Saturday, September 26, 2009

Haunting, sure, riveting, not so much

I'll have you all know, I tried watching this movie with an open mind, tried to kick back and enjoy myself like I do with all horror, except those selected few films that are built around allowing no such respite, such as Man Bites Dog, Irreversible, anything Haneke makes, etc. I even watched it in the dark, something I seldom do. By comparison, keep in mind that I saw Drag Me To Hell, as mentioned in my previous post, during the daylight. Sure, I was sceptical in my preview, but I had been told the movie actually was crazy scary and, by extension, crazy awesome, so my expectations were pretty high.

Anyway, The Haunting in Conecticut is todays film, and let me just start of with a sincere plea to all the horror movie makers that probably isn't reading this particular blog, stop with the fucking «based on a true story» or «based on real events» taglines and whatnot. Seriously, the hype effect is getting old, real old. The Haunting in Conecticut does this particular schtick to death. Maybe understandable since it's based on an episode of a Discovery program about an alledged haunting case in the 80's, but still, this movie is claiming to be real to the point of obnoxiousness. For example, the movie begins with filming the filming of an interview with one of the main characters. This scene would maybe be more effective if they hadn't added mood music to this «unedited» footage, complete with clapper and all.

Oh, and one more thing, when the «interview» is by one character, following another character more tightly and showing things that might or might not be real that, one assumes, only he can see... the much important suspension of disbelief tends to take a hit or eleven, but you're more likely to forget the intros annoying «lookie how real this is»-angle, and thus rendering it somewhat pointless.

But I'm messing up my tried-and-true formula here, gotta recap the plot briefly before I start the actual fun. The Campbell family rents an old house «with a history,» one of the children, Matt, is suffering from cancer and, it turns out, also hounding by a ghost. The rest of the movie is mostly 50% touching family-and-cancer-drama and 50% not-really-original ghost horror

Seriously, this movie is one long itemized list of haunting clich├ęs, things that once was an ingenious new way of portraying the presence of an evil ghost but now has been done to death by so many less-than-original hacks that it lost any and all impact it might have had. And yes, this list comes complete with instantly rotting food, scary things in mirrors that suddenly aren't there when you look again, an asshole dad who denies anything supernatural happening, flashbacks to the less than stellar life of the now deceased troublemaker, I could go on all day. Easily most obnoxious, though, is the huge numbers of jump scares. You know how it goes, almost painfully predictable timing, and then WHAM, scare chord, something's there, then gone. Most horror movies have these, but honestly, this one uses it way, way, waaaaaay to much, there's other ways to scare people, y'know.

Then again, if only the scares were stock and uninteresting, I could manage, I've watched a lot of slashers, after all. No, pretty much every story element was more or less just ripped off, in a genre where the surprise and uncertainty is the way to play, this is not good. I usually manage to sit through movies just fine, but this one had me look at the timer a couple of times too much, as a general rule, any movie under 2 hours that makes me go «isn't this over yet» more than once have done something wrong. I'm not neccesarily saying the movie was without positive qualities, I mean, the acting wasn't bad, and there was a scare or two which wasn't all that bad, but it's hardly enough to redeem the movie to anything more than «wouldn't burn»-status.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Much helldragging will be had

So, I finally got around to watching Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi's attempt at kicking (or slashing as it might be) it old school. The principal concept behind this movie seems to be to bring back the good old-fashioned scary movie, low on gore, high on tension, ghosts and evil spirits. A movie from the time before all flicks needed to have a gimmick to fill the seats. On second thought, strike that last one.

The plot is about the bank employee Christine Brown, who ends up on supernaturally deep water when she refuses to help an elderly gypsy avoid eviction. The old gypsy curses Christine to be tormented for three days by the dark spirit Lamia before the titular dragging to hell is to happen. Naturally, Christine tries to pretend it's all in her head for a while, but soon realizes she's got a He Who Walks Behind-gig going on, and tries to save her eternal soul from an overdose of good old Fire & Brimstone.

This, being a Sam Raimi production without latex-clad superheroes, also contains a good bit o' slapstick. Maybe not surprising, considering the man gave us The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. What was surprisng though, was the way he mixed scary and funny. Notable examples include a fight between the old gypsy and Christine, which at times felt like it was from a slightly more serious discarded draft from a Scary Movie-sequel, the facts that a stapler was used or that the killing blow was dealt with a ruler did little to make it all seem more serious. The crowning example of sillyness though, is when the ghost-spirit thing of the old lady attacks Christine and she defends herself by dropping an anvil on it. I'll repeat that, she drops an anvil, on a ghost. Sure, the ghost seems to be solid at the time, but still, an anvil.

Well, when I've talked about the humor, I guess the natural order of things after describing the jollies of humor, would be to go straight to the antipode and talk about the nail-biting horror. Surprisingly, this movie does its job well. It uses quite a bit of standard ghost tropes, but it does it well. Sure, some of the scares were rather predictable, but they were still done with such an intensity that after a while, I was inclined to watch the movie through the gap between my fingers. Not that I did, though, I'm a jaded cynic, remember? Heh. Still, there's a certain level of Lovecraft-esque desperation to the terror of Drag Me, a slight uncertainty if the main character is actually haunted by the murdering spirit, or if she's just slowly going mad. Truth is, the matter isn''t resolved, and the evidence against it being an actual ghost case is there.

For example, the spirit is called Lamia, which is the name of a greek fable creature which does not the slightest resemble the faux-satan-esque evil we see haunting Christine. Secondly, the few times the ghost actually comes for Christine when she's not alone, no-one else seems to notice the banging on doors and other unplesantness that apparantly comes with ghost attack. Still, this could indicate that the ghost targets her mind rather than physically, it is as Harry Dresden of the Dresden Files say: «just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face.» Still, she certainly acts a little crazy. I dunno, I guess I can think about this more or get on with the post.

As far as I'm concerned, Drag me to Hell is the 2009 movie that's closest to the ideal Halloween-movie, the horror works quite well and the humor is pretty well done, such a shame it didn't release too close to Halloween. However, it would seem the DVD is released much closer to this season of horror, surely not a dumb move.

In closing, a few words on what'll be covered here next. First, I intend to submit my take on The Haunting in Connecticut, and after that, I plan to tell y'all a little something about horror in music.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Miike strikes again

I consider myself a rather hard-boiled horror fan. True, there are times when its dark and I find myself in a situation a slight bit too similar to a slasher flick I've seen. Regardless, I consider myself fairly hard to scare, a jaded cynic, if you will. Of course, I wasn't always like this, but I'll save that flashback for another day. Luckily there's still movies that can reduce me to a twitching, whimpering heap, in hindsight I'm not sure how lucky that is, especially with films like this.

Enter Audition, by Takashi Miike, yup, that's right. Good old Mr. Miike, the man who gave us Imprint and Koroshiya 1. I'm guessing you can guess where this goes from here, but let's do the formalities anyway. Audition is the story of a middle-aged widower who together with a friend arranges fake movie auditions to find a woman fit to mary, and although he does, she's not quite what she appears to be.

By itself, this doesn't sound like much of a horror concept. Romantic comedy or drama, maybe, or even wacky American Pie-ripoff comedy with a few changes. The low horror-concentration stays low for quite a large bit of the movie too, mostly focusing on the characters and their loneliness, said loneliness seeming to be a rather central theme, backed up by the statement that "In Japan, everyone is lonely" (translated and probably paraphrased.)

Then, well, I'll let the poster speak for itself as to why this movie freaked me out to the point where I mumbled incoherently about needles and llamas. Anyone afraid of needles need not apply, so why I watched it is beyond me. It's not like Miike's tendency to have prolonged needle-jabbing torture scenes in his movies came to a complete surprise, seeing as Imprint and Ichi the Killer have had much of the same. Audition, however, is easily the most disturbing instances of needle-torture I've seen, much thanks to the torturist, the seemingly meek and kind Asami.

I don't know if y'all have heard the expression "Yandere," but it's basically a seemingly nice girl who's obsessed to the point of violence (or torture,) the word comes from Japanese (no surprise there,) and in Japan, it's sort of a twisted extreme version of the ideal woman, what you'd get if you unleashed the wishmaster djinn upon a japanese dating site. A yandere is the ex from hell, she might have a good reason for being as she is, but she's still scary, very scary. Maybe most unnervingly of all, when the full extent of Asami's madness becomes clear, she still remains the same sweet, calm person she's always been, except now certain signs (see DVD cover above) she's plotting your murder, or worse. It'd be far less scary if she just erupted into a lovecraftian horror or something like that, but no, she just keeps the same serene smile while doing inventive but horrible things with needles and piano wire.

I have kind of a hard time getting over exactly how frightening Asami is. Sure, you can kinda see how she got there, what with pedophile sadist ballet teacher, various abusive guardians, the injury, possibly inflicted by one of the above, that prevented her from doing ballet, the one thing that made her feel good, and did I mention the ballet teacher, anyway, all this does little to make her more sympatic. If anything, she's got a slight "tragic monster"-vibe to her, but it's not exactly the pathos of her character that sticks. That would be the needles, no pun intended, or Asami's... catchphrase "Kiri kiri kiri," or that horrible squish/squelch-noise that Miike uses to tell us "yes, she stuck a needle in him, and it hurt." I'm actually kind of curious what sound that is, being an aspiring horror maker myself. Then again, that just might be one of those things I'm not meant to know.