Thursday, October 20, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: The Shallows

2016, Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) -- download

OK, by this point, I have to admit that we have let Thriller leak into our viewing stream for this season. While there may be combo horror-thriller, many of the choices we have viewed have been pure thriller, without any thinly attempts at being a horror movie. Yes, the thin line between the two often ends up focused on the tone of the movie. Both have shocks and scares and intense moments, and it boils down to how the movie handles the characters, antagonist and protagonist. Usually a horror movie will focus only on the protagonist, where the antagonist is a mystery, an unknown.
Hush was definitely horror thriller, as it had lots of dark shadows, a mystery killer and was about the survival of the protagonist. The Ones Below was eerie with tense moments, a rather mysterious antagonist but was always in the open, very in your face as to why we were tense.

One could argue that The Shallows is a monster movie, just like Jaws was. In Jaws, there is no way we can accept that is a normal shark, as it seems to have malice, intent and incredible focus -- it is not just an eating machine. The shark that is harassing Nancy (Blake Lively) is of the same temperament. As a pair of his victims shout, "There are no sharks here!" so this guy is already out of his domain. And yet, there is no horror feel to this movie. This is pure thriller survival.

Maybe you cannot have horror on a bright, sunny surf?

It was good. But as you know, I like Small Movies.

Nancy is in med school, so the bite she gets can be taken care of. Still, she's bleeding and getting weak and is sitting on a rock for days without food & water. She's got a buddy, an injured seagull who hangs out on the same rock. She called him Stephen (#snicker) but I was referring to him as SharkBait. At least he wasn't a soccer ball.

When things really get going, this shark is just downright a monster! Seriously, he chomps and bites and rips apart everything without really wanting to eat it. The cast is small, so the body count is as well, but this is not about eating. Hell, he has a big stinky whale nearby so... why? Maybe I should re-think and sub-categorize this under Jaws. But no, this movie is not about replacing Roy Scheider with Blake Lively's bikini'd bum. This movie is it's own, more comparable to 127 Hours than anything.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: The Ones Below

2015, David Farr -- download

Family horror; specifically child rearing horror. At least with religious based horror, I have a Catholic background that can contribute to understanding it. But, much to my mother's chagrin, I am not having kids and don't really connect to the whole "we are having a baby, it's so beautiful" mindset. I get it, I am not against having kids, I just don't have the emotional connection and this movie was one of those that almost immediately drew upon it. Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) live in London, and are having a baby. Jon (the Governor himself, David Morrissey) and Theresa (Laura Birn) move into the flat below them. They are also having a baby.

Societal comments are my favourite details of horror movies. If the family in The Conjuring 2 couldn't leave their London home because they were poor, the families here have no such issues. These flats are incredible, and Jon & Theresa begin their connection to the story by renovating and landscaping the charming residence into something immediately creepy pastel. Seriously, the manicured lawn and precise angles at which they place the sunbathing chair in the back yard are something out vector-based advertising art -- think isometric art. Meanwhile, Kate & Justin are typically overworked, schlubby but look comfortable and charming. You can guess who I side with, who are meant to side with. And immediately judging happens between the two couples.

The horror begins almost immediately with a clash of the lifestyles, which unfortunately culminates in Theresa losing the baby. Jon's nightmarish reaction only solidifies our opinion of him; but can you blame him? Months later, Kate has had her little Peter and the downstairs couple return from their recovery to make amends and recover the friendship.

At this point you know where the movie is going to go. All the clues are there. It's now just the journey. Tension. Suspicion. It is meant to elicit the greatest horror from those who recently had children or are about to. But still, the movie is handled skillfully enough so that even I could feel the chill as to what was coming.

What, you may ask? I spoil everything else almost immediately? You should guess by now -- one couple - the creepy couple - lost their baby, and one couple - the ones we like - are happy with their new son. It's a thriller / horror. But at least Peter will grow up happy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: The Conjuring 2

2016, James Wan (Saw) -- download

Weird how James Wan, who did Insidious and the first Conjuring, also gets to do both sequels. We did both originals in years past, but the latter outside the season, which means we heard enough about it to see it as standalone movies instead of it them up for this time of year. As we did with the sequels. Sequels to these kinds of movies are often a rinse & repeat of the scares that made the first movie popular. We also have not seen the spiritual successor to The Conjuring, called Annabelle. Maybe next year.

OK, recap. The Warrens are paranormal investigators, a couple made famous by the Amityville house (yes, that one) and kind of haunted by it's popularity and infamy. They do the talk show circuit but are as often reviled as charlatans as they are celebrated for their abilities and successes. But the movie takes the seat that they, and we the audience, know what they do is very real.

This case takes them to London, England where a famous haunted house is all over the media and has reached the ears of the Church . Even the police have seen the activity. The poltergeist is so strong, that he even follows the haunted little girl across the street. When the Warrens show up, the house has already been trashed and the family is in a state of post-trauma having lived mostly sleeplessly for weeks, if not months, bearing the wounds and fright because they really have nowhere else to go.

The spirit is an old man, former resident of the house, one that is very malevolent and very angry. but there is something else going on, something that seems to betray the way the Warrens usually do these things. Is it a hoax perpetuated by a poor family who want a better way of life? Why is this old man, so angry so powerful?

There is something very Top 40 about the way these recent haunting movies are done, and as you know well, sometimes a Top 40 tune can get you humming even if its rather banal. The scares are all the requisite ones, but they are well done. You are not getting anything original here, but you are getting a good, solid haunting. A good not-solid haunting?

Monday, October 17, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Before I Wake

2016, Mike Flanagan (Oculus) -- download

"I am sure we will add his next piece to our next series."

OK, so I guess we are seeing Mike's next one a lot quicker than I expected. Delays and releases in different countries contributed to him having two movies premiere in basically the same year. Good for us!

Damn, that was good, playing into what I like in much the way Absentia did -- a mythology, a building of the world around the source of the scares. Where the other movie developed an actual other world, where creatures were creeping out of, this establishes a child who something other than you and I. Spoiler? No, not really. Almost immediately they reveal that Cody's sleep cycle is tied to the very real, very tangible things that appear. Butterflies, lost family members and something very very evil is the centre of this particular conjuring.

Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth) are adopting Cody. Cody's been through the system and his last family literally abandoned him, leaving him alone in their apartment for over a month before he was found. Cody doesn't like to sleep; he drinks colas, he pops pills and has lots of sugar before bed. At first only he knows why, but after his stash is taken away, Mark and Jessie find out why. When he sleeps, his dreams take form. Butterflies made of Christmas bulbs and the child the couple lost, appear when Cody nods off. Jessie wants Cody to sleep as much as he can, because then she gets a moving, talking reminder of her drowned little boy. But then the other aspect of Cody's dreams appears -- The Canker Man, a terrifying, alien creature that is full malevolence.

It wouldn't be a horror movie without an antagonist, but I felt the movie wanted to be more about the wonder of Cody's powers. Obviously, a simple twist in the genre could have him being visited by Professor Xavier for inclusion in a certain school in upstate New York. But the Canker Man is there, and he is deadly. And fucking scary. Once Jessie realizes she is abusing Cody's power for something that is not real, she works hard to heal Cody, to deal with the Canker Man.  Both Cody and Jessie are left with consequences of her actions, but a new life to live out.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: The Hallow

2015, Corin Hardy -- download

As a D&D player, sometimes you see a monster in a movie and ponder, "That thing is a pretty low level, why so dangerous?"  OK, maybe just me. But seriously, any Fighter worth their level could have taken out the Ghoulies or even zombies. But if average people in movies are zero-level, then maybe you can accept them being torn to bits by 1/4 CR monsters. Now turn the tables, and take a rather innocuous monster from a D&D game, say evil Fey, and toss them against a government official and his wife. Instant horror movie.

OK, maybe not that silly.

But The Hallow (not the Hollow) is basically that, as creatures that would go well into any D&D game become the monsters in our world. Adam is the conservationist hired by the Irish government to identify regions of the ancient Irish forests that will be opened up for logging. I guess they imagine a conservationist will control it well enough, so it doesn't end up looking like British Columbia. But the locals don't buy it, and one even gets rather violent over it. But his concern is not exactly with the forest, but with what lives in the forest.

Adam find the horror staple -- black goo -- but with some quick study finds it to be a fungus with qualities like the cordyceps fungus, i.e. it takes over what it infests. And he finds signs of it in his house. Things between him and the violent local escalate, but Adam doesn't guess that the people messing with him and his wife are not quite human. And then they escalate their attacks, assaulting him in his car and his house, stabbing him in the eye in the process, a thin needle grown from that black fungus. It is very clear they are being attacked by something not human. Adam is infected and the creepy little Fey monsters (or are they just people & animals converted by the fungus?) steal his child. It takes him too long to remember that cold iron can help defend against the nasty things.

I loved the connections to old faeries tales and Irish dark mythology. The forests once covered Ireland until we burned and cut them down. The Fey were driven deeper and deeper into the wood. We essentially burned out the fungus. But why do they need a human child? What driving biological force needs a small human? Myth and biology blur in the terror and Adam is just in desperate need to protect his family before he turns.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Don't Breathe

2016, Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) -- download

Jane Levy, she of Suburgatory redhead fame, returns in Alvarez's next movie. This movie is not quite a horror, but it acts like a horror. With a different score, lighting and attitude it would just be a new Panic Room thriller. But it really latches onto the fear the characters feel which made it a good choice for this season.

Rocky, Money and Alex are low rent burglars breaking into the houses of Detroit's wealthy, stealing a bunch of junk and hocking it. Alex's dad is a security specialist and the kids' trick is to get in via stolen alarm codes, carefully take what they want, and then trigger the alarm after they leave. They are doing OK, but Money wants more money and Rocky needs more money, to escape an abusive mother & boyfriend combo. Alex is just tagging along because he's in love with Rocky. And along comes Money with the "perfect plan".

There is a single house on one of those now classic abandoned streets in Detroit. The owner won a ton of money in a wrongful death suit and has socked it away somewhere inside the house. And the owner is blind. Easy job, right? Of course not, for just as the writing about these kinds of movies is eerily familiar, so is the idea that it will never just be easy. Things have to go wrong.

The fear starts when Money gets caught. And it continues as the kids have to try and escape this house, a house where the Trumpish ideas of protecting property are in play -- he will kill them and not blink a blind eye about it. Just because he is blind, doesn't mean this ex-soldier is at a disadvantage. The fear gets set to 11 when they find someone in the basement that they shouldn't have.

This is a well done, stylishly built horror as thriller; thriller as horror? The monster is a solid brick of a man with a very amoral agenda. The kids are getting killed off, sans the promiscuity. And there is a Final Girl. There is even the haunted house motif, though it is really only haunted with danger.

Friday, October 14, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: The Loved Ones

2009, Sean Byrne (The Devil's Candy) -- download

From the get go, we said, "no torture porn." Yes, we are beating a dead horse (but not torturing him!) but I have come to realize its how the creator takes the torturish path that helps decide whether its is porn or not. At the heart of it, if the movie revels in the pain the victims are feeling, that we are as much rooting for the villain as we are "enjoying" the scenes of torture, then it fits into the sub-genre we enjoy.

But then you see something like The Love Ones where the core of the movie is all about torture, and yet it doesn't quickly fall into that categorization. Unless you are one sick fuck, I don't expect you will be rooting for Lola Stone and her twisted daddy. They are depraved people.

Brent is a high school kid who lost his dad not long ago. He's a tortured kid, who tests the limits of his own strength & endurance, and drags razors across his arm. He believes his mother blames him for his father's death. It's school dance season and he politely turns down Lola. Big mistake. Her dad drugs Brent, kills his dog and drags Brent back to their place so Lola can have her own dance night. With injected bleach and amateur trepanation.

The movie alternates between the scenes of Lola and her "family", the anguish everyone is feeling at Brent's disappearance, Brent's best friends rather messed up date to the dance and the very personal trials of the cop trying to find Brent. The rather lovely and brilliant focus of this movie is not (just) on the torture of Brent, which is horrific and graphic, but all the loved ones affected by what this family is doing, and has done numerous times in the past.

Brent is a kid who questions if he deserves to live, after his driving accident killed his father. This experience answers the question for him, and damn does he ever want to live. His response takes all the energy that has built up inside him over the past six months and explodes it outward against the Stones. Yes, he wants to live. YES !

And he does.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Falling Water & Channel Zero

Falling Water, 2016, USA Network -- download

This show comes out of nowhere, not really trying to connect itself to existing popularities. It is not horror but it is creepy enough to lend itself to this season. It is mysterious enough but I don't think it is going to jump down the Lost rabbit hole of mystery within mystery. I think they are going to run with the 'dreams connect us all' premise and expand.

Tess is a trend spotter, something I once thought I could have been good at, a person who wanders New York seeking out what things are emerging in the collective urban psyche, so her clients can popularize and exploit them. But she is a little disturbed, completely convinced she has had a child that no one knows about and she doesn't recall how she lost him. Burton is a company fixer and security specialist, who is obsessed with a lost lover, one who may or may not really exist. Taka is a cop investigating a suspicious death while being rather distracted by his vegetative mother. All three are experiencing waking dreams, dreams we are cued into by the visual of water flowing upstream, dreams that are somehow connected to each others.

While the show is eerie and stylish, I think it is leading to a Matrix style reveal. I think it wants a world where the reality these people know is not the base-reality, but something overlaid and in need of reveal. I think they are going to focus on the horror based tropes of fearful dreams, confusing dreams and shocks until it gets into full swing. I am just not sure if it will connect with its viewers long enough to reach that point.

Channel Zero: Candle Cove, 2016, SyFy -- download

Creepypasta is a digital age phenomena, something that only exists because of the sharing aspects of the Internet. Think spontaneously generated folklore written on the Internet, instead of being told person to person. When I was a kid, we told stories of a crazy man who escaped from "the butterscotch palace" who kidnapped children and did unspeakable things to them. If I had been born into this generation, I might have related the story on Reddit or other forums.

The most popular of them, the ones that ring true enough or resonate enough with the readers, grow a life of their own. Many people believe The Slender Man is a real urban legend, one that comes from out there and may or may not be true. But really, he was generated in a photoshop battle and the mythology came afterwards. Or did he really just emerge out of the collective psyche with Photoshop and the Internet as the entry media?

Candle Cove is one such creepypasta, that emerged as a series of fictional recollections on Reddit about a 70s TV show that the adults barely remember. The more they talk about it, the more it sounds like it didn't really exist but that a handful of young people who collectively hallucinated the show while watching the snow on a non-existent TV channel, i.e. channel zero. SyFy takes that premise and builds a show around it.

In episode one we meet Mike, a child therapist who had his own incredibly traumatic event as a child. A large number of children, including his twin brother, were abducted and murdered. He was the lone survivor. But there was more. Everyone knew the children were found missing all their teeth, but Mike knows what took the teeth. He just cannot come to terms with it. And he also knew there was some connection to an unsettling TV show he and his friends, and brother, were watching -- Candle Cove.

Mike is drawn back to his hometown where events are starting to spin up again. Children are watching the show. Things are happening in the woods. Everything is getting very very fucked up again.

I admit to drifting off while watching, being a little burned out, but I found the story telling to be very unsettling and disturbing, as it should be. I will have to rewatch ep 1 again and will definitely be tuning in for more. As long as I don't start seeing a puppet show on a channel that I didn't previously have before.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Last Girl Standing

2015, Benjamin R. Moody -- download

Themes. They seem to be the theme of the season.

The Final Girl, the Last Girl -- the socio-sexual comment on who deserves to survive an attack by a psychopath. She is usually the nice girl, the chaste girl, the one everyone roots for. Where all her (probably promiscuous) friends will die under the blade, she will go face to face with the killer and escape and/or kill him. Camryn is that girl; The Hunter was that killer.

This indie movie opens with promise, a classic camping weekend gone deadly wrong. Camryn survives, springing one of The Hunter's traps on himself. And then we get a fast forward of the years following: medications, hospitalization, a rising cult, people fascinated with The Hunter and disputes over his gravesite. Camryn emerges working a lonely, solitary job at a (Austin?) laundromat where she quietly washes and folds clothes, a routine that brings her home every night and avoids everyone. Until the new guy starts, and she starts seeing The Hunter again. Things are unraveling.

Is the cult active? Is she going nuts? Is the new guy in on it; are his friends? Is she being manipulated, toyed with? Do they have an end goal? Even with all these questions, I found myself very pissed off at whomever was fucking with Camryn. In your typical toned down indie way, the movie doesn't really make any character completely likable but nobody is really a bad guy, nobody is really exempt from possibly being Camryn's tormentor.

** spoilers **

And then the turn, the crescendo of the climax and it all falls apart. I was not particularly happy with the path it chose, to reverse fortunes and have Camryn become the legacy of The Hunter. She has finally cracked, finally succumbed to the pressures of her experience and sees disciples of The Hunter in everyone. And she kills everyone.

I felt ripped off. I get it, they want a twist, a reversal. But so much had been about Camryn recovering. And they tear that away from us and her. But there is another lone survivor...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Hollows Grove & Detention

Some movies are not even worth watching all the way through. And some are just those so straight forward, I just get up and do other stuff while it is going on. Until I lose all interest. We had to watch two just to feel like we were getting something.

Hollows Grove, 2014, Craig Efros -- download

OK, the premise caught me. I have already said how much I hate the actual ghost hunting TV shows (are they still on the air?) but Marmy likes them, so we have seen a few movies with them as the centre. But each movie version has always been from the point of view that they are legit, that they consider themselves real ghost hunters and are still seeking true evidence. But this one took a tact I liked, that they were just a TV show and were just at another location with a rep, building enough material from which to fake the episode with. And a friend is making a short doc on their show, so he is the camera watching the camera folk. That he would catch them faking their show seems against their best interest seems beside the point, but whatever, small budget movie -- script editing is last.

Mundane. Some good scares, some decent effects but mundane yawn boring. Ghosts, possessions, poltergeisting, etc. And the dumbest wrapper I have seen in years, with some droll FBI agent going on about how his team found the footage. Can't do a found footage movie without explaining how the footage was found. And they have other evidence, which is just an excuse for a final jump scare.


Detention, 2011, Joseph Kahn (Torque) -- Netflix

W... T... F... is this movie? Its like one giant gimmick gone awry. Its a slasher movie, its a teen comedy, its a gonzo scifi movie, its a .... forget it, I am going to bed.

Detention is that movie on Netflix with the weird Deathnote-ish poster which stars John Hutcherson, the "popular" love interest for the main character, you know, the guy known only for his role as Katniss's other love interest. His name is Clapton Davis, which should have been my first cue to turn this trash off. But it has a time travelling magnetic stuffed bear connected to aliens. And it also has a time travelling body-swap between a girl and her mother, in the 90s. Yes, the 90s are now the distant past. I am so old. And it has a stylistic opening credit sequence that gets boring after credit entry three. And it has a movie based slasher killer who is trying to kill the high school kids. Either this movie is actually actually (two intended) popular with the "Twitter generation" or it is an old man's (Kahn's only 44) idea of what would be popular with today's low attention span, multi media, mashup culture. I don't know, too old went to bed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Hush

2016, Mike Flanagan (Absenstia) -- Netflix

Mike did one of my favourite and long thought about movies of the last few years, Absentia. Its nice to know that this push to find movies to watch lets us setup some directors we enjoy. His followup Oculus which I didn't enjoy as much as J did, was in the same vein as the previous, but this time round we get a rather creative entry into the "stranger at your door" genre of horror.

Maddie is deaf and lives in the country in a nice, cozy new house where she is attempting to write her second crime novel. Insert scene of empty page/screen. She has a friendly, nice neighbour Sarah who is a fan of the book and attempting to learn American Sign. All nice nice. Until Sarah comes banging at the door screaming in fear. Maddie has her back to the door and this is the time when a doorbell with flashing lights would have been handy. She doesn't hear a thing as Sarah is gutted by a stranger in a mask, that classic mask all these movies have had of late. He almost immediately makes himself known to Maddie and he pulls off the mask; he has other ways to fill her with fear as he attempts to break into her surprisingly well built little house.

This movie is clever, with making both Maddie and The Man (played by The Newsroom's John Gallagher) capable combatants. They are both thoughtful, cautious but driven by the emotions of the situation. He has cut her off from the outside world and she is trying to bide her time, until she can escape or seriously injure him. The tension is palpable.

This was a departure from Flanagan's previous supernatural pieces but proves he is good at tension and interesting situations. I am sure we will add his next piece to our next series.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Krampus

2015, Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat) -- download

We saw Dougherty's first go at a feature back in 2011. This one did what the previous movie (Tales of Halloween) tried to, but much better. This time he joins the collective (un)consciousness and the emergence of Krampus fascination. Krampus, that evil Christmas spirit from Eastern Europe, who looks like a Victorian version of a GWAR band member, crept into our Western minds a few years ago just begging to be made into a movie. I think the best movie is probably Rare Exports which ties him and Santa closer together, and BTW which we also saw back in 2011, but as part of the Xmas run. Dougherty's movie is one of the two of late, as well as a handful of Straight To flicks.

The Horrible Family Xmas is the heart of this movie, which is billed as horror comedy, but really is not very funny. Toni Collete and Adam Scott are the well-to-do side of the family and her sister's redneck family are the unfortunate seasonal visitors. Little Max just wants a perfect family Xmas, but the gun toting, humvee driving bumpkins drive him to angry recriminations and the destruction of his beloved Letter to Santa. So, instead, Krampus and his crew of evil unseelie Fey show up.

In an incredibly out of place but lovely animated bit, Grandma explains how Krampus shows up to destroy families where sacrifice and giving are forgotten at this time of the year. He must only come to those who have some connection to him, as she did, for I can imagine half of North America being laid waste (ed note: sounds like a great PoAp movie!) but instead only their neighbourhood is attacked. And devastated. Krampus arrives at the onset of a massive blizzard and cold spell that knocks the power & phones offline. He makes himself known almost immediately and the family have to pull together to fight off his evil minions: gingerbread men, nasty toys and a very alien jack-in-the-box that eats kids. They are not always successful. And the rest of the neighbourhood seems to be entirely lost as collateral damage.

This is a fun movie, not entirely serious but never done as straight comedy. The toys and elves are creepy as fuck, and the movie design team really had their heart in it. Krampus himself is not really at the centre of the movie, but he is so well designed, a sort of demon wearing the twisted guise of Santa. Its like an Ogre decided to get in the toy sack business. The movie ran well, with us expecting a "its only a dream" or "kid sacrifices himself to save his family" ending, but we got something rather unexpected. And unfortunately, not very satisfying from my side.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Tales of Halloween

2015, A Bunch of Directors (A Bunch of Stuff) -- download

Tales of Halloween is a classic horror comic style movie of interlocked shorts. In the comics, we would have a skeletal figure sketched into the title block, making quippy comments, where here we get Adrienne Barbeau as a radio DJ announcing things in an overly melodramatic fashion. It does not set an optimistic tone. This is an anthology movie for only people who like anthology horror movies.

Don't get me wrong, the cameos are fun -- John Landis, Joe Dante and... OK, so maybe now the cameos. But the interlocking pieces are cute -- it all seems to take place in the same neighbourhood with the same trick-or-treaters wandering around the different segments. But it is uneven and in a lot of cases, rather boring. One even goes so far, so so far, for a single jump scare. And one is a dopey metaphor for domestic abuse.

Using a familiar cast, where we are so used to seeing the Vancouver Crowd in genre TV, this is the Southern California Crowd with John Savage, Barry Bostwick, Greg Grunberg, James Duval and a handful of others whose names you won't know but faces are familiar. Everything is decently done, sort of mid-range TV level, but for one cute but surprisingly amateur stop motion bit. Really? Play-doh? That's all you could afford? But for the bit starring Sam Witwer, which just seemed to be better written, this whole thing was a big pile of 'meh' meant only for those Horror Kids that I mentioned in my post about Burying the Ex, which I should have probably left for this month.

Friday, October 7, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Deathgasm

2015, Jason Lei Howden (visual effects guy on The Hobbit) -- download

OK, it's agreed. New Zealand is the best at horror-comedy, especially when it has some splatter gore. Did it start with Peter Jackson and Braindead (Dead Alive) ? I doubt it, but it continues with the Deathgasm wherein a high school metal band that accidentally summons a demon while playing the notes on someone's evil sheet music. Taking a tune from The Evil Dead, the demons create zombie-like deadites that that kids have to put down to save their town, and the world.

The movie starts with the cliches, charmingly put together with great quips and nods to D&D. Now that Stranger Things did it, its the cool thing that all the kids are doing. Brodie is a metalhead, and yes metalheads and D&D go well together. As well as drawing penis demons in your school notebooks. Speaking of penises, where Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse did immature badly and embarrassingly (stretchy undead penis) this movie takes immature and embarrassing (finding his uncle's massive dildo collection) to a whole other, typical Kiwi level -- killing said undead uncle with the dildos. And not quickly; and not cleanly. And adding in chainsaws. They go waaaay past the good taste area into the next county.

And yet this is still a pretty damn good movie, as long as you accept the genre it is very solidly planted in. We actually root for the main character, to get the cheerleader, to defeat the evil and reverse the spells. The visual gags (music induced fantasies of standing on a mountain, nubile slaves girls at your feet, are gender non-specific, it seems) are great, the gore is over the top and they provide us with one lingering question -- in the age of MP3, how do you lend your music collection to the girl you want to impress? Apparently New Zealand still uses CDs.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: What I Am Watching

There is always something.... scary, or at least Halloween-friendly genre running on TV this season. Even if you drop Fear the Walking Dead, as I did, there are a few new shows that have popped up. One is about a mysterious apocalypse -- which has some creepiness to it, so not just disaster or po-ap. One is about a vampire plague -- no, not that vampire plague [The Strain], which I am ambivalent about resuming with season 3. Oh, and there is the other vampire one which has the cast doing their best to contain a vampire apocalypse. I guess, apocalypses are the order of the day.

Van Helsing, 2016, SyFy -- download

This is another of the loosely comic based genre shows with a female leading star. They are not quite Chicks with Daggers (and tramp stamps) but the intent is there. The comic is from that company that does the tasteless "sexy" Grimm Fairy Tales stories so I am not doing much background digging.

But damn, I like the show.

It starts po-ap, three years after a vampire plague devastated the US. It started with an eruption of the super volcano under Yellowstone National Park, which offers the vampires eternal twilight, and ends with a single marine holed up in a hospital watching over the sleeping body of a young woman who is supposed to be very important to what is going on. He has the only doctor locked in a cage, as she got bit and changed. Vampires here are a little bit zombie, a little bit infected. A single bite can turn you very quickly into a raving monster. But out there are some more intelligent vamps. And there are some things worse.

The marine lets in a small group of survivors in and things quickly fall apart. Its that tight little intro story that could have been a movie on its own. Conflict, distrust, loyalty and The Mission. At the end of 1 someone has let the vamps in and they attack Sleeping Beauty. She awakens and tears out the vamps throats with claws and bites. She seems as nasty as the blood drinkers, but biting her... changes them. And that turns the tide and saves the group.

Ep 2 was an origin story. We get Vanessa (get it?) trying to keep food on the table for her young daughter while the eruption makes things worse around her. The vamps discover her existence soon after she gives blood for money --- a hungry one sucks from her blood bag and .... reverts!  He is human again, and when he returns to the vampire nest, he is no longer one of them. But of course, the leaders need to find her and send their best. Vanessa is attacked and dies.

But not quite. She is not breathing. But her cells are still active and she is still warm. The doctor in charge of her autopsy is curious and calls her sister, a medical expert in the military. That brings the marines. The vampire plague is slowly happening outside. Vanessa is in a coma and the marines are there to watch over. And then that super volcano goes boom and the world falls apart.

The show is tight and tense and mysterious but has enough happening to not be annoying. Mysteries for the sake of them is just aggravating these days. I am still not sure how they will connect her to Abraham but I really don't care, as I like the world building it is doing.

Aftermath, 2016, SyFy -- download

Meanwhile, taking a completely different tack is the completely gonzo The Apocalypse is Happening NOW show Aftermath. In the opening episodes we get devastating storms, rains of fish and car parts, demons possessing bodies and flying away with teenagers, planet wrecking meteors on their way and a disease that makes people go violently insane. Biblical? End of Days? All possible. But does it give us any hints?  Nope.  It just gets the main characters running and doesn't stop.

Anne Heche is mom, ex-air force and tough is nails. The rest of the cast is unknown, but dad is a teacher of mythology and religion. The kids are the usual mix of capable and belligerent. Really, how else can teenagers be? Almost immediately Home is attacked and one of the twin daughters is spirited away by a possessed local who can fly. Emergency Services beckons them all to head to a small nearby city where the armed forces can protect them. But the family has to get there, while TXTing their daughter hoping she will survive her demon flight and reunite with them. And yes, she escapes her demon airflight attendant and connects with some friendly (but violent) bikers to take her to the city. Before they connect, a meteor takes out the town.

The show is so bloody fast paced you don't have time to do much more than WTF a few dozen times. There is no world building, no plot building no nothing, not even character building. Its just rush rush rush the apocalypse. For a show called Aftermath, I am not surprised it is full speed to the Post part of a Post Apocalypse.  I am quite eager to see where this completely insane show is going to go.

I suspect alien invasion.

From Dusk til Dawn, 2016, El Rey  -- Netflix

Meanwhile the other gonzo vampire show, the one based on the old Tarantino *ahem* Robert Rodriguez movie, is back for season three on Netflix, doing the one episode a week instead of the binge force like Luke Cage. From recreating the movie in the first season, while adding in a whole American (geography, not country) mythology to vampires, to an internal power struggle between the vampire Lords in season two, we have the new world in season three.

I have watched all three seasons, though didn't post about it for some reason. In this world, vampires are demons (Culebra) based on mesoamerican mythology but snake based. Fangs, venom and unique powers are the mainstays amongst them all. The Tittle Twister was a temple to the demon goddess they were manipulating, an ancient being who was created to be a worshipped slave manipulator of men for the Culebra Lords.

The Gecko Brothers get mixed up in it because the slave goddess Santanico Pandemonium had used her psychic powers to summon Richie Gecko to be her lover and protector, and free her from her servitude. But he gets attracted to the power offered by the Lords and becomes one of them. She gets pissed off and leaves.

When Season 3 starts Richie and Seth are working with the Lords on keeping a truce going. The absence of Santanico has caused a rift and without the Geckos, things could get all nasty for the humans. Balance is delicate. But then more demons show up, ones that once saw the Culebra as slaves and didn't like that they escaped to the Earth-y realm.

This show builds up ideas and dumps them almost every three episodes. Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred. It has a lot of fun expanding on the mythos while keeping the main cast moving forward. It is also very connected to its Latin American backing which sets the tone completely off from everything else on TV. Maybe there is a bit of telenovela in there? Not sure. This is not great TV at all, but a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Ghostbusters

2016, Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) -- download

No, I am not stuttering. This is the other Ghostbusters, the new one.  And the extended one, to boot, which I didn't know as it was a pirate of the not yet actually released Bluray edition. The weird thing is that the extended bits (but the dance number) all fit in well and actually would make for some weird confusing scenes if they had been left out. So you cinematic viewers, I am not sure what you got.

So, right out with it. I was not one of the camp that was annoyed, upset or perturbed they were doing an all female version of the beloved 80s all-male movie. You see, I am not a disgusting Troll. I don't see any reason to be upset -- re-using old material is the motus operandi of Hollywood these days. The trouble is, the remakes are just not usually very good. Neither was this. It was, in true fashion, a very fun popcorn movie that I have already pretty much burped out, i.e. I don't recall much of it.

Also right out with hit, I am just not a fan of the Paul Feig movies of late. I saw Spy where I admit I was also not a fan of Melissa McCarthy movies and probably for the same reasons -- not my brand of humour. I am also not a big fan of the current cast of SNL, but at least Kristen Wiig can crack a smile on my usually sullen face. I don't like Leslie Jones's humour either, but I am a small man scared of large, loud women so there is that.

Now, that probably spun into me not really liking any of the characters in the core ghost-busting crew. Kristen Wiig was a jerk, Melissa McCarthy was a jerk and Kate MacKinnon was more weird, but also a bit of a jerk. But Leslie Jones are grreeeeeeat !!  Seriously, I loved the character she was playing who was simultaneously the audience's view into the weird ghost world these ladies were mixed up in and a stabilizing factor for the team. She was so much more than the add-on throw-away part Ernie Hudson was in the original. Spin off Patty coda please.

But yeah, I didn't go for the core gang very much. I also didn't buy into the rebootish nature; I agree with Kent that maybe a new sequel would have been a better choice. I get the need to smack on the nostalgia for the first movies but once the winks and nods were out of they way, there didn't seem to be any charm left in the movie. And the whole climax went way overboard and made for odd choices -- seriously, if you can punch the ghosts, then why the proton packs? You don't really need to do any capturing to begin with.

This is a movie where individual scenes are fun to watch. Kevin, the sweet but oh so dumb & pretty secretary, is hilarious but the dance number, made for a good credit closer, was just stupid inside the movie. The gearing up was fun, but mostly pointless to the plot. The ghosts were oh so pretty much nothing really scary nor innovative. Slimer was back, again not explained at all (only the cartoon ever attempted to do that) and literally seemed to have another movie off camera -- I wonder if they are doing a MCU style coda for him. But when you gather the movie all together, I cannot ever think of a reason to see the movie again. Nothing stands out, nothing excited me, nothing really made me laugh out loud. The movie really needed to be weeded out and much more focused. Less nostalgia, more innovation.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Altar

2014, Nick Willing (Photographing Faeries) -- Netflix

That house. The one with the reputation. That one that the locals make up or relate scary stories about. The one that has a real murder in its history. If you get a job to renovate that house, and you see any hints of weirdness?  Leave. Just leave.

I have always wanted to see someone do a series of shorts where someone ends horror movies early by doing something logical, usually involving getting the hell out of Dodge. Alas, this was not one of them. Disappointment for the family involved, not me, because this was a decently done family drama horror. Funny, how I was talking about the cliche in South Korea and horrors involving family, but this British movie slides into it quite quickly: money issues, husband-wife issues, bitter kids. And what is better at testing an already strained family than a haunted house?

Olivia Williams and Matthew Modine are the troubled couple. She renovates/restores big, old houses for rich people and Modine is a not very successful, moody artist. You can tell of the bat, he is more bitter than supportive, the usual "I am not the provider man I should be" syndrome. The particular creepiness of this house was that the man supposedly murdered his wife and then killed himself; a man who was a known artist and recluse. And he has a weird room in the attic with a creepy, but beautiful, mosaic on the floor. An altar for some unknown ritual?

The murder was over a century ago; what about the years between? Do ghosts just stay quiet, keeping things on the downlow, spooking just enough to keep their reps alive, before they go possessing and wrecking people's lives? The house must have been something before we got to it. Before the ghost with the self-cutting issues haunted the daughter, and before the creepy dead artist comes back to comment on the renos.

The thing about this movie, which is decently shot and paced, appropriately creepy and suspenseful, is that she should have left her creepy husband long before the ghost stuff got out of hand. Modine was just a bad husband long before the dead artist's soul started messing with him. There was one particular scene, after a couple of already unsettling scenes, where she should have packed up the kids and left. But family ties and all. Alas, it is those family ties that dooms them.

P.S. I wonder if they ever recover the car.

Monday, October 3, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Train to Busan

2016, Sang-ho Yeon -- download

OK, despite the massive amount of popularity at Rotten Tomatoes, this movie wasn't very good. It is pretty much like someone in South Korea (a Hollywood suit, transplanted) saw World War Z and said, "Do that, but here. And since Snowpiercer did well, do it on a train." And thus we get an incredibly boring zombie flick.

Now, I am not sure if the blandness was influenced by the incredibly bad sub-titles we got hold of, that alternated between the brain breaking "huh? whuh?" and pure-without-intent translations. I am not sure if there was a movie with some heart there; It's hard to judge bad dialogue if you are not sure if its getting across correctly.

Screeeeeeech. The sound of the needle scratching across the LP. If you are too young to know that reference, go Google it.

OK, stopped the movie and grabbed a different subtitle file. I was right; it is amazing how decently translated dialogue can change a movie. But I also believe it was the point in which I stopped, and then restarted watching. You see, I am familiar with the tropes of South Korea, and a lot of horror movies focus on them -- family, obligation, broken families, situations that stress the tenuous bonds. As I mentioned in my post about Hansel & Gretel, it just seems to almost always be at the core of a horror movie. And the opening of the movie just hits you over the head with them, but once accepted it starts rolling along.

Seok Woo is a director level manager in some corporation, a company with issues that always keep his attention. They call him a fund manager but his company is connected to the event, so it must be more. Maybe in South Korea, the stock investments in a company are managed by the company itself? Anywayz, he has always been distracted. It led to a divorce and leads him to be delivering his daughter to Busan, his ex-wife's home, for the daughter's birthday.  They are taking the train.

And a zombie deer (yup, evil dead eyed deer) escapes from somewhere. Which is followed soon after by a girl with a bite jumping onboard, while nobody is noticing. And a guy hides in the lavatory, babbling "all dead all dead all dead..."

Whirrrr-bzzzt-squeak-whirrr. The sound of a tape fast forwarding. Go Google it.

The survivors are gathered all over the train, scared and bloody as it makes it way into station where it will go out of service. The military is supposed to be waiting for them. Rescue! Instead, its deathly quiet. Seok Woo knows something is up, and a military contact has told him to avoid the quarantine at the main square. Good move! The military is infected! Back on the train! Marines, we are LEAVING !!

The movie takes on that whole mass of quivering, biting flesh seen in World War Z and runs with it, pun intended. It had a lot of fun having them smash through plate glass doors, out of windows crashing onto surfaces below only to get up running, broken and twisted. Of course, the survivors are picked off one by one, some sacrificing themselves as they each learn to give up more and more to help others. A little bit of Greater Good by Hammer metaphor.

It actually is a lot of fun, much more than I expected from that cliche filled, tiring, familiar and badly dialogued opening bit.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Ghostbusters

1984, Ivan Reitman (Dave) -- Netflix

Shut up, it has ghosts in it.

The original, the better of the two. If I was going to comment on the new one, I would have to re-watch the old one first as it has been years. And funny enough, it stood up as I knew it would. OK, maybe the effects are pretty bad, but for the day they were pretty spectacular. And the jokes, mostly the little ones, still make me laugh.

This is a Bill Murray movie but to the team, I never really understood his contribution. He's a perpetual student, and a fake researcher, who does hold degrees but I doubt he knows any real science. I guess he's that drinking buddy who you keep around because he makes you laugh.  As Kent mentioned, there really is no detail as to what brings these guys together.

As years have gone by I find myself dispensing with my initial annoyance at Rick Moranis's role, as the oblivious nerd was grating to me back then. But now, even more so knowing he ad libbed a lot of it his delivery is so spot on. "Nice doggie," as he is about to be... consumed by the demon dog. To this day, I wonder what the diners sitting near the window saw. Nothing? Or were they just typical New Yorkers who saw something weird and went on with their meal.

So, tell me, what exactly is Slimer? All the other ghosts are either people or astral projections of an idea. Is Slimer some sort of embodiment of a deceased person's gluttony?

So, the new one will be out of Bluray soon, who ya gonna call?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Bleed

Starting in 2011 we (Marmy and I, as Kent is not that much of a horror fan) enjoyed celebrating the Halloween season (as soon as the candies hit the stores) by watching too many horror / Halloween related movies, most bad.  2012 had a few flicks but not the full month. Un/Re-employment kill 2013. Apathy killed 2014. But we returned last year with a full run. And we still had movies left over.

Like in previous years, the "best of _____" yearly gathering of good flicks had already been mostly exhausted. We like horror movies; we don't wait until October to see the year's best. Maybe on off years, I should re-post?  Anywayz, here we go!

Also note, I continue the trend of writing these the day following but fudging the date. It's not like I watched the movie and wrote immediately.

2016, Tripp Rhame -- Netflix

OK, seriously, a high score on IMDB ratings and a few other places? I think we are circling back as part of a backlash against all the cerebral horror movies of late, i.e. the people who consider them boring are jumping on the first jump-scare-gore-fest they find. This movie was terrible, just terrible.

Enter the tropes. A couple has moved to The Country, to fix up an old house with a reputation. Start the movie with a long drive on a winding country road. Enter an encounter with a weird talking country hick, the police man who actually is nice and helps her change a tire. But he is weird, and the tone & music makes him weird. And then the house, the supposedly old creepy house? Nope, an absolutely gorgeous country home. Nothing this lovely could grow out of a dangerous, creepy, redneck filled countryside. There were obviously too many re-decorators involved.

Enter the tropes. Dickhead brother shows up. Lovely friend with issues shows up, black boyfriend in tow. Wait, is there a cabin in the woods to be found? Nope, but there is a haunted abandoned prison. And the brother is a ghost hunter. We also get some cheap attempts at occultism with weird symbols and... and. Oh, I could just go on listing the wasted bits of tropes and all the familiar cliche horror inserts. But I won't, as the movie just didn't go anywhere. There was a core plot there, something mythological that just got ... lost in the editing? In the directing? Meddling? Who knows.

The movie didn't even know how to end properly, just abandoning the Final Girl trope and snatching the end of Eden Lake. Whatever mythos they were building up with butterflies and protecting ghosts (who also seem to forget who he was protecting) and birthmarks and reborn souls is dashed against the rocks of boredom.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Rewatch: Dawn of the Dead

2004, Zack Snyder (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) -- Netflix

Holy crap, Zack's first movie is one of my favourite zombie flicks, and it is still one of the best examples of the genre, even being a remake of the Romero classic. From the opening bit, in a cookie cutter suburb in Minnesota (social commentary!), where he establishes the speed and brutality of "fast zombies" to the artful credits roll, Zack sets his style to the movie. It is a style that could have easily lent itself to the adaptation of World War Z but Zack had already torpedoed his style by then. This is a great, standalone zombie movie.

Nurse gets off shift, goes to bed while zombie apocalypse begins outside. Immediately she loses her husband and races off as it happens all around her. Quickly, she ends up with a group of people who take shelter in a mall. This is the early 2000s, when malls were still somewhat relevant -- they are big, have lots of stuff and can be locked down. Perfect place to wait it out, wait for the rescue. But what if rescue is not coming?

All the tropes are visited or invented in this movie. Infection; a single bite turns you slowly into one of them. The bigger the bite, the quicker the change. Headshots kill them but significant damage can disable them. Preemptive kills; he's bit so do we let him turn or do we take him out NOW? Do the individualists really have a better chance than the empathetic? All these things that we now attribute to The Walking Dead were covered here, and better. And of course, its an action movie, so a wonderful gearing up scene has to happen.

The movie is filled with all kinds of familiar faces. The dad from Modern Family (Ty Burrell), the husband from Medium (Jake Weber), Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer (ER), Matt Frewer and a few other Canadians. We have nice people, mean people, assholes and capable people. And a dog. Most are skimpy in personality, because they exist to get eaten, but the movie even allows the asshole to turn into the capable guy.

Surprisingly, this is one of the least gory zombie flicks. It was done for wide release, and while the blood and violence is there, the movie takes place right at the beginning so the zombies are still rather... meaty. The stylistic decayed walking corpses are just not there yet. People do get torn apart, but unlike the famous buffet scene in the original movie, this one doesn't revel in that aspect. It is more about the living than about the dead.

In the end it was meant to have a sequel, supported by a plotted ending credits as the survivors make it to an isolated island, only to find it already taken over by the dead. But still, on an island, once you clean it up, very few should appear. That is, until they start walking out of the water...