Month: October 2015

Favorite Things: Halloween Horror Movies

Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. The change in leaves, the crisp air, the costumes, and of course the great horror movies. It only seemed fitting that for my blog’s first Halloween I do a list of some of my favorite horror movies that take place during Halloween. This list is in no particular order and range from classics to more recent favorites. Let’s begin…

Halloween (1978) 

This is probably the most obvious horror movie that takes place during Halloween, but it is also one of the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, some of my earliest horror movie memories are related to this film. It is a classic slasher flick that still sends chills down my spine, even though it’s been almost 40 years since its release. Jamie Lee Curtis really showed her acting abilities in this. She also has one of the best screams I have ever heard. She is by far one of my favorite “final girls.” Although I may be a bit biased because I think she and my mom look alike.

Honorable Mention: The 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is actually quite good. It stayed true to the original, while also adding quite a bit of back story on how Michael Myers became the iconic killer.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

This may be a slightly less popular choice, but this film definitely has a cult following. The Halloween movies were meant to be almost like an anthology series where each film focused on a different story taking place during the holiday. Many people likely went to the theater expecting to see another Michael Myers film. Because of this, the film did not do well at the box office. Since then it has become wildly popular with horror fans. I have to admit the first time I saw this movie I hated it. I have watched it a few times since then, and now it is definitely one of my favorite Halloween-themed films.

Trick r’ Treat

This is another film that has a huge cult following. I didn’t see this movie until several years after its release. When I finally watched it, I immediately fell in love. The film is done in an anthology style where all the stories are connected in some way. What makes this film so great is that it covers all the major themes you think of when you think of Halloween. The “main character” of the film, Sam, is great because he manages to be absolutely adorable and terrifying at the same time. This is very difficult to manage, and I still don’t understand how they did it. Trick r’ Treat really is a classic film that I now watch every year for Halloween.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps will forever be one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it takes place during Halloween just adds the icing to the cake. I find the main characters, Ginger and Brigitte, to be fascinating and complex characters. It’s also amazing the actresses are able to portray this complexity while also having to be regular teenage girls. Their bond throughout the film also draws me in. I will warn the men who are interested in seeing this film that the entire movie could be seen as one giant metaphor for a girl going through puberty, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. There is a lot of fun gore and practical effects, plus the script for this film is absolutely incredible.

Idle Hands

I know this is probably the most cheesy movie that will appear on this list. You might say it’s a ridiculous choice. Well, I don’t care. This movie cracks me up and has fun with horror. Plus the young nineties girl in me will forever be in love with Devon Sawa. I have always loved this film because it is hilarious and has copious amounts of gore. It is a film you can watch for Halloween if you want a healthy dose of horror accompanied by a fun and light-hearted tone. Idle Hands is a great Halloween horror choice for watching with a group of friends, especially if there are some in your group that don’t necessarily want to watch a scary movie.

The Houses October Built

This film only came out last year, but it has already made quite a name for itself. The most endearing quality of this film is that it examines why people love to be scared. It also delves into how extreme some people will go with those scares. It’s a great concept, and the cast is really fantastic. I’m sure this film will only grow in popularity over the years, much in the way that some of the previous cult classics I mentioned have. My only recommendation is to watch this after you go to a haunted house. If you watch it before, you just might change your mind.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is another one of my favorite horror films, and the film that made me fall in love with Rob Zombie as a director. It’s a unique story that got me within the first few minutes. This film is intense, bloody, and filled with insane characters. What I love most about the film (and the sequel) is that Zombie manages to create characters that are truly despicable, yet there is something about them that you can’t help but love. That takes true talent, especially when you see what these crazies like to do for Halloween (and on ever other day of the year). Watching this makes me want to be a part of the Firefly family. After watching the film, you will understand that this is not the most sane way to look at that family.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

Advertisements

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

The Fleeges, Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and Emily (Brit Shaw), recently moved into their dream home. While getting decorations out for the holidays, they find a strange video camera from the eighties along with some old tapes. The camera seems to be able to see things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. As the family starts filming their home with this special camera, and as they go through the old tapes, strange things begin to happen in their home. All of the activity seems to be centered around the daughter, Leila (Ivy George). Will the family be able to get rid of the evil in their house before it’s too late?

Before I begin my review of this film, I feel like I need to establish my feelings about the previous films. I absolutely loved Paranormal Activity 1-3. They scared me to death, and each film built upon the mythology more and more. On the other hand, I thought Paranormal Activity 4 was horrible. It was completely pointless, and there were multiple plot holes. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was decent (better than 4). It had a bit more humor than the previous films and it definitely built on the mythology some more. This installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise, while successful on rounding out the series, ended the films on a rather mediocre note.

What made the first three films so intense and terrifying was how the scares were presented. The scares started out very slow and subtle; so subtle that you may have missed something that happened the first time you watched it. The scares became bigger and bigger from there until the horrifying finales. This installment took a slightly different approach. With the use of the special video camera you can see the entity known as “Toby.” He starts out as transparent disturbances seen on the camera, but quickly gains a more opaque form. While it was very interesting to finally get an idea of what the legendary Toby looks like, actually seeing him also kind of ruined the effect. It is much more frightening to be stalked by something you can’t see. I also feel like they dove into the big jump scares too early in the film. The previous films built up the tension much more before using the jump scares. This installment almost entirely skipped building the tension. While the jump scares definitely scared me on multiple occasions, using them as the sole source of frightening viewers does not make a successful film.

The most successful aspect of this film was how it added to the mythology that has been building for 6 films. Warning: if you haven’t seen the previous films, then these might be spoilers. In the previous films we have learned that Toby is a demon (and not a ghost, so why is this film called Ghost Dimension?), a coven of witches called the Midwives orchestrated everything, and Katie and Kristi were chosen to be major parts of the Midwives’ evil plot. This film reveals more information. Not only do we learn more about what happened to Katie and Kristi as children after the third film, but we also learn the ultimate goal of the Midwives. Sequels are pointless unless they add something new to the story and help us to further understand the “why” behind the plot. In this regard, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension did an excellent job.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to the special effects in this film. For the most part, I generally enjoyed the way they showed Toby through the special video camera. I especially loved when they made it look as though he is made out of black liquid. It’s when Toby ends up looking like he is made out of black smoke that they lost me a bit. The filmmakers went from a look that was both stylish and unique to a look you would expect from a hokey ghost movie. They should have stuck with the more liquid look, which was much more original and terrifying than the smoke.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is an entertaining film with lots of good scares. It also had an interesting plot that brought a fitting end to the Paranormal Activity franchise. There is definitely room for improvement. The special effects were used a bit too much, and the film did not have the same intensity of the previous films. It may have been fine as a standalone film, but considering this film is the end of a series of films, it is impossible not to compare it to its predecessors. People who loved the earlier films will likely enjoy the story, but be disappointed that this film rushed into the big scares too quickly so that they almost became mundane by the end of the film.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Over My Dead Body (Short)

This is my first time writing a review for a short horror film, but shorts are becoming more popular (especially with websites like YouTube and Vimeo) so it seems high time for me to write about one. In the short film “Over My Dead Body,” by director Timothy Plain, we see Marie (Karina Wolfe) getting ready for her blind date. Much to Marie’s surprise her blind date, Richard (Jeremy Mascia), turns out to be a zombie.

There are so many great qualities to this short film. The most important for me is they manage to fit a complete story into a mere 7 minutes. It has everything you expect to see in a feature-length romantic comedy. The script by Zergog Sebastian Tovar made me laugh many times. Blind dates are awkward enough on their own; add the fact that your date is a zombie, and things get even more uncomfortable! I especially loved the bad jokes Tovar incorporated into the script. Most guys try to make jokes to make an awkward situation more comfortable. Poor Richard’s jokes only seemed to make things worse, which made everything more hilarious to watch.

Another great aspect of this short is the attention to detail. These are little things that you may not even notice the first time you watch the short, but they have a big impact. One of my favorite scenes consists of one of these small details. When Richard first arrives to the blind date he gives Marie a bouquet of dead flowers. The gesture of a dead guy giving his date dead flowers made me laugh so hard. This scene reflects the short as a whole: cute, clever, morbid, and completely hilarious.

Richard’s makeup was very fitting because while the character is a zombie, you still want the viewer to see Richard as someone who is dateable. If they had gone for the full “Walking Dead” treatment, no one would want to date that zombie! The only downside to this makeup is that it didn’t necessarily extend beyond the face. It would have been nice to see the pale complexion and dark veining wherever zombie skin was showing.

“Over My Dead Body” really has everything you could want from a romzomcom. It’s funny, it has a zombie, and it has a very sweet story. Now, consider the fact you get all this in a 7 minute short, and that is pretty impressive. This short film is something that can not only appeal to people of many different ages, but to non-horror fans as well. You can even watch it on a break at your day job (like I did) or pull it up on Vimeo on your TV. Either way, be sure to check this short out.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5 (Since it’s a short it seemed appropriate to use a smaller rating scale!)

Crimson Peak

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has seen ghosts since she was ten years old. On her first encounter with a ghost, she was warned to stay away from a place called Crimson Peak. Years later, she meets a handsome baronet from England named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After a tragedy, Edith marries Thomas and moves into his decaying family mansion in England along with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith soon realizes the place she was warned about as a child has now become her only home, and there are many ghosts within its walls.

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. He has a masterful way of blending dynamic characters, haunting imagery, and completely unique looking creatures. Crimson Peak is another success. Probably the most successful aspect was how visually stimulating and stunning the entire film is. This is evidenced when Edith moves to England with the Sharpes. The mansion they live in is quite literally falling apart. It is unnerving and beautiful all at the same time. The house sits on deposits of red clay that seeps through the floors and the walls of the house’s lower levels. It makes it appear as though the house is bleeding. The director has essentially made the house another character in the film. The red clay seeping into the pure white snow is also a very vivid image. It alludes to the blood that has been spilled on this land.

Even the costume design added to the fantastic imagery. The costumes alone were quite beautiful, but the focus on color adds a certain depth. Edith, who is full of life and innocence, typically is seen wearing some kind of white, beige, or yellow dress. This makes her stand out against the darkness of the house and the blood red of the clay that oozes from the walls. By contrast, both Thomas and Lucille wear very dark colors. It is almost as if their clothes are meant to show Thomas and Lucille’s connection to the house. This is especially clear with Lucille’s wardrobe. She primarily wears a blue dress that is so dark it is almost black. She almost blends in with the house as if she is one with it.

This film had an original story that actually kept me on the edge of my seat. It is a mystery being slowly unraveled as Edith follows the clues being laid out for her. It’s always a good sign when I’m not constantly guessing what will happen before it occurs in the movie. That isn’t to say there weren’t some things that seemed fairly obvious early on in the film. It was more that the way everything was revealed kept it interesting, even if you knew what was coming. Some may feel that the film moved rather slowly. I will concede that based on the trailer, the film looked like it was going to be filled with non-stop intense scares. There was plenty of intensity and definitely some great scares, some that even happen very early on, but the film definitely focuses more on the mystery side of things as well as character development (which is very important in a film like this).

All three of the leads in this film were absolutely flawless. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) was perfectly cast as Edith. She gives an air of youthful innocence yet she is independent and very intelligent. Wasikowska also excelled at portraying her character as terrified of the ghosts that haunt her, but also knowing she has to solve the mysteries surrounding these ghosts. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Thomas Sharpe except Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers). Hiddleston somehow manages to appear charmingly lovable and utterly sinister all at the same time. I don’t believe any other actor could achieve this. Finally, there is Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). It is clear from her past work that she is a talented actress. Until now, I never knew how disturbing she could be. The only acting that I was not convinced by came from Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy). I usually enjoy his acting, but his delivery in this film just fell a bit flat.

Yet another amazing aspect of this film was the various special effects. Guillermo del Toro is known for his amazing use of CGI. The look created for the ghosts was disgusting, frightening, and beautiful all at once. What I was even more surprised about was the use a practical effects. This film had some rather brutal scenes of violence, which I did not even remotely expect, with gorgeous practical effects for the wounds. There is one particularly graphic scene that takes place just before Edith goes to England that blew me away.

There are so many amazing aspects of Crimson Peak. This film was dark, intense, scary, mysterious, and sexy. It has pretty much everything you could ask for in a great ghost film that actually has substance. While it was a truly thrilling movie, there are some things that keep it from being perfect. The biggest being simply that the trailer leads you to believe the film relies much more heavily on scaring you with ghosts than it really does. This is one thing that will likely upset many viewers. Personally, the fact that this film had an edge-of-your-seat mystery makes up for the fact that the ghosts were more used as clues rather than ways to terrify you. It is still one of my favorite films so far this year. I truly hope that this will lead to Guillermo del Toro writing and directing more horror films.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Final Girls

Max (Taissa Farmiga) is a teenage girl who lost her mother (Malin Akerman) in a tragic car accident 3 years ago. Her mother was an actress whose most famous role was in a cheesy 80’s slasher flick. On the anniversary of her mother’s death Max gets sucked into attending a screening of the slasher movie. During the film a fire breaks out in the theater. Max and her friends escape by cutting through the movie screen and walking through it, only to find themselves trapped inside the movie. Now Max and her friends have to keep themselves alive until the horror movie they are trapped in ends.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I LOVE this movie. Not only did I love it, but there are many things to love about this film. One of my favorite parts was simply the originality of the story. The “Camp Bloodbath” film is obviously paying homage to Friday the 13th. The idea that these modern day teens somehow accidentally transport themselves into an 80’s slasher makes for some hilarious scenes related to the differences in clothing and technology. It’s so clever that I’m not even bothered by the fact that we have no idea how these kids ended up in the movie world in the first place. While the filmmakers are clearly honoring the classic slasher films, they also mercilessly make fun of them. It is absolutely hilarious. They make fun of everything including the over-the-top acting, bad writing, and the fact that sex is equal to death. The filmmakers even included classic 80’s horror movie music, but they updated it a bit in order to keep it fresh.

The acting in this film was perfect. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) alone was brilliant. She does a great job of portraying the girl next door, but with an added edge that makes her more interesting. What was really brilliant was the juxtaposition of the “real teens” acting compared to the acting of the teens from “Camp Bloodbath.” It was hilarious to see the real teens and their reactions, especially next to the teens from the slasher flick who are acting so over the top and cheesy. Malin Akerman (Couples Retreat) surprised me in this film. I usually am not very fond of her or her acting, but she managed to win me over in The Final Girls both as Max’s mother, Amanda, and as the shy camp counselor from “Camp Bloodbath,” Nancy. Two standouts in this film are the over-sexed camp counselors Kurt (Adam DeVine) and Tina (Angela Timbur). They perfectly fit the 80’s slasher stereotype of the not-too-bright counselors that only care about getting laid. These two definitely stole some scenes with how hilarious they were.

The various effects and styles of this film also contributed to its success. The cinematography is gorgeous. There are a few scenes where they fluidly move from one point of view to another in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen in other films. The effects they utilized to transition to and from the flashback scenes were also quite unique and added some interest to the film while we experience things the way the teens from the real world do. I honestly can’t say anything bad about the CGI in this film. They used it in a relatively sparing way. When they did use it the effects were slightly over the top, but in a way that fit the film in a perfect way. The same goes for the practical effects. There were some practical effects used for the various kill scenes, but those scenes were not very gory considering this is a PG-13 movie. There was really only one aspect of the practical effects that I didn’t like, and it is really so minuscule that most people probably wouldn’t even notice. In the beginning of the film when we see Max with her mother, Amanda, they clearly had to age Amanda a bit because she was much younger when she filmed “Camp Bloodbath.” The only real effort that can be noticed to age her was subtle prosthetics under her eyes to add wrinkles. As I said, it was pretty subtle, but what really bothered me about it is that I could tell they were prosthetics. The edges didn’t seem to be blended very well and the color of the prosthetics didn’t match her skin tone, making it stick out a bit. This may seem nitpicky, but it ruined the age makeup for me.

I really had so much fun watching this film. It had everything you could want from a horror comedy. There was an interesting story, it made fun of itself, it honored the classics, can be touching at times, and I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire time. What makes this film even better, is that it has outtakes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror movie, or even a horror comedy, that has outtakes at the end. This is the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, even those that don’t love horror films. You can even bring younger audiences to see this since it has a rating of PG-13. This is definitely a must see film that will keep you laughing the whole way through, and maybe even make you tear up a bit, with an ending that couldn’t have been better if I wrote it myself.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The Boy (2015)

A 9-year-old boy named Ted (Jared Breeze) lives in a remote mountain motel with his father, John (David Morse). Together they own and run the failing motel. Ted generally lives in isolation, with no one but his father and the rare motel guest to interact with. As a chain of events gets in the way of Ted’s goals, his sociopathic tendencies bubble to the surface.

This film definitely has a slow burn. For some, it might be slow to the point of being boring. Personally I thought the pace was just slightly above the boring line, but I can see that many people will not like it. The first half of the film is really just character development for Ted. They do an excellent job of showing that he has some qualities that could make him a potential sociopath, and he is fascinated by death. Ted’s ultimate goal is to find a way to to go live with his mom in Florida. This is entirely an understandable wish. He lives in the middle of nowhere, only has his dad to talk to, and doesn’t interact with any kids his own age. I would want to leave too! It isn’t until his plans to leave get ruined that he becomes fully psychotic. This makes the last 15 or so minutes of the film very tense and at times a bit shocking.

The acting in this film is excellent. I was so impressed by Jared Breeze (Cooties) and his performance as Ted. Kids in horror movies tend to either be terrifying or simply annoying. Breeze did a great job of acting like a relatively normal boy in the beginning, only showing glimpses of his insanity here and there, to then becoming a full blown sociopath. The most impressive part of his performance was all in his eyes. While Breeze’s character was carrying out unspeakable acts of violence, his eyes remind dead and soulless. The only emotion that I would say you can really see in those eyes is just a touch of curiosity. Rainn Wilson (The Office) was also amazing as the mysterious drifter who is staying at the motel. I am so used to seeing him in more comedic roles. While the role is a smaller one, Wilson does an excellent job of portraying this darker character with quite a few secrets of his own.

One of my favorite parts about this film is that it brings up the question of nature vs. nurture. Is Ted psychotic because he was born that way? Or is it because of the environment that he grew up in? It is clear to me fairly early in the film that Ted has some of the qualities of a sociopath. These qualities begin very small, and are almost unnoticeable. At one point when a boy his age is staying at the motel Ted learns fairly quickly that some of his actions are not socially acceptable, so he changes those behaviors. This makes me wonder if Ted had been raised in an environment where he was around other children his age, and had a better idea of the social norms, would those sociopathic tendencies have been put in check before they got out of hand.

When deciding if you want to watch this film, keep in mind that it isn’t a scary movie and it moves at a slower pace. It is definitely more of a suspenseful film that relies on the building of tension in order to keep you at the edge of your seat. With how slow the film is, and the fact that all the action only really occurs within the last 15 minutes of the film (and even then it isn’t that action packed), I would say this film is definitely not for everyone. Overall I enjoyed the acting, the story line, and the way they portrayed a kind of coming-of-age story about a child sociopath. It isn’t a “must see” movie, but if the general themes are what you look for in a film then I would recommend this one.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10