you’d think, but still had room to be more.

Jonathan Rhys Myers puts in a performance that’s far better than you’d expect from him, but that’s only because he’s usually so shit in films (as anyone who saw him in Mission Impossible 3 can tell you). His efforts do wobble when he has to put on accents and mannerisms he’s not totally comfortable with and I can only imagine that directors around the world must hate his natural accent as they always seem to prefer to hear him putting on a dodgy American one, even though he’s brutal at it. Once you get used to the noise emanating from him in Shelter however he’s not that bad.

The pacing of the first half of the film is a little slow but this is made up for the second bit, where witches and strange mountain folk are introduced properly. The supernatural elements are handled well, and the only really big disappointment is the scene where everything is explained using a film allegedly made in the later part of the nineteenth century that just looks too damn modern to be that old.

Shelter is a surprising film, but sadly it left a big chunk of its potential unfulfilled.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Shelter

Multiple Linkinalities:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelter_%282010_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1179069/

30 Days of Fright – 17: The Thing

When you take a set against something it can be very hard to see past that and to give something, or someone, a second chance.Once bitten, twice shy as they occasionally say. Which is why, when I saw The Thing come up on the Sky TV guide, I thought to myself “look Murt, he was the worst character in the first Fantastic Four film and no better in the second, does he really deserve a movie of his own?”

The Thing… Not Great

The Thing (1982) is actually John Carpenter’s cold-weather creature feature horror movie and stars Kurt Russell as MacReady, a bad-ass, boozing helicopter pilot assigned to an American research station near the South Pole along with an eclectic bunch of researchers and weirdos. One day, their icy peace is shattered when a Norwegian helicopter appears with its two occupants chasing a dog across the ice and taking pot-shots at anyone and anything as they try to get to the poor pooch.

Not happy with this the American lads start shooting back once the chopper has landed and in the resultant firefight the two invaders are killed and their whirlybird destroyed. Puzzled by this unusual event, the American’s dispatch a few of the boys to the Norwegian research station a few miles away to find out just what the fuck is going on. When they get there, MacReady and Dr. Copper discover the place in ruins, with charred corpses and signs of general mayhem all over the place.
The boys return to base with two of the corpses, chosen because the bodies are fused together in a very twisted fashion. While still concerned by what had happened the lads settle down for the winter, safe in the knowledge that they can’t leave until spring even if they wanted to. The dog that the Norwegian’s were trying to kill is put in with the other sled-dogs the station keeps but almost straight away something isn’t right. The dog’s presence in the kennel causes a ruckus and shortly after he’s put in there he begins to twist and transform into a rotten looking creature that attacks the other dogs.
Alerted by the racket the poodles are making, the lads pile down to the kennels, tooled up with guns and flamethrowers which they use to kill off anything that moves. After inspecting the remains of the creature, they figure out that they’re not alone, as whatever the dog really was it definitely wasn’t originally from Earth. As they chew over this notion, it slowly dawns on the boys at the research station that the creature had the ability to transform itself into any living creature and that not all of the men might be men at all…

Honestly, who gave this lad dynamite?

I sat down to watch The Thing will a little trepidation it must be admitted, not because I thought it would be super-scary or anything, but because it’s a John Carpenter film, and he and I haven’t really got along since Halloween. It turns out that Mr. Carpenter was able to redeem himself as The Thing is not a bit like Halloween, in that it’s good.
Carpenter and Russell had a bit of a bromance going on for a while and that paid off nicely as Russell is pretty good in The Thing, but then almost everything about the film is top class. I really like scary films set in cold weather as the contrasts offered up tend to work well for horror. Clean white snow always shows up blood really well, far better then the dirty walls of a dungeon ever could, and there’s always an added element of danger when being stalked by something when the mere act of going outside without the right coat on could kill you. Knowing what to do with such a setting is the trick to getting a film like The Thing right and thankfully this time Carpenter knew what he was at.
The vast empty expanses of Antarctica allow for pretty much anything to be dwelling there and it makes for an ideal location to crash an alien spaceship. The remoteness means that no-one is coming to help, even if you could raise them on the radio which you can’t due to the bad weather. I reckon that for those with an active imagination a real-life posting to a research station like that featured in the film must be quite an ordeal as the darkness sets in and the wind howls. Add in the chance that there’s a metamorphosing alien creature out there hell-bent on murder and you’re pretty much buggered!
The Thing features an ensemble cast of people you will recognise from various films and TV programs, but I challenge you to name the actors without the aid of Google. They all turn in decent performances and play their individual traits well. Russell is the main man in the film but he’s seriously overshadowed by the special effects.
One of these people may not be human… can you spot which one?

Various gory, twisted, nightmare creatures find their way into The Thing and while constrained by the effects technology of the time they still manage to make for disturbing viewing. The effects department let their imaginations run away with themselves and the results make for some seriously fucked up creatures, like the human head that sprouts spider legs and scuttles off. One excellent side effect of these creatures are the funny comments that the cast make upon encountering them.
Sadly though, as most of the film is made up of a bunch of lads running around the place wondering which one is a monster in a bloody good disguise while the audience wonders which one will die next, there isn’t a whole lot really going on and therefore The Thing relies just a little too heavily on the creature effects to hold your attention.That aside, The Thing is an enjoyable, if gross in spots, creature feature.

Two Thumbs Up for The Thing

Linky Thingys:

30 Days of Fright – 16: Hellraiser

Reviewing a film is all about perspective; one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison and all that, and horror can be really divisive. I’m aware of this and I hope I understand it too. When watching a film I try to go in with as neutral a point of view as possible, unless of course the film features people who are on my shit list, like Michael Rooker or Juliette Lewis, but even then their films might not be total disasters. Knowing that an opinion can be skewed before you’ve even watched a film is an important consideration and one that I was hyper aware of when it came time to watch last night’s film, as I was really looking forward to it.

Hellraiser (1987) kicks off with something akin to a scene from Gremlins where an idiot buys something mysterious from an oriental gentleman that gets him into a shed load of trouble. In this case the purchase is of a small puzzle box (as opposed to a miniature monkey-creature) that the man was very keen to get his hands on dropping quite a bit of cash for the little box. Getting it home, the man in question seemed to know what he was at as he setup a little ritual for playing with the box. One the puzzle has been completed a bunch of hooks shoot into the man’s skin and promptly tear him apart into itsy bitsy pieces that some strange creature in some parallel world has a bit of a play with.

Sometime later and back in the real world (well, what passes for real in the UK anyway) a man and woman, Larry and Julia are looking around the house where the ritual took place. The place apparently belongs to Larry’s family and he’s arrived back from New York with his second wife to take possession of the gaff as his brother Frank has done another of his regular disappearing acts. Looking around the place it becomes clear that the house needs some work as does Larry and Julia’s marriage. Jumping into a flashback, we see that Julia had cheated on Larry with his dear brother Frank not long after they’d gotten married, and that she’s is really in love with Frank.

Larry gets down to sorting out the house while Julia mopes about and Larry’s daughter from his first marriage, Kirsty, arrives to check the place out. While moving a bed upstairs Larry cuts his hand quite badly on a nail and reveals his weakness for the sight of blood, alternating wildly between wanting to faint or throw up as he bleeds all over the floor. As Larry is taken to the hospital for stitches, the blood he dripped on the floor reacts with something that had stained the floorboards and up from the stain rises a foul creature that slowly takes shape into something almost human.

Julia discovers the creature in the spare room that reveals itself to be Frank, returned from God knows where by the drops of blood on the floor. Frank is, to put it mildly, in rough shape. He’s basically a skeleton with a little bit of flesh and gore on it that is able to see, hear, and talk and kinda shuffle around the floor. Frank demands that Julia helps him by getting more blood to complete the healing process. Julia then sets about picking up men in bars during the day (quite eagerly it must be said) to bring home for Frank to consume. As Frank returns to his old self he mentions that he escaped from some demons that had shown him all sorts of fun times on both ends of the experiences spectrum from amazing delights to terrible pain. Now Frank’s worried that the demons are after him, but they’re not the only ones concerned with what’s in the same room…

I have this wicked stabbing pain, like, all over my head!

I was really looking forward to Hellraiser. I didn’t know that much about the movie before I saw it, only that it was written by Clive Barker and featured a baddie called Pinhead (due to the large number of pins driven into his, well, head obviously). Clive Barker has such a reputation in horror circles that I was sure that Hellraiser was going to be brilliant. I was completely, entirely, utterly, fucking wrong.

Hellraiser, and I don’t care who or what you are, is shite. And that’s hard for me to say as some people whose work I really do like are heavily inspired by Hellraiser.

Clive Barker’s writing talents are a little dubious. Candyman was great but Hellraiser is a bullshit story about a bloke wants to experience all sorts of nice and nasty things so he pays over the odds for a little box that enables him to meet demons who fulfil his wishes, that he then “escapes” from by hiding in the spare room, and then tries to avoid contact with people while at the same time needs to kill a bunch of people in order to heal. Not exactly the horror classic I was expecting but the basis for something more than what ended up vomited onto celluloid and fucked at a screen to be watched.

The characters barely deserve to the called that as they are so one dimensional you can hardly see them. I’ve seen planets feature on Star Trek that only have one geographic feature (like desert or water or whatever) that are more developed and had more imagination put into them then the people who appear in Hellraiser. Larry is a wimp; Julia is a bitch (and a bit of a whore); Frank is a nutter; and Kirsty is the innocent teen destined to win through in the end. These simple character designs lead to all sorts of plot problems. Frank is radically different to Larry which is fair enough, and Julia is such a bitch that it’s easy to see how she’d be attracted to him, but then how the hell did she hook up with Larry in the first place never mind marry and then move country with him?

Whatever about the writing there’s no doubt about Clive Barker’s directing talents as displayed in Hellraiser, he doesn’t have any, the direction was awful! The shitty direction coupled with the piss-poor characters went on to bring out the worst in the actors who feature with nearly all of them putting in substandard performances, which goes some way to explain why Pinhead gets more credit than his screen time would suggest he deserves. Frank is really supposed to be the villain as Pinhead and his bunch of demons are hardly in the movie enough to warrant everyone banging on about them so much, though there is the inescapable fact that Pinhead is the best thing in the film by far!

Pinhead’s brilliance is down to Doug Bradley, the man behind all the pins. Bradley knew Clive Barker which is how he ended up in the movie but regardless of how he got there he’s absolutely rocks as Pinhead and then went on to star in a bunch of Cradle of Filth songs and their videos, often providing the narration or other spoken word bits, like the intro for the classic Her Ghost in the Fog, which features a part of quote from the film: “Oh, no tears please” (it’s a waste of good suffering!)

“The Moon she hangs like a cruel portrait…” Pinhead gets all beardy

The second biggest mystery surrounding Hellraiser is where exactly is the fucking film set? It seemed to be England but there’s loads of American actors in it, which would be fine for Larry’s family, but why were so many passersby in the streets also U.S ex-pats? Also, how come Larry was American, Julia was English, but Frank (Larry’s brother) was also English. But only sometimes. Some other times he seemed to be American. Maybe it’s because he was played by two different actors, one pre-gore and one all gory and horrific.I suspect that a lot of Hellraiser was cobbled together out of whatever Clive Barker managed to get his hands on, much like a dodgy Halloween costume. To be fair, what really appears to have happened is that Hellraiser is actually a British film that got Americanised during production, which has to be one of the reasons for the pieced together feel.

The biggest mystery surrounding Hellraiser is how come this piece of shit is so popular that it spawned EIGHT sequels and has a remake on the way? Was Britain, home of the Hammer Horror and so many ghost and folk tales, that hard up for a fright?

Two Thumbs Down  for Hellraiser

These Links will tear your soul apart, but only if you ask nicely:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellraiser
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093177/

30 Days of Fright – 15: The Ring

Technology can be delightfully scary. I say delightfully because, as someone with the bare bones of an eduction in science coupled with several years of pretending to work while actually acting the goat with computers, I don’t find technology at all frightening. I tend to find it a bit of a dodge actually; I’m the man who doesn’t really do anything because I got a nice shiny computer to do the work for me! There are people who are terrified of computers and other gadgets and we as a species have a long history of being afraid of things like that, particularly cameras and their weird ability to steal your soul, which is something that must have crossed the minds of the makers of last night’s movie.

The Ring (2002) stars Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller, a journalist in Seattle whose teenage niece dies in mysterious circumstances. Rachel’s sister asks her to look into the causes of her daughters death and as she investigates Rachel comes across an urban legend that may have had something to do with her niece popping her cloggs. The legend, that some of the dead girls friends put some stock in, states that a mysterious video tape exists that shows a series of creepy images and that immediately after watching the tape the viewer will receive a phone call and the voice on the other end of the line will simply state that in seven days time the poor sap who watched the video will die.

Rachel is a little bit skeptical of this story and instead pokes into the girls life in a more conventional manner, including snooping in her room and picking up some photographs she was having developed before she went to meet her maker. Most of the pictures, of the girl and her friends staying in a log cabin, are just your regular run of the mill teenage snaps, but a few of them from the end of the roll of film have a weird distortion over the faces of those in the pictures. Rachel visits the cabin in the pictures and there she finds a mysterious video tape.

Of course, the dozy cow watches the video (which puts the shits up her) and then promptly receives a phone call that tells her she’s got seven days. Returning to the city she shows the video to an ex of hers (and the father of her little boy Aidan) who happens to be a bit of a whizz at photography and videos and such. He’s not as bothered by the whole thing but Rachel gets more and more worried as the days pass and she begins to experience a series of mighty strange occurrences, including having her own face distort in photographs. Deciding that she has to act as there’s a distinct chance that something will kill her within the week, Rachel begins to investigate the images on the tape and pieces together a tragic tale of one families suffering, a terrible secret, and the supernatural events surrounding the tape. While all this is going on, the days quickly pass and more people close to Rachel end up watching the video…

At last, a decent 3D TV!

The Ring ushered in brief period in the early to mid 2000’s when Hollywood fell in love with Japanese horror films… which it raped for ideas and then left for dead when it was all finished. The Ring was based on a Japanese movie Ringu, which was based on a book, which was based on an old Japanese story (so everyone nicked the idea from someone else). What made The Ring so exceptional and therefore such a trailblazer, is that it’s really good.

From the opening scene with the two girls discussing the tape which was filmed with a green filter to make the whole thing look like it belongs on TV, through to the subtle special effects, the creepy images on the cursed video, and the decidedly modern setting, everything about The Ring screams quality. This is a film I thoroughly enjoyed in 2002 when I caught it at the cinema and, despite the aging technology the story depends on, thoroughly enjoyed again on TV in 2011.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (of Pirates of the Caribbean directing fame) The Ring works from the very start to build dread, initially depending on a quick shock to make the audience uneasy then turning down the volume a little so as to make the next hour a properly creepy experience. The centrepiece of this is the video tape that was supposed to hold a recorded football game but instead  picked up a collection of images that look like something an arty film student would throw together but still manages to be a little disturbing even though there’s nothing actually scary on it. The tape serves as a micro version of the entire film as, like the best horror does, The Ring convinces you that something frightening is always just about to happen, though it rarely does. This nervous anticipation is brilliant, and Gore (great name for a horror director) deserves a lot of credit for getting the film to work in this way.

The cast work well too, with Naomi Watts doing a decent turn in a nice little reversal of the traditional horror heroine. Usually in a film like this the female lead starts off all soft and girly (into flower arranging and dress-making and the like) and by the end of the film is a real tough nut (into army boots and guns and the like). In The Ring, Watt’s character Rachel starts off as a hard-boiled journo, always ready to give her boss the finger while she digs out the facts behind a story (ala April O’Neill or Lois Lane), but as the film progresses she gets the shits put right up her by that video tape and the truth it leads her to. Another one to watch out for in The Ring is Pauley Perrette (Abby from NCIS) as Rachel’s ex’s new girlfriend of sorts.The only disappointing person in the film is the young lad Aidan as the character doesn’t make a whole pile of sense. He seems to have a bit of a supernatural side to him as he’s able to understand the motivations behind what’s going on and is definitely better informed than his mum is but that doesn’t really go anywhere except to help fill in a bit of a blank near the end.

Overall, The Ring is excellent. Perfectly creepy, nicely paced and featuring a good cast and great direction, with only the inevitable move away from video tapes and the technology and quirk’s associated with them holding this film back from the level of praise it deserves.

Two Thumbs Up for The Ring.

Before you die, you see The Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ring_%282002_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0298130/