Halloween Countdown: horror mini-reviews

Have been saving a few mini-reviews for October, didn’t watch all of these this month. In this post, I’ll focus on recent horror films

The Conjuring (2013)
By James Wan, the director of Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010).
For me, The Conjuring is an overrated, moderately entertaining horror film. In terms of scaring me, it failed. Perhaps the fault of the movie was to explain what we are supposed to be frightened of in the intro.
The male(Patrick Wilson) and female(Vera Farmiga) paranormal investigators reminded me of Mulder and Scully from The X-Files.
If you’ve seen Insidious (2010), which I also had a lukewarm reaction to, The Conjuring is more of the same, with jump scares in a haunted house.
There’s nothing much new here, that you haven’t already seen in other horror movies.
Lili Taylor’s performance was the stand-out for me, and the end credits the scariest section of the film.
Rating 6.2

Warm Bodies (2013)
I liked it, even though the leading lady looks like a blond wannabe Kristin Stewart, I read someone call her a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). It’s not perfect, but the strength of the film is the humor, and how the story depicts the struggle to connect. The soundtrack is very entertaining too.
But I did wonder, how does the main character satisfy his hunger, if he stops eating?
I think there’s some social commentary there, about yearning to be alive again, but often falling victim to habits. Plus that being in love, makes us feel more human, and can change how we perceive the world.
To me, the intro of the film is pointing a finger at detached zombie-like behavior today, when people listen to their iPods, and look at mobile phones, barely acknowledging people around them.
Rating 7.5

Byzantium (2012)
Surprised this vampire movie is getting mixed reviews. Really liked it, I can see it featuring on my year-end top 10. It goes for emotion, and tones down the blood. I agree with Adam Cook that it deserves a place on his reappraisal misunderstood modern classics list.
Maybe a weakness is, that the two main characters are similar to Neil Jordan’s previous vampire film, Interview With The Vampire (1994), the promiscuous one (Tom Cruise/Gemma Arterton), and the sensitive one (Brad Pitt/Saoirse Roman). I watched both those Jordan movies within the same week, and that didn’t bother me.
Getting back to Byzantium, I liked Gemma Arterton’s performance the most. Admittedly, Saoirse Roman’s character was a bit dull(LOL takes 52 minutes before her facial expression changes). Though the atmosphere deserves praise, and the story and characters I cared about.
Favorite quotes: “Don’t you sometimes crave to tell the truth? There is a code that we survive by, Eleanor, keep it”
“A pearl stays pure forever, while the oysters flesh rots around it”
Rating 7.8

Frankenweenie (2012)
The animation was decent, although I thought the Gollum character in The Hobbit was better able to express facial emotions than Burton’s characters. A bit too contrived that Victor suddenly had all that equipment in the loft, and that the lightning struck exactly when they needed it to. Would be interesting to know how much of the story is based on Tim Burton’s own childhood.
I recommend watching Burton’s 1984 short, it’s better than this overlong animation.
Favorite quote: “Well, sometimes knowing too much is the problem”
Rating 6.0

Antiviral (2012)
Directed/written by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg. I liked the idea, but couldn’t help thinking it was a story more suited for a short film. Most of the running time the protagonist wanders around sick, which is quite painful to watch.
Rating 6.0

The House of the Devil (2009)
Lesser-known horror film, really surprised how good this one was! Stars Greta Gerwig and a few unknowns. Feels very 80s, the characters, and what sounds like an instrumental version of The Cars song Moving In Stereo. Exceeded my expectations, and managed to scare me.
Rating 7.5

The Loved Ones (2009)
Australian horror. Impressive performance by Robin McLeavy as the vicious daughter of the messed-up family. As the poster suggests, it’s violent, with torture scenes, so not for everyone. I could imagine people turning it off. It doesn’t give an explanation for the bizarre happenings.
A difficult film to know how to react to, because at times it was painful viewing, and at other moments, the tone was comedy. The heavy metal bits annoyed me, and the soundtrack was not really my thing. Goes to show that people can be totally different at home and at school. The haunting end credits sequence fits the mood of the film.
Rating 7.2

Thirst (2009)
South Korean horror. The first section of the movie is amazing but tricky to keep up with, a lot of info is passed to the viewer. I watched the opening 35 minutes twice.
Interesting how the vampire element is used as an allegory for illness, being afraid of that illness, yet turning into a vampire also is perceived as a cure for other illnesses.
Less violent than Oldboy, I wasn’t expecting Thirst to be erotic and romantic.
The most memorable thing about it was the scene by the lake, and the visual repercussions of that. There is beauty in the concluding ocean scene, but I mostly disliked how the last 15-20 minutes played out. Beautiful main theme, going to listen to the score again in its entirety.
Favorite quotes: “Nobody blames those, who are hurt in an accident. Nobody is criticized, because they have cancer.” Don’t play human, you are not human anymore” “Does the fox sin, when he eats the hen?”
Rating 7.7

I Saw The Devil (2010)
A South Korean revenge/horror thriller. You could say the film realistically should have ended at about the 55 minute mark, but movies being movies, it goes on. Pretty violent, so not for everyone.
Rating 7.7

A Field in England (2013)
Black-and-white historical drama, with elements of horror. Has unique moments, and was quite unpredictable. The scene when the guy goes deaf, when he screams and emerges from the tent, and when he becomes swallowed up by the field, were stand-outs for me. I guess it is an impressive technical achievement considering the budget.
But overall, it was just too slow for my taste, and I didn’t care if the characters lived or died. I actually found it difficult to decipher one actor from another, as several of them had similar appearance.
It was a bit tricky to follow what was going on, so as Thomas4cinema did, I too decided to experience it with the guts rather than with the brain.
Favorite quote: “You’ve not only kept yourself a stranger from the world, but to yourself, it seems”
Rating 6.5

Martyrs (2008)
French horror. I didn’t know whether to give this the lowest possible rating, or a 4 out of 5 on letterboxd. I just don’t know what to rate extreme and cruel horror like this or Eden Lake (2008). I feel bad recommending them. Is it a masterpiece by how terrifying and unforgettable the events are, or is it a nasty film that should never have been made?
The first part of Martyrs is wild and unpredictable. The last 30 minutes are borderline unwatchable and torture to sit through. You have been warned! Uncomfortable and painful viewing, rather than scary. Who ever wrote the script was a sick person. The ending I thought was a bit of a cop out, but I guess the only way to finish it.
Rating 7.6

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Worth watching, for those who enjoyed the wacky inventions and adventures from their beloved short films. While the animation is top-notch, that said, the story is honestly quite far-fetched and ludicrous. It does recapture the atmosphere of the short films, especially the humor. Not just for children, adults can watch this too.
Plenty of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them details. Love the books he has on his shelf: Waiting For Gouda, Fromage To Eternity, Grated Expectations, East of Edam, Swiss Cheese Family Robinson, Brie Encounter, How Green Was My Cheese.
Favorite quote: “Not a single one harmed! The old BV6000 mam, capable of 125 RPM, that’s 125 rabbits per minute.”
Rating 7.5

Agree or disagree? Have you watched any of the above? Which horror films do you plan to watch this October?
Next week, I’ll blog about some classic horror films, Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, and others, stay tuned!

22 thoughts on “Halloween Countdown: horror mini-reviews

  1. You've seen some great films. I saw The Conjuring in a theater with friends. It didn't scare me at all but it was fun. However one of my friends was scared all throughout the film and she is quite brave when it comes to these kind of films. I know it's weird to say it was fun to watch something so terrifying that happened in real life, but it was a surprisingly well made film. Insidious was just ok for me, it exaggerated with the ending.

    Haven't checked out Warm Bodies yet. It looked like such a ridiculous idea before its release. I'm glad it was such a surprise. Byzantium is a film I also want to see.

    Frankenweenie was a disappointment for me. Loved the animation and style though, but the story was uninteresting.

    The Loved Ones was an entertaining film. It's a shame it didn't get much seen in other countries. It was disturbing, but I enjoyed the ending. What a fucked-up world we live in.

    You already know what I think of Thrist from my review. Don't know if you have checked though. I Saw The Devil had a great idea. The ending was satisfying, the actors were great, but it was so long. Still, a good film and I'm already used to Korean violent films. I will check out Martyrs soon.

    Wallace and Gromit was so funny. I am a big fan of stop motion animation. I didn't grow up with the cartoons. Still I was hooked, watched it a couple of years ago with my little cousin and she loved it too.


  2. @Cristi B: Thanks for the comment!

    The Conjuring: I didn't have fun, and I wasn't scared ): I wish I liked it more. I realize other people enjoyed it, but I was just bored by that movie.

    Warm Bodies and Byzantium: Both exceeded my expectations.

    Frankenweenie: Not one ot Tim Burton's best. It felt so unnecessary, since the 1984 short is already there.

    The Loved Ones: It was exciting, and also disturbing. This, together with Martyrs and Eden Lake I pray do not become copy cat events.

    I'll go and comment on your Thirst review soon. I remember you blogged the music too.

    I Saw The Devil (2010) was a bit long, but it worked as a thriller for me.

    Wallace and Gromit: Glad you like it too! I love how human the loyal dog Gromit is 🙂


  3. Getting a jumpstart on Halloween, I see. 😀

    Bummer you didn't enjoy The Conjuring as much. It felt pretty familiar overall, but I thought it still did a great job of developing suspense and not relying too heavily on cheap scares.

    I saw The House of the Devil during its theatrical run and hated it then. I might give it another shot sometime, but I really disliked the ending.

    I loved I Saw the Devil. It went on a little long, but it was an intense ride throughout. Great performances, too.

    Martyrs… yeah. I still don't know what to make of that one. I dug the revenge storyline, but the final act was just torture porn, plain and simple.

    Looking forward to your next batch of horror!


  4. A few here I'm desperate to catch up on! The Conjuring, I Saw the Devil, House of the Devil and The Loved Ones mainly. Warm Bodies was ok but I hated the idea of zombies with voiceover. I'd never seen Burton's original short but thought Frankenweenie was his best film in a looooooong time.


  5. @Eric @The Warning Sign:
    Yep, lots of horror this year, both before October, and during 🙂

    The Conjuring : I get what you're saying, but it just wasn't for me.

    The House of the Devil : Surprised you hated it. The last 5 minutes were not that effective, but the rest of it worked for me. I liked the retro 80s approach, and the house to me was creepier than the one in The Conjuring.

    I Saw the Devil : Agree

    Martyrs : It's a difficult film to take a stand on, because of the despicable torture.

    Thanks, more horror reviews next week!


  6. @Pete Turner:
    The voiceover in Warm Bodies for me was part of the appeal, that he could comment on the humans

    Yep, Tim Burton's recent films are not his best. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on Frankenweenie, it was ok, but I didn't think it was anything special.

    Hope you manage to see a bit of horror during October 🙂


  7. I think Haneke movies should fit for Halloween, ahah, in a real way. Saw Insidious 2 last month and it made me hard to sleep afterwards (I'm just no good with horror films). But for this month, I want to check out Carrie before the sequel comes out.

    Agree with saying Warm Bodies intro is like today's social disconnect (people busy with their own phones).


  8. I've only seen a few of these since horror isn't a genre I care that much for. Warm Bodies was a delight for me. I was expecting some kind of wannabee-Twilight with zombies and instead got a sendup of the whole zombie genre. I do tend to like horror-comedies a lot more than straightforward horror. In fact, I did a whole category of horror-comedy films a while back.

    I thought Frankenweenie was okay, but that the somewhat similar Paranorman that came out at almost the same time was better.

    Any Wallace and Gromit movie or short is worth seeing and that includes The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.


  9. Martyrs looks interesting, and I do want to check out Byzantium and The Conjuring. I'll probably rewatch The Exorcist, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street in October. Not sure what else I'll get into, though. Maybe the original version of The Wicker Man.


  10. I completely understand how you feel about Martyrs. It's definitely unforgettable. One of the few films I will still remember as a graying old man. However, I fall in with those that despised it. I found it exploitative. I think the only purpose is to shock us, which it definitely manages to do. It takes me back to the metaphors laid out by Videodrome. The more we watch these kind of movies, the more we become insensitive to the grotesque.

    I also like the fact that Warm Bodies goes back to the original metaphor that gave way to the ideas of zombies in film. Society is turning more zombie-like by the day. I marvel everyday at the amount of people that look down at their phones while commuting in the train every morning (I'm a willing participant). There are far more people on mobile devices than people talking to each other. We are already slaving ourselves to technology and this is something the early zombie movies hinted at, so I'm glad this film is paying homage to those.

    Interested to see the two Korean horror films you included. Sometimes I feel the far east Asians have found a way to tap at what truly scares us more than us westerners have.

    Great post!


  11. @Chip Lary: Happy you liked Warm Bodies as well, it surprised me with the humor/social commentary. It also has a killer soundtrack.

    Jut googled your horror-comedy article. I would add From From Dusk till Dawn (1996) to your list(although the comedy parts are an acquired taste)

    Haven't seen Paranorman, so can't really comment.

    I remember you love the Wallace and Gromit short films, and glad you also like The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.


  12. @Andina: Funny Games, in a real way, it does have horror elements. I just watched Haneke's Bennys Video (1992), and that was pretty shocking too.

    Probably shouldn't watch a lot of horror, if can't sleep afterwards /:

    I noticed Eric@The Warning Sign just posted a review of Carrie (1976), if you're interested.

    That Warm Bodies intro is quite thought-provoking.


  13. @Josh: Martyrs is brutal with torture scenes, a movie that is not for everyone. Byzantium has been getting mixed reviews, but I really liked it.
    Those are good horror picks.
    A few rewatches myself this month: Interview with the Vampire, From Dusk till Dawn, Tremors & The Wicker Man. All of which I hadn't seen since I was a teenager.


  14. @niels85: Martyrs does shock the audience and feel exploitative. I think the director even said he wanted that, so we felt the suffering of the victims. Agree it takes more and more to shock us these days.

    Yes, society is turning more zombie-like by the day, slaving ourselves to technology. Most are content just to follow suit, which is sad. I think older people tend to be more polite. Something the younger generation seems to have lost a little bit.

    I liked those two South Korean horror films, hope you get to see them.


  15. Sorry for not including the link earlier. I'm always a little worried that it looks like spamming.

    From my perspective the biggest and best reason to watch From Dusk Till Dawn comes about an hour in when Salma Hayek does her dance. Everything else pales in comparison. 🙂


  16. @Chip Lary: No problem, I located your link.

    Salma Hayek does look stunning in that table dance scene. Surprising she has not been a Bond girl 🙂


  17. @LightsCameraReaction: I would probably give the technical side of Wallace and Gromit 10/10 🙂 Amazing animation, though the story was just a bit too crazy for me.The House of The Devil was creepy.


  18. Hey Chris I have only seen 3 of these and we are on the same page about the conjuring and that Wallace and Gromit film. I think I enjoyed Frankenweenie a little more than you did but I am sort of a sucker for Tim Burton stuff.


  19. @3guys1movie: Tim Burton, I dug his stuff, particularly when I was younger. Maybe I've outgrown his type of movies, or maybe Burton is in decline. Glad we agree on The Conjuring and that Wallace and Gromit film.


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