For the month of October I’ll be watching one (new-to-me) horror movie each day and writing up my thoughts. Please post your thoughts, reactions, or arguments in the comments! Oh, and Happy Halloween!
Week 1 (Oct. 3rd – 7th)
This great little indie flick was the gem of this year’s Shriekfest in Hollywood. Closing the festival (and winning the top prize), it surprised me with its restraint and emotional core. Writer/Director Mike Flanagan doesn’t dish out a single scare moment until well into the first act, setting a brooding tone and letting the audience know and love the main characters.
The story has the great simplicity of a horror premise (folks disappear beneath a creepy local bridge) and the complexity that can only come from experienced screenwriting. Each character – even the horror cliche of two hard-boiled and disbelieving cops – has something personal at stake in the story. The dialog and plot twists are superior to most major studio releases and almost every single moment is effective, due in large part to the great acting in every single role.
This is low budget, to be sure, with every single visual effect deliberately out of focus or glimpsed in the tiniest slivers of light, but while that might drive the gore hounds nuts I found it refreshing. This is definitely one to purchase on DVD and watch for this creative team on future projects.
The Millennium Bug
Also an entry in this year’s Shriekfest, I purchased this flick on DVD at the festival from the producer himself. The purest of indie films, almost the entire thing was shot on a single soundstage (yes, even the bulk of the exterior shots, lending a wonderfully surreal vibe to the entire production) without a single frame of CGI creatures. Everything is prosthetic or puppets and it this fact alone makes the film worth watching.
Well, that and the premise, which has a hapless couple driving into the woods on the eve of Y2K, hoping to escape technological disaster and finding instead sex-crazed hillbillies and a (completely unrelated) giant bug about to burst from the ground and wreak havoc. Utterly ludicrous without being brainless, this is a riotous camp-fest that isn’t for the faint of stomach … with close ups of deformed births and dirty dismemberments, it’s a bloody guilty pleasure that you should include at this year’s Halloween party.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Despite the fact that no one I knew has seen this movie and it’s generally considered an abysmal sequel, I had to check it out. As a huge fan of the first Poltergeist I can only say “WHY, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY?!”
The film fails on almost every level. The story delves into the mythology, putting a face to the terrifying evil force from the first film. This is completely unneeded and eradicates all the mystery and fear. In a single installment in the franchise we went from a terrifying, unnamable force to a single, specific ghost named Kane, who was once the leader of a religious cult.
While Kane is brilliantly cast (actor Julien Beck had stomach cancer and actually died before filming was completed, adding a shocking gaunt look and desperate nature to the villain), he’s completely wasted in terms of scares. Early in the film, Kane walks amidst a shopping center in broad daylight as multiple people walk through his ghostly form (via horrible special effects) making him seem ethereal and weak.
Also, the “scare moments” seem out of order. There is no single, solid inciting incident (like the static TV burst in the first film) so it’s unclear just how or why these ghostly things are happening. There is no build up to the magical events, things start off with a bang as the ghosts try again to steal Carol Anne, and the family rightly flees the house. But then they come back and go about their lives as usual and even argue with the spiritual guide who was sent to help them.
The story culminates in a loose series of coincidences that allow the entire family (sans the older sister, who isn’t even mentioned in this movie) to cross over to the titular “Other Side” so they can find Carol Anne with the help of their dead grandmother. The entire thing is an un-scary mess of bad special effects and loosely connected plot points. Avoid it at all costs.
I’d heard good things but this still turned out to be a pleasant surprise. While the directing and cinematography leave something to be desired, the story flows well and the gore and more twisted elements of the story are remarkably restrained.
Not counting what I call “on-topic gore” (which is gore that pertains to the core horror element that drives the story) the movie depends too heavily on non-essential gore such as close ups of the protagonist cutting veins with scissors, mostly in the third act. The rest of the film lets the audience psyche themselves out as a depressed mother begins to gradually suspect that her new baby is an undead ghoul with a thirst for human blood.
Disturbing, clever, and a quite astute take on the modern male’s inherent fear of starting a family, this is everything indie horror should strive for in concept, if not execution. Definitely worth a watch if you can handle the rough subject matter.
If anyone needs proof that I’m a masochist, take a look at my Netflix queue. The only reason I watched this movie is because I saw snippets when I was a kid and thought it was terrifying and figured I was two thirds through the franchise so why the heck not?
I was wrong. Everything about this movie stinks. The concept is vague, the acting is cartoony, the special effects are either non-existent (a fog machine just off camera is their sole representation of the ghosts) or utterly fake (Kane’s make-up and puddle-portal are low-rent visual gags).
There is no plot so speak of and the characters bounce off motivation like they’re in a pinball machine. One second they are jerks, the next second they are kind. One moment they want to save Carol Ann, the next they want to leave her to die.
Ghosts show up and affect the real world randomly with no visible rules and the filmmakers re-use the same gimmick (evil mirror twins) again and again throughout the movie when it wasn’t even scary the first time. This flick is an utter waste of time that will destroy your soul if you watch it. Consider yourself warned.