Sunday, January 15, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3

Yes, people, it's time to finally get around to writing about the third movie in what probably will be called the "Paranormal Activity Triology" if we're lucky, and the "Paranormal Activity Series" if not. I missed this one on it's cinema run, so this is actually the first movie I saw for the first time at home, I'll get back to how that may have impacted my feelings about the movie, but first, the basics.

Paranormal Activity is the VHS-tape blast from the past, starring Dennis and Julie, the parents of Kate   and Kristy, the main characters from Paranormal Activities 1 and 2 as they go through some haunting-related problems. In many, perhaps even most, ways, the plot is a carbon copy of the two previous movies run through a late 80's filter. That can work, though, Paranormal Activity 2 was pretty close to 1, but it had enough of what made the first one great and a few new things to add to the mix, like more cameras and a dog. Sure, as far as innovations go, a dog might not be much to brag about, but it's something.

I do, however, not think "the same but slightly altered" worked here, and there's several reasons for it. For one, there's little to no ambiguity as to what'll happen to these girls, so the only question that can be answered to any degree is "why?" Throughout Paranormal Activity 2, and a little bit in 1, there are sprinkled hints that someone done fucked up and pulled a Faust, dooming firstborns to abduction and suburbanites to torment. 

Although I'm ambivalent as to how good an idea revealing any details about horror backstories actually is, I was actually kinda pumped for seeing what the filmmakers did with wrapping up the whole thing. It'd be pretty interesting, actually, seeing the poor doomed sap that's holding the camera this time, unraveling a demon-fueled conspiracy, either ancient or too recent for comfort, or perhaps the young sisters stumbling over demonic spookfests and trying to understand what and why. But no, it's focused on the two young parents, because... that's what worked last two times, I suppose? To the movie's credit, they get into the whole demon pact thing for the final ten or so minutes of the movie, but that's during the "shit's intense and the cameraman runs around for about fifteen minutes before getting killed"-bit that always seems to happen in these things. 

As far as scares go, well, they certainly upped the ante here, The Demon clocking in an own personal best at "lifting up every goddamn thing in the kitchen and dropping it suddenly," but that, and a couple of new lifts and throws also feels kind of odd and off-putting, most notably when it hoists the eldest girl up by her hair, on camera, of course. It's not that I'm against upping the ante, but it feels like it breaks the suspension of disbelief for me, although I'm actually not entirely sure why, There is, however, one damn clever scare involving a bedsheet, although it feels more like the demon showing off at this point.

Also, while the movie doesn't innovate much, it still has a decent bit of the things that makes the two previous movies good. The long stretches of nothing happening still frays my nerves, as my brain fills the blanks with all manner of scares, most of which never happen. It's borderline genius, really, the movies manages to basically lean back and let the audience freak itself out, with nary a flex of budget muscle, it's horror aikido, basically. Of course, I feel I got it better in the two previous movies, but it says something about the technique when it works three movies in a row.

I think I'd have a better time if I watched this in the theater, though. I tend to get distracted when watching movies at home, and movies with long stretches of nothing really happening, movies where said stretches are kind of the point, indeed movies where the scares happen with little pomp and circumstance, aren't really made for such viewing. Also, the slightly nervous atmosphere of a theater watching a horror movie makes it easier to get into movies like PA, and the tension is allowed to build further, with fewer options for distraction, and such.

I feel like sequels just can't win with me. REC2 changes a lot of stuff, and I hated it, Paranormal Activity 3 changes nearly nothing, and while I won't say I flat out hated it, I certainly didn't like it. Perhaps I'm just too picky, and if nothing else Paranormal 3 managed to at least squeeze some tension out of me, and that should count for something. The PA train kinda has to stop here, fourth installments are seldom good news, and the charm is starting to wear thin.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas III: Red Eye

Ah, this probably is my favorite Craven movie, and considering how utterly and completely nuts I am about Nightmare On Elm Street... and Scream, I suppose, that's saying something. Funny thing is that it's not really a horror movie, well, not entirely, it's more of a thriller, but  it does get into a bit of a horror/action movie mix towards the end, so it's good enough for me. Also, it's pretty damn good.
Very effective poster, I'd say.

Red Eye is the story of a hotel manager named Lisa, played by Rachel McAdams, who finds herself on a red eye flight, thus the name, sitting next a charming fellow named Jackson Rippner, played by Cillian Murphy. In many ways, it starts out like a romantic comedy of sorts, but that all comes to a close when Rippner reveals his agenda. Turns out he's working for some ill-defined group of badguys, and he's keen on having Lisa pull some strings to make an assassination attempt on a visiting VIP easier. If she refuses, Rippner is prepared to have his men assassinate her father. Also, he is dangerously psychotic and hates women. What follows is a battle of wits as Lisa tries to get herself out of trouble without condemning a man and his family, or her father, to death.

This is one of those movies that basically has one major set, inside the plane, and most of the movie's actually spent in the two seats where Rippner and Lisa are sitting. For that reason, the film is rather dialog-heavy. It doesn't suffer from it, though, the part where Lisa matches wits with Rippner is easily the most interesting part of the movie. I maintain that the reason for this is that is that the two main characters have excellent chemistry, and they're both quite impressive actors. Special props has to go to Cillian, because he pulls of the switch from "charming and helpful" to "misogynistic and psychotic" quite well, makes me think of 28 days later and the "In the house, in a heartbeat"-scene, but with woman-hating crazy instead of righteous rage-crazy.

This movie was released the same year as "flightplan," and both being thrillers set on planes with female protagonists, I suppose they might have had some kind of "dueling movies"-kind of thing going on, but in my mind, it's no contest. Flightplan wasn't horrible or anything, but it felt like it had to cheat to get the plot to work, and the tension wasn't half as great. Also, no Cillian Murphy.
Did I mention I think this guy makes the movie yet?

In the traditional understanding of horror, this movie barely qualifies, as I mentioned earlier. It's rather firmly placed on the "thriller"-side of the thriller/horror divide, but it's very suspenseful, and it's a good movie, Craven's best in many ways, and that should be good enough. It does also make it quite a natural ending point for A Very Craven Christmas, and I hope I've motivated those of you who haven't gotten around to updating yourself on Wes Craven's catalog of movies to do so, and hope you all have a good New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas II: Scream

This movie is in a sort of weird place for me. Being a child of the 90's, I experienced a lot of my friends being into this movie, but I, being a huge wimp at that point in my life, would have nothing to do with it. When I finally watched the movie, though, it was different from what I expected. While my contemporaries had pitched the movie to me by describing the most fucked-up fatalities, that really isn't the most memorable part about it, but that's enough introductionary banter, let's have a looksee at Scream 1.

Being a stereotypical slasher in every sense of the word, Scream's story is about a masked killer going nuts on the teenager population of some small midwestern town. Parties are held despite the multiple murder, and, as one comes to expect in such cases, the body-count continues to rise until the main character gets her Survivor Girl on, albeit in a somewhat more interesting way than what is usual. Scream is a very postmodern horror film, in that the conventions of horror movies not only is important in the movie, but also proves for interesting plot points, as the killer seems to be operating consciously on "slasher rules."
A quick lesson in how slasher movies work from a guy I identify with.

Scream is a fairly clever movie, at least for a slasher. Much of the cleverness comes from the slightly meta aspects of it, granted, but there are some scenes that are quite goddamn clever, involving a time-delay surveillance camera camera and bloody murder.
Also, multiple levels of dramatic irony

Not that metaness is the only thing going for the movie, of course, the dialog is fairly snappy, at least for a slasher, and the movie manages to have multiple characters that are actually sympathetic, which goes a long way in raising the tension. This is something I really wish more horror movies would do. Having one, or at worst one half, sympathetic character and a bunch of assholish walking gorebags does not compelling cinema make.It sorta reflects poorly on us horror fans when the movies we watch seemingly goes to length to justify the bloody murder about to happen. Also, as I mentioned, movies become that much more exciting when they have characters that are possible to relate to in them.

These two, for example

On the topic of horror, well, it's a slasher, so the threat will always be fairly well-telegraphed, which might dimminish it a bit, but the soundtrack goes a long way to make eerieness, and the use of dramatic irony is just pure delicious at times, chiefly in the scene with the camera, as discussed above. Also, the opening scene is fairly famous, but it's well-earned, the way the movie subtly escalates the tension through editing and atmosphere without stepping up the dialog at all. Of course, once the dialog actually steps up to the plate, it gets pretty damn intense.

Scream is one of those movies I always underestimate until I rewatch it again, it's an important horror movie, being the new blood that the horror genre needed back in the 90's, snapping the genre out of the funk of Direct-To-Video and ridiculous franchise milking. Of course, the new scream sequel may constitute as genre milking, but that is merely speculation on my part, as I haven't seen it. If so, that'd be somewhat unfortunate, but if nothing else, the first movie is a solid piece of work and definitely one of those movies that bears a second watch.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas I: A Nightmare on Elm Street

So, Christmas time is fast approaching, and, yet again refusing to cover holiday-themed horror movies, I decided to show some love for yet another horror legend whose name fits nicely into my absurd alliteration addiction. I briefly considered doing A Very Carpenter Christmas 2: The Revenge of Return, but as a rule, I try to avoid, or at least snark at sequels, and that'd seem inconsistent on my part, so Wes Craven it was. Keeping with the spirit of A Very X Christmas, I will endeavor to only write about the best movies, mostly so I have an excuse to not even think about "Cursed" or "Vampire in Brooklyn" again. Also, I'll be steering clear of "Last House on The Left." But enough about what I won't do, let's get to the horrors, shall we? The first movie in this Holiday Special is A Nightmare On Elm Street, a movie that did to sleeping what Psycho did to showering and Jaws to swimming. Spoilers will follow.

Something's fishy in Springwood, a bunch of high schoolers find themselves plagued by absurd and threatening dreams featuring a maze-like boiler room and a strange burnt man with a clawed hand. Creepy enough in itself, but this being a slasher, people start dying, and it's up to Nancy, played by Heather Langenkamp, to figure out what the hell is going on and, possibly put some sort of stop to it before she too succumbs to the dream killer. Also, it features Johnny Depp in his first big role and probably the strangest shirt he's ever wore.
Seriously, is midriff-baring shirts for men a thing that was a thing in the 80's?

The movie's villain, Freddy Krueger, named after a bully who tormented ole' Wes back in school, is probably the most memorable part of the movie. His burnt visage and hand-claw weapon is visually very different from the typical "built like a brick shithouse and wearing a mask"-killer that we see in many other slashers. Not that this movie revels in the visual aspects of the villain much, and  I dare say that really works. Freddy is mostly in shadow, and the few times you actually get a good look at his face, it's fairly effective. Another thing the movie does well is that it does not over-explain, although if you look at the whole Nightmare-franchise as a whole, that praise quickly fades, but more on that some other time.

Freddy's backstory is also quite nebulous, we know he was suspected of killing and torturing children but got off on a technicality, we know that the parents of Elm Street burned down the factory he worked at with him still inside, and we know he now haunt the dreams of his killers' children. How we got from the penultimate step to the last one is unknown, and I honestly think it's better that way. Is he a revenant creeping his way from beyond the grave by pure vengeful anger alone? Is he magical in some way? deal with Satan? Aliens? Who knows.

The way the movie handled dreams was also quite clever, favoring a smooth transition between being awake and sleeping, reflecting how it's hard to point out the exact time you fall asleep. Of course, once things starts getting really strange, you usually manage to separate dream from reality, but up until a certain point, it could be chalked up to things just being kinda weird.  Also, there's some symbolism going on somewhere in there, it some times feel a bit half-assed, but the horror effect of it is quite nice, and for a movie like Nightmare, that's probably the most important thing.
Hell-o symbolism.. also, disturbing scenes

All in all, I consider A Nightmare On Elm Street a solid film, it's an interesting idea with a lot of things going for it, and while I personally think that the series went the way of many horror franchises and cocked up what made the original good when making sequels, and let's not start on the whole Remake thing again, that doesn't really change the fact that the first movie's pretty good.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Slowzombie Halloween Spectacular

Ok, not so spectacular, maybe, but I figured this'd be a good time to talk about one of my favorite Halloween horror movies, namely Trick 'R Treat, a Halloween-themed horror anthology released in 2009. It's movies such as these that makes even the iconoclastic goblin that resides in my skull throw up his immaterial hands and say "Fine, we'll do tradition."

The movie's set in a small town well renowned for their celebration of All Hallows', wherein a small boy, or boy-like creature, dressed in a sackcloth mask trudges around, reminding one and all about the immutable rules of Halloween. Some require more reminding than others, and somewhat more... hands-on methods are chosen for some cases and infractions In two of the stories, he features prominently, but in the others, he's pretty much just there, seemingly unnoticed by everyone.

I'm really not going to discuss the stories at length, as to avoid spoilers, but a couple of them are fairly clever. Granted, there were a couple of times where I ended up going "uh, wait," to myself, but the movie's fun nonetheless. I can't quite place my finger on why it works, but overall, it flows very well, and it's fun, in that sorta-cheesy, sorta-scary way that such films as Drag Me To Hell manage so well. It's a horror movie that I'd have no problems using to ease someone into the genre, and probably a pretty nice party movie. Just a little tip for next year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

This was a movie I honestly was a little skeptical of. I'm not opposed to horror comedies, the concept certainly has worked before, and the actors involved, at least the two main characters are played by actors that, on occasion, can be quite funny. So, what was the problem? I'm not quite sure, but it might have been the trailer. Trailers for comedy movies seldom work in my opinion, not sure why, it might be a timing thing or a question of the setup.

Well, deciding to ignore the boiling tar pit of pessimism for once, I ended up seeing the movie, and I'm glad I did. T&DvE isn't really a horror film per se, but it uses so many horror elements it's almost not funny. One could call it a hillbilly-style slasher from the point of view of two terrified hillbillies. Tucker and Dale, the aforementioned hillbillies, travel to a decrepit cottage to refurbish it for summer home usage. Things get zany when a visiting bunch of camping college students mistake the heroes' attempts at saving a friend of theirs as the precursor to some Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style violent shenanigans. Long story short, one of the college students is a violent psychopath, and he rallies his compatriots to go kick hillbilly ass. It goes hilariously wrong for both parties.

See, this movie is heavy on the darkest of dark black comedy, and that most visceral of slapstick, or splatstick as I have come to call it. Our heroes doesn't want to hurt anybody, but that doesn't mean people don't get hurt, oh no, far from it. A whole lot of attack rolls are botched, if you forgive the geekiness, so the college students manage to off themselves in utterly ridiculous manners, my favorite being accidental suicide by wood chipper. It's silly, yes, and it certainly requires a Looney Tunes Meets Evil Dead-esque mindset, but if you can get into that, you'll probably have a lot of fun.
Pictured: Not what it looks like

The characters in this movie would be fairly unremarkable, but compared to usual horror fare, it's not horrible, The main characters, at the very least, are fairly charming, at least to the point where one's willing to accept their lapses in judgement, temporary or persistent as they may be, and that's something a lot of both comedies and horror movies just can't do. Coupled with the above-mentioned black comedy, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil makes a fun time to be had for all, although it's certainly more fun if you're familiar with the hillbilly slasher sub-subgenre.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Australian horror double feature

Now that's a blog title I never thought I'd write, but what would this blogging thing be without the occasional surprise, right? By entirely random chance, I ended up watching two horror movies from down under in the same day. What are the odds, right? Well, one of them have been on my backburner for quite a while, while the other one just sounded like a rollicking good time, well, for me, at least partially terrifying to most folks, but enough about that.

I honestly didn't think Australia makes much horror. Of the top of my head, I could only remember Wolf Creek, in all it's fucked-up-terrifyingness and Undead, the cult film that unfortunately never got around to culting. Further research, read: wikipedia, reveals that the island of a thousand and one poisonous things also gave us Queen of The Damned, that one Cthulhu film that didn't have all that much to do with Cthulhu and The Howling III: The Marsupials, a movie I now must watch, if nothing else for the sheer masterfulness of the trainwreck that movie probably is. So, the track record's a bit... uneven, to say the least, but let's just see if these movies nudge the average up a bit.

First up, we have Lake Mungo. Even as a person who attaches no stigma to the label, perhaps the opposite, I feel ambivalent about calling this movie a horror movie. On one hand, it's about ghosts and the afterlife, shot in documentary-vision, a bit like A Haunting In Connecticut would be if it wasn't... insufficient and not thought-through. enough, but on the other hand, it seems to be more of a character thing, how our main characters react to what may or may not be a ghost, I'd call it soft sci-fi if the movie actually shot for some sort of a scientific explanation for this whole ghost thing.

The story follows a family after the death of their daughter. Their tribulations get compounded when it seems they may be haunted by the ghost of their daughter. Scare-wise, it's very effective, using slow build and a refreshing lack of pomp and circumstance, not to mention pretty awesome atmosphere building. Also, it's a bit of a mindbender in that the actual ghostly presence isn't thoroughly explained, see the "may" in my ultra-short synopsis. Sure, at the end, there's some substantial evidence some sort of nebulous shit went down, but the focus isn't on a confrontation with the supernatural, but rather the family coping with the untimely death. Despite what sounds like a heartwarming family-centric remake of "Ghost," though, I maintain the scary bits are pretty damn scary, especially since they're so low-key as to slip in past ones guard. Oh, and an American remake is in the work, pretty much no way they can screw this one up, nosir.

The second one is The Tunnel. This was a movie I only heard about recently. Released this spring, it's fairly unique, in that they offer the entire thing free on bittorrent. Yup, you heard me, they're basically giving this thing away, financing the movie through crowdsourcing and, another strange idea, selling individual frames in the movie. It's a bit of an indie wet dream really, reasoning that if people really likes the product, they will donate, be it for owning a tiny part of the movie, or just supporting the makers. It's an idea I really like, and if it continues to produce movies like this, I'm a happy camper.

So, for those in doubt, I liked The Tunnel. If I were to be extremely laconic, I could call it "Rec Mark 2." Yes, it's another Found Footage-film with a professional cameraman thrown into the mix, as a camera team decide to investigate the tunnels below Sydney, following rumors of homeless people disappearing and a controversial water plant plan that the government just suddenly abandoned. Of course, being hard-hitting journalists, they go in without informing the authorities, and surprise surprise, there's something down there that's none too friendly.

This one suffers from some of the same problems as [REC], in that the start is very slow, but unlike [REC], I feel the start is used a bit more constructively, building up the characters, an important step, I may remind you, in the process of building up a character and then breaking them down that a lot of movies that aim to do the latter forget. Once things goes down, though, the scares starts slowly building up, all the while giving out the occasional hint, and little more just what the hell is after our heroes, and in the end, we're not much closer to exactly what this thing is, and I, for one, think it works pretty well that way. Sure, it could be viewed as a low-budget trick, probably because it, on some level, is, but it's used really well, and the means used to conceal the full visage of the Whatever-The-Hell-It-Was never seem forced. Sure, they seem frustrating as hell, the times we're placed dangerously close to the thing,  but luckily, most of these moments hectic as all hell, so it's not a problem one reflects over much, except possibly in retrospective. It also helps that the beastie displays intelligence and predatory sadism, without really showing any of that pesky comprehensibility that in my opinion bogged down [REC]2's zombies. It's fast, it's ugly, it wants to eat frighteningly specific parts of you, and it's hunting. Outstanding.
At this point in the movie, only the three pictured characters are alive. 
Astute observers will notice the night vision camera is still being operated by someone.

The movie is pretty damn tense, much in thanks to the nearly entirely dark tunnels, hand-held cameras and  the aforementioned superfast hunter thing. The film uses darkness very effectively, although you may not like this experience if prolonged bouts of nightvision bothers you. The characterization is above average, but it's mostly used as a tool to progress the story, with a handful of instances of characterization for characterization's sake, which isn't bad for a movie this type. Acting's decent for a movie as small as this, and although it probably won't win any big awards, didn't put me out of the situation, which is always a good thing.

All in all, The Tunnel may be a serious contender for my favorite Found Footage Film, although I think I'll need to see how it holds up upon rewatching before I can make a final verdict. That said, it's refreshing to see a found footage film with proper denouement. Without spoiling anything,  the ending also contains a somewhat surprising emotional point. It's not mind melting or anything, but it's a nice perspective from a subgenre that 9 out of 10 times end with the cameraman being killed and/or dragged off. Regardless, you can't beat the price, so I highly recommend checking it out.