Posts Tagged ‘Are you crazy?


Frailty (2001)

frailtyposterFor a long time, I’d been hearing really good things about Bill Paxton’s directorial debut Frailty. Naturally, I was skeptical: I’d only just recently admitted to myself that I like watching Paxton in action. Specifically, his turn in Near Dark delighted me to no end, and I finally had to come to terms with the fact that he is an enjoyable, if ridiculous, force on screen. After the endorsement of several folks, all of whom have opinions we normally respect, we decided to take a gamble. While I don’t necessarily regret it, I will say that a movie hasn’t inspired such passionate anger in me since that piece-of-shit Godzilla remake.

First things first: I can’t account for my disgust without revealing the film’s secrets. So, if you are stuck in the late 90’s/early aughts and still obsessed with plot twists, read no further. To the rest of you, it should already raise a red flag that the success of Frailty completely hinges upon its twist(ed) ending.

Now, let’s see if I can sum this shit up. Fenton Mieks (Matthew McConaughey) appears uninvited at his local FBI office. He’s looking for Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe), the detective searching for the “God’s Hand” serial killer. Fenton insists he knows, quite intimately, who the killer is. Doyle is skeptical, but with leads having run dry long ago, he has no choice but to hear him out. Long story short, when Fenton and his younger brother Adam were growing up, his widower dad (Bill Paxton) woke up in the middle of the night with a vision from God telling him it was his family’s job to kill sinners. The light of the lord bequeaths upon him a list of sinners by name and a few instruments with which to catch and kill them. Dad wastes no time getting the great cull started, and when he brings the first victim home, Fenton is horrified.  He is pretty sure his father has lost his shit completely. Young Adam is too little to know who’s right, and is more inclined to believe his father knows what he’s doing when he takes his hatchet to harlots and heretics.

We're a happy family, we're a happy family, we're a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

We’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

When Fenton decries his father’s actions and opts not to help murder people, dear old dad says the vision of God has told him that he should be next on the chopping block. But I guess he doesn’t quite have the strength of Abraham, and instead just has Fenton dig a giant hole in the ground that eventually will be his home for two or three weeks; just long enough until he sees the light of God, of course. Adam is allowed to give his brother one glass of water a day, but no food. I guess hunger can cause visions, right? So Fenton says he saw the light and is allowed out, and, you know, to eat and stuff, so that’s kind of nice. He still balks when his dad hands him the axe, though. Instead of whacking a sinner’s head off, he intentionally misses and sinks the blade into his father’s belly.

At this point Agent Doyle is  thinking ‘boy howdy, that’s quite a story, but them pieces don’t fit together.’ Fenton insists his brother Adam is the God’s Hand killer, carrying out the work started by daddy all those years ago. Doyle wants some sort of proof, and for whatever reason agrees to go to the plot of land where Fenton says all the bodies are buried. Finally, the two are alone and Fenton can reveal the truth: he’s not Fenton at all! He’s actually Adam! And his dad wasn’t crazy, he really did get a list of sinner’s names from the almighty lord and has carte blanche to murder

It's hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it's done to Paxton's forehead.

It’s hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it’s done to Paxton’s forehead.

them all! Even more twisty, Agent Doyle is just such a sinner and his end is imminent! OH MY (literal) GOOOOOODD!

Seriously? Seriously. How is this movie not an endorsement for religious zealotry? What. The. Fuck. At first I was thinking to myself: oh, okay, I get it; this movie’s going to say something interesting about religious fanaticism! BUT THE EXACT OPPOSITE HAPPENED! I am pretty sure I seethed and fumed about the irresponsibility of such an ending for entire days after I’d watched this. Aren’t we taking the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing a little too fucking literally here? The worst part of it is, after watching the special features on the disc it seems painfully clear that Paxton and writer Brent Hanley don’t seem bothered by this shit in the slightest. It’s almost as if the implications of their supposedly masterful twist ending didn’t concern either of them; they only wanted to make the audience gasp. And, I guess the second worst part is, it fucking worked. How is it possible that normal people are not bothered by the meaning behind this creepy-ass, evangelical ending?

McConaughey plots his next move...

McConaughey plots his next move…

While its politics absolutely disgust me, the truth is the film is not a bad piece of work, technically speaking. Paxton seems to know what he’s doing behind the camera, even if he can’t entirely pull off the devout dad role. He’s not the only one who seems to have trouble with his acting; McConaughey is no prince in this either. He’s not terrible, but after just watching (and loving) True Detective it’s pretty clear to see just how much he’s grown as an actor. And speaking of True Detective, I couldn’t help but see a lot of similarities between the two. Not to throw gas into the plagiarism fire plaguing writer Nic Pizzolatto, but there is a bit here that makes me wonder. Aside from the obvious McConaughey link, both pieces of work take place, in large part, in an office of the law. Both pieces center around a man, played by McConaughey, retelling a story in which he may or may not be suspected of committing serious crimes. Both have a weird Southern Gothic spiritualism thing going on, but thankfully True Detective‘s ending, while perhaps ultimately disappointing, was benign.

Anyway, whatever. This movie sucks. It’s irresponsible, reprehensible, and lazy. And, despite what Paxton and Hanley would have you believe, murder is not okay.


The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave has such a good cover, we bought it twice.  Maybe that’s not true; maybe my pal Grant had given me a copy at some point in the past, and I’d forgotten about it. But, whatever the reason, we ended up with two copies right around when we figured out what we’d be watching for this Fall’s 31 Days of Horror, and into the running it went. We watched it as title 20 of the series.

the-night-evelyn-came-out-of-the-grave-3Before I tell you about how it fared, check out that cover! It’s great! It’s got most of what you’d want in horror packaging: a scantily-dressed lady–a scantily-dressed lady with a skull head — holding an almost tasteful severed head. When I was a kid (much like Panos Cosmatos) I was fascinated by the jackets to the VHS horror films my parents wouldn’t let me watch. Because of my rather limited frame of reference, I often imagined them as more intense Scooby Doo episodes — lots of pursuit by monsters. When I was older and able to pursue such things myself, I realized that most weren’t like that (the closest I’ve gotten to that platonic childhood sense is Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse). Why am I sharing all of this? Because the jacket art to Evelyn is really great, and looks exactly like the sort of movie I’d like to watch.

Unfortuntely, the movie itself isn’t much to write home about.

To cut right to the chase, Evelyn in practice isn’t too far from Scooby Doo in the broadest strokes of its plot — I’m going to be spoiler-y here since I don’t think the reveals are all that shocking — we’re in territory that was well-explored, and better, by the likes of Dominique is Dead or, perhaps most exceptionally, by Henri Cluzot’s Les Diaboliques: a plot to frighten a lightweight into being scared to death. We get there in Evelyn by way of a by-the-numbers ’70s giallo, with all of the misogyny that entails.

Killing some braod, like you do. Though it's not impossible to have a libale protagonist who is also a conflicted killer, this flick doesn't even try.

Killing some broad, like you do. Though it’s not impossible to have a viable protagonist who is also a conflicted killer, this flick doesn’t even try.

In this case, the movie begins with our “hero,” the decadent and troubled Lord Alan Cunningham, bringing a comely redhead to his rotting Gothic estate somewhere outside of London. He takes her down to his torture chamber and tortures and kills her. Hey! Wow! Can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance! (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t). Seems sometime in the past, Lord Alan had a redhead — his late wife Evelyn — cheat on him, and he killed her for it. Now, he’s trapped in a terrible cycle of finding and killing more redheads to somehw assuage/amplify his guilt. Everyone in his life — his psychiatrist/childhood best friend, his playboy cousin, his crippled, very young aunt, his lawyer — knows he’s got this problem, and while they’re all troubled by it to varying degrees, the only one who seems to hold him at all accountable is Albert, the estate’s groundskeeper and Lord Alan’s brother-in-law. Albert is always there, watching Lord Alan’s murderous dalliances, sneeringly taking Lord Alan’s pay-offs to keep quiet. It seems only a matter of time before he gets his revenge…

Meanwhile, Aunt Agatha holds a seance to bring back Evelyn’s spirit — and it works! This is all too much for Alan. The doctor says he needs regularity in his life — he should consider marriage. Maybe that will let him work his issues out.

His cousin takes him to a fancy-dress party where Alan is immediately smitten by yet another redhead, whom he proposes to before they’ve even left. Everyone in Alan’s life takes this in stride; they think she’s awfully well-mannered indeed. That, i guess, is the only qualification that need be had to marry the lunatic patriarch.

Evelyn's come out  of the grave! THIS is the night they were talking about!! ...Or was it?

Evelyn’s come out of the grave! THIS is the night they were talking about!! …Or was it?

Strange things start happening — the new wife discovers Evelyn isn’t in the family crypt, Albert is killed by a venomous snake by a mysterious assailant, Aunt Agatha gets up and walks without explanation, and then is killed and thrown to Alan’s pet foxes by a mysterious assailant… Some one, or some group of someones has something afoot, though damned if any of the pieces seem to fit together (Spoiler alert: they don’t).

This movie does have some wonderfully atmospheric locations and sets to play with — the aforementioned torture chamber and fancy-dress party both look stellar, as does the rotting family crypt and gardens around it. The fashions and hairstyles of both sexes are top-of-the-line mod/psychedelic, and reflect a vision of Swinging London that we here at Schlockwave find almost irresistably alluring. That’s not to say exactly that the movie looks good — the camera placements are a mess, and a series of bad decisions were made in the editing room that manage to squander what seems to be this movie’s only real resource. It’s hard to believe this movie was handled behind the camera by folks who’d  made anything professionally before.

I’d say that’s a pity, but this movie left me awfully frustrated. Beyond the first act, we seem to have been meant to view Lord Alan sympathetically… which is awfully hard to do once he’s mercilessly killed a few redheads. When he’s driven to madness and death, I wasn’t sad at all to see him go. And, when his death turns out to be a ruse to expose the plot that had been cooked up by the new wife, one of the redheads we thought was dead (?), and the playboy cousin, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Their “sins” pretty well pale in comparison to his… and in the reactionary logic of horror generally and giallo specifically, doesn’t that emminently qualify Lord Alan for a really juicy bit of narrative justice? Not here, it doesn’t.

So, should you run across a copy of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, take a moment and drink in that cover art. It looks so good! But, you can safely skip watching it, not to mention buying it — let alone buying it twice.


Thirst (1979)

How familiar are you with your ancestry? In this day and age, it isn’t as important as it may have been historically, right? That is unless you are Kate Davis, the female lead in Day 12’s selection of 31 Days of Horror, Thirst! Turns out her lineage is very important, indeed; maybe not to her, but definitely to a group of elite aristocrats who need her DNA to bolster their power over society! 
Mrs. Barker tries (for like five seconds) to convince Kate to come to the dark side.

Mrs. Barker tries (for like five seconds) to convince Kate to come to the dark side.

To you and me, it would seem Miss Davis (Chantal Contouri) is just like any other ordinary person, although she is perhaps a little more well-off than most. She works hard, and has earned the extended vacation she’s about to take. Unfortunately her boyfriend Derek is unable to go with her, but she’s an independent woman of today and will enjoy her vacation nonetheless. But of course, she never makes it to her destination; on her way out the door she is kidnapped and taken to a remote complex in the Australian countryside where horrible things happen…

After coming to, Kate is informed that she is related to the one and only Elizabeth Báthory (The Countess’s second appearance this October). Her bloodline affords her a cushy spot atop “The Brotherhood,” an elite and secret society of aristocratic bloodsuckers. If only she could let go of her pesky morals, she could join forces with other aristocratic, bloodthirsty families to create a powerhouse that the anemic proletariat could never overcome.
They're even getting Kate's cat into the mix.

They’re even getting Kate’s cat into the mix.

Unfortunately for The Brotherhood, Kate is a headstrong and independent woman, and converting her will not be an easy task. The higher-ups of the group are fighting about the best way to help her in changing her mind. Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron) favors an extremely aggressive approach, using hallucinatory drugs to achieve her goals. Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings) believes this tactic will be not only very expensive, but may also drive Kate crazy. Both of them try talking sense into Kate, showing her around the “farm” and introducing her to the “blood-cows” (human livestock) that are privileged enough to donate their life force to vampiric royalty. Is Kate strong enough to resist the her inherited Thirst?

Ah, milking the blood-cows. What a privilege!

Ah, milking the blood-cows. What a privilege!

I’ve seen Thirst three times now, and every time I’ve been impressed with it. It is a serious vampire movie that seriously critiques modern society, but I never felt like it was selling ideology. While films like Society and They Live tackle similar territory, they have a hell of a lot more laughs than Thirst does. Usually I’d say that’s a hefty nail in a film’s coffin, but director Rod Hardy really makes it work here. Perhaps part of the reason why it works so well is instead of a usual black and white, poor vs. rich situation, the main conflict is actually between rich folks themselves. This isn’t just a film about rich people literally sucking the life out of the lower classes, it’s also about indoctrinating other rich folks deemed worth to come to their side. That’s what makes this movie a little more interesting to me: it’s not really saying much to show that the aristocracy makes its living (and derives its pleasure) from the lower classes; it’s been that way for centuries. But exploring the infighting between the rich themselves, at least in terms of how the lower classes are treated, is less-covered and more interesting territory.

Bloody chicken!

Bloody chicken!

So, yes, Thirst has a lot to say, and I think it says it well. It also looks great; the special effects (well, okay, the blood) is super-duper, and for the most part not too in-your-face (though perhaps the shower scene is a little bit much… it also explains why I let the water run for a second before hopping in!). There are some genuinely frightening scenes as the good doctors push their psychological agenda on Kate. Watching her constantly tortured expression while also wondering what the hell is going on is a pretty good fright-cocktail, and Contouri does an excellent job of earning my empathy. I do think, though, Shirley Cameron’s Mrs. Barker outshines her with one of the most gleefully evil portrayals I’ve ever seen; a real rich bitch I took an immense pleasure in hating!

Yes, you should see Thirst. If you have any real interest in a different sort of vampire tale, this is your guy. It’s not subtle, but why the hell would you look for a subtle vampire flick?

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

Up to this point, this year’s iteration of 31 Days of Horror has offered up a pretty darn good list of horror flicks. It’s about time we had a real stinker, and Day 9 more than delivers that. Remember when I warned y’all that I was going to intentionally make the mistake of watching the rest of the Hellraiser series, even after Hellraiser: Inferno insulted my intelligence? Well, I’m a woman of my word folks; when I saw Hellworld on sale for $3 I figured it was time to bite the bullet. After all, Lance Henriksen is in it, so it can’t be that bad, right? Sigh… sometimes my optimism needs a reality check.
This computer game's menu is a little outdated, even for 2005.

This computer game’s menu is a little outdated, even for 2005.

So, this is when Hellraiser attempts to go meta, sort of. The film takes place in a world where the Hellraiser movies are a thing that everyone knows and loves, and there’s a computer game and everything! I’m not exactly sure what the stupid game entails, but I do know that some kid named Adam “took it too far,” doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire. All of his friends are on a major guilt-trip, because they watched him get consumed by the game and sat back and did nothing. The only guy who seems to really feel super bad about it is this little twerp named Jake who freaks out on everyone at Adam’s funeral. Jake and his asshole friends consider themselves to bet he only “family” that Adam had, since his father was pretty much absent for most of his childhood, and I guess the mom is crazy or something? Whatever, within the first five minutes it is already apparent that we aren’t going to care about any of the characters.

Anyway, whatever, the four jackasses obviously didn’t learn their lesson and two years later are still hung up on Hellworld. If you can solve a particular puzzle with the puzzle box online, you get a special invitation to a Hellworld party! Despite our heroine (if you want to call her that) Chelsea’s reservations, she agrees it would be totally awesome to go to a Hellworld party, and so the  foursome head on over to some scary old house, where surprise, surprise, their old pal Jake shows up, too!  Looks like our host (Lance Henriksen) knew how to target all the right Hellworld fans. As the group convenes in the hallway, Henriksen invites them into a special room where he serves them questionable beverages and shows them fetuses in jars and stuff. So spooky. So edgy. Let’s party!

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, this party isn’t just fun and games. One by one, each unlikable asshole meets a pathetic end, seemingly at the hands of Pinhead. These fools stroll around the house, opening

Ladies and gents: your edgy host.

Ladies and gents: your edgy host.

doors you obviously shouldn’t be opening. Their curiosity kills them in the end, and the only two we are left with are Chelsea and Jake. When they set their feeble minds to work at figuring out just what the hell is going on at this “party” they start putting the pieces together. What they find results in one of the most unsatisfying and stupid endings to any horror movie I’ve ever seen, except, perhaps, Hellraiser: Inferno. Turns out, Henriksen is actually Adam’s father and is seeking revenge on all the kids whom he blames for his child’s death, even though he didn’t give a shit about his kid while he was alive, or even after he died; the scumbag couldn’t even make it to the kid’s funeral. Makes a whole lot of sense, right? But it gets better: he drugged the kids and then buried them alive, and everything we watched was nothing but a hallucination! Pinhead didn’t kill them, see, they killed themselves! Seriously. Wow. That is lame. Really, really lame.

It is truly amazing how easily dumbed down a great premise like Hellraiser can be. I know all too well that, usually, the quality of a franchise plunges the higher the sequel number, but holy bejeezus, I’ve never

Oh, if you care, Henry Cavill is in this.

Oh, if you care, Henry Cavill is in this.

seen anything quite as bad as the plummet from Hellraiser’s best films to the last two (maybe even three, Hellbound wasn’t so hot, either, but at least it wasn’t a total wreck) I’ve watched. The folks writing these films are literally given a premise and world in which to work, and they still can’t come up with anything worthwhile. There are many directions Hellworld could have taken, and a lot of them would have been a lot more interesting than what they decided to go with in the end.

While watching the movie, I have to say I was wondering why the hell Pinhead was using such lame methods to kill these kids. I thought the whole premise of Pinhead and the Cenobites is that they enjoyed bringing pain by way of torture to their victims. That’s not what we’re presented with here; instead we get a simple slashing of the throat or, perhaps the most egregious knock at Pinhead yet: decapitation by way of cleaver. Seriously? Even the kids in this movie should have known better than to think that Pinhead would use a cleaver to kill them. There is just no imagination whatsoever in this movie. And it looks like shit. And the characters are assholes, so who gives a shit if they die anyway?
This is wrong on so many levels. For the same reasons Captain America shouldn't use guns, Pinhead shouldn't use cleavers!

This is wrong on so many levels. For the same reasons Captain America shouldn’t use guns, Pinhead shouldn’t use cleavers!

Another thing I wondered while watching Hellworld: does Doug Bradley actually read the scripts of these sequels, or does he just show up, do a few takes, and leave? How much are they paying him to act in these films? It must be so sad to remember what it was like to have an interesting, meaty role in a horror film and then have to turn around and say a few cheesy lines as the same character just to take home a paycheck. His screen-time is probably shorter than the time it takes for him to get all that make-up on. On a related note, if I were Clive Barker I’d politely ask to have my name removed from such films. If you are considering, even for a second, that this movie is worth your time, please think again. It isn’t. It isn’t worth the plastic it’s printed on. It’s probably not worth the time I spent writing this post, either. Just say no.


Society (1989)

In keeping with the golly-gee-80’s-horror-movies-had-great-special-effects theme, Day 5 of 31 Days of Horror continues with Brian Yuzna’s directorial debut, Society. Usually when I hear Yuzna’s name, I cringe just a little bit. I haven’t seen too much of his stuff, and judging by the internet’s opinion, what I have seen is not the good stuff. The Dentist comes to mind as one big fat mistake. But hey, we all make mistakes, and everyone deserves a second (third, fourth) chance, right?
The perfect Beverly Hills family

The perfect Beverly Hills family

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a rich teen living in Beverly Hills, but he’s always had the sense that he doesn’t quite belong there – not amongst his friends, and especially not his family. The older he gets, the more he starts to believe that he’s adopted. His parents seem to have a special affinity with his sister Jenny that they just don’t share with him. Right around the time of Jenny’s coming-out party, the situation seems to come to a head. His shrink doesn’t really have much advice to offer him, except to pump him full of drugs and tell him that he’s paranoid. All that paranoia starts to gel when a friend of his takes a tape recording of his family, where they say some very strange and shocking things to one another, alluding to family orgies and cannibalism! But when Bill plays the tape for his therapist, it just sounds like a normal, wholesome family conversation about how sad everyone is Bill can’t make Jenny’s party. Either there’s an intricate conspiracy going on or young Bill is losing his mind!

Hell-bent on discovering the truth, Bill charges home unexpectedly only to find his family involved in some very outrageous behavior. This movie has one of the most surprising and bizarre endings I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know too much about what to expect when I started watching it, so its desire to shock worked 100% on me. What starts off as a pretty normal teen coming-of-age movie ends with one of the most gloriously gooey and disgusting scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you are sensitive to viscous fluids you might want to keep a blindfold handy. 
Mama's got a brand new hand

Mama’s got a brand new hand

It’s difficult to continue writing about Society without giving away some of its best secrets, so if you haven’t seen it and you like surprises, read no further. What Bill finds at this party is all of Beverly Hills’ most elite nouveau riche preparing to dine upon the lower classes, literally sucking the life out of the poor. Screaming Mad George’s special effects are a sight to behold; something like twenty minutes of pure gross-out slimy excess that makes the whole film worth watching (because admittedly, the first half of the film seems to drag a bit). Turns out his parents aren’t his parents at all, and that Bill was reared from childhood to serve as a special feast for the rich. Comparisons to John Carpenter’s They Live are not unfounded; it’s basically the same message, only here the rich are simply a different, superior species than you and me instead of aliens! 

It probably comes as no surprise to those of you acquainted with my politics that I loved the ending. Just like They Live, the film’s commentary on life in Reagan’s America is just as relevant today; perhaps even more so. We live in a

I'm glad she's not *my* sister

I’m glad she’s not *my* sister

time where corporations merge and grow to gargantuan, powerful proportions, paying their CEOs 300 times what they pay the automatons that work on the bottom rung. The idea that behind closed doors these privileged assholes literally feast on our flesh is depressing and hilarious at the same time. I think that particularly is what I like so much about its presentation: it is so gloriously excessive that we can’t help but laugh, even if the meaning behind it is painfully true. 

Though the special effects are awesome, the rest of the movie is weighed down by its inherent b-ness; the acting leaves something to be desired, the pacing is a bit frustrating and the soundtrack is noticeably shitty – in fact, I think a new score would improve this movie a whole bunch. But the film’s ultimate message and special effects make up for all of this. Another aspect I really liked about this movie is that it is a coming-of-age film from a boy’s perspective. For some reason, it seems all the coming-of-age stuff I’ve seen in the last few years revolves around girls and their first period, so a boy finding out he was born into a family of flesh-eaters is refreshing, to say the least. 

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

When I first heard someone had filmed a horror movie at Disneyland, I thought ‘how the heck did they get away with that?’ After seeing the trailer for Escape from Tomorrow, I became impossibly intrigued. I’m already a person with an intense distrust of all things Disney, so a film using the theme park as a stage for horror sounded like the perfect idea. My only fear was that my expectations were way too high; nothing could possibly live up to the horrific ideas I’d created in my head.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

Then, we waited. A few months passed by and people stopped talking about it. Every now and again, Q and I talked about whether or not we should pick up a copy (at Target of all places) and for whatever reason, we didn’t. Until we did. And then, it sat there, in the middle of a pile of movies we intend to watch in the possibly distant future. There are, after all, an awful lot of movies to watch out there! Then, one fateful night we finally decided it was time. Ladies and gentlemen, my fears were totally unfounded. I was incredibly impressed with this film!

Jim and Emily White are a terribly typical couple. Their kids Sara and Elliot haven’t fallen very far from the tree. Today is the family’s last day at Disneyworld, and Jim is determined to enjoy himself in a very Clark Griswold kind of way, despite the fact that he spent the morning on the phone getting fired from his job. Naturally, Jim doesn’t share this information with his wife, and the family sets off for one last “great” day of vacation.

On the way to the park, the Whites share a shuttle with other happy-go-lucky folks, including two too-young French girls. Jim, doofus that he is, can’t take his eyes off of them. The girls seem to know what he’s interested in, and coyly swing themselves around a pole, almost taunting the poor goober. The exchange isn’t lost on Emily, either, but she is pretty sure it’s just harmless attraction.



Things only get stranger from there; while on one of Disney’s famously irritating rides, Jim sort of blacks out: the dolls seem to become evil before his very eyes, and his family turns on him. Eventually things turn back to normal, but Jim is clearly shaken. It seems as though this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and while I wouldn’t have let my prone-to-blackouts-husband take my only son alone in a giant theme park, that’s exactly what Emily does; what else are you supposed to do when your kids can’t agree on what ride to go on next?

Unfettered from his wife, Jim spots the two French girls and, like a total idiot, blatantly follows them around the park. The girls take notice, and so does Elliot, especially when his dad makes him ride Space Mountain just so he can keep up with the girls! The boy vomits all over himself and Jim, naturally, is in very big trouble with his wife, who has yet to allow him to kiss, hug, or even touch her at all. The parents exchange kids and Jim takes Sara around the park, this time meeting some other weirdos, including a nurse who warns Jim of an impending Cat Flu epidemic, and a former Disney Princess, who lets Jim in on a few secrets of the Disney Princess trade…

That is a terrifying child!

That is a terrifying child!

The first half of this movie is so extraordinarily anxious and claustrophobic, I could barely stand it! Even without the evil dolls, it is so frightening with the anticipation of something really, really bad happening. Will Jim lose the kids? Will he actually approach these French girls? What’s up with that creep on the scooter? As the movie progresses, and Jim walks around the park in a swirl of drunkenness, the anxiousness turns into terror, confusion and conspiracy. At a certain point, the film turns into a real mindfuck and goes in some very strange directions. I don’t want to give away all the film’s secrets, so I’ll let you discover some of the strangeness for yourself. I definitely recommend you do.

I really, really loved this movie. I thought it was hilarious and terrifying at the same time, a feat that is never as easy to achieve as it seems. I must say I am very surprised at its negative reception; only 58 on metacritic? It does such a great job of capitalizing on the average Joe’s fears of loss, rejection, and sickness all while being filmed at ‘the happiest place on earth,’ I’m surprised more people aren’t legitimately horrified by it. Perhaps they were expecting an axe-wielding Mickey, a psychopathic Minnie, or maybe Goofy in a skin-suit? I think by preying on the simple fears of the typical American white dude (i.e., the fathers of Disney’s target demographic) is what makes this movie so

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection...

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection…

effective. Personally, I think watching it is a lot more fun than any expensive trip to Disneyworld would be!

I can’t rightly publish this post without mentioning just what a marvel it is that they were able to actually complete the thing. Somehow the filmmakers were actually able to pull off shooting the film guerilla-style in a place that is heavily guarded and surveilled. That in itself is an achievement to be lauded, and knowing what difficulties they may have encountered doing so is enough to forgive the obvious green-screen shots. No matter how clear it was that a particular shot wasn’t actually taken at the park, I never felt removed from the setting. I was definitely there, in Disneyworld, living a nightmare.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about the film, except that I’m not quite sure why it takes some of the strange turns it does. The answer may actually be that they had to make it more obviously a parody in order to avoid legal issues with Disney. As it is, I’m shocked they got away with releasing the film at all, let alone on DVD and on sale at Target.


Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

The world of horror movies can be very alienating to the uninitiated. Unless you’re used to decapitation and blood-curdling screams, I suppose a horror flick might actually seem, um, scary. Even so, in the end a movie is just a movie; we can throw out our exorbitantly-priced popcorn and call it a day. But what must it be like for the uninitiated folks working behind the scenes on such a film? Peter Strickland explores this idea in Berberian Sound Studio, a film about a British sound editor whose been recruited to work on an Italian production. Unfortunately our hero failed to get all the details before traveling to Italy…

BerberianSoundStudioPosterGilderoy (Toby Jones) is an older gentleman; shy, but very skilled at his job. Usually, he works on sound-editing for educational documentaries and children’s programming. Seemingly out of the blue he is called upon by some Italian folks working on a film called The Equestrian Vortex. Assuming this is just another nature documentary, Gilderoy travels to Italy. Of course, he is stunned to discover the film is about as far from documentary as you can get! Instead of benignly educating its audience, The Equestrian Vortex is a cookie-cutter giallo film out to make them squirm!

Gilderoy attempts to convey his discomfort, but the members of the Italian production team are completely uninterested in hearing any of his complaints; they’re far too wrapped up in their own egos and drama to worry about a milquetoast Brit like Gilderoy. The poor fellow can’t even get anyone to reimburse him for his flight out to Italy; the receptionist out front is insufferably rude, and the folks inside the studio are pushy to say the least. Without much of a choice, Gilderoy is thrust into the world of horror filmmaking, and let’s just say the two weren’t exactly made for each-other. He becomes intimately familiar with all manner of fruit and vegetable; what lovely squashing sounds they make! Seems benign enough, but more unsettling are the guttural grunts and moans of “The Witch,” the screeching horror of “The Goblin” and of course, the incessant and ever-disappointing screams of actress after actress; all of which Gilderoy must record and mix with painstaking accuracy and attention.

The only comfort Gilderoy enjoys after a hard day’s work of screaming and fruit-crushing are letters from his Mum back home. She anxiously awaits his return so they together can enjoy the nest of baby chicks that have made their home on the front porch. He smiles to himself each night as he reads his mother’s letters, but there’s always a bit of dread behind that smile, because he knows tomorrow will be another difficult day with the Italians. The only other person who seems to sense his extreme discomfort is Silvia, one of the lead voice actresses in the film, and notably the only other non-Italian involved in the production. Silvia is the only one to treat Gilderoy kindly, and tells him the only way to get anywhere with “these people” is to demand the things you need.

Seemingly from a dream, Gilderoy takes Silvia’s advice and marches up to the receptionist desk to demand the BerberianSoundStudioSilenziomoney for his flight to Italy. Unfortunately, he is quickly shut down and loses his gumption, but even still, something has changed in Gilderoy. This new attitude, coupled with a tragic letter from Mum about the downfall of the chicks (‘it must have been the magpies’) is where the film really starts to get strange. From this point forward, We’re never quite sure what’s taking place on the screen; are we seeing inside Gilderoy’s head? Is he having a dream? Or is what we’ve seen prior a dream? We see scenes we have already seen, but with a different audio track; this time Gilderoy speaking fluent Italian. Instead of being removed from the action, he is integral to it – not only behind the scenes, but in The Equestrian Vortex itself. This is where that whole ‘blurring the lines between reality and fantasy’ comes in, and it’s a real head trip.

Berberian Sound Studio is a movie for movie nerds. It helps if you’re familiar with the trashy world of Italian 70’s giallo – there are definitely a lot of winks and nods that you just won’t get otherwise. But I think anyone with an interest in filmmaking (particularly sound-editing, natch) will find the film intriguing. What I liked most about it is that with all the suggestion of blood and violence, there’s absolutely none to be seen in the film. It is of course heard, and clearly the mere suggestion is what seems to drive our old boy Gilderoy mad.

In one sense, I saw the film as a comment on how the horror film can draw the innocent outsider into its fold; kind of like recruiting new talent into a shady cult. At first Gilderoy is unsure and resistant, but soon (perhaps due to the magpies and the realization that the world is full of horror, and he is already a part of it?) he seems to feel as if he’s belonged here all along. What better way to convey this than by replaying previous scenes with a different audio track? Not only does that make the audience rethink what we’ve already seen, but it points out just how important sound is to the film experience, something I’m sure many casual moviegoers don’t give a second thought.

The trouble is, for all its great ideas, I feel like the movie could have been executed better. It got the atmosphere right, but I felt throughout the whole thing as if something was missing. And, truth be told, at the very end of the film I was so stunned that it was over, I had to rewind it to make sure I hadn’t missed something important. That’s the one thing that rubs me the wrong way about Berberian Sound Studio; nothing really happens in it. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it may even be a little boring. Immediately after the film I felt disappointed that it hadn’t done a better job. It wasn’t until days afterwards that it started to gel in my head. So, I think it’s a better movie in theory than in practice. Still, I would love to watch it a second time, knowing what I know now, and seeing if it makes a difference. Definitely worthwhile, but slightly disappointing. I just wanted it to be a little bit better.


Pulse (2001)

There was a time in my life where I was a little J-horror curious. I did my duty and rented all the staples; you know the ones, Ju-on, Ringu, Audition and the like. Looking back, I feel like I did this out of some weird sense of horror-love obligation, and not actually because I liked the movies. Audition marked the end of the road for me; after that one, which I did not like, I gave up on the J-horror experience. Ever since, I’ve been reluctant to sit down and dedicate time to them.

Never good when the weather guy loses his head.

Never good when the weather guy loses his head.

This is not fair, of course; one shouldn’t dismiss an entire sub-genre so easily. That being said, I think I still groaned audibly when the husband pulled out Pulse and informed me that’s what we’d be watching that evening. I probably said something along like: “Japanese horror? Ugh.” But I’ve too often said I’ll watch anything to declare J-horror off-limits, so I watched.

Pulse centers around a few different groups of young people working and studying in Tokyo. First we are acquainted with Kudo, a young woman whose co-worker Taguchi has been mysteriously out of touch for the last few days. Kudo decides it’s been too long and goes to his apartment to check up on him. When she finds him there, he is distant and aloof, and slowly walks away from her into another room where he promptly commits suicide. The only clues the group of friends has into Toguchi’s suicide are some mysterious pictures of him at his computer…

Meanwhile, Ryosuke, a college kid who doesn’t know much about computers gets his first internet connection. Without help from Rryosuke, his computer connects itself to a website that just shows dark,

You can try to tape up the horror...

You can try to tape up the horror…

grainy video of random people, all of them alone. Ryosuke goes to the university to see if anyone there can help figure out why his computer brought him to the website. Here he meets Harue, who offers him some suggestions on getting screen shots of the website for her to examine.

Throughout the movie, our friends continue to delve deeper into the world of this internet weirdness, and what they find is, of course, totally disturbing, though frankly I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is they do find. There are some creepy shadows on the walls, some disturbed people who refuse to talk, and other people simply disappearing into thin air. I guess really what they really find is alienation and loneliness. These feelings, naturally induced by the anonymity offered by the big city are only multiplied by the seeming connectivity of technology.

I appreciate what the film is trying to convey, but I don’t think I’m such a fan of how it goes about doing so. It bears a lot of the hallmarks of Japanese Horror, namely a deep, dark mystery that almost always has

Weird TV face!

Weird TV face!

long, black hair. There are weird ghostly creatures with mouths at jaunty angles and elbows and knees in all the wrong places. I guess I just saw this too long after I’d seen all the other J-horror flicks I’d already written off. I must at least mention that Pulse is one of the first of the new wave of J-horror as I think of it, so it definitely gets credit for that.

As far as Japanese horror flicks from the aughts go, this is probably one of the best I’ve seen. The fact still remains, though, I am just not all that impressed with the style of these films. If it’s the kind of thing you’re into, than this movie should definitely be at the top of your to-watch list, if you haven’t already seen it. If it’s not your bag, well, take it or leave it.


An American Werewolf in London (1981)

David & Jack: two average American kids traveling the English countryside...

David & Jack: two average American kids traveling the English countryside…

The first time I saw An American Werewolf in London, I was like, meh. I didn’t get was so great about it. Then a friend of mine said: “What? Are you crazy? We’re watching it.” Then we watched it again and I said: “Oh, crap, I was wrong, this movie is great!” Then, a few years later my husband said: “I didn’t think much of it the first time I saw it.” On a mission to convert, we picked up a copy at a used record store and watched it together. I think I succeeded in my mission to prove this isn’t just a boring, average werewolf movie.

David and Jack are best friends. They’re also pretty normal American college kids, who really care only about exploring women’s bodies and the English

Only one of them is lucky enough to survive a mysterious ordeal and strike up a "friendship" with the cute nurse...

Only one of them is lucky enough to survive a mysterious ordeal and strike up a “friendship” with the cute nurse…

countryside. Their travels have taken them to a cold, wet and lonely place. The only place that seems like it will come close to offering shelter and hot soup is a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. Inviting or not, the two have little choice and walk into the place. As cold and wet as they are, the locals don’t really take too kindly to the young boys, and after an awkward confrontation, they’re asked to leave – but told to stay clear of the moors and beware the moon.

Even though they try to play it off, the two are clearly spooked, and they manage to find themselves off the road and, you guessed it: on the moors. That’s when Jack and David are attacked by what can only be a werewolf. Jack doesn’t make it. David can barely remember what happened, but the

And Jack isn't about to let David forget he's left him behind...

And Jack isn’t about to let David forget he’s left him behind…

doctor and the authorities inform him that a madman attacked him and his friend. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t seem to fit with what David eventually remembers.

But the death of his friend and inexplicable events won’t stop a young boy from falling in love: after he’s released from the hospital, the cute nurse takes him home to stay with her for a while. The two are a cute couple, but it’s a little worrisome to David that he keeps getting visits from his rapidly-decomposing dead friend, warning him that during the next full moon, David will turn into a werewolf and wreak havoc.

Is David crazy, or is his friend actually real? Worse, is David actually a werewolf? Those folks back at the pub sure were hiding something, and David, his doctor, his lady friend and the city of London are about to

Waking up in the wolf cage at the London Zoo is pretty unforgettable, anyway.

Waking up in the wolf cage at the London Zoo is pretty unforgettable, anyway.

find out exactly what it is they’ve been keeping from everyone.

Aside from the fact that this movie seriously has some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen, it’s also a delightfully goofy, playful and maybe even relatable horror flick. As much as I liked Oliver Reed’s portrayal in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf, I must say he is a little difficult to identify with. David, on the other hand, is a little more sympathetic: he’s just a young dude, maybe a little bro-ish, but not terribly so, off exploring the world with his best friend who ends up turning into a brutish monster. Oh yeah, and did I mention the special effects? Totally awesome. Definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it. And if you didn’t think much of it the first time, give it another go – maybe you’ll change your mind!


Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Jessica & Duncan. Happy, right?

Jessica & Duncan. Happy, right?

All too often, horror movies disappoint me. Sometimes my expectations are set so low, disappointment actually seems impossible, and yet the film still manages to be worse than I could have imagined. Of course, some of this has to do with my attraction to titles such as Blood of Ghastly Horror  or The Thirsty Dead. It’s unlikely such films could live up to their awesome names. I have to admit I was afraid Let’s Scare Jessica to Death would suffer from the same problem, but so pleasantly surprised to find it a competent, creepy, atmospheric psychological thriller / vampire flick.

Jessica has just recently been released from some sort of mental care. We never really learn all the details, but Jessica’s narration gives us some hints. While she is thrilled to be free, she is vigilant: constantly

I mean she's totally happy, right? Normal. Sane.

I mean she’s totally happy, right? Normal. Sane.

concerned that some action of hers will be deemed crazy – did she really hear that noise? Was there really a strange girl standing above them? Or, is it all in her head?

As she and her husband, Duncan, and their friend Woody approach their new home – a country house on a farm in Connecticut, quite different from the life in Manhattan they’re all used to – Jessica swears she sees someone. She is reassured when her husband confirms that someone is there. Turns out a young girl has been squatting in the farm house. Homeless and unattached, she promises to leave the next day. But, perhaps trying a little too hard to seem cool with everything that’s going on, Jessica insists she stay with them. And that’s when shit starts getting weird again.

But then there's this photo...

But then there’s this photo…

Not only do Woody and Duncan both seem to have a hard on for the girl, she looks mysteriously like a young woman in a framed photograph Jessica finds in the attic. Always doubtful of herself, always frightened of being outed as crazy, Jessica isn’t quite sure what this could mean, but the realization leaves her jumpy and afraid.

To make things a little creepier, all the people in the town are unwelcoming to say the least. On top of that, they all have weird scars and bandages. What could it all mean? Does it mean anything? Is it all in Jessica’s mind?

This is a really effective, creepy psychological thriller. Outwardly, Jessica is free and happy, but the

And it all goes to shit.

And it all goes to shit.

audience is always aware of what she is thinking. Her jaunty smile belies her constant concern that she is not “better”, that she’ll never be better. Or worse, that her husband thinks that she will never be better.

This is also a vampire film à la CarmillaNot only is Jessica confronted with the constant threat of being sent back to the loony bin, she’s also pegged as easy prey by the resident vampire (or is she?) of the grounds. The girl does, after all, seem rather intrigued by Jessica’s psychological situation.

Perhaps I like this movie so much because I found Jessica so believable. It was very easy for me to imagine what her position must be like. Everything for her is kind of dangling by a thread: her marriage, her sanity,

This crazy chick doesn't help things, either.

This crazy chick doesn’t help things, either.

her whole life. Her every action is calculated to make her look like she is easy-going, happy, and most-importantly sane. In the end, we aren’t sure what has really taken place. While Jessica’s thoughts seem lucid and perfectly normal, the story she has to tell is pretty unbelievable – are we just as bad as Duncan? Just as hard to convince that the story she is telling is true?

Perhaps what surprises me most about this movie, though, is its poor reception – 33% on Rotten Tomatoes? I have to ask myself: what movie did these people watch? I’m super-perplexed at these negative reviews referring to this film as lazy and boring. I just have to assume these people need explosions and gore to keep them engaged. I found this flick just as engaging upon second-viewing as I did the first, and I’ll gladly show it off again. Definitely recommended.


Old Wave