Posts Tagged ‘Dolls

20
Sep
15

Alice (1988)

Alice peeping some such horror in her

Alice peeping some such horror in her “wonderland.”

Having seen Jan Švankmajer’s Faust and Little Otiknaturally I was curious to see what the animation genius would do with a story like Alice in Wonderland. So, one hot day this June (yeah, I got a big backlog of movies to write up, what of it! I have a life don’t you know!) some friends and I sat down to watch his Alice. It’s sort of exactly what I expected.

There isn’t much reason to go into the plot; I’d venture to say most folks are familiar, at least on some level, with Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Švankmajer doesn’t deviate too much from the original ideas of the text, it’s his interpretation that’s wildly different than anything you’ve probably seen before. When I think of Alice in Wonderland I must admit I envision the Disney cartoon from 1951: a prim and proper English girl falls asleep and dreams of a strange land with rushing rabbits, cheshire cats and evil queens.

Tiny Alice wades through a dank and dingy room, on her way to lord knows where.

Tiny Alice wades through a dank and dingy room, on her way to lord knows where.

While Švankmajer keeps most aspects of the original intact, it’s their presentation he toys with. Instead of a pristine English countryside, our Alice is living in a dirtier, more dangerous place. Rather than the vibrant colors of the Disney cartoon, Švankmajer paints the picture in dim shades of brown and gray where everything is in a state of disrepair and decay. Alice walks around this “wonderland” where doorknobs and handles consistently break off, and the rabbit she follows isn’t a manifestation of a cute, living bunny, it is instead a reanimated taxidermy piece that constantly needs to patch himself up!

If you’re familiar with Švankmajer, it should come as no surprise that the visual effects and animation in this film are fantastic. I love watching his work. But, god damn this movie felt like it was about twice as long as it should have been, and it clocks in at only eighty-four minutes! Something about the pacing is really off, and I hate to say it makes watching the film almost feel like a

Queen of Hearts to Taxidermy Bunny: OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

Queen of Hearts to Taxidermy Bunny: OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

chore. I’d like it better maybe if it were broken up into segments so I could consume it piece-by-piece rather than sitting down and watching the whole thing at a go. It wasn’t just me, a few of my pals watching it felt the same way too. I can’t put my finger on it but the film has a sleepy quality that really makes it difficult to get through. Perhaps it’s because so much of the film goes by without any background music?

Anyway, even though it’s a little tough to get through for some of us (Q had no problems; loved it – he is more patient than me!) I am not sorry to have watched it. I’d even recommend this to the right kind of person. It is definitely a film worth seeing, especially if you’ve never seen any of Švankmajer’s work and have a thing for Alice in Wonderland adaptations. But of all three I’ve seen, I’d have to say I liked Little Otik the most. Of course, that may just be because it was the first film of his I’d ever seen, and what the dude can do is pretty darn impressive.

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08
Dec
14

Screamtime (1986)

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.

In the aftermath 0f 31 Days of Horror, we’ve continued to watch horror movies. We were getting a bit wary of the pre-determined pile we’d set aside, though, so we turned to Netflix, where we found Screamtime, an ’80s horror anthology.

sc3Apparently, Screamtime was made in 1983 as a British/American co-production, but not released until 1986. Also, apparently, one of the anthology segments dates back to 1981. It’s hard to imagine that a 1986 audience would have seen much appeal in material that seems to have already passed its expiration date as cash-in cultural ephemera; this screams out as a Night Train to Terror-esque effort to just dump some already-canned footage on the market. From 2014, though, its generically, amorphously  1980s aesthetics seem charmingly “period” rather than glaringly, unfasionably just-out-of-date. All said, though, there’s nothing here that’s better than a middling episode of Tales From the Darkside.

The frame story is set in the pre-Giuliani/Disney grimey New York City, where a pair of ne’er-do-wells shoplift some horror titles from a video store for an afternoon’s jollies, and then take them to a friend’s house to watch. The friend is a shapely lady, who we first find in the shower… Screamtime puts its skin in the first few moments, in the hopes that it won’t immediately lose its audience–seldom a promising tactic. Unlike the frame, which screams its “Noo Yawk” American-ness, the shorts themselves are all decidely British. The first segment concerns a beleaguered puppeteer who has no support from his wife, and is actively terrorized by his bratty teenage stepson. After the boy burns down his stepfather’s puppet stand, the Punch puppet begins to dispatch his master’s enemies… Next, a newlywed couple moves into a house, but the wife has increasingly gruesome hallucinations that no one seems to understand… Finally, in what is simultaneously the most delightful and most conceptually negligent segment, another band of ne’er-do-wells (this time, they’re motorcross enthusiasts) decide to rob a pair of old ladies who claim their great wealth is protected by fairies (and garden gnomes). The pleasures come there more or less exactly as you’d expect (though, sadly, if you connected the dots to gnomes on motorbikes as I iniitally did, you may be disappointed). The closing of the frame story was just as easy, but all the more delightful for it.

The belle of the ball here (aside from the climax of the fairy/gnome story) is the short bit at the beginning in the video store — having recently watched the documentaries Be Kind Rewind and Video Nasties, it was nice to see the Wild West-inside of a 1980s video store as though it was no big deal, and to have the shorts presented herein as though they were, in fact, in-story the fly-by-night cheapies that they really were. There was a clear implication that the filmmakers saw their prospective audience as the slimeballs they showed watching the stuff — the lowest denominator they could imagine. While I admire the honesty, if you’re in the mood for a lovably schlocky ’80s horror anthology, you’d be better served by Deadtime Stories or even the aforementioned Night Train to Terror than by what’s offered here.

20
Sep
14

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.

G-O-O-B-E-R

G-O-O-B-E-R

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.

28
Jan
14

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

She's written a letter to daddy...

She’s written a letter to daddy…

There are a lot of movies out there these days that aim to shock and horrify, and they’ll go to drastic measures to do so. Take, for instance, Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. The thought of hinging helpless folks ass-to-mouth in hopes of creating one digestive system out of multiple human bodies sure is shocking and horrifying. But, it is also ridiculous and unbelievable, and that’s ultimately why Six fails at his job. For something to be truly shocking and horrifying, it must be believable. That is what makes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? such an incredibly successful and effective shocker; not only did the film’s two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, despise each-other in real life, the storyline they play out here is totally and completely believable.

It all started with Vaudeville, 1917. Baby Jane is a huge child star, singing treacly songs about sending letters to daddy in heaven (sealed with a kiss, to boot). You can even get a life-size Baby Jane doll, complete with blonde ringlets. Jane’s sister, Blanche (Crawford) is mousy and jealous. Their mother

Ready for her close-up...

Ready for her close-up…

promises Blanche she will one day have her turn in the spotlight, and she is right: fast-forward to the 1930’s where Blanche is the star. The only reason Jane is getting any work is because it’s written into Blanche’s contract that for every picture she does, Jane does one, too.

Unfortunately, Blanche’s time in the sun is cut short by a tragic accident; she is crushed between a car and the gate of her family’s mansion and resigned to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, effectively ending her career, and her autonomy. Though Jane was never officially charged with causing the accident, everyone is certain she is guilty, and so she is charged with caring for Blanche for the rest of her life. And thus begins a sick and twisted journey into the mind of a deranged, psychotic, washed-up alcoholic and the torment and terror she rains down upon her meek, defenseless, paralyzed sister. Three decades after the accident, Blanche is constantly tormented by Jane, and once Jane finds out Blanche is trying to sell the house they live in and send her off to a sanitarium, Jane does all she can to cut off Blanche’s ties with the outside world and make her nothing but a prisoner…

A telephone never seemed so far away.

A telephone never seemed so far away.

This film is renowned for being a camp classic, and there is plenty of camp to go around. Bette Davis’s performance is absolutely outrageous (and fantastically entertaining), but it’s also not completely out of the realm of believability: people go crazy sometimes, especially in Hollywood. Jealousy and stardom really make a terrible cocktail, as evidenced by Crawford and Davis’s actual off-screen rivalry. But it’s more than just campy, it is legitimately frightening! It’s not often I think of anything that’s considered camp as actually scary, and that I think is what makes Baby Jane so awesome. I found myself shocked at what was happening to Jane and how she was treating Blanche, but also shocked by Davis’s acting. I mean, like, wow, that woman seems seriously unhinged! How can you ham it up so hardcore and still be believable? A true feat, I think, and one we are lucky to behold!

15
Dec
13

The Conjuring (2013)

Honestly, I didn't know they had five kids until this shot.

Honestly, I didn’t know they had five kids until this shot.

Well, the ghost story has struck again. This time, it’s The Conjuring that had me clutching stuffed animals from my childhood to my face in hopes of stifling my screams. Now, it is important to note that a ghost story doesn’t have to be particularly good, or even particularly scary for that matter, to work on me like a charm. It just takes a little “boo” here and there and I turn into a pile of fear jelly.

The Conjuring is supposedly based on a true story. The same “paranormal investigators” that inspired The Amityville Horror and A Haunting in Connecticut, Ed & Lorraine Warren, are behind this one, too. This time, they’re called upon by a woman in absolute desperation: she and her family (husband, five girls) are being terrorized in their new home. Selling the thing is out of the question; they sunk all their money into the place.

Ugh, creepy toy!

Ugh, creepy toy!

Her children can’t sleep, and she is covered in mysterious bruises, which she blames on anemia. Lorraine Warren has a different suspicion, though, and despite her husband’s reservations is determined to help the family in need. Her research yields terrifying results; you’ll have to watch (or heck, read Wikipedia for the details) that lead to plenty of screams and spilled popcorn.

Yes, this movie scared the crap out of me. Surprisingly, I did not suffer nightmares or the need to run from the bathroom to my bed in the middle of the night like I did after The Innkeepers. Perhaps part of the reason for that is the movie kind of gets a little ridiculously over the top towards the end, or it just might be that the build-up is always more exciting to me than the actual ghost-human

Mr. Livingston, you should have stayed in the office.

Mr. Livingston, you should have stayed in the office.

confrontation. And, since The Innkeepers is 95% build-up, that would explain why it’s scarier to me, and more effective than this movie. But, if you like ghost stories, you shouldn’t miss this; it is pretty standard, but it does its job pretty well.

Ghosts aside, though, the costume and set design is a mid-century cream dream! The film is set in 1971, and the clothing, the kitchenware, the furniture, everything is just to die for. I think I actually said a few times I’d live in that horrible, terrifying, haunted house if it came fully-equipped with that gorgeous freaking kitchen! This is probably not going to be a distraction for most viewers, but for me, it actually helped make me feel a little more at ease when I know I was supposed to be tensing up. I wonder if I’m the only one that felt the urge to hit up etsy after watching this?

15
Dec
13

Puppetmaster (1989)

Sexy puppets! Be careful, she's probably gonna nibble on ya...

Sexy puppets! Be careful, she’s probably gonna nibble on ya…

Some time ago, I committed to watching all of the Puppetmaster movies. I did this not knowing exactly what I was getting into. I had heard that Puppetmaster and its sequels had left something to be desired, but I still pushed forward, insisting this is actually a goal I should pursue. I mean, there are like 11 sequels to the first Puppetmaster, it has to have something going for it, right?

Um, no. Wrong. Dead wrong. Puppetmaster was one of the most boring, disappointing movies I’ve ever seen in my life. The characters are stupid, the plot is thin, the acting is incredibly poor, and considering we have murdering dolls on our hands, the special effects don’t pull their fair share of the weight either. 

I don’t even know if it’s worth summarizing, but since I’m here I’ll do it anyway. Andre Toulon (William Hickey) is an amazing puppeteer who has unleashed an Egyptian spell which brings inanimate objects to life. The Nazis (of course) want this technology and just as they’re beating down Toulon’s hotel door,

Yawn.

Yawn.

he blows his own brains out to avoid being used as a puppet (heh, heh, get it?) by the evil Nazis. 

Fast-forward fifty years. A jerk named Neil Gallagher has also unleashed the same Egyptian spell, staged his own death, and invited a bunch of his psychic friends to the old hotel to kill them, or something, I guess. Whatever. 

I must say I’m still curious to see if these sequels actually offer anything more interesting, exciting or worthwhile than the first film. It’s not unheard of to have a sequel outdo its predecessor, I’m just not sure the folks at Full Moon are where I should be looking for such a thing. Ugh. The worst. 

23
Aug
13

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Attack of the Puppet People isn’t just another mediocre sci-fi horror flick from the 1950’s, it’s also an exhortation to the ladies to trust their instincts. If only poor Sally Reynolds went with her gut when she walked into creepy Mr. Franz’s office, tragedy could have been averted! Unfortunately, her sympathetic nature kicked in and she just couldn’t say no to the sad old man who told her she was just perfect for the job…

Mr. Franz regards his "friends."

Mr. Franz regards his “friends.”

Who wouldn’t feel sorry for poor Mr. Franz? Years ago, his wife left him all alone in the world, with only the dolls he makes to keep him company. Sure, the people he knows tend to disappear every now and again, but it certainly couldn’t be possible that he’s shrinking them and turning them into living dolls, right? Right?

A toast... to the little people!

A toast… to the little people!

Wrong! And poor Sally Reynolds finds out the hard way, when her newly-minted fiancé becomes a freshly-pressed cardboard doll. That is, of course, until Mr. Franz revives him with a magic potion so he can play with him and the other dolls!

Hangin' on the telephone...

Hangin’ on the telephone…

It probably goes without saying; this movie is ridiculous. And stupid. Yes, it’s pretty stupid, too. I haven’t watched a great deal of old-timey sci-fi flicks, but I intend to watch many more. Given my relative inexperience, I still haven’t figured out whether or not I absolutely love or totally despise the fact that most of these movies have little or no explanation as to how the characters came to be or the science behind the magic we see on the screen. On the one hand, who wants to hear fake scientists theorize when we could just be watching tiny little people struggling to lift the receiver on a rotary phone? On the other hand, not only is there no explanation as to how the mad doll-maker shrunk his creations, there is also no real conclusion or even really a clear plot line; things just happen in a maddeningly willy-nilly way. All I can say for now is, I enjoyed Attack of the Puppet People, probably because of its stupidity – there is something charming about its total disregard for reality.

The original puppetmaster!

The original puppetmaster!




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