2016 Halloween Countdown : Horror mini-reviews

Tonight is Halloween! I’m back to share my observations on the horror films (or films with horror elements) that I have watched so far during 2016. A word of warning, minor plot spoilers may occur. Hope you enjoy reading my journey through the classics and lesser known gems! Have you watched any of these? Agree or disagree? Will you be watching a spooky film this evening?

The Witch (2015) (Robert Eggers)
I really wanted to like it, and I admire they went for something we don’t see every day. A great premise with the setting and old language. Each frame looks authentic, but a forgettable story. Passable yet not as great as the hype indicated. Didn’t get under my skin which the best horror films do. Maybe I was expecting to be shocked and scared, which didn’t happen at all.

The Neon Demon (2016) (Nicolas Winding Refn)
**Spoiler free review** Best film of 2016 so far. I love the colors, the Cliff Martinez score, and overall atmosphere. My god that ending. I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life. On one level I admire the imagination and guts, on another level I felt sick to the stomach which never usually happens to me. You may require a barf bag. I can’t erase those images from my mind and wasn’t able to sleep properly that same night. If a movie can provoke that kind of reaction it must have some merit. A cautionary tale about the dangers of modelling and fame seeking.

The Birds (1963) (Alfred Hitchcock)
Tippi Hedren is beautiful although I must admit she has an annoying nasal voice. The story is well-told and unsettling, because bird attacks could happen. The bird sound effects work well and particularly believable is the first bird attack at the birthday party. And it’s not just the attacks that are chilling, Hitchcock also generates suspense from moments when the birds gather in flocks and the townspeople walk by anxiously. Jessica Tandy is effective as the possessive mother to Mitch. According to a recent interview with Tippi Hedren real birds were used when she is trapped in the house. Yikes. People go on about that the special effects are laughably dated, but I’m not one of the naysayers. A masterpiece.

The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) (Dario Argento)
Suspenseful giallo mystery and I liked the idea of a blind former policeman helping with the investigation. The shaving scene is tense, and so is the car chase when the woman tries to lose the police. The underground tomb sequence is claustrophobic and the last place you want to be. Menacing eyes replace Argento’s usual black gloves.

Roar (1981) (Noel Marshall)
Highly entertaining. An unforgettable, unique watch. Lions and tigers in almost every frame. A miracle this movie even got made, with the actors putting themselves in dangerous situations. Imagine Hitchcock’s The Birds, only with African animals. I guess the message is that lions and tigers should be protected, and are not hostile, if you know how to treat them correctly.
According to IMDb trivia, the making of this film has been labeled as a horror due to the nightmare production shoot which was devastated by bushfire, flood, foreclosure, animal attacks, crew resignations, rain and outbreak of disease.
Favorite quotes: “It’s just like life, you get the funny with the tragic. It’s just with them you get the gentle and ferocious too. (…) “For my studies I have to get as close to them as possible”
“What do you think you’re running here, a country club for lions?”

Cronos (1993) (Guillermo del Toro)
The film that introduced the world to Guillermo del Toro’s style. Opening 15-20 min are especially captivating, although you have to wonder why the grandfather uses the device before hearing about its purpose. The blood in the bathroom scene was unexpected.
It’s a pity the story relies on the stupidity of the villain in not visiting the grandfather’s house to look for the device.
Not scary in the traditional sense. Cronos is a timeless dark fable/fairy tale. I certainly enjoy del Toro’s films, even if I don’t quite love them.

The Queen of Spades (1949) (Thorold Dickinson)
Nominated in 1949 for BAFTA award for best British film. An atmospheric period costume drama. About damnation and avarice, selling your soul to the devil in exchange for success. Considered the finest adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s short story.
My favorite part was the flashback sequence with the young Ranevskaya, although she becomes grouchy and overprotective in her old age. You wonder if her life choices are the reason for her attitude. I was surprised how much courting there was. Only at the beginning and end do we see gambling. The middle of the film is about the courting of Lizaveta, who is looked after by countess Ranevskaya. The last act was a tad implausible.
Favorite quote:
“Look at France, Napoleon Bonaparte, he was general at 26“
“My advice to you is to be content, as I am. Take life as you find it”
“I’d rather take it by the throat, and force it to give me what I want”

The Black Cat (1934) (Edgar G. Ulmer)
What sticks out the most is the filmmakers create a gradual sense of dread with hardly any special effects. The horror is all done with the music, and the performances of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Gave me chills when Karloff’s character Poelzig played that famous piece on the organ. Ambiguous how many at the house had been put under his spell or were there of their own free will.
Favorite quote: “I wanted to have her beauty, always”

The Cat and the Canary (1927) (Paul Leni)
Considered an influential silent in the “old dark house” genre of films. I liked the opening with Cyrus West, a canary surrounded by giant cats.
Paul Jones character is the comic relief, raising his arms as if at gunpoint when the car tyre exploded, or becoming trapped under a bed and mistaken for a ghost. Those two scenes put a smile on my face.
The scenes discussing the will were a bit forgettable, and the pacing was slow. Has its moments, such as a creepy arm reaching out, and unexpected disappearances, but not as great as I had hoped. The music that accompanied the film by Dionysis Boukouvalas was well done.

All the Colors of the Dark (1972) (Sergio Martino)
Italian giallo, dubbed in English, and set in autumnal London. Sergio Martino’s muse Edwige Fenech plays a fragile, delusional woman, haunted by her past, who is threatened by a creepy man with bright blue eyes. You don’t know if he is real or a figment of her imagination, for instance in the waiting room and when she locks herself outside her flat. She strikes up a friendship with a neighbour who gives advice about fighting anxiety.
A watchable giallo, but if I had to criticize, it’s too repetitive, many times we see her being followed by the blue-eyed man.
Perhaps the most disturbing scenes are when she is chased by dogs, surrounded by weirdos during the ritual at the castle, and staying with Mr and Mrs Main at their house.
Thematically points in several directions, about mental health, social anxiety, sexual liberation, and the dangers of religious cults. In some respects, a B-movie Eyes Wide Shut. As another letterboxd reviewer writes, very different to your normal black gloved killer Giallo.
On a side note, I love the angle when the camera is positioned behind the fire place, facing the room.
This was my fourth Martino giallo, and I’ve liked all of them so far. Torso (1973) next.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) (34 min short)
Bing Crosby narrates this Disney classic. A kids-friendly, mostly comedic Sleepy Hollow focusing on the rivalry to win Katrina. Has its visually inventive moments, especially in the scene when Ichabod Crane dreams of Katrina’s inheritance. Pumpkins and autumnal leaves can be seen at the dance and we are told that it’s Halloween night. The headless horseman depicted in Tim Burton’s darker vision makes an appearance in the suspenseful horseback ride in the final minutes. The Disney-fied Ichabod is a more lanky and anxious fellow than Johnny Depp’s Icabod. The 1949 short sticks to Washington Irving’s original story, and there’s an ambiguity if Brom Bones was the headless horseman.

The Servant (1963) (Joseph Losey)
Very British. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it horror, but there are definitely chilling moments. In fact the LA times wrote: Could “The Servant” be the coldest film ever made?
I found these characters dull, lacking in personality, and the slow pacing and bloated running time weakened its impact. Dirk Bogarde plays the enigmatic Jekyll-and-Hyde servant well, but I didn’t care who fell in love with who. The class differences felt a bit dated. It’s implied that unemployment is unhealthy. A precursor to The Magus (1965) and Sleuth (1972).

Messiah of Evil (1973) (Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz)
Sporadically memorable. There’s an ominous sense of doom that pervades the story. Worth seeing for the cinematography and Jack Fisk’s art direction. The colors are beautiful and so is the interior of the house by the shore. There’s an eerie scene by a gas station, a relatable uneasiness of being in that vulnerable place in the middle of nowhere. The scariest sequence was the supermarket when the woman meets the crowd of weirdos. The sequence inside the cinema is creepy too by placing the horror in a confined space, although by that point you know what to expect.
There’s a twist near the end which has been used in other horror films. A little-known low-budget 70s gem that’s worth seeing for any horror fan.

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) (Henry Selick)
I guess you can watch this to celebrate Halloween or Christmas? Atmospheric and timeless, a masterful piece of stop motion animation. I love the opening sequence. There are countless details which add to the charm and rewatchability, such as when the father opens his head and scratches his brain, the walking bath tub, the dog ghost, or the girl sewing her body parts back on.
I didn’t need to have Christmas explained to me. Although I admit it’s healthy to look at traditions with fresh eyes like a child does, so as to (re)discover what makes things magical in the first place. Hijacking Christmas is a unique idea and we can all relate to Jack’s feeling of something missing in our lives and tired of the old routine. Part of me feels like Burton as a kid would have preferred the ghoulish Christmas presents.
I admire the film more than I love it, but there’s enough to enjoy here in terms of visuals, music and quirky characters. The effects hold up well and so do the songs. Memorable tunes, especially ”This is Halloween” from the opening, “What’s This?” when Jack Skellington encounters Christmastown, and the sad ballad Sally’s Song.

Ms .45 (1981) (Abel Ferrara)
Easy to watch and visually remarkable. There is hardly need for any dialogue, everything is told with images. Set in the 80s, the story could have been about a big city in America today. Zoë Tamerlis plays the mute, a complex and memorable character who gets a kick out of her vengeance. This is a woman who just wants to be left alone.
The scene of the street harassment is realistic and reminded me of the recent viral video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman”. Men are creepier and more offhandedly predatory than they think. Other specific scenes had an American Psycho-ish vibe.
A suspenseful and well-paced exploitation flick that glued me to the screen, and which at only 80 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. My only complaint is the last act at the party when the guests behave illogically. I should explore Abel Ferrara’s filmography.

The Addiction (1995) (Abel Ferrara)
Arthouse horror. It’s not perfect, but the strength of the film is how it links vampirism with addiction. Parallels can be made to real life. Even if you want to stop the addiction you can’t. Friends don’t recognize you anymore and are concerned. Always on the lookout for the next fix regardless of the pain it causes others. How addicts can influence other people to become addicts. Controlling your habit with your will. etc
Injecting needles is unsettling to watch, even more so if the blood is taken from a random stranger.
For me, the weakness was the philosophy. The classes and quotes were a bit random and didn’t add much to the overall story. Christopher Walken’s role is pretty small, he reminded me of the characters in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). The hip hop soundtrack did feel appropriate.
Favorite quote: “dulls are perception so you’re helped to forget how ill you really are. We drink to escape the fact we are alcoholics”

The Craft (1996) (Andrew Fleming)
Apparently the lead is not the girl from Gilmore Girls. The opening 45 minutes are especially enjoyable, the second half is a bit over the top.
There are weaknesses, such as the showy SFX scenes in the middle of the film that hardly serve any purpose, the floating body, hair color change, and walking on water scene.
The story threads involving lovestruck Skeet Ulrich, the racist blond girl, and the dream sequence were handled quite well, where there was an ambiguity of whether there was a spell cast or not.
According to what I’ve read, Fairuza Balk (Nancy) was an actual practicing Wiccan for a while. Yikes. “The Craft” has been credited as the main influence on the growth of real-life teen interest in Wicca over the past 20 years. I can see why this has become a cult favorite, definitely rewatch potential.
Favorite quotes: “Don’t touch me, everything I touch turns to shit” “We are the weirdos, mister”

The Last Man on Earth (1964) (Ubaldo Ragona)
In this case, the vampire is a metaphor for a disease which can potentially wipe out humanity. The film goes for atmosphere and lacks scares. The action scenes are sparse. The deliberately slow pacing may put some people off and I admit I fell asleep (more than once) while watching and had to go back. The flash backs about the family humanize Vincent Price’s character, but because these scenes are in the middle of the film, it was predictable what would happen, and maybe instead should have been the first part of the film?  Isolation and loneliness are also themes that are given attention. An unsettling vision of a dystopian future and there are some twists in the last third which justify sticking around to the end. Perhaps the Will Smith adaptation I Am Legend (2007) is a step up?

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) (David Lynch)
Rewatch and it’s not growing on me. Probably my least favorite Lynch film. The opening 30 minutes involving two FBI agents investigating the murder of Teresa Banks feels disconnected from the rest. Most of the time has a dream-like quality with weird nightmarish imagery, but very abstract and doesn’t add up to anything important. An unnecessary and overlong prequel. Darker, colder, and slower paced than the tv-series, not as entertaining. The soundtrack is excellent though and Sheryl Lee (as Laura Palmer) makes it at least watchable by delivering a complex performance.What The Flick?! said about the movie: “it really wasn’t about who killed Laura Palmer, it was about how we all failed her”

Ginger Snaps (2000) (John Fawcett)
While I don’t think it has much new to say about adolescence, it is quite cleverly conceived in how the werewolf aspects mirror the changing teenagers. The actual story was effective, especially in that I couldn’t predict how it would play out. Well-acted too.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) (Joe Dante)
A big budget sequel that goes in a more comedic direction than the first film, and isn’t as scary because you know what to expect. There are enough wacky ideas here for two sequels and you can see it cost a lot of money to make. But a flawed film. The filmmakers go too far and lose grip with reality. Many things are illogical, such as the new born gremlins knowing Mogwai’s name, the hijacking of the movie, the gremlin in the answering machine, the talking Gremlin knowing things, etc.
I do have some praise, as the end credits music by Jerry Goldsmith is arguably more iconic than the theme from the original.
In recent years, the film was described by director Joe Dante as an anti-sequel, with an anti-capitalist message. “So I made Gremlins 2, which was essentially about how there didn’t need to be a sequel to Gremlins”. Dante uses the image of the megalomaniac and his skyscraper as a metaphor for production companies churning out sequels purely in an attempt to replicate the success of the originals.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) (Roger Corman)
The last in his series of eight films loosely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Starring Vincent Price, The Tomb of Ligeia was quite intriguing, a man grieving his dead wife(Ligeia) is a timeless theme. When the redhead is trapped by the bell, the bell starts ringing, and you wonder why. A supernatural reason or simply the hourly chime?
There are some impressive sets by the old mansion and the love interest is a beauty. The last act is weaker than the first hour. I’ve now seen 4 of 8, and I’d rate The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and House of Usher (1960) slightly higher for the story. Tomb Of Ligeia is good, but a tad predictable towards the end.

Nightbreed (1990) (Clive Barker)
I watched the director’s cut, considered closer to Clive Barker’s vision than the theatrical cut. The creature effects are impressive and the story held my attention despite a two hour running time. Not sure I understood the reasons for the hatred towards the outcasts. The killing all seems so cruel and unjustified. Envy of immortality is given as a reason for destroying. The police are the real monsters, hunting for sport. Decker is a mystery to me, what does he have against the nightbreed? Perhaps that’s the point of the story, that evil is not easily explained. People complain there is no real character development and also disjointed pacing, but I wasn’t bothered by either. It isn’t perfect, but I’m giving it 4 stars because Nightbreed contains far more imagination than any recent horror films I’ve seen. On a side note, I owned the Amiga game when I was 9, I didn’t know what I was getting into, creepy stuff for a kid!

The Others (2001)
Rewatch. I used to think this movie was simply a clever twist ending, but it’s more than that and better than I remembered. An old-fashioned haunted house story, which is quite visually striking, mist, shadows and candle-lit rooms.
Nicole Kidman is excellent as the wavering yet protective mother. We can empathize because she is in the same position as the audience, wanting to get to the bottom of the mystery. The presence in the house is quite eerie with its unknown agenda.
The questions the children ask their mother about believing in ghosts and the bible, and who is good or bad in war, gives the story realism. Normal for children to be curious.
It’s unfortunate the filmmakers seem so eager to explain everything during the ending, to the point where it’s too spelled out in the dialogue and neatly resolved. Of course you could say we have had the entire film to use our brain and think about what’s wrong in the house, and can find out if we were right or wrong. There are one or two things for the audience to ponder afterwards, especially in regards to Kidman’s character and also her past.
A film that will likely still hold up in 100 years. The soundtrack is slightly bland, yet timeless.

Ranking of horror seen in 2016 so far

Viewing recap October

Spectre (2015) (Sam Mendes)
If I had to rank the Daniel Craig Bond films, Spectre would be third, with Quantum of Solace in fourth. A critic said Sam Smith’s Bond theme is “good enough, but not a classic”, and that’s exactly how I would assess the new film. Entertaining and with exciting moments, yet everything feels just a bit watered-down compared to Skyfall (2012), the emotions, the jokes, the villain, the dialogue, everything is just not as strong as what Skyfall delivered. The only thing that was at the same level as Skyfall was the cinematography. Even though the surveillance plot idea was a relevant one in this day and age, Christoph Waltz as the villain disappointed, and his dialogue was uninspired.
Spectre steals aspects from past Bond adventures, and in most cases I felt what it was stealing from had more charm. I was surprised Monica Bellucci’s character is merely a cameo. Spectre is a good time while it lasts, yet by paying so much homage, the new film is a pastiche, and lacks a strong personality of its own. Daniel Craig is convincing in the action scenes, but the action and stunts were more distinctive this year in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which was perhaps the best Bond movie of 2015.
Rating 6.5/10

45 Years (2015) (Andrew Haigh)
A film that has things to say about relationships, which I won’t spoil here. We follow a couple in the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary. Skeletons in the closet are revealed and this changes things. The wife played by Charlotte Rampling gives arguably the best performance of her career and is in most of the scenes. Yet if I had to be critical the storytelling was heavy-handed in how often the filmmakers remind us of the conflict at hand. Many scenes are variations of the same message, and it could have been a bit more balanced with a greater focus on the husband. The last 10 minutes are far more subtle and ambiguous than what comes before, A film that is very realistic, very British, and I empathized with what was happening. I even teared up at one point. The cinema I saw it in was packed with over 50s who I would say are the target audience. 45 Years makes us reflect on our own life and how we interact with our close ones. How much do we hold back and is it a good or bad thing to do so?
Rating 7.5/10

Sicario (2015) (Denis Villeneuve)
Think I’m in the minority as I was a bit underwhelmed. Thriller about war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico. Emily Blunt is convincing, her eyes show the fear of new situations. Benicio Del Toro is mysterious and interesting as Alejandro and you want to learn about his past. The memorable scenes have to do with violence or torture. Has a few exciting scenes such as the opening and by the border, but is too slow-paced and dull for a thriller. I was often bored by a story with so little substance and hardly any characterization. A lot of scenes could have been shortened without losing anything, for example the aerial shots.
Enemy, Prisoners, and Incendies were interesting outings by the director, but Sicario is an overrated movie with nothing new to say. Worse yet the cops in the car scene appear to enjoy torturing the captive, Josh Brolin smiling.  You could say the movie is deliberately unpleasant due to the subject matter, but I guess it just wasn’t for me. Perhaps a film I need to rewatch to connect with. There’s a twist near the end that explains what came before. Benicio Del Toro’s quotable dialogue and performance is what I’ll remember.
Rating 6.5/10

My Own Private Idaho (1991) (Gus Van Sant)
An early Keanu Reeves film I had heard of but never seen until now. About street hustlers. Has some visual tricky that surprises, such as the magazine covers that suddenly start talking, and the barn that crashes to the ground when a character has an orgasm. It’s also the only film I’ve seen that deals with the condition narcolepsy, which River Phoenix’s character suffers from. Unfortunately a lot of the dialogue was mumbled and difficult to hear.
The story, despite comparable to Shakespeare, was for the first hour quite dull. The search for his family members, and whether the two guys were lovers or friends, were the aspects that seemed to drive the story forward.
The last 20 minutes were the most emotionally involving, quite a powerful and sad turn the movie took. Slightly saved by the ending, the first hour lacked urgency.
Rating 6/10

They Live (1988) (John Carpenter)
The acting is cheesy, but you kind of forgive it for that, because it was made in the 80s. I love the ideas that were put into the story, that the US government is the implied villain and treating its citizens with disdain. Contains a fun fight scene at about the hour mark and the pulsating soundtrack was perfect for the mood of the film. Even though you could question if the main character is worthy of our empathy, considering his actions in the bank. At that point he had very little knowledge of the situation so his behavior seemed foolhardy.
Rating 8/10

The Thing (1982) (John Carpenter)
Rewatch. I liked it more on second viewing, yet I still think it’s overrated. The special effects are great, but the story is very similar to Alien (1979). Many rate it higher out of nostalgia, I’m of the opinion the plot is clichéd.
The Norwegians are hunting an infected dog in the opening scene on Antarctica, and yet the US crew are too dumb to see that the dog might be a threat and decide to bring back a corpse from the Norwegian camp.
For me, the scariest scene is about 80 minutes into the movie when they test the blood and the guys are tied up, and unable to escape.
Favorite quote: “Maybe we’ll just warm things up a bit around here…”

Rating 7/10

Rabid (1977) (David Cronenberg) 
Starts promisingly, the opening 15 minutes had me hooked. Soon turns into a simplistic epidemic horror movie that goes from one kill to the next, with little to no character development.  Which is a pity because plastic surgery gone wrong and its consequences is a great idea. The movie is only surprising during the first kill. The lead played by model Marilyn Chambers kind of reminded me of Natasha Henstridge’s seductive character in Species (1995).
My favorite scene was in the train, when the commuters couldn’t get out, and was similar to a claustrophobic scene I mention above in my mini-review of The Thing.
Having to use your wipers to clear off blood from the windshield is certainly unpleasant for the driver. The director would only get better from here. Perhaps my appreciation of the film will grow a bit once I read about the subtext.
Rating 6/10

The Howling (1981) (Joe Dante)
The opening when she goes into the adult video store and sits in the booth was the best scene. The Howling will forever be compared to An American Werewolf in London (1981), and it does feel like a less memorable werewolf movie. I’m not a big fan of jump scares and there’s quite a few. The writers take a jab at self-help books.
Rating 6/10

The rest of the horror I recently watched you can read about here:
Horror movies reviewed (part 1)
Horror movies reviewed (part 2)

Horror movies reviewed (part 3)

TV watched:

Middlemarch (1994) (BBC TV Mini-Series)
A captivating retelling of the classic British period drama written by George Eliot. The actors do the material justice, especially Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea and Douglas Hodge as doctor Lydgate were the stand-outs. A big cast, but handled in a way so I was able to follow the story and cared what would become of all the townspeople. Obviously certain aspects of the story are somewhat dated now as it was written in 1874, but there are dilemmas which you can mirror yourself in even today. The setting is believable and the classical soundtrack fits well.
Rating 8.5/10

What do you think about these films? As always, comments are welcome

Halloween countdown: horror movies reviewed (part 3)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) (Chuck Russell)
Arguably the best sequel of the franchise and a fan favorite. Imaginative in how it incorporates dream sequences in patients at a mental institution, with original cast member Heather Langenkamp returning as Nancy, who is older and a newly hired member of the hospital staff. The characters have personalities so you care about their fate. Interestingly, at about an hour into the movie, the nun talks about Freddy’s past. There are formulaic elements in how the story is told, but the story is entertaining and the characters in-dream abilities are empowering. Many memorable moments, including the end credits song by Dokken.
I liked the special effects, which are quite surprising and inventive. SPOILERS: The tap handle which changes shape, the melting bicycle with blood on its tires, the roasted pig head which comes back to life, the hall of mirrors, the car dump, etc. Another memorable aspect are the various incarnations of Freddy Krueger as a giant worm, puppeteer, talk-show host, and using drugs as a weapon. I wish they had done more with the paper mache house, but that’s a minor quibble.  I admire the filmmakers had the bravery to show children die which might not be the case in every horror movie.
Favorite quote: “You never lose a gift like that. You just forget how to use it”
Rating 8/10

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) (Robert Aldrich)
Not exactly a horror, but close enough. A pretty dark movie for the time it was made. Psychological thriller with Bette Davis as Baby Jane, a terrifying and out of control washed-up former child star, who wants to reclaim her past glory days. She lives with her crippled sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), also an actress, her success in show biz was as an adult. There’s a rivalry going on between them and its sad to see two sisters who can’t get along. I gave up on the film a few years ago, because I hated the character of Jane, but decided to give it a second chance. Will never become a favorite of mine, but I appreciate it today more than I did on first viewing. Great performances and everything that happens could take place in real life, which makes it doubly disturbing. It has been said the film introduced the world to the hag horror or “psycho-biddy” subgenre of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women. Apparently the real-life hatred between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford spilled over into the production. If so, I’m happy I wasn’t on the set.
Rating 8/10

Cemetery Man (1994) (Michele Soavi)
His girlfriend has very kissable lips, but the romance was a bit too sudden if you ask me. I liked the atmosphere that was created, and it’s among the most quotable and genuinely funny horror films I saw this year. An unconventional screenplay, which may appeal to those who are burned out from watching conventional horror. The story isn’t always logical, but the comedy aspects appealed to my sense of humor, for example the guy who keeps eating his TV dinner with zombies and bullets flying everywhere.
Favorite quotes:
”Go away, I haven’t got time for the living!”
“We all do what we can not to think about life”
“Hell, at a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living”
“Just because we’ve got the new ones (phone books) doesn’t mean to say we have to throw the old ones away. These books are classics!”
Rating 8/10

The Long Weekend (1978) (Colin Eggleston)
If you want a realistic drama/horror set by the Australian coast, this is it. The films centers on a married couple who go for a camping weekend. The wife says she is bored and they argue. He is trigger happy and fires his gun for fun. She reads and smokes cigarettes. In the wild, they have to deal with the elements, insects, possums, and so on. The film has a few jump scares and that was basically as scary as it got. Others have proclaimed it to be underrated and I admit the last 20-25 minutes are quite captivating and surprising. A shame it took so long to become thrilling. The film is lacking in story the first hour, an uneven movie with a strong ending.
Rating 6/10

Rabid Dogs (aka Kidnapped) (1974) (Mario Bava)
I thought this was going to be a horror because of the director involved, but turned out to be an Italian grindhouse thriller. A riveting story so you can’t stop watching, and certainly very tense. One of the few films by the director which discards the supernatural to embrace gritty realism. Much of the running time, close-ups are used inside a getaway car. The confined location makes the viewers feel they are passengers. Has an interesting history in that the film wasn’t released until 1998 on VHS.
Favorite quote: “As long as you’re worried, I won’t be”

Rating 9/10

The Changeling (1980) (Peter Medak)
I was completely into the movie for the opening 35 minutes. However when the music box in the old house played the same tune the main character recently composed on his piano, the story lost believability with that unrealistic coincidence.  The teleportation of the ball was also ridiculous, both these scenes were unconvincing and took me out of the movie.
That said, the film has an amazing atmosphere, which slowly builds, and the unknown supernatural presence is creepy, especially when he is alone in the big house and goes up to the attic for the first time. George C. Scott seemed too old to have a young wife and small child, but he anchors the film with his fine lead performance. Most people would have gotten the hell out of there, but he stuck around and wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. The second half of the movie with the Medium and murder investigation was not as scary once the supernatural entity was explained, but was entertaining enough and I wanted to see how it would play out.
Rating 7/10

What do you think about these films? As always, comments are welcome

Horror movies reviewed (part 2)

Angst (aka Fear) (1983) (Gerald Kargl)
Arguably one of the best Austrian horror movies ever made. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. The chilling realism and creepy soundtrack haunted me for days afterwards. The drip drip of the tap in the opening scene is so simple yet so effective.
Most of the film we listen to the inner monologue of the disturbed main character, we are basically inside his warped mind and along for the ride. The camera angles from above give you a birds eye view of what’s happening.
He is afraid of himself, and you can understand why. A sick mind and due to a dysfunctional family he became a monster. It’s also an indictment of the legal system in that despite murdering in the past, he is set free with no supervision.
You could question the ethics of making a movie based on true story crimes, but it also serves as a warning that damaged people exist with no empathy for others. Parents who don’t love their children is also a horrible crime, so even though he is despicable I did feel sorry for him. An important film about why monsters become monsters.
Rating 9/10

The Witches (1990) (Nicolas Roeg)
Like others who were born in the late 70s or early 80s, the children’s books of Roald Dahl were part of my childhood. I enjoyed reading The Witches when I was about 9 or 10 and tried watching the film adaptation in the 90s, but it was just too scary. Today I admire there was no restraint in how creepy the Grand High Witch looks. The illustrations in the book by long-time collaborator Quentin Blake were somehow less threatening than the moving images.
Watching the film as an adult, I wish there was a reason for the evil rather than just being evil. The mouse puppetry by Jim Henson is impressive. Roald Dahl disliked that the ending was different to his book. The film is probably best remembered for Anjelica Huston’s turn as the head witch. WTF? Why is Rowan Atkinson dressed as Mr Bean? Who is the intended audience for the movie? I’m not really sure. Good but not great.
Rating 7/10

The ’Burbs (1989) (Joe Dante)
Labelled a black comedy, I’m including it anyway because there are horror elements. Has a pretty good cast and director. Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, and Corey Feldman(back when he was cool). It’s a shame the story is so silly. There’s social commentary on being afraid and suspicious of foreigners, which on paper is an interesting concept. Unfortunately it takes 50 minutes before it’s actually watchable which is when they go into the mysterious house for the first time, the movie has that one great scene. The rest is filler and the ending in the ambulance butchers what up to that point was a positive message. In fact the godawful finale is so bad it justifies all the neighborhood abuse.
The redeeming quality for me was the soundtrack, and the discovery of bands such as Circus Of Power.
Favorite quote: “got somebody tied up in the ol’ cellar, have yah?
Rating 4/10

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (Charles Barton)
 I had no idea what to expect. Tarantino said it influenced him. My first encounter with the comedy duo, so I don’t have the luxury of comparing the film to their other work. Considered the best of the 35 Abbott and Costello movies made between 1940 and 1956.
The plotline is of Frankenstein needing a new brain. Nice idea to mix comedy with horror, back then it was a fresh idea.
The competitiveness between Abbott and Costello to catch girls is pretty funny.
Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf in comparison feel like props and just there to give a contrast. Abbott and Costello have the best dialogue, with Dracula the most memorable of the universal monsters.
The story doesn’t really go anywhere, and has to be manipulated to fit with the long running joke of Abbott not noticing the horror. It’s an amusing joke, but some viewers may find that aspect too repetitive.
Took awhile to grab me, the second half was the most entertaining.
I’m giving it an extra point for the dialogue and for the original horror/comedy approach.
“The moon will rise in 20 minutes, and then I’ll turn into a wolf.”
“Yeah, you and about a million other guys!”
Ratting 7/10

The Brood (1979) (David Cronenberg)
From an era when Cronenberg was coming into his own as a horror/sci-fi master.
I have no clue if the movie holds up to repeat viewing. All I can say is it was incredibly tense and genuinely scary. The subtext about the damage a divorce, experimental drugs and therapy sessions can cause is equally as disturbing as the visuals.
By withholding information until the horrifying climax, the film keeps you on edge. Contains one of the most horrifying break-up scenes of all-time. Written during Cronenberg’s own divorce and custody battle, there’s an anger at its core. Includes Cronenbergian body horror, so not for the squeamish.
Rating 8.5/10 

The Hole (2001) (Nick Hamm)
Psychological horror/drama about a group of high school teenagers who become trapped in an old bunker. Starring Thora Birch and Keira Knightley. The flashlight effect on all the names in the credits was a nice idea. The film received mixed reviews, I consider it better than its reputation. A flawed, but quite gripping story.
SPOILERS: Why was it necessary for Martin to lock the hole from the outside? Why would Martin lock up his best friend? There are twists and turns in terms of what happened, which are revealed later on. As an anti-rape movie, it’s effective, even when it’s a little too on the nose. The scene with the attempted rape was memorable for how the onlooker behaved. Although what really happened is murky and I’m still confused if Liz was raped herself, as it is implied when she is examined and all is not right. The fact we see her escape in the opening scene does take some of the edge off the suspense however. The police investigation is stupid if you think about it, and I don’t understand Liz’s actions on the bridge, which seemed out of character. I’d be interested to inspect the lock of the door, because the cops forgot to look.
Rating 7.5/10

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) (John Carpenter)
Considered by some to be the best movie of the 90s by the horror master. A divisive film, receiving mixed reviews upon release. A second-tier Carpenter, that logically doesn’t make sense if you think about it, but I like the subtext that horror is a threat to society. About a successful horror writer whose novels have an effect on his less stable readers. Sutter Cane’s new novel is even more dangerous and potentially causes all readers to go insane.
Refreshing to see a director who is self-aware and looking at how fiction affects the consumer, which is where the story has its strength. Tonally the movie feels like a product of its time, attempting to cash in on the huge popularity of Stephen King. If I didn’t know who made it, I would guess it was a TV-movie based on King’s writing.
There’s a good movie in there somewhere, the opening 30 minutes are outstanding, but the middle part in the mysterious town is too silly and not as scary as it should have been. The ending is good and Sam Neil is convincing in the lead role, but you may feel it’s tough to know what is real or madness by the end.
Jürgen Prochnow doesn’t have much to do as the villain, it seems horror fiction and its repercussions is the real threat. The horror about horror meta approach was popular at the time with the likes of New Nightmare, Scream, and Funny Games also coming out in the mid 90s. Of those four films, I think In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is the weakest.
Rating 6.5/10  

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) (Massimo Dallamano)
Murder mystery. According to wikipedia, has gained a reputation as one of the best giallo films of the early 1970s among fans of the genre. The police investigation is believable and suspenseful and I had no idea who the killer was until it was revealed. In other Italian giallos there are clues to the whodunit, I didn’t notice any red herrings, although there might have been. In this case it’s almost impossible to figure out, so I was just along for the ride.
I am used to bad dubbing, but here it warrants mentioning because the dialogue is at times inaudible, so a subtitled version is advised. I would be lying if I said the young women are not titillating, and the director would appear to enjoy them undressed, it’s quite sleazy as we often see them naked. The Italian couple who help with the investigation are going through some personal problems and their troubled relationship is handled so I cared about them. Good story, and worth checking out. Ennio Morricone provided the score.
Rating 8/10

Black Christmas (1974) (Bob Clark)
It’s weird how Bob Clark made the beloved family-friendly A Christmas Story (1983), yet even earlier made a horror with Christmas in the title.
Black Christmas is one of the earliest and most influential slashers. A murder mystery in which a community receive obscene phone calls, those calls still hold up as very creepy.
There’s drinking and drunkenness going on, likely because it’s the festive season, or maybe those women drink all the time, who knows? Amusingly, the old lady has bottles stashed away in hiding places in the house. In fact, most of the lighter moments are the results of alcohol, with the character played by Margot Kidder making inappropriate remarks.
The director has an eye for maintaining tension, for example a scene midway through the movie, when a lady screams and they go and look with terror in their eyes, yet the audience do not see what they are observing. Likewise the killer’s identity is not revealed.
The film does have its flaws, notably in how stupid people behave. I was not convinced by the police investigation. Surely a corpse in the house would not be overlooked for so long? And if she knows the killer is around she still wants to go up the stairs? It’s a film that has been copied so much over the years that plot elements feel formulaic in 2015, that’s not the fault of the movie, but a factor when discovering Black Christmas today. Even if it’s similar to other slasher movies, it is an effective horror, as long as you forget about how foolish the police and search party act.  As another reviewer observed: “there’s enough that these characters register as people rather than slasher fodder”
Rating 7/10

Have you watched any of these films ? As always, comments are welcome.

Horror movies reviewed (part 1)

It’s October, so we are approaching Halloween! That means it’s time to knock off horror movies from my watchlist. Last year I was corrected for improper use of the term horror, so this time I’ll start off with a disclaimer. The term is used very broadly in the header. Several of the films listed are not strictly horror, and could be categorized as vampire, comedy, fantasy and so on. Sometimes they are a hybrid or different genres.

Evil Dead (1981) (Sam Raimi)
On first viewing I made the error of watching it during the afternoon. For this rewatch I made a deliberate attempt to watch the film when it was dark outside, and it was a far better experience. A group of five Michigan State University students venture to a cabin in the woods which they rent on the cheap. It’s actually quite funny in the first 15 minutes, the car horn joke made me laugh. They do unwise things like going into the woods alone and staying at the cabin despite the mayhem, but the scares are effective, especially the scenes going into the unknown(the basement, the woods). The film is best remembered for the POV camera movements which has the evil rushing through the trees and looking through the windows. Has excellent pacing thanks to a talented director at the helm, so I didn’t become bored. It’s like they took the idea from a famous 70s horror film and went even further. The image that will stay with me is the girl locked in the basement and pocking her head up through the chained door in the floor. That’s a scary sight.
Rating 8/10 

Evil Dead 2 (1987) (Sam Raimi)
A parody sequel to the 1981 film. Bruce Campbell reprises his role and has a great scared face and he spends many scenes looking frightened. Less surprising, repeating the story of a cabin in the woods and an evil presence, just with a bigger budget. The headless woman with a chain saw and him fighting his own hand were quite amusing, but the movie is not as quotable or funny as others claim. Campbell is a good physical actor which shows in the slapstick moments. He sure must have had some cuts or bruises with the number of times he throws himself about. The special effect of a speaking decapitated head was very realistic. Some inventive scenes, but for me I prefer the straight horror of the first movie. I’m still giving it a 7/10 because I was never bored. The strong ending does make you want to watch the third movie Army of Darkness (1992).
Favorite quote: “give me back my hand”
Rating 7/10

Army of Darkness (1992) (Sam Raimi)
I actually think this third film in the trilogy is far more quotable than Evil Dead 2. The campy one-liners brought a smile to my face, even if they feel a bit contrived. Ash (Bruce Campbell) behaves like an action hero rather than a real person this time around, which takes a bit of getting used to. I loved the opening scene even though it’s a rip-off of a sequence in Star Wars.
Later on, the amusing fight with the skeleton arms by the graveyard was amusing. A pity the special effects are poor in some places when the background had been superimposed.
There are a few homages to other works of fiction such as Gulliver’s Travels and Jason and the Argonauts.
SPOILER: The weakest part is the ending, the enemy is not much of a threat, and a bit lame seeing Ash kiss a girl he’s known for only 5 minutes. For a director who made such a great ending to Evil Dead 2, it’s odd he would settle for such a formulaic and corny conclusion to the trilogy.

Rating 7/10

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (Jacques Tourneur)
I love Out of The Past (1947) and Cat People (1942) by the same director, that was reason enough.
Labelled a horror film, but it’s more of a mood piece, going for an eerie atmosphere. A nurse travels to the West Indies and is asked to care for a mute zombie-like woman. Even if it is tame compared to movies today, the voodoo is quite unsettling, and the songs sung at the restaurant are too. Visually the filmmakers makes great use of shadows and especially the howling wind. I prefer the two other Tourneur films I mentioned, but this one is not bad.
According to A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), Tourneur confessed at the end of his career he had always been passionate about the supernatural, a bit of a psychic himself. He made films about the supernatural because he believed in it, and claimed to have even experienced it first hand.

Rating 7/10

Phantom of the Opera (1925) (multiple directors)
Haven’t read the book, but felt the screenplay was confusing in how it jumped around quite a lot. Memorable for the set designs, and the performance and makeup of Lou Cheney. A haunting moment when he reveals his face. The story feels oversimplified, with it’s good versus evil.
Rating 6/10

StageFright: Aquarius (aka Deliria) (1987) (Michele Soavi)
Not familiar with this Italian director. Soavi’s debut feature.
Although the eerie 80s soundtrack plays a key role in creating suspense, the film has a comic book style, so you can watch purely on a visual level without paying attention to the dialogue.  There are horror movie conventions, so the story is nothing new, yet it’s still unsettling because of the claustrophobic setting and realistic nature of the story. The owl suit is quite a scary sight and it’s pretty gory. The director is maybe best known for Cemetery Man (1994) starring Rupert Everett.
Rating 7/10

I Married a Witch (1942) (René Clair)
Picked because it’s short at 77 minutes. It’s not scary, a fantasy with supernatural elements. A film that shows you don’t need elaborate CGI to make convincing special effects. A puff of smoke, miniatures, or a fire place switched on is enough to believably tell a story of a witch.
Rarely are witches as gorgeous as Veronica Lake, I guess that was the point really, to change it up.

Rating 8/10

The Hunger (1983) (Tony Scott)
If Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner had a baby, this movie might be the result. The Hunger is about everlasting life and how that affects a person. Very atmospheric and with minimal dialogue, relying on visual storytelling. The Hunger is considered an art-house update of the wave of sexy vampire flicks of the 1960s and 1970s. Worth seeing just for the art direction with its smoky rooms and swaying curtains, coupled with an 80s score and classical music. The film memorably opens with a popular song by the goth band Bauhaus. The makeup of an aging character is also extraordinary.
May not be everyone’s cup of tea. The critics were not enthusiastic about Tony Scott’s debut feature. I consider the movie underrated and I got totally into that world. You could argue it’s style over substance and the characters are not fully realized, but there’s an alluring beauty that draws you in. The characters in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) I didn’t connect with. These characters in The Hunger are far more mysterious. I don’t know if it was intended, I got a subtext about aids, and how that changes a person.
Another reviewer said it better than I could: ”It’s anti-vampire. There’s no teeth, no eyes or even a mention of the word itself. In fact, it tries very hard to side-step any familiar undead cliches for fear of ‘reducing it to a ‘normal’ film. Or so it seems”
Rating 8/10

Angel Heart (1987) (Alan Parker)
Interesting mix of noir and occult horror. The best thing about the film is how it looks, beautiful cinematography. Each frame is like a photograph. The story is quite intricate with many twists and turns.
Mickey Rourke is believable as the small time detective out of his depth. Lisa Bonet has the most wonderfully expressive eyes, which Rourke’s character comments on. Robert De Niro is mysterious as the egg-eating bearded man he is working for.
The ending is surprising and I’m still confused who Johnny Favorite really was.
Favorite quote: “The future isn’t what it used to be, Mr Angel”

Rating 8/10

Have you watched any of the above? Which horror films are high on your watchlist for October?