Hellraiser

You should be proud of  me. Hellraiser has always been on my to watch list but I have never succeeded due to my aversion of horror films. After seeing Cabin in the Woods and witnessing one of the scariest moments in the film be contributed to Pinhead, I figured that now is the time to watch it. I feel like this is one of those iconic cult films that real horror aficionados praise and watch over and over again. If I am going to consider myself a horror expert (I won’t ever, this month has been torturous for me.) I have to buckle down and not be so afraid of one little film. Well I made it through. Just barely…

Hellraiser is about a husband and wife that moves into an old family home after it has been “empty” for some time. Come to find out the brother of the husband had recently been squatting in the home before they came. But he seems to have vanished into thin air. All of his stuff is all around. The wife seems very interested in the whereabouts of this mysterious brother….

Sadomasochism is the key word in describing this film. Every frame of this film is dripping with fetishism. Whether it is the obsession with blood, flesh, sex, pain, independence or alcohol, nobody is immune from their obsessions destroying them. These obsessions consume them and are subsequently ripped quite violently from their hands. I was actually surprised when I came to this conclusion. This film is more than just a monster movie. It is about the darker side of life and how people (or demons if you will) exploit these dark things for their own gain. Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites exploiting the brother’s need for ever wild and increasing physical pleasure/pain is no different from the brother exploiting the wife’s need for a good orgasm.

One thing I do have to say that I found troubling in this film is the special effects. You can tell that the actual make up and the things they did on set were meticulously planned out and well executed, but the effects that were done after the production had wrapped were some of the worst I have ever seen. Maybe it is just the sign of the times but when the daughter closes the box those lightning strikes look so unbelievably horrible. It took me out of the film completely and I barely knew the film had ended. It was awful.

Although the film did not scare as much as I was afraid of, I still found the film well worth my time. I can see the influence that this film has had on several horror films I have watched that were more recent including but not limited to Cabin in the Woods. It was very well made for how restrictive the budget was and I would be inclined to (sometime in the distant future) watch it again. I can see how people could get obsessed with this film.

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The Invisible Man

Would you be your own test subject if it meant unearthing a major scientific discovery? Would you be prepared for the unknown consequences? What if your discovery could quite possible be the most dangerous weapon in the world? By the time The Invisible Man starts, the main character has already made his decision and now he has to deal with the consequences consuming him while he races for an antidote. These consequences include egotistical mania and a crippling need to take over the world. (What are doing tonight, Brain? The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world! Mwhahahahaha) Will these consequences consume him or will he find the antidote in time? Well read on my friend and you may get to know the answer…

Claude Rains plays the invisible man. Plays might be too strong of a word since all you hear is his voice and you don’t see him actually saying his dialogue. His distinct voice booms over the sight of a smoking jacket with no limbs or head and I wonder where I have heard such a beautiful voice before. Then it dawns on me that this is the same man who plays a French policeman in Casablanca and Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia. This lauded character actor who played such iconic roles was also The Invisible One. Everyone has to start somewhere I suppose and what a start he had. You cannot read his facial expressions and yet he expresses way more depth than anyone else in the picture. He is the asset to otherwise a flat B picture horror movie.

Sometime in the late nineties, a big studio got it into their heads that they were going to adapt The Invisible Man again but update it to our current times. It turned out to be a disaster for multiple reasons (:cough: Kevin Bacon :cough:) but part of the reason was because they used CGI effects in order to suggest someone going invisible. It looked like they were cheating. In this film, long before there was even a hint of computer animated special effects, they were able to suggest invisibility in such a convincing way using the sleight of hand such masters as Georges Melies used in his magic films. Although I knew that Claude Rains (or a stunt double) was actually standing there with velvet over his head and his hands, but it felt more real to me. There is just something about regular special effects that makes me feel like more work has been put into them.

The Invisible Man is a great character piece that expresses a scientific and rational man’s irrational need to be remembered. Do not come hoping for suspense or any great performances by the supporting actors. Instead come for a chance to hear Claude Rains rant and rave about the fate of man. It is some good stuff.

 

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Hillbillies have long been enemies of randy teenagers that want to spend a weekend in the woods. They hunt each member, preferably the black people and the slut first. They delight in kills that favor heavy machinery and sometimes they even capture the one that is most pure of heart. So what if the hillbillies that are seen as killers by the kids are actually innocent?

Tucker and Dale accomplished something big in their lives. They acquired a vacation house near a lake and in the middle of the woods. Sure it needs some fixing up and there are bones and articles about killing sprees scattered around the house, but that just lends to its charm. Meanwhile a group of shits (college kids, as is the trope) decide to do dipshit things like go skinny dipping at night. One clumsy yet beautiful woman falls off of a cliff and knocks her head just before landing in the lake. Fearing that she will drown, Dale jumps in to rescue her but the college kids observing the actions from afar actually think that they are just trying to capture her. This misunderstanding leads to other ones and the college kids figure these two men are serial killers to the extreme.

Satires of the teen slasher flick flood the market in the horror division. No longer can you just have a teen slasher film, they have to be aware of themselves to the determinate of the horror genre in general. Each character has to embody a stereotype and fight to break it, each story involves massive amounts of misunderstandings and almosts and there are tons of references to much better films. They are all mostly forgettable in every aspect. All of this being said, I think this film is the best a satire subgenre can be. Although the story is predictable, the college kids wooden, and there is an insane amount of gore, this film is watchable because of the two leads. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play the two hillbillies with such sincerity it is hard not to love their characters. They are just two good, earnest best friends. They make a rather cute couple.

The problems that I came into while trying to enjoy this film was the “villain” of the piece. A bratty frat boy with a penchant for tomahawks, the actor seems to never commit to either the fratty part of his character nor the bat shit insane part of his character. There was so much potential in that character that is wasted by the performance.  But his performance was not the only one that made me cringe from time to time. Each college kid that was not the young beautiful blonde (played by someone who would be familiar if you watch 30 Rock) was completely loathsome when they were on-screen. This was probably intentional, but the actors that are in these roles seem like Scary Movie rejects. Thank god they were only on-screen for a short while before they met their gory fate.

Despite my reservations about some aspects of the film, I still enjoyed watching it for the most part. If you are looking of an hour and half distraction you can’t go wrong with it, but if you are looking for something transformational, look elsewhere.

The Innkeepers

The verdict is in: Ti West is a great director. After The House of the Devil, I was feeling him, but was convinced that he could not create the same magic that he produced for this film. But then I watched The Innkeepers and it is now official. He is someone who I will start to pay close attention to, absorb all of his work and say things like his early films are way better than his current things. I apologize in advance.

In all seriousness, I really did like this film a lot. The plot is simple, but the feelings are complex. Claire and Luke are the last two employees of a closing hotel. They watch over the sparse guests including a mother mad at her husband, an actress turned medium, and an old man staying for sentimental reasons. These guests require almost no maintenance, so they turn their focus to the most important task at hand: ghost hunting. According to a legend, a woman hung herself in one of the rooms and the previous owners covered up the suicide by putting her body in the basement. Her soul is therefore trapped in the hotel because she was not properly buried. Luke has made a website dedicated to all of the strange dealings in the hotel but it needs vast improvements. On the last weekend they are open, they have to get something that legitimizes their claims. But they get more than they bargained for.

Claire is at an impasse in her life. Faced with inevitable unemployment, she has a choice to devote herself to something and pursue it or get stuck at another dead-end job. When asked by the actress turned medium whether she does anything, her perplexed face speaks volumes and hits me to the core. I sometimes feel that the only way to be interesting is to be into some hobby that is rich in possibilities. This philosophy puts a burden on myself and drives my need to know everything about film in order to appear interesting and unique to other people who I meet. Luke however is content with not doing anything or being anyone. He has accepted his fate. This Claire’s chance to prove that she is interesting to the actress and everyone around her. This is Luke’s chance to be close to Claire for a little bit longer.

It is always hard to say that a horror film is well photographed. There are notable exceptions (like The Shining) but the cinematography always seems to take a back seat to the scares at hand. Just like this statement was untrue of The House of the Devil, it is equally so for The Innkeepers. Colors and the use of light accentuate the prevailing emotions in a scene to perfection. When Claire is bored, the lobby takes on a blinding warmth, but when she is scared it becomes a comforting glow.

I have run out of things to say that are my unique opinions so I will leave with this last sentiment: This film was awesome.

The Spiral Staircase

I am basically the worst person in the world. Caught up in my own shenanigans, I have either refused to post about a film or have stared blankly at the empty page for the last couple of weeks. To make up for it, I will be posting a lot today. Let me know what you think of my choices of horror films and any suggestions you have for me in the comments.

Is someone who has a physical or mental disability less of a person than someone who can function normally? Does not being able to speak, walk or hold a spoon correctly make you a prime candidate for early extermination? These are the questions The Spiral Staircase seeks to answer in the most suspenseful way possible.

Helen is a beautiful young mute who works in a mansion in a small town. Throughout the town there has been a string of murders that have targeted people with disabilities. The people surrounding Helen fear that she may be next. Each member of the family that resides in the mansion go about their own ways of warning her and yet she cannot speak for herself and tell anyone her opinion on the situation. While the plot thickens the suspects narrow and the pursuit becomes intense.

What I like about this film is that no one is ruled out as a suspect until the very end. That is a hard thing to pull off in traditional suspense films. Usually you can tell who the exact killer is once you see him for the first time. But in this film it could have been a number of people including the master of the house, his estranged half-brother, the groundskeeper, the friendly doctor,  the nurse or even the old sickly woman. Each one has a motive, a creepy vibe to them and a way to get her alone. This film could have easily been made by Hitchcock. That is a compliment despite how it reads. The plethora of almost scares feels the most Hitchcockian to me. For instance after discovering a window had been opened during an intense storm, the cook leaves and immediately after you hear a thud. Thinking that she has just been killed by the murderer, the mute girl rushes over only to find a cute bulldog laying coyly on the floor. The maid had just tripped over the sneaky dog and hurt her hip. It not only relieves the tension, but it also makes you wonder at how easily a viewer can get ramped up into believing a noise or a motion will result in death. We have been conditioned so much by traditional scary films to believe that there is complications around every corner, but that is never how real life is.

I like films that play with your expectations. The Spiral Staircase does not seem to take anything too seriously until it absolutely has to. It is refreshing to watch something like this after submitting my brain to unrelenting drama and horrors.

The House of the Devil

Ti West has been on the tip of the tongues as the next wunderkind by people obsessed with film (some people would call them critics… bah! I call them crazies!). He has been touted as the next big thing for a couple of years now. But I have always avoided his films because he makes primarily horror films. Now that I am no longer scared of putting on a horror film, I have decided this is the perfect chance for me to watch his films. I started with the film that got everyone talking: the House of the Devil. Set in the early eighties, a young woman seeks a baby sitting job that seems to be bad news from the beginning. Blinded by the considerable amount of money she is getting for just a couple of hours of work, she overlooks several obvious indicators that this family is not what it seems. It all culminates in a sequence that is hard to get out of your head. I cannot stand a film that is full of cheap jumps and thrills throughout the whole film. When a film is too busy trying to scare you, it skimps on character, plot line and even sometimes visuals. This film is the opposite. It is considered a slow burner. Most of the film is spent with the young woman outside of the doomed house. You see her excitement at possibly getting her first apartment, her crushing realization that she is broke and her desperation to get out of her dorm room hell. With each detail that West flushes out, you can see her motivations and choices become as obvious as possible. I too would ignore the sketchy situation that she got stuck with if I was offered as much money as she did for only a couple of hours of work. Spending so much time with her makes what happen to her even more horrific than if we were just watching a bunch of monsters jump out at her. In fact what happens to her made me have nightmares afterward. (Suggestion: do NOT fall asleep with this playing. It is not a good idea if you like to have pleasant dreams.) Mr. West seemed to have gotten everything right with this film. He augments the story with fabulous imagery, period costumes, and swelling music. Somehow he makes cheesy eighties songs that I have heard millions of times before fraught with tension. I will never think of “One Thing Leads to Another” in the same way ever again. I would say that Mr. West’s hype is well deserved off of this one film. I will review the Innkeepers soon (it just got put on Netflix instant… Score!), hopefully it is just as good as this film was.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Ugh. I am such a horrible person. Here I committed myself to watching a horror film every day for the month of october and I post two and then am quiet for the next couple of days. I want to kill myself. To make up for it I am posting three times today in order to punish myself. I will never mess up ever again…

Within the deep dark reaches of a lagoon lies a creature. A creature that loves beautiful women, strangling natives and breathing through its mouth although it has gills on both sides of its neck. It stalks the lagoon floor looking to take revenge on whoever it sees in its sights. Unless its sights are obstructed by a big shiny light after some dust has been thrown on it.  They call it… a creature.

A scientist makes a huge discovery in the depths of the rain forest: a fossilized hand that suggest the possibility of a merman’s existence. He takes a team consisting of a skipper, two divers, the lovely girlfriend of one of the divers and several natives and enters a lagoon… a lagoon that is full of death! The creature pops up and terrorizes the little expedition in order to gain the babe in that tight white bathing suit (so scandalous). The burly men come to the dame’s rescue with lots of diving, dust sprinkling and flashing of bright lights. This is the fight of a lifetime.

 

The plot of this film was a tad thin. It seemed like the screenwriter was struggling with ways to thicken the plot. It is one thing that a scaly monster is trying to wreck your ship, but mix it with diving envy, women inequality, and overt competitiveness of scientific discovery and you still have me yawning. The acting of course did little to help matters. Each man and woman were great to look at especially when they were moving fluidly through the water, but man they could not deliver a line to save their lives. None of that mattered as much as how the monster acted and looked. The creature was not as scary as some other Universal horror monsters, but man was  it cool to watch. I bet it was wonderful to watch those underwater scenes on the big screen. Such care went into those shots and the suit in general that it seems kind of wasted in such a bland story line.

Oh well. You can’t get everything right.

 

 

Cabin in the Woods

Yesterday I started off my horrorathon (see what I did there? I am so awesome!) with a vintage film about one monster. Today I am going to talk about the exact opposite. If you even utter Cabin in the Woods to anyone people will yell at you to not spoil it, so approach with caution if you are the one person on Earth that has not seen it yet. I have warned you.

This film has been buzzing around the film geek world ever since it came out in April of this year. The Whedon fanatics proclaimed this film to be one of the best things he has ever done. But their inclination to not discuss any aspect of the film for fear of giving the dramatic twist away made me feel like they were pulling my leg. Also a couple of critics that I consider important either hated it or thought it was just okay without giving reasons why they thought it was bad because they did not want to spoil the dramatic twist. So my burning sensation to see it in the theaters died pretty quickly after I found out no one actually wanted to discuss the film. But boredom, and roommates’ redbox purchases led me to see it a couple of nights ago. I have been debating ever since on whether or not I should give the twist away.

The film starts off innocent enough if slightly plastic and boring. A group of stereotypical teenagers (stereotypical for a reason now!) head out to the woods in order to enjoy a weekend of debauchery. However they have got something in store for them. This story is juxtaposed with two men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford… great choices by the way, Mr. Whedon) dressed up in suits working in what seems like a high-tech plant. But wait are these men watching this group of teenagers? Creepy!

Meta horror can be grating on my nerves. I get it you are making fun of these clichés that you have seen (and everyone else has seen by the way) over the last couple of years, but have you actually succeeded in telling a good story full of suspense? Most of the time this film succeeds in telling a compelling story with some suspense. But I would not call this film a masterpiece. I would call it an almost masterpiece. There are places in this film where the story just drags beyond any comprehension. We spend waaay too much time with the vapid teenagers before we get to any of the good scares. (By the way I know by the end they made two of the teenagers compelling but how much harder could it be to make all of them compelling? I am looking at the bimbo girl and her boyfriend. Man I wanted to kick them in the face.) The control room scenes that happen while the killings are happening seems to slow the film down more than it needed to be. The dialogue also seemed to be a little bit to spot on for me. But all of these things seem like minor things compared to the blast in the face the second act is. The events that happen in this act are so superbly done that I completely forgot the annoying stuff that troubled me in the first act. This is where the film actually started to feel like that film all those geeks were singing about so many months ago. I was scared, I was creeped out, and I was at the edge of my seat. It was invigorating. If only the first act was the same way.

One of the things that I would like to commend Mr. Whedon for would be the two main characters. He took two well-worn archetypes, the virgin and the stoner, and gave them some depth. It is hard for a writer of big budget films to give a stoner any motivation beyond the incessant need to get high. I liked how he turned this compulsion to constantly be high into a way for the wool to be taken off of his eyes. He knew that what was going on around him was wrong and a set up long before any one else did. It was refreshing.

I will end with this thought: What if Joss Whedon wasn’t making this film because it was just an unique premise but because he wanted to warn us that if we stopped making archetypical horror films that what happened at the end of this film will happen to us? Think about that and get back to me with your wacked out theories.

The Mummy

Horror films have never been my strong point. Something about this genre makes me want to never go near them. I think it might be the intentional need to scare the pants off of your bottom that might be scaring me away. Being scared has never been a state of emotion that I have ever wanted. I know that might be hard to realize to all of you horror junkies out there but it is true. But my obsessive nature about films has put me in a predicament. I need to know more about horror films and I am taking the month of October to learn more. Every time I post (hopefully every day but don’t get your hopes up), I will tackle a horror film that I have never watched before but are considered must watches in the horror genre. My goal is to cross off a few essentials from my list of to watch films and to learn more about the genre I am exploring. I hope you will enjoy it.

What better way to start off this exploration than a Universal monster flick? Boris Karloff, hot off of his success from Frankenstein, expands his monster repertoire with the scary mummy reanimated by the utterance of a curse to stalk the earth looking for his reincarnated love. He finds her in the lovely Helen and he will stop at nothing to transform her into an ancient Egyptian. His plans are made complicated by a young pretty archeologist who is desperately in love with Helen from the first time he met her. A Dracula like plot ensues and the plot thickens with each passing minute until… well I won’t tell you the ending.

The appeal of Boris Karloff is very simple. I want to see a very tall man in mountains of makeup lurk around being scary. It is as simple as that. So in that way the film wins. Boris pierces the screen with his snuck in eyes and paper skin. He truly is the best mummy I have ever seen on film. (At least alive.) Of course all of the most recent mummies that I have seen have all been computer animated so there is really no competition.

However in the compelling story aspect it fails most dramatically. The story rushed itself too much. The young archeologist was in love with Helen from the moment they met. His come ons were the creepiest part of the whole film. I am not kidding.  The sentiments felt false, the acting was atrocious (by everyone except Boris) and the story was a Dracula rip off. But who really cares? It was cool to look at and fun to rip on. I enjoyed myself so I will give this film a pass. For now… (duh… duh… DUH!)

As a side note: The remake will never be as good as the original. Do not under any circumstances watch The Mummy from 1999. It bring about a plague of locusts! (Actually you will probably just die of boredom)

The Game

David Fincher is lauded as a master of our time. Not only has he directed cult favorites (Fight Club) , but he also has made true masterpieces (Zodiac) and oscar fodder (The Social Network). Of course he has also made some duds (Can I get a Curious Case of Benjamin Button for ten please?), but he can usually be counted on for a slick interesting thriller. So what happened here, Mr. Fincher? Why did you make such a unique premise so incredibly dull to watch?

The unique premise involves an insanely rich man who plays this game that entails him losing everything he has ever had and held dear for fun. Michael Douglas plays the cocky rich guy and Sean Penn plays his brother who gives him a gift certificate to this company that puts on THE GAME… (woah that’s the title!) He then throws money at everything that ruins his life until he realizes it was all just… a… game!

I think my main problem with the film was that Fincher tried too hard to Sevenify it. Seven was the film he made right before he made this one and it was in fact one of his masterpieces. He took a dark and scary premise (a serial killer bases his kills on the seven deadly sins) and made it creepy as hell. He injected poetic realism into a premise that could have easily been cheesy and over the top. And then he twisted it at the end so beautifully and made the whole film worth my time. But this film is not Seven. It does not have a manic villain like Kevin Spacey, real stakes, a likable character or someone for Michael Douglas to play off of like Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt could play off of each other. The film is the premise. You need to amp it up and make it cheesy in order for anyone to learn anything or at least enjoy themselves. I want to be able to take pleasure in all of the bad things that happen to this unlikable character instead of just be bored by them. And don’t use the exact same look that you employed for your first film. He may have thought about his choice of cinematography very deeply, but it seems like he was cutting corners.

This film is frustrating to watch because it could have easily been something worth watching. He had good actors, a strong premise, and some good dialogue. If only he would have pushed it an inch further, worked on it for a little bit longer, he could have made a masterpiece. Instead he just settled for a Seven Part 2: Eight. (That was the original title of the film… )